IT was 1946. Clement Attlee was Prime Minister and his post war Labour government were attempting to rebuild the country after the death and destruction of the Second World War.

Rationing was still in force and was not fully lifted until 1954.

But despite the six-year conflict finally coming to an end, death and destruction was still not far away.

The Burnden Disaster claimed the lives of 33 football fans, who had packed into Bolton Wanderers’ home ground to see their team in action.

The Bolton News: TRAGEDY: A Bolton Evening News image of the Burnden Park disaster, 1946.

The scene on the day of the Burnden Disaster

Thirty one men, one woman and one child died, doing nothing more than attending a football match. Hundreds more were injured.

The 1945/46 season had been a successful one for Wanderers, reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup and being drawn against Stoke City in the sixth round.

Striker Ray Westwood, who had served in the Territorial Army during the war at Dunkirk and Egypt and was the uncle of Manchester United star Duncan Edwards, who later died in the Munich air disaster, had scored a brace in the first leg to secure a 2-0 Wanderers win.

The second leg of the tie was scheduled for Saturday, March 9, with kick off at 3pm.

Anticipation for the game was high, with the possibility of Wanderers booking a semi-final date, as well as seeing the legendary wing wizard Stanley Matthews in the flesh.

A crowd of about 50,000 was expected for the match, with the total capacity of the ground at the time recorded as nearly 72,000.

The Bolton News: DISASTER: A photograph taken in the aftermath of the tragedy

The scene following the Burnden Disaster

A police report said the number of people officially admitted to the ground was more than 65,000 — but unofficial estimates suggest attendance reached nearer 85,000.

A total of 28,137 fans were admitted into the Embankment Enclosure — 2,000 too many.

Supporters were continuing to pour into the enclosure before the 3pm kick off, with the end getting ever fuller with more still waiting to gain entry.

The turnstiles were closed at 2.40pm because of the large crowds, but fans began to climb over the turnstiles and railway sleepers, which divided the Embankment from the railway line, in a bid to get into the ground before kick-off.

The problem was compounded by the fact the Burnden Stand was not open to fans, because it was still in use by the Ministry of Food following the war.

As the teams emerged onto the pitch five minutes before kick-off, spectators in the Embankment end surged forward, causing two barriers to collapse.

A crush developed, and people were pushed into heaps three or four deep and were trodden on as the surge became uncontrollable with fans spilling onto the pitch.

Play continued, but when the referee was informed at 3.12pm that there had been fatalities, he brought the players off the pitch.

The scale of the tragedy began to be revealed, with 33 spectators being confirmed dead and a further 500 being treated by paramedics.

The dead were laid out on the pitch, and later moved to a first aid post at the ground, along with the injured.

But at 3.20pm, William Howard, chief constable of Bolton police, and the referee, George Dutton, agreed that the match should continue, with large numbers of the crowd unaware of what had happened.

The police believed that if the match was postponed, this could cause disorder. Play was resumed at 3.25pm, after a 26 minute stoppage, and the match finished in a goalless draw.

The Bolton News: FOOTBALL TRAGEDY: Burnden Park disaster, 1946.

Officials inspect Burnden Park following the disaster

Wanderers were through to the semi-final, but it was a bitter victory.

Many fans left the ground still unaware of what had occurred, only to learn of the grim reality when that night’s edition of the Bolton Evening News was published.

Only seven of the dead were from Bolton, with many coming from Wigan, Leigh or Atherton, and others from Rochdale, Heywood and Manchester.

Among the fatalities were siblings Frederick Campbell, aged 33, and Emily Hoskinson, aged 40, both from Breightmet.

Mrs Hoskinson, a widow, attended the match with her 10-year-old son, also named Frederick.

They became separated, and the youngster was passed over the heads of supporters to safety.

He travelled home alone, only to be told the next day that his mother and uncle had died in the tragedy.

Mr Campbell had been demobilised from the Army in November, and was married just five weeks previously.

The incident was the first example in the history of football of serious casualties being inflicted by a crowd upon itself.

An inquiry was launched, with the report by Mr R Moelwyn Hughes, KC being published in July 1946.

It recommended that the number of spectators entering grounds should be limited, and that the numbers entering the ground should be checked by mechanical means.

The edition of the Bolton Evening News on the Monday following the tragedy summed up the incident.

It read: “The worst disaster in Bolton since the Hulton Colliery explosion, and the worst disaster in the history of professional football, stunned a town that had previously been keyed up to a state of nervous excitement by the prospect of Bolton Wanderers entering the semi-final by defeating Stoke City at Burnden Park on Saturday.

“There were prospects of a large gate, but no one anticipated that it would be marred by the tragedy which resulted in 33 deaths.”