Monthly Archives: February 2011


Wartime Fashion

High waist lines, headscarves, vertical lines drawn with eye pencil down the back of the leg, carefully curled hair, long painted nails and red lipstick… in 1941 the bombs were falling, the city was burning but the women of Liverpool were going to work to do their bit and keeping their morale up (and everyone else’s) by looking their best!

Wartime 1940s Fashion

Wartime Fashion

However, with women being called up to work for the war effort in factories and fields, the style of clothes inevitably became more practical.  So dawned the era of utility fashion.  The government took over the control of all imported raw material including cloth.  Utility clothing was produced towards the end of 1941 to aid the economy and help the war effort.

Clothes had to be designed and made from Government patterns so that the clothes were simple, plain and practical – and, most importantly, did not waste fabric.  Garments were not allowed to have fancy pleats, hem allowances were minimal, and only a few functional fastenings were allowed as decoration.  Many women wore their pre-war jewelery to accessories the plain utility garments and add a touch of individual style.

CC41 World War II

The Civilian Clothing 41 label was placed onto a garment to show it was made to conforms to the strict government clothing regulations.

1940s austerity at home dress

1940s austerity daytime parties

1940s austerity town suit

1940s austerity evening wear

Clothes were rationed during the war.  In 1941 individuals were awarded just 66 points for clothing per year.  By 1945 the amount of coupons per person was reduced to just 24!  To give an idea of what this meant… in 1945, an overcoat (wool and fully lined) used 18 coupons; a man’s suit used approximately 28; men’s shoes 9, women’s shoes 7; woollen dress 11.  Children aged 14–16 received 20 more coupons.  Clothing rationing points could be used for wool, cotton and household textiles. People had extra points for work clothes, such as overalls for factory work.

As a result the government launched a “make do and mend” campaign.  The aim was to encourage people to take good care of their clothes and mend them when they became worn, rather than throw them away and buy new ones.

ew and save poster

Production of silk and nylon stockings ceased altogether in Britain in 1940.  Materials were in short supply and silk was needed to make parachutes for the Armed Forces.

1940s silk stockings

Due to the rarity of stockings, they were a desirable commodity and the small supply available on the black market were very highly sort after.  When the american soldiers arrived in Britain they often used gifts such as stockings, which were in plentiful supply over the pond, to endear themselves to the local girls.  However many women chose to use a variety of different methods to make their bare legs up to look like they wear wearing stockings…

wwii stocking shortage

Other fashion items which became popular on the home front were the wedge sole shoe, the turban, the siren suit and the kangaroo cloak. The turban equalised people of all classes. It began as a simple safety device to prevent the wearer’s hair entangling in factory machinery. It doubled as a disguise for unkempt hair which women had less time to attend to being so busy running homes, working and giving extra help wherever they could.

1940s wwii utility fashion

Women made the best of a bad situation and despite such drastic restrictions on clothing and fabric they made every effort to keep standards high, taking pride in their appearance as much as possible.


WANTED. Pre-war vintage cars for static display in Liverpool City Centre!

Along with the static Spitfire, military memorabilia and vehicles, we are looking for pre-1941 civilian cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles to go on display in Liverpool City Centre over the bank holiday weekend 30th April to 2nd May!  All cars will be on static display 10:00 – 18:00 each day on Williamson Square, Church Street & Whitechapel, and owners are encouraged to get into the spirit of the event and wear 1940s dress.  Remember it’s all for a good cause!!

Attendees needn’t commit to the whole weekend but for those attending two or three days, Queens Square Car Park is kindly offering a discounted rate for secure overnight parking.

We have already had a great deal of interest and a list of vehicles has been compiled, but we still have space for more so if you own a pre-1941 vintage car and would like to register to join in for one, two or all three days please get in touch stating your name, your vehicle and which days you would like to attend.

austin 7 ruby

austin forlite saloon

jaguar advertisement

If you don’t own a beautiful pre-1941 vehicle, no problem, nor do we!  Come along, bring the family and enjoy the fantastic display over the weekend!


Liverpool at War

History Personal Accounts

The Sinking of the Benares

The SS City of Benares was a steam passenger ship built for Ellerman Lines by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow in 1936.  On 13th September 1940 she departed Liverpool bound for Canada.  On board were 90 evacuee children, who were being relocated as part of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) plan to take British children abroad away from the effects of the Blitz.

Just four days after leaving Liverpool, the Benares was torpedoed by a german U-boat in the Atlantic with heavy loss of life.

city of benares postcard
A pre-war post card of City of Benares' produced by the Ellerman Line

city of benares

Once hit, the ship quickly took on a list preventing many of the lifeboats from being launched and trapping many passengers and crew members below deck.  She sank within thirty minutes.

