After the massive loss of life resulting from the Great War, the nation must have been plunged into despair at the thought that barely twenty years later there was to be another war with Germany. People must have been listening with their hearts sinking as once again, war was declared on Germany.
On September 1st 1939 the first trainload of evacuees from Manchester arrived at Blackburn Railway Station. They must have been a sad sight, clutching their gas masks and staring around at the new surroundings which were to become home for the forseeable future. In 1940 the Blackburn branch of the Home Guard was mobilised and the the people of Blackburn raised £14,000 for the Spitfire Fund, enough to build two spitfires, aptly named Blackburn 1 and Blackburn 2.
The summer of 1940 was the time of the 'Battle of Britain'. There was heavy bombing in all major towns and cities in England. Whether it was considered strategically unimportant (despite its munitions and fuse factories) or whether it was due to its relative isolation Blackburn manged to escape from World War Two virtually untouched. It was in 1940 that the bombs began to fall in Darwen. In October of that year seven bombs were dropped and several people were killed. A bus that was travelling up Marsh House Lane was machine-gunned by one of the enemy aircraft.
In September 1940 a bomb fell on Ainsworth Street, killing two people and injuring eight others. The first bomb to fall in Blackburn was at Bennington Street on the 30th Agust 1940 although the occupants of the houses managed to escape unharmed. There was also a line of bombs which fell in a field off Livesey Branch Road. This was quite alarming as the bombs were in direct line with the fuse factory suggesting Nazi intelligence but luckily were two miles off course. In October 1940 two bombs fell at Whitebirk between the power station and the Gas works but no harm was done. Lord Haw Haw, Nazi propagandist and radio broadcaster continued to warn the people of Blackburn that the Nazis were aware of the ROF locations and bombs would follow but Blackburn remained unharmed.
On Christmas Day 1944 the residents of Blackburn were woken by a huge explosion that came from five miles away. A 'doodlebug' bomb had fallen at Gregson Lane, Hoghton, fortunately no-one was killed.
by Hubert Hartley
"Where were you when that bomb fell on Ainsworth Street?" is a question often asked when people of Blackburn are talking to others who were in the town when the incident occurred.
This question came into my mind a little while ago when I was looking at a photograph of the bomb site which was in a picture book of Blackburn and seeing this picture reawakened my memories of the happening. The caption under the photograph stated that the bomb fell about noon. That is incorrect and this is my recollection of the incident.
It was a little before midnight on Saturday August 31st 1940, and I had walked along Ainsworth Street, Salford, Church Street and Fleming Square, heading towards King Street. An aeroplane was flying round overhead and the rise and fall of the sound of the engine was, so we had been told, how we could distinguish German planes from ours. The siren had sounded some time before and the presence of this aircraft was no doubt the reason. This was the time of the "black-out" and no naked lights were to be seen, but it was not totally dark and other people could be seen even across the road. I was heading for Dickinson Street, which was on my way home and where my father was on duty as an Air-raid Warden. Although he worked at an ordnance factory near Chorley during the day, he did his weekend duty as a Warden.
Like everyone else I was hoping that the enemy plane would fly away and not drop any bombs around here. However as walked on the down King Street, I heard a whistling sound which to me meant that a bomb was falling. I was passing the double-fronted shop of B. Duckworth with its baby carriages and cots etc. and I dived to the floor underneath one of the windows. There were two couples slightly ahead of me on the other side of the street and I heard the women scream and begin to panic, while the men were looking around startled as if to see what was happening. From my prone position I yelled at them to get down and was lying there face down with my arms around my head, which we had been taught to do, when a flash of light penetrated through to me in spite of my cover up and this was followed a couple of seconds later by the sound of an explosion.
I stayed in that position for perhaps a minute, but when there was no repeat of the sound I got to my feet and ran quickly to the air raid post where my father was on duty, about three quarters of a mile away. I had turned eighteen a few days previously and was quite fit and so it did not take me long to get there. At the post there was pandemonium as no one there knew where the bomb had fallen and they were unable to contact the H.Q. by phone the line being continuously engaged. I eventually caught my father's eye and he asked why was I there and could I not see that they were busy. I made my way to him and when I told him where I was when the bomb fell, he and the others realised that I knew more than they did. I was then inundated with questions, but all I could tell them was what I knew and that I thought the bomb had fallen down towards the bottom of Church Street.
As it turned out, I was about 200 yards short in my estimation, as it had fallen in Ainsworth Street just outside the premises of Douglas Hull and the shop next door. There are many coincidences occurring in everyone's life and this was one for me, as four years earlier on leaving school, I had obtained employment with Douglas Hull, who was a well known electrical contractor, as an apprentice electrician, the wage being six shillings per week, which was about half of what a shop boy or a young general labourer would have received. The job only lasted until just before Christmas, when I and several other employees had to finish owing to a decline in the orders.
