7 May 1940

7 May 1940

7 May 1940

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Norway

The Germans admit that the Allies pressure on Narvik has increased

Holland

All leave is cancelled, and coastal defences are strengthened

War at Sea

British collier Brighton sunk



On This Day in History, 7 май

The former KGB officer enjoys high approval ratings in his country as living standards in Russia have improved drastically under his rule. Internationally, he has been criticized for his authoritarian style of government.

1946 Sony is founded

The company started as Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering. It is now one of the leading manufacturers of electronic products.

1945 Germany's Nazi regime surrenders unconditionally

The capitulation ended World War II, one of the bloodiest conflicts of all time. According to estimates, between 40 and 71 million people died in the war and the Holocaust initiated by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

1915 A German U-Boat sinks the RMS Lusitania

1198 lives were lost in the attack, making it the deadliest shipwreck during World War I. The fact that some of the dead were U.S. citizens influenced the country's decision to enter the war in 1917.

1895 Alexander Popov demonstrates the world's first radio receiver

The Russian physicist had initially built the device as a lightning detector. He achieved the first radio transmission between two buildings the following year.


7th Battlion Royal Sussex Regiment May 1940

ACTION OF THE 7th BATTALION THE ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT B.E.F. MAY 1940.

This is an account of the action seen by the 7th Battalion - Royal Sussex Regiment [RSR] at Abbeville, France during May 1940. The information in this account has been compiled from my own memories of that time and that of surviving officers and soldiers who told me their recollections after the war.

In the second week of May 1940, the German Army Group ‘A’ broke through at Sedan in the Ardennes in their advance to the channel ports. To meet this threat, the order was given to the G.H.Q. reserve troops of the B.E.F. to proceed to Abbeville. This order affected the 6th and 7th Battalions of the RSR.

In the late hours of 17th May 1940, the Rifle Companies of the 6th Battalion RSR boarded a troop train at Abancourt and the Rifle Companies of the 7th Battalion RSR boarded another troop train at Buchy further down the line.

I was one of the lorry drivers left behind at the 7th Battalion HQ Company. Also remaining were the M.T. personnel, D.R.s, Mortar men, Signals and Admin men, a total of 201 men.

The 6th Battalion RSR train was ready to move off first but owing to a derailment of a wagon immediately in front of the train it was delayed. As a result, the train carrying the 7th Battalion RSR was diverted on to the up line, thereby passing the train of its sister Battalion and altering the line of the march. The line was eventually cleared and at 00:56 hrs the train carrying the 6th Battalion RSR, the rear details of the 2nd/6th and the 2nd 7th Battalions - The Queens Regiments, the 264 Company - The Royal Engineers and the 182 Field Ambulance Company pulled out of the station. By now the train was a considerable distance behind the train carrying its sister Battalion of the 7th Battalion RSR.

Around 14:00 hrs, on the 18th May 1940, the train carrying the 7th Battalion RSR stopped at St Roche station, a mile outside of Amiens, which was unfortunate as it coincided with a severe air raid on Amiens by the Germans. German bomber pilots had always selected troop trains as priority targets and consequently the Stuka J.U.87’s bombed the train. One bomb fell on the engine tender and another on the first coach which contained all the Officers. The bombing of the train effectively prevented any further movement northwards. The Regiments had been ordered to Abbeville and at the last moment the orders had been changed and they were to proceed to Lens, near Arras.

In the bombing, eight Officers were killed and some were wounded, including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin. He ordered the Battalion to de-train and to withdraw some 700 yards to the North of the railway as he felt that it would be safer to have the men deployed until the line was cleared. Later he moved the men to higher ground in case the Stuka dive bombers returned, which they did at 16:00 hrs and bombed the train again. After the first raid, rescue parties had been organized and the killed and injured were removed from the train. The number of casualties, including the eight Officers killed, was eighty. Of the 581 men that boarded the train at Buchy, the remaining 501 men now took up defensive positions each side of the Poix to Rouen road. The ground they occupied was ‘rising’ ground, slightly wooded with some farm buildings and a few hedgerows breaking up the open ground. Here the Battalion waited, not expecting any direct confrontation.

Just after 17:00 hrs, the train bearing the 6th Battalion RSR approached St Roche station but as an air raid was in progress the train was stopped. When the raid had ceased, the train was switched to the up line and passed through the station. The men of the 6th Battalion RSR saw the damaged train, but did not connect it with that of their sister Battalion. Their train then proceeded into the marshalling yards.

Later the 6th Battalion RSR train started off again and it was soon discovered that the track ahead had been severely damaged and no further progress would be possible for some time. The local authorities therefore decided that the train should return through Amiens and be switched on to a siding at Ailly-sur-Noye to await further orders. The 6th Battalion RSR train then went on to Paris and then on to Nantes and St Nazaire where the men were engaged in stacking petrol and stores until 17th June 1940.

Since it was assumed that all units would have taken but a short time to arrive at their destinations, little in the way of rations had been brought other than the unexpired portion of the day’s ration (2 slices of bread and a piece of cheese per man). It was now evident that the halt of the 7th Battalion RSR at Amiens might be prolonged, so Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin sent a foot party into the city to try to get some supplies. The foot party was unsuccessful but by good fortune Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin was able to contact the supply centre at Saleux and at 03:00 hrs the following morning, 19th May 1940, a number of Lorries arrived, bringing sufficient supplies for his needs. Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin also tried to contact Brigade Headquarters (37th INF Brigade) 12th Division (East) to obtain further orders, but to no avail however he did learn that the enemy could be expected to enter the city of Amiens at any moment. The 7th Battalion RSR was now cut off from Divisional H.Q., Brigade H.Q. and the 6th Battalion RSR was very isolated as there were no other troops in the area. Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin, not being able to contact any Headquarters and obtain further orders, decided that he must remain in his present position.