Mary Cornish was a music teacher responsible for a group of children traveling aboard the Benares and saw the shocked reaction of those aboard when the ship was hit.  Many passengers believed the adjacent ships would pick them up, but the ships’ officers were under strict admiralty orders not to attempt rescue work once their escort had left if it involved risk to themselves.  The U-boat was still lurking nearby.  As the minutes passed so the sea became more violent.  Still many hoped for a rescue which never came.

Those who managed to survive the sinking of the ship, were then left struggling in the water trying to clamber aboard the few lifeboats.  With the nearest allied ships 300 miles away, many more people drowned or died of exposure in the 24 hours it took for help to arrive.

A Mrs. Bech from Bognor Regis was traveling to Canada with her 3 children: Barbara, Sonia and Derek.  Sonia Bech remembers the moment the torpedo hit, “I remember a thud and being woken up by my sister Barbara and automatically getting into my duffle coat and putting on socks and sandals and of course carrying my life jacket. There was a sinister atmosphere along the corridors up to the Muster Station in the lounge and I remember an odd smell in the air. The next few minutes are still very vivid in my memory and are like a long bad dream.

How I reached the tiny raft beneath I will never understand. When I got onto the raft I remember thinking we were laying very close to the ship’s side and I thought we would be sucked under when she actually sank. By some fantastic good luck a strong man was in the water at that minute and he pulled the raft out of danger.  I believe his name was Mr. Davis: he certainly saved our lives.

Eric Davis was amongst the first survivors to be spotted by HMS Hurricane the following day, clinging to a small raft along with one other man, John McGlashen, and 6-year old Jack Keeley.

raft with survivors of the city of benares

Derek Bech, aged 9, recalls, “Some of the children were killed in the explosion, some were trapped in their cabins, and the rest died when the lifeboats were launched incorrectly and children were just tipped into the sea.  All I can remember were the screams and cries for help.  It was one of the worst disasters at sea concerning children, and it should always be remembered.

Barbara Bech managed to make it onto a lifeboat after the ship was hit, whereas Sonia, Derek and her Mother only survived by clinging onto a tiny raft in the freezing, rough seas… “The long dreary night clinging to the top of the raft seemed endless, but I remember falling off the raft and obviously my head went under the foaming water for a moment and I felt a tremendous peace and a sense of great light.  Then I was hauled back on the raft by the sailor and felt very shivery.  After many hours Mummy said “Sonia, let us take off our life belt and go to sleep in the water”; and I was very insistent that we waited a little longer.  It was not long after this that we saw the sail of Mr. Lewis’s lifeboat from S.S. Marina.  He was the second person who saved our lives that night.  I believe his lifeboat was already very full, but he managed to steer towards us through the rough seas, a notable feat in such conditions.  We were hauled aboard and revived with rum and Nestle’s Milk.

Fortunately all four members of the Bech family survived the horrific ordeal and were picked up by HMS Hurricane on 18th September.

city of benares survivors
Left to right: Sonia Bech, Colin R. Richardson and Derek Bech safe on dry land

Dr Peter Collinson was the Medical Officer on board the destroyer HMS Hurricane.  He remembers what state the survivors were in when they were finally rescued, “All survivors were suffering from severe exposure, and varying degrees of shock, being physically and emotionally exhausted.  Some were dehydrated and most were suffering from bruised and sprained bodies, limbs, and suspected fractures.  Several had severe swollen legs due to prolonged exposure to sea water, the so called ‘Immersion Feet’.  Three little boys could not be revived in spite of the valiant efforts of the Petty Officers’ Mess at artificial resuscitation.  They were later given a full Naval Burial by the Captain.

City of Benares survivors
Survivors safe aboard HMS Hurricane

Lifeboat 12, under the charge of the unflappable scottish 4th Officer Ronnie Cooper, was the last to be lowered from the sinking ship and so was very overcrowded.  The 46 survivors aboard lifeboat 12, including 6 boys, were not picked up until 9 days after the Benares had been sunk.  On Sunday 22nd September the next of kin of all the children aboard the lost lifeboat were informed of their death.

