Heroes of Leeds

People in Leeds celebrating the end of the war

Celebrating the end of the war in Leeds

The heroes of the Leeds blitz

Reports of the raid on Leeds were quick to identify heroism. Even as the fires were still smouldering, the Evening Post spoke of ‘Heroic Defence Work in N-E Town’ (Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 March 1941). But how should historians treat these stories of heroism?

These pages are dedicated to those who displayed bravery during the raid, standing up to protect their city despite the dangers they faced.

Our examples tell a small number of stories from that night. We hope that by illuminating their stories, we can pay homage to all those who showed heroism during the Leeds Blitz, while also thinking about heroism as a historical theme. This has taken on even greater significance during the COVID-19 pandemic that we are currently experiencing.

What should historians do with heroes?

Heroism is an important, but tricky, concept for historians. Geoffrey Cubitt suggests that heroes help us to understand societies as well as individuals. In other words, we can ask what led people to celebrate heroes rather than just asking ‘what made this person so special?’.

This can be understood by investigating media representations, personal testimonies and public monuments (Jones, 2007, pp. 441-442). We have done exactly this by investigating the reasons newspapers articles and personal testimonies focused on certain stories. But we have also tried to remember the extraordinary bravery that these people showed. Whatever we call them, they put their lives in danger to help others.

Geoffrey Cubitt; “A hero is any man or women who’s existence, whether in his or her own lifetime or later, is endowed by others, not just with a high degree of fame and honour, but with a special allocation of imputed meaning and symbolic signficance- that not only raises them above others in public esteem but makes them the object of some kind of collected emotional investment.” (Jones,2007,pp.441)

Points of Interest

This map puts into context the heroic people that have been mentioned throughout the website and where their specific acts of valliance took place. Hopefully, this map can help visualise the events that occured on the 14th and 15th of March 1941.(All images are from Leodis unless stated otherwise)

Children playing in the remains of a bombed church

Children playing in the ruins of a bombed church in Leeds.

The blitz spirit and COVID-19

This project has taken on new meaning as it is taking place during a time of fear and anxiety connected to Covid-19. Historians – including our tutor – have written about the way this crisis has been explained using wartime concepts.

The Coronavirus pandemic has created a sense of togetherness in Leeds. More than 8,000 people signed up to support the Community Care Voluntary Programme and there are 27 community hubs serving all 33 wards in the city (Doing Good Leeds). This has created an effective support network for those who are most vulnerable.

The acts of bravery displayed by our heroes instilled a similar sense of unity and local pride. We hope that an understanding of this past can help people to find courage for a brighter future.