Belfast Blitz VIDEO: Marketplace filled with corpses in scenes ‘defying description’

Today it is a bustling bazaar filled with music and colour.

But 75 years ago, Belfast’s St George’s Market was host to scenes of brutality and carnage “defying description”.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, councillor Arder Carson unveiling the first of a number of plaques planned for key Belfast blitz locations

Lord Mayor of Belfast, councillor Arder Carson unveiling the first of a number of plaques planned for key Belfast blitz locations

Overnight from April 15 to 16, 1941, Nazi warplanes devastated large chunks of the city in what was the worst of four raids in the Belfast Blitz, resulting in so many deaths that St George’s – along with other public buildings – had to be used as a temporary mortuary.

Three-quarters of a century on, the city’s Lord Mayor Arder Carson officially recognised the event on Friday by unveiling a plaque at the market – the first in a handful of events to mark the anniversary on Friday.

As the unveiling took place, the market was in typical lively swing.

Asked what onlookers would have seen if they were there at the time of the blitz, historian and author Dr Brian Barton said: “I think it would have been the most horrendous, heartbreaking scenes imaginable.

“In fact, virtually defying description.”

Roughly 250 bodies were laid out in the marketplace rows he said, and groups of residents came in a bid to find their relatives and friends among the corpses – “some of them mutilated beyond recognition”.

One of those who was an eyewitness to the blitz was Emily Cardwell, 88 and from north Belfast.

She was visibly emotional as she stood in the marketplace, and began to well up as she thought about how it would have looked at the time, when she was aged 12.

She had taken refuge in a house in Ballysillan during the Easter blitz raid, and when she emerged the next day she saw “dead bodies on hand carts piled up – you never saw anything like it in your life”.

She said: “When you’re a wee girl and you see these things, and you’re young, it stays in your mind.

“I don’t often go out, but I wouldn’t have missed this today. I thought of them from yesterday, all day.

“Just imagine this place [St George’s] full of dead bodies. Baths full of dead bodies... To see young ones dead, and old ones dead. Terrible thing.”

While 740 civilians died in that single April 15/16 raid, the authorities had only planned for a maximum of 200 bodies at a time and so were forced to “improvise” said Dr Barton, with the St Peter’s and Falls baths also used to store the dead.

The market was open to the public on April 18, 19 and 20, after which about 140-plus bodies which had not been claimed were buried in mass graves.

More plaques are now set to be installed at other key blitz locations in the weeks ahead.

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