World War II Comes to St Peter’s Church 31st August 1940
For most people in Bradford, the war had become a way of life, each going about their daily business. Men had been called up, the women working in munition factories, or looking after children and generally making the best of a bad situation. Nobody could have imagined how close to the war the people of Bradford would come, especially the locals of Laisterdyke. Saturday 31st August has been a normal day. Work, chores and errands had been done and most people had settled down to a Saturday evening or were retiring for the night, not knowing of what the next few hours would bring.
At around 10.10pm reports had come into the local ARP base in Bradford that enemy planes had been detected and were heading towards Bradford. Minutes later, the air raid siren sounded, and one can only imagine the reaction. For some it was just another siren, after all, nothing had ever happened before. For some, it meant panic and dashing to cellars to take cover. Just over 20 minutes later bombs started to fall on Bradford, from as far West as Thornton Road, to as far East as Laisterdyke. For over four hours bombs and incendiary devices fell upon the city, which totalled over 116. When the all clear had been sounded and people started to come out of their shelters and houses, many people commented that it smelt like the morning after ‘Plot night’. Only what they saw was much worse.
For the parishioners of St Peter’s, the war had come to their church, which was only 7 years old at the time. What they saw was that the church had received a direct hit. Thankfully, the bomb did not explode, but the damage it had done was catastrophic none the less. The bomb had created a crater 9 feet deep and 20 feet wide in the floor and parts of the solid oak benching were embedded in the roof. All the electrics had been destroyed and the organ had been severely damaged (Ref to pics). To make things worse, there was also an unexploded bomb just outside the grounds which meant the nuns (Sisters of the Cross and Passion) whose convent was to the right of the church, had to be evacuated. Although the church was out of use, this did not stop Masses being celebrated, and on that very Sunday morning, the mass schedule continued as normal (You have to remember that there were at least 4 Sunday morning masses in those days) in the school hall, which had previously been used as the parish church.
Fr Daly, later to be made Canon, had only been Parish Priest for a few months, now he had the task, along with his curates, Fr Moriarty and Fr Hegarty to rescue the church and parish. On first inspection it was reported in the local newspaper that the damage was so severe that the church would have to be demolished. This must have been an horrific blow to the parish, but thankfully, in the weeks that followed a detailed survey had been undertaken, and it was found that the church would not need to be demolished after all.
Fr Daly did not waste time in getting the church repaired. The three priests visited other parishes in the diocese, often preaching and explaining what had happened and within a few months they had managed to raise £2,000 (which in todays money is the equivalent to £113,000). A massive undertaking, and by Christmas 1940 the church was restored and fully open. Although later war damage could not be completed until after the war.
In this 80th anniversary year of the bombing, we give thanks to God, that our beautiful church still stands and we are reminded of the words Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it”.
Click on the images to see the bomb damage and it's comparison today.