Personal Accounts

The Story of Joseph Gallagher

We were very pleased to receive this account from Gill McCarthy (née Gallagher) about her grandfather who tragically lost his life working to extinguish the fire caused by the SS Malakand explosion…

My grandfather, Joseph Gallagher, was the only fireman to be killed when SS Malakand exploded.  He was working with his fellow firefighters to extinguish the fire when the ship exploded.

fireman death ss malakand 1941
Letter of condolence from Walton Hospital 5th May 1941

The blast was so powerful, that debris was scattered over many miles across the city.  My grandmother Delia recalled when she was travelling to the hospital looking for news of her husband the air above the city was full of fine dust from the explosion which turned the daytime sky dark. Parts of the ship were found up to 2 miles from the Huskisson Dock where it was moored when it exploded.

ss malakand explosion
The scene of devastation which followed the explosion of the SS Malakand.

My grandfather was previously a seaman and ironically decided to join the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) as it was considered a less hazardous job for a father of two young children.  He left a widow, Delia Gallagher, and two small sons Peter and Thomas aged 3 and 6 when he died in 1941.

fireman joseph gallagher
Joseph Gallagher with his sons Peter and Thomas.

The family lived at 52 Vulcan Street in Garston and after Joseph’s death they lived on a modest widow’s pension from the Fire Service.  Shortly after Joseph was killed his wife Delia lost her sight which made the family’s already difficult life even more challenging.

My father told us that after the war ended he can recall the men returning home from to the streets of Garston, but he hid under the stairs of the house as it was too upsetting for him knowing that his own father would not be coming home.

National Fire Service Liverpool Roll of Honour

The SS Malakand explosion is well documented in history books but Joseph Gallagher’s death fighting the fire on board the ship was not recognised fully until quite recently.  My sister Julie contacted a fire service historian after reading an article in the Liverpool Echo which referred to an unknown fire fighter who died trying to extinguish the fire on the ship.  This ultimately led to my grandfather being recognised on a Roll of Honour in a ceremony in 2012 at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Services Heritage Centre in Bootle.  Prior to this, he had not been named as the fireman who had heroically sacrificed his life.  This ceremony meant a lot to us – my parents Peter and Mavis Gallagher and myself who all attended the service.

On my father’s wishes, we are currently in the process of donating some of my grandfathers letters and memorabilia to the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Services Heritage Centre.  

joseph gallagher liverpool fireman
Joseph’s Union Card 1940-1941

I will be taking my two young daughters with me to show them their great grandfather was a hero who helped to save many lives.

Personal Accounts

The Story of Chris Noone

“I was too young to remember much about the war. VE-day occurred while we lived in Liverpool and VJ-Day after we moved to Birkenhead. Scavenging children had long cleared bombed buildings of interesting treasures before I became old enough to take part.  Eventually, once the bull-dozers had cleared the rubble and condemned houses to leave large areas of wastelands, the empty spaces served nicely as playgrounds.

post-war liverpool

Both my parents were Birkenhead born and both lived through two world wars. Father was a ‘trencher’ of WW1 whose hair turned white overnight. Mother played the violin, loved to dance, joined the Flapper movement and used powder from the bottom of the Quaker Oats tin as face powder.  “It was the good times after the bad”, she once said when huddled round the fire.  I dread to think what mother would have done had she caught me wearing short sleeved dresses and going to a dance unescorted.  I hid my dress in the outside toilet and changed after leaving the house.  You could always tell which girls on the dance floor had discarded long sleeves by the Flea bites on their arms.

wartime family
From left to right: Chris’ elder brother, Chris & his Mother.

In 1937, Hitler’s Yellow Jackets paraded in Birkenhead Park so Dad joined the Legion of Frontiersmen. He was in Spain as a correspondent for the Liverpool Echo when I was born in 1938, the only way he could involve himself in a war he thought Germany just might win this time.  He returned just before the bombing of Merseyside started.

I remember watching Laurel and Hardy in a cinema with mother when the air raid sirens sounded. The projector stopped and the lights went out. Asked to keep our seats, we remained in darkness until the all clear was given twenty minutes later. The deathly silence during this incident left its impression on me, being too young to understand why at the time. Eventually, deep sighs of relief sounded when the All Clear was given and the screen burst into life again.

