The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: The story of WWII bomb tragedy in Savile Town

MANY tragedies which occurred during World War Two went unreported because of strict censorship laws which the Government had imposed.

Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 7:36 am
Dangerous times: The Hartley family from Savile Town who suffered more than most when the bombs dropped on Dewsbury during the war. Pictured are Mr and Mrs Dennis Hartley and their two daughters, Brenda, in the pram, and her sister Joyce, standing.
Dangerous times: The Hartley family from Savile Town who suffered more than most when the bombs dropped on Dewsbury during the war. Pictured are Mr and Mrs Dennis Hartley and their two daughters, Brenda, in the pram, and her sister Joyce, standing.

One such tragedy occurred in Dewsbury in 1940 when a bomb was dropped in North View, Savile Town, killing two people, a mother and daughter.

Only a brief paragraph appeared in the Reporter stating a number of “northern” towns had been bombed – but no towns were named and no-one was reported killed.

Brenda Hayley (nee Hartley) was living in the street where the bomb fell, and although only nine at the time remembered vividly everything that happened.

Margaret Watson.

For eight hours, she and her mother were trapped in a neighbour’s cellar while rescue workers fought desperately to free them.

Her father, Dennis Hartley, was fire-watching on the roof of Newsome’s Mill in Batley Carr, and her older sister, Joyce, was ill in hospital with scarlet fever.

Four streets were flattened in Savile Town that night and two of her neighbours, Mrs Stott and her daughter, Enid, were killed in the blast.

For many years people in Dewsbury talked of the bombing but only those who had been involved knew the true story.

This was why many years ago Brenda, who was in her seventies at the time, asked if I would write about what happened to ensure a record of it would always be in the Reporter files.

I felt privileged to be able to take down a verbatim account, and this week I am recounting what happened that night.

Next week I shall be telling the story of how the family coped afterwards and what happened to them.

For most of her life, Brenda, who was later to marry Roy Hayley, of Gibraltar Farm, Thornhill, was never able to talk about that night.

She told me – “I don’t think I ever got over it.

“I never talked about it because I knew I would just cry and cry and never stop.”

The following is the first part of Brenda’s account of the night the bomb fell on Savile Town:

“Only a few minutes before the bomb dropped I was in the kitchen watching my mother baking Christmas cakes.

“Two of our neighbours, Mrs Naylor and her sister Enid, were with us when we heard the guns on Caulms Wood suddenly start firing.

“We heard the planes flying overhead but the siren hadn’t sounded, but we still all rushed down the cellar to try and protect ourselves.

“Suddenly Mrs Naylor said her husband, Harry, who was at work, wouldn’t know where she was when he got home.

“She thought it better if we were all together in her home, so we set off running down the street to her house.

“It was terrifying listening to all the guns going off and watching the flares dropping from the sky.

“Harry had just arrived when we got there, so we all went into the cellar together – but just before going down I grabbed the Naylor’s little dog and took him with me.

“We all crouched together in a small space under the cellar steps, just huddling there listening to all the noise with me just clinging to the little dog.

“We heard the bomb drop and I saw the Naylor’s gas oven come crashing through the cellar roof.

“We were all knocked unconscious but Harry was the first to come round and he started waking us all up.

“Poor mother caught the worst and was badly injured.

“I thought she was dead because she was completely covered in bricks except for her face.

“I could see her through the darkness and kept thinking how marvellous it was that not a single stone had fallen on her face.

“She was just cocooned in all these bricks with just her face showing.

“I really thought she wouldn’t get out alive.

“It was hours before we heard the rescuers who were digging through the railway embankment nearby to get to us.

“They dug through the cellars of five or six houses before they reached us, and all the time they kept telling Harry to keep shouting so they’d know where we were.

“Harry also shouted to the firemen to tell them to stop the water hoses because if any more water came in, my mother would have drowned.

“I was terrified but never cried. I just kept clinging to the poor little dog.

“He was terrified but I never let him go for a second and he never barked once.

“It took them eight hours to get us out. The rescuers got mother out first and then me.

“Everything outside was burning and there were fire engines all over the place.

“They put mother in an ambulance and left me sitting on a plank of wood surrounded by all the rubble and still cuddling the little dog.

“When dad got back from fire-watching, he saw all the devastation.

“Where our house had been was a huge crater where the bomb had fallen.

“Our house had gone, and dad didn’t know if we’d been killed. Everything was in chaos and nobody could tell him anything.

“He was there when the two bodies of Mrs Stott and her daughter Enid were brought out, and then someone told him my mother had been taken to hospital.”

○ Next week we will publish the second part of this incredible story.

If Brenda, who will be in her eighties now, or any of her family, wish to contact me, please email [email protected]