As the days passed and no help came, those on board lifeboat 12 settled into a routine.  Father O’Sullivan said prayers and rations were allocated twice a day.  Mary Cornish was also aboard lifeboat 12 and kept the boys entertained with thrilling stories of lone exploits against villains and Nazis and survival against all odds.  She massaged their cramped limbs and feet.  They all baled but could not clear the few inches of water in the bottom of the boat.  Then they began to hallucinate.  11-year-old Fred Steels from Eastleigh was one of the six boys on this lifeboat and remembers, “we were virtually out of water and food, what was left the crew in the stern were giving to us kids.  They tried to collect any rainwater they could on the sails, but the trouble is as soon as it hit the sail it was salt, so we couldn’t use it.

On Wednesday September 25th, their eighth day in the boat, the survivors aboard lifeboat 12 saw a speck in the sky which, fortunately, was an R.A.A.F. plane – a Sunderland flying boat.  They waved frantically and soon it turned towards them but had insufficient fuel to rescue them.  It signalled, “Help coming“.  Airborne for many hours on escort duties, it was sheer chance the Sunderland’s  return route took them within sight of the lifeboat.  They were thrilled to realise they were looking at 46 survivors of the Benares.

city of benares lifeboat 12

HMS Anthony dropped out of convoy to rescue lifeboat 12 and on Thursday 26th September the 46 survivors were at last on dry land.  Ronnie Cooper, assistant steward George Purvis and Mary
Cornish were all decorated for bravery.

mary cornish and peter collinson city of benares
Mary Cornish and Dr Peter Collinson

12-year-old Derek Capel and the other boys on lifeboat 12 were weak, thirsty, starving and frostbitten when they were rescued, but he will always remember the warmth of the welcome they received in Glasgow, “We came into Gourock, then on to Greenock and they put us to bed and we didn’t think any more of it.  But the next day they picked us up to take us to Glasgow and there were crowds of people.  We thought ‘what do they want?’  Then we realised that we were headline news.

Derek had been traveling with his 5-year-old brother, Alan, who he had lost when the ship sank, “I kept asking about my brother, but nobody could tell me anything and that was so worrying.”  It wasn’t until a reunion in 1982 that Derek found out Alan had been rescued after the ship sank but, along with two other little boys, died from exposure aboard HMS Hurricane.

city of benares survivors 4
Left to right: Ken Sparks, Derek Capel and Fred Steels having survived 8 days adrift on lifeboat 12

In total, 248 of the 406 people on board, including the master, the commodore, three staff members, 121 crew members and 134 passengers were lost.  77 of the 90 children on board the City of Benares tragically lost their lives, resulting in the complete abandonment of further overseas evacuation plans.  The U-boat responsible had moved its searchlight over the area where the Benares had sunk and knew there were survivors, but made no effort to rescue them.  The total disregard for the plight of the survivors horrified the civilised world.


Blitz-themed Sunday Lunch at the Adelphi!

To mark the 70th Anniversary of the May Blitz, the Adelphi Hotel – once considered to be one of the finest hotels in the world – is holding two Blitz-themed Sunday Lunch on the 1st and 2nd of May at 12:30pm.  The hotel is generously donating 10% of all ticket sales to our veterans’ charities.

Tickets are on sale now!  Call 0151 709 7200 to make your booking.

blitz themed lunch adelphi hotel liverpool

The world famous Adelphi Hotel was for many years the most popular hotel in Liverpool; recognised amongst the most luxurious in Europe.

The Adelphi plays an integral role in the city’s history; it was Liverpool’s arrival and departure point for passengers traveling on the great liners across the Atlantic to America and beyond.  The Sefton Suite is in fact a replica of the first class smoking lounge on the ill fated “Titanic“.  If walls could speak, no doubt those in the Adelphi Hotel would have many fascinating tales to tell!

adelphi hotel liverpool

Fortunately the Blitz left the Adelphi Hotel fairly well intact and like most places the Adelphi remained open for business throughout the Blitz, showing a determined spirit of endurance.  Sadly many buildings surrounding this grand hotel, such as Lewis’s department store just over the road, were badly damaged by the bombing…

adelphi hotel liverpool blitz


Survival of the Liver Birds

Atop each tower of the Liver Building stand the mythical Liver Birds.  Popular legend has it that while one giant bird looks out over the city to protect its people, the other looks out to sea to observe the ships coming in to port.  An alternative theory claims one Liver Bird is male, looking inland to see if the pubs are open, whilst the other is female, looking out to sea to see if there are any handsome sailors coming up the river!  Perhaps more significantly, the third legend states if one of the birds were to fly away the city of Liverpool would cease to exist.

Whichever legend you prefer, there’s no denying the Liver Birds have become an important symbol of the City of Liverpool.

