Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Air Attack in Pelham During World War II

It was during the early months of World War II.  Pelham, like all Westchester communities near Long Island Sound, was on high alert.  The Pelham War Council had worked for hundreds of hours to prepare Pelham for the unthinkable.

The unthinkable was on everyone's mind during the evening of Thursday, November 12, 1942.  An enemy plane, flying low, passed over Prospect Hill and the school and residences below.  As it passed, the bomb bays opened and the plane dropped "high explosives and incendiary bombs" that resulted in a firestorm like none ever experienced by Pelham.  At exactly 9:06 p.m. Post Warden Charles H. Shedden notified the Pelham War Council control center of the devastating attack.  

Prospect Hill elementary school was in flames.  Eighty homes on Clay Avenue and Hudson Street were destroyed.  Thirty-two were injured.  Fire and police departments, rescue squads, ambulances and doctors, and demolition squads rushed to the scene.  The resulting fire was so overwhelming that Pelham Manor firefighters had to seek the assistance of North Pelham firemen.  The entire Prospect Hill area was evacuated and shelter was provided for most local residents.   

The unthinkable that had happened that night was deemed a total success.  As the newspaper headline screamed the next day:  "Pelham Had Synthetic Air Attack Last Night."

Pelham residents were spending countless hours in 1942 supporting the war effort and preparing for the unthinkable including attacks by air or by sea by an enemy and its allies that already had devastated the Pacific Fleet during the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor.  For weeks, the Pelham War Council and the Office of Civilian Protection had been preparing for a "Synthetic" (i.e., simulated) air attack on Pelham.    

During World War II, Every Resident of the Town
of Pelham Was Expected to Do Their Part in Support
of the War Effort.  This Beauty Salon Advertisement
Promised to Give a Free Finger Wave and Shampoo
Treatment to Every Woman who Made a $50
Cash Purchase of a War Bond.
Source:  Buy Bonds [Advertisement]The Pelham Sun,
Nov. 6, 1942, Vol. 32, No. 31, p. 5, cols. 1-2.
NOTE:  Click On Image to Enlarge.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a pair of articles from The Pelham Sun discussing the simulated air attack and discussing the planning process for the simulated air attack.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"32 'Casualties' When Pelham Had Synthetic Air Attack Last Night


'Thirty-two persons were injured, many of them seriously, last night when an enemy plane, flying low, dropped high explosives and incendiary bombs on Prospect Hill School and adjacent homes in Pelham Manor, necessitating the evacuation from their [sic] homes of many residents who sought shelter from the spreading fire which gained such headway that Pelham Manor firemen were required to call the North Pelham fire department for assistance.'

Such might have been the lead of this story had the incident staged last night by the War Council and the Office of Civilian Protection been a real one.

Planned by Deputy County Director Kenneth R. Kelly, it was witnessed by an inspection party headed by Herbert C. Gerlach, chairman Westchester County War Council; T. E. Hardenburgh, chairman of Westchester County Chapter of the Red Cross; Manuel Whittemore, chairman Westchester County War Council; members of the Pelham War Council, including Thomas B. Fenlon, supervisor of the Town of Pelham; Mayor Lester W. Du Bois of Pelham Manor; Mayor Roy H. Passmore of Pelham Heights; Mayor Dominic Amato of North Pelham; Mr. Geo. W. Hinckley, secretary, treasurer of the War Council; Harry D. Wright, chief air raid warden; Kenneth R. Kelly, chairman of Civilian Protection of the Pelhams; Captain Rossiter Holbrook, Westchestter County Deputy Director of Civilian Protection; Mrs. William L. Bradley, chairman of Community Service; Mrs. Victor W. Henningsen, chairman of the Division of Education and Consumers' Education; August Seltz, pres. of the county Village Officials Assn.; Dr. Erich Restin, chief of the county Emergency Medical Unit; Mrs. Francis Hargraves and Mrs. Herbert Gerlach of the District Warning Center in White Plains; Mrs. James Henie chief of the county salvage committee; Miss Janet Swayne, vice-chairman of the county Civilian Mobilization; Father Mahoney and Father Taggard.