At 16:00 hrs on 19th May 1940 the enemy appeared and gave battle until 18:00 hrs when they disengaged, and overnight regrouped and made good his losses.

At 03:00 hrs on 20th May 1940, the enemy re-appeared, coming from the east. A column of motorized infantry accompanied by tanks approached the positions of the 7th Battalion RSR. Their positions had previously been detected and noted by German spotter planes. The Germans had decided that it was essential to eliminate this possible threat to their advance. The enemy troops were the German Army Group "A" commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt. It consisted of 44 Infantry Divisions, 7 Armoured Divisions and 3 Motorized Divisions.

It should be remembered that the 7th Battalion RSR, in common with all Battalions of 12th Division, had very few arms. Each man carried a Rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition and their experience of handling these was very limited. The Battalion’s supply of ammunition was minimal as no effort had been made by their Divisional Staff to ensure that they were properly equipped before they were sent into battle. Nevertheless the men of the 7th Battalion RSR engaged the enemy as if they were a well founded Battalion. The enemy was quite unaware of the weakness of the force against them. From behind every bit of cover these gallant but doomed men fought their one-sided battle. A lucky shot from one of the few anti tank rifles put a tank out of action. This caused the enemy to become wary. The German Infantry deployed both heavy mortars and a battery of field artillery was bought into action to add to the deluge of shells being poured out by the encircling tanks. Against the might of the enemy, the 7th Battalion RSR had 6 Boyes anti-tank rifles with 32 rounds in total and 10 Bren guns. The ammunition was soon expended there was no reserve, they had no mortars and no artillery support or signals platoon to help them. When the fire from the 7th Battalion RSR slackened, the enemy was reluctant to advance for the kill, so they called up the Stuka U.U.87 Dive Bombers to help them. However the outcome was never in doubt. As the afternoon wore on the casualties increased, and finally at 20:00 hrs with every round fired, the survivors reluctantly surrendered.

Of the 581 men of all the Companies that had left Buchy on 18th May 1940, only 70 men survived to be taken into captivity. Not even during the murderous engagements on the Somme or at Paschendaele in World War I had any unit suffered such casualties. But their sacrifice had not been in vain: it so discouraged the enemy from penetrating southwards that it had saved their sister Battalion the 6th Battalion RSR from a similar fate and that of a Moroccan Regiment that was not far off. Of those men taken into captivity, the Adjutant of the Battalion, a Major Cassels, had refused to raise his arms in surrender and was promptly shot.

During the action Sergeant Glover (Carriers) shot down two Stuka Dive Bombers with a Bren gun. He would have had three, but in the confusion of battle he forgot to remove the safety catch and the target had passed by the time he had realized. The 7th Battalion RSR had delayed the advance of the German Army Group ‘A’ for a total of 21 hours.

Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin was taken prisoner by Oberleutnant Gerhard Richter who in due course delivered him to his commanding officer Major General Erwin Rommel. Rommel was commanding the 7th Panzer Division, a section of which had been detailed to eliminate the threat posed by the 7th Battalion RSR.

All the men captured at St Roche (70) served a total of 5 years at the German P.O.W. camp, Stalag XX "A", at a place called Torun in Poland, and when the war was over they had to walk a distance of 1300 miles back into Germany to get repatriated. All the 430 men killed at St Roche (Amiens) now lay buried in the Military Cemetery at Abbeville, row upon row of them.

After the destruction of the 7th Battalion RSR on the 20th May 1940, the Germans continued their advance and on 21st May 1940 took Abbeville. This action succeeded in cutting in half the main and rear armies of the B.E.F. and its supply routes. On 23rd May 1940, the B.E.F. was officially placed on half rations. Having captured Abbeville, the Germans turned north to close the trap between Abbeville and Dunkirk. The 51st Highland Division was caught in this trap and they fought on until they had run out of ammunition and supplies. On 12th June 1940, they were forced to surrender.
Their Commanding Officer General Fortune and some 7,000 men were taken prisoner and they also served 5 years in a German P.O.W. camp in Poland.

During the night of the 18th May 1940, three men slipped away from their comrades. Whether they were ordered to do this or if they did it on their own accord could not he ascertained? The fact is that they got back to Abancourt where the remainder of the 7th Battalion RSR was waiting for further orders. The three men told us what had happened to the rest of the Battalion owing to the bombing of the train with the casualties. No mention was made of any action, as that did not occur until 16:00 hrs on the 19th May 1940 after they had left.

The original arrangements had been made for the 6th and 7th Battalion RSR to collect their transport from the motor pool just outside Rouen and to collect their other equipment and to proceed to Abbeville to meet the Rifle Companies of their Battalions. As the orders were changed at the last minute and their destination being altered to proceed to Lens and with the 7th Battalion RSR already destroyed, the order for transport collection was cancelled.

'The H.Q. Company men left at Abancourt discovered on rising on the morning of 21st May 1940 that every unit in the area had evacuated including the N.A.A.F.I . Staff. Now the remainder of the 7th Battalion RSR was alone. For five days the men took up defensive positions and carried out five patrols daily in the area, made road blocks and kept a watchful eye on the streams of refugees that were passing through. It was known that German soldiers were infiltrating among them.

