Article by D. Spencer
With eyewitness account from T.C.Cartwright
Wartime Leics Website
The main cities
associated with "The Blitz" are London and Coventry. However, many
other cities across Britain were severely affected. Many people lost
their lives all across the country and many more were made homeless.
Leicester was no exception.
Late at night on
November the 19th 1940 Leicester suffered a heavy raid. In this eyewitness
account by Terence Cartwright, we can gain an insight into what the raid
was like for families living in Grove Road and Frank Street areas of the
7:10pm. Nov 19th 1940. The
back door opened and in came my father (who had been out trying to buy
"under the counter" cigarettes). White faced, breathless and with anxiety
in his voice said "Jerries up to sumut tonight, there's flares all over
With the recent bombing of nearby Coventry fresh in our minds the sound of
the sirens, which, through familiarity we had grown to ignore, now filled
us with apprehension. Our Anderson shelter was uninhabitable. My mother
hastily prepared space under the stairs for a shelter. On making a trip to
our outside toilet I was amazed to see a red glow growing over the city.
Quite spectacular in those "blacked out" days.
7:20pm. Meanwhile, my grandfather, who lived in Dorothy Road, was busy
preparing sandwiches to take to a factory (I think it was Grewcocks in the
Highfields area) where he was due to spend the night on fire watch.
7:30pm. At Grove Road, my wife Doreen (7 yrs), her mother, sister Margaret
(8 yrs), and brother Brian (5 yrs), were not sure what to do, their mother
had just been discharged from hospital after an operation, was very weak
(her father was in the forces). So they decided to remain in the house. My
wife's best friend, Joan (6 yrs), who was in the house at that time, was
collected by a warden and taken to her home at No.2, a few doors away.
8:00pm. In Ash Street, my grandmother who had just returned from a visit
to see her sister and cousins who lived nearby in Frank Street, decided to
go to the Ash Street communal shelter.
They had not been in the shelter very long before they heard an enormous
explosion. A few minutes later, a "clown" (the only way to describe him)
of a A.R.P warden, stuck his head through the door and shouted "Frank
Street's gone!" Many people in the shelter had friends/relatives who lived
in Frank Street, the anxiety and stress this caused must have been
horrendous! (Special pamphlets had been issued by the council asking
people not to announce or speculate where bombs had fallen to prevent this
type of stress and possibly panic in crowded shelters.)
It was not until the next day my grandmother found that both her twin
cousins had died. They were blown down the steps of the cellar, where they
were hoping to shelter. Her sister, who remained in the living room, was
dug out the next day. She never recovered from the shock & trauma and died
9:00pm. Back at my house we had settled in under the stairs. We had heard
German aircraft and bombs falling for some time, they appeared to arrive
at 20-30 minute intervals, so we took advantage of this in order to mash
tea and visit the toilet, etc.
10:00pm. Back at Grove Road, things were hotting up! With bombs falling
ever closer, my wife (Doreen) insisted they should all go to next doors
brick shelter built at the back of the house.
They managed between them to help their mother to the shelter, which
already contained 6 people. They had only been in the shelter for a few
minutes when my wife said she suddenly went blind, deaf and felt as if she
was suffocating. Time sense was lost, and the next thing she remembers was
a burning pain on her forehead. On managing to open her eyes she found
that a burning candle had fallen on her forehead but when she tried to
move it, she found she was completely trapped by masonry, however,
thankfully the candle then went out due to lack of oxygen. How long she
remained like this she does not know.
In the shelter was a young girl, Betty (12 yrs), who saw a small opening
in the rubble. After moving a few bricks, Brian was pushed through this
hole and helped to widen it to allow more air in the shelter, his own
recollections are very vague but he does remember the enormous flames &
fires caused by fractured gas mains. (He thought the World was on fire!)
Eventually, Betty managed to get out and proceeded to extricate some of
the occupants. She ran to a warden who was standing near by, but he
refused to help and told her to wait for the rescue squads. She ignored
this and carried on with her digging and managed to extricate all of the
occupants apart from her father who was trapped by the legs. (I understand
he was still holding a pint glass of beer!)
When the rescue squads arrived, some were Polish airmen (my wife remembers
she thought they were invading Germans). Their mother was sent to hospital
where it was found her operation stitches had burst.
Thy were then taken to another shelter where she says it was full of
children looking like Victorian chimney sweeps! However, the roof was
found to be cracked and they had to abandon this shelter and were directed
to a house in Sherrard Street. It was at this point they decided to walk
to their grandmothers house. They knew roughly where it was but were not
sure (Catherine Street).
T hey started their journey through the rubble strewn streets but it was
not long before a man in a black car picked them up, and in spite of the
fact they first refused to tell him anything because they thought he was a
"spy", they managed to drive around the Catherine Street area and he
eventually delivered them, but only after Brian piped up with "That's
grandmother's house" as they drove by!
11:30pm. Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in
our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and
bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting
(I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant's
footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and
electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which
felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not
killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive! It was
as the explosions got nearer I felt my first twinge of fear! Thankfully,
they stopped short. They had fallen a short distance away across the Green
Lane Road, damaging houses and Wadkins Eng. Factory.
6:00am. During this time, somewhere between Scotland and Leicester, my
wife's father was on duty as a dispatch rider escorting a convoy to
southern England. He quite by chance took this opportunity to break convoy
and visit his family. He drove into Vulcan Road and turning into Grove
Road was presented with the appalling sight of an enormous crater and a
pile of rubble where his home had been. (This shock was also inflicted on
both the sister of Betty who had been sheltering in town during the raid
who collapsed, and was taken to hospital and her older brother Jack who
had also been out).
Doreens father was told his family were believed to be dead (they held a
memorial service for them at St. Saviours Road infants school in the same
belief) and he had to return to his unit to obtain compassionate leave. I
understand it took a few days before the family got together again.
The young friend and her mother died at No.4 (They had gone to keep a
blind man company and did not survive). Joans 16 yr. old brother Pete who
was in No.2 which survived the blast, found them both dead under the
rubble. This was shortly after the news that his elder brother had been
blown up in a motor torpedo boat and was in hospital, badly injured.
7:00am. Back to my grandfather, the following morning he awoke to find he
was in bed fully dressed and caked in plaster and brickdust. My
grandmother said all she could see was bloodshot eyes looking at her from
a concrete statue, he could not remember how he got into this state but
after a bath decided he should go to work. Much to his puzzlement he could
not find his bike! Eventually he decided to make the journey by foot but
when he arrived at the factory he found it almost completely destroyed! He
never did remember what happened that night, the only recollection he had
was standing on the roof of the factory (like Nero) watching the city
burn! It would appear that it was then that the bomb struck causing him to
fall through 3 floors, and then walked home suffering from shock. He never
did find his bike. This upset him the most!
My wife and family were severely traumatised by the experiences and it was
not until the late 60's did I begin to learn more about the events of that
night. They lost all their possessions. The only item which survived the
blast was a treadle Singer sewing machine which is still in the family
today! Both her and her mother felt ill whenever they heard the sound of
sirens on the T.V. (Dad's Army etc.) All talked about that night with
great reluctance and my wife's lungs never did recover from inhaling brick
dust, which left a permanent scar. Betty came through unscathed but
suffered a nervous breakdown months later.
Both the incidents at Grove Road and Frank Street were caused by
parachute-mines, destroying 14 houses at each location.
T. C. Cartwright
Thanks go to T. C.
Cartwright, who posted this article on our message-boards, and from who's
website the image of the lodge originated.
information about the Blitz, and Leicester during the war, please visit