|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 4th October 1940, transcribed by Jim Hollis
Bomb Alfred Street School
The fury and evil of war broke suddenly upon a small Midlands industrial town on Thursday morning, bringing the horror of Nazidom to workers and schoolchildren, and searing the streets with dust and rubble of destruction.
FOUR ADULTS AND SIX CHILDREN (INCLUDING THREE EVACUEES) ARE REPORTED DEAD, AND SEVERAL PEOPLE SEVERELY INJURED, A NUMBER OF MINOR CASUALTIES ALSO RESULTING.
This town had been unvisited by the ravages of war. It had begun the untroubled routine of another day. THOUSANDS OF WORKERS WERE IN THE FACTORIES; THE LOCAL AND EVACUEE CHILDREN WERE AT THEIR LESSONS IN SCHOOLS. Suddenly a lone plane wheeled across the sky, flying low across the centre of the town.
The air was split by hard, crackling explosions one after another in a continuous salvo and then the raider fled.
People Were Dazed
For a few moments people everywhere stood dazed and unable to comprehend. Then, realising the truth, they ran from every quarter towards streets where destruction in those few moments had laid its deadly hand.
Right across the town the trail extended, beginning near the leading hotel and sweeping to a factory and school which stood on opposite sides of a short but wide and important street. There were direct hits on the factory and school.
The bomb on the factory smashed through the glass roof of the big single storey portion, and blasted a hole filled deeply with wreckage of benches, materials, and beams into the heart of a men’s department.
Here on a bench, a man lay dead. Other workmen were missing and first accounts said that one had been blown through the gaping tear in the roof.
There was a large girls’ department near, and many of the girl employees were among the cut and blackened figures which were assisted or carried on stretchers out of the dust and wreckage and interminable litter of broken glass which met the eye everywhere.
On the other side of the street, probably the largest elementary school in the town displayed a great gaping wound. There had been another direct hit and the front portion of a two-storey section had been broken up into a vicious and appalling heap of bricks and beams.
Elsewhere buildings, including the hotel, were damaged to a lesser extent and human life escaped with less infliction of injury.
With the cluster of high explosive bombs had been mixed a shower of incendiaries, but these caused infinitesimal damage, and no fires occurred.
A.R.P. Services There
Although this was the town’s first raid, the scope and efficiency of the A.R.P. services was revealed amazingly.
There had been no siren warning and none was given after the blast of the bombing, but an instinctive realisation of the needs of the moment brought all departments of the services into action swiftly and with sublime calmness and resolution.
In spite of danger from leaning portions of roof and walls which had been torn from the structure of the school, workers of all descriptions gathered at the heart of the outrage.
Above this wreckage was the tottering shell of the school attendance officer’s room and other departments used by the school managers and medical services.
“They Were Lovely”
The first good news which emerged was that in the infants’ department of the school, every child and every teacher was safe.
This is what the teacher of the babies’ class said a few minutes after the bombs dropped: “The children behaved perfectly. I threw myself down on the floor and the rest did the same in a moment. They were lovely.”
The headmistress of the infants’ department said: “They were splendid. If the parents had not come they would not have been distressed at all.”
Saw Bomb Drop
Mr. Sidney Dorks, who is employed in a boot factory, was in the street between the damaged factory and the school when the raid occurred.
“I saw the plane as plain as could be,” he said, “and I saw a bomb dropping. I rushed into the factory and told them and then I went to the school and soon picked up a boy and a girl. The German was very low.”
A small circular fracture had been found and appeared to contain a metal object, but the town’s chief A.R.P. warden tested the matter by wiping the metal with a rag, finding that a water tap and not a bomb lay within the ring. A short distance away, near the side wall of a factory, was a bomb crater, and the windows within this factory were broken.
A woman, who was afterwards taken to hospital was seriously injured in the left leg by a bomb which fell near her in the street. She was attended by a constable and a doctor.
A man driving a horse and cart was slightly injured, but the horse and vehicle escaped.
A pinnacle was knocked off a tall bank building near the centre of the town.
A.R.P. Services From Neighbouring Towns Were Called In During The Morning.
