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 some set to work on the fire.
There had been a summer ball on in the Abbey, and the guests, all in their finery, came out of the door. Luckily, most of them were in a room that was not damaged. One ARP warden quickly got the guest list from the Steward, and started on a role call. A number of guests failed to answer their names.
But it got out of hand as the wardens 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 passing jeep 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 or shrapnel wounds.
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 the nurse, 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. At about this time, one bomber came back and made a single low pass over the Abbey, machine guns firing into the Civil Defence workers and the crowd who had gathered. A couple of people were hit, and taken by stretcher to the first aid post. The ladder retracted, and all the equipment was made up as the All Clear sounded, while the nurse did a sterling job getting the walking wounded splinted and bandaged, with broken arms supported in slings.