Batley’s First Air Raid – The Night of 12/13 December 1940

I’ve written previously about the night of 12 December 1940, the night the Luftwaffe bombed Batley and Dewsbury. I’ve now unearthed more information about that winter evening’s terrifying events in Batley. This includes the specific areas hit, and the damage caused, during what Chief Warden Major James P. Critchley dubbed as Batley’s first air raid. So, if you want to find out if the area in which your ancestors lived, or where you now live, was affected, this may help.

This new account is based on information received from reports on the night, which Chief Warden Critchley subsequently documented. These reports give some idea of the frantic activity across Batley as explosives from German bombers rained down, and as information was transmitted in real time between Air Raid Wardens at their various Posts, the police, military and other official Civil Defence bodies.

Crucially, because of wartime reporting restrictions, these details were not in any of the newspaper accounts at the time. This incudes precise timings which, in these “as it happened” reports, are given using the 24-hour clock.

During the Second World War, Air Raid Wardens received colour-coded air raid warnings. In Batley at 18.26 on 12 December the local wardens, as documented by Critchley, received a “Purple” message. This was a lights warning. It meant, in addition to normal blackout restrictions, even exempted lighting for vital transport and production had to be extinguished as enemy aircraft were expected to pass over the district.

With air raid sirens wailing across the area, at 20.13 a “Red” warning was received, signalling an imminent air raid. Wardens were to dash out in their respective sectors blowing short blasts on their whistles.

The air raid was already well underway when the Wardens received this “Red” warning. According to the reports, at 20.00 hours Incendiary Bombs fell on Bath Street, though the report stated they caused little damage. This information was passed on to the police, as was customary with all the incidents which followed.

At 20.03 Air Raid Warden Wood reported a fire at the bottom of Well Lane.

At 20.05 Air Raid Warden Talbot reported Incendiary Bombs near St Thomas’ Church, though thankfully no damage.

St Thomas’ Church, Batley – Postcard

At 20.25 the Ambulance Depot reported a suspected Unexploded Bomb at the junction of Well Lane and Bradford Road. This information was passed on to the police, who reported back at 20.41 that they could not find any trace of the device.

Also at 20.25 Post A2 reported that walls had been broken down near the Boys’ Grammar School, with stones on the causeway. A policeman was despatched to check it out.

Batley Boys Grammar School – origin unknown

At 20.40 a report from Post 18 came in. A High Explosive bomb at Mount Pleasant resulted in an estimated six casualties, with further information to follow. Within four minutes this incident was passed on to the police to investigate. Note this incident was likely to be the one on Purlwell Hall Road which resulted in a fatality – more of that in my previous post about the events that night.

At 21.00 Post 17 reported a whistling High Explosive in the middle of the fields at Parkers Houses – this was the Carters Fields area. The house end and all windows and doors were in – presumably this meant blown in. Almost instantly this was passed on to the police.

At 20.55 Warden Crowther at Post 6 reported he heard a bomb coming down whistling, ¾ of a minute ago. However, no explosion or detonation followed, so this was presumed to be another Unexploded Bomb. By 21.01 this too was passed to the police to follow up.

At 21.04 Post 28 reported a probable Delayed Action Bomb at Batley Soothill, Soothill Railway Bridge and Soothill Lane. There was a small crater. This was passed to the police within a minute. More reports of this particular incident then flooded in.

At 21.17 Major Whitworth, Royal Army Service Corps, reported a Delayed Action Bomb at Soothill Bridge.

This was followed by Post 28 giving an update at 21.21 on the Soothill situation. There was an Unexploded Bomb at the rail bridge on Soothill Lane. It had dropped in the buttress between the London & North Eastern Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway yards, and caused a crater of about 12” in diameter. Houses were evacuated, traffic was stopped both ways, and investigations were underway for more bombs.

By 21.37 Special Constable Pickles reported five Unexploded Bombs at Soothill Bridge. This took slightly longer to pass formally from the Report Centre to the police, around nine minutes. Perhaps the scale of information now pouring in was becoming overwhelming.

