Air Raid On the Home Front at Rufford Abbey 26-27 Sept 2015

People are going about their business – police arresting spivs, civilians coming and going. There is a special event on in Rufford Abbey that a lot of people are present at.

The air raid siren sounds, and people look round for the approaching bombers. Civilians are ushered into the shelters. Perhaps a few into the undercroft, as well as upstairs.

Take cover! - John Lee

Take cover! – John Lee

The abbey takes a direct hit from a couple of 100Kg high explosive bombs, and a number of incendiaries. On incendiary hits a lean-to to the left of the abbey staircase. (Bangs from gas bird scarer, smoke grenades, silver fountains).

ARP assess the damage, and go in to lead out the walking wounded from the event in the abbey. One ARP warden has a clipboard, and is checking off the names of people who escape. A number are brought out and are lead to the safety and comfort of the WVS welfare operation. Still shaking from the shock, they are given tea and blankets, and sat down in safety. Those in the undercroft are also lead to the WVS centre.

Meanwhile an ARP warden sets off on her motorbike with a message that the Fire and Ambulance services are urgently needed, as the abbey roof has collapsed, trapping people in the rubble. The incendiaries have set the splintered wood on fire. Other ARP wardens try to tackle the fire with stirrup pumps and buckets of water. One goes into the building and we can see her through the balcony bravely trying to stop the fire spreading as her colleague pumps from the bucket at the foot of the steps. Wendy appears on the balustrade, just staring into the distance. It was a response to shock known as the ‘1000-yard stare’. Her husband calls to her, but she ignores him, just fixed in this stare. The ARP warden calls to Wendy to come out, but she doesn’t move. Eventually the ARP warden grabs her and make her come out. The other warden with the stirrup pump soon has to retreat as the flames catch hold.

Apart from the misfortune of the direct hit, it seemed to be quite a light raid, certainly compared to what was usual. But few people noticed the small metal contraptions that had wings like a sycamore seed or butterfly, and were lying around. No-one had seen them before, and did not know what they were. Still, best treat them with suspicion. As the smoke clears, one is seen on the upper balcony of the abbey, and one or two are lying on the ground near the abbey steps.

Casualty brought out - Mick Hill

Casualty brought out – Mick Hill

Luckily the NFS were not far away, as they had been doing some training as part of the event in the abbey, which included preparing a large emergency water supply. The NFS arrive with a K2 (and pump?), and the Fordson pump-escape. The Fordson pump sets into the dam. The ARP warden taking the register tells the senior officer that there are still people in the building.

The K2 unloads crew and equipment, and parks under the trees out of the way. Two hoses are run out from the pump towards the abbey door. One is used to put a jet in through the window. The other has a diffuser spray, and is drawn into the building and up the steps by two firemen. (It can actually be shut off as soon as it is wholly out of sight). The officer realises that a Turntable Ladder will be needed, and despatches another messenger.

Two more firemen are directed into the building with picks, crowbars and other rescue equipment. The Leading Fireman in charge of the Rescue Party thinks he can hear something. He calls for silence. The pump is knocked off. He taps a metal pipe. In the silence, we just make out a weak tap in response. More digging is done, and the casualty found. Other firemen and ARP come in, and help carry the wounded out, while others wait at the bottom of the steps with stretchers. (The casualties are taken to the crowd line partly for a good public view, partly to get them safely out of the way of any equipment). The pump is restarted, and more water put onto the fire.

Firemen direct water to the fire - John Lee

Firemen direct water to the fire – John Lee

The ambulance arrives, and does a tight turn and parks beside the Fordson, facing the exit so it does not obscure the action. Casualties are loaded. Once the last casualty is loaded, it sets off back to the Turning Circle.

The K4 Turntable Ladder - John Lee

The K4 Turntable Ladder – John Lee

The officer in charge then beckons the waiting Turntable Ladder down to the LH corner of the abbey, and the turntable ladder is extended to get water onto the remains of the abbey roof, as the last casualty is escorted to the WVS centre. Water is knocked off, and the hose is withdrawn from the staircase. The hose with the branch that was directed through the window is now connected to the Turntable Ladder, and all eyes are on the jet of water from the top of the ladder.

The Turntable Ladder is in place - John Lee

The Turntable Ladder is in place – John Lee

As the fire is now out, the ladder is retracted, and hoses are rolled up, and the All Clear is sounded on the siren. But just as everyone thinks things are returning to normal, a hose catches on one of the butterfly contraptions, and it explodes, killing? or injuring a fireman who is nearby. (This happens in the space between the abbey and the TL. A fireman takes a thunderflash from the K2, and strikes it, and drops it near the butterfly, and then becomes the casualty himself.)

The shock from this butterfly exploding also triggers another one, which is on the abbey balustrade, which goes off a few seconds later. Some were set to explode on the slightest disturbance, while others has a timer and would explode a few seconds later, or even up to 30 mins later.

A fireman is badly injured in a gas explosion - John Lee

A fireman is badly injured in a gas explosion – John Lee

This brings a wave of panic amongst the NFS and ARP, as they hastily look round checking if there are any more of these around. Meanwhile, the stretcher(s) are brought back for the injured firemen, and they are loaded into the K2 to get them to medical help quickly. The tunic of one fireman is badly ripped by the blast, and as it is removed, we see that there is a piece of shrapnel in his arm, which is bleeding profusely. He is carried by stretcher along the crowd line so people can see it. (Rather than the most direct route to the K2).

The K2 then departs to the field hospital, and the remaining firemen make up the kit. One of the ARP wardens tells the senior NFS officer (and commentator) that they are certain they saw a stick of three bombs come from the bomber, but we only heard two HE bomb explosions. A search is organised for the remaining bomb (which does NOT happen during the scenario. It is eventually found in the middle of Long Meadow, and the Bomb Disposal section of the Royal Engineers are expected in about an hour, after the D-Day training.

As Churchill? Monty? are in the area, they come down to see what has happened, so all the firemen and ARP immediately stop what they are doing, and form a parade line for a very brief salute, and congratulations on a job well done in protecting this country from the perils of the German bombing campaign, at great personal cost. (Whistle blows, casualties rise, and the WVS and walking wounded come and join the line for applause, together with Hannah and other makeup artists).

The ambulance and K2 return from the turning circle to the Guarderobe field hospital, and the crowd barriers are dropped. The public are invited to gather round the field hospital to watch the treatment of the casualties, while the WVS serve more tea to the walking wounded, and the hard-pressed and exhausted firemen, ARP wardens, and police. There is also a demonstration outside the hospital by the makeup artist.

You can find out more about Butterfly Bombs in the ‘Butterfly Winter’ episode of ‘Danger UXB’ here, and about the 1000-yard stare here.

About lowdhamstation

I am a director of a small (and very technical) business, a committed Christian, a Reader (and preacher) in my local village church, husband to my dear Frances, am interested in heritage railways, and heritage fire engines. I currently run a group that displays wartime and early post-war fire engines at 1940s re-enacting events and steam engine rallies. O yes, and vintage cars and motorbikes, and we live in a Victorian railway station.
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