November 24th – most memorable night of my life
November 24, 1940 was the most memorable night of my life. I was an eleven-year-old boarder at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital and this was the night that the German air force, the Luftwaffe, launched a major firebomb attack that almost completely destroyed the centre of the city of Bristol. A bomb disrupted the main water supply and fire-fighters were left with very little water to tackle the blazes that broke out everywhere and gutted the entire city centre.
We children knew little of this except for the noise of bombs dropping and anti-aircraft guns firing. We were in the basement air-raid shelter, three floors below the dormitory. Whenever the sirens sounded we were required to descend the 96 steps to the shelter. How well I remember that number; I counted the steps on many occasions. Sometimes we had two or three such air-raid warnings in a single night, making sleep almost impossible.
During this night the bombing was intense and fires raging throughout the city centre could be seen from far away. Around 200 people were killed and almost 700 injured.
My parents in the suburbs knew that I was somewhere in the midst of the bombing and had no idea whether or not I had survived. The school had several direct hits from small incendiary bombs that cause major fires but, fortunately, teachers and staff managed to extinguish them before much damage was done. Next morning there was no water, gas or electricity and it was decided that all the boarders would have to go home. This was easier said than done as there were no buses and the entire centre of the city was closed by the emergency services.
I tried to descend Park Street, but most of the buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged and on fire and the firemen turned me away. We lived in the East of the city and my only route home involved a long detour through Hotwells, the docks area, Bedminster and Knowle. Dressed in full length blue cloak, black breeches with silver buttons and long yellow stockings, I picked my way gingerly along rubble-strewn streets, stepping over firemen’s hosepipes as I went. It must have been a comical sight among all such chaos. After several hours I finally arrived home, to the great relief of my family.