I am grateful to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph which a few years ago published an article about this incident, which gives a fuller picture of the occurrence and the horror of the town's first fatal bomb attack. Here is an extract:
"It (the bomb) came 20 minutes before midnight on August 31st in town centre Ainsworth Street just as the day's last trams and buses were coming to a halt.
The driver of one of the trams died from shock. The conductor died nearly three weeks later from his injuries. Four others were treated in hospital and another four were less seriously hurt. Two shops were wrecked and the front of several others were smashed. Three trams and four buses were also damaged.
The damage and death toll could have been much worse, for if that Nazi raider had flown over even less than an hour earlier - when the cinemas were emptying and the public transport was packed - that single bomb might have caused widespread carnage."
As a young boy towards the end of World War II I was involved in an unusual incident along with a number of my close pals. Much against the wishes of our parents we had gone to play on to land which was commonly known as the 'Ducker'. This lies between the Feniscowles filling station and the Three Arches.
The reason we were forbidden to go on this area was the fact that there was a mine shaft with an unsafe protective fence. However we were more interested in the brook which ran through.
Whilst quietly making our way down the stream we heard someone talking over a ridge. When we realised the language was German we initially panicked but having peeked over the rim we saw that it was one man talking to himself and writing in a notebook.
The decision was quickly made. We would split into two groups of two - one to keep an eye on the man and the second to run to the local police house and inform them that there was a spy in the village!
By the time we returned with the Constable the others reported that the man had caught the bus to Blackburn. The Constable phoned ahead and the man was arrested as he got off the bus at the Wheat Sheaf. It transpired he was a German refugee who had been employed by the Ministry of Power (?) to check possible sources for coal!!
Later the same evening the Constable and his Sergeant visited my home and having firstly offering congratulations they then said that we would be in trouble if we ever went on to the Ducker again.
Little did they know that I was already in trouble from my parents!
Blackburn’s Adopted War Ship H.M.S. Naiad
H.M.S. Naiad was a Dido-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy which served in the Second World War.
She was built by Hawthorn Leslie and Company (Hebburn-on-Tyne), Her keel being laid down on 26th August 1937. She was launched on the 3rd February 1939, and commissioned on the 24th of July 1940.
She initially joined the Home Fleet and was used for ocean trade protection duties. As part of the 15th Cruiser Squadron she took part in operations against German raiders following the sinking of the armed Merchant cruiser “Jervis Bay” in November 1940. In December and January she escorted conveys to Freetown in Sierra Leone, but at the end of January 1941 was back in northern waters where she briefly sighted the German battleships “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau south of Iceland as they were about to break into the Atlantic (Operation Berlin). By May 1941 she was with Force H in the Mediterranean on Malta convey operations, where she was badly damaged by German aircraft. She subsequently operated against Vichy French Forces in Syria*, where together with the cruiser “Leander”, she engaged the French destroyer “Guepard”. For the remainder of her service; she was in the Mediterranean, mostly connected with the continual attempts to supply Malta.
In March 1942 she sailed from Alexandria to attack an Italian cruiser that had been reported damaged. This report was false, and on the return, on March 11th 1942 she was sunk by the German submarine U 565 south of Crete. 77 of her ship’s company were lost, 582 survived.
Crew of the H.M.S. Naiad rescued by H.M.S. Jervis
On the 4th of November 1963 a new H.M.S. Naiad was launched, she was a Leander-class frigate built by Yarrow Shipbuilders of Scotstoun. She was commissioned on 15th of March 1965 and became leader of the Northern Ireland Squadron and deployed in the Far East and South America. In 1970 she participated in the Beira Patrol to prevent oil reaching Rhodesia from Mozambique. She was on Fishery Protection Patrol during the Third Cod War, and on 24th April she was rammed by the Icelandic gunboat Tyr causing hull and bow damage, she began to take in water which prompted damage control teams to build a concrete enclosure around the gash, she went into dry dock at Devonport on her return home. In 1977 she took part in the Royal Navy celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Queen. In April 1987 she was decommissioned.
In 1989 she was used for hull trials with name HULVUL. On 24th September 1990 Naiad was towed from Portsmouth and sunk as a target. A sad ending for a second ship named after a figure in Greek Mythology.
As a footnote on the 23rd of March 1972 a helicopter from the ship piloted by Lt. R. Collishaw landed on the school playing fields of my old School Longshaw Juniors.
*Vichy French Forces were a puppet government set up by the occupying German Forces.
Researched and written by Jeffrey Booth (Library Volunteer).