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15 October 2014
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The Blitz and Ballymacarrett

by Holywood Arches Library

Contributed by 
Holywood Arches Library
People in story: 
Reverend Moses Andrew Thompson and Alexander Irwin Thompson
Location of story: 
Belfast
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A3347345
Contributed on: 
30 November 2004

Thorndyke Street

Belfast in its early days was a small town at the junction of the Farsett and Lagan rivers. With the Industrial Revolution much of the development was on the Co. Down side of the Lagan in the former village of Ballymacarratt and a large proportion of the incomers were Presbyterians which led to an increase in the number of Presbyterian Churches. Shipbuilding, an aircraft factory, a large ropeworks and several linen mills, made Ballymacarratt a prime target for enemy bombers.
This story is centred on “Second Ballymacarratt”. That was its name when it was established in 1867 but by 1871 it was known as Mountpottinger Presbyterian Church. It is situated on Castlereagh Street, some 150yards from FIRST Ballymacarratt. My father, Rev. M. A. Thompson, was the third Minister (1925-1953); I was born a couple of months after he was installed.

As I remember it there were three major Air raids on Belfast; the ”Easter Raid”, with heavy loss of life in the North of the City; the “Dock Raid”; and “The Fire Raid”, which took out much of the City centre.

My mother’s sister and her two children lived in Waterloo Park. and, this being in the Northern part of the city, the day following the Easter raid there was naturally some concern as to how they had fared. But the telephone lines were dead and there was no Public Transport, so it fell to me and my bicycle to try to make contact with them. Because of the debris generally and one huge bomb crater at the bottom of East Bridge Street, the journey was as much pushing as cycling. Even for a hardened teenager, to view the devastation in the area of Carlisle Circus and Duncairn Gardens was a dreadful experience, and it is still vivid in my memory. (As to my aunt and cousins, although they had lost windows from a nearby explosion, they had suffered no injury).

The photograph is reproduced from “Bombs on Belfast”, a publication of W. & G. Baird, which appeared later in the Summer of 1941. The setting is Thorndyke Street, a very short distance from our Church. My father had a parishioner family there and we are standing alongside the site of their house, but just before the photographer arrived, the ARP Warden (with respirator on chest) had assured us that the family had evacuated some time before the raid. In the picture we are standing on the remnants of a street Air Raid Shelter. The bomb had actually fallen among the houses in the background of the picture, but the shelter had been badly built and so was demolished, the reinforced concrete roof crushing all eleven people inside.

Mountpottinger Church is flanked on the North side by Upper Frank Street, and the morning after the Docks raid it was found that the house opposite the back corner of the church building contained a bomb which had not detonated. My father was called to open the doors at the back of the church halls on the supposition that this would minimise the effects of any explosion. The bomb did detonate; and all the windows on the North side were shattered! The Local Authority workers put up roofing felt while the Thompson family plus two church members cleaned up inside. Next Sunday there was a morning service only (total attendance 13) held in a “dim religious light”!

In those days the Manse was No. 80 North Road. It very nearly got a touch too. That was during the “Fire Raid”. A stick of incendiary bombs caught Ballyhackamore, and fires were started in the licensed premises at the corner of Holland Drive (next morning our Latin Master bemoaned the demise of “Jinny Ilwood’s Pib”), the Parochial Hall of St. Columbkille’s Chapel, and No.179 Upper Newtownards Road. The last of the stick fell on the footpath right in front of our Hall Door; had it been left to burn itself out it would have done insignificant damage, but I, foolishly, braved the AA shrapnel, to sandbag it; at least the remains did provide a souvenir, albeit a totally incongruous one!, for our china cabinet.

There were sequels to the other two incidents. The windows that were lost were plain obscure glass so that bomb did the church a good turn, because shortly after the war’s end rather splendid stained glass replacements were installed as a War Memorial. There is also a plaque nearby recording the names of those who served in the Armed Forces among them A. Thompson. (I joined in1944 and after a bitter Winter in Catterick on a long technical training course, served in India (where a “friendly” colleague nearly ended my military career when he discharged his rifle through my hair!), and in 1946 volunteered to join the Occupation Forces in Japan.

The other sequel relates to 1991. Tullycarnet library mounted an exhibition commemorating the Blitz and one day going forward to “Books In” I was confronted by a life-size reproduction of myself in Thorndyke Street! I mentioned this to my ”Fourball” later that day. Immediately one of them warned me not to mention it to
his wife. Her mother, sister and aunt were all killed in the Air Raid Shelter! (All concerned are now dead.)

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