Belfast Blitz: ‘My mother fled from thunderclaps for the rest of her life’

Ian Wilson, chairman of the NI War Memorial
Ian Wilson, chairman of the NI War Memorial

The chairman of the Northern Ireland War Memorial told attendees at a remembrance event that he recently learned his own mother had a condition akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, linked to the Belfast Blitz.

Ian Wilson told attendees at a ceremony on Friday that he had recently discovered – courtesy of Dr Brian Barton’s book on the subject, ‘The Belfast Blitz: the City in the War Years’ – that some of the raids continued for hours at a time.

The memorial’s website states that the worst raid on April 15/16 was five hours long, and another heavy bombing raid on May 4/5 lasted three hours.

Mr Wilson said that those sheltering from these onslaughts were forced to endure long periods during which “their next moment could be their last”.

He said: “This personally impacted on untold thousands of people. It only in recent years dawned on me that it affected my mother.

“My mother, all her life, was afraid of thunder. At any hint of thunder, I remember as a child my mother would go indoors and go under the stairs. As a child you think that’s just what all people do.

“But she was in the blitz – she’d have been in her early 20s I suppose then.”

She had lived off the Cavehill Road at the time, which was badly hit.

He said it has now dawned on him that “she was, what I suppose you would call now, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder” – a condition which he added “would apply to untold numbers of people” across the city.

He said the war memorial (which is basically a museum in Talbot Street – is also working at the moment on a plan to restore a plot of land at the City Cemetery, which was used as a mass grave for those who were killed but whose were never properly identified.

“We think everything today is noted down on a census,” he said.

“There were people in the poorer parts of Belfast [during the blitz] who, for different reasons, escaped all official record.

“There are people whose births weren’t registered – especially people who were disabled or people with learning difficulties.”

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