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Psychological tests on Hull folk in the war explored in new history of the city

Psychological tests on Hull people during the Blitz, and their implications, are explored in a new book charting the history of the city. 

Secret government testing that explored how Hull School children responded to the terror of the Blitz are considered in Hull: Culture, History, Place, which also explores the city, its people and its colourful past.

It includes chapters on the lives of Hull residents in medieval times, viewed from a new perspective that uses wills and probates to reveal how people lived their lives and what they left in their wills.

A chapter on ‘Rebellious Hull’ tells the full story of Charles I being refused entry to the city, as well as some of the city’s other anti-establishment stances.

David Atkinson, one of the books editors, and author of the chapter on the Blitz, said Hull proved to be a resilient place during the war.

He said: “One chapter is an account of the Blitz and its impacts on Hull. It includes German bomb maps that show what their targets were, and what the pilots were expected to look out for.  Yet at the height of the Blitz, local people recognised there would be a need to start rebuilding and the plans started as the bombs were still failing.  The city council set about planning a new city worthy of its people.”

At the same time, the Government was secretly surveying Hull to see if they could identify the point at which civilian morale might break beneath the bombing.

Professor Atkinson said: “A team of psychologists was sent up from London to work out at what point the people of Hull would crack. As a result of this, every single child of a certain age range was asked to write an essay called ‘what happened to me and what I did in the air raids.’

“These essays were sent away to be analysed to work out the impact of the bombing.  The psychologists also aimed to interview 900 adults, and they managed to survey 740 – but the final report is embargoed until 2020, so the findings are still not in the public realm fully.

“However, the scientist who directed these interviews wrote an autobiography revealing that Hull wasn’t going to break, and that the people were resilient, despite the ferocious bombing.

“At the time, this information went to Frederick Lindemann, who was Churchill’s chief scientist.  The results were misrepresented, deliberately some argue, and Churchill was told that the Hull survey showed that civilians would break under relentless bombing, especially when they were made homeless.  Churchill therefore authorised the wide-scale British bombing of German cities – a strategy that was arguably fuelled by the survey of Hull.”

"...the scientist who directed these interviews wrote an autobiography revealing that Hull wasn’t going to break, and that the people were resilient, despite the ferocious bombing" Professor Atkinson, Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography

The Hull: Culture, History, Place book also includes chapters on migrants and their role in the city’s past, and the role of sport in Hull.

Another chapter explores the city’s fishing heritage featuring the personal diaries of a trawler skipper and his thoughts and feelings about life at sea.

The volume came about after the University was approached by Liverpool University Press ahead of the City of Culture year, and asked to produce a book about the city to be released in 2017.

Professor Atkinson said: “Liverpool University Press publish a series of books about key British cities.  These books have to include impressive research and new perspectives, but at the same time, they have to be well written, beautifully illustrated and public facing.  The publishers wanted something which would capture the city in an accessible fashion, but with top level research included.”

The book has 24 contributors with 10 chapters.

It is available from Amazon for £14.99 (paperback) or, alternatively, from the Liverpool University Press Website and all good bookshops.

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