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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 12:16 UK
Bombing of school is remembered
The bombed-out Alfred Street School.
The remains of Alfred Street School, after the bombs fell on October 3rd 1940

The former pupils of Alfred Street School in Rushden, East Northamptonshire, have vivid memories of the day they survived a German bomb.

Seven children died in the attack which took place on 3 October 1940.

Peter Harris, who was six at the time, recalls the explosion: "There was a terrific crump and smoke and dust whirled across the classroom."

A garden of remembrance has been created at the school to commemorate the tragedy.

Excitement

It was one year and one month since war had been declared. For the young people attending Alfred Street School, well away from the fighting, it seemed to be an ordinary morning.

"It was misty and wet, so we came straight into school," recalls Peter.

After assembly, the children were sent to their classrooms for the first lessons of the day.

Elsewhere in Rushden, Geoff Abbott was delivering milk. Although he was just 13-years-old, he had left school early to help at his father's business.

Geoff was a keen aeroplane spotter and, whilst delivering pints in Prospect Avenue, he was excited to hear the drone of a German bomber: "It came out of the clouds. I watched every bomb leave the plane," he says.

He reacted as any teenager might in those circumstances: "It was actually a feeling of excitement. It was the war! The reality of what was going on hadn't really sunk in."

Reality

In his school classroom, Peter Harris was just metres from the bomb blast. "I remember my desk actually leaving the floor, and the cupboard near the door collapsed," he says.

Class photo of children from the summer of 1939.
The class of 1939. Many of these boys experienced the bombing

Eric Fowell, who was about 11-years-old and in a different classroom, recalls: "The explosion made all the slates appear to rattle. It was a most horrible, terrible bang."

His teacher, Mr Hales, ordered all the children to hide under their desks.

Eric adds: "The whitewash on the ceilings was coming down like snowflakes. You couldn't see across the room for the dust."

A second bomb then shook the school. Peter says it "shattered the huge window between us and the girls' classroom."

In Eric's classroom, Mr Hales tried to keep the children calm. "We were all under the desks and he said: 'Come on, I'm going to get you singing' and we all sung It's A Long Way To Tipperary or something like that," Eric says.

The children made their way to the shelters where they sat "bewildered," according to Peter.

Tragedy

It is now nearly 70 years since the bombing. The former pupils meet up every few years to share their memories.

It makes you realise what human beings are capable of: horrible things and feats of great bravery.
Eric Fowell

Geoff believes it is important for everyone to know about the tragedy. "I don't think youngsters realise how distressing war can be for so many people," he says.

Eric adds: "It's so sad that not only did we lose Rushden people but [we lost] evacuees who came here thinking they were going to be safe."

Peter has this observation about the tragedy at Alfred Street School and war in general: "It makes you realise what human beings are capable of: horrible things and feats of great bravery."




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