The inspection party arrived at Prospect Hill School at 9:05 o'clock.  Captain Holbrook got in contact at 9:06 with Zone Warden Hoyle Wright, in charge of the incident and evacuation, who gave the signal and the incident was underway.

'Explosives' Dropped

Post warden Charles H. Shedden at 9:06 notified the Control Center of 'high explosive' and 'incendiary bombs' dropped on Prospect Hill School and vicinity.  Fire and police departments, rescue squads, ambulances and doctors, and demolition squads rushed to the scene.  

The demolition squad, supervised by Mr. Charles M. Chenery and acting heads Julius Dworschak, Edward Rich and Anthony Smith, roped off the area.  At 9:12 the Pelham Manor Fire Department, with Chief John J. Brennan came up Washington avenue and swung into position near the building.  Hoses were connected at 9:14 and 50 foot extension ladders were erected.  At 9:17 North Pelham apparatus led by Chief Irving J. Wallach, arrived at the Clay avenue side of the school.  The 'fire' was attacked, men jumped from windows of the building into nets held by regular and auxiliary firemen, and several casualties were lowered to 'safety' by life belts.  

After the fire was extinguished, rescue squads, under Captains Albert Dann, Fred Wirth and Geo. Hopkins entered the building.  

Four ambulances under the supervision of Lieut. Lenox Hawe, Lieut. Evelyn Baldwin, Lieut. Pat La wand, Capt. Francis Haag, and two Red Cross ambulances sent especially from White Plains, arrived at 9:19 on Plymouth street.

At 9:30 Doctors Nelson Cornell and Ken G. Hancher supervised the removal of 32 casualties, impersonated by Courier Group, headed by Mr. Eugene Baker and Captain Coogan, to casualty stations.

Evacuating the Area

The fire extinguished and the casualties removed, Zone Warden G. Hoyle Wright supervised the evacuation of the 80 theoretically destroyed homes, facing upon Clay avenue and Hudson street.  He was assisted by Sector Wardens Murray Parks and Harry C. Rubicam, Jr., and post wardens of Sectors D. and F.  The evacuees were removed in 20 cars of the Pelham Transportation Corps, supervised by chairman of the Traffic and Communications group, Mr. Martin J. Alger and chief of the Transportation Corps, Mr. J. Edgar Morris.  At the shelters which were in charge of Mrs. Charles Chenery the evacuees were registered by Mrs. P. I. Prentice's Registration Group, fed by Mrs. Charles Con-

(Continued on Page 4)

32 'Casualties' In Synthetic Air Raid Last Night
(Continued from Page 1)

nor's Canteen Group, and those who were scantily clad were given adequate clothing by the Disaster Group headed by Mrs. Dana Grant.  At the shelters photogenic evacuees were photographed by amateur and professional photographers under the direction of D. Carey Borden and the Newton Ring which had arranged for some of the nation's outstanding photographers to light and pose the subjects.  Chief animal warden Edward A. Scott, Jr., and his corps were on hand to care for animals brought to the shelter.  Children were cared for by Mrs. Harry Apfel, chairman of Child Care.

Much of the responsibility for the successfull movement of the many motor vehicles, and the handling of spectators who came to witness the operations, fell upon the post wardens of Sectors D. and F.  One warden was detailed to keep space open for the rescue squads to work, three were stationed along Plymouth street to keep ambulances close to the curb.  One warden was stationed at Plymouth and Hudson to direct ambulances into the loading center, several patrolled the roped-off section to keep the curious back, six were assigned to assist evacuee cars parked on Oak lane.  Others maintained messenger service between Post Warden H. Galloway's home on Hudson street and Zone Warden Wright.

Visited Control Center

The official inspection party afterward visited the Red Cross Shelters; the Control Center, which was fully manned and which is supervised by Chief James Whalen and Mrs. Dewar Cross; the Casualty Stations which were fully manned by registered nurses and nurse's aides, supervised by Mrs. Nelson Cornell and Mrs. John Almy, respectively; the St. Catherine's Church shelter under the direction of Mrs. William Goeltz; the Salvage Depot, where Mr. Francis Lawton, Jr., chairman of the Salvage Committee and Mr. Frank Williams, supervisor of the Salvage Depot, reported on the salvage record of the Pelhams; the Volunteer Office, where they met Mrs. Randall Fulton, chairman of Civilian Mobilization, and Mr. J. Lloyd Handy, head of Personal Identification; and the Red Cross Headquarters, newly situated on Fifth avenue in North Pelham.

