Somehow the Germans got wind of an important visitor to Woodhall Spa over the weekend of 19th and 20th July 1940, and mounted a hit-and-run air raid on the Golf Hotel where the VIP was expected.
A lone bomber passed over a few times, dropping a mixture of High Explosives and Incendiary bombs. Luckily, the HE bombs did little damage to the hotel, although the incendiaries started a significant fire. The telephones were also knocked out of action. As the fire took hold, the ARP wardens evacuated a number of people with minor injuries, but eventually concluded that two people were missing, confirmed by witnesses that they were still in the building. As luck would have it, an Army despatch rider saw what happened as he was passing, and called in to render assistance. He was sent to the local fire station to summon help, which arrived in just a few minutes.
A Turntable Ladder was used as a water tower, so a big jet of water could be sent onto the burning building using a trailer pump. Other firemen got two lines from the front-mounted pump on a Fordson Pump-Escape, and directed jets of water to the seat of the fire near the front door of the hotel.
Once the ‘All Clear’ was sounded, a car escorted by a guard of motorcyclists pulled into the hotel. It can now be revealed that the VIP was none other than the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill himself. Having escaped this attempt on his life, he inspected and congratulated the hard-working firemen and civil defence staff that had so bravely fought the fire. He also gave a rousing speech to the assembled crowds, in which he said that, following the recent rescue of the BEF from Dunkirk, he expected the Battle of Britain to commence.
There was another attempt on Mr Churchill’s life later that evening, when another lone bomber had engine trouble, and crashed nearby without managing to drop the bomb load. A single airman bailed out, but got caught in a tree, also near the Golf Hotel. Many people attending a dance there came out to watch the National Fire Service use the Turntable Ladder to lower the German down from the tree, while onlookers accused him of ‘bombing our chippy’. Sadly he broke his neck in the incident, and was pronounced dead at the scene, although members of the armed forces were on hand to arrest him, had he lived.
It is thought that over 50 people were involved in the air raid, including the NFS, ARP, Civil Defence, WVS, motorcyclists, medical staff, casualties and technical services.
Many thanks to: Mick Hill (Ministry of Information), Henry James, John Lee and Paul Herrmann for taking the photos. Also thanks to the Officers of the National Fire Service, without whom this would not have been possible.