TERROR RAINED FROM THE SKIES
THE BOMBING OF PONTEFRACT 1942
FRANK H. W. HOLMES
Notes of the first Pontefract Air Raid recorded by Frank Hubert Worral Holmes,
a well-known chronicler and photographer of the period as published in
the Pontefract and Castleford Express 16th November 1989.
Pontefract’s first air raid took place on the night of Saturday 8th August 1942.
Distant bombs and gunfire had been heard at about 11.30pm (it became
known later that it was at Headingley, Leeds, where two were killed and
At midnight, sirens sounded the alert, and within a few minutes the sound
of a plane was heard, apparently coming in from the west or north-west,
and a string of four flares were seen over Kings Mead.
In this district, at practically this moment a number of incendiaries were
dropped and the plane passed on, but circled round at a short radius.
Within a very few minutes, probably not more than five or seven, it
approached again in a power dive and loosed another string of four
flares, this time over the Town End. Almost simultaneously it sent more
incendiaries and, in very quick succession, four explosive bombs, later
estimated to be about 250lbs each.
At Kings Mead one unopened canister containing 15 fire bombs fell
harmlessly in the garden of Councillor F. W. Lane, of 15 Kings Mead, who
was blown over [without hurt] when another exploded after he had almost
smothered it with earth beneath a little tree in his front garden.
Practically opposite the house at number 19, Mrs Hutchinson, an elderly
widow, had gone into her Anderson shelter at the back, when neighbours
in the street found that a fire bomb had lodged on the upper floor, at
the top of the stairs.
One of her two sons was out of town on a visit and the other, [both were
bachelors in their thirties] was in another part of the estate, and the
first-comers were delayed by finding that the front door was locked,
although the back door was open. By the time they got into the top part
of the house it was burning strongly, and when it was finally
extinguished the home was wrecked and had to be evacuated in order that
it could be reconditioned. Several houses had bombs through the roof but
these were all dealt with expeditiously by residents and neighbours
working together, so well that in no other case was the damage heavy.
Mr. J. Leason, at 217 Kings Mead, had a bomb pass through a ridge tile and
down outside the roof. Another broke through into a bedroom, but he
extinguished it before it had gained much hold. Conspicuous among those
who extinguished bombs was Mr. John Stubbs, the school attendance
officer, who had put several out when one exploded, possibly because of
water thrown on it. He was badly cut and burned about both knees and one
elbow, and was taken to hospital. Several more bombs fell into the
Barracks and were dealt with by the A.T.S. and others.
At 70 Avenue Mount, Miss Mary Robertson, the singer, had shepherded her
crippled mother, her deaf father, aged 72, and two big dogs into the
family Anderson shelter [small size] when neighbours called to them that
the house was on fire. In her nightdress she sought to help them against
the fire in her bedroom, but they sent her back to the shelter where she
found another bomb burning brightly on top of it. This she attacked
herself with a spade and soil from the garden.
In the house at the corner of Banks Avenue and Love Lane, Mrs Clay, along
with Brian (11) and John (9), were sheltering under the kitchen table
with a mattress on top when within a yard of them a piece of bomb
weighing about 5lbs hit the floor after passing through the roof, two
ceilings and the floor above them.
The house of Mr. E. Morton, of Ropergate End, had a piece of a bomb pass
through a downstairs window. All these however, were trifles by
comparison with what happened at Friarwood.
The raider was evidently giving attention to Baghill Station, but missed. He
scattered firebombs over the cattle market and adjoining gardens where
they were rapidly dealt with, without notable damage, except for one
place, where matters were more serious.
At Ewbank’s confectionery works, the fire watch party for that night
included some of the girl employees [normally some hundreds in number]
and although the party put out a number of incendiaries there were
ultimately too many of them and the gum department caught fire. This was
a two-storey building with a wooden floor and wooden drying rooms, and
although the Fire Service brought many men and a number of appliances to
the scene, the whole building was gutted.
It was nearly 2am before the glare was reduced to no more than a glow. The
damage was substantial, though less than half the factory was affected,
and much unprocessed stock was damaged by water. The explosive bombs
were all on the south side of the town, but only one reached the
railway. As it did little more than scatter a little coal dust in the
goods yard and put a few holes in a number of trucks it cannot from the
Germans point of view be considered to have been very successful.
