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The Day The World Blew Up - 70 People Were Killed in an English Country Village


Censorship held back all but the barest details


Censorship held back all but the barest details, concealing heroism, as well as tragedy.

In this dramatic series the Heralds (1958) tells for the first time the true stories of five days of horror and pathos beginning with . . . The Day The World Blew Up

AT 11.14 a.m. on November 27, 1944, Joseph Foster, manager of the plaster mine at Fould, on the Staffordshire- Derbyshire border, came to the surface to telephone.

Beyond his office, the grey Midland landscape of ploughed fields, meadows and elm trees, stretched into the mist.

Half a mile south, at Castle Hayes farm, the Goodwin family, Maurice and Mary, prepared for market.

A mile west at Hanbury, Melvin Zucca, licensee of the Cock Inn, polished the beer handles.

George Ede, shepherd, went his rounds, and outside the square towered church of St. Werburgh, where the first Sir John de Hanbury (died 1303) lies the Rev. James Crook sniffed the autumn air:

Gedling picking table
An aerial view taken just hours after the massive explosion of 27th November 1944

Joseph Foster picked up his telephone . . .

At 11.15, WITHOUT WARNING, THE WORLD BLEW UP. At least that's what it seemed like to the men and women of the little village of Hanbury. In fact they were not so far wrong.

For in one moment 1,500 two- ton "block-busters" (the great town-smashing bombs dropped on Germany), stored by an RAF unit in the disused mine- workings, had detonated, together with smaller bombs, in the biggest single explosion of the war in the West.


HUGE CRATER

In one fantastic bang even an official report later called it an explosion on an immense scale" - there had gone up nearly ten times the tonnage dropped on Coventry during its famous hours-long blitz.

The explosion blasted one giant crater more than a third of a mile long, nearly a quarter of a mile wide, as well as many smaller ones.

It wiped out of existence two complete farms, and killed more than 60 men and women.

It killed scores of sheep and cattle, made derelict nearly 1,000 acres of farming land, and damaged 60 buildings in Burton- on-Trent, five miles away.

It was heard in Coventry, more than 30 miles distant, shook houses all over Leicestershire, and at morning glow, four miles away, on the outskirts of Burton, the church spire was almost toppled into history.

The people of Hanbury still claim that damage was reported from as far away as Weston- super-mare, 120 miles to the southwest.

On that grey morning, Joseph Foster was lucky.

"There was just one tremendous roar," he says. "but blast does funny things, and for some reason the little office I was in escaped the worst of it, although we were all thrown against the walls."

Outside things were very different. So great had been the explosion that it had changed the face of the countryside. "The horizon itself seemed to have altered," says Foster, today a blue-eyed, white-haired, ramrod-backed man in his 70s.

"The whole face of the landscape was different. Castle Hayes Farm had completely disappeared, and when I walked back from the shaft I found it difficult to get my bearings."

Earlier that November morning, George Ede, now a bright- faced man tractor-driving across the new countryside, had met Bob Wagstaff.

"He was the finest thatcher, fencer, hedge-cutter and gate- hanger in Hanbury," Ede says, "and I told him we wanted something done on our place. But he'd promised to go to the Goodwins.

The last Ede saw of Bob Wagstaff was a slow sturdy figure walking across the fields to Castle Hayes from one world into the next.

Twenty minutes later the hill beyond Hanbury blew up in one tremendous roar.


TWO BLASTS

In the storage tunnels there was Joseph Clifford Salt, in charge of civilian staff below ground.

There were in fact two explosions he says today. "The first was like an ordinary 500 pounder going off, and I was not too worried.

"Then came the second explosion. That was different. 'Hell,' I said to myself', 'what's happened?'

"Along the tunnel in front I could see a cloud of dust coming towards me. There was a second like thunder rumbling in the distance and rolling nearer.

"Then the lights went out, and the suction from a gigantic explosion bashed me out of the office. I had aches and pains for a month after it, but nothing else."


WON MEDAL

What Joseph Salt does not talk about is the way he later led rescue teams through the shattered mine, lethal by this time with fumes and fire, and won the George Medal for rescue work.

Like others on that frightful morning - including Wing - Commander Donald Kings who took charge of the first rescue operations - he was decorated for bravery that not only saved lives, but helped to prevent the fire spreading to nearly 10,000 tons of bombs that lay in neighbouring tunnels.

For 21 hours the rescuers RAF and Air Ministry staff, men of the National Fire Service and of the local Mines Rescue Organisation toiled amid the shattered tunnels. Twelve times they battled back into the fume-filled workings.


WIPED OUT

Above ground, Foster, trying to organise help immediately he had recovered from the blast, found that a nearby mill had been completely wiped out together with 31 of the men working in it.

"So had two cottages in our yards, as well as the big stone- sorting sheds." he says. "One 30-ton block of stone was blown half a mile.

"A great reservoir of water had also disappeared down into the mine. We later discovered. The fish in it had been blown hundreds of feet away."

But it was the hillside in whose tunnels the bombs had been stored, that had changed most.

"Two farms had vanished completely-farm buildings, out- buildings, cattle, tractors, cars, everything," says Foster. "All we ever found of either of them was the end of an iron bedstead."

One side of the Cock Inn was blasted to bits, and today a completely rebuilt inn stands on the same spot.

Every cottage and house in Hanbury was damaged, while part of the church tower-"the countryside changed in 50 seconds from trees and grass to bare earth and craters," said the vicar-was blasted down.

Across the devastated fields, Service and Civil Defence workers, coloured American troops, and Italian prisoners-of-- war, helped in the search for victims.

Later, that day, police cordoned off Hanbury from incredibly enough local sight seers!

In the little village there was no light, no gas, no telephone and no water-the broken mains were gushing out down Hanbury Hill.

"It was the WVS which was the godsend of Hanbury," says Joseph Foster "For a week they fed the village from mobile canteens and helped With the scores of other Jobs that had to to be done."

That evening, at 8.45, Lord Haw-Haw was on the air with the news claiming that a German V-weapon had hit the Fould dump, That was not true, although the detailed 'cause of the explosion' has never been revealed.


THEY REMEMBER

Today the green fields that once made up the Goodwins farm have been divided up into smaller farms.

Cattle and sheep graze once again although there still remains what looks at first like a huge natural fold in the landscape, the remains of a crater more than a third of a mile long.

And in Hanbury itself where the church stained glass windows and a special roll of honour record those who died, they still talk of the day the ground blew up.

Les Calladine Was There

 

 

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