As time passes by there are fewer folk who remember war-time Blitz
Marking the run-up to the 80th anniversary of the German Luftwaffe’s blitz on Belfast in 1941 there have already been a number of local folks’ reminiscences and commemorative accounts on this page.
During two major bombing raids and two smaller attacks on the city, over 1,000 people lost their lives as hundreds of tons of deadly high-explosives and countless thousands of incendiaries devastated the city’s streets, buildings and the shipyard quays.
Many homes, shops, businesses and manufacturing works were demolished and around the Lagan aircraft production lines were damaged, a number of ships were hit and several vessels were sunk.
In addition to maps, photographs and documents reproduced on recent Roamer-pages, there are more images of devastation and archived accounts here today.
Nearly 10 years ago a 91-year-old former Belfast fireman shared his recollections here - sadly, in an anonymous letter - of a land mine that fell in the Water Works dam on the Antrim Road.
He was stationed on the Cavehill Road at the time and when he arrived on the scene the unexploded land mine was underneath the water.
Local folk had watched it coming down on a parachute.
The Bomb Disposal Crew arrived and said that the dam needed to be pumped out.
The firemen had six trailer pumps with one fireman at each pump, working two-hour shifts to keep the motors running and the tanks filled with petrol.
After almost a week’s continuous pumping the land mine finally showed above the remaining water and the Bomb Disposal experts explained (reassuringly?!) “if it goes off, that’s it!”
So they moved most of the firemen to safety, leaving three behind to deal with any ‘mishaps’ - including the fireman who shared his story here.
All the folk around the Antrim and Cavehill roads were evacuated from their homes as two courageous Royal Navy officers went out to the landmine in a small rowing boat.
“One of them screwed out the fuse and held it up for us to see,” the former fireman’s letter ended “and we all breathed a big sigh of relief. I don’t think there are many of the other boys left as I am in my 91st year.”
And sadly, as time passes, there are fewer and fewer folk who remember the Blitz first-hand.
“It was a lovely evening in April 1941,” a 90-year-old lady reminisced in her letter a dozen years ago.
“I had gone to the Astoria Picture House with a boy from the youth group at church.”
His name was Sammy, and the two young cinema-goers were both Air Raid Wardens on their night off from their base near the Arches on Ravenscroft Avenue.
“I do not remember what the film was,” the letter-writer continued “but as we came out of the cinema the air raid siren went, so Sammy and I ran down the road to the Arches in record time!”
It’s little wonder that she couldn’t recall the movie - rarely does the curtain come down on a film accompanied by hundreds of tons of high explosives and thousands of incendiaries.
“It was a lovely moonlit night but Belfast was taking an awful bashing from the German bombs” she added, explaining that Ballymacarrat and St. Patrick’s Church were in the hub of a bomb-run.
“The bombing went on until six o’clock in the morning, and when it eased off,” she recounted, “the Air-raid Warden in the area told Sammy to walk me home along the Albertbridge Road to Mount Street, just around the corner from Price’s shop.”
It was every boy and girl’s dream to walk together in the city - then and now - but the Luftwaffe wrenched away their dream and replaced it with a nightmare.
“When we got to Templemore Avenue we realised that the ‘Wee Hospital’ as it was known had been hit by a bomb. I will never forget what I saw that morning,” were her heartrending recollections, “the beds were hanging out of the windows.”
She ended her letter of 12 years ago “I was too upset to cry. I will always remember that night. Now in my 90th year, as I pass along the Albertbridge Road by bus or in a car, I look up to where the ‘Wee Hospital’ was and I can still see the beds hanging out of the windows.”
There are countless tragic descriptions like that, thankfully many have been written down or recorded and will be available to peruse, listen to or watch on the numerous on-line resources that are available these days, particularly as the 80th anniversary of the Blitz approaches.
One of the most moving accounts on this page was of a train full of Blitz evacuees arriving in Kesh railway station at 1 a.m. on a wet, blustery, Easter morning.
“There seemed to be at least half a mile of carriage, filled to capacity. There were children sleeping on overhead luggage racks, on their mothers’ knees, or just on top of each other on the seats so that they could stretch out.
“As the city children clambered apprehensively onto the station platform in an unfamiliar countryside, a grief-stricken man holding a little parcel was unable to speak as he unwrapped a little girl’s shoe. It was all that he had found of his wife and two daughters…after their Belfast house took a direct hit.”
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