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Hitler's Christmas present for a Shropshire town

By Toby Neal | Newport | Features | Published:

As the war years unfolded, Newport remained unscathed by enemy action. Until, that is, just before Christmas in 1944.

When launched from aircraft flying bombs were able to reach the Midlands and the north of England.

The story of how the town was rocked by a German flying bomb – also popularly known as a "doodlebug" or "buzz bomb" – is told in memoirs which are being written by former Newport mayor David Adams.

Born in December 1937, David had a child's view of the impact of the conflict on the town.

"On returning on Boxing Day from Christmas spent with my grandparents at Whitchurch, we were surprised to find the forecourt of Dawson's – now Astons – garage strewn with broken glass and their window gone," David recalls in his memoirs.

"Apparently in the early morning of Christmas Eve a loud explosion had been heard followed by a blast wave that took out the larger windows in Station Road and elsewhere.

The late John Durnell's extremely rare copy of the "V1 P.O.W. Post" which was delivered to Newport in a flying bomb.

"It turned out to be a V1 flying bomb and had come down and exploded in fields north of the first railway bridge east of Newport station, killing a frog and rabbit.

"Two boys, the Whitfield brothers, were quickly on the scene to find a litter of papers around the smoking crater. Some were gathered into pockets before the police turned up and shooed them off. These they kept. They turned out to be copies of letters from prisoners of war in Germany, marked 'V1 P.O.W. Post,' sardonic German humour, I suppose.

"As the range of these weapons was limited to 150 miles, not far beyond their prime target of London, and their ramp launching sites were being rapidly overrun by the advancing armies, there was some speculation as to how it had got so far.

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"Later it was learnt that the Germans had been launching them from Heinkel IIIs in flight over the North Sea, attempting by this means to reach Manchester.

Jim Brotherton points out the site where a V1 flying bomb landed just east of Newport on Christmas Eve, 1944. This picture was taken in 2003.

"The ploy of the letters was so that anxious parents would reply to them via the Red Cross, and these replies being intercepted might give some clue as to where the bomb had actually landed. It didn't work of course because the authorities impounded the letters.

"Apparently as part of German 'Operation Martha' no fewer than 45 of these flying bombs had been launched that morning from off the Humber Estuary, of which one had actually reached the city and 31 had fallen in other parts of the north killing 36 people.

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"Two had gone far astray, one in County Durham, and the one that had blown out the windows in Station Road.

"Reports said that its motor had been heard to stop over Stafford, but instead of dropping it glided on to explode in the field. Another three quarters of a mile and it would have impacted in Station Road. We were lucky."

A view of the general area where a V1 flying bomb landed. The site was between the disused railway line and the Stafford Road. This photo, taken in 2003, is looking north east towards Stafford Road.

Despite their attempts, clearly not all of the leaflets were confiscated by the authorities, because much later one came into the possession of the late John Durnell.

John was to recall that he was given it by a lady who was a lorry driver on the railway at Newport – possibly Mrs Crabbe of Railway Terrace.

John, from Wellington, served on the railways, then in the police, and later was ordained and became the Rev John Durnell. He was rector at Church Aston for 11 years until 1977.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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