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Chatburn Village

 


Rodney Read

Introduction by Rodney Read

In July of 2001 I undertook the task of trying to find an answer to the 60 year old mystery of why a German bomber dropped two bombs on our village. Many rumours abounded at the time and still do to this day.

The following story tells of personal accounts and tries to analyse some of the rumours, plus my own theories from information gathered over the last two and a half years.

This has been gathered by research at Lancashire Libraries and Archives, a personal visit to the Ministry of Defence Air Historical branch RAF Bentley Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex, a visit to Lowestoft to meet the daughter of the petrol tanker driver, plus research at the Bundesarchiv - Militarchiv, Germany, where unfortunately, many records were destroyed at the end of the war.

Thanking also for their assistance Kathleen Ridgway, Roger Stubbs, Lisa Sanderson & Alex Klawunde.


Wednesday October 30th 1940

This is the day that the horrible reality of war came to our village. Early on that Wednesday afternoon a German bomber, circled very low over the village, so low in fact people could clearly see the pilot at his controls. As he passed over the village he released two bombs causing the death of 3 people, injuries to many others and extensive damage to many buildings. The three people killed were Miss Alice Robinson, who died later in hospital as a result of a direct hit on her house; Mrs Elizabeth Wilson, a resident of Ribble Lane, whose house was damaged; and Mr Lawrence Westwood from York, who was driving a petrol tanker through the village.


HEINKEL 111
    HEINKEL 111

Normal afternoon

All seemed as normal as could be that afternoon, mill workers had returned after their dinner break and the school children were having their afternoon lessons. But all was soon to change. Friday's edition of the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times reported under the heading:-

BOMBS ON NORTH-WEST VILLAGE

TWO PEOPLE KILLED AND OTHERS INJURED

DAYLIGHT RAID

Two bombs were dropped on a North-west village on Wednesday afternoon, killing two people, gravely injuring two more and a number of others received minor injuries.

The killed were:
Mrs Mary Elizabeth Wilson, widow, and Lawrence Westwood, the driver of a petrol wagon which was being driven through the village whilst the raid was taking place.

The gravely injured residents are Miss Alice Robinson (53) whose house was demolished, and Elijah Halstead (62) who received injuries about the head and eyes when his cottage was damaged. Both are in hospital.

Among others detained in hospital on Wednesday night were:
Mrs Graham Wood, Miss Taylor, Mrs Walton, Walter Forrest and Jean Wignall, while others who were allowed to go home after receiving treatment were:
Mrs W Hartley, Mrs E Monk, Mrs Arthur, Mrs Harwood, Robert W Graham and Emma Leigh.

Probably a further dozen villagers who received minor injuries were treated by first-aid parties on the spot.

 

Robinson's House

The raider flew extremely low so that the German markings were at once observed. It circled the village and then returned, dropping two bombs which several people saw fall from the machine. One of them struck a house at the foot of a brow, completely demolishing it and severely injuring the solitary occupant, Miss Robinson.

The second bomb fell squarely in the roadway between two rows of stone built houses.

Walls were cracked, roofing torn off and many windows were shattered. Several casualties occurred in this neighbourhood.

The village A.R.P. workers went at once into action and within a few minutes their efforts were supplemented by A.R.P. squads from a neighbouring centre. Many people who were not members of the air raid service joined in the work of helping the injured.

Village Post War

The fire fighting party tackled the flames which shot from a petrol tanker which was flung off the main road into a drive.

Blazing petrol ran from the tank into the debris which had fallen from the demolished house and some time elapsed before the blaze was got under complete control.

The village fire fighters were quickly reinforced by another brigade and no effort was spared to control the outbreak.


Another building to receive heavy damage was the village Post Office which caught the force of both bombs.

Much of the roof was stripped, masonry was dislodged, and everything in the shop itself was thrown into confusion.

The Postmaster was struck by glass and received head injuries, whilst his two daughters also sustained cuts. The wife of the Postmaster, who was in another part of the house, escaped unhurt.

