- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Hilda Waddington, Irene Life Stacey
- Location of story:
- Chatburn and Gisburn Lancs.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 June 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Anne Wareing of the Lancashire Home Guard on behalf of Hilda Waddington and Irene Life Stacy and was added to the site with their permission.
My sisters and I were born in the state of Virginia in America; our parents had gone there for their honeymoon and obviously must have liked it there, as they opted to stay. We came home in 1937, as my grandmother was ill, so I was here when the war broke out in 1939, I was 6 years old.
Being so young I do not have too many memories of the war, but I can remember that at elementary school we had to practice putting our gas masks on and off and as we didn’t have a shelter in the school playground, the idea was that in the event of a raid, we would line up and then run as fast as we could to our designated houses for shelter.
I can remember getting under a table with a green chenille tablecloth overit. It’s funny what sticks in your mind.
Of course there was the rationing and as Mum had a small grocers shop at Bracewell , she had to deal with the coupons from the ration books which couldn’t have been an easy task.
My eldest sister being much older remembers more and has written the following…
A Wartime Memory
The lone German bomber flew over the small village of Chatburn, which lies in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire, in the forenoon of October 30th 1940.
Undoubtedly lost, the aircraft still carried two bombs left over from a run of bombing Liverpool. The mill chimney of a weaving shed stood tall, beckoning as a possible target.
The plane flew on for two miles and then banking steeply, turned for it’s low run down the Valley to Chatburn, which was innocent of the fate soon to descend.
My father, Uncle and the hired man were working in one of the top fields, sited two miles to the north of Chatburn. Dad saw the pilot and said ever afterwards, the enemy plane was so low, on top of them, that if he’d had his shotgun, he could have brought it down. That is almost certainly true, for he had been shooting since the age of eleven and was an ex 1914-1918 Army man. He was enraged that he was so helpless.
Incidentally, that top field was one of the places where on certain clear nights, one could see Liverpool burning although eighty miles away. A shocking sight for country folk.
At elementary school in Gisburn, just over the county line in Yorkshire, the first intimation we had of trouble was hearing loud resounding thumps; we were situated some three miles from the doomed village.
With indecent haste and certainly contrary to all earlier procedures, we children were pushed and bundled onto the concrete floored cloakroom, piled on each other like badly packed sardines against the cold hard metal uprights which held coats and individual gas masks and other belongings. The windows were criss- crossed with inch wide white tape to prevent shattering.
The gas masks were a continual hated problem, banging along our bodies as we made our way to and from school each day. We also carried our packed lunches. We had been trained in the use of the gas masks much earlier but that did not make them popular, it was a daily nuisance and a constant reminder of we knew not what…
We had been ordered to silence and lay there, stifling our giggles, shuffling, pushing and shoving each other and in the cold gloom, we heard then the wail of the air raid siren.
Prior to this infamous day, we had, I should think, the most haphazard air raid precautions in the country.
On the sound of the siren, we were to go immediately either through the village, which was divided by the A59, to our own homes or as in our case, if we came any distance, to a chosen house. Our refuge for my two younger sisters and I was an easy run. Directly across from the school, we used to dive into Mrs. Brear’s front hall and make for under her stairs. She was an elderly, refined and very distant relative and how she took to three girls, 12,10 and 6 years, racing in on practice runs, I’ll never know. Picture the rest of the children, who did live locally, running for their lives, possibly for two thirds of a mile, before they reached safety. It seems some mothers, at least were always at home in those early green wartime days.
As we lay in our unaccustomed, uncomfortable positions on the floor, unable to comprehend, the German aircraft was already miles away, traveling east, still off track but presumably making for the North Sea and Germany, that is assuming he had not wasted all his fuel.
They has dropped their two bombs and turned to leave. One bomb fell on a house and flattened it. The second fell on the main A59 road; which used to run through this small community of Chatburn and that bomb demolished the Post Office and several houses. Slates, stones, walls, wood, plaster and furnishings, all laid to waste.
The added drama, the strange happenstance that day was that at the precise moment the bombs fell, a loaded petrol tanker was passing through the centre of the village. The tanker exploded adding considerably to the damage. The tanker driver was killed, as were two others. Five people were detained in hospital and many more were treated for minor injuries.
This was a shocking incident, although no more so than the thousands of others in that cruel war, but there was no warning, it was in daylight, the system failed and the aircraft got away. The all-clear siren was a long time sounding and rumours were flying before then.
Chatburn after a while became a village plagued by curiosity seekers. It was many years before all signs of the devastation were cleared away, out of sight.
If there was a lesson to be learnt, it must have been that children should stay put and under some form of cover in an air raid and that my father should carry his loaded shotgun at all times. The latter was not a practical idea and in the ensuing months we never again came close to being bombed. Chance had chosen Chatburn to suffer, for the airplane had passed by larger conurbations and many more mill chimneys not three miles southwest of the village.
Irene Life Stacey
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