The first of two High Explosives fell one each side of Mayors Walk Avenue.
The one on the eastern side of the Avenue fell in the garden of Mr.
Penty and failed to explode, the other fell in the garden of Mr. Harry
Josh, Joiner, and caused serious damage to about five houses. Several
others had less important harm.
A number of homes in these parts were evacuated immediately and others
within the following hours, after some lapse of time, until the bomb had
been dug out and taken away. This process was not complete until the
evening of Tuesday, August 18th, by which time the bomb disposal squad
had dug about 18 feet down through the very wet clay. They found the
bomb was a semi-armour piercing type, 500 kilogram size, [about
1,125lbs] about 18 inches in diameter and 4ft 6ins long. It had in it a
fuse of French make and in this was found a piece of paper, which made
The fourth explosive caused one of the most serious incidents of the whole
night, apart from the Ewbanks fire. It fell at the junction of No.1 and
No. 2 Walkergate and brought down the whole front and roof and most of
the interior of the two houses. In No.1, Mr. Robert Fisher, a milkman,
and his wife, Alice, were at the back, and were able to leave the house
with no assistance. But at No. 2, Mr. Fred Ward, a miner, his wife
Hilda, and daughter Phyllis (5), were trapped behind a piece of up-ended
flooring and a quantity of furniture. Their cries for help were heard by
neighbours including Mr. Gregory Carter, a local head of Street Fire
Guard, and Mr. Albert Jewitt, who was reporting for fire watch in the
adjoining bakery of the Pontefract Co-operative Society. These and a
number of others, among who were two passing sailors, set to work and
succeeded in extricating the Ward family, each of the parents with a
broken leg, and Mrs Ward with many cuts and wounds about the head and
neck. The child had severe cuts and bruises. It was afterwards seen that
the point from which they were rescued was less than 10ft from the lip
of the crater.
Across the road, the end wall of the house occupied by Mrs Waterton, a widow
aged 62, was cracked in several places with a chimneystack lying across
the roof, just above the bed of Mrs Waterton, who was sleeping
downstairs. Mrs Waterton was hurt about the head but very pluckily set
out to walk to the Infirmary where she was detained - shocked as well as
Pieces of bomb were found in many parts of the town. In the Shoemarket, where a
windowsill was chipped; near the Municipal Offices, and in the Gas
Cleansing Stations in Headlands, where a fragment fell through the roof,
some 830 yards from the nearest bomb.
Two plate glass windows in Gillygate, one in Woolmarket, one in Southgate
and one in Micklegate, were broken, and house windows by the dozen were
smashed for hundreds of yards in the vicinity of each explosive bomb.
The limit of distance must have been the piece of bomb found near the
Prince of Wales Colliery.
At Baghill Station much of the roofing was dislodged and many windows were
broken. In Mayors Walk Avenue, a garage was laid flat round a car which
it had previously sheltered. An incendiary container clattered down a
roof in Hartley Park removing tiles in patches and on Sunday, wardens
had already collected a barrow load of pieces of bombs, fins and
casings. It was remarked that many of the firebombs were dated 1939 and
1940, some as early as 1936.
To sum up, no one was killed, and twenty people were injured. Of these, 12
went to the Infirmary, where only eight were detained. They were
[besides those already mentioned] Mr. Albert Steel, Caterer, Mayors Walk
Avenue (ribs), Mr. John Gowthorpe , of 15 Walkergate (arm and leg
injuries) and Mrs Fisher (injuries to chin, neck and wrist).
Material damage was heaviest at Ewbank’s factory. Two homes in Walkergate were
wrecked and one other about half destroyed - two or three more were
badly damaged in Mayors Walk Avenue and about a dozen were damaged with
varying degrees of severity. In Kings Mead one was badly burned and many
other buildings were more or less lightly damaged. Many fragments of
bombs being found fully half-a-mile from the nearest bomb crater.
It wasn’t the most dramatic of bombing raids to be suffered by a British
town, and it certainly couldn’t be classed alongside the blitz.
Nonetheless, on that Saturday night in 1942 the war arrived on
Pontefract’s doorstep. The sky glowed red from firebombs and it
brought out that spirit in people, which has become a National legend.
FRANK H.W. HOLMES
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