Strange how conversations pan out. If you asked me how me and dad got from talking about how he needed a new pair of slippers to his close encounter with German Doodlebug during the war, I couldn’t tell you, but that we did.
It happened around Christmas in 1943 or 1944 and was one of several scary experiences, even though he never got closer to the front than the Home Guard.
Dad had been on a night out, and ever the gentleman, he had escorted a young lady to her home in Stalybridge. It was late and dark and he then had to get himself home by the direct route over the hills via Matley.
He was taking a breather when he heard the roar of a Doodlebug jet engine that he recognised from the newsreels. Then the noise stopped signalling that the missile was heading earthward. The next thing, there was a tremendous explosion and either that or the shock of it knocked him off the wall he was sitting.
Terrified he ran the rest of the way home, or would have done had not a hand grabbed his collar in the darkness. He lashed out instinctively only to find that his progress had been halted by a policeman who wanted to who this person was acting so suspiciously at that time of night and dad got a good hiding and a night in the cells for his pains.
The thing is, no-one ever believes dad when he tells the tale on the grounds that the Doodlebugs never made it this far north. They had enough fuel to get them to London and the south east before they fell to earth, but no further. But when I did a Google search, there was the information that backed up his story.
On Christmas Eve 1944, forty-five V1 missiles were launched towards Manchester from Heinkel 111 planes off the coast of Yorkshire. Of these, 14 crashed in the North Sea, while others only just made the coast, one landing in Willerby in Hull. Others went wildly of course, reaching as far north as County Durham, south in Northants and west in Chester. But the bulk of them reached there target in the industrial north west. (You can see a map and list of where they landed here)
Dad’s Doodlebug landed in Matley which is rural land on the edge of the Pennines, but even with all those fields and hills, it managed to find the one inhabited spot, smashing into Westwood Farm, home of the Foulkes family.
Farmer, Edwin Foulkes, his wife and daughter survived the explosion, but the blast killed his son, Gordon, and his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Greenwood. You can read a fuller account here.
Dad went back with a friend the day after and found a scene of devastation as you can see from the photo from the local paper. Sadder still, the site had been looted to add insult to the Foulkes family’s injury.
In total, 42 people were killed that night, 109 were injured, 51 of them seriously. And for my dad, a memory that some refuse to believe.