LOOTING IN SHEFFIELD - DECEMBER 1940

Whilst I was researching the Blitz on Sheffield by the German Luftwaffe in December 1940 I came across the following entry on the  spartacus.schoolnet site

Justice Charles, Leeds Assizes (5th March, 1941) stated

"More than two whole days have been occupied in dealing with cases of looting which have occurred in one city (Sheffield). When a great city is attacked by bombs on a heavy scale, numbers of houses and their contents are left exposed and deprived of their natural defences. Necessarily these are the homes of comparatively poor people, since they are by far the most numerous.

In many cases these looters have operated on a wholesale scale. There were actually two-men who had abandoned well-paid positions, one of them earning 7 (280) to 9 (360) a week, and work of public importance, and who abandoned it to take up the obviously more remunerative occupation of looting. The task of guarding shattered houses from prowling thieves, especially during the blackout, is obviously beyond the capacity of any police force. In view of the fact and having regard to the cowardly, abominable nature of the crime the perpetrators of which are preying upon the property of poor folk rendered homeless and often killed, the Legislature has provided that those found guilty of looting from premises damaged or vacated by reason of attacks by the enemy are on conviction liable to suffer death or penal servitude for life. Thus the law puts looters into the category of murderers, and the day may well be approaching when they will be treated as such."

Whilst I was aware that looting did take place after the raids I never realised that it was on this scale.

I accessed The Times and found a very small article on the cases that were heard. This was dated 4th March 1941 and referred to cases that were heard the previous day.

The Scotsman dated 4th March 1941 also covered the same case but thankfully gave more information on the accused and their crimes.

DS Allen of the Sheffield Police "handed the judge a document which gave details of the enormous extent to which looting had been prevalent in Sheffield after the raids". I could not quite believe that statement, but when I accessed the next article in The Manchester Guardian I was left in no doubt whatsoever about the extent of looting.

Of course there is no way of ascertaining the full truth, but I get the impression that the soldiers Orlopp and Montieth may well have obtained some of their items from people who had been killed in the raid. If that is the case their conduct can only be called despicable. Even if they did not rob the dead their conduct (and the others) that night was reprehensible. I have a questioning attitude to the Judiciary normally but I have to agree with Justice Charles who stated that  those found guilty of looting from premises suffering war damage should on conviction be liable to suffer death or penal servitude for life.

This is a shameful episode in Sheffield's history but one that was repeated throughout the country and throughout the war. If you can get a copy of the excellent "An Underworld at War (John Murray) by David Thomas" you can read about the whole unedifying spectacle. The looting varied in intensity from time to time and place to place but for some reason, Sheffield seemed to have suffered from these scum more than most.

Sadly looting was to remain a feature of the war. Even as late as August 1944, the Home Secretary had to play down the extent of the looting. The Manchester Guardian dated 17th August 1944 reported

As far as I know no-one was ever executed for looting in the war. Perhaps if a few "draconian" sentences had been given to looters at the onset of the Blitz, perhaps the problem just may not have escalated as it did.

Sources

The Sheffield History Forum

David Thomas -  An Underworld at War (John Murray)

The Scotsman dated 4th March 1941

The London Times dated dated 4th March 1941

The Manchester Guardian dated 4th March 1941

The Manchester Guardian dated 17th August 1944

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