The Secret World War History of York: Uncovering the Untold Stories
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The Secret World War History of York: Uncovering the Untold Stories

The last year brought the horrors of war to our TV screens and social media on a daily basis, and it looks like the Ukraine-Russia conflict and the Palestine-Israel war will continue into 2024. While most of us in York may experience these wars at a distance, the oldest citizens of our city may well remember living through at least one of these attacks on our island home from 1939-45. Nowadays, The Great War of 1914-18 lives on in war memorials and family memories handed down through the generations. Wars bring not just the loss of life and destruction of buildings but collateral damage to society. Reinforcement of prejudice and discrimination is among such damage. In her book York in The Great War, Karyn Burnham recounts the instance of a Mr Joseph Foster Mandefield who ran a hosiery business in Monkgate and was unjustly accused of being an enemy alien. Blackouts were introduced in York in January 1915, and attacks on the city came later in the form of air raids by Zeppelins. It was only three years after the start of the Second World War that buildings in York were affected directly. The city lacked military targets of any significance except the railway and the airfield in what is now Clifton Moor. York, along with Canterbury, Norwich, Bath, and Exeter, were to come under Nazi bombardment in the Baedeker raids, so-called after the name of the German tourist guide books. The main attack was during the night of 28th/29th April 1942, and incendiary bombs fell on multiple neighborhoods in the city. Some 30-40 bombers actually hit the city, damaging various buildings. Altogether, 579 of the 27,000 houses in the city were left uninhabitable, and 2,500 sustained damage. York emerged relatively lightly compared to Bath, which suffered two raids and four times the casualties. One of the few publicly visible witnesses to the havoc wrought by the Second World War in York is the partially ruined church of St Martin-le-Grand in Coney Street, now converted into a Garden of Remembrance. The painful effects of war always live on in the memories and lives of survivors and loved ones.