Post Office Post War

The row of houses between which the second bomb fell, were heavily damaged, and another group of houses near the bottom of a hill also got the full force of one bomb. Windows were shattered, the roofs were pierced and, in many instances, furniture was damaged and flung about the rooms. Minor casualties were sustained.

Ribble Lane Post War

Another effect of the bomb which fell in the street was to fracture gas and water mains and to snap electric cables, whilst telephone wires were torn down by one of the missiles.

Thus for some time the village lacked essential services, but these were quickly restored by A.R.P. and repair squads.

Windows at the Methodist chapel and some even further away were smashed, but the village school, which was nearer the scene, was untouched.

The headmaster and his assistants alike paid tribute to the coolness of the children.


Stating that at the first hint of danger the scholars dived under their desks, as they had been taught in air raid practises. It was only on Tuesday that the school windows were protected with wire netting.

Remembering

Many of the residents of the village now, can still remember quite vividly that afternoon, but for at least six, the memories are etched very deep. A young lady at the time, Jean Wignall, now Mrs Stratton, was one of the postmasters daughters, and in the house which took the full blast of one of the bombs. Her husband, Bill Stratton, was the first to get to the wreckage of the petrol tanker. Florrie Jeffs who, along with her friend Dorothy Wilson, were working in the mill and returned home to two different kinds of emotions. Mrs Audrey Stretch, who was a young Audrey Bradshaw, Colin Wiseman (a soldier home on leave) and Neville Croasdale, the grandson of Mrs Wilson, was a young pupil at the school. One man even recalls being told how, as a very young child, he slept through it all.

Jean Stratton

Personal memories

Jean Stratton

Jean writes in her own words:

It was Wednesday October 30th 1940 at around 2.00 pm in the early part of the war. We were living at the Post Office. Being Wednesday, half day, we closed the shop at 1.00 pm. I was waiting at the bus stop which was about 50 yards from the house, to go to Clitheroe. All was quiet when suddenly a German Heinkel 111 flew over the village very, very low. I watched him circle round and fly back over Grindleton.

I ran back home and just managed to get into the house to join my mother, father, sister and granny, before he dropped his first bomb, probably seeing and aiming for the mill, luckily just missing it. The other one was a direct hit on Miss Robinson's house, which was situated where the bungalows are now. You can imagine the damage done. The houses being built on rock, not a pane of glass left in the mill and all the surrounding houses badly damaged and without roofs. Miss Robinson and one other resident from Ribble Lane sadly died. Many, many more were wounded and treated for cuts etc. It is thanks to Miss Robinson that the village has such a wonderful playing fields, having left it to the village on her death. At the time a convoy of petrol tankers was passing through, one unfortunately at the very second of the explosion, causing a flow of flaming petrol to run down the hill.

My husband, then only a very young man, had been called up at 17 yrs old, having joined the Territorials earlier. He was on leave for a day or two, not having been home for 9 months. He was standing in Crow Trees Brow opposite his home. He saw the driver of the petrol tanker had been thrown from his vehicle and immediately ran to his rescue. He managed to drag him to the farm, not realising the petrol could blow up at any second. Sadly the driver died shortly afterwards.

A bus containing Royal Engineers from the Barracks at Low Moor then arrived. They took my sister and I to the doctors at Clitheroe to be treated for cuts etc. We had to go via Downham and Worston, the village being cut off from all the traffic. They opened up an Emergency Centre at the Work House, Coplow, which is now the Clitheroe Hospital. All the wounded were taken there and treated. We joined them there later, four of us being detained there for 10 days, three old ladies and myself.

My granny was taken to Blackburn Royal and kept there for several weeks. It was quite amusing really, every time the siren went we had to get under the beds. You can imagine the fun that caused, not so bad for me, only being in my teens.

The Post Office and shop was transferred to the big room at the Brown Cow, having to use boxes, trestle tables and any kind of shelving they could find. However, they managed it, opened up for business on Friday morning and people were able to draw their pensions and get their rations etc. Then was the task of salvaging all the stock they could, having torrential rain on the Wednesday evening did not help matters. Boxes and boxes of tins without labels, fancy a tin of soup and it would be a tin of fruit.

