The air raids of World War 2 brought a new dimension to international conflicts - the Blitz - the fight was now brought onto the ‘The Home Front'. J.B. Priestley, the great Yorkshire writer, summarised it in 1940 "For this is total war, and total war is war right inside the home itself. Emptying the clothes cupboards and the larder, screaming its threats through the radio at the hearth - burning and bombing its way from roof to cellar."
Kingston upon Hull suffered longer and more frequently than any other place outside London. For security purposes Hull was referred to in wartime news as ‘a North East Coast Town' and most Britons at the time were unaware of the enormous battering that the city was enduring. With its docks, wharves and industrial sites, the city was viewed as a prime target for aerial bombardment. Air raids on Hull went on longer than on any other British city, partly it is thought for German internal propaganda purposes. The city is distinguished not only for the intensity and scale of its wartime aerial bombardment, but also for being the first and last to suffer its impacts. It was subject to the first daylight air-raid on Britain during the war, and it also suffered the last civilian casualties in Britain as a result of the Blitz, when the last piloted air raid, on 17th March 1945, resulted in deaths and injuries of people leaving the Savoy Cinema (there is a wall plaque on the front wall of Boyes Store, Holderness Road, recording this tragic event).
By the end of hostilities, Hull had suffered over eighty recorded raids. In 1951, it was calculated that of the 91,660 houses in the city only 5,945 had survived undamaged. In his autobiography the wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison concluded that, 'in my experience the town that suffered most was Kingston-upon-Hull'.
Of over a hundred thousand buildings in Hull affected by the Blitz, and the many hundreds of thousands of buildings in the UK affected by aerial bombardment during WW2, only a handful survive. There are less than 20 bombed building ruins surviving in England, the majority of which are in the south of England, and most of which are churches preserved as ruins. The National Picture Theatre is the only civilian secular example to survive, not only in the city, but in the whole country, and serves as a reminder of the courage, bravery of those who lived, worked and held communities together through the Blitz.
The importance of the ruined building is described in the English Heritage listing assessment report as:
"The historic interest is so strong that the building merits listing because of its iconic importance in the history of the conflict in the C20. Hull Suffered arguably more grievously than any other English city from bombing during the 1939-45 War, and this building is an eloquent testimony to the period that is of outstanding local but indisputably national interest. More than 60 years later, the handful of sites and buildings that are witness to the Second World War are of more significance than ever, and the National Picture Theatre in Hull deserves to be recognised as one of the most powerful reminders of one of the most formative periods in the C20."