Recalling a bomb drop in Doncaster in WWII

The pilot leans back in his deck chair and glances over the top of his newspaper, squinting into the early morning sunshine.

By Nigel Booth
Tuesday, 30th July 2019, 1:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 9:51 am
Woodfield juniors in the 1940s
Woodfield juniors in the 1940s

A ground crew sergeant is shouting orders to his men, who are swarming all over the battered, Heinkel bomber. They have removed the starboard cowling and the engineer is leaning into the exposed engine. The pilot hopes they can find the gremlin that has been causing trouble on the last couple of trips. At least they have all day to sort it out; the next mission isn’t until tonight. It is Thursday, May 8, 1941.

Mr Elliott opens the doors of Woodfield Junior School at 10am, which is the agreed start time on the morning after a night, air raid alarm. A group of tired children file past, rubbing their eyes with grubby fingers, and he ruffles the hair of one of them and asks if he is ready for the football match this evening. The boy holds up a battered pair of football boots in reply. A voice calls out to the headmaster from his office door and he hurries in to answer the telephone.

At school, Mr Elliott has just finished his telephone conversation with Nurse MacDonald. Her head lice inspection will have to be delayed until tomorrow and he hopes she doesn’t have to send as many home as she did last week. He walks out, into the corridor and begins to pin a poster to the notice board. War Weapons Week is to be from May 10 - 17. “SOS” the poster says, “ Send Out Sterlings! Our aim is to raise enough money to buy a squadron of bombers, so that we can smash back at Berlin and the Nazis.” The main doors fly open and a boy sprints past him, down the corridor, towards class 6. The trainee teacher will have fun with that one, he thinks, with a grin.

Air raid wardens in Doncaster during WWII

In class 6, the trainee teacher is just thinking how different all this is, from the rarified atmosphere of St Gabriel’s College in London, when the door flies open and Billy hurtles through it. She waits until he is seated, before starting to explain that the nature walk has been cancelled, so that more, air-raid practice can be fitted in. A groan goes up from the children of class B; air raid practice stopped being fun a long time ago.

That afternoon, the school carries out a timed test for occupying the trenches that have been dug in the school grounds. Four minutes and forty-nine seconds is a new record and Mr Elliott is very pleased. He hurries back inside; there is a lot of paperwork still to be done and he is determined to make it to this evening’s football match against Rossington Juniors. It is the final of the Major Clarke Shield and he doesn’t want to be late for the kick off.

On the Dutch airfield, the Heinkel pilot is running through his instrument check, as the ground crew load the remaining parachute mines through the aircraft’s bomb doors. He knows the target for tonight and looks across at the navigator, who is plotting the course, over the North Sea, down the River Humber.

The navigator taps his pilot on the shoulder and points out of the port side of the cockpit canopy. In the distance, they can make out an orange glow that marks the horizon. The pathfinders have found their mark among the great steelworks. And the rest of the formation will soon be dumping their cargoes of high explosive, into those fires. The pilot gives the back of the bomb-aimer’s head a gentle kick and raises a thumb to the youngster, who is laying flat out, in the exposed, nose position. Perhaps they should have turned back after dropping the diversionary bombs over Hull docks; the starboard engine is running rough again and they have fallen well behind the main force, on the approach to the primary target. His aircraft hasn’t got much of it’s bomb load left and he is beginning to doubt the wisdom of carrying on.

A bomber that would have been seen in the skies above Britain

Aboard the bomber, the pilot has had enough. If they are going to make it home on one engine, they cannot afford to go any further. He kicks out at the bomb-aimer’s head again, this time a little less gently, and orders him to jettison bombs. As the bomb-aimer’s thumb presses down, the giant aircraft seems to leap upwards, relieved of its load, before banking away, towards the east.

Billy scarcely has time to register the shrill, screaming noise, before the inside of the shelter lights up in a searing flash. He hears no more, as a huge blast wave hurls him across the shelter and into the brick wall. Wordsworth Avenue is a shattered skeleton, hidden in an acrid veil of dust and smoke. By morning, Mr Elliott walked to the school. Firewatcher, Mr Mabbutt, was not injured. On May 14, Woodfield Junior School re-commenced lessons in the Waverley Junior School buildings.

Air raids were felt across South Yorkshire