It was a very difficult time, no home, and no clothes, what furniture they could salvage was stored in the Institute, which is now the School Hall. We were all housed by friends and relations, luckily after a while my parents were able to get rooms at the School House, (which is no longer there), until we were able to find somewhere permanent. It was almost 8 years before they rebuilt our house and shop, and then came the job of moving everything back from the Brown Cow. No easy task.

Bill Stratton

Personal memories

Bill Stratton

Bill writes in his own words:

He recalls that as a young man he was home on leave for a short time, and, standing outside his house on Crow Trees Brow, which was the main road through the village from Clitheroe. He heard the plane and being trained to identify enemy aircraft, noted it to be a Heinkel 111. The first bomb dropped at the top of Ribble Lane and took all the end of the Post Office building down

It also blew a petrol tanker, which was part of a convoy across the road, spewing petrol everywhere. The second bomb was a direct hit on the house of Miss Robinson. Bill remembers how all the windows blew out from the blast.

Bill standing in his gateway

He ran to the aid of the tanker driver, who was lying outside his cab. He was a very large man and motionless.

"I sat him up, put my arms under his and dragged him to the entrance gateway to the house."

Moments later my sister Betty, who was a nurse in Bradford, came from our house, she checked and found a very faint pulse. I then remember undoing his collar and tie before he was taken away in an ambulance.

Unfortunately the driver was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Bill modestly also recalls that when he reported back to his unit his actions had been posted up and he received endless ribbing from his fellow troops.

From knowledge acquired later in his military service, Bill is of the opinion the pilot circled the village to find the best approach to the mill. In his approach from Grindleton he passed over the length of the building with a better chance of hitting his target, luckily he missed. Bill also thinks had the plane been a little higher or not going as fast he would have been successful, with far more casualties and devastation.

Florrie Jeffs

Personal memories

Florrie Jeffs

Florrie writes in her own words:

Florrie and her workmate Dorothy Wilson, daughter of Mrs Mary Wilson who died, had just returned to the top floor of the mill after lunch, when there was all this noise and the glass roof and windows were shattering all around them. Several people were cut and Florrie's friend Emmie Lees was later taken to Clitheroe Hospital. As they were not allowed outside they were ushered downstairs into the weft cellar, until it was safe to go out.

Shaw Gardens

No sirens or air raid shelters in Chatburn.
They looked outside up the road and saw fires everywhere.

To make their way home, Florrie and Dorothy could only turn down Ribble Lane, along Greenfield Avenue into the fields, over the top and down the Old Road.

 

Shaw Gardens 2003

Florrie got to her house on Shaw Gardens, by the back way and found her mother safe and well, but everything around shattered. The roof had blown off, and the front door had been blasted through the house to the back.

Unfortunately Dorothy went home to her house and could only see her mother's leg and arm on the floor under a door, covered with furniture- killed.
Florrie's mother and next door neighbour, Mrs Cockshutt, had gone into the back yard when they heard a noise and saw a plane above circling around three times and could see the swastika on it. They actually saw a bomb come down.

The plane was so low in the sky that the pilot wearing his goggles could be clearly seen. Florrie's mother said that he was so close, "if anyone had had a gun, they could have shot him!", but Florrie thought herself fortunate that her mother had survived, whereas her friend Dorothy's mother, Mrs Wilson had sadly not.

The blast had blown the cooker from Miss Robinson's house to land on top of the roof of the Post Office.

From the shock of the bombing, Florrie's mother developed a cough, which was described as a 'nerve cough'.

Florrie and the family were evacuated - her mother and father went to one of their daughters. Florrie and one of her other sisters went to sister Freda's. They each gathered bits of furniture together and took them with them.

But that night they thought they were being bombed again because there was such an awful storm and Florrie kept thinking about all their personal belongings getting wet at their house because there was no roof on.

They were evacuated for 8 months.

