of the Leicester Raid of 19th November 1940.
The night of Tuesday 19th November 1940
was one to remember. I was a 15 year old final year pupil at Alderman
Newton Boys' School - the building adjacent to the cathedral, now
home to the Leicester Grammer School. That evening found me attending
an informal French conversational circle, meeting in the famous
Turkey Cafe in Granby Street. Proceedings came to an unscheduled
conclusion when a man burst in to warn us that an air raid was 'brewing'
outside. My diary records it all.
"Air raid warning sounded at about
7.45pm. Incendiary bombs were dropping all around Granby Street
before the sirens went off. Saw terrific fires. All top story of
Lulhams ablaze. Went home (i.e. to Kimberley Road) up London Road.
I reached the top of London Road/Evington Road when five terrific
explosions and flashes were seen over our way. All the way home
I saw flashes and explosions straight ahead. After being at home
some time, we (i.e. my mother and older brother, my father being
a special constable was out on street patrol) went to an air raid
shelter (opposite to St. Phillip's Church, Evington Road). Many
bombs dropped within a little way of it. No ack-ack fire - why not?"
The following Sunday (24th November) my
diary chronicles the interruption of the morning service at Melbourne
Hall church in the highfields locality.
"Warning at 11.45 - 12.15 at church.
Went down to Lecture Hall (i.e. a basement hall) and continued service
there. No bombs dropped."
During those closing months of 1940 my diary
entries are punctuated with the frequency of air raid warning alerts,
mostly in the night hours. The German planes we could hear were
invariably heading for other unfortunate targets. Our sleep patterns
were of times erratic, yet the old established routine of school
life did not allow even the noise and clatter of war to disturb
itself more than absolutely necessary. On the odd occasion when
the sirens sounded during school hours, this respite from studies
was generally welcomed. We then all trooped down into the relative
safety of the musty lower regions of the school building. I must
say that we felt it a little unfair when one dedicated master chose
to continue the lesson even down there!
We were always conscious of the heavy pounding
other cities were enduring, and grateful that Leicester was let
off lightly. Looking back, I recall that we all readily adjusted
to the varied restraints of wartime life, and largely took it in
To appreciate adequately the atmosphere
in Leicester during those early war years, one has to consider the
backcloth, the wider wartime picture, beyond the 'parochial' life
of the city and county. From June 1940, for a whole year Britain
stood quite alone against a very superior, victorious enemy, Germany,
until Russia was unwillingly dragged into the conflict in June 1941,
followed by America in December 1941. Up to the time of the battle
of El Alamein, Egypt, in October 1942, this country suffered one
defeat after another, at the hands of Germany, and later Japan,
across half the globe. For many months after the fall of France
in June 1940, there was a real possibility of an invasion by the
powerful German machine, poised just 20 miles away across the English
Channel. They were perilous times indeed, but the overwhelming perception
which remains with me, evidenced by the defiant scribbling's in
my diary, is that we were a resolute, united and disciplined nation.
We doggedly believed in our cause, morale was high, and come what
may, decency, integrity and all that is right, good and noble in
our national character would, without question, ultimately triumph
over the tyranny arranged against us. And, with God's help, history
vindicated us, proved us right.
By R. E. Sperry