Category Archives: History


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


Liverpool’s Chinese Community during the Blitz

This is a guest article by Francesca Aiken, Assistant Exhibition Curator for Global City


Seventy years ago this month, a devastating aerial bombardment struck Liverpool, ending lives, demolishing homes and displacing whole communities. It is in tribute to “the spirit of an unconquered people” that Liverpool’s Anglo-Chinese community were part of the effort to keep calm and carry on, piecing back together not just buildings but homes and livelihoods.

Pitt Street, 1915, shaped by tall converted warehouse buildings and cobbled streets, stretches out under the constant watch of St Michaels Church spire, busy with dozens of Chinese businesses, from boarding houses to grocers and tobacconists. This was the birthplace of Liverpool’s Chinese community, the destination for seamen from all over the world including Spain, the Philippines, Italy, the West Indies and Scandinavia – to name just a few. To the people who lived and grew up there, this was ‘world’s end.’ Pitt Street was the place to go, bustling with shops and cafes all within easy reach of the docks. Kwong Shang Lung was one of the city’s earliest grocers to specialise in Chinese food, trading from 1915 until the bombs fell in 1941.

During the Second World War the local population swelled to take on thousands of seamen working for Britain’s war effort, including up to 20,000 Chinese seafarers – risking their lives on Merchant Navy convoys. Pitt Street became a comfort zone for thousands of transient seamen to while away their two weeks of shore leave, and for the many resident Chinese to manage Liverpool life with their partners and children.

14 Pitt Street Liverpool 1941
Image courtesy of Maria Lin Wong

Elsie Kuloi was just six years old when Edward Chambré Hardman stopped to photograph her as she perched on an anonymous Pitt Street step. The family lived on Dickinson Street, and when the war came, their top floor flat was less than desirable when the sirens sounded. Elsie and sister Lan, then in their teens, were not evacuated but would go with their parents to stay at a neighbours on the ground floor. Out of curiosity Lan stayed behind, only to witness St Michaels Church take a direct hit from an incendiary bomb. She watched it fall, streaking down to earth and was terrified by what she saw. Hundreds were killed in Pitt Street and Cleveland Square alone, including 30 people at 14 Pitt Street, next door to where Kwong Shang Lung served his customers.

At the end of Pitt Street was a large open area called Cleveland Square where the RAF would inflate an enormous barrage balloon to ward off dive bombers and force enemy aircraft to fly higher into anti-aircraft fire. By 1940 there were 1400 similar balloons across the UK and the spectacle of watching it being lifted above its tether of thick metal cable was something the whole street came out to see. Barrage balloons however could not prevent bombs falling from higher up in the sky and in May 1941 Cleveland Square and Pitt Street were levelled to the ground. Merseyside was stunned by the loss of life and the enormous fissures of wasteland now riddling the city centre.

Similar to the famous “bombed out church” just round the corner, the spire of St Michaels survived a direct hit on the surrounding buildings and, what took German bombers minutes to destroy, took the City Council days to pull down completely. To many this was an even greater tragedy for the community. Built in 1816 at a cost to local parishioners, St Michaels was a part of local life which dominated the Pitt Street skyline. Today the congregation survives, meeting regularly at St Michael in the City, on the spot where Pitt Street once thrived. The whole area is now given over to quiet residential streets, semis and bungalows.

Instead of dispersal, the old Anglo-Chinese community shifted, making Nelson Street the new centre of activity. As early as 1944 proposals began to surface for a new Chinatown development, as architect C Z Chen stated regarding a permanent focal point for the 486 Chinese born residents:

“The idea behind it was to express the community spirit – one big family. It would not mean the segregation of the Chinese, for an attractive Chinatown would encourage visits from their English friends and would help strengthen Anglo-Chinese friendship”

This early Anglo-Chinese community, probably the oldest of its kind in Europe, was rocked further by repatriation events in 1946, where a combination of slashed wages and Home Office trickery forced or coerced many Chinese seamen to leave. Some, not knowing they had the right to stay, had homes, partners and children in Liverpool. At least 200 were ‘rounded up’ in night time raids. In the ‘50s, it was their children who played in the ruins of old Pitt Street. In the 1970s, despite the arrival of families from Hong Kong, the area was again unsettled by City Council demolition programmes and many early 19th century buildings that had survived the war turned to rubble.

What exists today in Nelson Street is the legacy of that early community, with the children of those first Anglo-Chinese families still meeting round the corner in what would have been Pitt Street. The strong Chinese character of that early global community is now firmly established within Liverpool with the regeneration of a Chinatown district in the 1990s after decades of slow decline. The Chinese Imperial Arch, the largest of its kind outside mainland China, is a proud symbol of the growth of the Liverpool Chinese community from those uncertain days in May 1941 and marks the entrance to an area once home to seafarers from all over the world.

East meets West – The Story of Shanghai and Liverpool opens in the Global City Gallery, part of the new Museum of Liverpool, on July 19th.


Keep Calm and Carry On!

