The Cardiff Blitz

We were in the Anderson Shelter which my father had built half submerged in the back garden, with several feet of soil over the top. He had also built bunks in the shelter and fitted a sand-bag shielded door to the front of the shelter. It was a bitterly cold January night that my mother, father, brother and I huddled together in the shelter. Just thinking of that night brings back the whistle of the bombs falling and the terrible explosions that followed.

A rescue party at work in the aftermath of the Cardiff Blitz
cardiff blitz
Nurses leaving the wrecked nurses home of the Royal Infirmary, Cardiff, with their salvaged possessions, following German air attack.

The Luftwaffe were gradually working their way through the major towns and cities of the United Kingdom. London, Coventry, Birmingham, Merseyside and Southampton were just some amongst many that had already been badly hit. Now it was the turn of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. As a major port and industrial centre it was high on the list of strategic targets. It had already been raided in July and August but now came a series of more intensive attacks.

Leonard Attwell was a schoolboy in Cardiff when the city was bombed on the night of 2nd/3rd January 1941:

I remember vividly the night in January 1941 when Cardiff was bombed. I lived in Jubilee Street, Grangetown, which was adjacent to the Canton Loco Sheds the target sought by the bombers. It was the early hours of January 3rd (my brother’s birthday) that bombs and Landmines rained down on us. I was eight years old.

We were in the Anderson Shelter which my father had built half submerged in the back garden, with several feet of soil over the top. He had also built bunks in the shelter and fitted a sand-bag shielded door to the front of the shelter. It was a bitterly cold January night that my mother, father, brother and I huddled together in the shelter. Just thinking of that night brings back the whistle of the bombs falling and the terrible explosions that followed. It was in the midst of this that my father went back into the house to get some blankets despite the screams from my mother for him to return. He did return with an armful of blankets just in time, for a nearby bomb blew off the sand-bag shielded door of the shelter, and the blast lifted the shelter a few inches, then it dropped back into place.

My father spread-eagled himself over us, to protect us and I could hardly breathe.

Until that night my mother had been afraid of thunder and lightening, but that night cured her.

The following morning after the all-clear siren had sounded we emerged into the street to discover half of it had disappeared as the result of a land-mine. I had lost most of my little friends that night, some I was later told had sought refuge under the stairs in the misbelief that they would be safe. They possibly thought that it would be warmer there than the freezing cold Anderson Shelter. I doubt that they would have survived if they had used the shelter because of the close vicinity of the land-mine.

We made our way to my Uncle Fred’s house which was a couple of hundred yards away, they escaped the bombing. We were warmly received and they were glad to see us alive.

Other relatives in Ely had sent their son Hubert on his bicycle to see if we had survived. Of course he did not find us because we were at Uncle Fred’s and he assumed that we had all perished. You can imagine the joy that his parents knew when a couple of days later we turned up on their doorstep.

See BBC People’s War to read his full story. The seventieth anniversary of the raid was remembered by BBC News in 2011. For much more on the Cardiff Blitz and the history of the city see Discover the Past.

Anderson Shelters, relatively crude constructions with their base below ground level, were usually cold, damp affairs. The Ministry of Information was keen to get across the message that they were very effective in protecting against all but a direct hit.

Anderson shelter
An Anderson shelter remains intact amidst destruction and debris, after a land mine fell a few yards away. The three people that had been inside the shelter were not hurt. The effects of air raids in this area of London can be clearly seen behind the shelter. This photograph was taken on Latham Street in Poplar.
cardiff blitz
A Cardiff school building as it was after a Nazi “Blitz”

Cardiff would be hit by a succession of raids in early 1941 and would not see the last one until 1944. Nevertheless there were attempts to rebuild before the war was over. The following image shows how the British authorities supported the well established Muslim community in Cardiff with rebuilding efforts.

cardiff blitz
The Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor James Griffiths address the audience at the ceremonial opening of a new mosque in Butetown. The ceremony is taking place outside the mosque, which was built with the aid of the Colonial Office and the British Council to replace the existing mosque which was destroyed in air raids in 1940 and 1941. An Islamic Cultural Centre was also built and celebrations, which included processions through the local area, continued for three days.

