A charity concert in Holmfirth will mark the 70th anniversary of a tragedy that cost the lives of nine people when a coach carrying members, relatives and supporters of a village male voice choir crashed at speed in the centre of the town.
Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir had high hopes of winning some silverware at the Holmfirth Musical Competition on Saturday, October 18,1947, but as the coach passed the Bay Horse Inn at Hade Edge the brakes failed and the vehicle careered out of control for nearly two miles down the steep hill into Holmfirth.
Three passengers managed to jump clear as the young driver struggled in vain to keep control of the coach which ploughed into a two-storey warehouse in the centre of Holmfirth. The building collapsed on top of the coach.
There followed a brave rescue of the 40 people trapped inside the crushed vehicle. Irish labourers brought in to work on Digley reservoir were having a drink in the Shoulder of Mutton opposite the scene of the crash in Victoria Square. They dashed out of the pub, frantically clawing at rubble to reach the stricken passengers.
The 5th Stalybridge Scouts, visiting Holmfirth for the day, joined in the rescue as did townsfolk and choir members and friends who had travelled by car, putting their own lives at risk as other parts of the building threatened to cave in.
The Irishmen were hailed as heroes.
The Holmfirth Express reported: “They worked untiringly until the last of the occupants of the coach had been removed to hospital. Some of the Irishmen supported beams and portions of the wrecked coach with their backs while others pulled out the victims. Their clothes were literally torn from their backs.”
The dying and injured were taken to the Holme Valley Memorial Hospital in Holmfirth and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Eight people died that dreadful day and the toll rose to nine with the death in hospital two days later of 51-year-old Nora Firth whose son Arnold, a choir member, was one of the 24 people injured.
There are sons and other relatives of crash victims still singing in Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir, among them Raymond, Graham and Alf Pearson whose father Alfred, 43, a father of nine, died in the crash. Alf was only a few days old when he lost his father.
Hade Edge Band and the choir will give a concert at Holmfirth Parish Church (Holy Trinity) at 7.30pm on Armistice Day, Saturday November 11, to remember the fallen of the two world wars and other conflicts and to commemorate the choir tragedy of 1947 which made national headlines and left a deep and lasting impression on the communities of Stocksbridge and district and Holmfirth. Proceeds will go to Friends of Holme Valley Hospital and the Royal British Legion.
Choir secretary Rob Firth, whose uncle John Firth died in the crash and whose late father Eric was seriously injured, said: “We were so pleased that Hade Edge Band suggested the concert. It gives us another opportunity to thank the people of Holmfirth and the medical staff of the Holme Valley Hospital and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for all their wonderful help on that awful day.
“The choir was struggling to re-establish itself after the war and the crash could have finished it off. Instead, the tragedy made the choir stronger and we are thriving today with 70 members, 70 years after the disaster and 83 years after we were formed.”
Rob’s mother Ann, who died last year aged 88, was a nurse who tended the injured and dying at the Holme Valley Memorial Hospital. Romance blossomed amid tragedy and the young refugee from the Baltic state of Estonia married the injured chorister who worked in the family bakery business in Stocksbridge, three years later.
Among the items the choir will sing at the concert is Love Could I Only Tell Thee, the test piece they would have sung that fateful day if tragedy had not intervened. The coach was only about 200 yards away from the intended destination, the Old Drill Hall, when the horrifying crash happened.
Concert tickets at £8 (£4 for 16s and under) from Andrew’s greengrocer’s, Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth; Hade Edge band members or ring 07512 600602.