During World War II the Royal Liver Building, at 90m, was the tallest building in Liverpool and given it’s waterfront position at the Pier Head it seemed inevitable the building would be targeted during the Blitz.  As well as industrial areas, the Luftwaffe were keen to target buildings of heritage in an attempt to break British morale.  If the Liver Birds were destroyed, what would it mean for Liverpool?

liver building night 1936

Thankfully, despite widespread destruction around the Three Graces, all three spectacular buildings survived the Blitz on Liverpool and the Liver Birds remained a symbol of the city’s strength and perseverance.  This year the Liver Birds celebrate their 100th birthday!

Personal Accounts

The Story of Harold Newgass

In the very early hours of November 29th 1940 a parachute mine landed on the Garston Gas Works.  It was not known whether the mine or bomb in the 4,000,000 cubic feet holder tank was magnetic, acoustic, delayed action or just a plain “dud”.  Therefore fearing it might detonate at any time, the authorities evacuated 6000 people living in the vicinity to escape what would have been an almost unimaginable explosion.

At 7.30am fitters, electricians, plumbers and others were at work disconnecting electrically driven blowers from other plants, rigging them into position on the holder tank and preparing the fire pump to draw water out.  These high-risk tasks were carried out by willing volunteers.  As the exact location of the mine was unknown, risks had to be taken.  First the fans were started up and nothing happened, then the motor pump, and still no explosion.  The men who had assembled the gear were withdrawn.  The Liverpool Fire Brigade arrived and put a pump to work, the water was taken down 5’ 6” to uncover part of the “dumping”, a brick faced island inside the holder.  This achieved, the air inside the holder tank was no longer considered explosive and means of access were considered.

Fans and pumps were stopped and the job was handed over to Lieutenant Newgass of the bomb disposal unit.  Then aged 41, Newgass was a veteran of the Great War and hailed from London.

lieutenant harold newgass-garston gas works

Donning oxygen apparatus which only lasted thirty minutes apiece, Lieutenant Newgass entered the holder tank.  He lashed the parachute ring of the mine to the top of the pillar against which it was leaning, and passed a lashing round the nose.  Unfortunately the fuse was facing the pillar so a special hoisting lug was affixed and the mine was carefully turned round with a “tommy bar”.  This was a great physical effort for one man working under immense pressure and wearing oxygen apparatus for the first time.

For two days Newgass battled to defuse the mine.  On 30th November the fuse, the magnetic primer and the clocks were all removed.  Newgass was then able to report that although the detonator was still in, the mine could be considered safe.

Garston employers then entered the holder and uncoupled the lashing.  The mine, which in size and appearance resembled a tug boat funnel, was pulled over on its side, dragged across the “dumping” to a position under the hole on the crown and lifted out by block and tackle.  It was then placed on the back of a lorry and driven away.

It is certain that had the mine be detonated, the whole of Garston Works, along with much neighbouring property, would have been completely destroyed in the blast.  Lieutenant Newgass was awarded the George Cross, the highest civil decoration available.  Local newsagent and tobacconist, Miss Connie Elliot of St. Mary’s Road, started a public collection for the mine disposal squad, resulting in generous gifts being presented on behalf of the grateful people of Garston.

The way in which the ordinary man responded to this dangerous incident by selflessly placing themselves at grave risk in order to keep many more thousands of people safe, was hailed as a great example of the blitz spirit.


The Tragedy of Durning Road

The direct hit on a shelter in Durning Road, Edge Hill, was the worst single incident in the Liverpool Blitz as regards to loss of life.  This occurred in the early hours of 29th November 1940, during the heaviest air raid to date.

Approximately 300 people were tightly packed into the shelter in the basement of the Ernest Brown Junior Instructional Centre in Durning Road, Edge Hill.  It was the boiler room, chosen because it had a reinforced ceiling with metal girders running across it.  It would have been a safe enough place if bombs fell nearby, but it could not withstand a direct hit.

When a parachute mine hit the three-storey building, it collapsed into the shelter below, crushing many of its occupants.   Boiling water from the central heating system and gas from fractured mains poured in.  Raging fires overhead also made rescue work extremely dangerous.  In all, 166 men, women and children were killed and many more were seriously injured.

Durning Road Blitz tragedy Liverpool

Durning Road Blitz tragedy Liverpool

ARP wardens, firemen and volunteers worked tirelessly to recover survivors.  It took two days to pull the bodies out from the shelter and in the end, with fear of disease rampant, the body parts which had not been recovered were covered with lime and the basement was sealed.  The horror devastated the tight-knit community around Edge Hill.  One lady, a Mrs. Lucas, lost four children in the tragedy and did not speak for six months afterwards.

Winston Churchill later called it “the worst single (civilian) incident of the war“.