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Belfast Blitz: Two born during the bombings among those commemorating the dead

Bimpe Archer
18 April, 2016 01:00

AMONG the survivors of the Belfast Blitz to take part in a poignant service of remembrance on Sunday were two special guests whose efforts saved the city from even greater devastation during the German bombing 75 years ago.

Two Merryweather Fire Engines, which travelled from Dundalk and Drogheda to aid firefighters in the north, were parked in Writer's Square outside St Anne's Cathedral.

The cathedral was the centrepoint of remembrance with hundreds of people attending an ecumenical service, led by Dean of Belfast Rev John Mann and St Patrick's Church parish priest Fr Michael Sheehan.

More than 900 people died and 1,500 were injured on the night of Tuesday April 15 1941, when the Luftwaffe staged the biggest of four raids on Belfast during World War II.

Another 150 people were killed in a subsequent raid on the night of May 4 1941.

A thousand candles were lit in the memory of the dead as a part of the solemn service, offering symbolic reflection for those who died.

However, also there were at least two people who for whom life had begun during the Blitz.

Allan Kilgore and Ann McNeilly were both born during the bombing raid, with the former reading one of the prayers specially written for the occasion.

Mrs McNeilly, who was 75 on Saturday, said her mother had been alone under the kitchen table while in labour at the family home in Bloomfield.

"The rest of the family had gone outside to a shelter and my father had gone to try and fetch the nurse to help with the delivery.

"My mother was terrified, there were bombs falling everywhere. My father made it back in time, but he had to run with shrapnel flying all around him."

Drogheda mayor Paul Bell and Louth City station officer Martin Yore accompanied the fire engines north, a journey that took two-and-a-half hours 75 years ago.

Both engines had been sold for Euro100 for scrap and only recently returned to the service - the green Drogheda engine, complete with the original wooden ladder, only back 10 months ago.

Mr Yore said the call for help had come from the British government at 5.30am and President Eamon de Valera had taken two hours to agree.

"He decided, yes, the people in Northern Ireland are Irish as well."

They helped put out fires across the city, which 80-year-old Gerry Gribbon of the Knights of Malta recalls fleeing with his family.

"I grew up on the Falls Road and my biggest memory was getting trailed out of bed at night when the bombs came out," he said.

"We would be trailed to the fields and you didn't have time to put on shoes, you were in your bare feet that would drag and scrape against paving stones and rocks."

Alec Murray recalls, as a 10-year-old, walking past Percy Street, where a shelter collapsed, killing many inside, the day after the bombing and seeing bodies strewn everywhere.

He remembers a girl in a wheelchair who had to stay under the stairs in her house because she couldn't follow her family to the shelter - in the end she was the only one to survive.

Fr Sheehan recalled a "darkness which threatened to engulf goodness, honour, life and love and which threatened the very foundation of our humanity".

"We give thanks for those lights which demonstrated courage, care, kindness and honour. The ambulance service, fire and rescue, wardens and defence units as well as ordinary good neighbours from across our divide."

Dean Mann said the indiscriminate bombing of the people of Belfast in 1941 was commemorated with "an anguish that is still real."

* To share your memories of the Blitz for a Northern Ireland War Memorial oral history project, contact Dr Susan Kelly: outreach@niwarmemorial.org 028 9032 0392 Ext 2

18 April, 2016 01:00 News