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THE BANK ROW BOMBING
(First Published by Hillhead School in 1989 as a fundraiser for the school)
Pictures from Caithness.org
THE BANK ROW BOMBING
By the end of May 1940 defeat of Holland and Denmark and especially the occupation of Norway made it easier for German planes to get to Wick. Wick received more attention from German planes than any other town in the far north. Official figures say that 222 high explosives were dropped on Caithness and that Wick was attacked six times.
The first bomb to fall in Wick was on July 1st 1940 and was the most serious attack. the war was less than a year old and there had been little bombing of mainland Britain. It was at the end of the period called the phoney war, when people did not know much about bombing. The London Blitz was still to come. The bomb fell in Bank Row at the end of a summer afternoon. It was the first recorded daylight bombing of Britain in the Second World War.
The bomb fell during the school holidays when many children were out playing on the street in the Bank Row area. Because of the war the summer holidays in 1940 were extended prom June 18th and went right on to October 1st. There were fears about collecting children together and the Bank Row bomb highlighted the danger of this. The death of 15 people which included8 children shocked Wick. The children killed were Frederick Blackstock (5) Isobel Bruce (7) James Flett(7) Kenneth MacGregor 8) sisters Elizabeth Miller (5) and Amelia Miller(9) Donald Thomson (16) and John Wares (5). The adults killed were were Robert Mackenzie Seaforth Highlanders (30) Mrs P Mactavish (44) Mrs Isobel Mackenzie (25) (father, son, daughter and daughter-in-law) Mrs Mary Steven (44), William Smith, merchant (63) and Donald Waters ,fish curer (50).
The shops consisted of two tailors, an ironmonger, a butcher, three grocers, one furniture store, one baker, a confectionery shop and a fancy goods and clothes shop. Even though the herring trade was in decline Bank Row still had three kilns for smoking herring, a cartwrights workshop, and a blacksmiths. The Bank Row of 1940 was much busier than the Bank Row of today.
Many people remembered the busier Bank Row of 1940 and many of the shops and businesses which it had.
"There were houses and shops, a kilt maker, a fish and chip shop and also Mackenzie's the furniture shop was there. there was also a school clinic, some grocers and a bigger grocer shop on the corner at the bottom of the black stairs" (Mrs Sinclair)
"First there was the Black Stairs and then the first shop was Mr Smith. Next to that I think there was a tea shop. There was an ironmongers and there was Mackenzie's furniture store. Next to that there was Bruce's blacksmith shop. there was also Mr Mackenzie's the tailor, he worked downstairs and Mr Stephen, my friend worked upstairs. He was a tailor as well." (Mrs P Robertson)
Many people recalled Bill Smith the grocer who was killed in the explosion. Like many of Wick's publicans Mr Smith had to change his bar into a grocer shop when Wick went "dry" with no licence for alcohol in 1921. He had built up a good trade at the harbour.
"Mr Smith was a big fat man with a tummy like a barrel he always wore tweeds and a waist coat with buttons down the front and a big apron thing went on front. It was a busy shop because the harbour was busier then and they used to do a lot of groceries for the boats" (Mrs Budge)
Other shops and places were recalled for different reasons.
People's memories of the bombings show how much the town was taken by surprise by the daylight raid. There was shock and anxiety even for some way from the explosion. Many people's memories of the bombings in Wick show how people were often frightened that their friends or relatives could have been hurt in the bombings. Mr James Clark's house was one of those which was bombed out in the Bank Row bombing. He lived at 4 Bank Row although at the time was a soldier serving in Caithness
"I was a corporal in the 5th Seaforth Highlanders and when the bombs were dropped I was sitting on top of the Portland Arms Hotel in Lybster rigging up a radio aerial. I heard the bombs drop from what..13 miles away. We all it felt it or heard it and when I came down a dispatch rider came into the mess and he told me that Wick was bombed and I asked where and he said "Oh! a wee road leading up to the harbour and a shop called Smiths had been bombed and all the people were killed and the people next door were killed. I said "What?" It was a shock. My Seargent Major said "get on your bike", I had an army motor bike. I went down to Wick and when I got to my house the police would not let me near it because they said there was a time bomb there and if I went up there it might go off. I was not brave but the thought of my wife and child being there and with on of the A.R.P. men telling me they were both killed. I pushed him aside and went up the hill to the house and climbed in. There were no stairs. I was fortunate that my wife was out shopping with our son Hamish who was about 3 0r 4 years old and if they were in the house I am afraid they would have been killed too, but they were in Bridge Street and she was with her mother, taking her home. The house was destroyed, only a few pots and pans and some chairs were saved from it." (Mr Clark).
