75 years on. The bombs on Chaddesden Park

Dear friends,

I was sorting through some papers the other day, when I came across a piece that I had written over 20 years ago, and I thought it might be of interest to you.

I am attaching it to this e-mail.

It concerns the bomb which fell in Chaddesden Park in 1940.

I wrote the article after I had interviewed several people and researched various documents.

Unfortunately I haven’t kept my diaries which recorded the exact dates that I visited the interviewees, but I must have committed the information to writing about 1992, because I have used the phrase “a couple of heartbeats” for those moments of silence before the bomb blast.

I picked up that phrase from Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars book, ‘Heir to the Empire’, which was published in 1992, and which I read soon after it came out.

Most of the people I interviewed have now died, but I know that Alan Campbell is still alive, and I imagine that so too are Keith Cokayne and David Rogerson, who are mentioned in the narrative.

I haven’t contacted these people to let them know that I’m sending this article to you, but I can’t imagine that they would have any objection to it being publicised.

I felt a certain urgency to get on and send it to you, because this 12th December will be the 75th anniversary of the bomb’s falling, and that’s less than two weeks away.

A multiple of 25 anniversary is traditionally a good time to remember a historical event.

I’m also attaching a copy of the photograph of the bomb crater, which was taken by a Derby Evening Telegraph photographer on the morning of 13th December, and a copy of a section of the 1938 map of Chaddesden.

I’ve seen the original of that photograph in the Derby Evening Telegraph archives.

It has the 13th December 1940 date stamped on the back, but it is also marked with a press censorship date of 16th December 1940, which is how I know that it passed that restriction.

The map is useful in giving some visual orientation to the description of locations in the text.

I would be grateful if you could let me know whether this material is of any interest to you, and to what use you might put it.

For those of you who don’t me, I was the curate of St. Mary’s Church, Chaddesden, from 1981 to 1983, and then led the Chaddo for Jesus work from 1984 to 2006.

I currently have a locum ministry in the Diocese of Derby, which means that I cover services in various churches when the usual priest is not there for one reason or another.

I still live in Chaddesden, but probably not for much longer.

My wife and I are planning to retire to Buxton next year, which is why I was sorting through my papers!

Yours sincerely.

Rev. Basil Denno

The Chaddesden Park Bomb Story

Air-raid warning

The air-raid sirens sounded, but Phoebe Lummas continued what she was doing! There had been air-raid warnings before; usually nothing happened. She was playing table tennis at the YWCA on Green Lane, Derby.

Bill Cokayne entered an air-raid shelter. He was at his place of work in Spondon. He worked for ‘Leach & Neale’, making camouflage colours. When the register was taken, one old man, who couldn’t walk properly, was unaccounted for. Bill left the shelter and hunted round the works until he found him. The old man was unharmed and sheltering underneath a barrel. Bill gave him a helping hand and brought him into the air-raid shelter.

Back in Chaddesden, Bill’s wife, Elsie, gathered up their son, Keith, and rushed to the field behind their house. There was an air-raid shelter there, which they shared with their neighbours. The Cokaynes had a Morrison shelter, but Elsie felt safer in the field shelter.

At ‘The Bays’, Godfrey and Dorothy Rogerson and their six-year-old son, David, made use of their Morrison shelter. This type of shelter was a cage with a strong metal top, which could be used as a table. ‘The Bays’ stood at the Valley Road entrance to Chaddesden Park.

Catherine Oldershaw and her aunt Hettie, of 146 Chaddesden Lane, took shelter under the stairs.

At 25 Autumn Grove, Henry Campbell ushered his wife and twelve-year-old son, Alan, into the brick shelter in their back garden. He himself stood for some time at the top of the steps leading down into the shelter. He looked up at the sky. It was a moonlit, starry night¹. It was the night of 12th December 1940.

1940 Chaddesden

In 1940 the area around Chaddesden Park was not within Derby Borough, but came under the jurisdiction of the Shardlow Rural District Council. A trolley-bus line ran up Nottingham Road. Milk was delivered by horse-drawn cart. Phoebe Lummas’s father was one of the local milkmen; she used to help him with the deliveries. Their home was number 38 Wood Road. Bill Cokayne lived at 44 Wood Road and his mother at number 34. The Co-op building at the corner of Wood Road and Chaddesden Lane was a grocer’s shop. The vicarage was opposite the shops on Chaddesden Lane. There was a cottage opposite 146 Chaddesden Lane; it was nicknamed the ‘Oxo House’, because of an advert for ‘Oxo’ cubes on its frontage. Where Maine Drive now enters Chaddesden Lane, there was a farm. It was the property of Colonel Kerr, and named ‘Rettemoy’ after a French farm in a First World War battle. The Lummas family stabled Snowball, one of their milk-cart horses, there. A track led eastwards from the farm and crossed the Chaddesden Brook just north of the Mossey Yard Plantation. The current Maine Drive follows its line. There was also a dirt path across Chaddesden Park, joining the Chaddesden Lane and Valley Road entrances. The route is now tarmacked.

