Autumn 1940 was the probably the darkest period in Sheffield’s history. Hitler’s Germany seemed unstoppable and a full-scale UK invasion seemed inevitable. France had fallen and the Nazis were less than 25 miles from the South coast of England.
Sheffield’s position as a key part of the country’s war effort, via its munitions production, always made it key target but, despite all this, the city was gearing up to try and celebrate Christmas 1940. It was Thursday, December 12, and resplendent city centre shopping institutions like Atkinsons, Cockaynes, Walsh’s, Redgates, C&A Modes and Marks & Spencer were decked out in festive finery despite the continued air of menace.
By early evening the city’s bars, cinemas and theatres were packed to the rafters as Sheffielders put thoughts of the war behind them and decided to start to celebrate Christmas in earnest. Within hours great swathes of the city centre had been utterly destroyed; hundreds were dead and dying and bombs had been dropped across the entire city, killing indiscriminately. The bombers returned three night’s later, leaving over 2,000 citizens killed or injured and 40,000 homeless.
Walk the streets of Sheffield in the 21st century and little evidence remains of those two horrific nights in December 1940 and the months it took to rebuild the city’s shattered infrastructure. ‘Sheffield’s date with Hitler’ uses new eye-witness accounts; new evidence unearthed from Government archives; rare photos and actual German bombing maps to piece together the story of the Sheffield Blitz like never before. The book also tells the story of the city’s first air raid (a devastating Zeppelin attack in 1916) and life in 1930s Sheffield as the country counted down to the outbreak of World War Two.
Fiona Firth of The Star said: “This is one of the most comprehensive books ever written about those two dark nights in December 1940 when the Sheffield people stood defiant against Hitler in the face of unspeakable death and destruction.
“‘Sheffield’s date with Hitler’ is likely to be the last time we’ll hear first hand from the survivors of those awful times 70 years ago.”