Written by my friend an author, Neil Holmes this article appeared on the site before on the run up to Christmas. It is important to remember how difficult Christmas was for the people of Liverpool during the second world war...
The run up to Christmas Day should be a time of joy and peace, but for the people of Merseyside, the final few days before Christmas Day in 1940 were a terrible time. Although the region had been on the receiving end of enemy raids since early August, these were often sporadic and many were of limited impact. Over the space of just a week (with most of the damage coming in just three days) over 700 people were killed across the region. For most boroughs, the month of December was the second deadliest one of the war. It is therefore important to tell the story of this terrible period of the region’s history. Over the next three weeks, I will describe a little of what happened during this period.
The period began in a minor way, with a small raid on Birkenhead on the night of the 18th/19th. Bombs fell on Rocky Bank Road in Tranmere, killing Helena Halliday. Although she lived at number 30, she fell at number 27. Like many small raids, although unfortunate for Helena and her family, local residents could be thankful that the bomb did not land on the nearby Birkenhead Municipal Hospital, better known as St Catherine’s. Had the hospital been hit, the casualty list would have been much higher.
The night of the 20th/21st December 1940
After a night without incident, the raiders returned in force for the next three nights. The first raid lasted around 8 hours, with parachute mines, high explosives and incendiaries dropped on Liverpool. Even the police reports remarked that "extensive fires broke out and considerable damage caused".
Amongst the targets in Liverpool struck by incendiaries were the Town Hall, Municipal Buildings, the Cunard Offices and the Landing Stage, all of which suffered fire damage. A parachute mine came to earth near the Adelphi Hotel causing damage to nearby properties.
Another mine landed at Waterloo Dock and killed 9 people, whilst much of the rest of the North Docks were pelted with high explosives.
Bootle also took a hammering, with the raid commencing with a scattering of incendiaries that landed between the Docks and Hawthorne Road. These were followed by high explosives and Parachute Mines which did serious and extensive damage.
Amongst the roads hit were Keble Road, Queen's Road, Radnor Drive, Southport Road, Brookhill Road, Morningside Road, Kings Road, Millers Bridge, Rimrose Road, Hawthorne Road, Gloucester Road, Vaux Crescent, Bianca Street, Viola Street, Benedict Street, Olivia Street, Berry Street, Pembroke Road and Aintree Road.
To illustrate the destructive power of the raids and in particular the parachute mines is this picture, which was taken in Benedict Street shortly after the raid. It shows numbers 120-136 where five people were killed during the raid. Another lady in her 80s was killed at number 110. Her name was Elizabeth Little, and she was a member of the Women’s Voluntary Services, an organisation that was set up in 1938 to assist civilians during the air raids. It is an astonishing example of the resolve of local people that a woman in her 80s would still “do her bit” to help the war effort.
Meanwhile Wallasey took a heavier than normal battering, with this night representing the start of a three night nightmare that would end with 121 deaths, 102 serious injuries and 156 light injuries. My current sources do not break down in most cases which roads damaged on what days, but I hope to do more research in the new year and be able to track down more details.
Instead I will provide a snapshot photo from each night's raid. This image shows Dalmorton Road between numbers 69 and 75. Four people were killed here during the raid, Marjorie Cain at number 69 and the Finn Family (Ernest, Winifred and George) at number 71.
In the background of the wartime photograph a barrage balloon can just be made out, these were deployed to force enemy bombers to fly at greater heights.
All of the houses have been rebuilt since the war in largely the same style.
Meanwhile Crosby was hit, with one parachute mine landing at the rear of 70 Cambridge Road, Waterloo, which luckily failed to explode immediately, allowing the area to be evacuated (it later exploded in the early morning of the 22nd).
One high explosive bomb landed in Muspratt's field, two landed in the grounds of Crosby Hall, and another two on fields near little Crosby Road. Incendiaries were scattered on Bowersdale Park, Kingsway, Middleton Road and on the foreshore between Hall Road and a nearby AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) station.
In an interesting example of just how precise the Crosby records are, there is even a mention of an Anti-Aircraft shell falling on 32 Cranfield Avenue, which buried itself so deeply under the house that it was impossible to remove and so the crater was filled in. Three months later the shell exploded, damaging drains nearby!
Next week: The entire region comes under heavy attack, with major incidents in all areas.