‘Heroic oak’ that stopped a bomb hitting Derbyshire village is remembered

A hero of the Second World War is celebrated this week, 75 years after taking the brunt of a Nazi bomb and saving scores of lives.

Wednesday, 16th December 2015, 1:39 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2015, 2:39 pm
The school was devastated in the blast, but luckily no-one was killed.

But this hero is unlike any other – it’s an oak tree.

On December 15, 1940, German forces dropped a parachute bomb over Duckmanton. The bomb was believed to be intended for Staveley Works but drifted over to Duckmanton. If it had hit its target the area would have been decimated.

But luckily, a large oak tree near the gates of the school stood in the way, taking the brunt of the blast and saving many lives.

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The school was devastated in the blast, but luckily no-one was killed.

Retired midwife Clarice Alvey was only five years old when the bomb went off, and since then she has always wanted to see the tree properly remembered.

She said: “We were in bed. The bomb dropped at 8 o’clock at night.

“They came down on parachutes for the drift and the parachute got caught, tangled up with this big oak tree in the school grounds.

“I remember everything was blown out of the houses - the windows and the doors - our house was probably about 100 yards away and our cupboards were blown open.

School caretaker Mr Blisset lived in the house nearest to the blast.

“I remember my father saying to me mother, ‘I’ll tell you one thing, kid, it’s cleared out that hat cupboard for you’.”

The local school was absolutely devastated, and wouldn’t be replaced for a long time, while the pub was half destroyed, houses close to the school gates were also damaged and the shop windows in the village were all blown out.

“The school was all wood and glass so when it went off it made quite a bonfire,” added Clarice. “And after the bomb, all Duckmanton seniors had their classes in the chapel, the pub and colliery manager’s stables.

“But the tree took the full blast of it. It stopped it in its tracks,”

Windows and doors were blown from houses nearby, and the village high street was shattered.

But amazingly no-one in the village was killed and even all the people who were in a nearby bomb shelter were untouched.

The dead tree stood as a reminder for many years after and for Clarice’s generation it was incredibly important.

“We all recognise it and what it means to us, it saved lives around here.

“It might seem silly, but there’s a soft spot for it - we were only kids and it really affected us, so I’ve always had the desire to replace it.

Lady Marjorie Varley planted the tree with help from some present day pupils.

So now, on the 75th anniversary to mark the day the oak was hit, Clarice was touched to see Duckmanton Primary School had asked pupils to plant a new oak tree in the grounds at a special ceremony led by local minister Shaun O’Deair, and a few of the other kids-grown-up who remember the day the tree saved their lives.

The young six-foot oak was planted by youngsters at a special ceremony on Tuesday.

Ivan Hunt, 97, worked at Markham Colliery at the time, and spoke to school children at the ceremony marking the occasion.

He told the DT the evening the bomb hit was etched into his mind forever.

While most people were down in the shelters after the sirens sounded, he was escorting a woman across the village.

Ivan added: “I remember it so clearly, I’ll never forget that terrific blast, it held be back for a second or two, even from hundreds of yards away.

Survivor Ivan Hunt told school kids about the fateful day the tree saved the village.

“I was coming along from Rectory Road, the plane went over very low making a strange sound and as I got to Robinson’s Avenue it dropped and I didn’t know if it had hit the school, the church or what.

“I ran along to the corner and saw the school was all ablaze. It was blazing terrifically, flames thirty feet high.

“The one that was caught by the tree still blew up the school but saved it going into the village. Another one did hit Staveley works, but luckily that one fell in a slag heap so it didn’t do much damage.

“But they were big enough to destroy the whole village. They had pictures of the bombs in the morning papers, and they were like huge oil drums, tall as I was.

“We were very lucky only one person, a gentleman, was blown over a and had a broken leg.

“They carried on bombing Sheffield for three nights - you could still see lights over there, flashing.

Teacher at Duckmanton Primary School Andrea Goodwin said: “It’s a community project and it’s lovely to see the children interested in elderly people.”

Head teacher Sarah Chadwick added: “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring our Second World War topic to life and give it real meaning for the children who have enjoyed listening to the wartime memories of members of our community.

“We’re very grateful to the chapel for instigating this project which has brought the whole community together and value our links with them.”

Known back then as 'little' Ivan, he remembers feel the force from the bomb hundreds of yards away.
A new plaque was placed by the tree and will be fixed to the trunk when it grows to full size.