Monday, 2 February 2009

The Armstrong Cottage tragedy

The war memorial behind the altar in the church of the Holy Spirit, Harlescott, Shrewsbury is one of only a few in the county which includes the names of civilians. The names are those of Jessie Broxton, Margaret Meredith and John Meredith.
Many years ago, my father pointed out a field to me at the side of the Ellesmere Road on the northern outskirts of Shrewsbury. He described how a family who lived in a cottage in the middle of the field had been killed when it suffered a direct hit from a German bomb in the Second World War. It is only recently however that I have been able to uncover the full story of Armstrong Cottage. Firstly, I was able to confirm the accuracy of my father’s memory of the location by virtue of a discussion on the Shropshire Family History Society message board (thanks are due here to ‘William‘, Martyn Freeth, Ann Lonsdale and Michael Hulme - some of whom actually remembered the incident).

The bombing took place in September 1940 when German attacks on civilian British targets were at their height. The following week’s Shrewsbury Chronicle carried a full report but, respecting wartime security requirements, referred to it only as having taken place on “the outskirts of a large market town in the Midlands”. The details given however must have made its location plain, to local residents at least. The report describes how “…two high explosive bombs were dropped one of which struck the cottage and destroyed it, while another buried itself in the road-way nearby. The woman, who had retired to bed with her two small grand-children was Mrs Jessie Mary Broxton, and the children were Margaret Eileen Meredith, aged six, and John Terence Meredith, aged four, whose mother lives at Llangollen. The husband, William Broxton, was down-stairs when the bomb struck the house, enjoying a final smoke before retiring. Five minutes after Mrs Broxton had gone to bed he heard her call “Oh, Bill” and the next minute the bomb exploded and he was buried. When the rescue party arrived they found him buried under five or six feet of debris, but on extricating found him suffering only from slight shock and some cuts on the arm. In a different part of the debris a dog was found also very slightly injured, and when a large piece of debris had been pushed aside he emerged from his ‘nest’ wagging his tail”. The report goes on to describe how two neighbours, a Mr Carter and a Mr Bebb, were on the scene within minutes, closely followed by the local police. There was nothing they could do however to save Mrs Broxton and her two small grandchildren.

It is a sad story but fortunately such tragedies were rare in Shropshire. The only other civilian casualties of enemy bombing in the county I have been able to uncover are a Miss Josephine Maynard and a Mrs Hand, killed on the 29th August 1940 in Bridgnorth. Their names do not appear on the Bridgnorth memorials as far as I an aware, unless of course someone can tell me otherwise!
Since posting this blog, I have been contacted by Neil Evans who tells me that there are also civilian casualties listed on the Loppington, St Martins & Knowbury memorials. Many thanks to Neil for this.
Also thanks to Tim Wilcock who has told me more recently that Mrs Broxton and her grandchildren are buried in the graveyard at Christ Church in Welshpool.

1 comment:

The Itinerant Archaeologist said...

I am sure you know this but Mrs Broxton and her two granschildren are buried with a headstone in the church yard at Christ Church Welshpool.