Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Christina Hollis: A Wartime Miracle

Yer tis, as we say in Bristol.
I’m on the final draft of my major non-fiction project, Struggle and Suffrage: Women’s Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950. Last month I stayed in Bristol for a week on a research retreat. Much as I love my family (and the pets), this was a chance to do nothing but think about my work-in-progress from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. I spent days without needing to worry about getting the washing or housework done. I didn't have to do any cooking, and there were no last-minute games of hunt the missing item of school uniform/gym kit/keys, etc. etc. etc.  For someone who loves their job as much as I do, that week was the ultimate in “me” time.
The first thing on my "to-do" list was something I hadn't quite managed on my previous research trips to Bristol. It meant crossing the city to St Mary Redcliffe church in search of a modern legend. St Mary Redcliffe is the building Elizabeth the First called "the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England". At 292 feet (89 metres) high, its spire is a landmark that can be seen for miles. 

I tried visiting on the last day of my trip during the summer, but the day was hot and sunny. By the time I reached the monument I was looking for it was surrounded by church staff, local people and tourists, all enjoying picnic lunches in the sun. 

Thank Goodness For Low-Rise Living...
What a difference a few weeks made. This time, autumn leaves were falling. I arrived in a light drizzle. The place was deserted. As I walked across the grass to Bristol’s Miraculous Tram Rail, the rain stopped and I was able to take these photographs.

During the Second World War, Bristol was bombed heavily by the Nazis. Not only were the city’s docks a major target, Spitfire engines were manufactured in the Filton factories of Rolls-Royce. These were only a few miles from the city centre. Bombers carried out raid after raid to try and put both Bristol and its aero engine works out of action forever. 

On Good Friday, 1941, one bomb exploded in Redcliffe Street, which runs directly behind the ancient church of St Mary Redcliffe. In those days trams were the city’s major form of public transport. They ran on iron rails, one of which was thrown high into the air. As luck would have it, the airborne tram rail somersaulted over the lowest roof in Redcliffe Street. It missed the house completely before embedding itself to half its length where it landed in the church grounds.

The Dedication
Had the house that rail hurdled been the same height as its neighbours, it would have carved off the top storey. If the eight-foot-long piece of solid metal had flown only a few yards further, it would have smashed into the church. Either way, many people would have been killed by flying debris. 

It was such a miraculous escape, the tram rail was left where it fell as a permanent memorial to a very close shave. In the week when all our town and village memorials are covered in poppies in remembrance of the fallen, it makes you think of the dangers suffered by civilians on the Home Front, as it was called.

Does your town have any stories of a lucky escape?

In addition to local history, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written six historical novels, eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, gardening, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

Catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current fiction release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.


dstoutholcomb said...

Forgive me, both of my mentions are about times when our countries were at war:

I live near Baltimore, Maryland, which was bombed pretty hard during the War of 1812. Ft. McKinley managed to survive, and our national anthem was penned during that battle.

Another port near me, Havre de Grace, was nearly destroyed during a battle in the same war. One American single-handedly manned a cannon to help save the town. Though captured by the British, they did let him go, and he became a town hero.


Christina Hollis said...

Thanks for a fascinating comment, Denise. We had a book at my primary school called "Inspiring Stories from the USA". Sadly I don't remember your Havre de Grace hero being included, but the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner" was definitely there, along with Julia Ward Howe's dream which of course created "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". As a child, her story inspired me to keep a notebook by my bed, a habit which has proved very useful over the years.