March 15th 1941 - Selsdon's Worst Incident of the War

Raymond Rowsell has very briefly mentioned above the worst raid during the Blitz on Selsdon. He is writing about his personal experiences during the War and he was not involved in the Byron/ Queenhill incident. However I have agreed with him to present a fuller picture of the Blitz in Selsdon to extract from my as yet unpublished history of Selsdon details of this particular raid. 

On Saturday evening, March 15th, the Committee of the Selsdon Residents' Association met at 22 Sylvan Close for their first meeting since June 1940. The meeting finished at 7.55pm. Two hours later Selsdon suffered its worst air raid about two hundred yards away. 

Just before 10 pm four high explosive bombs, two known to be 500lbs, dropped around the Byron Road end of Queenhill Road. One demolished nos 2 & 4 Queenhill at the junction with Upper Selsdon Road. Percy Godfrey, an engineer, was sitting in front of the fire at no 2, reading a book. Fortunately his wife, young child, father and a friend were in the shelter at the bottom of the garden and were uninjured. Percy was buried in the rubble, but fortunately the piano in the room supported the weight of the ceiling and tiles. A local doctor was the first to reach him and after some time he was pulled free, with injuries to his jaw and eye. His father, after crawling from the shelter was unable to find the house in the darkness as only a single wall was left standing. 

Another bomb fell by the front fence of no 55 Byron, on the corner with Queenhill and another at the side of adjoining no 53. Both these houses were demolished. Mrs Russell and her daughter at no 53 were both buried and fatally injured as were Mr and Mrs Banfield at no 55, but their six year old son, Eric, amazingly escaped with only minor injuries. There was a fifth fatality that night - Mr Prausmandel, a deputy post warden , was passing the comer houses on patrol when the bombs dropped.

The houses opposite in Queenhill Road were seriously damaged; Mr and Mrs Attwell at no 17 were saved by their indoor shelter, while Mr and Mrs Watkins at no 13 were also sitting by the fire listening to the wireless. The blast blew the front garden brick wall through the window but they escaped injury. 

The fourth bomb fell in the front garden of no 42 Byron Road, partially demolishing it and damaging nearby houses but there were no serious casualties. A number of houses in both roads were badly damaged and nos 11-17, and 6, 8, 14 and 16 Queenhill and nos 42 and 44 and 41 and 43 Byron were so damaged as to be demolished. The post war houses on the sites can be picked out today. The brick and concrete standing shelter at the side of no 52 Byron Road was only 108 feet from the crater of one of the bombs but withheld the blast. One Queenhill Road man was on fire watch duty outside his house - he had just gone indoors to have a cup of tea when the bombs fell.

Throughout Sunday morning members of the Home Guard, with wardens and volunteers, were at work clearing the wreckage and salvaging furniture. By nightfall a large amount of furniture had been safely stored under cover. Mr Maurice Prausmandel, who lived in Addington Road, Sanderstead, was the first casualty of the UDC Civil Defence force. He had been a prisoner of war during the first conflict and was involved with the British Legion. He left a widow and a son and a daughter. His funeral was at St Columba 's early on the Wednesday morning and a guard of honour was formed of wardens, first aid services, rescue parties and the AFS. 

The first hour after the bombs fell were recorded in the UDC's Summary of incidents as follows: 

21.57 Police Report H.E. in locality of Box 17 
21.59 A Station report l Pump from B.2 to Byron Road 
22.0 A Station report No l and 5 machines to Byron Road 
21.58 Post 63 report HE at 2 Queenhill Road, casualties and fire 
22.0 Wallington Police report HE and casualties Byron Road 
22.04 M O H to Dr Parry to proceed to 2 Queenhill Road 
22.05 A Station report fractured Gas Main fired at junction of Queenhill and Byron , 
22.06 Barrowsfield 1 Amb 1 S.P to Queenhill Road 
22.08 Purley Fixed Post warned to expect casualties 
22.09 Cane Hill warned to expect casualties 
22.09 Post 63 report fire at Queenhill Road. Queenhill and Byron blocked
22.09 P O D report I R.P to Queenhill Road 
22.10 Croydon Gas Co reporting fracture at Queenhill Road 
22.11 M O H to Dr Hennesay to proceed to Byron Road 
22.12 To POD I R P to Queenhill Road 
22.12 To Barrowsfield I S.P 1 Amb to Byron Road. Mr Lever to Queenhill Mr Searle to Bvron 
22.15 To W S G C and Wallington Police reporting C O U l. 
22.19 A Station report fire at Byron result of enemy action 
22.20 Post 63 supplementary report 
22.21 To E SW Co C O L Co PO Telephones reporting COu 1 
22.27 A Station report trapped casualties in Queenhill Road 
22.34 Post 63 request further R P 
22.38 To PO D I R.P to Queenhill Road 
22.39 A Station report gas leak near trapped people 
22.41 P O D lamps and barriers to Queenhill 
22.42 P O D report R P to Queenhill 
22.45 Post 63 request I motor car 
22.49 To Barrowsfield 1 motor car to Byron Road 
22.50 Post 63 request further Amb and mortuary Van 
22.52 P O D report I R P to Queenhill Road 
22.53 To Kent Lodge 1 Amb to Queenhill Road 
22.57 Messrs Ebbutts instructed to proceed to incident 
22.58 Post 71 report broken windows in Selsdon Broadway 
22.59 Kent Lodge report Amb left. 

The last entry is for 10.02 (Sun Morning) Post 63 report 50 H G arrive. This gives some idea of the actions the Civil Defence took on the reporting of an incident. 

The bombed houses on the comer of Byron and Queenhill Roads were eventually demolished and a Wartime Nursery School in a demountable building was opened a couple of years later. It was closed in 1947 when the rebuilding of the demolished houses started.

Ted Frith