Belfast Blitz


Newtownards, United Kingdom

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“The Belfast Blitz.”

Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1941.
Spectators watching a football match at Windsor Park noticed a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 aircraft circling overhead.
There was no military response.
Distillery F.C. defeated Linfield F.C. by 3 goals to 1.

Must have been the last time the ‘Whites’ beat the ‘Blues’

At 10:40PM the air raid sirens sounded.

The first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired. However that attack was not an error. When incendiaries were dropped and the city burned, the water pressure was too low for firefighting.

Wave after wave of bombers dropped their incendiaries, high explosives and land-mines. Altogether 203 metric tons of high explosive bombs, 80 landmines attached to parachutes, and 800 firebomb canisters containing 96,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the city.

There was no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the 7 anti-aircraft batteries, ceased firing. But the RAF had not responded. The bombs continued to fall until 5AM. 56,000 houses (more than half of the city’s housing stock) were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz A stray bomber attacked Derry killing 15. Another attacked Bangor killing 5.

My grandmother and mother (who worked in Mackies factory making munitions) made their way home to Tates Avenue. I am sure they cursed the circumstances that made them move from the backwater of the cathedral city of Armagh.

Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 were injured, 400 of them seriously.50,000 houses, more than half the houses in the city, were damaged. 11 churches, 2 hospitals and 2 schools were destroyed.

When the bombs fell, the population did not know what to do. There were few bomb shelters. An air raid shelter on the Hallidays Road received a direct hit killing all those taking shelter within it. Many people who were dug out of the rubble alive had taken shelter underneath their stairs and were fortunate enough that their homes had not received a direct hit or had even caught on fire. The population did not know whether to run, hide or stay in their beds.

In the New Lodge area people had taken refuge in a Mill, which presumably appeared to them to be a sturdy building. Tragically 35 were crushed to death when the mill wall collapsed. In another mill, the York Street Mill, one of its massive sidewalls collapsed on to Sussex and Vere Streets killing all those who still remained in their homes

That night almost 300 people, many from the Protestant Shankill, took refuge in the Clonard Monastery in the Catholic Falls Road area. The crypt under the sanctuary and the cellar under the working sacristy, had been fitted out and opened to the people, as an air-raid shelter. Prayers were said and hymns sung by the mainly Protestant women and children during the bombing.

The mortuary services had emergency plans to deal with only 200 bodies. In the event, the public baths on the Falls Road and on Peter’s Hill, and the large fruit market, St George’s Market, were used as mortuaries. 150 corpses remained in the Falls Road baths for three days. Then they were buried in a mass grave, with 123 still unidentified. 255 corpses were laid out in St George’s Market. Many bodies and parts of bodies could not be identified. Mass graves for the unclaimed bodies were dug in the Milltown and City Cemeteries.

St Georges Market today.

My grandmother took in as many as she could, as her house survived. Friends from Blythe St and Sandy Row and anyone who stumbled in, in despair.

From word of mouth, handed down and Wiki.

John Sherlock OBE produced this sculpture I snapped with a p&s Nikon 200, at the RUAS art exhibtion in trhe Ulster Museum ,Belfast, I was at with my daughter.

The bronze artwork shows a mother guiding her child through the ruins of the city the morning after the worst attack of April 16, 1941.

John from Derry has memories of that horror…

“I can remember the precise day it started and the day it ended.

“The little girl carrying a teddy bear is actually Maeve McCrory from Bellaghy, aged 8.

“I have a vivid memory of bringing water from a well at the bottom of our garden in Derry on September 3rd 1939, the day war was declared.

“When my wee friend Maeve came up to me and said that the war was started, and our daddies might have to fight, that stirred all sorts of emotions in me.

“But the piece is also imbued with memories of my own father, who was on regular fire watch for incendiaries; memories of cowering in fear and praying for our lives under the stairs with my mother, my Aunt Bridie and my sister."

A composite of three photos.


Days Gone By message post.

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