'Balby bomb blast blew my husband back into the house'

Time may have passed - but Frances Shorthose has never forgotten the day Balby was bombed.

Thursday, 7th June 2018, 5:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 10:27 am
Frances Shorthose, pictured celebrating her 100th birthday. Picture: Marie Caley
Frances Shorthose, pictured celebrating her 100th birthday. Picture: Marie Caley

It was May 9, 1941, and she had only just left the Hamilton Lodge maternity hospital after having her and husband Ernest's first son, Raymond.

She was inside their home on Regent Street.

She said: "I could hear the planes, and our planes were chasing the Germans. I remember the huge bang.

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"Ernest had been in the front door, and even though it was a few streets away, the blast blew him back into the room.

"I think the mine was dropped at about 10pm, and it landed on a field behind St Catherine's Hospital, but it knocked down so much of Western Road..

"Ernest went out and told me to stay where we were and lock the door. He worked at St Catherines hospital, and was in charge of the nurses.

"When he got there the police had cordoned the area off, and keeping people away. The doctor the the hospital was there, Dr Allen. He shouted 'come over here, Shorthose', and Ernest was brought in to help them try to help any victims."

Frances, born Frances Rodgers, was born and brought up in Balby. Her dad Frank was home on leave from France when she was born, where he was serving with the British army on the Western Front during World War One. He had to return soon after she was born, but survived the war.

She remembers Balby being only half the size it is now.

The oldest of three sisters, she attended Oswin Avenue School until she was 14, and was one of the first pupils there after it was built. It has since been demolished. She and her friends used to play using ropes from orange boxes as skipping ropes.

But the family was struck by tragedy in 1928, when she was aged 10. Her mum, Grace, had been suffering from pneumonia, and died on October 27. Her dad had an order in for kilts for the family at the time. He cancelled the order and changed them to black ones. He later remarried.

Leaving school aged 14, Frances' first job was looking after a woman who had suffered a stroke, as help.

But at the age of 18, she went to work at St Catherine's Hospital on Tickhill Road. The site was a mental hospital at the time, and Frances slept in the building, one of six nurses sharing a dormitory.

"I enjoyed the work, but it was very busy," she said. "There was always a lot to do and all the doors had to be locked. The matron had a dog and fed it raw meet. It used to chase men up trees - it never chased women though.

"There was one patient who was in their who with her daughter. Her daughter should never have been in there."

It was during her time working at the hospital that she met her husband Ernest, a who was in charge of the male nurses. He had moved up from Burton, and had trials as a goalkeeper with Doncaster Rovers. But a serious hand injury after cutting himself on a bottle hit his chances of being a footballer.

When World War Two broke out, Ernest tried to join the army, but was rejected because he was needed at the hospital. The couple kept chicken and ran an allotment to supplement their food ration.

After the war, the couple had two more children, Grace, born in 1946, and Stephen, born in 1954. In the late 50s, she started working again as a home help.

After retiring in the 1970s, Frances organised an Over 60s club at Western Road Community Centre, and then started arranging coach holidays for people in her local community. Her bus tours were well know, taking groups to places including the Isle of Wight and Newquay.

"We went to different places, but the buses were always full," she said.

Frances still lives in Balby. Nowadays, Frances loves taking day trips to Retford, and walking around the grounds of St Catherine's Hospital.

On May 18, she celebrated her hundredth birthday with a pub meal at the Boat Inn, in Sprotbrough,

And the secret of a long and happy life? "I like a laugh, and will quite happily laugh at myself," she said.