Voices from the explosion: Learn more about Britain’s biggest blast

Mine entrance at Hanbury

The bombs were stored in mine tunnels, the entrances to which were devastated in the blast. - Credit: The National Archives

On November 27, 1944, the biggest explosion on British soil tore through the sleepy countryside of Staffordshire.  

4000 tonnes of explosives stored in disused gypsum works underground blew up, destroying nearby farms and sending shockwaves as far as Casablanca. RAF Fauld, the depot in which the explosion occurred, was completely decimated in the blast. 

Despite the grievous injuries, enormous environmental damage and 70 deaths, the event is not widely known in the UK or even in the local area. Many of the houses in the nearby village of Hanbury were affected by the blast, including the school and village hall. Whilst the cause was never established beyond all reasonable doubt, the Court of Inquiry found it most likely that a site worker removed a detonator with a brass chisel instead of a wooden batten.

We spoke to Valerie Hardy, author of Voices from the Explosion, about the importance of the event and its contemporary significance.  

Fauld House in Staffordshire

Fauld House Farm, the author’s family home, where her father witnessed the explosion. - Credit: Valerie Hardy

Q: What was the impact of the explosion on the surrounding area? 

A: The Second World War came to our village of Hanbury in the Staffordshire-Derbyshire borderlands with terrifying suddenness, and had a profound impact on the whole community. I can remember standing with my sister at the edge of an awe-inspiring crater, which has since been described as resembling the Somme battlefield.  

This catastrophe changed lives forever, and not just my life and that of my immediate family. Upper Castle Hayes Farm, located above the bomb store at RAF Fauld, was lost in the vast crater along with those working on the farm and the family that lived there. They were just some of the many victims of this terrible event. 

Q: How significant has this event remained in the nation’s memory? 

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A: Nearly 78 years after this disaster, most people across the country remain completely unaware of the existence of the crater or the explosion that occurred. For those who lived through the explosion however, the memories still remain remarkably vivid. 

I resolved to fulfil a long-held aspiration, to record the testimonies of those who had experienced Britain’s biggest explosion, before the memories are lost forever. I also wanted to recapture the impact it made on the close community of the village where I grew up. This is why I put pen to paper and began to write my book. 

Memorial service at St Wenburgh's Church, Hanbury

St Werburgh's Church, Hanbury, installed a memorial window for the casualties of the RAF Fauld explosion. - Credit: Jill Woolliscroft

Q: How severe and spread out were the casualties of the explosion? 

People were killed and injured in a number of different locations, above ground as well as below the surface in the disused mine that stored the munitions. Workers in the adjacent gypsum mines were killed, as were many in the plaster works above the mine where the bombs were stored.

There were even people killed in the village itself. The blast radius covered an enormous area, with one farm worker describing the debris hurled into the air as being “as big as railway engines”. 

Crater outside Hanbury, Staffordshire

The crater still remains to this day, the largest of its kind in Europe. - Credit: Valerie Hardy

Q: How does your book help to shed new light on the disaster? 

A: My book contains a significant amount of information that most people likely don’t have access to, including eyewitness accounts and remarkable photos taken at the time. Secrets and rumours abounded after the explosion, with secrecy and security being central to all the activities at RAF Fauld. 

 I think my book will prove extremely interesting to those seeking to learn more about the explosion itself, and the events that occurred as a direct result. 

To learn more about the explosion at RAF Fauld, you can visit blackswanbookpromotion.co.uk.