BRITAIN declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 and soon horrendous events were taking place across Europe. Britain was spared until Germany began its aerial offensive in summer 1940. Many towns became the target of heavy bombing.

But by spring 1941 the war had had little effect on the north Bradford village of Idle. There had been disruption to sleep with air raid sirens, the distant sounds of bombs and anti-aircraft guns firing around Bradford, but life went on as normal in this small village. But things changed with a vengeance just after midnight on Monday May 5, 1941 when Bradford experienced its highest civilian casualties of the war - not from bombing but from a German bomber shot down by the RAF.

Villagers were awoken by machine-gun fire followed by the loud noise of a labouring aircraft engine. Moments later came a terrific explosion which shook many houses. People rushed onto the streets to discover that a German bomber had crashed into houses near the centre of the village. The aircraft had struck the wood-yard of JW Barker of Jasper Street and the neighbouring row of cottages on High Street. Numbers 9 to 15 were badly damaged, as can well be imagined with a 12-ton aircraft falling from the sky.

The story of the events that night began at 23.15 hours in German occupied Netherlands, where Kustenfliegruppe 106/2 was based. Nine Junkers 88A-5 bombers, the Luftwaffe’s most versatile aircraft with a wingspan of 65ft and a length of 52ft, took off on their mission to attack harbour facilities in Belfast. One bomber was piloted by Oberleutnant Ernst Jurgens and his crew: Observer, Oberleutnant z, See Reinhold Metzger, wireless operator, Oberfeldwebel Hans Beeck, and gunner Feldwebel  Heinrich  Janichen. As they crossed the English coastline they were attacked by Beaufighter R-2156, a night fighter aircraft of 25 Squadron, crewed by Sergeant Ken Hollowell and radar operator, Sgt Richard Crossman. The right wing of the Junkers was hit, causing the engine to burst into flames. In a desperate attempt to save the aircraft Janichen and Beeck parachuted out to reduce the weight, while the remaining crew jettisoned as much equipment as possible to regain height and return over the North Sea. But they were attacked by another fighter and the aircraft spiralled out of control, with the only option for Jurgens and Metzger - to bale out.

Janichen landed near Farnley, captured by a policeman patrolling on a motorbike and taken on the pillion to Otley police station. Metzger landed near the Ings Hotel, Guiseley and also taken to Otley police station. It’s not recorded where Beeck landed but he was soon arrested by the police. Jurgens landed in a field off Idle Moor. All four were later taken to Bradford police station.

Following the crash, which destroyed two cottages and badly damaged adjoining buildings, a fire engulfed the area. Several people saw the crash and rushed to the scene, followed by neighbours roused by the noise. The local fire brigade and police were soon in attendance and started to rescue the injured. Living at number 9 were John and Sarah Boyd, both 27, with their son Garth, just 20-months-old. When the plane crashed through their roof they were asleep . Burning beams fell on them, trapping them in bed. Sarah died at the scene and her husband, who was badly injured, died at St Luke’s Hospital six weeks later. Garth’s cot was tipped upside-down and pushed beneath the open staircase, saving his life, But he was described by one of the rescuers as “glowing like a coal” and badly burned. He was rushed to St Luke’s where his grandmother, Elizabeth Boyd, persuaded doctors not to amputate one of his legs. His burns were so intensive he was still receiving treatment three years later. Next door at number 11 was Sarah Boyd’s mother Eliza Clayton who suffered serious injuries but survived. At number 13 Ethel Green was injured but her baby, Elsa, died. The fourth person to die was Herbert Jowett, 64, at number 15. The injured were taken to shops and houses for First Aid until ambulances took them to hospital. Sarah and John Boyd were buried in Idle Holy Trinity Church graveyard, Herbert Jowett in Bowling Cemetery in an unmarked grave. The final resting place of little Elsa Green is unrecorded.

One of the first to arrive at the crash scene was Arthur Taylor of New Street who was in charge of the local ARP. He saw a lady trapped in her house, with the aid of a policeman they rescued her through a shattered window. Mr Taylor found what he thought was an Iron Cross in the wreckage and put it in his pocket. The medal, now in Idle Library and labelled an Iron Cross is in fact a Faithful Service Medal, given to German citizens working in public service.  There one is gold, for 40 years service. There is no indication as to why it was in the aircraft, it was probably awarded to a close relative of one of the crew.

What happened next is mainly from an account by trainee reporter Stanley Wilkinson,15, who lived with his parents in Cockcroft Lane, Idle. On hearing the noise he got out of bed, quickly donned a jacket and trousers over his pyjamas and raced out to the scene. Possibly owing to his youthful looks, he was turned away by police, but undeterred he went to family friends at Laverack Hall Farm on High Busy Lane. They’d seen the aircraft and told him what happened. Heading up the hillside, passing Carcase End Farm, he saw a man in a field, looking over a gate. Realising he must be the pilot, Stanley fearlessly approached the man who spoke some English. As Stanley had a smattering of schoolboy German they managed a conversation. The boy guided the pilot towards the police box at the top of High Street, they were joined by a shoe repairer, the Sunday School caretaker and several others before handing their prisoner to the police.

As daylight broke workmen got on with demolishing the two badly damaged cottages and making the remaining buildings safe. A cordon was placed around the site by the Idle Home Guard with police warning people not to take souvenirs. This didn’t deter some enterprising children; several pieces of wreckage were collected by a young David Hogg, his daughter Gill McFadden still has them. Later that morning RAF workers arrived with trailers to remove the remains of the aircraft, but it has been said they failed to recover one of the engines which was buried deep in the ground. It will be interesting to see if any remains are discovered if the site is ever redeveloped.