A verbal message followed from Major Matthews. The bomb had now been removed from Soothill Bridge and taken into a field behind Grange Road.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Batley, at 21.00 the Officer in charge at the Report Centre received information that a bomb was heard to drop, but had not exploded, at an unknown locality near Post 2L. This was passed to the police to check out at 21.10. At the same time the police were asked to investigate the swishing noise near Grosvenor Road heard at 21.07 by Warden C. P. Talbot at Post A2.

At 21.18 Section Leader Turner reported an Unexploded Bomb in the Healey area of Batley at Holyoake Avenue, West Park Road. Yet another incident for the beleaguered police.

At 21.25 Post 10 reported five High Explosive bombs, with four houses badly damaged. No location was given. Five minutes later Air Raid Warden Fox gave the location as North Bank Fields, and one bomb was suspected to have exploded. All houses were evacuated until the position was certain.

Also at 21.25 Warden Duckworth at Post 19 reported an Unexploded Bomb, type unknown, in the sewage beds. This went to the police at 21.44 with a request for the exact location so a decision could be made about evacuating the First Aid Post. There’s a joke in there somewhere but I’ll refrain from making it!

The police were also passing their findings back. At 21.20 a Police Officer reported something had gone through the roof of G. H. Hirst Ltd’s Alexandra Mills. By 21.35 Special Constables were sent to attend, and five minutes later reported an Unexploded Bomb in the building.

At 21.30 Lieutenant Spanton reported the discovery of a yard-long time bomb, with a diameter of one foot in a yard at the back of Hanover Street. It was now under a military guard and they were telling people to evacuate. By 21.50 Major Matthews identified it as an Oil Bomb. The Royal Engineers, based in York, were coming over to deal with it. This order was cancelled by 21.58 following a re-evaluation – it was an empty canister from a flare. These parachute flares were dropped in advance of a raid to mark out bombing targets.

Meanwhile, now back in Healey, at 21.35 Air Raid Warden Fox from Post 10 was reporting a High Explosive bomb between Trafalgar Street and Throstle Nest Mill, with a crater measuring 40 ft wide and 20-30 feet deep.

At 21.42 a report came in from the Batley Boys’ Grammar School headmaster. Over an hour earlier, at around 20.30, near the school he heard the scream of a bomb, followed by a dull thud but no explosion. Given the timing it is possible this linked to the 20.25 report from the Air Raid Warden at Post A2. The headmaster provided a further update at 23.49. The bomb had in fact exploded blocking a manhole at the school.

At 21.45 Air Raid Warden Norman of Post 28, reported a suspected Unexploded Bomb in soft soil between Clutton Street and Lady Ann Road, leaving a crater with a diameter of around 15 inches. Military were already in attendance.

At 22.01 a Rescue Party was at Parkers Houses, Carters Fields where an Unexploded Bomb was reported to be in a house. This presumably linked to the incident reported at 21.00 by Post 17. By 22.45 the Rescue Party had fenced it off.

At 22.12 P. C. 1331 Wright called in a suspected Unexploded Bomb at South Bank Road and the top of Pynate Road off Carlinghow Lane. The Police Station were asked to send someone to investigate.

At 22.15 Warden J. Wilson at Post 18 said a Delayed Action Bomb was believed to have dropped in Farmer Walker’s fields at the back of houses in Highcliffe Road.

At 22.27 Warden Clarkson at Post A2 called in an Unexploded Bomb at St. Thomas’ Church yard on Rutland Road, below the east window of the church. It had actually been discovered 20 minutes earlier. At 22.29 Warden Talbot stated this bomb was now found to be an unexploded flare which had been buried and covered with earth and posed no danger of explosion.

Meanwhile, more news came in from the Pynate Road incident. Information received at 22.45 from Warden H. Noble stated that two Unexploded Bombs were believed to have dropped at Pynate Road, Carlinghow Lane. There were no casualties, but as yet no services were there either.

