Honoured Friend's lifetime connection to The Salvation Army
25 September 2017
If not for a Salvation Army rescue team, Elsie* would have died at the tender age of 11 in the rubble of a German bombing raid during World War Two.Now 88, Elsie is an Honoured Friend of The Salvation Army. This is her story.
It all began during a bleak November in the Scottish Highlands at the height of “the Blitz”, the German bombing offensive against Britain. The windows of the family home were blown out, and it was decided that young Elsie would be sent, with her grandmother, to live to with her aunt in the industrial town of Coventry in England.
However, her aunt’s home was no safer.
On 14 November 1940, Elsie remembers, “Hitler sent more than 400 bombers with instructions that they had to do unlimited destruction from the air on Coventry – and that’s exactly what the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) did.
“We were in my aunt’s cellar when the sirens went off at about 7 o’clock at night.”
A nearby munitions factory was hit and 4000 houses were decimated after 30,000 incendiary bombs rained down on the city. More than 500 people were killed and two-thirds of the city was destroyed.
Rescue teams began searching houses in the row where Elsie was staying, but found no one alive.
Elsie recalls, “Because of the force of the bomb, when the Civil Defense got to my aunt’s house they said there was no point in looking for survivors, they would go and help others.”
At the same time, a Salvation Army team had arrived, offering cups of tea and coffee to rescuers and survivors.
Elsie says, “The Salvation Army people, mostly men, decided they were still going to dig and remove the rubble. At the same time, some of the men who were due to go on the next shift at the munitions factory began arriving, so The Salvation Army men asked if they would help remove the rubble to see if there were survivors.”
The group dug for three days and three nights – brick by brick.
Elsie says, “My grandmother, my aunt and I were in the cellar at the time of the bombing. The force of that main bomb had blown me from one end of the cellar to the other and I landed over a cask. The bricks (from the floors above) came down and separated me from my grandmother and aunty and I was alone. Fortunately there was a window in the cellar that blew out. It was all dark, but there was airflow.”
Elsie’s eardrum was shattered and her spine injured, but she was alive.
“A wide beam had fallen on top of me and I couldn’t move and I couldn’t feel my feet at all – and I was bleeding all over the place. For the next three days I was wafting in and out of consciousness. I had nothing to eat or to drink.”
The rescue team eventually found Elsie’s aunt and grandmother alive, but by this stage Elsie had slipped into unconsciousness.
“It was night-time and it was very cold the middle of winter and it (the bomb blast) blew off my nightie. The man (who found Elsie) took off his shirt and jacket and wrapped them around me and put me in the ambulance.”
It was in hospital that Elsie regained consciousness.
Following this experience, Elsie has always held a special place in her heart for The Salvation Army. As an Honoured Friend she has pledged a gift in her Will to the ongoing work of The Salvation Army.
“In another couple of days, we would have all been dead,” Elsie says, referring to the bombing. “Leaving a gift in my Will is a way to repay the debt that saved our lives.
“My experience was 77 years ago, which is a long time ago, but I see The Salvation Army now still doing a great work with disasters. I’d be very happy to see my gift go towards helping those who are affected by disasters.”
However, she says with a laugh, “Before the bombing I was also promised a banana by my grandmother and after they rescued me I remembered and asked where my banana was. We didn't have much in those days and those little things were so appreciated.
“And so, I would also be very happy so see my gift going to put meals on the table for families with no food.”