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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Rowing boat expedition for a parachute mine

WHEN Barrow took the full force of German aerial power during April and May in 1941 there were hundreds of acts of bravery – mostly going unrecorded – by uniformed officials and ordinary men, women and children.

Among them was Millom First World War veteran and Barrow shipyard worker Fred Holmes.

His act of heroism came on April 7 after a night raid dropped high explosive bombs and parachute mines on the shipyard – not all of which went off.

Fred never discussed his service in either world war but his son Doug Holmes, of Church Walk, Millom, learned a little of what went on in 1941 from a workmate.

He said that German mines had been dropped into the dock system.

The mines were of the type more normally used in shipping lanes against warships, merchant vessels and submarines but were equally effective when dropped by parachute from an aeroplane over large industrial targets.

Mr Holmes said: “He was one of those who got in a rowing boat and dragged them out of the docks.”

The thank-you letter sent to Mr Holmes was signed by Barrow shipyard chairman Charles Craven and dated April 21 in 1941 during the worst few weeks of the blitz attacks on the town.

The letter read: “It has been brought to my notice that in connection with the excavation and transport of an unexploded bomb which was dropped on these works during the early morning of the 7th April you willingly carried out duties of an exceptional character, in which you showed exemplary coolness and resource and were of great assistance under exceedingly trying conditions.

“I am therefore writing this letter to express to you my personal appreciation of and thanks for your efforts, by which you rendered good service not only to the company but also to the nation.”

Private Holmes served with the King’s Own Royal (Lancaster) Regiment during the First World War.

His son said: “He had trench feet, I know that, but he didn’t like to talk about the war.”

In later years he lived at Caton Street, Haverigg, and was part of the organising committee for the village galas.

He worked at Haverigg Tannery when it was being built in the early 1930s and during the Second World War was a general labourer at Vickers. He died in 1948.

His son also had an near experience with an unexploded bomb.

One of those which fell behind Caton Street in the Second World War failed to explode.

He said: “We were walking up Main Street when the bombs dropped.”

Local butcher Jim Clark recognised the smell of explosive cordite and knocked on the village police officer’s door.

The unexploded bomb was among many hundreds to fall in the British Isles during the war and was deemed not dangerous enough to warrant its immediate removal.

Some years later an army bomb disposal team with a crane arrived to extract the bomb and Mr Holmes was offered the chance for a very close inspection.

He said: “I wouldn’t sit on it.”

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