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.

3 Comments

  • September 18, 2016 - 22:26 | Permalink

    Having lived through the Mersyside Blitz as a boy, and knowing the history of the Malakand explosion, I was interested in reading recently, the story of Mr. Gallagher who was killed on that.

    My cousin John Murray was a member of the AFS and on duty at the dock checking the water pumps to make sure they were still pumping water into the ship which was stil burning.

    I recall that during the days after the explosion, his wife scoured the Merseyside hospitals looking for her missing husband, until she eventually found him in Stanley Hospital where he had been laying unconscious for some time.

    A few years after the incident, John related to me, that all he remembered of the incident was walking down between the sheds towards the ship when there was a sudden blinding, purple flash and he felt a blast of hot air lifting him off his feet and throwing him backwards.

    He was lucky enough to escape from more serious injuries than broken bones, cuts and severe bruising. One such injury left him with an arm, shoulder and wrist injury which would not allow for flexibility of the wrist and elbow joints.

    In the years after the war, he enjoyed a full and happy life with his wife and several children at his home in Orrell Lane, Bootle.

    Joseph Murray,
    a Bootle boy during the Blitz, and now living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  • September 18, 2016 - 22:32 | Permalink

    Having lived through the Mersyside Blitz as a boy, and knowing the history of the Malakand explosion, I was interested in reading recently, the story of Mr. Gallagher who was killed on that occasion.

    My cousin John Murray was a member of the AFS and on duty at the dock checking the water pumps to make sure they were still pumping water into the ship which was stil burning.

    I recall that during the days after the explosion, his wife scoured the Merseyside hospitals looking for her missing husband, until she eventually found him in Stanley Hospital where he had been laying unconscious for some time.

    A few years after the incident, John related to me, that all he remembered of the incident was walking down between the sheds towards the ship when there was a sudden blinding, purple flash and he felt a blast of hot air lifting him off his feet and throwing him backwards.

    He was lucky enough to escape from more serious injuries than broken bones, cuts and severe bruising. One such injury left him with an arm, shoulder and wrist injury which would not allow for flexibility of the wrist and elbow joints.

    In the years after the war, he enjoyed a full and happy life with his wife and several children at his home in Orrell Lane, Bootle.

    Joseph Murray,
    a Bootle boy during the Blitz, and now living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  • September 18, 2016 - 22:34 | Permalink

    Having lived through the Mersyside Blitz as a boy, and knowing the history of the Malakand explosion, I was interested in reading recently, the story of Mr. Gallagher who was killed.

    My cousin John Murray was a member of the AFS and on duty at the dock checking the water pumps to make sure they were still pumping water into the ship which was stil burning.

    I recall that during the days after the explosion, his wife scoured the Merseyside hospitals looking for her missing husband, until she eventually found him in Stanley Hospital where he had been laying unconscious for some time.

    A few years after the incident, John related to me, that all he remembered of the incident was walking down between the sheds towards the ship when there was a sudden blinding, purple flash and he felt a blast of hot air lifting him off his feet and throwing him backwards.

    He was lucky enough to escape from more serious injuries than broken bones, cuts and severe bruising. One such injury left him with an arm, shoulder and wrist injury which would not allow for flexibility of the wrist and elbow joints.

    In the years after the war, he enjoyed a full and happy life with his wife and several children at his home in Orrell Lane, Bootle.

    Joseph Murray,
    a Bootle boy during the Blitz, and now living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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