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16 October 2014
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WWII - Belfast Blitz. My most memorable Easter

Personal memories by Ruth McCart.

Greater Belfast

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Luftwaffe bombers over Belfast 1941
Luftwaffe bombers over Belfast 1941

Easter Tuesday 1941, school was closed for the Easter holiday and children were free to play all day at the various street games which were so popular at that time. No one I knew went away for holidays at Easter and especially not now when war was raging throughout Europe.

I had played during the afternoon with my friend Fred Graham who lived in the next street. We used a bat and peg, which had been crudely fashioned from pieces of wood. The game was called Piggy and Stick. People who are younger than I am may never have heard of this game so I will explain how it was played. The Piggy was a small piece of wood sharpened at both ends, while the bat was rather like a baseball bat. The piggy was placed on the ground and the sharpened end was hit with the bat. When it jumped, the player then had to hit it and send it as far away from base as possible. The score was counted on how many lengths of the bat the piggy was from base. Fred and I were well into our game when I disagreed with his counting and accused him of cheating. We had a row and vowed never to play with each other again. We couldn't possibly have known how prophetic that vow was to be.

Belfast Blitz, 1941
I have no recollection of the rest of that day. It must have been as uneventful as any other day. Suddenly in my memory it is the middle of the night. I am wakened by a cacophony of sounds. The air raid siren wailing, the steady drone of aircraft overhead and the relentless thunder of heavy gunfire.

Above all this noise my mother is screaming at us children to hurry and get dressed. In the midst of the panic and fear and in total darkness I manage to take off my nightdress, but I cannot find any of my clothes. I hear a long, high-pitched whistling sound which grows louder and louder and then the most tremendous explosion. The windows smash, the ceilings fall, my chest hurts, I cannot breathe, my mouth, nose and eyes are full of dirt and grit and I am still naked.

Belfast Blitz, 1941
Then we are all crying and calling out to each other in the dark and trying to scramble our way out of the rubble that had, minutes before, been our home. The street is carpeted with broken glass, rubble, and broken furniture. The skeletons of our homes are silhouetted against the night sky, which is lit by searchlights, exploding shells, moonlight and burning buildings. There is a river of fire flowing along the street.

Could this be the Hell that they talked about in Sunday school? (I was told many years later that it was in fact the spirits from the local bar, which were burning.) Everywhere I look there are people screaming and calling the names of those they cannot find. They look like minstrels with their soot-blackened faces. Someone gives me a pair of boy's boots and a jacket they have found amidst the rubble. What a relief, I am no longer naked.

In confusion and terror, everyone who could, crowded into the local school, which, although now without windows and doors, offered the protection of walls and a roof. The rest of that terrible night was spent cowering under a school desk, listening to the screeching whistles of the bombs as they rained down. I remember being given an elastic band and being told if I kept chewing it my mouth would not be so dry.

Belfast Blitz, 1941
Eventually the noise lessened, the planes left, the guns ceased their roaring and morning came. I emerged into a totally changed world. Everything familiar was gone. There was a pall of smoke rising from the still burning buildings, motes of soot and dust danced in the morning sunlight. The huge balloons which were in some obscure way supposed to protect us from air attack were now in tatters, shining and glinting in large silver swathes from the overhead lines like some grotesque decoration. Everyone seemed to be looking for missing relatives including my mother who eventually found my four year old brother whom someone had carried to safety while she carried my baby sister.


My playmate Fred and all his family were dead.


I cannot remember how we, as a family, got to the holding centre from whence we were evacuated to Newtownards for a short time - nor do I remember how we travelled to Portadown where we were to live with distant relatives for one glorious summer and autumn. It was there I discovered the delights of living in "the country", a magical place where milk, butter and eggs came from the farm, not the shop, and apples came from the trees and not from a box. But that is another story.

YOUR RESPONSES

Darren - Dec '07
My mother and her entire family (Kilpatrick) were buried alive when their home in Mossville Street (next to Heather Street in Belfast) was flattened during the blitz. Luckily they all survived with minor cuts and bruises. Hundreds of people were not so fortunate .

Moreen Zachariasen - Oct '06
During the war I grew up on the Cregagh Road on the outskirts of Belfast, and my Dad was an Air Raid Warden. Every night, practically, when the siren would go off, my Dad would grab his helmet and gas mask and leave the house to go where bombs had fallen. Although we were all in "strict blackout", my mother would go to our gate and call anyone within earshot (those who were fleeing to the hills for refuge), into our house where she'd make them tea to calm them down. Her wonderful spirit worked wonders and people would not forget her even years later. My brother Trevor, and our friends, would play in bomb craters and we'd save pieces of shrapnel!

I especially remember my Dad coming home at 7:00 am, exhausted and blackened after an "all-nighter". It was when the docks had had a direct hit, and in our backyard was a charred page from a ship's bible, which clearly read "fear not, little flock"! I will always remember that!

I live in Connecticut, USA, now, and my brother lives in New York City, but dear Belfast will always be considered home.

Margaret John - April '06
My mother's family were sheltering under the stairs (she had left in 1939 to marry my father) my grandfather was buried alive and my uncle and my aunt's boyfriend both died that night. I am seeking more information about the extent of the damage!

Norman J. Hannigan - June '05
I was in the process of recalling some memories of my parents This year Dad will have been dead 50 years and my mother 30 years and it also 60 years that the war ended. I happened to google on this site because I too was writing about the war years as a process of remembering them and I was 5 during the blitz. We lived off the Donegall Rd and fortunately we never received a direct hit. Though some streets less than 1/2 mile away did get direct hits. I recall the searchlights and the enemy planes that were transfixed in their crossing. We huddled under the staircase as a token protection against the bombs. Where were you living Ruth at that time? Thank you for the privilege of writing to you about this. I am writing this on a very hot day in Texas. I came here in 1960. So sorry that you lost your playmate Fred. We too traveled to the "country" for us that was Beragh to stay with our relatives. Best regards

 

Other Blitz memories

"A couple of comrades and myself were in a sandbag emplacement, where we had only one weapon against the entire overhead enemy, a single (WW1) Lewis machine-gun....."     

Francis Johnston writes about A young soldier's experience'

Many more Blitz memories....

 


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