Tag Archives: may blitz


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.


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… http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/


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.


Burning the Matchy

Originally opened in 1896 as Diamond Matchworks, this huge factory was taken over by Bryant and May in 1901.  The Bryant and May Diamond Match Factory, known locally as the “Matchy”, on Linacre Lane, Litherland became one of the biggest match manufacturing operations in Europe and had the reputation of being one of the best employers in the area.

bryant and may matchworks litheland 1920

On 8th May 1941 it was in full production, by the following morning it was a heap of rubble and twisted metal.  The fire and glow from the burning factory could be seen in the night sky from twenty miles away in North Wales.  This well-known photograph shows the smouldering ruins of the ‘Matchy’ after the Luftwaffe May Blitz of 1941…

bryant and may factory 1941

To increase the water being directed onto the blazing factory, the canal was used as an auxiliary water supply to fight the blazing fires.  The level of the canal was recorded as dropping by 2 feet.

bryant and may -1941

The factory never re-opened as a result of the devastating damage inflicted on the night of the 3rd May 1941 and hundreds of workers lost their jobs.


Liverpool One 70 years ago

This aerial photograph was taken by RAF reconnaissance on 11th June 1941.  It shows clearly the severity of the bomb damage in Liverpool City Centre.  The Albert dock and Three Graces can be seen to the left of the image and the sheer devastation of the area around Paradise Street is all too obvious.

liverpool docks blitz damage 1941
© (NMR RAF/13H/UK789 110) English Heritage (NMR) RAF photography
paradise street blitz
Blitz damage on Paradise Street 1941
lord street blitz
Blitz damage on Lord Street 1941

For over 60 years after the May Blitz, the authorities struggled to find a valuable use for this once prosperous area of central Liverpool, with much of it left abandoned as wasteland.  It wasn’t until very recently when it was redeveloped as the Liverpool One Shopping District, that this area found a useful identity once again.


The Terror of the Heinkel Bombers

The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter in the early 1930s in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  Often described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing“, it masqueraded as a transport aircraft, but its purpose was to provide the Luftwaffe with a fast medium bomber.

heinkel bomber

Perhaps the best-recognised german bomber due to its distinctive “greenhouse” nose, the Heinkel was the most numerous and the primary Luftwaffe bomber during the early stages of World War II, until the dog fights of the Battle of Britain exposed its weaknesses; its poor maneuverability, weak defensive armament and relatively low speed.  Sadly, there were too few fighter planes available to defend Liverpool in the air and so the Heinkel bombers were free to undertake the intense attack on the city in May 1941 with little risk of interference from the RAF…

681 Luftwaffe Heinkel and Dornier bombers took part in the May Blitz on Liverpool; 2,315 high explosive bombs and 119 other explosives such as incendiaries were dropped indiscriminately on factories, ships, offices, warehouses, schools, businesses and homes.


Liverpool at War


The Sound of the Air Raid Siren

Air raid sirens first sounded the warning in London in September 1939 shortly after the outbreak of war with Germany.  During the May Blitz of 1941, the frightening sound of the air raid siren could be heard across Liverpool several times each day.

world war II air raid poster

The “Carter” air raid siren, manufactured by Gents of Leicestershire was used exclusively in Britain throughout World War II.  The sirens made a very loud and long signal or warning sound. For an alert, the siren sound pitch rose and fell alternately, whereas the “All Clear” was a continuous sound from the siren.

When people heard the siren they would stop what they were doing and make for shelter.  Shelters varied from underground stations, to smaller prefabricated Anderson and Morrison shelters.  If the bombing seemed light, many people preferred to stay in their homes under the stairs.  Government warning messages describing how best to react if the siren sounds, were broadcasted to the general public over the wireless and at the pictures.

Volunteer air raid precaution (ARP) wardens would protect civilians from the danger of air-raids as much as possible during a bomb attack; directing people to the nearest shelter and using their knowledge of the local area to help find and reunite family members who had been separated in the mad rush to escape the bombing.