Belfast Blitz: ‘Mother and child were speared to wall of bomb shelter’

Pacemaker Press 12/4/2016 'Alec Murray remembers the Belfast Blitz on the run up to the 75th  Anniversary.''Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 12/4/2016 'Alec Murray remembers the Belfast Blitz on the run up to the 75th Anniversary.''Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

Alec Murray narrowly avoided losing his sister when a supposedly-safe air raid shelter was obliterated by the Nazis in 1941.

Here the 85-year-old Salvation Army member (and former FG Wilson worker), now living in Gilnahirk, east Belfast, shares his memories as Belfast commemorates the 75th anniversary of the mass bombings.

He remembered hearing a radio broadcast in spring 1941 from infamous Nazi propagandist Lord Haw-Haw, in which he stated Belfast would be bombed over Easter.

The Germans fulfilled the promise on the night of April 15.

Mr Murray was living on Dundee Street off the Shankill Road, and said: “At about 10.30 or 11pm, the sirens went. The next thing we heard was the bombs coming down.

“We went out to the street and – being young – my brother said: ‘Look, it’s like fairyland out here!’ There were flares dropping.”

He then heard a ‘crump’ sound, and they decided to get away from the houses.

“But we’d nowhere to go, and wouldn’t go into the air raid shelters. They weren’t very pleasant places to be in,” he said.

“The Shankill Road was packed with people going up the Glencairn Road, and they lay in the fields because the bombs were dropping all round. There were hundreds of people up there.

“Then some of my friends said they saw a parachute coming down.

“Little did they know it was a landmine which hit a shelter in Percy Street, which was two streets away from me.”

Roughly 30 people in the shelter were killed.

That night, his older sister Victoria had been at a dancehall nearby.

She and others were ushered towards the Percy Street shelter as the raid began, but because she lived so close she had been allowed to go home.

She then joined her siblings heading out of the city on the Glencairn Road.

Speaking of the shelter, Mr Murray said: “It didn’t explode – it imploded. They found out later the roof on it was a big, thick concrete roof.

“There was one family lived at the corner [named Swann]... One of them was in a wheelchair and she hid under the stairs. The other five went into the shelter and they were killed.

“Then the next morning the police didn’t cordon it off. I went down to it. Everybody was just running about Percy Street, people helping to get bodies out and everything else. I saw a lady and her child stuck against the wall with a big piece of plate glass.”

The glass had impaled them “like a spear”.

He later came to believe this horrific image had just been his imagination.

But a few years ago he was talking to Belfast poet Albert Haslett who recalled exactly the same thing.

He noted that the area went on to see a number of bombings and shooting in the Troubes, and his cousin’s daughter Leanne Murray was among the nine civilians blown up by the IRA in the 1993 Shankill Bomb.

“This [blitz] was over and done with in a couple of months, but the Troubles went on and on,” he said.

Asked how he felt about the 75th anniversary, he said: “I don’t feel anything about it, to tell you the truth.

“The only thing is, I’m glad I survived it.”

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