Tag Archives: world war II


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… http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/


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.


The George Formby Story!

Born and raised in the northwest of England, George Formby was a well loved singer-songwriter and comedian.  Remembered fondly for playing the banjo ukulele or banjolele and as a singer of light, comical songs, he became a popular star of stage and screen.  Between 1934 and 1945 Formby was widely recognised as the top comedian in British cinema.

George Formby

Formby endeared himself to his audiences with his cheeky Lancashire humour and folksy northern persona.  In film and on stage, he generally adopted the character of an honest, good-hearted but accident-prone innocent using the phrases: “It’s turned out nice again!” as an opening line; “Ooh, mother!” when escaping from trouble; and a timid “Never touched me!” after losing a fistfight.

Formby appeared in the 1937 Royal Variety Performance and entertained troops with Entertainments National Service Association in Europe and North Africa during World War II.  He received an OBE in 1946. His most popular film, still regarded as probably his best, is the espionage comedy ‘Let George Do It‘, in which he is a member of a concert party, takes the wrong ship by mistake during a blackout, and finds himself in Norway (mistaking Bergen for Blackpool) as a secret agent.  In one dream sequence he punches Hitler on the nose and addresses him as a “windbag“.

We are delighted that local performer, Derek Herbert, will be sharing his “George Formby Story” each day at the Liverpool Blitz 70! event on the Church Street stage.

Derek’s entertaining verbal and musical tribute act to George Formby includes a light-hearted talk on his life, self-accompanied by both ukulele and ukulele-banjo, during which Derek encourages audience participation. An accomplished singer and musician, Derek studied drama and music at the renowned Crane Studios in Liverpool and has a wealth of musical theatre experience.


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.

Personal Accounts

The Story of Joan Jackson

Joan Jackson lived on Raffles Road, Birkenhead with her parents and younger sister when war was declared in 1939.  She has very kindly shared her memories of the Blitz with us…

Joan Jackson and Deryck Fairhurst
Joan Jackson and D-Day veteran, Deryck Fairhurst, at Normandy with D-Day Revisited June 2009

We had numerous bombing raids over Merseyside, but the first one I remember was in 1940 around Christmas.  I would have been 16 years old at the time.  One day, after tea my mother had decided to ice and decorate some christmas cakes (she was a confectioner), when suddenly the air raid siren started to wail.  We all made our way to the air raid shelter in the back garden.  My parents had made it quite comfortable with a mattress on bricks, cups and saucers, biscuits, candles, torches and games… it had to be relatively comfortable as you never knew how long you’d have to spend in there!

As the war progressed we used the shelter more often and when the raids became more frequent we spent most nights in there.  In early 1942 a huge raid was in progress and our road received a direct hit which destroyed several houses and seriously damaged many others, including ours.  I remember my little sister was very distressed.  It sounds silly now, but I distinctly recall saying to her, “Don’t cry Barbara, it’s only a bomb!”

The damage to our house proved beyond repair and the family was forced to split up.  My parents went to Holt and I moved to Upton where I started my training to become a nurse.