The Peaks under fire

A photograph taken the same evening of the wartime bombing of Low Leighton Methodist Church and nearby cottages. note the spire in the foreground
A photograph taken the same evening of the wartime bombing of Low Leighton Methodist Church and nearby cottages. note the spire in the foreground

SHORTLY before 8pm on the evening of Friday July 3, 1942, two German Junker 88 planes swept low up the Goyt valley from the direction of Manchester.

No-one can be sure of their intended target, but what is clear is that upon reaching New Mills they attacked indiscriminately and without warning, leaving behind a trail of destruction.

David Ives, Mike Doughty and Derek Brumhead at New Mills Fire Station which was built on the site of the Methodist Chapel bombed in 1942.

David Ives, Mike Doughty and Derek Brumhead at New Mills Fire Station which was built on the site of the Methodist Chapel bombed in 1942.

Eight lives were lost during the bombing raid, two in New Mills and six in Hayfield, and numerous buildings destroyed. It was a single, terrifying event which brought the war right to the doorstep of these two rural communities.

Now, exactly 70 years since that fateful day, survivors of the Luftwaffe bombings and relatives of those who perished will be among those gathering in New Mills for a civic service to commemorate the events of July 3, 1942.

Reconstructing the events of that night, local historian Dr Derek Brumhead explained how the twin-engined aircraft launched ineffective attacks on the railway viaduct and the gasholder at Mousley Bottom in New Mills, dropping bombs in the Torrs and Woodside Street, before continuing at near roof-height towards Low Leighton, machine-gunning the streets and a cricket field as children played below.

“It was a very haphazard attack,” said Dr Brumhead. “We don’t know what the Germans were up to, whether they had a particular objective.

“They were flying very low – so low that people could see the crew – and they sprayed the cricket pitch with machine-gun fire as children played below. It was an indiscriminate attack.”

Another shell was deposited on Low Leighton Road demolishing two houses and the tin methodist chapel where the town’s fire station stands today.

Two people lost their lives here, ten-year-old Joan Handford and the chapel’s caretaker, 79-year-old Daniel McKellar.

The chapel itself – now known as Low Leighton Methodist Community Church – was later rebuilt on High Hill Road.

The aircraft flew on towards Hayfield. Minutes before the bombs struck here, 12-year-old Ruth Sidebotham had been playing outside with her friend Freda Thorpe, aged ten, an evacuee from Manchester.

Ruth, who now lives in Marple Bridge, recalls: “Within a short time of returning home we heard the very heavy drone of low-flying enemy aircraft.

“We dashed outside and as we looked up we actually saw the bombs coming out of the plane above our house, which then drifted across the Rec and demolished the three cottages on Spring Vale Road where Freda lived.”

Freda was killed, but reportedly used her own body to shield her two brothers from the blast. They, along with her grandma, survived.

Also to perish in the Hayfield bombing was 47-year-old Hannah Robinson and four members of the same family: 61-year-old Albert Gibson, a veteran of the Great War; his wife Edith Gibson, 49; and their daughters Gladys May Gibson, 19, and Margaret Jane, 21.

The bombers were later shot down by Polish-crewed Spitfires over Lincolnshire. Only one of the crews survived.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombings, a civic service will be held in New Mills next Tuesday (July 3) – and organisers are hoping anyone with a connection to, or an interest in, the events of 1942 will attend.

A brief ceremony will be held at the fire station on Low Leighton Road at 7pm, before a parade accompanied by New Mills Brass Band will march up to Low Leighton Methodist Community Church for a ecumenical service, led by the Rev David Philo, at 7.30pm, which will include a two-minute silence at the exact time the bombs struck.

There will also be readings, songs and hymns, with refreshments served afterwards.

Church steward Mike Doughty added: “Seventy years is a special anniversary, but also it was our opinion that this will perhaps be one of the last occasions that people connected with the bombings, and those who can relate to them, will get together.

“From then on, it becomes paper history.”

Exhibitions of photographs, newspaper reports and eye-witness accounts from the day are also being held at New Mills Heritage Centre and in the church.