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.

Wartime views of the May Blitz

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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/

Youtube Video

Youtube Video

I thought I’d share this video with you all. Its an introduction to my two books about the air raids on Merseyside during World War Two. All credit for the video goes to Bob Edwards who kindly created it for me.

Please also note that this is not a Halsgrove video, just a video of my own created by my friend to advertise the books, which are published by Halsgrove.