Audrey Stretch

Personal memories

Audrey Stretch

Audrey writes in her own words:

Many exciting things have happened to me during my life, but one I remember vividly took place in the village in which I was born, and still live in, Chatburn, situated in the beautiful, quiet and peaceful Ribble Valley in N E Lancashire.

The Second World War had started and many young men from the village had already been called up for active service, and there was also an active group of others who were in the Home Guard.

Then for the first time girls of 18 years were required to register for active service. I was the first one in the area to sign my name at the old job centre at the bottom of King Lane in Clitheroe. I was desperate to get into the RAF. I remember clearly how devastated I was when I was turned down due to a severe head and ear injury.

I tried the Royal Navy, the Army, and even the Ambulance Service with the same result from them all. I was told I was disabled and had to stay put with the firm I already worked for, a very well known school and men's wear firm situated on the banks of the River Ribble in Grindleton - a neighbouring village.

Then one day in October 1940, when work had hardly started after lunch, the noise of a light aircraft was clearly heard. "Was it one of ours?" "It had to be". I rushed to a window and couldn't believe my eyes, for what looked to be a German fighter plane was passing in the field just beyond the road, the Swastika on its side clearly visible, as was the pilot. He was so close I could clearly see he was wearing a brown leather flying helmet with the strap which should have been fastened under his chin, hanging loose. We seemed to look at each other then he was gone.

I rushed outside and saw the machine flying towards Chatburn, then to my complete horror the plane banked and I saw two bombs leave the plane and fall through the sky towards the ground. Then the village disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust. I remember standing there and praying none of my family had been killed or hurt.

As soon as I was given permission I cycled like mad towards home to see what had happened. A scene of complete horror met my eyes - wrecked homes, broken glass and roof tiles everywhere. At the top of Ribble Lane there was a huge crater, which filled the road. It was deep enough to hide a double decker bus inside. A detached house owned by a Miss Alice Robinson had taken a direct hit, and a petrol tanker passing at the fatal moment was caught in the blast and blazing petrol was pouring down the main street and gushing into the stream which ran through the village. It was a complete scene from hell.

Several people were killed and many more injured. Miss Robinson died from terrible injuries, a solid wooden beam from her home passed right through her body and both ends had to be sawn off before she could be put in the ambulance, her bath and dog were later found over 200 yds away on top of the mill. The driver of the tanker died from shrapnel wounds. A Mrs Wilson also died.
All the ambulances had to travel through Downham and Worston to get the victims and injured to hospital as the direct route was blocked by wreckage.

I lived with my parents at the top end of the village but my grandmother lived close by to the devastation, so that was where I went first to see if she had escaped injury. Her home was badly damaged and she was badly shocked but unhurt.

As it was wartime and her two sons who lived with her had been called up into the army, I slept at her home to keep her company. It was obvious we couldn't stay there, so my grandmother went to my parent's home and I was evacuated to "Meadow Bank" at the top of Downham Road, the home of the local Customs and Excise Officer and his family.

Hundreds of people from far and wide came into the village to see the damage for themselves, so collecting boxes were brought in and people were generous with their contributions.

Cottages at Ribble Lane

I was married in 1949 and our first home was one of the badly damaged cottages, and to this day the stones of my home still show the scars of that day.

It was several years before people could move back into their damaged homes but there was one wonderful and lasting legacy to that day.

Cottages on Ribble Lane 2003

   
Plaque 1

Miss Robinson left money in her will to provide a playing field for the people of the village. The plaque in her memory are fixed to the stone work of the main gate by the church.

Plque 2

Colin Wiseman

Personal memories

Colin Wiseman

Colin writes in his own words:

He was on leave and having a drink in Clitheroe when news came through that Chatburn had just been bombed. "I got on a bus, but police stopped it at the Pendle Hotel in Chatburn. I was in uniform, so was able to walk through the village. It was terrible. There were plenty of rescuers, so there was nothing I could do to help. They were trying to get an old lady out of the house opposite where I live now".