On the 5th night they left Abancourt, travelling light, throwing away all unnecessary kit. After two days of marching and riding in cattle trucks (that the cattle had just left) moving south, we arrived at a small village called Thoire near Le Mans. After three days there, the only rations available were tinned food looted from the N.A.A.F.I. At 18:00 hrs on 31st May 1940, they were listening to the B.B.C. News, when the news reader said that "All the troops of the B.E.F. were now safely home on British shores". But there were still some 200 men those that remained of the original 781 men of 7th Battalion RSR.

At 02:00 hrs on 1st June 1940, they started to march to Cherbourg. Arriving at the dock area at 11:00 hrs, the men rested, lying on the pavements and falling asleep. About 12:00 hrs a Southern Railway Passenger Ferryboat, the Prince of Wales came into the harbour and docked at the jetty. The men were rallied and boarded the ferryboat, which then made its way across the Channel unescorted. On the way across, the men were given a meal which consisted of a one pound tin of corned beef and a packet of 12 oatmeal biscuits shared between groups of six men. After landing at Southampton they boarded a train and travelled the rest of the day, all night, and most of the next day until they were finally billeted in the village hall and scouts hut in the mining village of Greenside near Blaydon, Northumberland. They stayed for a month before getting seven days of leave to go home.

In 1949 Lieutenant Colonel R. Gethin received a letter from Oberleutnant Richter in which the writer expressed his admiration for the fighting qualities of the 7th Battalion RSR. The German war diaries for 20th May 1940 state that the enemy (the 7th Battalion RSR) had held tenaciously to its positions.

In 1956 the 7th Battalion RSR was awarded the “Amiens 1940” Battle Honour for the stand it made at St Roche and to this day not one man of the 7th Battalion RSR has received a medal for bravery or devotion to duty in the face of, and against, such hopeless odds on 20th May 1940.

On 20th May 1986, a reunion of some of the survivors of the battle at St Roche visited the cemetery at Abbeville and St Roche station where a plaque dedicated to the 7th Battalion RSR was fixed to the wall of the booking hall. On entering Amiens they were welcomed with opened arms. The dining room of the hotel where their lunch was arranged was hung with orange and blue drapes, the Regimental Colours of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The white painted wooden cross and poppy-wreath taken to Abbeville by the survivors are now in a place of honour in a glass case in Amiens town hall.

Since the visit of the survivors in 1980, the Mayor of Amiens has formed a memorial fund and enough money had been collected erect a magnificent granite cross war memorial on the site where the men of the 7th Battalion - Royal Sussex Regiment fell. The memorial stands in the centre of ornamental gardens with flower beds of red, white and blue flowers. It must have cost the people of Amiens thousands and thousands of Francs for this memorial and I hope one day to be able to go back and see this memorial and visit the graves of my fallen comrades.

I am proud to have been a soldier with the 7th Battalion - Royal Sussex Regiment.

Private D.J. OSBORNE.
7th Battalion - Royal Sussex Regiment
37th Infantry Brigade
12th Division (Eastern) B.E.F.

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May 26, 1940 Dunkirk

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation. The island nation of Great Britain alone escaped occupation, but its armed forces were shattered and defenseless in the face of the German war machine.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation.

The island nation of Great Britain alone escaped occupation, but its armed forces were shattered and defenseless in the face of the German war machine.

In May of 1940 the British Expeditionary Force and what remained of French forces occupied a sliver of land along the English Channel. Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt called a halt of the German armored advance on May 24, while Hermann Göring urged Hitler to stop the ground assault, let the Luftwaffe finish the destruction of Allied forces. On the other side of the channel, Admiralty officials combed every boatyard they could find for boats to ferry their people off of the beach.

Hitler ordered his Panzer groups to resume their advance on May 26, while a National Day of Prayer was declared at Westminster Abbey. That night Winston Churchill ordered “Operation Dynamo”. One of the most miraculous evacuations in military history had begun from the beaches of Dunkirk.

The battered remnants of the French 1st Army fought a desperate delaying action against the advancing Germans. They were 40,000 men against seven full divisions, 3 of them armored. They held out until May 31 when, having run out of food and ammunition, the last 35,000 finally surrendered. Meanwhile, a hastily assembled fleet of 933 vessels large and small began to withdraw the broken army from the beaches.

Larger ships were boarded from piers, while thousands waded into the surf and waited in shoulder deep water for smaller vessels. They came from everywhere: merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats and tugs. The smallest among them was the 14𔄁″ fishing boat “Tamzine”, now in the Imperial War Museum.

A thousand copies of navigational charts helped organize shipping in and out of Dunkirk, as buoys were laid around Goodwin Sands to prevent strandings. Abandoned vehicles were driven into the water at low tide, weighted down with sand bags and connected by wooden planks, forming makeshift jetties.

7,669 were evacuated on May 27, the first full day of the evacuation. By day 9 a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued from the beach. The “Miracle of Dunkirk” would remain the largest such waterborne evacuation in history, until September 11, 2001.

It all came to an end on June 4. Most of the light equipment and virtually all the heavy stuff had to be left behind, just to get what remained of the allied armies out alive. But now, with the United States still the better part of a year away from entering the war, the allies had a fighting force that would live to fight on. Winston Churchill delivered a speech that night to the House of Commons, calling the events in France “a colossal military disaster”. “[T]he whole root and core and brain of the British Army”, he said, had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. In his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech of June 4, Churchill hailed the rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.

On the home front, thousands of volunteers signed up for a “stay behind” mission in the weeks that followed. With German invasion all but imminent, their mission was to go underground and to disrupt and destabilize the invaders in any way they could. They were to be the British Resistance, a guerrilla force reportedly vetted by a senior Police Chief so secret, that he was to be assassinated in case of invasion to prevent membership in the units from being revealed.