The building in Chaddesden Park which lies about 100 metres southeast of St. Mary’s Church was the headquarters of the Chaddesden Home Guard. There was a Home Guard roadblock on Nottingham Road, between the cinema and Cherry Tree Hill. There was another roadblock on Morley Road, at the Brookfield Avenue junction. On the piece of ground where Asda now stands, there was a searchlight. The soldiers who manned it were all Stoke City Football Club players.

Bomb blast

Wave after wave of enemy bombers passed over Derby that night. A fierce anti-aircraft barrage harassed them². The anti-aircraft guns were on Derby Racecourse and Royal Hill, Spondon. Searchlights also stabbed the night sky, to help the anti-aircraft guns locate their targets.

At 8.30 p.m., according to Bill Cokayne, a piercing whistle rose above the noise of the artillery barrage. For a couple of heartbeats the whistle ceased, and then …

Stained glass in the east windows of St. Mary’s Church was destroyed³. The window on the west side of Godfrey Rogerson’s front door was blown out. The windows on the park side of the house were protected by the large elm tree in the corner of his garden. Branches were lopped off the large beech tree at the Valley Road entrance to the park. The front door of 146 Chaddesden Lane was blown up the stairs, the very stairs where Catherine and Hettie Oldershaw were sheltering. Windows of their house, the ‘Oxo House’, the grocer’s shop and 34 Wood Road were blown in². The glass ceiling of the Rettemoy Farm building was shattered. Windows of houses on Nottingham Road were smashed. Henry Campbell was knocked down the stairs of his air-raid shelter. Two bombs had straddled the Mossey Yard Plantation. One had fallen in Chaddesden Park², about 70 metres east of the brook and about 30 metres north of the dirt path. The other bomb had landed in a field at the back of the vicarage², between the track and the Mossey Yard Plantation, about 30 metres west of the brook.

Moments later there was a third bomb. It fell on the Megaloughton Lane sewerage works in Spondon. The explosion shook the dust off the rafters at ‘Leach & Neale’. The dust even permeated the air-raid shelter, making breathing hard for Bill Cokayne and his colleagues. The back-draught from the explosion tugged at Bill’s shirt and jacket.

The anti-aircraft guns and searchlights were still active when Phoebe Lummas walked up Chaddesden Lane. She went to Rettemoy Farm, where her horse was stabled. Snowball was restless because of the noise, but she fed him and calmed him down. Phoebe then walked towards her home. Outside the Wilmot Arms a member of the Chaddesden Home Guard, Vivian Sewell of 22 Chaddesden Lane, appeared. He had probably come from the roadblock at Brookfield Avenue. Viv Sewell stopped Phoebe and advised her to take cover. She was so near home; it didn’t seem worth taking cover anywhere else. So she continued what she was doing!

Godfrey Rogerson went out that night to see what damage had been done. The big bomb crater in Chaddesden Park was still smoking!

All clear

It was the early² hours of the morning before the all-clear siren sounded.

Men from the Shardlow Rural District Council came and nailed a felt replacement for Godfrey Rogerson’s window. The elm tree which had gallantly protected the windows on the park side of his house died long before the days of Dutch elm disease. The bomb blast can’t have done it any good!

A reporter of the Derby Evening Telegraph took a photograph of the crater in Chaddesden Park. The photograph shows some of the many people who came to explore the craters on 13th December. It passed the wartime censorship, but doesn’t appear to have been published until 1982. The crater in the park wasn’t filled in until 1949.

The top portion of the chancel east window and sections of the north aisle east window in St. Mary’s Church have survived. The stained glass in the former window depicts the Virgin Mary, Eve, and the Lord in glory³. It seems highly symbolic that the ‘Lord in glory’ should have outlasted wartime destruction.

And why were those bombs dropped? Sheffield was heavily blitzed for the first time that night. A returning aircraft may have tipped out some unused bombs over Chaddesden Park.

References

¹ Front Line 1940-41 (H.M. Stationery Office, 1942), p.101

Sheffield Blitz (James S. Abrahams, Newsphotos Press Agency), p.7

² Derby Evening Telegraph, Friday 13th December 1940

³ A Short Guide to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Chaddesden

(P.F. Cholerton, 1976)

Written by Rev. Basil Denno, circa 1992, after interviews and research.

A Bit Of History, Gardens & Parks, Latest News, Wartime, Website Articles Dec 1, 2015

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