The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times report was not able to say where the raid took place - "Bombs on a North West Village" - still less speculate why the village was attacked or what the target was. It contented itself with understandable descriptions of everyone being "unafraid, but full of fury at the insensate, cold-blooded attacked".

But Mr Wiseman says that many people were well aware that the village mill had brought the bombers. "It didn't make uniforms or blankets, but something far more important to the fighting man - four by twos," he recalls. "They were essential to cleaning your rifle quickly and efficiently".

Neville Croasdale

Personal memories

Neville Croasdale

Neville writes in his own words:

Mr Neville Croasdale (grandson of Mrs Wilson) writes:
As a youngster of nine years in the top class of Mr Aldersley at Chatburn's old school, I remember that I had left my grandmother's house in Ribble Lane at around 1.30 pm to return to school.

The lesson had just started when I saw a bomb leave a well-marked German plane and clearly saw a pilot in the plane as I sat against a window facing Chatburn mill.

After the explosion I found myself getting up from the opposite side of the classroom and then the teachers took us all downstairs and ushered us across to the basement under the then church institute to await our parents to take us home.
My mother worked in the mill and came across what are now the playing fields to take me home when I saw an army truck with soldiers and the smell of debris was all around.

I was not allowed to go out that day to see the damaged area because the bombs had killed my grandmother, a favourite person in my young life and also left an aunt and uncle homeless and they both came to live with us for a while.

Lawrence Westwood

WE REMEMBER LAWRENCE WESTWOOD

Lawrence Westwood was a young man of 26 from York and sadly left a wife Elsie and two very young daughters, 4 year old Joan and 1 year old Sheila.

Lawrence was driving a petrol tanker belonging to Major & Co of Hull as part of a convoy passing through Chatburn when his vehicle took the full blast of one of the bombs and was blown off the road resulting in his death from bomb splinters.

Lawrence Westwood

Joan recalls that being only 4 at the time of her father's death and her mother later remarrying, she always regarded her stepfather as "dad". Her mother seldom spoke of the death of her first husband and it wasn't until her death in late 1999, and the emergence of an old photo album containing a paper cutting that things became clearer, also when we met the whole story was brought to light.


Joan

Joan

Seeing the picture of him in his tanker did bring back a memory of going out one day with him and being lifted out of the cab.

Memories of the war still linger and Joan remembers when York was bombed, how she and her sister were put in a cupboard under the stairs and how the house shook from the explosions. Also peeping through the curtains and seeing the dark outlines of German planes as they flew over in numbers.

Reports obtained from Ministry of Defence
Home Security Intelligence Summary No. 847 for the period 0600 hours to 1800 hours
30th October 1940

Part 1 - General Summary

Raids by enemy aircraft during the day were on a small scale and little serious damage has been reported.

Most of the air activity was again confined to south east England. A few bombs were dropped in the south eastern outskirts of London and in Kent and attacks with H.E. bombs and with machine gun fire were made on Margate, Folkestone and Hythe.

A few bombs were dropped in Lancashire after mid-day and some interference with the Farington Steel Works, near Preston, has been reported.

No. 10 Region (North Western)

Some unexploded bombs which fell in the Farington Steel Works, Leyland, near Preston at 1352, have caused the evacuation of the factory. There were 11 minor casualties.

An H.E. bomb was also dropped in Chatburn near Clitheroe, 2 people were killed and 14 were injured.

Fighter Command

Great Britain
30th October - Enemy Operations by Day

General

After the usual series of morning reconnaissance flights - about 12 aircraft - mostly off Kent and the Thames Estuary, activity was confined almost entirely to two main attacks on London, both from the Calais/Dieppe area. There were no further reports of Italian bombers in use against this country.

Miscellaneous Raids

Raid 72, one He.111 appeared suddenly over the Wash and was intercepted by No. 1 Squadron and later crashed near Ely at 1450 hours. Two of the crew baled out and all are now prisoners.

Route of raid 73

Route of Raid 73

Raid 73, first plotted at 1351 hours near Market Harborough flew over Settle to North Lancashire, dropped bombs at Leyland, then south to Manchester, Stafford and out at Bristol.

