Have you ever experienced being in the right place at the right time? Known that sense of knowing that’s where you were meant to be? Several people had that sensation in Bodmin on Friday 7th August 1942.
Monica Pilborough was a Civil Defence Officer who had been in Walthamstow, London, during the Blitz in the autumn of 1940 working with first-aid crews helping the blast victims. Earlier in 1942, she moved down to Bodmin where she was one of the few full-time professionals employed on the first aid and rescue squad. She became the assistant first aid commissioner not only for Bodmin but covering a large part of mid and north Cornwall. The Casualty Service Team were based at St Gurons, a large house at the foot of Castle Street but at lunchtime, on Friday 7th Monica was at her home in Pool Street.
Mrs Parkyn of Mill Street was known for her pasties. On Thursday she had been helping a neighbour prepare for a large family gathering. This lunchtime Mrs Parkyn had embarked on another good deed. She had taken one of the street’s oldest residents, Clara Gooday, aged 80, some lunch into her cottage at No 15 Mill Street.
Fifteen-year-old Michael Lyne was the grandson of the man who had founded the Cornish Guardian. He decided he would follow his father into the fire brigade, lied about his age, and got in. Now on Friday 7th, he was sat in the back of a fire engine on its way to build static water tanks at St Lawrence’s Hospital. They had stopped at Jack Richard’s house outside the gasworks to fill up their flasks with tea for the afternoon ahead.
Lambert Rogers was an Australian who had stayed in England after the Great War completing his medical training and becoming in time one of the world’s leading specialists in neuro-surgery.
Now he was serving at the Royal Naval Hospital just outside Bristol. He often helped out at neighbouring hospitals and the following week would see him at the Burden Neurological Unit which was a charitable research unit that was taken over and used as a neurosurgical hospital by the Emergency Medical Service during the war.
Life in Bodmin took an unexpected turn that Friday as at 1.48 pm two Focke-Wulf 190s on a tip & run raid dropped their 500 kg bombs on the town. One destroyed Primrose Dairy killing one employee and eight members of a family in the house next door. The second hit the gasworks trapping the young clerk alive under the rubble of her demolished office. Every loss of life was a tragedy but it could have been so much worse.
Monica was one of the first on the scene at Mill Street. One of the first casualties she treated was a young boy called Raymond who had been sat with his back to the window of his family home opposite the dairy. Shards of glass had embedded in his back. The presence of an experienced first aider who got him laid on his front so he could be transported to hospital for the glass to be removed prevented the lacerations from being worse and causing internal damage.
“That motorbike’s making a lot of noise!” said Mrs Gooday as the planes roared over. Mrs Parkyn pushed her under the stairs as the house collapsed around them. Although seriously injured herself, Mrs Parkyn had saved the old lady’s life.
Michael’s first instinct was to run as he saw the planes approaching machine guns blazing. Another fireman stopped him and both survived. As the cannon shells pierced the gasholders and set the escaping spurts of gas alight, it was incredible that there was a fire engine and crew already outside the gasworks to deal with the situation. Michael spent the rest of the day and night climbing ladders to plug the holes with wet sandbags to extinguish the flames and prevent the holders from exploding.
When Irene Knight was rescued from her collapsed office after two hours and rushed to hospital it was soon realised she had a severe head injury. She was transferred to the Burden Neurological Unit outside Bristol where Surgeon Captain Lambert Rogers was waiting to operate. This was so successful that within a month Irene was convalescing at home in Bodmin and soon back to work for the gas company.
None of us knows what a day will bring forth, but it’s good to know that sometimes the right people are in the right place at the right time when we need a helping hand.
Adapted from the new eBook “The Bombing Of Bodmin: Friday 7th August 1942” by Phil Hadley.