There were eighty air raids on Merseyside in total, with an especially concentrated series of raids in May 1941; the May Blitz.  The Corn Exchange which had stood on Fenwick Street for over 130 years was destroyed during the night of 2nd/3rd May. The bombs left only the entrance standing.  When traders next arrived at work they found their offices had been flattened.

Blitz Corn Exchange

Blitz Street Business Liverpool

Undeterred, they first conducted their business as best they could on the street, later moving to local coffee houses so they could continue trading more comfortably.  This situation was not unusual; the civilian population learned to be flexible and roll with the punches in order to keep Liverpool working, but it wasn’t easy…

world museum liverpool
Blitzed galleries at the World Museum Liverpool
6 May 1941 Church Street Bookshop
An independent bookshop is obliterated on Church Street 6th May 1941
Blitz Church Street Liverpool
A wider view on the same Church Street facade - notice the bookshop in the lower right corner
Blitz LMS Good Station Caryl St
Employees recover what they can from the LMS Good Station on Caryl Street
street meeting liverpool blitz
Officials conduct their meeting in the street surrounded by rubble
Blitz Uni Eng
University of Liverpool Department of Engineering
Blitz Wallasey Town Hall
The Interior of Wallasey Town Hall after an air raid
nelsonst-byringst bootle cotton warehouse
A cotton warehouse on the corner of Nelson Street and Byring Street, Bootle
princes st bakery liverpool 1940
Princes Street Bakery in Bootle 1940
scotland road 1940
Men work to clear the bomb damage on Scotland Road 1940

Could you carry on in the face of such devastation?  If you arrived at your place of work to find it had disappeared overnight, would you be able to Keep Calm and Carry On?


Churchill visits Liverpool

Having declared that his greatest fear was that the western ports of Liverpool and Glasgow might be disrupted, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the City of Liverpool on 25th April 1941, just days before the most intense week of Luftwaffe bombing began.

winston churchill visits liverpool april 1941

Churchill understood that Liverpool was Britain’s lifeline; her strongest connection with the free world.  The Battle of the Atlantic was coordinated from the Combined Operations Headquarters at Derby House, Liverpool.  Essential civilian and military supplies were brought into Liverpool through the convoy system, and the entire Mersey waterfront was vitally important for naval repairs and shipbuilding.  For these reasons, Liverpool was a primary target for the German bombers and Churchill was keen to boost the morale of the war weary Liverpudlian people.

In May 1941, Winston Churchill famously said of Liverpool

I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see the spirit of an unconquered people.


Women at War!

Charming video courtesy of Blitz and Peaces


Bombing of the Co-op Shelter, Bootle

After a long week of round the clock bombing, the sirens sounded again on the night of 7th May 1941, warning civilians of yet another attack on Bootle.  On Stanley Road, locals made their way to the air raid shelter in the basement of the Co-operative Store at number 340.  People rushed through the entrance of the Lancashire and Cheshire Billiards Hall next door, on the corner of Ash Street and Stanley Road, to gain access.  As usual families carried bundles of bedding, food and drinks with them as they didn’t know how long the raid would last.

By the time the bombers were flying over Liverpool, the Co-op shelter was full to capacity.  A high explosive hit the building blowing out the front wall and the upper floors collapsed onto those sheltering beneath.  Survivors climbed through the emergency escape hatches around the shelter’s perimeter.  It was recorded that some escaped by using the tunnels which led to Little Strand Road opposite.

stanley road co-op shelter
Junction of Stanley Road and Little Strand Road after the High Explosive bomb hit

Sadly many tragically lost their lives in this shelter.  It is said the basement was limed and sealed, which was often the preferred course of action to prevent the spread of disease.  Later the bodies were exhumed and taken to the temporary mortuary in the gymnasium at the Marsh Lane Baths.

marsh lane baths gymnasium
The Marsh Lane Baths Gymnasium became a temporary mortuary in 1941

The following night the gymnasium building received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb and was raised to the ground by fire.  At the time it held 180 corpses awaiting burial and 40 of these were never identified, including several who had been killed in the Co-op shelter.  The remains were later buried in a communal grave at Bootle cemetery.

In 1988 the Ash Street Tenants and Residents Association erected a plaque in memory of the victims of the Co-op bombing in a memorial garden near the site of the tragedy.  In 2009 the memorial garden was restored and re-dedicated as a fitting tribute from local people in memory of those who died…

ash street war memorial

Many thanks go to Anthony Hogan for his major contribution to this article.  His website is a fantastic resource for anybody interested in learning more about what life was like in Liverpool during the Blitz…


The Bombing of Mill Road Hospital

Mill Road Hospital was originally built by the West Derby Union Board of Guardians as a workhouse for the sick and poor, but by 1891 it had been renamed Mill Road Infirmary.  It remained a general hospital until the Second World War when during the Blitz it was vital in treating those injured in the bombing raids across the city.

mill road hospital liverpool
Photograph courtesy of Liverpool Records Office
mill road maternity hospital
Photograph courtesy of Liverpool Records Office

On 3rd May 1941 the hospital itself fell victim to the german bombing.  The maternity ward was hit killing many mothers and their new babies…

Alice Rafferty, 26, wife of Francis Rafferty was killed along with her 2 day old daughter Joan.

