John Hicklin: The Fauld Explosion

It was just after 11 o’clock on a foggy Monday morning,the 27th November 1944. As a ten year old boy I sat at my desk in ‘A’ room at the Burton Grammar School. I thought that I was about to faint. Without any noise at all my desk seemed to rise up towards me, or perhaps I was going down towards it. A very strange sensation was soon gone but quickly the whole class realised we had all experienced the same feeling. From the floor upstairs came a noise of the whole class there scrambling under their desks. Around lunchtime the rumours were well established and it was only later that we found out that the ‘Dump’ had gone up.

The ‘Dump’ was an ammunition store underground in some old gypsum mine workings at Fauld about five and a half miles from our school.The blast of some 4000 tons of high explosive bombs detonating together had sent tremours underground for many many miles and what seems to have happened was that the whole school building, floor, desks and all had silently moved as one then settled down again.

On the way home I stopped to take train numbers but there was still a dense fog and we heard the endless sounds of emergency vehicles going to the local hospital that was just down the road from us. I remember the eerieness of everything drove me home.

My mother was away in Derby for her father that day and only learned of the awful event that evening. The following day mother went with the WVS mobile canteen to the site at Fauld and did her stint two days each week until the following March. I remember she had some harrowing tales to tell and I don’t believe I heard the worst. The whole area was a sea of liquid mud which frequently came over the tops of their wellingtons as they moved around the site in threes and fours holding hands as so many small craters were just levelled with the liquid mud.

Sixty-eight people lost their lives in a bang which took out the crater, (which was some 90 feet deep and covering an area of 12 acres) in a second. A whole farm with buildings implements and stock vanished without trace. A thousand acres of topsoil was redistributed, some up to 11 miles away.

The crater is still there near the small village of Hanbury and is now marked on the Ordnance Survey map. A Memorial stone and plaque stand alongside the crater and each Remembrance Sunday the names of those who lost their lives there are read out in church alongside the those that fell during the two world wars.

Stories and facts of this tragedy abound. So horrific was it that tales of ‘When the Dump went up’ will be told for generations to come.


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