Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Air Raid Letter

This is a transcription of a letter from Jess Renfield to Mamie and appeared in the local newspaper in Darlington, Indiana.

Letter Tells of Air Raids in England

Our readers will remember a letter we published several months ago from the same writer as the letter below. Both letters were written to Mrs. Mamie Boone. This one we are printing in part, gives a very vivid description of conditions in England. With some personal remarks first, the letter starts

My dear Mamie --

You will have wondered how we were fareing I suppose; and you will have heard over the radio and seen in the press that our own much loved city (Manchester) was the victim of a concentrated night attack by enemy bombers just 2 days before Xmas. Although, as you know we are several miles out of the city, it was the most terrifying experience we have ever known.

The first attack was on the Sunday. Bruce and I had been to a Xmas carol service at a nearby chapel in the afternoon. (There are no evening services or meetings held anywhere now because of night raids.) And the atmosphere was so beautiful and peaceful. We walked home, had an enjoyable tea and just settled in the easy chairs round the fire.

Soon after 6 o'clock the dreadful note of wailing sirens filled the air. It was a bitterly cold night with a keen east wind. By 7 o'clock great fires were to be seen blazing away in the city where I spent so very many happy years of business life. The crump and thud of bombs and the deafening noise of our own anti-aircraft guns was indescribable.

You see Mamie, all the enemy planes on their way to the city passed over our locality and as you will have heard and read many of the German airmen do not bother about military objects but just release their load of bombs at random. Prior to this terrible night it had been quieter and Rogers family had not been in their garden underground shelter. Further, we had had heavy rain and the place was damp; and Audrey suddenly got a dread of being buried in the earth so their family was crouched under the heavy oak dining table if things were bad.

Bruce and I therefore decided to sit by the fire and simply hope for the best; but can you imagine how the hours dragged, for we could not read, I could not knit, all we could do was to listen to the constant din of the planes overhead. About 11:30 there seemed to be a lull so I said to Bruce "Come along I think it is going quieter, we will go to bed." This we did, still downstairs in the Lounge.

We must have dozed off for a couple of hours but were suddenly awakened at 1:30 by the most deafening din of machinery overhead you can imagine. I said to Bruce, "Isn't it terrible, the planes seem to be circling overhead." We lay for a few moments and then we heard a great swish, swish, swish.

"Bombs," I said, "dropping."

It was awful to hear them coming down and not knowing where they were going to finish. I simply rolled out of bed, ran into the dining room where my clothes were, scrambling into them and my heart was palpitating as never before. In the meantime we had heard the bombs explode or at least hit the ground in the road at the end of our drive.

The A.R.P. wardens had to arrange for all the people in the road to be evacuated. Just fancy this about 2 a.m. on a winter night. Mothers with tiny children. Everyone was taken to the Cinema in the village because the bombs were time bombs which go off sometimes in an hour, sometimes in a week and so just 2 days before Xmas all these people had to leave their homes and possessions and either live with friends for a week or live in the Cinema.

Most of the bombs fell on the roadway making huge craters, but one fell on the farm and another took the side off a house; but no one was injured. The road was closed for a week to traffic and in order to do my shopping I had to go a roundabout way to the village, through field paths.

After these bombs had fallen, we stood by the staircase for an hour. We are told this is the safest place in case the house is hit. Shortly afterwards, however, there was such a terrific crash we were almost blown down the hall. I was terrified; and we decided to go across the road into Rogers shelter.

It was now about 3 o'clock, the planes were still humming overhead and the sky across the fields toward us was blood red from the fires. We went down into the shelter but the Rogers family were not down. They had relatives staying with them and all crouched on the dining room floor.

We stayed in the shelter about 1-2 hour and then I began to imagine all sorts of things. It was very cold and damp as they had not had heat on for weeks and I thought no one knows we are here, just suppose a bomb drops on the shelter, we shall be buried alive. So I persuaded Bruce to go back to our own house and I was so cold we made a pot of tea -- and didn't it taste excellent and comforting.

It was 6 o'clock in the morning when we heard the last plane go over; and it was 6:30 when the "all clear" sounded, so we had practically 13 hours of hell on earth. Everyone looked absolutely worn out. Even when Bruce left for the office at 8 (when it was still dark) the sky in the direction of the city was like an orange tinted painting -- the dying glow of the fires.

When you have known and loved a city as we have and then it is practically laid waste in 12 hours it makes your heart bleed. The most hard hearted folk have wept over it. But buildings can be replaced, it is the terrible loss of life and the hundreds of maimed and injured. Women and babies, young children -- yes, and the old people with nothing to hit back with, being killed at their own firesides.

One of the most sickening sides to it is the number of people who are trapped under fallen houses, etc. In one street near to Bruce's father works 68 people were trapped -- some for days. You see on this particular night these German murderers for they are that, dropped so many bombs all round the city, miles out in fact in residential property. A land mine was dropped in the next village and a few people were killed. These land mines, at least the blast from them wrecks houses and blows windows out and doors off for about 1-2 mile all round where it drops.

Jane (our evacuee) only went into her new high school in Sept. It cost 80,000lb to build and it was destroyed during this one night.

A land mine was dropped on a farm at the end of my sister's road; and roofs were blown off and windows out in a good many places. My sister just escaped damage, although the people on each side had all their windows blown in.

If this war has done nothing else it has made us all realize how much dearer life is than even the most valuable of possessions and you know Mamie, life is very sweet to most people, no one, at lease, few want to die before their time.

All men and many women (those who have business posts) have to do (in turn) a night of fire watching both at their business premises and at their homes. In our front porches everyone has a bucket of water, sand-bags, a rake and long shovel -- all in readiness to deal with fire bombs.

Still there are happy days with friends around. My sister comes for the day once a week and I go there alternately. We spend each Saturday as we have done for 25 years with Win and Wally, managing to see a film from 5:30 to 7:30 (before the siren goes). It is our Saturday at Win's this week, but Wally is "on call" at the Ambulance Post all night and Bruce is on duty here at home fire watching, so Win and I will probably be together round the fire, knitting for the soldiers.

How time has flown. It is 4:15. Bruce has been going in a friend's car to the office and will be home in an hour. Thank goodness the days are lengthening.

There is no shortage of food. We have to be careful with butter, lard, bacon, tea and sugar and meat which are rationed. Today we are having stewed steak, carrots, potatoes, milk pudding.

And the letter ends, again a personal note.

This letter is transcribed from a clipping that isn't dated, but from the contents and a brief death notice at the end of the page it appears to be the letter mentioned in Mamie's March 3, 1941 entry.  Due to a lack of proper formatting by the local editor, I have edited it into paragraphs to make reading much easier. Also, some missing words and letters from damage to the clipping have been guessed at. All spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors are uncorrected.

UPDATED: A long lost newsreel on the Manchester Blitz can be seen here.

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