By 23.00 the police got back. The Unexploded Bomb at the top of Chaster Street, South Bank Road and Pynate Road was being attended to by P. C. 1331 Wright and Special Constables.

The final report in the list is one at 23.40 to say the telephone was out of order at the Warden’s Post in Holland Street.

At 04.06 the Air Raid Message code “White” came through – the signal for the sounding of the All Clear sirens.

As can be seen from the above volley of communications, it was a fast-paced and confusing picture with multiple reports from separate sources coming in about various incidents across the Batley Borough. Some appear to be duplicate reports of the same incident.

As the dust settled, a considered general report could be written. This gave a further indication of the extent of the bombing and the subsequent activity by those on the ground dealing with it .

This read as follows (with spelling and punctuation as in the document):

Shortly after 7p.m. Enemy aeroplanes dropped flares over the Borough. There was immediately a considerable amount of Anti-Aircraft fire and attempts made to shoot down the flares. It is believed two flares were shot down.

About 7.45p.m. numerous fires broke out in the neighbourhood of Bradford Rd. Central.

A large number of Incendiary bombs were dropped but the majority were put out by Wardens, Police, A.F.S.1 Soldiers and Civilians.

At 8.15p.m. Bradford Road Central closed from Branch Rd. to Hick Lane on account of fires.

At 9.5 p.m. Soothill Lane closed owning to U.X.B.2 on Soothill Railway Bridge.

Only Incendiary bombs were dropped in the centre of town.

Feeding and Shelter Stations were opened at Zion Sunday School, Cross Bank Sunday School, and Soothill Workings Mens’ Club for persons destitute through H.E.3 or Fire and for persons evacuated owing to enexploded [sic] bombs.

Schools etc. were utilised at Healey and Soothill where the distance from Feeding Stations was great or not accessible on account of unexploded bombs.

At 12.30 a.m. Fires were under control and very little glow.

Weather was good when raid commenced but dense fog descended after 9 p.m. The roads became ice-bound and consequently movement was difficult.

5.30 a.m. Lieut. Hill, of Bomb Disposal Unit arrived with squad and commenced on unexploded bombs. The bomb on Soothill Bridge was given priority and removed at 8 a.m

A summary of damage then followed (spellings and punctuation as per the report).

1 Soldier killed with Shrapnel. 1 Warden injured by Shrapnel. Approximately 4 civilians also injured by Shrapnel.

Rag Warehouse J. A. Calverley. Half of top storey and part of second storey destroyed; also considerable stock of rags.

2 Storey Rag Warehouse, Anchor Mills, Bradford Rd. C[entral]. Damage to roof and stock of rags.

2 Storey Rag Warehouse off Bridge Street, (J. E. Etherington Ltd.) Stock of wool destroyed.

3 Storey Rag Warehouse and contiguous Dwelling Well Lane (W. J. Ineson & Son Ltd) Top two storeys used as Rag Warehouse, Bottom storey and Dwelling house used as H.Q. First Aid Parties and canteen. Damage. Burnt out.

Single storey Hygienic Laundry, Bradford Rd. C[entral]. Damage. Roof, machinary [sic] and customers articles.

24 other small fires were reported and dealt with by A.F.S., Wardens, Police, Soldiers etc. These were all between Cross Park Street and Mount Pleasant; Branch Road and Hick Lane.

H.E. Damage.
Boys’ Grammar School. Damage to wall and lawns.

Mount Pleasant – Victoria Avenue, Three houses wholly demolished. St. Andrews Church badly damaged. Gospel Hall and Purlwell Wesleyan Chapel slightly damaged.

North Bank Road. Four back to back cottages damaged beyond repair.

Near Trafalgar St., Crater 40ft x 30ft in field. numerous houses damaged by shrapnel, stones etc.

In the whole Borough 578 houses were damaged during the Raid.

450 temporary homeless people were accommodated in the Rest Centres at Zion Chapel etc.

