World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Mary Booth

The Worst Night of my Life - the Sheffield Blitz

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Mary Booth (nee Balderson)
Location of story: Sheffield, Yorkshire
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mrs Mary Booth.


At the start of the war I was working for a cutlery firm called Thomas Turner near Sheffield Midland Station. My job was in charge of the warehouse and checking surgical scissors that we made. On the night of the first Sheffield blitz (Thursday 12 December 1940) I had gone straight from work to see a film at the Palace Cinema on Union St. with two friends (sisters) from work.

Not long after the film started the lights went up and the manager came on stage and told us that there was an alert but we stayed where we were and the film carried on because we had had a lot of previous alerts. However not long after, he came on stage again and told us that bombers were overhead and we were all asked to leave. My two friends and I left the cinema and they went one way towards home and I turned towards the city centre to try to get a 97 bus home to Southey Green. I could hear the aircraft and the sound of bombs exploding and could tell they were getting closer. People were running in all directions.

I had reached High St. and had almost got to the bus stop when I felt a hand on my shoulder – it was a big policeman who asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to get a bus home and he said “No – come with me” and he led me to a shelter under a pub on the corner of Howard St. and Charles St. We had just reached the entrance when the first bomb fell nearby and the explosion blew us both down the steps. I was very frightened and bruised but otherwise unhurt. I was however upset that a Christmas present of perfume that my two friends had bought me was smashed. We stayed in the shelter the whole night.

Bombs were falling all round the city centre – I remember that the noise was rattling the toilet in the corner. Water was being used by firemen all around our shelter area and by the end of the night we were up to our knees in water. We had injured firemen brought in during the night and people from the Empire Theatre as well. The shelter we were in was soon full, but luckily our shelter and the pub above us escaped a hit. We came out of the shelter when the ‘all clear’ sounded.

I wanted to get home to Southey but was told by the Police that I would not be able to get there. I saw lots of damage – buildings on fire, trams destroyed – I even saw a tram driver with his arms round the conductress trying to protect her – they were both dead. One of my friends from the cinema and her brother had come looking for me. They found me and took me back to their home on Queens Rd. On this walk the brother kept telling me not to look at some of the sights we were passing. I stayed the night with them. I set off for home the next day and was given a lift on the back of a railway dray as far as Wadsley Bridge Station.

I could walk from there. I met my mum at our gate and she told me my dad had gone into town to look for me. They had of course not seen or heard anything of me since I went to work on Thursday morning and they feared the worse for me as from Southey they could see the city centre glowing with the fires. I was filthy but I was so tired I went straight to bed. When I awoke later I eventually had a bath and something to eat and drink. My dad had returned by then and although glad I had got home safely I still got shouted at! I never thought I would see my parents and family again. Thank God I did.