‘If the bomb had landed on the air raid shelter everyone would have been killed’

A man who says his aunt picked up a piece of German shell from her backyard in Bucknall is hoping to see the bombing commemorated on its 80th anniversary. John Stevenson's aunt Mary 'Polly' Lightfoot found the piece of metal in her yard the day after a bomb was dropped on land off Heath House Lane in August 1942 - and it's now among his most treasured possessions. Johnson Brothers pottery worker Polly and her niece Hilda, John's mother, were living in a terraced cottage in the now demolished Trent Street when the bomb fell during the night of August 23, 1942.

It's thought that the aircraft was trying to drop bombs on the British Aluminium works at Milton but missed its target. Polly and Hilda, who was just 18 at the time, were woken by the air raid warden and rushed to the communal shelter not far from the Finney Gardens pub to take cover. Along with their neighbours they listened to the German planes flying overhead and heard the sound of a bomb falling nearby.

READ: North Staffordshire fairground and circus community heritage project lands GBP24K grant Houses were damaged by the blast and a big crater was left behind - and for decades afterwards children played on the bombsite. Retired forklift truck driver John, who has lived in Bucknall all his life, told StokeOnTrentLive that his aunt and mother had never forgotten the events of that night.

The 71-year-old said: "The terrified people inside the shelter could do nothing except listen to the German planes flying overhead. Suddenly the ground shook and a loud bang left everyone in no doubt that a bomb had been dropped nearby. "Thankfully the bomb landed in a field at the rear of Heath House Lane and although houses were badly damaged no one was hurt.

My mother and my aunt were inside the shelter that night, and the memory of it stayed with them all their lives.

Bomb damage on Heath House Lane, Bucknall, in August 1942.

"My mum was so scared when the warden came round. They had to go up a little cobbled bank and she was all of a lather, but she got through it. They had to be strong."

Polly, who worked at Johnson Brothers pottery in Hanley from the age of 13 until she retired at 60, found the fragment when she went out to use the outside toilet in her backyard the next morning. She kept it in a little cupboard in her home and as a child John always asked to look it at and touch it - and when Polly died in 1979 he asked to keep it. John, whose father Sam Stevenson earned a string of medals while serving with the 17th/21st Lancers in Europe and North Africa, said the bomb fragment was a treasured possession.

He said: "It's a treasured possession of mine and I am really glad to have it. "If the bomb had landed on the air raid shelter then everyone in it would have been killed. We would be having a memorial service in Bucknall Church and I wouldn't be here to tell the story.

The fragment found by John Stevenson's aunt Polly in her backyard in Bucknall.

"I am hoping that the people who manage the New Finney Gardens pub will do something to commemorate this anniversary.

It was so long ago and I don't think people know about it. "I think people would be shocked to hear that a German bomb had fallen right here. It happened during a dark period of history and I think it deserves to be remembered.

Caroline Owen, landlady of the New Finney Gardens pub which was built close to the bombsite, said she was in talks with John and his sister Angie about holding an event to commemorate the bombing. She said: "We are thinking about doing something to mark the occasion and we'd really like to display some pictures from the time." If anyone has any pictures of the aftermath of the bombing or of the site in later years, please get in touch with Caroline at the New Finney Gardens pub on 01782 937366.

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