Brougham Road

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The photograph above shows damage done to number 32 Brougham Road, Wallasey during the December Blitz. It has appeared in many books about the blitz on Merseyside and even appeared in the Daily Post on the 23rd December 1940. It is a fascinating image as it shows not just damage to the roadway, but also that the explosion has thrown a car up in the air, with it coming to rest upside down between the doorway and wall of number 32.

I included the photograph in my second book: Merseyside Blitzed with the usual direct comparison with the modern viewpoint below

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In keeping with a lot of my recent work though, I particularly wanted to get another modern photograph in order to create a ghost image (one where the modern and wartime photograph are merged). I managed this a short time ago, then posted the results to my Facebook author page and shared it with several groups. The response was very positive, especially on a group called Wallasey Memories (link below) where something quite amazing happened.

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First of all one of the members mentioned that they used to live at number 30, and recalled “the roof next door was never straight”. This was followed by Angela Cooper and Sandra Topping, sisters who lived at number 32 itself in the 1980s, when it was their family home.

A major contribution came soon after from Ken Clark, a fellow photographer who also does both “then and now” and ghost photos of the local area. It seems that this kind of work runs in the family, for Ken posted a slide with photographs originally taken by his uncle. Ken’s uncle served in the RAF during the war, and saw much of the damage first hand whilst on leave.

For many years he gave talks which included then and now photographs. When taking the post-war photos he would often speak to the current residents of the properties concerned, and if they agreed, include them in the photograph. His photograph of Brougham Road therefore included Sandra and Angela’s parents, Arnold & Betty Williams standing outside, who are sadly no longer with us.

Ken Uncle Comparison Ken Uncle original

It was a real pleasure to hear everyone’s connection to the photograph, and see how a few images can be very powerful, bringing together people around a common interest. It also allows even those unfamiliar with the property to gain an appreciation of the scale of damage that Wallasey suffered, and the unusual sights that people alive during the Blitz would have witnessed.

Wallasey memories group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/liberator31/

 

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Private Frederick Hopwood

Although not related to the Blitz, the following article is about an interesting aspect of local history. Written by me, it originally appeared in the quarterly newsletter for the friends of the Airborne Museum “Hartenstein”.

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The photograph above is of a field grave of a British soldier in the Netherlands during WW2 which has appeared in several publications about the fighting in Arnhem. Until now relatively little was known about the paratrooper who was buried there, beyond his name, army number and date he fell. This article will provide a snapshot of one of the brave airborne soldiers who took part in the Market Garden Campaign.

My own connection to the story came about purely by chance. I live on the Wirral, a peninsula near to Liverpool, Wales and Chester. As a keen hiker I often enjoy walking through the nearby villages and towns and on one of these trips came across the tiny village of Shotwick. Located on the Dee Estuary, only 8 miles from Chester, it has a wonderful old church, in the grounds of which was the war memorial below with six names. One of these names stood out as unusual since it listed the date and place of death, something not normally seen on British memorials.

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I noted down the details – “Frederick Walter Hopwood, killed in action at Arnhem, 18th September 1944” and decided to do some research when I got home. A quick internet search resulted in the photograph of Frederick’s field burial, along with information about where he had fallen. Strangely, the date on the war memorial contradicted the date on the field burial, which lead in turn to me wanting to find out much more about this man’s story.

One of the wreaths attached to the memorial included a dedication from “Sons Fred, Reg and surviving family members”. Through the Churchwarden I was able to contact Frederick’s family, eventually meeting his niece and having a long telephone conversation with his younger son. Their help and information was essential in compiling this article, as was support from a Dutch friend called Tom Timmermans who has also studied Frederick’s story and helped with some of the research.

Frederick was born on the 16th July 1917, the youngest of six children born to James and Emily Hopwood. In civilian life he worked as a train fireman at the local steelworks, a huge complex in the nearby town of Shotton which employed thousands of people and used more than 30 steam trains. Several members of his family also worked at the steelworks, as did many friends. The family lived at Bank Farm in Shotwick and worshipped at the church of St Michael’s in the village.

He enlisted in the army at Catterick Garrison on the 15th March 1940 and as was standard by then, signed up for “DOW” i.e. the duration of the war. At 5 feet 5 inches (165cm) he was shorter than average, but was also well built at 147lbs (67kg). He was also very athletic and enjoyed boxing.

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An early photo of Frederick in Uniform, probably taken shortly after joining up.