Participants of these auxiliaries were not allowed to tell their families, what they were doing or where they were. Bob Millard, who passed in 2014 at the age of 91, said that they were given 3 weeks’ rations, and that many were issued suicide pills in case of capture. Even Josephine, his wife of 67 years, didn’t know a thing about it until the auxiliaries’ reunion in 1994. “You just didn’t talk about it, really”, he said. “As far as my family were aware I was still in the Home Guard. It was all very hush hush. After the war, it was water under the bridge”.

The word “Cenotaph” literally translates as “Empty Tomb”, in Greek. Every year since 1919 and always taking place on the Sunday closest to the 11th day of the 11th month, the Cenotaph at Whitehall is the site of a remembrance service, commemorating British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in 20th century conflicts. Since WWII, the march on the Cenotaph includes members of the Home Guard and the “Bevin Boys”, the 18-25 year old males conscripted to serve in England’s coal mines. In 2013, the last surviving auxiliers joined their colleagues, proudly marching past the Cenotaph for the very first time.

Historians from the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) had been trying to do this for years.

CART founder Tom Sykes said: “After over 70 years of silence, the veterans of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Section, now more than ever, deserve to get the official recognition that has for so long been lacking. ‘They were, in this country’s hour of need, willing to give up everything, families, friends and ultimately their lives in order to give us a fighting chance of surviving”.


North Carolina 1940


It was a state far different than it is today – poor, mostly agricultural, still emerging from the Great Depression. North Carolina in 1940 was dotted with small towns made up of hard working, God fearing, and patriotic people, many of whom had fought in World War I. They knew what was happening in Europe – how in 1939, Hitler’s armies began invading and occupying one country after another. They listened to North Carolina native Edward R. Murrow’s radio reports of the Nazi bombings in England, Hitler’s next target. Still, many hoped they wouldn’t have to get involved with another conflict. December 7, 1941 changed everything. When the radio bulletins began about the surprise attack by Japanese planes on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor – a place most had never even heard of – North Carolinians knew their world had changed. As Bill Friday, a student at the time at North Carolina State, says, “You can’t imagine what happened to your thinking…you knew what was going to happen to you.” Young men were gung ho to fight. Children and families were scared about what it meant.

North Carolinians on Capital Square in the 1940s. [North Carolina State Archives]

WEB BONUS VIDEO: NORTH CAROLINA’S VARIETY VACATIONLAND
The film, NORTH CAROLINA’S VARIETY VACATIONLAND, was discovered while doing research on UNC-TV’s documentary, NORTH CAROLINA’S WWII EXPERIENCE. It came to our attention while reading back issues of the NEWS AND OBSERVER on microfilm.

Here is the notation on June 20, 1941, Page 15:
North Carolina Film Shown Coast to Coast “North Carolina, Variety Vacationland” the film portrays the “fine vacation possibilities offered by the State of North Carolina” Kodachrome sound movie, 20-minute version and 40-minute version State News Bureau, Department of Conservation and Development, Raleigh.

The film was produced and photographed by Richard J. Reynolds and Dermid Maclean and presented to the N.C. Department of Conservation and Development. We located the 40-minute 16mm color film at the North Carolina Office of State Archives and History and had it digitized for use in our documentary. The film, which travels from the Outer Banks to the Western Mountains, has been divided into four segments for the Web:


1. The Outer Banks and the North Carolina Coast


2. Traveling from Orton Plantation to Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham


Premature Baby Care from the 1880s to the 1940s

Research for a small talk I gave at my Auntie’s funeral took me on an extraordinary history journey. I became absorbed in the world of premature babies in Australia and overseas circa 1940 and before. My aunt, Margaret KRAKE nee McNISH, was born prematurely on 24 May 1938. She weighed less than five pounds but probably more than three. Babies weighing less than three pounds had little chance of surviving but miracles did happen.

Margaret was born somewhere in “Footscray”. Where I don’t know. Probably not at home. Most likely at a private hospital near the McNISH family home. It could have been ‘Kelvin Grove’, 3 Tongue Street, Yarraville, around the corner from where the family lived. Wherever she was born she needed specialised care as a premature baby until she reached a ‘normal’ birth weight. This could have been at the Tweddle Baby Hospital (‘Tweddle’) on the corner of Gordon and Barkley Streets, Footscray or the place where she was born.

Father’s Stories

My father, John McNISH told me fascinating stories of Margaret as a newborn and I wanted to explore and confirm these tales. There were many research diversions and I came across information that seemed unbelievable. But it was all true.

The Breast Milk Express

Robert (Bob) & John (Jack) McNish about the age they were milk couriers

My father told me about the important job he and his brother Bob had in the weeks after his sister’s birth. They were ten and twelve years old at the time and their job was delivering their Mother’s expressed breast milk to the hospital each day. The hospital, whichever one, was a bike ride away. There were no Milk Bar stop-offs or kicking the footy with mates while on this mission.

At a recent 79-year reunion of the Tweddle Baby Hospital in Footscray, one of the patients born in 1939 said that her father rode his bike from Kensington to Footscray with her mother’s precious breast milk. So, the ‘breast milk express’ did happen.

Babes in the Wool

Another story I was able to confirm was that baby Margaret was wrapped from head to toe in cotton-wool. As a child, I imagined my aunt as a baby lying in cotton-wool balls. But of course, that wasn’t the case. Ruth BLUNDELL (nee CAMERON), in her memoir about working at the Tweddle after the second world war wrote:

“These little babies were literally wrapped in cottonwool. Their little legs and arms were bandaged in cotton-wool. A tiny hand knitted woollen singlet was worn over a cotton-wool jacket lined with gauze. A tiny hand knitted bonnet was also lined with gauze and cotton-wool – a frill of cotton-wool edging its tiny face. They really did look beautiful.”[i]

This seemed to be standard practice for premature baby care in other Australian hospitals such as the Royal Women’s in Melbourne at the time. Keeping these babies warm was one of the keys to their survival.

