As the repository of over 2,000 school children’s essays, the Archives has participated in a new four-part BBC2 documentary ‘Blitz: the bombs that changed Britain’. Episode two looks at the reason the school essays were written; Solly Zuckerman – the scientist who led a casualty survey and who commissioned the essays; the effects of the bombing on the citizens of Hull; and the far reaching implications for the bombing strategy adopted against German cities and citizens.
‘What happened to me and what I did in the air raids’ is the title of the essay written by 10-14 year olds across Birmingham and Hull schools. The essays formed part of a wider psychological survey and details of the methods by which they were to be evaluated are included. The essays were roughly analysed but Zuckerman and his team never had time to get down to the job of producing a picture of an air raid as seen by children. In 1977 he wrote in his autobiography ‘I have often thought that it would be interesting to track down a sample of the writers of those essays to discover what, if anything, they remember of what they had written.’ Here the film has succeeded, in telling the personal stories of those affected.
Essays survive in the Zuckerman Archive from two Birmingham and 13 Hull schools. The handwriting is remarkably neat, some are illustrated, they vary from 1-7 pages and the girls usually have more to say. There are some harrowing tales and a little humour; they are the voices of innocent child witnesses enduring repeated attacks on their homes and lives.
Extracts from the essays:
“I told my mother what I had seen and she said I had not to say anything to the lady next door for it was her daughter I had seen and she was stricken with grief.” (Age 13)
“These bombs descend by parachute, you can hear the flap flap. Molotov bread-baskets were also dropped containing about sixty incendiaries. These baskets explode in mid-air … I thought it a marvel that anyone could live through an experience as that.” (Age 13)
“Suddenly someone shouted ‘They’ve got him!’ It scared me stiff.” (Age 13)
“I was buried, I was cut but I still helped to pull out the dead and injured.” (Age 10)
Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993) taught at the University of East Anglia from 1969–74. He was on the University’s Academic Planning Board from 1960 and later a key figure in the founding of the School of Environmental Sciences (ENV).
From 1934-1945 he taught in the Department of Anatomy, University of Oxford. It was here in 1939 that Zuckerman, Desmond Bernal and the rest of their team began research on the physiological effects of ground shock waves and blast within the Oxford Extra-Mural Unit on behalf of the Ministry of Home Security.
The staff of the Unit were university personnel, with the exception of some members of the Casualty Survey field teams who were, from 1941, employees of the Ministry’s Research & Experiments Department. They went on to conduct a vast survey of bombing casualties, visiting hospitals, knocking on doors and interviewing survivors. They were interested in physical and psychological effects including morale. It was at this juncture that the school essays were requested.
On 8 April 1942 Zuckerman and his team published their report The Qualitative Study of Total Effects of Air Raids [Hull and Birmingham Survey]. The survey concluded:
“There is no evidence of breakdown of morale for the intensities of the raids experienced by Hull or Birmingham.”
It therefore came as a surprise when their findings were presented to Lord Cherwell (Chief Scientific Adviser to Churchill) and the area bombing of German cities ensued, killing hundreds of thousands of German civilians.
By 1944 Zuckerman was Senior Scientific Adviser to Eisenhower and to Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. He was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Birmingham until 1968, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence from 1960 to 1966, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government from 1964 to 1971. He served as Secretary of the London Zoological Society from 1955–77 and as its President from 1977-1984.
The essays have been microfilmed and are arranged in schools and then according to surname. In addition to the set at UEA Archives, we have provided a set to the Hull History Centre, – a loan from the Zuckerman Archive.
The following 13 Hull schools are represented:
St George’s Road School
J.B. Holmes Girls’ School
Somerset Street School
Constable Street Boys’ School
Chapman Street Boys’ School
Chapman Street Girls’ School
Endike Lane Senior Boys’ School
Fifth Avenue Senir Girls’ School
Malet Lambert High School, 3rd Form
Malet Lambert High School, 4th Form
Malet Lambert High School, 5th and 6th Forms
Newland C of E School
Open Air School
Paisley Street Girls’ School
Thoresby Street Central School, 11 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 12 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 13 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 14 year old pupils
Westbourne Street Girls’ School
Essays from Springburn Street School in Hull have were deposited at the Hull History Centre some years ago. They formed part of a school teacher’s papers and it seems they were not submitted as part of the survey.
Birmingham school essays:
Essays survived from two Birmingham schools. Bloomsbury Snr Girls, Lingard Street. The essays were written on 10 and 13 Feb 1942, recollecting raids of November and December 1940 and 9 April 1941. There were 68 essays from this school.
Only two essays survive from Marlborough Road Secondary School. They are written on 19/2/1941 and 19/2/42 (so one of them probably has the incorrect year, 1942 is probably correct). They recollect the raid of 22/11/40 and 9/4/41.