New Mills & Hayfield Bombings
3rd July 1942
New Mills Air Raid Friday 3rd July 1942
A personal recollection of Eric Livesley on Home Guard duty at the time of the attack
There is a well-documented account of this story available from the New Mills History Society and we were treated to an excellent and well-presented talk at the Town Hall on Friday 8th of Nov 2019 at which three surviving witnesses turned up. I was one of those witnesses and these are a few of my recollections.
My name is Eric Livesley, I was born in 1924 so I was just 18 at the time and a member of the No. 2 Mobile Home Guard Platoon commanded by Lieutenant Hesketh from Strines. We were attached to the 3rd Battalion Sherwood Foresters under the command of Major James Cochrane, a commissioned officer of WW1.
As a mobile unit we had motorised transport. A five-ton Bedford lorry belonging to the local Co-op [Cooperative Wholesale Society] driven by one of their employees with the rank of Lance Corporal plus three dispatch riders who owned their own motorcycles. Our manpower was about twenty-five. We all worked at our daytime employments and attended the unit at least four times a week, with week-end exercises and manoeuvres once a month with the RAF from Harper Hill Buxton.
On the night of the air raid, a warm summers evening, we were practising machine gun drill with our Lewis gun outside the drill hall on Longlands Road – without ammunition! Two explosions and gunfire came from the gasworks area, an aircraft at low level flashed across the bottom of Longlands Road and disappeared over the cricket field. A few more explosions and gunshots and it was gone in about ten seconds.
“Get on your bike and see what has happened at Low Leighton and Hayfield”, Off I went. What a mess, I couldn’t get through to Hayfield so back to the drill hall for further orders.
I was issued with ONE bullet and instructions “Bring it back, or you’ll be charged for it”.
I was sent down to Tor Vale Mill to stand guard on the iron bridge over the river with orders that no one be allowed to cross due to the unexploded bombs near the gasworks and danger of fire from the leaking gasometer where Wilfred Larkum was plugging up bullet holes with corks.
All across to the valley bottom was cut off by other Home Guards – or so we thought! One of the sentries must have nodded off, and somebody got through, staggered down to the bridge and started to cross.
“You can’t come over here” I shouted.
“Who says” came the reply.
“Me” I said.
“Who are you”.
“I’m Home Guard with a bullet”.
“You know what you can do with it, bugger off, I’m coming”
And he did, Colin Stafford from Mellor Road. Drunk. On his way home from the Beehive Inn taking a short cut – so he said. It was coming up to midnight, long after closing time and off he toddled up Station Road singing Nelly Dean.
At twelve midnight I was relieved by Gerald Myers and went up to Queens garage for a kip and some rum and coffee. At 2am I was sent to guard Salem Bridge till 6am and then signed off. I went back home to Bate Mill Road tired and weary with my bullet still intact. Someone came to collect it Sunday morning (with a reprimand) and a sustenance allowance of two Shillings.
This is an extract from a recording made by High Peak Radio on the 70th anniversary of the raid on 3 July 2012. It is a personal account from Nancy Gray, granddaughter of Daniel McKellar, the caretaker of the Wesleyan Chapel who was fatally wounded in the attack.
“Daniel McKellar was my mother’s father. He was the caretaker of the Wesleyan Chapel….
On the day [of the bombing] I was working at Fairy Aviation building the [Handley Page] Halifax bomber, with my sister, and we got home that Friday night and we’d had tea.
I was living on Highfield Terrace just at the back of the main road [Low Leighton Road], all I can remember was this terrific noise of aeroplanes …. and then ‘boom boom boom’ just like that …
We were all shocked, all the windows were in … after that I run out, run down the back, and as I come down Highfield Terrace nobody was about, all the windows were out, chaos.
Just coming up Cale Road was Mr. Higginbottom and he was carrying my grandfather on his shoulder. (The bullets had) hit him in his legs…. He was on his allotment; they had machine-gunned him …. Mr. Higginbottom had picked him up where the houses were, and he was carrying him home.
I met him, both of us attended to him, he was semi-conscious. His mouth was clogged with dirt and I just said ‘Granddad I can’t give you a drink, but I’ll wet your mouth, I’ll clean your mouth’ and he said ‘aye aye, do that’, but he wasn’t with us really….
And then the ambulance came from Glossop because we couldn’t use the hospital in Low Leighton … He died in the night.
Low Leighton was in chaos, everybody was going crazy running around.
[The other casualty] The little girl at the piano was Joan Handford, she was about 10 and she was a friend of my cousin Brenda Duckworth and they’d asked her to go to the cinema with them that night and if she’s have gone with them she’d have been ok, but her mother said no you must do your piano practice, so she stayed and that’s where she was when it happened.”