Raised Cots

He also told me that she was kept in a cot that was raised to the ceiling for warmth and only lowered for feeding and changing. I have not been able to confirm this story. Kerrie GOTTLIEBSEN the current Communications Manager at the Tweddle told me:

“There is no record of cots being raised to the roof, and our older staff have never heard of this.”

This makes me think that Margaret was not cared for in the ‘Tweddle’ but in a local private hospital.

Searching for an image of a raised cot led my research further away from Footscray. Each search revealed another extraordinary story of how premature infant care evolved in Australia and overseas from the late 1800s. It was fascinating. There were stories about the Plunket System, Primrose Nurses, incubator babies on display at carnivals, a ‘quack’ doctor who saved the lives of many preterm babies, and an unlicensed nurse who faced a murder charge.

Early Pioneers in Premature Baby Care

Before 1920 babies born prematurely anywhere in the world were given little chance of survival. Most were doomed. They were called weaklings, feeble or “congenitally debilitated” and interest in their special difficulties and care was lost in the dreadful infant mortality statistics of the time. Most premature babies were cared for at home.

First Text on Premature Infant Care – Dr Pierre BUDIN

In 1901 Dr Pierre BUDIN published the first major text on the care of premature infants. Called ‘The Nursling: The Feeding and Hygiene of Premature and Full-term Infants’[ii], it was translated into English in 1907 and became the standard text for doctors and nurses interested in this area of medicine.

However, in these early days, prematurity, was not fully recognised as a medical speciality in paediatrics. A small number of American Hospitals established premature wards, but they didn’t last long and were closed due to lack of interest and funding issues.

Developing Protocols for Premature Infant Care – Dr Julius HESS

In 1922 Dr Julius HESS established a premature infant ward at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago where nurses were hired to specifically attend these babies and develop procedures for premature care. It received support from a philanthropic women’s group. Dr HESS also published the first and only book on premature infant care in hospitals, ‘Premature and Congenitally Diseased Infants’.[iii] Incubators were also starting to receive acceptance in the 1920s after early resistance by the medical establishment.

Early Incubator Use – Carnival Entertainment

French doctors were the first to use closed infant incubators to try and reduce the dreadful infant mortality rate and in the late 1880s displays of premature babies in incubators were seen at national fairs and exhibitions.

Photo from www.thevintagenews.com

1903 – Coney Island’s Luna Park

The incubators were taken to America by German immigrant Dr Martin COUNEY but his ideas and the use of incubators were largely dismissed by the medical establishment until the 1920s. COUNEY was forced to do his own thing and he established an infant incubator exhibit at New York City’s Coney Island Luna Park in 1903. The exhibit ran until 1943. He also established one at Dreamland which ran from 1904 until a major fire in 1911.[iv] The Incubator Babies exhibit ran alongside the ‘Freak’ shows of the time including ‘Midget City’ and ‘Lionel the Lion-faced Man’.[v] People were charged to see the ‘show’ and were strangely intrigued and entertained by seeing the tiny babies in poultry like incubators fighting for their lives.

COUNEY was accused of child exploitation and abuse by doctors and groups who wanted to see him closed down. But he persisted with his life-saving work and became as known as the “Incubator Doctor”. He saved many lives over the decades. All babies were accepted by COUNEY, those from parents who couldn’t afford hospital care and those who had been written off by mainstream medicine. He believed all their lives were worth saving. Of around 8,000 babies in his care over the years, he saved 6,500.[vi] The fee-paying public kept the exhibits open by covering all the overhead costs.

1933 Century of Progress Exposition Chicago

The “Living Babies in Incubators” exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago attracted hundreds and thousands of curious people who paid 25 cents entry fee. This exhibit was a combined effort by Dr Julius HESS and Dr COUNEY who employed six nurses and two wet nurses to care for the babies. COUNEY believed breast milk was best for these under-sized babies and developed a highly nutritious diet for the wet nurses he employed.

1939 New York World’s Fair

By the time the last major incubator exhibit was held at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, incubators had gained approval. The Public Health Department referred premature babies and urged local hospitals to transfer them to the exhibit. Nurses from the Michael Reese hospital staffed the exhibit and parents brought in babies where they were received free of charge.

Photo from www.thevintagenews.com

Kathy Meyer owes her life to Dr COUNEY. She was born eight weeks premature in 1939 and taken to Cornell University’s New York Hospital which had a new training and research centre for premature infants. When it became clear to the Meyers they couldn’t afford the medical bills for their baby to stay in hospital for several months, her paediatrician suggested she go to Martin COUNEY at the New York World’s Fair. COUNEY’s incubator ambulance was sent straight away to collect her. Meyer said:

“I was a sickly baby. If it wasn’t for COUNEY, I wouldn’t be here today. And neither would my four children and five grandchildren. We have so much to thank him for.”[vii]

Dr COUNEY was a trailblazer. He was kind, compassionate and generous and he saved many lives. However, doubts have been raised as recently as 2016 as to whether he actually was a qualified medical practitioner. Read https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/man-who-pretended-be-doctor-ran-worlds-fair-attraction-saved-lives-thousands-premature-babies-180960200/

Closer to home. We have so much to be thankful for in Australia that our premature babies didn’t have to be commercialised and exhibited in places like Luna Park. We had an infant welfare system from around 1912 and we had the wonderful Tweddle Baby Hospital functioning from 1920 in Victoria.

