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A Day to Remember - Bolton Thursday 9th January 1941

By Trev Barker

Dorothy Jones sent in this account of bombs dropped near to Trinity Church and the station on 9 January 1941. It was written by her father the following day. Dorothy says that she remembers the little cafe and adjoining cottages very well, and she is sure many others will too.

This morning, on behalf of other business men and myself with premises in the block of buildings in Crook Street opposite Trinity Church, I appointed a Night Watchman to start work this evening 8 p.m. until 8 a.m.

After tea I returned to the garage.

The alert sounded and all became very quiet and the street was much more deserted than usual. I walked along Crook Street to leave a note at 110 and then walked round the block. The Watchman was standing at the door of the Corporation premises which are directly behind my premises in Crook Street. We exchanged a few words of greeting and I turned the corner into Thynne Street. I remember thinking again how quiet it was. I returned to the three storey garage and stood inside the showroom looking out towards Trinity Church. Only two or three minutes later my brother 'H.E' arrived.

H.E. "Hello, I wondered if you were coming back and thought I would slip down too. Have you fixed up about the Watchman?"

Trev. "Yes, I've just seen him."

H.E. "They're dropping a few tonight."

Trev. "Yes. It sounds like Manchester."

We then heard two very sharp cracks followed by a great crash of glass at the rear of the Garage. We grabbed hold of one another, H.E. pulling me towards the door shouting "The building, the building!"

I pulled him in the opposite direction, as Trinity Church seemed to be coming rapidly towards us at an uncomfortable angle. Then, I saw a bomb dropping from the sky. Leaving loose of H.E. with one hand, I pointed to the sky saying,

"Look - Town Hall!"

He had no time to look before it dropped sending a large half circle flash up into the air. The moment I left loose of my brother we both staggered before we managed to put an arm round the hoist pillar. Recovering, we walked quickly along Crook Street and at the Painters Arms saw a huge cloud of dust completely blotting out all the buildings.

I turned round and said "I'll ring home and say we're alright."

H.E. "The phone might be off."

Trev. "Not the extension."

I ran back to the garage and upstairs (somewhat out of breath)and phoned home.

Trev. "Rene, H.E. and I are alright, don't worry."

Rene. "We heard it whistle - we are all safe here under the stairs. Where do you think it fell?"

Trev. "It's here. Our back windows are out but we're O.K. I must go. I think it must have caught the cafe." Returning to the scene I saw H.E. coming out of the dust.

H.E. "Trev. - the cafe's down and I think they must be inside. Aren't there five of them?"

Trev. "I think so, what had we better do?"

The dust was clearing and the cafe was a sorry sight. The roof and bedroom floor had collapsed towards the rear left corner but the shop window frames, both in Crook Street and in Burns Street., as well as the door at the corner (plus the layers of bricks over the door) were still intact. Even the window in the door was still in one piece.

We tried to push open the door and called out.

"Is there anyone there?" but there was no reply.

I was just going to kick at the door but H.E. said,

"No, I wouldn't do that, the whole lot looks like coming down."

It was very clear now and the moon very bright. It was also deadly quiet but no one else had arrived. H.E. took a run at the pile of bricks and debris and got right to the top. As he did so another man, minus jacket and waistcoat and having every appearance of being a collier scrambled up from the other side. He and H.E.dug frantically with their hands. There was an almost over powering escape of gas.

H.E.jumped down again saying,"There's a chap working like mad up there - looks like a collier. The gas is getting stronger. No one seems to be turning up. I'm sure there is somebody in there."

Trev. "I'll ring for help."

Once again I returned to the garage and straight up stairs. I rattled away at the phone for what seemed an awfully long time and I thought the lines must be down. Just as I was going to replace the phone I heard very faintly "Police."

Trev. "Hello Police this is Trev. Barker from Crook Street We need ambulances and ---*"

Police "You want Control." Slight pause then a male voice.

"Control Room."

Trev. "Ambulance and gas---"

Control. "Just a minute."

Female voice very slowly and calmly "Control Room. What is the incident?"

Trev. "Incident! We've had bombs here and require ambulances and...-"

She. "Who is speaking?"

Trev. " Oh. This is Trev. Barker speaking from Crook Street A bomb has dropped at Thynne Street Bus Station. We require ambulances and some one to cut off the gas."

She. "Will you repeat it?"

I did, but not in exactly the same words, adding, "The gas situation is most urgent - it could fire any minute."

She. " I will repeat it. You require ambulances and some one to cut off the gas at Thynne Street Bus Station."

Trev. "Correct."

She. "Thank you."

I returned to the scene and scrambled up again. One or two men had arrived. H.E. was just pulling a woman through a hole which they had made and, carrying her to the edge of the wall he handed her down to another man and myself. She sobbed deeply and as soon as she reached the street she screamed at the top of her voice. Still more assistance had arrived and asking them to take charge of her I returned to the top. H.E. and the collier pulled away a door or some boards and there was a rush of gas. I felt myself going and jumped down, falling to my knees. Another young man in a blue suit began to scrabble up. I said, "Here, take my torch -- I can't stick the gas." He took the torch without a word and climbed up again. A number of men were now at the top and digging away for all their worth.

They shouted "We can't see. Has any body got a torch? Don't strike a light. Get a torch."