 Another memory I have is in Speke Park, Liverpool. Out walking with mother, we stopped to watch a group of WAAF women preparing a Barrage Balloon. Once inflated, it started to rise. One woman failed to let go of the dangling ropes and went up with it, causing howls of laughter from me. I can’t remember now how she got down, her uprising being the only event that interested me at the time.

waaf barrage balloon ww2
Women of the WAAF in training to learn how to handle a barrage balloon.

But there is one memory that sticks out above all others. An excited elder brother shook me awake as the room vibrated with the throb of engines. An endless stream of aircraft passed low overhead, the sky seeming full of them. People have argued against this memory as Liverpool is on the west coast, but the image is too vivid. One suggestion has been an ‘aviation assembly point’ for mass gathering over Merseyside, particularly when preparing for a heavy bombing raid.

I would be pleased to know if any reader saw or has heard of such an incident in Liverpool in the days prior to D-Day.”

If any of our readers know anything about a possible gathering of aircraft over Merseyside towards the end of the war, please do let us know by leaving a comment beneath…


Red Skies – Stories from the Liverpool Blitz

Don’t miss this fantastic play by Merseyside writer Jo Mac at St George’s Hall 24th-27th May!

red skies liverpool blitz

liverpool blitz play

Liverpool writer Jo Mac wrote this play in memory of her nan, who like so many others on Merseyside lived through the horrors of war time bombing.  ‘Red Skies’ has been performed to sell out houses over the past 2 years at the Unity Theatre and it was felt by the writer she needed to do something to honour the 70th anniversary of The Battle Of The Atlantic, which will be celebrated on Merseyside in May 2013.  The play deals with the laughter and the tears, the frustrations and loves ordinary people felt during those uncertain times and also brings into sharp focus how ordinary scousers and members of the forces land, sea and air coped with day to day living.

The play will be performed at the Concert Room, St. George’s Hall from the 24-27 May and tickets are priced at £14 with concessions at £12.  Tickets can be obtained via Tourist Information Centres at St. George’s Hall – tel 0151 225 6909, The Albert Dock Liverpool or at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.  We really do need everyone’s support for this production and we usually donate post show to The Fire Services charity in memory of those personnel of the AFS and those who lost their lives fighting fires during the Blitz.  The cast of 15 and production crew are honoured to be involved in remembering such important times.  Any questions, Alan will be happy to answer – tel 0151 922 2922.


I wonder if they’ll come tonight…

Fay Street Air Raid Shelter | 1939
Graftan Street Air Raid Shelter Damage | May 1941
Air Raid Shelters at Victoria Square Tenements
Holborn Street Air Raid Shelter | 1942
Reading Street Air Raid Shelter | 1941
St. George's Plateau Air Raid Shelter | 1948
William Brown Street Air Raid Shelter | 1944

I wonder if they’ll come to-night!
The round moon rolls in silvery light,
No sound throbs on the windless air.

For, though I tremble to confess,
I never feel more cheerfulness
Than when the German raiders fly
Like bees across the cloudless sky.
And neither pity, pain, nor terror
Will ever wean me from my error.

For oh, to hear the mad guns go,
And watch the starry night aglow
With radiance of crackling fires
And the white searchlight’s quivering spires!
For sure, such splendour doth assuage
The very cannon of its rage!

My neighbour plays a violin,
Shredding sweet silver down the din
And songs for fears to dwindle in.

But the houses shake; and the dogs wake.
They growl, they bark for warrior joy,
And seek the airmen to annoy.

Up go their tails into the air,
They gnash their teeth, and their eyes glare.
But on those cruel raiders sail,
Regardless of each quivering tail.

And one gun has a booming note,
Another has a cold in throat;
And some are mellow, and some hoarse,
And some sound sobbing with remorse;
Quite four or five ring musical,
And others very keen to kill.

You’d say that twenty champagne corks
Were popping in the city walks.
You’d say that drunken men in scores
Were smashing glass and slamming doors.
You’d say a twanging banjo string
Had snapped in twain with hammering.
You’d say that wild orchestral fellows
Were banging God’s Throne with their cellos.
A wail, a crash, like steel trays falling,
And a wind upon the Common–calling.

And over us a sound of humming
–Of hornets or bad bees a-bumming!
A devilish, strident, hoarse, discordant
Whirring of dark fliers mordant.
My soul stands still and sweats with fear.