Infant Mortality from 1900

Infant mortality was a scourge on society. In Victoria, Australia, the situation started to improve after 1920 most likely due to the early developments in establishing an infant welfare system from 1912. The Herald reported on 6 October 1923 that in 1922, 36,288 babies were born. During the first year, 1,936 died (54/1000 births). Over half (or 1,065) died during the first month and of these, 786 babies died in the first week.[viii] Awful statistics, but an improvement on the decade between 1910 and 1920 when the infantile death rate was 69.55 per 1000 births.[ix]

In 1924 New Zealand had by far the lowest infant mortality statistics in the world, 47 per 1000 births. Australia came in second with 63 per 1000. They were far ahead of England and Wales (85/1000) Ireland (86/1000) United States (94/1000) Scotland (98/1000) Belgium (129/1000) and France (132/1000).[x]

These statistics raise questions. Why didn’t the knowledge of the French and Americans, pioneers in writing texts and developing procedures for the care of premature infants, translate into better overall infant survival rates in those countries? And, why did New Zealand lead the world in infant welfare? Many would say the reason for better results in New Zealand was due to Sir Frederick ‘Truby’ KING.

Truby KING and the Plunket Way

Truby KING was a controversial New Zealand medic and health reformer who had strict views on mothercraft and infant welfare. He established the Plunket Society in May 1907 which promoted a ‘scientific approach’ to baby care with rules on feeding, nutrition, hygiene and handling. It was credited with lowering the infant mortality rate in New Zealand from 88 per thousand in 1907 to 32 per thousand in 1937. The Society was named after the first patron, Lady PLUNKET, wife of Lord PLUNKET, Governor-General of New Zealand.

New Zealand had baby hospitals before 1920 which schooled mothers in how to care for their babies. Today the Truby King method would probably be described as ‘Baby Bootcamp’. All aspects of baby’s care were regulated and structured – regular feed times, regular sleeping times, regular bowel movements, no cuddling, no dummies – and it came to Australia, Victoria specifically.

The Society for the Health of Women and Children of Victoria adopted Truby KING’s Plunket system entirely which Miss Lucy MORELAND, explained at the annual meeting in 1920. She told the Society:

“The Truby King system is not a system to deal with disease but one that has as its aim the education of parents …. that they may know and understand the value of simple hygiene and dietetics in relation to child welfare, bearing in mind that this education is necessary for the cultured and well-to-do as it is for the so-called poor and ignorant.”[xi]

“In New Zealand we have baby hospitals and hope very soon to open one on similar lines here. These institutions are also schools for Mothers. They can come into residence to learn how to nurse their babies and receive general instruction in mothercraft. If baby is not getting sufficient food, we work up the mother’s supply by simple natural means. Instead of the unhappy, crying infant she brought into hospital the mother takes away with her a happy and contented child, because he is having enough nourishment, has been handled judiciously, fed regularly and trained to sleep through the night.”[xii]

Victoria soon had one – the Tweddle Baby Hospital (‘Tweddle’) – in Footscray. It was established in 1920 as a replica of Truby KING’s famous training hospital in Wellington, New Zealand. General nurses could train there for an Infant Welfare Certificate and graduate as a ‘Plunket’ nurse. Girls without previous experience could do a 12-month course practising on life-sized dolls and graduate as a Baby nurse, or as they were known, a ‘Primrose’ nurse. They were entrusted with the full-time care of one baby becoming a virtual foster mother to their charge. These nurses were named in honour of Maude PRIMROSE, an Australian nurse who went to New Zealand to train in infant care and who became an adherent to Truby KING’s methods.

Miss Ethel May KIRKLAND, a pioneering Plunket Nurse, told the Herald in June 1920:

“I watched infants of premature birth weighing little more than two pounds, develop in a few weeks from miserable specimens of babyhood to healthy normal types. The hospital is more a home than an institution. Any well-planned house with plenty of sunshine, air and open space about it would make an ideal Truby King hospital.

In New Zealand throughout the day all the babies are kept in the open air and many sleep in the open at night. Their cots, ordinary wicker cradles, minus the head cover are placed six feet apart.”[xiii]

Breast Milk or ‘Humanised’ Milk

Truby KING’s number one rule was that babies should be fed the way nature intended with breast milk. Even a tablespoonful a day was preferable to none. If breast milk was unavailable, ‘humanised’ or modified milk was recommended. His milk formula was highly controversial with the paediatric establishment because he reduced the protein in cow’s milk to 1.4% to mimic breast milk. He also claimed all kinds of other milk even buffalo or goat could be brought to the same human milk composition of sugar, fat and protein.

Adherents to the Truby King method believed that it was the best way to reduce infant mortality.

“No social organisation is more worthy of public support than this work of saving babies. The Truby King System is easily the best. Its beneficial influence is amazing and wherever a brand has been established, mothers of all grades of society have eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity to learn how baby should be fed, housed and clothed.”[xiv]

The ‘Independent’, when promoting fund-raising for the local Baby Welfare Centre in Footscray, reported that twelve months after establishing a Truby King Baby Welfare Centre in inner-city Coburg, infant mortality fell from 13.4% to 9.75%.

“Even better results may be anticipated in Footscray and it behoves everybody who loves a baby to give liberally.” [xv]

They were right, in 1938, the year my Aunt was born, Footscray had the lowest infant mortality in the world![xvi]

The Footscray Plunket rooms were in Nicholson Street.[xvii] Quite apart from educating mothers on the best nutrition for their baby, educating them about simple hygiene alone helped reduce the incidence of infantile diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of children under one year.

