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My Memory

Anthony F. Cruikshank, 82, from Wavertree has sent in his memories of the Air Raids in Liverpool from the Second World War. They were e-mailed to us by his daughter.

My first experience of the blitz was Christmas 1940.
They came over on Dec 22nd at about 8p.m. and hammered Liverpool all night.

I had just come home from the army in Northern Ireland, where it had been peaceful as regards air raids and Mum sent me out to the brick air raid shelter, which had been built on our back yard. (I lived in Wyatt street Liverpool 4, then) I was crouched there, quite terrified, listening to the "crump" of the bombs and the noise of the ack ack guns, as they fired at the aircraft in a token show of defiance.
Suddenly, the shelter seemed to lift off, and we heard a sudden "whoosh" of air. We knew a bomb had dropped close by.
Next morning we found that a school and a church in the next road had suffered a direct hit.
I had lost a couple of friends who had been fire watching on the church steps.
 I was devastated.  

Where his house should have been  there was nothing but crumbled brickwork.
I saw a pair of shoes sticking out, which I knew were his.

Between then and May 1941, we had sporadic raids.
But then Hitler and Goering decided to go for the jugular vein.

Because Liverpool was the main gateway for food supplies etc. and also housed Western Approaches Personnel, who were responsible for planning our naval warfare, we experienced a week of hell that was quite horrible and tragic.  

On the night of May 3rd, 1941, I had, ironically, been to see a film called "Torrid Zone" with James Cagney. I came home and went to bed.
At about 11.30p.m. the Air Raid warning siren went. I dressed and went to St. John's Church, Fountains Road, where I was on Fire Watch duty.

The night became a nightmare of droning bombers, exploding bombs and gunfire. Searchlights probed the sky. We were terrified.

At about 2a.m. some incendiary bombs dropped in the Church, but with a combination of sand and stirrup pump, we managed to douse them, before too much damage was done.

About 5a.m. I decided to see how my brother and his family, who lived nearby, were faring. I picked my way cautiously through lots of debris and rubble, until I came to his street, where I was met by an eerie silence.
Where his house should have been  there was nothing but crumbled brickwork.
I saw a pair of shoes sticking out, which I knew were his.
I staggered over to Stanley hospital to try and get some news and was met by  a heart rending sight. Injured and dying people were everywhere. No beds or stretchers were left, so many lay on doors.

Suddenly, the shelter seemed to lift off, and we heard a sudden "whoosh" of air.
We knew a bomb had dropped close by.

A priest from St John's  was giving the Last Rites, and offering what comfort he could. Father Park made enquiries for me, but the news was not good. My brother was indeed dead, and also his 8year old son. His wife and other children were injured, but would recover.  

I stumbled out and made my way home, through the continuous bombing and parachute mines dropping slowly. I could see planes swooping low and  firing at the searchlights to put them out of action. I got home eventually by a very roundabout route, as my own street had been bombed , causing much loss of life.

Thankfully my family was safe, but the house was much damaged. However, my other brother's wife had also been killed, he was away in the navy. My mother shed bitter tears for her son, but made her way through the devestation, to the hospital to see for herself.  

On Sunday May 4th, I was serving 11a.m. Mass, when an unexploded bomb went off outside. Such was the state of peoples nerves', that everyone screamed and made to run out.
The young Priest saying Mass turned round on th Altar and roared
"Stay where you are! Nothing can harm you. You are in God's House!"
That Priest quelled a panic.
The Parish Priest came back to the Presbytery, heartbroken by what he had seen, and collapsed and died saying,
"Thank God St.John's was spared. Pray for the Vicar of St. Ath's whose Church has been destroyed."  

That Sunday was terrible. At the nearby railway siding an ammunition train had been hit and all day long the sound of explosions echoed, houses shook  and in  a radio shop, acid accumulators exploded and fires burned fiercely all around.

There was a marvellous side effect to all the suffering however.

People were helping each other to patch up their homes , sharing food and offering consolation.  
The grim task of digging up bodies out of the ruins went on all day, with all the men helping the official reserve workers and every now and then calling for complete silence  whilst they strove to pin point exactly where an injured person was buried.  
Those nights of bombing and death of loved ones, had clearly affected peoples' morale, and so it became a normal sight to see lorries and carts, full of people and belongings, making their way along Walton Road, out to the countryside of Fazackerly and Aintree. There they were prepared to sleep in the fields rather than face the horrors of more bombings. They had taken so much, physically, psychologically and emotionally.  

The night became a nightmare of droning bombers, exploding bombs and gunfire. Searchlights probed the sky.
We were terrified.

The ironic thing about these heavy raids is that the next morning on the radio the announcer would laconically mention that there had been "some penetration of our defences by enemy aircraft causing some damage and a few casualties" when in fact there had been enormous injuries, loss of life and much devestation of property.

The centre of Liverpool alone had been completely razed, from the Pierhead right down to Whitechapel and fires everywhere were burning for a week afterwards.

I suppose the communiques had to be misleading, so as not to give the enemy too much to gloat about. But the fact remains that the traumatised people of Liverpool were dangerously near to capitulation. After that terrible week, life managed to go on amidst all the patching up. People were to be admired for the way they managed to get to work, often walking when there was no transport.  

Talking of transport, my Dad was a tram driver. He experienced a very sad event during this time, which had a deep effect on him. Whenever he was driving his tram during a raid he always tried to drop his passengers off at a convenient air raid shelter before driving back to the depot. One particularly bad raid that week, he dropped them off at a shelter underneath a school. The next morning he heard that this school had taken a direct hit and everyone had perished, about 200. Many had been scalded when pipes burst.
My Dad was devastated.
Later on they had to brick the place up and leave the bodies entombed.

"Stay where you are! Nothing can harm you. You are in God's House!"
That Priest quelled a panic.

 Gradually, as the months passed, the raids died away.  Hitler turned his attention to London and the South, sending over murderous flying bombs that were pilotless and would drop anywhere, causing awful damage and death.Fortunately their range did not extend to Liverpool and so, gradually we were able to lick our wounds and try to re-order our shattered lives.   

Eventually we were able to mount a second front and invade France, gaining victory over Hitler. But to this day I will never ever forget the great personal sorrow and the human tragedy that the people of Liverpool endured to make that victory possible.  

Anthony F. Cruikshank 


Read other memories of the Blitz in Liverpool:

"I was more afraid of a mouse than I was of the raids!"
Doreen Smith

 
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