Evidence suggests Lostock Hall bombing was a deliberate act

LEYLAND BOMBER: The Dornier Do17z.
LEYLAND BOMBER: The Dornier Do17z.

LAST week’s Flashback page included details of a bombing raid in Lostock Hall in 1940, which killed 25 people. Following that article, Chorley historian Stuart A Clewlow has written about how the raids devastated whole communities.

“On August 31, 1940, Leyland received a trail of 23 bombs, from Earnshaw Bridge to Seven Stars.

Incredibly, there were no casualties.

However, any light-hearted look or disregard to the threat of attack as a result of living in the North West of the country, ended with the casualties of later raids.

On October 21, 1940, the Leyland Motors complex and surrounding area was bombed by an enemy Dornier Bomber Do17.

It is believed that it was an attempted strike on the Leyland Motor Works itself.

Three people were killed and 80 were injured when three bombs struck the Axle Factory, Tank Engine Factory, and the third blew the Foundry roof off.

The victims of the Leyland raid on October 21, 1940, were lorry driver Herbert Fisher Valentine, 30; Thomas Cyril Walsh, 29; and Joseph Wignall, 43. All three were buried at Preston Rural District Cemetery.

On October 27, 1940, a raid was carried out, intended for the same location. This time, local anti-aircraft gunners opened fire on the bomber. As a result, the intruder released its bombs prematurely.

That was over Lostock Hall, and it caused mass destruction on Ward Street and Princess Street.

The release of bombs, on to what, from the air, would have been easily identified as residential areas, resulted in the deaths of 25 civilians and a further 17 were injured.

Two of those injured died later in the war, making the total as a result of the raid 27.

Tragically, seven of the victims were from one family.

They were interred at Leyland churchyard, having been taken to the church by horse drawn carriages.

One of those injured was 70-year-old Ellen Ursula Parker, who lived at 62 Ward Street. She died of her wounds at home in Chorley on 21st October, 1941. She was buried at Chorley Cemetery.

A rescue worker described the scene as being like a modern Pompeii.

There were people found dead sat at their dining tables, and others sat at a table part way through their game of cards.

Tragically, one of those killed was 12-year-old Alice Benson who was an evacuee, sent north to be safe.

Following the bombing, one particular story circulated which caused outcry in the area.

The story was that the German bomber deliberately targeted the residential area.

It was then hit by anti-aircraft machine gun fire and due to engine failure, later crashed in the Cotswolds.

The pilot survived the crash and was captured.

He was interrogated and it was found that before the war, he was an apprentice, installing machinery at the BX Factory, and lived in the area of Lostock Hall.

People were incensed that, at the time of releasing the bombs, the pilot would have known exactly where he was.

He may well have injured or even killed the very people he lived, worked or was friendly with.

Hindsight allows for an explanation based on fact, and without the influence of contemporary factors.

The bomber was hit hard by local anti-aircraft fire from Lewis machine guns, before the bombs were released.

This accounts for the ‘quivering action’ (described by local historian and former Guardian editor George Birtill, who was a witness to the event) made by the bomber as it turned sharply and then released its bombs.

One of its two engines was damaged, and the aeroplane was seen leaving the scene trailing black smoke.

The damage led to it crashing in the Cotswolds.

As the aeroplane was damaged, the crew would know that a crash landing with armed bombs on board would lead to disaster.

It can be presumed, therefore, that the bombs were ditched after the aeroplane had been damaged, and they could quite simply have landed anywhere.

The nearby Calvary Christian Fellowship Church held a remembrance service on the anniversary of the raid on October 27, 1990.

Leyland was the target of enemy attention again on October 30,1940.

Two high explosive 1,100lb (500 kg) bombs fell on the Leyland Motors Axle Factory, their intended target, but failed to detonate.

They were later recovered and made safe by a team of experts from No.10 Bomb Disposal Coy, Royal Engineers. One bomb was retained and placed on display.

A car park was built on what was Ward Street and Princess Street.