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02/20/2008 Archived Entry: "Bolam Church"
My son has unearthed a lovely story involving the historic Saxon church of St Andrew at Bolam in Northumberland. It stands just off the A696 between Ponteland and Otterburn and dates to around AD 1000. Much of this small but delightful church was re-constructed during Norman times and there are other parts from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Among its many interesting aspects is the array of St Andrewís crosses that are reminiscent of the witch posts about which I recently wrote on this page. Perhaps this is not surprising as the church is dedicated to St Andrew, and they can be found on the chancel arch and on pillars within the church. Like X-marks or saltires on our North York Moors witch posts, they also have scrolls, albeit in stone.
One of the curious features of this ancient church is a fairly modern window in one wall. It looks out of place against such ancient surroundings but this is a memorial to an incident that occurred on May 1, 1942. A German Dornier 217 bomber dropped four 500kg bombs in the vicinity of the church but it survived that onslaught. However, one of the bombs smashed through the church wall and came to rest after sliding across the floor. Fortunately, that one failed to explode. The fact that the church was only slightly damaged was seen as an Act of God, but the hole in the wall was later transformed into that memorial window.
Few could understand why the Germans would want to bomb such an ancient church in a very remote locality. However, it transpired that the bomber had been on a mission to bomb the north-east but was returning in haste to Germany due to flight problems resulting from hot pursuit by British Spitfires, albeit with bombs still aboard. To avoid crashing, the pilot made a split-second decision to jettison the bombs in a remote area of moorland with no intention of hitting the church.
It was the author and war-time air expert from Guisborough, Bill Norman, who wrote to the editor of the Morpeth Herald in June, 2004 in an effort to find anyone with memories of that incident and thus sparked off a remarkable tale. The pilot of the bomber was a friend of Billís called Willi Schludecker, and as people came forward with their own memories of that event, so Willi decided to revisit the church, this time without his bombs!
Willie returned to the church in July 2004, writing in the churchís visitorsí book "Sorry I bombed your church" and since then he has made an annual pilgrimage to Bolam. In July last year, his entry reads, "Willi Schludeker, Germany. I am the pilot dropping my bombs 65 years ago. Target was railway nearby. My age will be 87 in May. With the help of my friend, Bill Norman, I was able to come back to this place. I am happy the church did not get destroyed and that it is in good shape today."
Williís annual pilgrimage from Germany to Bolam has sparked off other memories. One lady has written that her grandfather, Rev. A.W. Hutton, was the incumbent. He was there when the bombs dropped outside and blew all the windows out and her family still possess a table with shrapnel marks upon it. Mrs Hutton wrote to her son, Flying Officer J.A. Hutton of the RAF to give a graphic account of the bombing and her letter now features on the sill of that memorial window.
Since returning to Bolam, Willi has met people who recalled the incident, including an 86-year old lady who was 24 at the time, sleeping in her home only a hundred yards from the church when the bombs dropped. Clearly, Willi did his best to avoid the church and the survivors acknowledge that it was an unfortunate accident, and they have forgiven Willi.