The Truby KING Way Today

Truby KING’s system was successful in its time but it’s doubtful if his disciplined and controlled approach to baby care and parenting would be acceptable today. His emphasis on breastfeeding and nutrition is certainly still relevant. However, his conservative belief system in relation to the role of men and women in society which underpinned his ‘scientific’ approach to motherhood would probably get the thumbs down.[xviii] He still has a place in history, and he is certainly remembered in New Zealand as a great public figure. Today Tweddle has an expanded role in Victoria’s family and community health care services but its genesis lies in the methods and crusade of one man, Sir Truby KING and his disciples.

Tweddle Baby Hospital – The Beginning

A small group of people – a nurse, a doctor and a politician – concerned about the appalling infant mortality statistics in the first two decades of the 1900s decided to do something about it. Plunket Sisters controlled infant welfare centres in Coburg and Footscray but there was nowhere to train additional nursing sisters in the Truby King methods.

Nurse, Miss Maude PRIMROSE a devotee of Truby King, Dr J. W SPRINGTHORPE a lung and heart specialist and the Hon. J. HUME, approached businessman and philanthropist, Mr Joseph TWEDDLE for help. Mr TWEDDLE had property to spare but it was in Greensborough, too far away on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Mr GENT, the Town Clerk of Footscray and Mr J LEVY were brought into negotiations which led to Footscray Council granting a site on the busy corner of Barkley and Gordon Streets. Mr TWEDDLE donated £3,000 to get building construction started and guaranteed an overdraft to £7,000.

Location Didn’t Matter – Education Saved Lives NOT the Environment

The baby hospital was on the main bus and transport route into Footscray and the city of Melbourne. It was also across the road from the Footscray Football Club Oval. Not only was the hospital on one of the busier intersections in Footscray, but Footscray was also the heart of industrialised Melbourne. Nearby industries included: bone dust and manure-works abattoirs and meat preserving glue, tallow and oil makers.[xix] All sending their pollution into the air and down the Maribyrnong River. But the location didn’t concern the Tweddle campaigners. They claimed:

“Infant health was threatened more by ignorant mothers rather than the environment itself.”[xx]

Miss Lucy MORELAND, who addressed the Society for the Health of Women and Children of Victoria, in 1920 was brought over from New Zealand to be Matron. She was so dedicated to the success of Tweddle that she worked for the first six months without pay.

Some Snapshots of Premature Baby Care in Hospitals and Homes before 1940

The Tweddle Baby Hospital

At Tweddle, the premature babies had their own separate nursery. Ruth BLUNDELL (nee CAMERON) remembers:

“Little cots were small wicker baskets on a cane frame – painted white. They could be wheeled out. They were made up the same way as the larger cots with a hot water bottle placed between the mattress and the chaff mattress. Another hot water bottle was sometimes placed behind the baby and tucked in the ‘enveloper’ (a blanket that came up from under the mattress and then over). Later the hospital was able to purchase an electronically heated, thermostatically controlled metal cot.”

“They learned to suck from a tiny bottle with a soft rubber mouthpiece. If they did not manage to suck at first, they were tube fed. Feeding was usually 3-hourly during the day and night, preferably with breast milk expressed by the mother. If this was not possible a specially modified formula was used.”[xxi]

Carried under a mid-wife’s coat

In 1932 there was a report in The Herald that Stanley James MOORE, a 2lbs 14oz baby at birth was now doing well at the Tweddle. The report said:

“Born on April 30, one of the coldest mornings of the year. He was taken to the Tweddle Baby Hospital from the Queen Vic, wrapped in cotton-wool and carried under the midwife’s coat, half an hour after he was born.

A premature basket cot lined with brown paper and heated with hot water bags kept his temperature up until he was large enough to leave it.”[xxii]

Sister Purcell – The Art of Caring and Managing a Premature Baby

If you didn’t have access to a hospital and gave birth prematurely in a rural area your baby would be lucky to survive. Sister Purcell, author of ‘The Australian Baby’[xxiii] wrote a series for the rural newspaper, the ‘Weekly Times’ in 1932 about caring for a premature baby. She said:

“The care and management of the premature baby is an art in itself.”[xxiv]

Survival depended on four areas requiring meticulous preparation and attention before and after baby’s birth. I’ve summarised Sister Purcell’s advice below.

Keep Them Warm – A Home-made Incubator

Baby must be kept warm because he cannot maintain his own body temperature. A constant 70°F must be maintained in an airy room.

Have at the ready a cot lined with brown paper or a home incubator made with two clothes baskets one larger than the other, or a cardboard box with holes placed in an ordinary basinet. The outer basket lined with a soft wool blanket and an inner basket similarly lined placed inside. A soft chaff mattress is placed in the inner basket with a covered hot water bottle. Hot water bottles should then be placed between the blankets at the foot and one on either side of the bed the foot bottle should be about 20°F hotter than the two side bottles.

The bottles should be refilled in rotation to keep the temperature even. A dairy thermometer should be used to ensure the cot temperature is kept at about 95°F or whatever is necessary to keep baby’s body temperature at 99°F.

Have soft absorbent wool ready to wrap the baby including a little jacket and bonnet made of wool covered with muslin and soft bandages to bind the wool around the arms and legs

Avoid Unnecessary Handling

Immediately after birth wrap baby in a piece of absorbent wool and place him in the prepared bed. Leave baby undisturbed for several hours to allow recovery from the effort of being born and handle baby as little as possible after that. Baby is oiled all over with warm olive oil every 2-3 days without being removed from the bed to avoid chilling. There is no bathing until baby can maintain his own body temperature.