His initial service was with an anti-aircraft unit, with which he was posted to various locations, including Whiltley Bay in the North East of England. Whilst serving there he met a local girl called Mabel and they were soon married. Returning to Cheshire, the family moved to a house in nearby Mollington. On the 14th May 1943 his first son, also called Frederick was born.

The exact details of when and where he served prior to Arnhem are uncertain, but some information can be deduced from surviving letters and documents in the family’s possession. Many of these were in a wallet that was recovered from his body by a chaplain shortly after he was killed (more on this later).

A British Army African campaign booklet, along with an Algerian 5 Franc Note confirms that he served in the Tunisian campaign that followed the Allied landings in Operation Torch. He also possessed several Italian notes, at least one of which was printed by the Allies, showing that he must have also served in either Sicily, Italy, or both.

Putting these notes together with the fact that he served with 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment at Arnhem suggests that he was quite probably with the battalion since 1942, as it served in all of those places before being withdrawn to the United Kingdom in December 1943. Sadly his best friend, Reg Madeley was killed in Tunisia. Frederick’s second son, born two months after the battle of Arnhem would be named Reg in memory of that fallen friend.

Frederick Hopwood

A photograph of Frederick taken later in the war, probably in either Africa or Italy. On his right shoulder the jump wings that mark him out as a member of the Parachute Regiment can just be made out.

Along with the rest of 1st Airborne Division, Frederick’s battalion spent the next 9 months preparing for deployment in North West Europe. For Market Garden his unit dropped onto Drop Zone “X” at around 2pm on the 17th September 1944. After a brief delay whilst the battalion formed up, the troops moved off on their planned route to Arnhem. Named “Tiger” route, this would take it through Oosterbeek on the Utrechtseweg. Sadly this route would bring it into direct contact with a German blocking force under the command of SS Sturmbannfuhrer Sepp Krafft.

As the troops approached the junction of Utrechtseweg and Wofhezerweg they came under fire, initially from a self propelled flak gun and then from mortars and machine guns. What exactly happened to Frederick will probably never be known, but he almost certainly fell in this engagement. The damage to his wallet (seen below) and the documents within suggest that he was probably killed by a piece of shrapnel rather than a bullet. A chaplain recovered his belongings, keeping hold of them for most of the battle, no doubt hoping to return them to his next of kin.

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He was buried where he fell, his Lee Enfield rifle placed in the ground to mark the spot. The tide soon turned against the paratroopers though and as we all know, the division eventually had to be evacuated across the Rhine. Along with many others, the chaplain volunteered to stay with the wounded, but passed his collection of belongings onto a pilot who had been shot down earlier in the fighting. The pilot was one of those lucky enough to get across the river and back to Allied lines, so was able to pass the possessions back to Frederick’s battalion.

In addition to the wallet was Frederick’s red beret, the iconic symbol of his elite status as a British paratrooper. Two smaller items were his identity disc, which gave his name and army number and an unusual badge. Given the stylised wings it would be easy to assume this was some form of regimental cap badge, but none like it exists in the British Army. After an extensive search online using the three visible letters “G T W” it turned out to be a membership badge for the Transport and General Workers Union, an organisation Frederick probably joined whilst he was working at the Steel Works.

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The family knew none of this, as was usual during wartime since it was often difficult to obtain accurate casualty lists. Like many families, they received an initial notification from the War Office that he was listed as missing in action. In Frederick’s case this arrived in mid October 1944. Two months later they received his belongings in the post, the first real indication of his fate. They arrived on the very day that his second son was christened.

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Frederick’s grave in Oosterbeek Cemetery. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Tom Timmermans

Official notification of his death from the War Office was not sent until June 1945, presumably after his field burial had been located. The photograph of the field grave was taken by a German photographer and first appeared in Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung in November 1944. The photographer was probably in the area at the time to see where General Kussin had been ambushed and killed, since Frederick’s grave is only a short distance away.

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A modern view of the spot where Frederick Fell. The brick structure is a gate post for Hoog Oorsprong. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Tom Timmermans

For some reason the War Office recorded his death as occurring on the 18th September, which is unlikely as the battalion had moved further down Utrechtseweg by then. This official date was later used in formal documents, his grave in Oosterbeek Cemetery and on the War Memorial in Shotwick churchyard.

It is difficult for us to imagine how much of a shock Frederick’s death must have been to his family, friends and especially his young wife. Some indication of his popularity can be taken from the fact that his former colleagues at the Steelworks raised a total of £12.50 for Mabel and the children, a large sum in those days.