An incendiary bomb fell in a theatre and was dealt with by the male staff on the advice of the Chief Air Raid Warden.
There were three incendiary bombs on a railway embankment and an H.E. bomb in a side street which forms a cul de sac. This did no damage to cars which were parked in the street, but blew windows out and damaged a number of houses.
Another incendiary bomb was found on a footpath near a bridge. An explosive bomb fell near a small warehouse off a main street, but caused little damage.
The managing director of the factory where casualties occurred was walking in a corridor a few yards from the centre of destruction when the bomb fell.
He has asked the Press to announce that the operatives should report at the factory on Friday morning.
In the school which was hit a large clock stopped at the time of the bombing, but appeared to be intact.
A manufacturer walking in the street was hit by a flying brick which injured his head.
The town’s main post office was closed soon after the incidents, though it had not been hit.
Seriously injured people were taken from the First Aid Post to a county hospital.
Some children died at the First Aid Post and a church schoolroom was used as a temporary mortuary.
A considerable portion of the injured children were evacuees, some children in a room above were awaiting clinical inspection but missed injury and escaped down a ladder.
The Nursing Superintendent at the First Aid Post told a reporter : “Not one of my staff fainted, though they were absolutely untried. It was a baptism of blood for them and the doctor was absolutely amazed.”
The people in the street where the First Aid Post is situated brought hot water bottles and blankets to the building and supplied the staff with large quantities of boiling water.
A piece of mechanism which had apparently fallen from the raiding plane and bore German inscriptions was found near a factory on the outskirts of the town. It is believed to be part of the bomb release apparatus.
One end of the roof of the hotel caught the full force of a bomb and collapsed, slates and joists being scattered across the main road through the town.
A time bomb fell near the hotel.
“About 50 people were in the hotel at the time,” said one of the staff, “I was in the vaults, but the noise was so great that I threw myself on the floor and just waited for the house to finish rocking. It did a rumba!
“Practically all the ceilings are cracked and I should say there is hardly a bedroom fit to use. So far as we know at present the two top floors are the worst damaged.”
Besides the bomb that wrecked the roof another fell at the opposite end of the hotel, making a big crater in the parking place.
“I am more than thankful we are all alive.” said the proprietress.
A theatre on the other side of the road had its front considerably damaged. Some of the doors were blown out and glass from the foyer canopy was scattered in all directions.
A car which had been standing nearby was an extraordinary sight. Bomb splinters and flying debris had drilled scores of holes in the bodywork, smashed all the windows and burst some of the tyres. The car was thickly covered in dust.
Although an inn had been damaged, it was doing very brisk business and townspeople in the bar were exchanging raid experiences.
One of the most interesting was told by the landlord. “I was cleaning my teeth when I heard a bump and the next thing I remember was being blown along the passage with a bicycle on top of me” he said.
“Then I heard bricks falling and when things quietened down I ran into the bar and found the damage was not so bad as I expected I found an incendiary bomb burning outside the door but put it out with debris another bomb had scattered.
“Now we are doing business as usual, or, maybe, a bit better than usual.”
People in a fish shop and the house adjoining had miraculous escapes. The house and shop are “L” shaped and one bomb fell between two wings and the other near an end of the building.
This bomb blew out a wall, exposing bedroom and downstairs furniture, while the other one tore off tiles, smashed windows and rendered the building so unsteady with the blast that it had to be shored up.
A piece of asphalt from the yard about two feet square was hurled up into a tree.
Gas Main Alight
What is believed to have been the first bomb to fall dropped near a long-distance coach garage, made a crater in the road and set fire to a gas main which was still blazing more than an hour afterwards. Gas Company men were summoned to cut off the gas.
A water main in a main street was broken.
Five incendiary bombs were said to have fallen in the grounds of a big residence, and a high explosive bomb damaged the building.
R.A.F. in Pursuit
A farmer living a few miles from the town said that he saw a German plane circling round near the town.
He said that some British fighters were above the bomber and he thought that it might have dropped its load to make its escape. After the bombs fell, the Nazi made off in a London direction with the fighters in pursuit and it seemed certain that he would be brought down.