Friday, 31st October 2014

Fireman looks back on tragic day

A south Shropshire firefighter has been remembering a “very dark day” in Church Stretton, 40 years ago when five people, including three little boys, were killed in a ferocious hotel fire.

On April 2, 1968, Alan Wildblood was one of a team of local firefighters who tackled the blaze at The Hotel, Sandford Avenue, Church Stretton.

Three little boys, Korwin, Alaistair and Jonathan Goulden, were found dead in one of the hotel’s bedrooms, and two hotel staff also died in a kitchen.

Former sub officer in charge Mr Wildblood, who served in the Shropshire Fire Service for 35 years, was keen for readers to remember that night 40 years ago.

He recalled: “It was 11pm when my fire bell rang at home. I was just going to bed. I was soon speeding to the fire station, as I went past the entrance to The Hotel, I could see flames shooting out of the door into the outside porch, so I knew where we were going.”

Ten firefighters were at The Hotel fire within four minutes of the call being made, but by then flames were shooting out of the roof.

“On the Sandford Avenue side of the building two people were shouting from their bedroom window saying their three sons were trapped in the next room. A ladder was soon at the window. A search was undertaken and three small bodies found on the floor. They were taken to a makeshift surgery at the local butchers, where we tried to resuscitate them, but to no avail.

“The boys had heard a noise outside the bedroom and opened the door to investigate. The pressure of the flames and smoke forced them back in to the bedroom where they perished.”

Alan remembered the bodies of the boys being handed down to him as he waited at the bottom of the ladder.About twenty minutes into the fire, the firefighters were told that waitress and a chambermaid were also missing. They were later found dead in an upstairs kitchen.

Back in the 1960s, there were no smoke or fire alarms in hotels. There was a notice in the corridor stating “in case of fire shout FIRE!”

The hotel building was destroyed. Damping down continued all night, and after nine hours at the fire Alan Wildblood and his crew were sent home at 9am the next morning.

“The terrible irony about this fire was that the three boys and their parents were only staying one night, as they were moving to Church Stretton the next day when their furniture arrived.”

An investigation into the fire said it was caused by an electrical fault.

The funeral of the three Goulden boys were held in St Laurence’s Church, Church Stretton.

sd2563236lud21fire-for-p1.jpgAlan Wildblood and Mike Morris

“It was a very sad occasion to see the three small coffins brought into church. It was a sad day for Church Stretton affecting all the townspeople.” A memorial to those who died is still in St Laurence’s Church. “The hotel still stands today, a reminder of a very dark day.”

The only Stretton firefighters still left in the town in 2008 are Alan and Mike Morris.

Alan said he would be approaching the town’s church leaders to ask whether those who died in the fire could be remembered over the Easter period.