Fire Department Co-operation

Mr. Kelly expressed himself as particularly pleased with the co-operation of the two fire chiefs, Irving J. Wallach and John J. Brennan and of Chief James McCaffrey of Pellham Manor police, Chief James Whalen of North Pelham, and acting-Chief Ellsworth Totten of Pelham Heights.  He praised the work of the post wardens who were on their posts and expedited the movement of vehicles and pedestrians and assisted the Transportation Corps in removing the evacuees.

Canteen Unit Served Dinner

Prior to the incident, Mr. Kelly entertained at a dinner served for him by the Red Cross Canteen Unit of Christ Church, to the members of the officiaal inspection party and a number of out-of-town guests.

Test of Initiative

Mr. Kelly in his greeting to his guests announced the general nature of the incident and explained that it had not been worked out to any great detail because of his desire to test the initiative of the wardens and other personnel engaged in the incident.  He spoke briefly of the friendly feeling that exists in Pelham between the Red Cross and the Offie of Civilian Protection and expressed his appreciation of the little-publicized but valuable work of the members of the Pelham War Council.  In conclusion he thanked the members of the Canteen Unit of Christ Church for the dinner they served to the official inspection party.

Mr. Kelly introduced Captain Holbrook who spoke briefly before leaving to address the Westchester County Village Officials' Association on the spirit of co-operation which he observed and knew about in Pelham.  He mentioned how his predecessor, Col. Devereaux, and he have always felt that there was nothing for them to do in Pelham, that 'the situation was well in hand' and that Pelham was 'functioning well up in front in the parade of the Red Cross and Civilian Protection work.'  Complimenting Mr. Kelly on the work of the Pelham Office of Civilian Protection, he said that Mr. Kelly keeps in close touch with him in the county office but that he, Captain Holbrook, had often called Mr. Kelly for advice because Mr. Kelly is 'the man on the front.'  He spoke of Mr. Kelly's 'care and precision' in organizing and in keeping the Office of Civilian Protection in Pelham running smoothly.

Mr. Arthur Procter, head of the Shelter Service of the Pelham Red Cross, spoke of the efficient work of the women of the Canteen Service and of their suggestion that Mr. Kelly, who had planned on entertaining the inspection party at dinner avail himself of the services of the Canteen Unit whose duty, among others, is serving the service men.

In conclusion, Mr. Procter paid tribute in the splendid work done by Mrs. James F. Longley, chairman of the [illegible]." 

Source:  32 "Casualties" When Pelham Had Synthetic Air Attack Last Night, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 13, 1942, Vol. 32,  No. 32, p. 1, cols. 1-2 & p. 4, col. 3.  

"Will Evacuate Entire Area In Rehearsal of Civilian Protection Unit

Kenneth R. Kelly, deputy county director of civilian protection and chairman of the Pelham War Council, today announced plans for Pelham's largest town-wide mobilization of all civilian protection and War Council units next Thursday evening, November 12.

The various co-operating defense agencies will be inspected by Captain Rossiter Holbrook, deputy director of civilian protection for Westchester County; Mr. Manvel Whittemore, chairman of the Westchester County War Council; Mr. Herbert Gerlach, county executive; Mr. Thomas Hardenberg, Westchester County Chairman of the American Red Cross; Doctor Erich Restin, county medical head, and members of the Westchester County Village Officials Association.

The incident will be held at about 9:00 p.m., following a meeting of the Westchester County village officials, who are meeting in Pelham on that date.  All civilian protection units from the three villages will be called to the scene of the incident, and the office of the war council and the identification bureau, as well as the three Red Cross shelters, will be open for inspection by the officials.

In addition to the usual incidents customarily associated with a hypothetical bombing, an evacuation of residents from the 'endangered' territory will be effected.

The 'evacuees' will be removed from the scene of the incident to the Red Cross shelters in Huguenot Church, Christ Church and St. Catherine's Church.  At each of the shelters, nationally-known photographers will be present to light and pose the 'evacuees' and the shelter personnel for amateurs who wish to photograph them for entering pictures in the American Red Cross national photo awards contest.