Like so many of his comrades in 1st Airborne Division he was eventually laid to rest in Oosterbeek Military Cemetery. His final resting pace is Plot 22, Row B, Grave 12. In 1966 Mabel remarried, but tragically died shortly after in a fire. Both sons are still alive and used to be regular visitors to the Arnhem area during the anniversary commemorations. They both speak very highly of the way that local people treat veterans, their families and the war graves.

The family are grateful for the opportunity to update Frederick’s story and make a wider audience aware of his sacrifice.

 

 

A Downed Bomber

I was recently contacted on Facebook by Phil Williams who asked me:

I have come across something you might be interested in. When I was a kid my dad got me a piece of a German bomber shot down after attacking Liverpool. It came from the Fort Perch Rock collection. It also came with some paperwork about the attack. Its all mixed up and a bit confused, but if you sit down and work it out its quite good.

Phil emailed me the various files, the first of which is a photograph of the piece itself.

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With a closer photograph of the information card

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As Phil says, the information is somewhat patchy and hard to put together, but helping matters somewhat were the following files that came with the above.

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These are not the easiest things to make out as Phil said in his email, but essentially they contain action reports for a number of RAF fighters that engaged the Luftwaffe bombers in the early evening of the 11th October 1940. Most of this action took place over Wales, with the first three enemy planes (those attacked by Yellow and Red sections) being brought down near the flight’s normal sweep area of Anglesey. Blue section however seems to have engaged enemy bombers much closer to Merseyside, and it is these two planes that are more interesting for the purposes of this article. Given that the approach route for Luftwaffe attacks on Merseyside passed over the North Wales coast though, it is quite probable that all of these planes were planning on attacking this region. Part of the third image also refers to the Germans loosing 5 bombers on that night – 3 of which match the losses to Red and Yellow sections, leaving one bomber listed as crashing on returning to Brest (Northern France) and the last plane recorded as lost “near Chester”

Turning to the details of the RAF reports, in summary we know that one of the planes was chased around Wirral and North Wales (where it dropped several bombs), before the fighters lost sight of it near Denbigh. The other was attacked near the Welsh coast around Prestatyn, had parts shot off its underside, and was last seen over Liverpool Bay.

The information card included with the piece tells us that the bomber was recovered at “Nant-y-Glyn village, about three miles from Ruthin” but this would appear to be a mispelling of Nantglyn, which is the only village nearby with that name. Given its proximity to Denbigh, this might lead us to conclude that the first bomber last seen in that area came down at Nantglyn, however the RAF pilots said she was last seen heading north from Denbigh (towards the coast), whereas Nantglyn is to the South West. Having already dropped several bombs and last been seen heading back on its usual route home, it seems unlikely that the Luftwaffe crew would have chosen to in effect turn around and fly back over land.

So this leaves the final plane, the one last seen over Liverpool Bay does it not? Not necessarily, although it is entirely possible that this is our plane. The reason for such doubt is connected to a follow up question Phil asked me: “Just as a side thought, do you have any info on damage caused that night ?”

The following is an extract from the Liverpool Police’s post-war summary of the blitz

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11/12 October 1940
City and North Docks attacked in first raid [from 18:38 to 19:49], severe damage South John Street, James Street, Redcross Street, Paradise Street, Hannover Street, South Castle Street. HE [High Explosive] on Alexandra and Langton Docks, causing serious damage to dock sheds, Harbour Master’s House and four ships.
Second raid [from 21:00 to 23:23] on Hill Street and Bankhall Street areas, damage to railway track and admiralty strores.

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The Fire Brigade records say much the same, albeit in less detail. I haven’t done a thorough check but I think about a dozen people were killed that night in Liverpool.

As you can probably tell, the attack on Liverpool that night was particularly heavy and would have involved a large number of enemy planes, any one of which may have been damaged by anti-aircraft fire or a night fighter and brought down over North Wales. The fighters in the action reports clearly encountered one small part of the raiding force, perhaps even its leading elements since the dogfights were largely over by the time the main raid was getting underway.

Phil is hoping to follow up the item more himself, for I imagine that the Fort Perch Rock Museum would have had a good reason for identifying the piece as part of a bomber brought down in that night’s raid. Whether it was – as the museum felt – one of the planes engaged by the RAF fighters in the late evening, or one of the bombers involved in the larger raid would be interesting to find out, so if I get any updates I will keep you posted.