"I was working in the Lemonade factory with my father in law and I was looking out the window at the time and I saw the bombs being dropped. We heard the planes coming in and we were looking out because we knew the difference. We heard the explosions and everything shook and we went down afterwards and saw where it had dropped and the crater in the road. (Mrs Bremner)
"I lived and worked in the British Linen Bank house in Bridge Street. I was working in the kitchen preparing the tea and no siren had gone.. The mistress came in and said that the gas works had exploded. The boys of the house came in and said that bombs had fallen on Bank Row. I remember going out to the back door with one of the boys and seeing the German plane going back up the river machine gunning, although nobody was hit by this. Well the siren went then and we had to go into the basement of the Bank, which was our shelter. It was people coming into the shelter off the street that told us the damage the bombs had done to Bank Row" (Mrs Macleod)
"I was playing in a garage (which is now Presto's store - subsequently Safeways) with some friends. We heard the bombs drop but we were not sure where they had fell. We went down High Street and Sloans windows (the old 99p shop beside Camps Bar) were blown in. We made our way down to Bank row. there was a lot of havoc, there was a crater in the middle of the road. We saw one or two coming out of the bombed area." (Mr I. Mackay)
"The afternoon the bombs fell I was in the bath in my mothers' at West Banks Terrace. It sounds crazy I know. I was lying in a lovely warm bath, suddenly there was an appalling noise. I had now idea what was happening. I got out of the bath pretty quickly. It was only a little later that the news began to come through about the bombs dropped in Pulteney. until then the war was a very remote. Until then the war was a very remote thing, something that happened somewhere else, but suddenly it was right on our doorstep. We were part of it. That was quite a shock to realise it." (Mrs M Robertson)
"My mother sent us on a message and we were making down Shore Lane. We got to where the old Sutherland's furniture shop is in High Street. When the bombs fell somebody took us inside the shop. We never went any further, we came back home. We didn't know it was bombs, we were young and we didn't know what it was really" (Mrs B Gunn)
"I can remember exactly what I was doing. Opposite our house in Huddart Street there was an old kiln that used to smoke herring. They used to hang them up and turn them into kippers. It was an old building and no longer used. the floor boards were all torn out and there was nothing left but the rafters. We had a big long thick rope on the rafters which we used as a swing with a knot in the end of it. I was on the swing at the time and I got a right fright I can tell you. That's exactly what I was doing." (Mr Mathieson)
"I lived in the Cooperative buildings at the top of Shore Road. I was at home busy keeping my house, in fact I was working at the kitchen sink. When the bombs dropped the blind fell down off the kitchen window and knocked me on the head. I didn't know what had happened. It was my husband who came in and told me it was bombs." (Mrs K Robertson)
"The day the bombs fell it was a dry day and it happened about four o'clock in the afternoon. I was down at the harbour going past the old fish market and a couple of men pulled my friends and me in there because it had a corrugated iron roof and that was supposed to be safe. There was a loud bang and a lot of smoke and a strange smell." (Mrs Sinclair)
"There was a wee shop in
Williamson Street, which is now Larnachs
(Closed January 2003).
My mother sent me for baking there that day. I met my next door
neighbour, Isobel Mackenzie, in the shop and left her just outside.
She went over the road to see her father who worked in the Labour Exchange
that was on the corner of Williamson Street. Then she went to see
her father-in-law who was Mr Mackenzie, the tailor and had a shop in Bank
Row. She was i his shop when the bomb fell and they were two of the
people that were killed. I had just arrived home with my mum's
baking when the bombs fell. We didn't know what had happened.
My mother took us down to what is now called Whitehouse Park, it used to
be big fields there. Looking over the harbour we could see smoke and
the horses were all galloping about with fright. Afterwards it was
awful knowing that my next door neighbour had been killed and that I had
just said "Cheerio" to her. It was such a shock my hair started to
"The day the bombs fell in Pulteney I was at home in Papigoe because I only worked until dinner time. We heard a terrible explosion and I had a sister who lived in Argyle Square and was expecting a baby. We had no telephones and no motor cars. My mother said to me "Doris, get that bike out of the shed and get on it as fast as you can to Argyle Square and see that your sister is alright". You see we knew the bombs had fallen somewhere in that area. I cycled right in and got to the end of the Service Bridge and saw the policemen and the air raid wardens. We knew then it was a bad bombing. I made my way up High Street, along the Cliff and right round that way because Lower Pulteney was all cordoned off. I got up to where my sister stayed and found that she was alright. She hadn't been hurt any. It was when I was coming home to tell my mother that my sister wasn't hurt that I heard the bombs had killed and injured people." (Mrs Sutherland)
"It was a fine afternoon though there was a cloud about and I was out playing on my bike with my chums. I saw this big black looking aircraft coming over the town - down from the Watten side of Wick. I watched it for a while and I thought that's a strange aircraft as I could not recognise it as on of our own. So i watched it flying out over the harbour. then there was a big bang and a cloud of smoke rising from the harbour area. I realised that this was a German bomber that had made its run across the town. We saw some of the injured people being brought into the hospital, which was then the Bignold hospital, which is now transformed into homes. I was standing in my friends house, upstairs looking over the hospital and I saw the injured coming in" (Mr Cameron)
The last comment was by Mr George Cameron who lived in Hill Avenue up near the airport. The target for the Bank Row bombing was thought to be the harbour. The bombing raid on Wick was to attack the airport. Once again civilians were to be killed as the bombers missed the airport. Mr Cameron's house was to receive a direct hit.
|Pulteney Project to see more buildings in the area some of which might be part of the plans to regenerate the area and awaiting news of a Heritage Lottery Grant.|