The ARP wardens were relaxing in their posts when the alert came in. The air raid sirens sounded – five in all around the site, and already the crowd had gathered. You could hear the approaching drone of heavy bombers, getting louder, nearer. And the bombs started to fall. That one sounded close – very close. In fact it was a direct hit on the abbey. Smoke came out of the windows – white at first, then turning reddish and dirty as material caught fire. Th ARP wardens came running – luckily they had had the foresight to leave stirrup pumps and buckets full of water all prepared, and were quickly to work on the fire.
But it got out of hand as they realised firstly that the fire was too big for them to handle, and secondly from the screams from the windows, that there were casualties trapped inside.
A runner was sent for the National Fire Service, who luckily were stationed nearby, and having heard the sirens, were at the alert. The K2 and trailer pump came down the hill, bell ringing, followed by the Turntable Ladder. While some firemen got the pump set in to the emergency water supply, two others rushed into the building. One casualty suffered from the smoke, another had blood running from a serious head injury, and I believe a couple more had broken bones.
As soon as they were out of the building, the casualties were handed over to the ARP. Luckily, a doctor was passing, and came forward from the crowd and helped, while a messenger on a bicycle was sent to summon an ambulance. The police were quickly on the scene and helped direct the crowd. I think some Home Guard troops also lent a hand.
Then there was the noise. The pump got to work, as commands were shouted for jets to be directed through the open windows, and ‘Water On!’ The wardens directed the ambulance towards the casualties, lying on the ground, some on stretchers, some with blankets round them, all suffering from shock.
The ambulance took the most urgent cases directly to the St John Ambulance first aid post, where Anne, having heard the sirens, was all ready. Those who were able to walk came along later.
By this time the NFS had got the turntable ladder on position and extended, with a fireman aloft, and got a jet playing down onto the fire through the collapsed roof of the abbey, whilst another fireman had a jet playing in through the door.
The fire was just under control when the water ran out. The ladder retracted, and all the equipment was made up, while Nurse Anne did a sterling job getting the walking wounded splinted and bandaged, with broken arms supported in slings.
On both days, we started with a turntable ladder drill on the Long Meadow arena and had a reasonable crowd. We had planned a scenario, and as the day progressed, we invited more of the other groups to take part in the air raid. As we walked around, whenever we spoke to anyone in appropriate gear, we invited them to join in. We had ARP wardens from ‘Bird Dog Platoon’, Guarderobe, and UK Home Front groups. Two policemen, a doctor and a civilian casualty. On Sunday, it had grown to 4 or 5 casualties, as there must have been some event going on when the Luftwaffe came over.
One of the great things about this is that it gave so many re-enacting groups to ‘do’ their stuff, rather than just having a static show and talking about it. The ARP wardens were able to show what wardens did in the war, not just walk about and talk about it. The First Aid post had a real job to do in a realistic situation. When the bombs came down, we could all see what a vital job they all did.
Watched by a huge crowd, and the feedback was all positive. “Been coming for years, but this is the best scenario I have seen”, etc. It was so realistic I heard of a comment from a member of the public who had thought there had been a real incident!
The casualty was taken to the First Aid post with smoke inhalation problems, but when the nurse pulled the blanket over her head, we realised that the casualty had died.
Later, Anne, the nurse told me, “We really wanted to do some First Aid – bandages, splints and slings, etc, but we cant do anything for asphyxiation, so I asked her if she would mind dying. Can we have some walking wounded casualties tomorrow, please?”
Although I suspect that poor Hannah will die again on Sunday.
Wow – what an air raid. Today there were 4 or 5 casualties when the abbey was bombed. Anne in the St John Ambulance First Aid post was almost overwhelmed, but coped admirably. All the civil defence services were involved, and each played their part. The fire was so severe that it took three jets of water to get it under control. The ARP wardens were absolutely brilliant. After months of phoney war, the ‘darts brigade’ finally came into their own.
In view of the large crowd on Saturday, and expecting more on Sunday, we put up a crowd barrier 15 minutes before the scenario was due to start. Within minutes, there was a larger crowd than on Saturday, and by the time it started, there were several hundred.
Perhaps next year, the slot in the program will be billed, “Major air raid on the Abbey“, involving “All available re-enactors” at “The Abbey, Undercroft and surrounding area”.
A personal view
Jan, wife of the NFS Officer in Charge, was in the crowd and said later, “It was really rather emotional. You were thinking about those people facing the danger back in the war, and thinking, that’s my husband and my son out there. They are all my friends. I’m so proud of them. Please, God, let them all come home safely. My grandfather was in the fire service, and it brought home what my grandma must have felt”.
Bird Dog – Home to Battlefield
Many other walk-on re-enactors, including Police, civilians, doctor, press.
Thanks to David McLoughlin for his excellent commentary.
We are hoping to post photos and a video later this week. But meanwhile, here are a few stills from the video taken by the camera worn by the ladder branchman.