312 Squadron ordered to intercept without results. Raid 154 a single enemy aircraft flying at 10,000 feet from Brest direction, crossing the coast near Plymouth at 1407 hours, then over Exeter, out again across Lyme Bay for Cherbourg. 601 Squadron ordered to intercept without results.

An intelligence interrogation report on the crew of Raid 72, shot down at Priggs Yard, Ely
Report No. 841/1940 Type JU88

Crew Rank Name Age Service
Pilot Unteroffizer Willi Arndt 25 14 mths
Observer Unteroffizer Anton Brommer 25 12 mths
W/T Obergefreiter Paul Flieger 22 4 years
B/M Gefreiter Walter Kellner 22 16 mths

Started from Chateaudun at 1300 hours, ostensibly to learn district and make a weather report.

The crew gave their Staffel, and the unit has been assumed from the aircraft lettering. Both Staffel and Geschwader are confirmed by the Disc and Feldpostnummer.

There was a large built-in camera fitted to the aircraft but according to the crew no film for it. There was also a Leica camera, but this, it was stated, was not used.

It was stated that there were no bombs on the aircraft, and that this was their first war flight, merely to get to know what a war flight was like, and incidentally make a weather report. They said they were supposed to go as far as a large electrical and equipment works at Salford, which seems a very long way for an inexperienced crew.

Visibility was very bad, and they did not see land all the way. They were flying at about 7,000 feet, when one engine began to fail, so they turned for home, but were suddenly attacked by one of three Spitfires from behind. The port engine was shot through, and the pilot made a fairly good belly landing. Two members of the crew baled out without orders, as soon as the trouble started.

Morale - fairly good - probably unreliable

Further Report on Ju.88

This crew had only been six weeks with L.G.1 as Chateaudun; with the exception of the pilot, the crew came from the Erganzungs Kampf Gruppe at Krakow, where there were some 150 men training on He.111's and Do.17's. There were no Ju.88's, though it was stated that crews go from this Erganzungs unit to various Kampf Geschwader.

They had only done one previous war flight, a reconnaissance along the south coast about 14 days previously, which was unsuccessful because of A.A. and clouds.

It appears that the last flight was an Armed Reconnaissance to the factories in the Manchester district; a slip of paper gave the target number of the Metropolitan Vickers Electric Co. Ltd. At Salford - 7381c.

The flight was made at roughly 10,000 feet, taking advantage of the clouds, and flying just above them. They crossed the coast near Tangmere, passed near Oxford, and then up towards Northampton. They did not reach Manchester, and scuttled their 2 x 250-kg. bombs from above the clouds, when attacked by fighters.

It can be noted that fighter command had logged the plane as an Heinkel 111, but the above report states it to be a JU88.

Raid at Leyland

On the same afternoon bombs were dropped on the Farrington Steel works and was reported in the press as: "Bombs from 500 ft".

Circling over houses at less than 500 feet, a two-engined enemy bomber dropped bombs on a Northwest district yesterday afternoon. Anti-aircraft guns engaged the plane, which rose to the clouds and disappeared.

A E Kirby was on a roof when the plane dived, and he told a reporter, "Machine-gun fire started and thinking the crew in the bomber were machine-gunning the roof, I slid 50 feet down the steel ladder to the ground and ran for shelter. Mr Kirby saw two bombs drop. The machine dived low out of the clouds, and according to one householder, "just skimmed the tops of buildings".

Soon after it first appeared ground defences went into action. A householder who was attracted to the door of his home by the drone of the aircraft told a Lancashire Daily Post reporter, "I was startled to see the plane so low suddenly attacked by anti-aircraft fire because I thought it was a British machine. It circled round very low and appeared to be going very slowly. I could make out that it was a twin-engined plane but I heard no bombs drop". Apparently the machine dropped two bombs, one a time bomb and the other an oil bomb. Precautions are being taken near the time bomb.

Three premises in the vicinity were evacuated for a time for safety but at one of them people returned some time later.

