Wartime views of the May Blitz

090LordP

An image showing the impact the May Blitz had on Liverpool. This was the view from near the Victoria Monument, with Lord Street on the left.

When studying history it is often easy to fall into the trap of reading reports and sources with hindsight. For example I know that by the 8th May 1941 the “May Blitz” was effectively over, as indeed was the worst of the raids on the region (there were others after May, but nothing like as severe as that week). The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) would soon undergo a massive redeployment in preparation for the campaigns in the Balkans and Russia, and in general raids against the British isles tended to taper off in comparison to the height of the Blitz on London or other cities.

For those living on Merseyside at the time however they knew nothing of the sort, all they knew was that their city or town was being battered night after night, with no sign by the 8th that there was any respite on the horizon. It is worth remembering that although the raids on Merseyside were often sproadic, it had been ten months since the air raids began, thousands of people had lost their lives, thousands more had been injured and many more were homeless. It would be hard to find anyone who had come through the period without the air raids impacting on their life in some major way.

With this in mind the following exchange makes for interesting reading. It comes from the Home Security Information files, which were a series of incident reports, collated regionally to monitor the impact of the air raids (or other incidents such as ships sinking) on each area. They were usually compiled daily, although if a raid was going on, several reports would be sent during the night providing updates.

The first letter is from Sir Harry Haig, who I believe was Regional Commissioner and normally based in Manchester. During the May Blitz he came to Liverpool to see for himself the impact of the raids and try to co-ordinate the region’s efforts. I have been unable to identify who Sir George Carter was, perhaps he was Sir Harry Haig’s superior.

8th May 1941

From Sir Harry Haig

To Sir George Carter

1) Bootle

Attack on Bootle last night was extremely heavy and devastation was tremendous. Fire situation reasonably in hand. Water fairly good, no gas. Problem of homeless is very grave, it is estimated there are 20,000 homeless. Only one rest centre out of twelve is left, and people refuse to use rest centres in the town. No billeting possible.

Facilities are being offered to genuine homeless to be taken out to rest centres in towns at some distance. The nearer belt of rest centres is already filled by nightly evacuees whose number last night rose to about 13,000 from Liverpool and Bootle. We are considering possibility of establishing camps for workers and their families in comparatively near localities, but this will take some days. Bootle authorities functioning well, but people seriously shaken. Food situation being met by mobile canteens, labour adequate.

2) Liverpool

Liverpool suffered comparatively little last night. I found traffic situation very bad this morning and sent at once for General Hatcherley to try to concert with Chief Constable adequate measures.

Although it is obviously incomplete, concentrating mostly on Bootle rather than the region as a whole, here we have in black and white what a responsible member of the authorities thought of the raids and their impact. It is quite clear that he views the situation as very serious, and is concerned that existing methods of helping people (rest centres, temporary evacuation to other towns etc) was not sufficient. The fact that they were considering “camps for workers” suggests that Sir Harry felt it was entirely possible that the raids would continue and that appropriate counter measures should be considered.

Sir George’s reply is just as interesting:

8th May 1941

To Sir George Gater

 From Sir Harry Haig

1) My message 17:45: Arrangements have been made to take out genuine homeless to rest centres at St Helens, Wigan and other places, but so far numbers registering in Bootle are many fewer than expected, and may be only about twelve hundred.

2) Consideration is being given to problem of billeting homeless at reasonable distances. Military are prepared to surrender certain billets. If we could get Huyton Camp from which enemy aliens have almost all been removed, it would be very useful.

3) I do not like nightly evacuation which seems to be growing, from Scotland Road area in particular.

4) Your message through Scholes about Liverpool traffic: I have discussed with Atcherley, chief constable and transport commissioner. Problem arises owing to fact that normal line of communication between North and South Docks is completely blocked. It is hoped to have one street on this route opened tomorrow, which should relieve situation considerably. Chief Constable is also tightening up greatly restriction on private cars entering this congested area, which is unfortunately the business centre. To go further and prohibit private cars entering this area would require an order from the ministry of transport and this is not considered necessary in present conditions

5) Liverpool figures of dead for seven nights as at present reported are 1140, of which 850 on big night.

6) I omitted to mention in my message of 17:45 that Army are lending field kitchens for Bootle

Sir George doesn’t seem as concerned, playing down the numbers of people who have been made homeless, but still recognising that it may be necessary to look into areas further afield to house the homeless. This again suggests that the authorities were at least preparing for the idea that the raids were not finished, and if more came, the existing, already over taxed local provisions would be unable to cope.

His remark about nightly evacuations is interesting, since although the authorities frowned upon them, many people, especially those living in areas with poor shelter provision would have felt safer in the countryside or a town such as Prescot or Huyton (which were bombed, but nowhere near as badly as Bootle or Liverpool). It should be appreciated however that such evacuations either put a strain on the transport system (if the daytime workers sought to return the next day) or reduced the workforce and hindered the region’s recovery.

The Huyton Camp reference is about a part of the Huyton area (around Bluebell Lane) that was fenced off and for a time used to house interned German, Austrian and Italian nationals who were living in the UK at the outbreak of the war. Most of them had left the camp by this time, and it would close in 1942. It consisted of a largely finished housing estate and was one of the largest internment camps in the country.

The files provide an interesting insight into how the authorities viewed the May Blitz and its impact. If you want to see some examples of what they look like, they are available at the link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/sets/72157633678542236/

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