Amy Lilian Davies, daughter of William Davies of 54 Gaerwen Street, was killed aged 21 along with her 1 day old son Brian.

Hugh Knox of West Derby lost his wife Grace, 25, and his son Hugh, aged 7 days, when the bomb landed on the Hospital.

Charles and Mary O’Brien were told their daughter Norah, 27, and their grandson John, just 3 days old, had both been killed at Mill Road.

Private Lawrence Foy of the Pioneer Corps lost his wife Edith at the tender age of 23, along with his newborn son, Lawrence.

At just 19 years of age, Joyce Honour Bell lost her life along with her 7 day old baby Susan.

mill road hospital blitz
Photograph courtesy of Liverpool Records Office

The ward adjacent was full of wounded soldiers, but amazingly none of them were hurt.  A number of medics and nurses were reportedly killed whilst operating on a man who miraculously survived.  Several drivers were killed in the ambulance room, along with many other members of staff and patients.  Three of the ward blocks were totally destroyed.

mill road hospital blitz
Photograph courtesy of Liverpool Records Office

mill road hospital liverpool blitz

The building was declared unsafe after the bombing and Mill Road patients had to be transferred to Broadgreen Hospital where 610 beds were made available.  An untiring effort was made to rescue survivors and one nurse was found alive after 12 hours.  Then the grim task of bringing out the dead began.  It became clear that several of the bodies could not be recovered and so military soldiers were brought in to fill the area in question with lime cement.  Approximately 80 people were killed at Mill Road in May 1941, although the true figure is likely much higher.

Leonard Findlay had been appointed Hospital Superintendent in 1937.  He received the George Medal for bravery during the German Air Raids on Liverpool in May 1941.

Gertrude Riding started work at Mill Road in 1910 and was Matron for 21 years until her retirement in 1948.  After the raid in question she is said to have worked tirelessly to rescue an Auxiliary Nurse and a Chaplain who had been trapped beneath the debris, despite having injured her eye which she later lost.  Gertrude was awarded the OBE for her services during the war.

Many thanks go to Anthony Hogan for his major contribution to this article.  His website is a fantastic resource for anybody interested in learning more about what life was like in Liverpool during the Blitz…


Note from the Liverpool Blitz 70! Event Organisers:

The term “celebration” does not sit comfortably with the Organisers of the Liverpool Blitz 70 event.  Learning of this tragic loss of life at Mill Road Hospital makes clear in one’s mind the importance of quiet reflection and tribute to those who were killed long before their time 70 years ago.  However, the spirit of selflessness in a time of crisis and panic demonstrated by Gertrude Riding and Leonard Finlay is very deserving of celebration.  We the British people are still very keen and capable of this willingness to put others before ourselves when they are in need of help… we all heard similar stories of selflessness quite recently in the aftermath of the July bombings of 2005.

The “Blitz Spirit” is a term coined during an era when there was much opportunity amidst the devastation for British people to help one another and demonstrate what defiant stuff we are made of, but it still applies today.  Time is all that separates us from the people talked about in stories and anecdotes from the Home Front in 1941… they were just like you and I, going about their day to day business and trying to make the best of every situation.  Let us be inspired by their courage and generosity to each other.


Explosion of the SS Malakand

It was the strategic importance of the docks which made Liverpool such an important target for the Luftwaffe.  Liverpool was the main port for convoys crossing the Atlantic from the free world.

Throughout the Second World War the Mersey was full of all kinds of ships, both military and merchant.  Vital food supplies came in to Britain through Liverpool so if the port could be closed, Britain might starve.  As well as bombs, mines were parachuted into the Mersey to disrupt shipping.  These, as well as unexploded bombs, caused great disruption long after the bombers had left Merseyside’s skies.

Built in 1919, the SS Malakand cargo liner was part of the Brocklebank shipping line, named after the Malakand area of the Indian sub-continent.

ss malakand

On the worst night of the Blitz on Liverpool, 3rd May 1941, SS Malakand, loaded with a thousand tons of munitions, caught fire, blew up and obliterated the Huskisson Dock.  It is thought that a drifting barrage balloon landed on the deck and burst into flames.

Pieces of the ship were blasted over two miles away causing even further damage to the Overhead Railway.  Half the docks were temporarily put out of action as a result of the destruction caused by the blast.  Thousands of dock workers, troops and volunteers were involved in the clear up.  Miraculously, considering the size of the blast, only four people were killed.

huskisson dock

ss malakand huskisson dock damage

By the end of the 1941 Blitz, 69 out of 144 cargo berths were closed.  There were serious losses of ships, food and fuel.  Had the May bombing continued for just a few more nights, the docks could have been totally disabled.

To read the story of the only fireman to lose their lives in the fight to put out the fire at Huskisson Dock, click here.