The Free Press recently printed a letter from a lady telling of the casualties suffered in Balby caused by bombing during World War II.
It became apparent to me that, following conversation with a number of local people, many residents weren’t aware that Doncaster and the immediate area around the town had been involved so closely with the conflict.
Aerial activity began as early as 1940 when German planes dropped, not bombs, but leaflets which landed all over Bessacarr which printed a speech by their leader basically saying that if Britain didn’t surrender peacefully they would be invaded, Herr Hitler certainly had a way with words, but Doncastrians, and indeed other towns who experienced siimilar events, took it in their stride and ignored the warning.
But then on the 12/13 December 1940 during a heavy raid on Sheffield a lone bomber, for whatever reason, jettisoned its bombs which landed on Wilby Farm, now the site of Rose Hill Crematorium.
This was followed a week later with a stick of bombs falling on Eden Grove Sports ground, near Hexthorpe
It was the beginning of a spate of attacks in the area which were, thankfully, relatively light. However, this situation changed on the night of May 8/9 1941 when large canisters of explosives hanging from parachutes - a device called an aerial mine - descended on Balby.
Weston Road and Loversall Hospital took the brunt of the subsequent blasts which resulted in 16 people killed and 73 injured, 31 seriously. Buildings suffered too with 13 houses destroyed and 19 had to be demolished, over four hundred were damaged altogether.
Bessacarr’s St Wilfrid Road area received hits which killed two people and injured five. Five houses were destroyed and 152 damaged on this occasion. It was the worst local bombing sequence so far but not the last as on September 1 1942 two 500 pound bombs were dropped on the town centre, one in Station Road and one in nearby West Street. Two people died in these attacks, including rather poignantly a soldier home on leave who was standing smoking a cigarette near to the Grand Theatre, which amazingly escaped serious damage. The same could not be said for the premises of W.E. Clark & Company just across the road, which at the time had expanded to selling motorcycles and cars after moving up from bicycles and penny farthings at their original premises at Bennetthorpe in 1880.
Throughout the Second World War 20 people were killed and 80 injured by bombs in Doncaster, 38 houses were destroyed and 900 damaged.
Perhaps compared to the total devastation suffered by some of our major cities it could be said that Doncaster came off lightly, but to the families directly involved and especially those who lost loved ones it was certainly no less a tragedy.
All this unwanted attention from the Luftwaffe certainly didn’t weaken ,but instead strengthened, residents’ resolve and in one ‘Spitfire Week’ just one group raised funds to buy an aircraft which served with the Canadian Air Force before its fighting career ended when it crashed into the English Channel during a patrol in 1941.