William Oliver Tyers

Much of my research deals with facts and figures, through incident reports, statistics, photographs and archive records. I always try to remember that behind every casualty list there is a personal story, usually by its very nature of tragedy and loss. What may at first seem a relatively minor incident in which two or three people are killed, will not have seemed trivial to those who knew the victims, be they family or friends. It is with this in mind that I am always interested in trying to find the story behind the facts, and I’m always keen to hear from people who have a personal or family tale to tell about the Blitz.

This particular story relates to a gentleman called William Oliver Tyers

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Captain William Oliver Tyers (Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore)

Born in Nottingham in 1871, he had lived a fascinating life, including service for the Brocklebank Shipping Line. In 1914 he was captain of the SS Manipur for a return journey to Calcutta. Another man on board, John Hilton Davies, compiled a three volume diary of the journey, including photographs. Two volumes of the diary eventually came into the possession of Andrew Moore, who has done some sterling work in researching the people involved. You can see his website at the link below:

http://www.drewmog.co.uk/to-india-and-back—the-story-behind-the-books.html

Andrew is obviously keen to learn as much about the story as possible, so posted a photograph of William on Wallasey Memories, a Facebook group I am a member of. Knowing that William was a victim of the air raids on Wallasey I was asked by a fellow member to check whether I had any photographs of the incident. William lived at 54 Manor Road, Wallasey in 1940, which stood on the corner of Manor Road and Belgrave Street. Many of the houses in this area were badly damaged during the raids in late December 1940, known as the Christmas Blitz. William’s house was hit on the night of the 20th December, and he sadly died.

Manor Road (1)

View of Manor Road from near the junction with Belgrave Street, number 54 would have been on the far right of this photograph

Source: Wallasey Central Library

Manor Road (2)

The view looking in the opposite direction. the houses in the distance are on the far side of the junction with Belgrave Street and the Memorial Church can just be made out.

Source: Wallasey Central Library

As can be clearly seen, the damage in this area was quite considerable, and many casualties occurred nearby. In addition to William Tyers, Elsie Josephine Denvir was also killed at number 54 that night. Number 54 is listed as her residential address in the Civilian Roll of Honour, but William Tyers is listed as the main occupant on pre-war street directories. She was 38 years old at the time of her death, and married to a P J Denvir. He is not listed as a fatal casualty, so presumably survived the raid, perhaps as he may not have been present.

Next door at number 56 four members of the Brayshaw family were killed. Grace Elizabeth (aged 70) and her husband John (69) fell alongside their daughters Grace Matilda (40) and Marjorie (42). At number 58 Alexander Ramsey (50) fell alongside Janet Potter who at aged 80 would have been one of the oldest victims of the air raids. The remains of these other two properties are also visible in these photographs.

The archives contain photographs showing damage to other buildings in Manor Road during this raid, including numbers 60/62, 101 and several unnumbered photographs. In terms of descriptions of the incident however, details are more sketchy, since the archive reports tend to treat the attacks of the 20th – 23rd December 1940 as one raid, with damage lists given for the whole period rather than individual nights.

It may never be possible to learn more details about how William, Elsie and the others met their fate that night. However it is important that we remember that every one of the nearly 4,000 people killed on Merseyside during the Blitz had life up to that point, and left a big hole in the lives of those who knew them. I hope you have found this article about one of those 4,000 to be of interest.

Fountains Road area

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This photograph has been variously described as either “Walton Road”, “Fountains Road” or even “County Road” in Liverpool. I was recently contacted by Ed through Facebook with the following query:

I wonder if you could tell me where the exact location of this pic. I’ve seen it described as “Royal St” off Walton Road but someone now tells me it could be Fountains Rd/Barry St. Any idea?

My gut feeling leaned towards the Royal Street area for several reasons:

1) Whenever mention was made of the Fountains Road area it was always in relation to other parts of the road

2) The layout of the roads in each area at first glance seemed to suit Royal Street better

3) A quick check of the Roll of Honour suggested that more deaths occurred in the Royal Street area

However Ed and Dave Bridson came up trumps with a couple of post-war O/S maps that cleared up the question straight away. First up comes the area around Royal Street – largely unchanged with no signs of large areas of empty land through war damage.

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Then we have the area around the junction with Walton Road, Fountains Road, Woodhouse Street and Wyatt Street. You can clearly see large gaps in this area which match the damage seen in the wartime photograph.

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This lead me to ponder why this particular area wasn’t singled out for a mention in books like Port in a Storm (PIAS) or similar. This book is an excellent guide to the May Blitz on Liverpool, covering the events in great detail. Whilst it is possible that the damage in the photograph occurred during another period of the blitz, I knew from prior research that the Fountains Road area took a battering during the May Blitz.