Once again I went back to the Garage and getting out the car, I quickly went home and collected a torch and some spare batteries. Back at the scene the debris thrown out by the rescuers had piled up in Burns Street until it was possible to walk up it. There were tin hats now in abundance.

Arriving at the top of the pile again I was just in time to shine the torch as they pulled the man through the hole. I helped to carry him down and on reaching ground level handed him over to a Tin Hat and then ran to an ambulance for a stretcher. Shining the torch again, while a young woman attendant released the straps we just had time to pull the stretcher out and place it ready behind the ambulance when the Tin Hats arrived with the casualty. Although I knew the people at the cafe, I could not recognize the man who, in the moonlight, looked dark green. He was minus jacket, waistcoat and collar and appeared to have been pulling at his tie to get more air. There was some argument as to whether he was dead or alive. He looked dead, but it could have been just the gas. However as soon as he was strapped in this second casualty left the scene. Now I made use of my torch to enable the gas men to get their tools from the trailer. Back at the cafe I met my brother and a Tin Hat.

H.E. said," Do you know there's an electric stove still on and the plate is white hot? I had just said to the collier that these bricks were hot and there must be a fire somewhere and minutes later we could see the stove. We are just going to ring for help."

We had now reached the office and H.E. asked me if I would ring whilst he swilled his mouth clear of dust and dirt. The Tin Hat sat on the desk, took hold of the phone and again there were several minutes delay before he got through.
TIN HAT. "Control Room please. Referring to the Burns Street incident - Electricity Mains Squad required to cut off the current. Howarth reporting."

All three of us returned to the cafe, my brother going back on to the top whilst I joined the gang handing down the house hold goods. "Has anyone got a sack?" came a voice from the group working inside. Yet again I returned to the garage and emptied a large stack of boxes on to the stores floor and hurried back again to the cafe. A group of sight seers were assembled on the footpath in front of the school and I was the only person standing near the debris when a policeman pushed me back several feet and in a loud, bullying voice said, "What are you? Come on here. Get out of it -get out of it. We've no time for funny stuff on this job." He walked away a few yards. I was still wiping my sore and gritty eyes with my handkerchief when P.C.Redman got hold of my arm and said," Hello Mr. Barker."

Trev. "Hello. Your mate's just said he has no time for funny stuff! There's nothing funny about this job - he should try it in there. My brother is up on top but I've had to come back out because I could not stick the gas."

P.C.Redman. "Well leave it to these fellows now Mr. Barker. It's their job."

I moved further away where the air was a little clearer. Suddenly there was a loud noise and the wall of the three storey warehouse crashed down on to the pile of debris. Again there was a large cloud of dust and a couple of minutes later my brother came out for a breather.

Trev. "Has anyone been caught?"

H.E. "No - it was just behind us. By jove that collier's a real hero. I'd like to know who he is. He kicked the bricks away with his feet as well as using his hands. We could hear the woman screaming and the collier shouted "We're coming love, we're coming. " As soon as we had made a hole he dived head first through into the darkness and shouted up to me "She's here" and pushed her up to me.

When we started at the beginning I said to him "Look out! If that lot drops you'll be killed."

Collier. "It doesn't matter a B-----!" and he never stopped till he got the woman out safely. The gas did not seem to bother him at all. I would like to see him again. I wonder who he is and if he is a collier. The woman owes her life to him"

The dust having cleared H.E. returned to the job. By this time all kinds of equipment had arrived and the place seemed full of lorries and cars etc. A friend who had arrived came to me and together we returned to the garage and, collecting some tools, we boarded up the rear windows then walked round the back to see what else needed doing. We were very surprised to be pulled up by a soldier with fixed bayonet. After explanations we were allowed to continue round to check the damage. It was fairly extensive but very much less than it might have been considering the premises were only 42 yards from one bomb and 78 yards from another.

A canteen arrived and drew up on the bus station. Soon the Tin Hats gathered around for a cup of tea. I was standing by the rear corner of the Painters Arms when H.E. came along saying, "They must have decided there are no more people trapped - they seem to have knocked off."

Trev."Yes and the canteen has arrived."

H.E. "I could do with a drink but I don't have a Tin Hat."

He was really black and dishevelled with his hair full of dust and lime, and he too looked like a collier. An Irish lady, living next to the garage was sweeping up the broken glass at the back of her house. With a wave of her brush she said what she would do if she had hold of Hitler, Mussolini, De Valera and all the B lot of them. She came across and asked if we would like a drink of cocoa which we most gratefully accepted.

H.E. "You must excuse me but I must go and swill my mouth. I feel choked with dust and can still taste the gas."
We had a quick look round to see if every thing was safe, wished one another goodnight and left for home, H.E. finally saying. "I've had enough and it will take ages to get myself cleaned up."

The Following Morning

HE. "How do you feel?"

Trev. "I ache all over but my eyes trouble me most. I'm still shedding tears. How about you?"

H.E. "By the time I cleaned myself up and had something to eat it was early morning. I had not been in bed long and must have had a nightmare - I jumped out of bed and tried to run through the door without opening it and burst my nose. It bled for an hour so I've not had much sleep. I wonder how the collier went on. I think he said he was on his way to work when it happened. He had put his jacket down somewhere and must have lost it. Trev. do try to get to know who he is if you can. Definitely he was a hero."