The night Hitler blitzed our Offey & Chippy.

    At 16 years of age, I had spent the day operating a capstan lathe at ‘Adcock & Shipley m/c Tools’ manufacturing, drilling and milling machines and arms equipment (i.e. anti-tank gun belt loaders, etc.), due to a general shortage after events such as Dunkirk. On finishing it was home for a meal and a tidy up. At around 7pm my sister, Iris, and I set off to meet a workmate of mine, Jim Smith, who lodged on Willowbrook Road. Iris and I left home just after 7pm and walked up the street towards Humberstone Road and got as far as Pembroke Street when Parachute Flares started falling over the center of the City. We then heard bombs exploding. Upon hearing this, we decided home was the best place to be, little did we know!

    Back at home at 95 Cobden Street, my family had adjourned to our brick built air raid shelter. This shelter was situated behind the house about a couple of feet or so from the outside kitchen wall. Pop’ having been in the last war, knew well what it was all about. He had built a roof between two walls, put a door on the outside and knocked out a doorway from the kitchen, from where we were able to walk through and access the shelter. Fitted out with bunk beds, it was home from home. Only one draw back however, the concrete ceiling would sweat like the dickens and dripped all over the ones that ended up on the top bunks. After a while, my friend Jim turned up. He and I watched the searchlights in the distance, trying to pick out the enemy aircraft. We spotted the odd plane clearing its guns with bursts of fire by their tracer bullets and the reflection of the fires in the city center. At about 10.45pm Pop’ suggested that Jim returned to his lodgings, as his landlady would be concerned. I walked part way with him, then returned, had hot drink and retired to my bunk in our shelter. The whole family listened to the planes going over and the occasional ‘crump’ of a cluster of bombs landing in the distance. Somewhere between 11 & 12pm came the sounds of ‘whoss’ ‘whoss’ of a bomb coming down. Pop’ exclaimed ‘this ones close!’. Then there was a tremendous explosion and we were thrown about on our bunks. The shelter rocked as if it was about to collapse, then silence for a short time followed by the clatter of debris raining on the roof to the shelter, then silence once more. Pop’ and I decided to see what had happened. On opening the passage door to a ‘pucker bombers moon’ it was like day light out there. We could clearly see rubble, slates, bricks, bottles and glass everywhere. The first thing to catch my eye was that the car, normally parked under the covered gateway, had moved forward some five or six yards and the gates were open out-wide onto the pavement. I looked to my left along the Humberstone Road and could see that all the glass was missing from the windows and doors were blown open. Not too bad I thought, then looking to my right it was unbelievable, everything had disappeared and there was a crater some 25 - 30 feet in diameter and about 12 foot deep, approximately 20yds from the front of our house. The off license and general store run by Mr & Mrs. Freestone, that had consisted of a small garage and one shop window, plus four terraced houses in Willow Street, with the entrance across the corner with a huge half moon stone doorstep, two shop windows in Cobden Street, with living quarters above, and beyond this three more adjoining terraced houses, had disappeared completely. The two houses that where still standing were later declared unsafe and demolished. Further inspection of the opposite side of Willow Street revealed that the whole side of the house and chippy was laying in the road, utter despair! My thought’s at the time were ‘Those Goose Stepping Swine’s had distroyed not only our offey but the chippy as well!' ‘There was no way we could let the Nazi so ‘n’ so's win after this.’

    On returning to the shelter mum opened the door to point out what she thought was the body of Mrs. Freestone’s cat laying on the edge of the roof, with its bushy tail hanging down the wall. I reached to pull it down when Pop’ said better not as it maybe messy. We then settled for a fitful night. We later found out that the ‘dead cat’ turned out to be Mrs Freestone’s fox fur! a very popular item that ladies draped around their shoulders at dances and posh events, during the thirties. We later learned that the dog, cat and canary had been left in the off License cellar. Whilst Mr and Mrs Freestone had been invited to join the Allan family across the road in their shelter, that had been built in the cellar of their house to accommodate the workers from the adjacent factory. We later learned that the cat was the only one to survive the blast.

    Next morning, we woke to find a policeman posted on our gateway, who informed us he was there to stop any looting. There were bottles of beer and packets of cigarettes every were. The beer was o.k. as we found to people’s delight. When workmen later came to cover the roofs with tarpaulin, there was a settee on our roof ridge between the two chimneys. The shops contents were scattered all over the houses and in the back yards. We had rows of empties stacked along the gateway, but the cigarettes looked o.k. wrapped in cellophane, but the force of the bomb blast had forced dust through the cellophane wrappers on the packets, rendering the cigarettes unsmokeable. However, folk got round this by stripping them down and rolled their own. I missed out on this as I didn’t smoke or drink. The large door step had smashed through the steel bars of the gate at about head height; Very close to were Jim and I had been standing earlier, and lay halfway up the passage. The beer engine was found about100yds up Cobden Street. There was a sizeable hole spotted in the railway embankment in line with the reported flight path of the plane that had dropped the bomb, that had done all the damage. The bomb squad was called and an unexploded bomb suspected, sappers took the upper part of a coal truck off it's wheels and dragged it over hole and filled it with sand bags until the bomb disposal personnel were available to sort it out. We had been very lucky compared to other parts of the city. I heard only of one casualty in our area, a Mrs Bright was injured when part of the family shelter collapsed. If there were others I never heard about them. Families who’s houses had disappeared or were to badly damaged were rehouse in new locations, and we often lost contact. I don't recollect ever seeing them again, but for Mr Freestone a day or two later. He came round looking for his safe that had been situated in the shop cellar. No one reported seeing it, which puzzled him, as it was sizeable, very heavy and would take two to three people to move it.

    The chippy was so badly damaged that it had to be pulled down. I never saw the owner again as they moved out of town. The day the Bomb Disposal Squad arrived to sort out the UXB lying under the train wagon. However, after digging a few feet down, they found the suspected unexploded bomb to be Mr & Mrs Freestone’s safe! They sent for the Freestone’s and they arrived along with the key, to see if the door would open. It did! Pretty amazing due to the fact if was thrown approximately 100yds, clearing a three story factory, before burying itself some feet into the embankment. Mr Freestone collected his takings and went away smiling. Whether he tipped the lads, I never knew.

By E. Hubbard

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