A woman said she was standing in the yard when she heard the plane coming over and then heard machine gun fire. She shouted, "It's a Jerry", and then, to use her own words, "I ran to warn the others". They immediately went to a shelter. Another eye witness said the plane flew so low that it was actually beneath the top of one industrial chimney in the town. There were no casualties and so far no damage has been reported.

End of Daily Post article.

I have been told by local people that in their opinion at the time and also now, the reason for the bombing was that prior to the war Leyland Motors ran an overseas student training scheme and that the pilot was a former student who knew the area for worthwhile targets.

Is this the one?
Fighter Command Raid 73 plotted a plane from Settle to Leyland, if a line is drawn between the two, it passes very close to Chatburn. Could the original target have been Leyland and the pilot lost, and then followed the natural line of the river and/or rail line down over Chatburn.

Map of route Settle to Leyland

One of the problems is the time scale. This raid was first plotted near Market Harborough (East Midlands) at 1351, then travels north to Settle. The bombs that dropped on Chatburn were shortly after 1400. Home Security Intelligence reports bombs dropped on Farington Steel Works, Leyland at 1352, however Lancashire County Councils Regional Control Centre first received news of the attacks on Chatburn and Farington at 1435 and 1439 respectively. To me it seems probable that the same plane was responsible for both raids, but how to explain the times is difficult.

Look out post

Planes at that time of the war were plotted by the observation system, manned by volunteers of the Observer Corps as radar only covered the south east coast approaches.

These posts were situated all over the country and set in five command areas. MIDLANDS - NORTH WESTERN - SCOTTISH - SOUTHERN - WESTERN each being responsible to the headquarters of the Observer Corps at Bentley Priory, Stanmore (also headquarters of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command).

Operations Room

However some posts became saturated with aircraft overhead and could only give approximate numbers, others found themselves dealing simultaneously with raiders at the tree top height and 2800 ft., often while under machine gun or bomber attack.

Another problem was sometimes the telephone lines could not cope with the number of calls coming at the same time. Occasionally mistakes were made of the type of enemy plane. Raid 72 states that one HE111 was intercepted and crashed near Ely, when in fact it was a JU88 as stated in the interrogation report. Maybe some of the relevant times were reported or logged mistakenly.

Why Chatburn?

Several theories have been put forward most common was that the plane wanted to off load weight to get home. Another one being that he mistook the village mill for either Low Moor Mill, three miles away, which was a base for the Royal Engineers, or the I.C.I. works even nearer to Chatburn. The problem with this theory is that research has shown the factory was built in 1940/41 and catalyst production, used in the manufacture of aviation fuel, started in 1941.

It grew from a wartime need for catalysts and from a fear that air attacks might cut off supplies of catalysts already being made at Billingham for a Government petrol plant which was being constructed at Heysham. At the governments request I.C.I. designed and erected the Clitheroe factory and supervised its operation, BUT at what stage of construction was the factory on 30th October to make it a worthwhile target?

If the pilot used site landmarks to recognise targets several things, in my opinion, come to light. All are large buildings situated near a river, railway line, church and even a large chimney.

Chatburn in 1932

Map of Chatburn 1932

Low Moor in 1932

Map of Low Moor 1932

I.C.I site in 1932

Map of ICI 1932

Or was he just lost and looking for an opportune target, even seeing the petrol tanker convoy.
Following investigation at the Ministry of Defence museum it seems there could have been a number of reasons.

At this time of the war it wasn't uncommon for the Luftwaffe to send bombers over on nuisance flights or even newly formed aircrews as a means of getting experience. Some flights were sent across for recognisance reasons as the crew of Raid 72 originally said. Also flights that had a major target mission aborted had other targets supplied to them by their intelligence.

Only recently I was told of a tale about the bomber being chased by a British fighter plane and that it dropped a bomb on Slaidburn Fell where even today the crater is still visible. Another story is that he was chased and shot down in Morecambe Bay, unfortunately neither of these can be found in official documents.

As I stated earlier my task was to get an answer but unfortunately so long after the event and the lack of official documentation, the answer sadly may never be found.