Unexploded Bombs.
Soothill Bridge.
Alexandra Mills.
Clutton Street.
Station Road.
Railway Goods Yard.
Hunts Warehouse.
Station Road Warehouse.
Stubley’s Mill.
Field off Broom Street.
Soothill Pit Hill
(These were removed by Military safely.)

Alton Lodge. (Not confirmed)
Well Lane.
Carter’s Field. (Exploded)
Top of Southbank Road.
Off Highcliffe Road
Purlwell Lane (same bomb)
Woodersome [sic] Estate.
(Search was made for these but no traces found.)

Sewerage Beds. (Safe, Inspected and left.)

Bankfoot. (Flare removed by Military.)

St Thomas’s Church. (Flare removed by Military.)

A crater was discovered on 1st January 1941 near to Princess Royal School, Carlinghow, caused by H.E. bomb.

Upper Croft Road. Crater indicating that bomb had exploded at great depth; discovered 15th. Dec. 1940. (Later found to be U.X.B. 500 K.G.)

Sufficient components were found to completely re-construct a Parachute flare.

Several Unexploded Incendiary bombs were found.

Some Incendiary Bomb sticks and Flare canisters were also found.

St Andrew’s Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

In the midst of the destruction there were some lighter moments. For example the 80-year-old stone-deaf lady who, when eventually roused by police at 5am to evacuate her home, and after a search for her ear trumpet, refused to allow the Constable to take her to the Rest Centre until she had thoroughly brushed and combed her hair. Perhaps this was the wrong time and place for worrying about appearances!

In another incident, shortly after midnight, a vehicle belonging to the military emerged through the fog towards a policeman. It skated on the icy road as it drew up to him. The driver then asked the Police Officer for directions to the nearest piece of vacant land. The Officer took his time in replying, no doubt wondering what the consequences were for him – perhaps he would have to guard the Army vehicle – and how to get out of them. He soon got a move on when the Army Driver told him “Hell man, hurry up, we have an unexploded bomb on the rear seat.

And it would not be Batley without the grumbles and complaints about the action of the local authority, even in pre-Kirklees Council days. There were two such examples cited in the immediate aftermath.

In the first, a man in the Soothill area roused at about 5am for evacuation purposes due to the unexploded bomb on Soothill Bridge, shouted through his bedroom window at the Police Constable “That bomb dropped last neet, what the Hell are they laikin’ at? It owt to be aht nah.

Also on an ice-bound Soothill Lane, at around 6am an exhausted Warden had the unenviable task of being posted about 100 yards from an unexploded bomb. His job was to stop people coming down the road, and instruct them to make a detour to avoid the bomb on Soothill Bridge. One stockily-built middle aged man came sliding through the fog, his torch waving about as he tried to keep his balance. The Warden explained he would have to take a different route on account of the bomb. The man’s locally accented reply was “All right, but what’s t’Corporation laiking abaht at, there isn’t an ash up Sooithill Loin; it’s like glass an’ there’ll be somebody lamed yet.” When the Warden pointed out perhaps the Corporation had a lot to do during the night, the man’s reply was “Oh hev they.” He then disappeared into to the fog without any comment or question about the bomb.

I’ve tried to indicate in red on the map below as many of the places I can identify from the reports, to give some idea of the spread of incidents and damage across Batley that night.

Map of Batley from the 1930s. The areas in red illustrate the scale of incidents and damage across Batley from the air raid.

To conclude, I suggest my previous post about the events of that night should be read in conjunction with this new post. My previous post focuses more on individuals involved in the events, including details of the soldier killed outright, a St Mary’s parishioner who subsequently died from his injuries, as well as information about some others who were injured but thankfully survived. It also includes theories, confirmed in this latest post, about some of the bomb damage locations. The earlier post also covers events that night in neighbouring Dewsbury. It can be found here.

1. Auxiliary Fire Service.
2. Unexploded bomb.
3. High Explosives.

One response to “Batley’s First Air Raid – The Night of 12/13 December 1940

  1. Hazel Marston nee Walshaw

    I was in a clothes basket in an airaid shelter on northbank road age11 months when that raid happened so my mother told me

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