But the Heavenly stars, all shimmering,
Dance in a giddy whirl and sing.
And other stars, of the Earth, shake sheer
From the mouths of the black guns thundering.

‘Tis like some ruining harmony
I heard in Berlin on the Spree
The day they played the Valkyrie.

Kind Heaven will comfort my wracked wits
Before I’m blown to little bits.

Poem by Herbert Edward Palmer
Photographs courtesy of Liverpool Records Office


Merseyside Fire Service Museum at LB70!

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

We are very grateful to Danny Murphy and all other members of the Merseyside Fire Service Museum who gave up their time to bring their 1940s Fire Engines into Liverpool City Centre as part of the 70th Anniversary Blitz Commemorations…

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

merseyside fire service museum liverpool blitz

All photographs courtesy of Victoria Phipps Photography


Blitz Anniversary Veterans’ Parade

The organisers of the Liverpool Blitz 70! event invited all Liverpool’s veterans of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to walk alongside veterans of the Blitz on Merseyside on the morning of Saturday 30th April to mark the 70th anniversary of the May Blitz.  Our objective was to bring the old and the young together in memory of those who lost their lives on the Home Front in 1940 and 1941.

A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” – Robert Heinlein

All photographs courtesy of Victoria Phipps Photography

liverpool blitz 70 parade

The City of Liverpool Pipe and Drums Band led the contingent through Liverpool City Centre.

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

Crowds gathered to watch as veterans and dignitaries prepared to lay wreaths  in memory of those lost during the Blitz on Merseyside.

liverpool blitz 70 parade

liverpool blitz 70 parade

A minutes silence was observed at 11am and broken by the sound of the air raid siren ‘all clear‘; a sound which will have brought back memories for so many.

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, the Mayor of Wirral, Chindit veteran George Main and Normandy veteran Albert Dillow all laid wreaths to honour those who lost their lives 70 years ago.  George Main lost friends and was injured during a bomb raid on Liverpool and was taken to Clatterbridge for treatment.

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

Liverpool veteran, Craig Lumberg, lost his sight during the Iraq conflict.  He was proud to lay a wreath in memory of the Blitz casualties of his hometown.

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

WWII veteran Larry Taylor laid a wreath on behalf of the Royal Air Force Association Northwest.

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

Comedian Stan Boardman laid a wreath in particular memory of his older brother, Tommy, who was killed whilst the family were sheltering during an air raid on the Wirral.

liverpool blitz 70 wreath laying

Mary and James McCartney met in Liverpool during an air raid in 1940… she was a nurse & midwife and he worked as an inspector at an engineering works which manufactured shell cases.  He also volunteered as a fireman by night.  They married in April 1941 and had two sons shortly after: Paul and Michael.  If it hadn’t been for the Blitz they might never have met and the course of music history might have been dramatically different.  So on the 70th anniversary of the May Blitz, Mike McCartney laid a wreath on behalf of both McCartney boys.

liverpool blitz 70 winston churchill

Derek Herbert concluded the opening ceremony by addressing the veterans and reciting an extract from Winston Churchill’s famous VE Day speech…


Liverpool Cathedral Blitz Memorial Service 18th May

A date for your diaries…

A service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the May Blitz will be held at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Wednesday 18 May 2011.  All members of the public are welcome.
Arrival: 7:00 pm Service: 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm

This service recalls the events of 70 years ago when Liverpool and Bootle suffered sustained damage during the May Blitz.  It will include an act of remembrance, reflects on the years of reconstruction and reconciliation since the War years, and looks forward with hope to the future.

The preacher will be the Dean of Liverpool and others taking part include the Lord Mayor of Liverpool and the Mayor of Sefton.

Admission to the Cathedral, Car Park, and Service is FREE

For further details please contact Canon Myles Davies by telephone on 0151 702 7203 or email

liverpool anglican cathedral 1937
During the Blitz on Merseyside the Anglican Cathedral was still under construction, but became the tallest building in the City by its completion in 1978.
Events Press

Liverpool Blitz 70! in the Press

Liverpool’s favourite newspapers, the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post, both featured an article about our opening ceremony on Saturday 30th April…

LB70! liverpool echo

LB70! Daily Post

Thanks to both papers for their support!