|The bombing of the factory in 1940|
During the Blitz, aircraft factories became prime targets for Luftwaffe bombers and one night in 1940 the Canbury Park Road factory was attacked and hit. The bomb fell on the corner of the factory opposite the Canbury Arms – ironically in the First Aid Centre – but missed the Experimental Shop in which the prototype Hawker Typhoon was undergoing final assembly. Cyril here recalls the aftermath of the bombing.
Obviously, I didn’t see the raid but the results of it. The part of the factory that was hit was at the junction of where is Sigrist now [Sigrist Square] – aircraft engineers strangely enough – where the modern flats are, I think there maybe houses there but mostly flats.
And that was directly opposite what is still the Canbury Arms and of course the famous Birches Fish and Chip Shop. Everybody queued for as long as you like. Mr Birch always had fish.
But the bombing was on that corner of Canbury Park Road and Elm Road, on that T junction. And I can recall going up Canbury Park Road and we were allowed to stand a distance away, which would be back by the Canbury Arms, perhaps a little further. Where at least, at least, 20 ft high of rubble, and the factory and the men on the top – the rescue men – in their blue boiler suits, tossing down the bricks and the timber and doing all the rescue work.
And that was all coming down into the road – on that bend- into the road.
So yes, there was all the roof exposed, and the metal trusses hanging down and the walls gone. And I can’t vouch for any of this being correct, but of course the local talk was that there were fatalities – how many – or if that was true – I can’t say that with hand on heart. But it would be a miracle if there weren’t deaths in there.
Certainly none of our immediate neighbours. But they were there because one of our immediate neighbours was Bill Croft. Mr Croft to us of course – we were boys. But he was known as ‘Crofty’ and he was in charge of rescue. And he had a son Bill, Billy. It was always ‘Bill and Billy’ or ‘Jack and Jacky’, it was the way names used to be.
And Mr Croft, ‘Crofty’, was up there shouting and calling to all these other men and just clearing all the rubble. So I do remember thinking, “Oh, there’s Billy’s dad on the top” and this is how it came about when he was a, I suppose you call, chief or charge hand rescuer.
So yes, I do remember seeing all that down and collapsed and being cleared. And of course eventually they put up temporary hoarding or timber work to seal off the factory. And again as soon, to get it back into full production as soon as possible at that end.
Of course the other end must have been affected, but it didn’t touch the railway side. I must say the bomb didn’t – I mean, if it did, it wasn’t visible. But the air raid – yes certainly that was a massive strike. I can say that was big, by the amount of collapsed factory.
And how long did it take the factory to recover from that, because it must have an impact on your father’s working and the other people who were working in the street there, obviously?
I can’t put a time span on it but I can only say that, my memory is, that that was turned round quite quickly, but I can’t say how many weeks or months. It may have been two months, people may come along and say, “Oh, It was much longer that that”.
The rebuild proper, yes that took a long time and that was after the war years. Obviously, there wasn’t the building materials. They would have found it for a war time factory of course, but the rebuild proper didn’t take place for a very long time.
But I do recall saying, “Oh, they’re back here” or “they’re back there” or “they’re getting it straight”, and “they’re getting it all put right”. So I don’t think it was that long actually. We’re not into guessing, but I’d guess – using the world having contradicted myself – I would say months rather than, well it certainly wasn’t years.