11 thoughts on “The Cardiff Blitz”

  1. I lived in Penylan during the blitz. Can anyone remember the night that the Edward Nicholl Orphanage was bombed? I suspect it was Jan 1941 but have no confirmation. I can also remember seeing a lone plane one afternoon bombing before the sirens sounded. I believe the bomb hit Woolworths.

  2. My auntie norma brown ( nee dupre) was a waitress in the norwegian seamans mission down the docks. During the blitz she was blown out of the window by a bomb blast ,luckily she survived. I am wondering where the mission, hotel family used to live in francis street down the docks.

  3. I recognize someone in these untitled blitz photos.
    My mother is one of the nurses leaving the Cardiff Royal Infirmary after the bombing in 1941.

  4. I was 6 when the war started, my sister was three years older. We lived in Tremorfa (Taymuir Road). We were given an Anderson Shelter from the Council, which my Father and my Grandfather made it comfortable with bunk beds for my sister and myself with a small table and chair, on which stood a candle. The old private aerodrome at the top of our road was taken over by the RAF where planes flew and there was Ak Ak guns placed there.

    I remember the 1941 raid which was terrifying for me. Many nights after we would go straight into the shelter because we had many raids after.

    One particular day my mum sent us to the shops in Tweedsmuir Road and when walking back we saw this black plane very low in the sky, the Warning had not sounded although the guns had started firing. It turned in the sky and machined us on the road. I ran into a house in the road and a man was standing by his shelter and I went into his shelter. I heard my sister screaming for me and then our dog came around the back pulling her on the lead. The warning went as this was happening. The gentleman took us home after the ‘All Clear’ sounded. I went into shock so my mum told me, and could not speak and it left me with a severe stammer which lasted all my life. This episode as far as I know was never mentioned to anyone in authority.

    My sister and a friend was with us, but it was things that happened in the War and it just went unnoticed. We have talked about this for many years, were they machine gunning us or were they shooting at the aerodrome which ran parallel to the main road. I could see the dust in the road like bullets spurting up, but we will never know. At the age of 82 in a few weeks time, I am so glad that I am alive.

  5. The sad comment at the end about children hiding under the stairs brings to mind one urban legend. I don’t know whether it’s true, but it does sound plausible.

    There is a word in Welsh: “Cwtch.” It refers to a small storage are under the stairs, but the word is also used by the English-speaking Welsh. To “cwtch somebody” is to hug them. Parents say to their children, “Give me a cwtch.” To “cwtch up” means to squeeze in together. It’s a very affectionate word in Welsh folklore.

    The story I’ve been told in that it originated during the Blitz; from people huddling in the cupboards under their stairs; their cwtches. Hence the sense of “cwtch” meaning “to get close and personal.”

    Then again, the idea of huddling under the stairs from German bombs doesn’t sound like an experience that would take on an affectionate connotation, so maybe it is only an urban legend.

  6. Must have been one hell of an operation for the German air crews. Flying at less than 200 mph, a bombing raid on London amounted to a quick hop across the Channel and then getting the hell back to safety. Bombing Cardiff must have meant flying for over an hour, being tracked by radar, and pummelled by flak the entire distance there and back again.

    An especially poignant post on this excellent blog, since Cardiff is the other side of the mountain from me; about an hour’s walk.

  7. Does anyone have any information regarding a ww2 submarine being displayed in Cardiff centre, during ww2

  8. In all the surviving accounts of the blitz, very little seems to said about the location of the airfields of the German bombers. These airfields were mostly in Northern France and had been handed over to the Luftwaffe as a result of the French capitulation in June 1940. Without this capitulation there would have been no bombing of Cardiff or any of the other British cities.

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