The Belfast blitz is remembered

The Belfast blitz is remembered
Belfast was ill-prepared for the blitz
Sixty years after the Germans bombed Belfast in World War II BBC News Online
looks back and remembers the anniversary of the blitz.
When the war began, Belfast, like many other cities, adopted the wartime practices of
rationing and blackouts.
But the reality of the conflict in Europe seemed faraway.
Bombing raids at home were a possibility which the Northern Ireland cabinet at
Stormont seemed reluctant to prepare for.
The Luftwaffe was
heading for a city
later described as
the most undefended
in the United
They resented having to spend money on civil defences and had
cancelled an order for fire-fighting equipment.
The city had few air raid shelters for the size of its population and it was ill-prepared for
what lay ahead.
Deadly cargo
On 16 April 1941 Belfast was devastated as it bore the worst air raid of any city outside
That evening as the people of Belfast enjoyed the remains of the Easter holiday, 200
German bombers were taking off from French airfields with a
deadly cargo.
It was one of the largest German strike forces used to date in the
war and the Luftwaffe was heading for a city later described as
the most undefended in the United Kingdom.
"We were in exceptional good humour, knowing that we were
going for a new target," said one of the German pilots later.
Nellie Bell from Belfast was just married and had gone to sign the
wedding register when the sirens went.
Jimmy Penton: "It was like
an earthquake".
There were quite a lot of people down to see us, but they
scattered and when we came out there was no-one left only the ones who couldn't run
away," she recalled.
Newspaperman Jimmy Kelly was walking home at the time.
"I was walking up the Glen Road when I heard the sound of
aircraft coming from the Lisburn direction," he said.
The ground shook
and the people
squealed and yelled,
"The next thing the air raid sirens went off and I knew from the
peculiar phut, phut, phut sound that these were Germans and this they thought it was
the end of the
was it."
Air raid warden Jimmy Doherty was on patrol that night.
Jimmy Penton
He remembers meeting another group of wardens minutes before their post was
decimated by a bomb.
"I would say that within five minutes of meeting them, those young men and a young
lady, were dead," he said.
As the bombs fell, the people of Belfast did their best to protect themselves. It seems
incredible but there were only four public air raid shelters in the entire city.
Bryce Miller remembers the scene inside one shelter where
opposing groups of young Protestants and Catholics took it in
turn singing songs like The Sash and The Soldier's Song as the
bombs rained down.
But he said there was a deadly silence as the blasts got closer
and after one wave the strains of Nearer My God To Thee could
be heard coming from the entire crowd.
Constable Donald Fleck was on duty in York Street Police Station.
He ran for his life when a parachute mine landed near him. "I
hollered to the boys to run," he said, "fear lends you wings."
Stormont's distinctive facade
was painted black to foil
Jimmy Penton still has vivid memories of those events. "It was
like an earthquake that night," he said, "the ground shook and
the people squealed and yelled, they thought it was the end of the world."
Sewer rats
Novelist Brian Moore has a very different memory. He remembers seeing scores and
score of rats coming up out of the sewers.
"They were going in a kind of procession along the side of the gutters," he said, "not fast
just going slowly."
Belfast was bombed three times between April and May that year. Twelve hundred
people lost their lives and many parts of the city were decimated. The Falls Road Baths
had to be used to store the bodies of those killed.
Warden Jimmy Doherty remembers coming across one street
where everyone was wiped out.
When we reached
the city fires were
raging everywhere.
"We met death everywhere, it was a terrible thing to see," he
In the blaze the
oxygen was so short
it was difficult to
Some of those killed died in fires which started in the debris of the breathe
bombs. The city had not enough manpower to fight the fires. In
desperation the government turned to its neutral neighbour, the
Irish republic.
Dublin fireman
There may have been strained relations between the two parts of the island over
partition but president Eamon de Valera responded imediately.
Thirteen fire brigades from Dublin, Drogheda and Dundalk dashed to Belfast.
One fireman said: "When we reached the city fires were raging everywhere. In the blaze
the oxygen was so short it was difficult to breathe."
One hundred thousand people became refugees after the blitz. It took years to rebuild
the lost buildings, reconstruct the lost homes and replace the industrial targets the
Germans had so accurately pinpointed.
The effect on the city would be felt for years to come though it struggled bravely to
return to normal.
It is worth mentioning that Belfast suffered many more times the devastation in the
spring of 1941 than it would in the entire 30 years of the Troubles which would follow.
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