Christmas Eve when Hitler bombed a Lancashire village

Seventy-five years ago the horrors of the Second World War came to the heart of Lancashire on Christmas Eve when a stray bomb landed on a village, as Alice Suffield reports

Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 27th December 2019, 1:56 pm
Bomb damaged Hewn Gate Farm, in Brindle

Christmas Eve 1944 brought a terrible shock for one sleepy Lancashire village. In the early hours of the morning, more than a dozen V1 flying bombs – nicknamed Doodlebugs –were dropped over the North West, with Brindle, near Chorley, one of the locations to fall victim to Hitler’s secret weapon.

At 5.28am a bomb landed in an area not far from Hewn Gate Farm, off Gregson Lane, and a hen house which was home to 30 hens suffered a direct hit, leaving a 40ft crater.

The explosion also blew out the windows of a nearby mill and caused serious damage to surrounding farms and buildings. Two nearby cottages were lifted off their foundations, trapping their occupants inside.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Damage caused by the Christmas Eve Doodlebug blast of Christmas Eve 1944

In all 112, houses, two mills, two pubs, a chapel and a railway signal box were damaged. Such was the impact of the blast that Civil Defence Personnel who attended the scene to investigate initially thought two bombs had exploded.

One of the affected cottages belonged to Mr and Mrs Bolton, the aunt and uncle of Margaret O’Neill,of Brindle. She recalls the impact the bomb had upon her family that morning.

She said: “My Uncle Joseph was in the front room, lacing his clogs up when the blast from the bomb blew him into the cellar and I honestly believe this actually saved his life because it protected him from the crumbling house.

“My Aunt Kathleen was eight months pregnant on the night the bomb exploded. She managed to free herself and her young daughter Barbra from the rubble and walk up the road to her mother’s house in nothing but a nightdress. She gave birth eight days later on New Year’s Day to a healthy baby boy.”

Damage caused by the Doodlebug blast

The Boltons’ neighbour, Mr A Hodson was interviewed for the Lancashire Evening Post in 1944 just after the incident, saying, “I managed to struggle from the debris, but the worst part was coming downstairs in the dark. I could not be sure there would be a step until I actually trod on it.”

When she was escorted back to her house the next day, she told reporters at the that she was hoping to recover clothing and to find a Christmas card from her soldier son.

Margaret was only five-years-old at the time but she has one very distinct memory. She said: “I remember seeing a big blue police van, and seeing a large metal shell being loaded into the back of it- I now realise that this was the casing from the bomb.”

In 1967, the Lancashire Evening Post interviewed Mr T Daley, the retired postmaster of Brindle who helped with the rescue efforts after the bomb. Mr Daley recalled two local boys finding hoards of Nazi propaganda in among the shrapnel from the explosion

He said: “Two boys, Jack Fazackerley and Leslie Daley, went before daybreak to the cottages and found part of the bomb and also a bundle of letters from prisoners-of-war. These letters were handed to the police.”

It was thought that facsimile letters marked “V1 POW Post” were sent as a trick by the Nazis, who hoped to find that some incautious individual would write to a POW relative revealing where the bomb fell.

The Doodlebug which fell on Brindle was part of a wider attack although there is some speculation about the intended target. Mr Daley told the Post, “The German radio news stated that an attack had been made on Manchester, which was no doubt the intended target.”

However, there have been varying other suggestions about where the attack was focused, with Margaret believing it was the Royal Ordnance Factory, in Chorley.

In 2013, Margaret wrote a book in which she spoke in length about the V1 bomb. She said: “The village has changed so much, even since I wrote the book, and that is why I believe it is so important to keep the memory of what happened here seventy-five years ago alive.”

While today the bomb crater has been largely filled in, a small dip in the landscape acts as a reminder of the Doodlebug bomb that fell three-quarters of a century ago, and how different the Christmas of 1944 could have been.