No Blackout

There will be no blackout.  At a signal to be given after 8:30 p.m., the incidents will start.  An area of a number of blocks adjacent to Prospect Hill School on Clay avenue and the school itself will be theoretically bombed.  This will require a first and a second alarm.  The firemen will extinguish flames and will perform rescue work with ladders and nets.

Evacuation of the residents of the area will take place by cars of the Pelham Transportation Corps, under the direction of Mr. Martin Alger and Mr. J. Edgar Morris.  The entire movement of evacuation

(Continued on Page 5)

(Continued from Page One)

will be under the control of Zone Warden G. Hoyle Wright.  Casualties will be transported by the medical unit and Motor Corps ambulances.

Each of the shelters will be divided into two parts.  In one part the 'evacuees' will be cared for by the personnel of the American Red Cross, in the second part the nationally-known photographers, brought to Pelham through the invitation of Mr. D. Carey Borden and the Newton Ring, including Helene Saunders; J. Ghislain Lootena, Lejaren Hiller, John Hutchins, Victor Keppler and Valentine Sarra, will pose and light the various subjects for amateur photographers.

Photographers Must be Identified

All persons wishing to take photographs will be admitted to the shelters after securing a photographer's identification card which will be obtainable at the police booth at the corner of Boston Post road and Pelhamdale avenue.  This card, which is to be attached to the hat, will permit passage through the police lines and into the area where the pictures will be taken.  Members of the regular and auxiliary police forces will be on hand to police the crowds.

Lighting equipment has been arranged for by the members of the Newton Ring and will be supplied by photographic dealers of New York.  The apparatus will be transported by the Red Cross Motor Corps.  The Newton Ring has invited the artists who will pose the incidents and John Rowan, president of the Photographic Society of America; Louis C. Boochever, chairman of the National Photo Awards Contest; Mabel Schachere, photographic editor of the New York World Telegram; Joseph Deschin, photo editor of the New York Times, and Norris Harkness, photo editor of the New York Sun, together with officers from other Westchester County Camera Clubs, to dinner at the Pelham Country Club.  

All pictures taken by amateurs at the shelters may be entered in the Red Cross contest and may be finished professionally.

In arranging the photography, the chairmen of all the various volunteer services have met with the committee and are cooperating in perfecting the arrangements.

County Executive Gerlach to Inspect

The official inspection party, headed by Captain Holbrook and Mr. Gerlach, will witness the incident at Prospect Hill and then will inspect the Red Cross Shelters, the casualty stations, the control center, the salvage depot, the volunteer office and the fingerprint bureau, and will end up in the new Red Cross headquarters on Fifth avenue, North Pelham.

All Fire-Fighting Unites in Action

The heaviest concentration of fire-fighting equipment, under the supervision of Chief John J. Brennan and Chief Irving J. Wallach, will be called for to handle the incident.

The rescue squads of the three villages, under the direction of Captain Fred Wirth will co-operate with the medical ambulances in removing the casualties.  Dr. Nelson Cornell and Dr. Ken G. Hancher, respective heads of Pelham Memorial High School and Hutchinson casualty stations, will have their casualty stations fully manned while the Red Cross Canteen unit and shelter group, under the supervision of Mrs. Clarence Connor and Mrs. Charles Chenery, respectively, will provide for the comfort of the evacuees.  Mrs. P. I. Prentice, chairman of the registration group, will provide for the registration and identification of all evacuees.

Animal Wardens Act

Animal wardens, under the leadership of Chief Animal Warden Ted Scott, will provide a safe place for animals which may be brought to the shelters.

Chief Air Warden Harry D. Wright has called for a mobilization of wardens only for the section immediately surrounding the scene of the incident.

The mobilization, in addition to demonstrating the effectiveness of the local civilian defense organizations, will show to the officials what an efficient school of adult education the local defense organization has established."

Will Evacuate Entire Area In Rehearsal of Civilian Protection Unit, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 6, 1942, Vol. 32, No. 31, p. 1, cols. 1-2 & p. 5, cols. 5-8.

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