On the night of 28th/29th April the bombers struck the city of York. Watching the aircraft overhead releasing their deadly cargo, he was armed only with a stirrup pump to douse the flames of any bombs that landed on the garage. On this night the bombs were falling relentlessly, huge explosions lit up entire streets and several major buildings were hit. Perched on top of the roof of his garage he must have felt both helpless and nervous at the thought of what he was witnessing around him.
Eric decided to have a break and whilst downstairs in the garage, the place where he had been sat took a direct hit, the entire garage a mass of rubble, flames, smoke and dust. Scrambling to safety it was obvious that his decision to take a break saved his life. Eric’s father, also called Matthew, was the duty station manager at York train station on the night of the raids and thankfully he also survived. Others weren’t so lucky, the death toll in this city was 79.
It is incredible at just how many of his friends did not survive the war. Kenneth Fox went to school with Eric and died when his plane crashed upon landing on the way back from an air raid. A Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve for 514 Squadron, he was just 20 years old; at Kenneth's funeral in York Eric was a pall bearer for his lost friend.
Another school friend also in the RAFVR was James Crawford. He was also killed at a young age with 61 Squadron on 7th December 1941. At just 17 years old his body was never recovered and has no known grave.
The photograph of him (left) shows him with a stirrup pump from the Second World War at his home in Bridlington.
My aim was to interview Eric when the restrictions were lifted and ask him more about his wartime service so that none of his stories were forgotten, but unfortunately it was too late. Eric passed away just a few weeks ago, on 22nd November 2020 at the age of 96.
I would like to thank his good friend and neighbour Martin Barmby who spent time with him in his final years and spent many hours chatting about his life and war stories and who has given me the opportunity to highlight his career and experiences today. Eric served his country in the Second World War as a vehicle mechanic and without the efforts of people like him in their reserved occupations, the Allies would not have been able to win the war against the Nazis.