For the Fountains Road area on the night of the 3rd/4th May 1941 PIAS mentions:

Fountains Road area – notably Wykeham, Newman, Morley and Freeland Streets (100) [100 being the number of deaths]

The road is also mentioned as being hit on the nights of the 2nd/3rd May 1941 and the 4th/5th May 1941 but no mention of the area covered by the photograph is made.

Other sources cite the number of deaths on Fountains Road alone as 22, which is quite a difference from 100. A study of the roads mentioned however reveals that the author of PIAS is talking about a pretty big area, which can be best seen on the pre-war map below (click on the map for a better view of it).

Fountains

The numbers in red represent the number of deaths associated with that particular road, whose date of death is given as sometime during the May Blitz. Note that not all of these would have fallen on the 3rd/4th – for example the 6 losses at Chancel Street are known to have occurred the previous night.

Also “B” represents the approximate location of where a photographer would have stood to take the wartime photograph, whereas “A” represents approximately where I thought it may have been taken had the subject been Royal Street.

This should help clear up what John Hughes meant in PIAS when he referred to the Fountains Road area suffering around 100 deaths on the night of the 3rd/4th May 1941. It is difficult to be certain in every single case which night the person was killed on,  since the roll of honour only gives one date. Someone listed as dying on the 3rd May 1941 for example could have fallen on either the night of the 2nd/3rd 1941, or the night of the 3rd/4th 1941. With this in mind though, the list is as follows:

Wykeham Street: 13

Newman Street: 11

Beckett Street: 1

Chancel Street: 6

Freeland Street: 24

Tintern Street: 1

Woodhouse Street: 4

Walton Road: 1

Royal Street: 5

Hartley Street: 1

Morley Street: 18

Fountains Road: 22

Howley Street: 4

Total: 111

This explains why the area in the photograph is not generally mentioned in reference books. Although the damage was very severe, there were likely only four deaths in that immediate area. Every death is a tragedy and that person would have been greatly missed, but the area in our wartime photograph saw fewer fatalities than many other locations in this area.

To round off this article I have included more post-war maps from Dave Bridson showing probable bombs sites in the Fountains Road area. I am grateful to both Dave and Ed for their help compiling this article, and especially clearing up the mystery photograph!

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Birchtree Road Aigburth – Blitz Damage

Following a request from Pete O’Connor on Facebook I have recently been doing some research into a little known incident (or perhaps incidents, but more on this later) that took place in the Aigburth district of Liverpool.

Pete wrote:

“Hi Neil

I saw the link Old Photos of Liverpool put up to your piece on the Liverpool Blitz and the books you have wrote on the subject. I was wondering if you could help me?

I live in Birchtree Road in Aigburth, post code is L17 0DS. I was talking to one of my neighbours some time ago and she told that our street was bombed during the war. It would seem that there was some truth in it, as in a portion of my street and 2 other neighbouring streets, Holywood Road and Fernwood Road, the old terraced houses stop and newer houses have been built.

I have become very interested in finding what happened and when but the only information I have been able to find is from a website that sells aerial photographs, that seems to confirm that it was bombed. There is a photo from 1940 that shows the terraced houses all intact, then a photo from 1945 that shows a section of the houses missing.

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Photograph from U K Ariel Photos

Other than that, I have not been able to find out any details. Given your knowledge and research into the blitz, I was wondering if you had any information, dates, photos etc of this event? Or if not, where would be a good place to try and get this information.”

As you’ll see Pete has already done some sterling research himself, and introduced me to a site I’d not seen before, but intend to make extensive use of in the future. Using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website I was able to piece together more of the story for him.

The following people fell that fateful night:

At 51 Birchtree Road: Jessie Dow (63) William Dow (26) and Jessie Dow (20) – the latter two were the children of the former. The father (another William) must have died before the war as he’s mentioned as “the late”. William junior was a fireman with the AFS.

At 53 Birchtree Road: Barbara Ellen Williams (48) and Price Goodman Williams (48) a husband and wife.

At 55 Birchtree Road: Henrietta Hetty Thomas (52), Sarah Thomas (30), William Edward Thomas (56). Sarah was the daughter of William and Henrietta, William was fatally injured in the raid, but died in the David Lewis Northern Hospital later that day

At 25 Fernwood Road: Edith Seafield (37), Francis Brian Seafield (11), John Alexander Seafield (13), Thomas Albert Seafield (14) Thomas Alexander Seafield (39). Edith and Thomas Alexander were husband and wife, the others were their children.

