I was asked something today on twitter and I thought the story might interest people here too.
“Do you know what night a munitions train was hit near Anfield? My mum said it “snowed” cotton wool from packaging for hours”
There was indeed such a train, which caught fire during the night of the 3rd/4th May 1941 when incendiaries landed on it. It was in a place called Breck Road sidings, off Townsend Lane at the time. According to the excellent “Port in a Storm” the railway system would often place the wagons from any ammunition train that couldn’t be loaded that day at the docks in a nearby siding waiting to be loaded as soon as possible.
The problem on that night was twofold, a high explosive bomb had cratered the mainline track nearby, and incendiaries were starting to set off the ammunition in the wagons, one by one. As each wagon exploded, it would scatter the ammunition in it over some distance and start multiple fires nearby.
Once the enormity of the problem became clear several men risked their lives to save people and goods in the area. Local residents were quickly roused from their houses and shelters and told to move away from the area. Some railwaymen came down the line, bringing up an engine and try to drive the ammunition wagons away. It is difficult to imagine the fiery scene that must have greeted them when they neared the area.
Unfortunately the engine they brought up couldn’t get past the crater on the mainline. They had been unaware of this crater, only discovering it when one of them fell into it! Finding they were unable to move and save the ammunition wagons, they instead concentrated on the other goods wagons nearby, pulling many of these to safety despite the fact that the ammunition was still going off at regular intervals, scattering fires and hurling metal and wood around the area.
This heroism was later recognised with most of those involved receiving a medal. One of those involved later commented that the whole affair was “A bit of a rum do”