What befell the city of Belfast in the spring of 1941 was truly horrific.
On Easter Tuesday from 10.50pm in the evening until the all clear sounded the next morning, this beautiful and historic city was subjected to almost six hours of continuous aerial bombardment. Let’s just think about that for one second. Continuous. Unchallenged. Uninterrupted. Aerial bombardment.
Explosives designed to obliterate pre-stressed concrete industrial buildings poured down instead on tiny two-up two-down houses right across the city. Families who a few hours earlier had enjoyed an Easter Tuesday train ride to Bangor were blown away with their homes: gone, never to return.
Only the densely-populated urban metropolis of London had a greater loss of citizens in one night’s raid.
The most emotive account of the Belfast Blitz came from James Doherty, author of ‘Post 381: The Memoirs of a Belfast Air Raid Warden’. It is estimated that two bombs fell every minute, with thousands upon thousands of parachute mines ripping entire streets apart while incendiary mines started widespread fires.
On the ground, the sole defence of this magnificent and enduring city depended on the courage and steadfastness of Civil Defence Volunteers like Jimmy, who in spite of low numbers and the absence of basic equipment, stood between German air power and Armageddon.
In the days and nights that followed, especially at the Falls Road Public Baths, they did indeed toil without rest or relief in hell.
In its leader column of April 17, the Northern Whig noted: “Let us remember these vile and bestial injuries as the outward and visible sign of those evil things we have sworn to conquer. In the name of God such things must never be on earth again!”
In the days which followed, Belfast citizens – bereaved or left homeless – displayed an amazing strength of spirit, camaraderie and courage. They laboured away relishing the challenge of rebuilding the city they loved so much.
It is the bravery and tenacity of those men, women and children, what they suffered, endured and lost that merits a permanent memorial.
The current debate should not be viewed in terms of petty rules or party brinkmanship, but rather as an opportunity for collective reflection upon the horror that came here and the bravery, tenacity and courage of a past generation of Belfast citizens who through their own blood sweat and tears made sure that their city, Belfast, could endure.
Elaine M Crozier, Belfast BT15, Author of ‘Bodies In Our Backyard – A child’s tale of the Belfast Blitz’