At 27 Fernwood Road: Elizabeth Lowe (68) and Samuel Lowe (71) husband and wife

At 29 Fernwood Road: Mille Miller (35), Frederick William Miller (35) Robertina Miller (56), Rebecca Miller (83), William Henry Miller (56). Robertina and William were husband and wife, as was Mille and Frederick. Its not known what relation Rebecca was, but presumably she was an extended family member.

At 31 Fernwood Road: Mary Ellen Hesketh (58) she’s listed as having a husband who wasn’t amongst the dead, but no other details are mentioned (he might have been injured, unharmed or away at the time).

At 33 Fernwood Road: Edward Collins (38), Mary Collins (30) its not entirely clear but they may have been brother and sister since their listed as having the same parent’s names. Mary Howard (6) is also listed as a casualty, but its unclear why she was present at this address, her parents (Charles and Margaret Howard) lived in 19 Ashlar Road, Aigburth which isn’t far away, so perhaps they were relations or just looking after the child for someone. Neither parent died in the raids.

Given the fact that 8 people died in Birchtree road, and 18 in Fernwood Road, the proximity of the houses to eachother and the widespread damage in the aerial photgraphs, my thought would be that the damage was done by a parachute mine. One ordinary high explosive of even the largest size the Germans had would never do such widespread damage, it would take several, and the casualties would have been correspondingly more widespread.

Parachute mines on the other hand were quite capable of blasting apart half a street, and virtually every one of the major wartime incidents was caused by one. A photo of one that failed to explode can be seen [here]. It fell on the garden of a house in Score Lane, Childwall. A very famous incident occurred on the same night at the college on the corner of Durning Road and Clint Road. its for this reason that this incident is probably less well known, on any previous night the loss of at least 26 people in one small area would be a major incident, but on this night well over 150 people lost their lives at the college when the basement they were sheltering in was hit by a parachute mine, with the basement shelter collapsing onto them.

Further confirmation of this incident comes from the Police Reports, which state that 30 parachute mines were dropped on that night, of which 8 failed to explode. The Home Security Information files even provide a rough time for the incident, stating:

“Fernwood Road, Elmswood Road, Ashlar Road area. Mossley Hill Road South near Holmefield Road. Several houses demolished, a number trapped under debris. Grounds of house in Woodlands Road (02:45)”

Although these files list this damage under “HE [High Explosive, typically meaning a bomb] on the following points” this is inconclusive since the Durning Road incident is also listed here.

With Pete’s permission I’ve reposted the information here to bring it to the attention of anyone else with an interest in the area or subject.

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An unexploded parachute mine in the garden of a house in Score Lane, Childwall

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Bomb damage at Durning Road, Wavertree

NB: This article was originally contributed to the excellent Liverpool Picturebook website: http://www.liverpoolpicturebook.com/

The owner has given permission for me to also upload it here

A bit of a rum do during the May Blitz

I was asked something today on twitter and I thought the story might interest people here too.

“Do you know what night a munitions train was hit near Anfield? My mum said it “snowed” cotton wool from packaging for hours”

There was indeed such a train, which caught fire during the night of the 3rd/4th May 1941 when incendiaries landed on it. It was in a place called Breck Road sidings, off Townsend Lane at the time. According to the excellent “Port in a Storm” the railway system would often place the wagons from any ammunition train that couldn’t be loaded that day at the docks in a nearby siding waiting to be loaded as soon as possible.

The problem on that night was twofold, a high explosive bomb had cratered the mainline track nearby, and incendiaries were starting to set off the ammunition in the wagons, one by one. As each wagon exploded, it would scatter the ammunition in it over some distance and start multiple fires nearby.

Once the enormity of the problem became clear several men risked their lives to save people and goods in the area. Local residents were quickly roused from their houses and shelters and told to move away from the area. Some railwaymen came down the line, bringing up an engine and try to drive the ammunition wagons away. It is difficult to imagine the fiery scene that must have greeted them when they neared the area.

Unfortunately the engine they brought up couldn’t get past the crater on the mainline. They had been unaware of this crater, only discovering it when one of them fell into it! Finding they were unable to move and save the ammunition wagons, they instead concentrated on the other goods wagons nearby, pulling many of these to safety despite the fact that the ammunition was still going off at regular intervals, scattering fires and hurling metal and wood around the area.

This heroism was later recognised with most of those involved receiving a medal. One of those involved later commented that the whole affair was “A bit of a rum do”