Tag Archives: world war II

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…

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

Events

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

Events

Welsh Dragon Spitfire over the River Mersey!

The organisers are very excited to be able to include the Welsh Dragon Spitfire in this weekend’s programme of displays and celebratory entertainment.  At 14:30 on Saturday 30th April this original 1940s fighter plane will perform a dramatic display above the famous River Mersey!

welsh dragon spitfire display river mersey

Privately owned by Anthony Hodgson, Spitfire PT462 was built at the Vickers Supermarine Castle Bromwich factory.  This Mark IX aircraft is judged by many to be the best of all.  PT462 was delivered to RAF Colerne in Wiltshire in July 1944, serving in action with 253 Squadron.  After war service in France, Yugoslavia and Italy, PT462 was sold in 1952 to the Israeli Air Force.  Converted into a two-seater during rebuild, this Spitfire took to the air once again in 1987 and was purchased by Anthony ten years later.

Anthony learned to fly at Liverpool Airport in the 1970s and operates from a sloping grass airstrip at Bryn Gwyn Bach near Denbigh.

welsh dragon spitfire display river mersey liverpool

Such historic flights are rare, with few remaining Spitfires in airworthy condition.  Event Organisers express gratitude on behalf of the people of Liverpool for helpful assistance from the CAA and Liverpool John Lennon Airport for regulatory approval.

Quite a crowd is expected along the Liverpool waterfront.  Weather permitting, the Liver Birds will hear the roar of that Merlin engine as the 67 year old Spitfire pays its own tribute to the May Blitz and the Spirit of Liverpool.

History

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.

Events

Introducing Northern Forties!

Northern Forties are a British 1940s re-enactment group with a mixture of civilians and military personnel.  The group consists of a number of like-minded individuals who have lots of fun dressing up in wartime period clothing and their members come from as far afield as Harrogate in Yorkshire, across to Lincolnshire and Norwich to the east, Conway in North Wales and Northamptonshire in the South Midlands.  The Liverpool Blitz 70 organisers are very pleased to have over 20 members of the group taking part in our 70th anniversary event!

northern forties

Northern Forties will be based on Williamson Square for the duration of the event, representing a broad range of civilian and military persons who each had their own role to play in the war effort.  Visitors will find members of the RAF, Royal Navy and Army, as well as evacuees and Land Army girls. Some may even catch a glimpse of a downed Heinkel Bomber Pilot having been apprehended by the Police!

WW2 anniversary northern forties

History

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?

History

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.