Saturday, 19 August 2017

World Photography Day

To mark World Photography Day, our Transforming Archives Trainee Francisco Castanon, looks at photographs of Hull during the Blitz from the collections held by Hull City Archives at the Hull History Centre. 

It is 8th May 1941 and the night is coming. The city sleeps and is quiet, but you can hear in the distance a sound carried by the breeze of the Humber bay. It is the turbine wheels of Nazi Luftwaffe aircraft. The city was then illuminated by distant lights in the darkness. This happened seventy-seven years ago and the radio and newspaper reports did not reveal Hull by name but referred to it as "a North East Coast Town."

Destruction of the Prudential Building in King Edward Street (Ref: C TSP.3.387.27)
One of the most iconic photographs of Hull during the war is ‘the destruction of the Prudential Building in Queen Victoria Square’. The archives have thousands of similar photographs showing the damage inflicted on Hull during the blitz. The day after the raid, the Prudential Building had to be demolished for safety reasons.

Hull suffered its worst nights of bombing during the May blitz of 1941. In total the city was subjected to 86 raids - making it one of the most heavily bombed British cities. Many of Hull’s Victorian-era buildings including the Infirmary, elegant shops and thousands of houses were destroyed and the city centre never looked the same again. By the end of the war, it was estimated that 1,200 people had been killed. The complete truth was not broadcast, however, so as not to reveal any tactical or confidential information to the enemy.

Spotters on top of Guildhall watching out for enemy planes across the city skyline on the 21 Nov 1940
(ref C TSP.3.325.12)

In 1941 under the Fire Prevention Order, factories and businesses were required to appoint employees to watch out for incendiary bombs dropping in the city. ‘Spotters on top of Guildhall’ is another photograph that shows the effort of these patriotic volunteers. It was not a popular job since those involved sometimes had to spend seventy-two hours a week on duty. However, it was an essential aspect of Civil Defence and became part of a national campaign to encourage volunteers to sign up for the service.  

Soldiers inspecting the destruction of the air raids damage
(Ref: C TSP.3.354.12)
Photographs and original archives held at the Hull History Centre bear testament to the extent of the devastation and provide an insight into how the City coped under war time conditions. Most records created during 1939-1945 contain information relating to the war, but our source guide provides details of all the official records created in Hull as a result of the war.

Photographs give us an insight into the serious damage caused by the bombing, along with experiences of some of the people who helped to ensure that daily life continued as much as possible. They provide us with a unique understanding of the difficulties the people of Hull faced and what they endured to maintain their country’s freedom. 

Francisco Castanon
Transforming Archives Trainee

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