Avoid Infection

To minimise the risk of infection no-one should be in baby’s room except the mother and person in attendance. Children especially should be kept away and people who are not well. A small infection would be lethal.

Careful Feeding

For the first 24 hours, nothing is necessary except boiled water given by dropper. Expressed breast milk is best as it’s easily digested and highly nutritious. It should be obtained at any cost and can be fed by a medicine dropper. If unavailable from Mother, then from a healthy nursing mother.

Another piece of artful nursing advice from Sister Purcell.

“If baby is strong enough to suck the double cot must be carried to the Mother’s bed and she must lean over it and not lift baby from the cot while nursing.”[xxv]

The Dionne Quintuplets – Canada

The Dionne Quintuplets caused a worldwide sensation when they were born near the village of Corbeil in Ontario on 10 May 1934. They were 8 weeks early and their total weight was 13lbs 6 ozs. Mother Elzire thought she was having twins and went into shock after the identical baby girls were born. The babies were kept in a wicker basket covered with heated blankets and placed by the open door of the stove to keep them warm.

“One by one, they were taken out of the basket and massaged with olive oil. Every two hours for the first twenty-four, they were fed water sweetened with corn syrup. By the second day they were moved to a slightly larger laundry basket and kept warm with hot-water bottle. They were watched constantly and often had to be roused. They were fed the ‘seven-twenty’ formula: cow’s milk, boiled water, two spoonfuls of corn syrup, and one or two drops of rum for a stimulant.”[xxvi]

I doubt this formula would have won approval from the Plunket nurses at the Tweddle in Footscray.

The babies were transferred to a hospital because the Weekly Times reported on 4 August 1934 that they were still in incubators at two months. There was a proposal to exhibit them at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, but it was vetoed by their doctor Dr DaFoe. Instead, picture postcards were sold.[xxvii]

Queenie’s Private Hospital Altona

In the 1920s expectant mothers living in Altona relied on the service of an unofficial nurse and hospital in Queen Street, Altona. The ‘Waverly Private Hospital’ was owned and operated by Sylvia Evelyn KOCH (or COOK) otherwise known as ‘Queenie’. A Williamstown doctor visited the hospital twice a week to check on patients.

Queenie was unqualified and was arrested on multiple charges with being an unlicensed nurse. She’d had several run-ins with the law and had even faced a charge of causing the death of a patient. After a court case in 1930 and being fined in 1931, she picked up sticks and opened a nursing home in Seddon. She eventually moved to Footscray where she continued to deliver babies until she opened a pub in Seymour.

Queenie’s daughter remembers:

“She wore a veil although no formal training and she assisted in delivery of babies and with operations.

I lived there at the ‘hospital’ with my brother Frank and Mother and Father. Dad (Joe) had built the house/hospital and assisted with the cooking. He also looked after the little premature babies after he was laid off from work. Mum (who was also known as ‘Queenie’) would put the premature babies into a shoe box and rested the box on the oven which had to be kept just warm – not too hot and not too cold. This was Dad’s responsibility. He would sit and watch over the babies and adjusted the temperature, Mum fed the premature babies a mixture of two drops of brandy mixed with boiled water which she fed them with an eye dropper. She saved many babies like that – she lost some and that was always a sad occasion.”[xxviii]

Maybe ‘Queenie’ delivered my Auntie Margaret in Footscray on 24 May 1938.

Margaret was a beautiful person in every way. She was always so kind, generous and compassionate towards her family and friends. Despite her delicate start, she thrived and went on to live for eighty wonderful years.

Margaret (18 mths) with her Mother Euphemia and brothers John and Robert

Margaret (80 yrs) with her Grandchildren and Great-grandson

Postscript – Mothercraft Lessons at High School

Writing about premature and infant care brought back memories of ‘Mothercraft Lessons’ at High School. I was in Form 2 at Braybrook High School. It was 1966. A Mothercraft nurse came to school for six weeks and taught Form 2 girls ‘Mothercraft’. The nurse arrived punctually with her life-sized baby doll and taught us how to bath, feed, clothe and generally care for a baby. We were given homework to do after each lesson which involved collecting articles and pictures from magazines about babies and pasting them into a ‘Mothercraft’ scrapbook.

My mother rarely bought the Woman’s Weekly or Woman’s Day and to be honest, I really wasn’t that interested in ‘Mothercraft’ at age 13. So, I didn’t take the lessons or the scrapbook all that seriously. I got a shock when we were told that our books were to be handed in for marking. I’d pasted in a few pictures: a baby being bathed, a baby being fed, a tin of Johnson’s Baby Powder and a baby in a bassinet. I didn’t have time for anything else.

The Nurse came back the following term to hand out ‘Mothercraft Certificates’. I was the only girl in the class NOT to get one. I’d failed ‘Mothercraft’. I never told my Mother. It was the only subject I ever failed at school or university. Did it matter? I don’t think so. But maybe I should check with my children!

[i] Blundell, Ruth (nee Cameron) (2007), The Tweddle Baby Hospital and School of Mothercraft. A Memoir.

[viii] The Herald, Saturday 6 October 1923, p23

[ix] The Herald, Thursday 2 April 1936, p14

[x] Numurka Leader, Wednesday 7 August 1929, p6

[xi] The Herald, Tuesday 14 December 1920, p9

[xiii] The Herald, Tuesday 22 June 1920, p4

[xiv] Independent (Footscray), Saturday 13 August, p6

[xvi] The Herald, Monday 14 February 1938, p6

[xix] Codognotto, Kathleen & Crow Collection Association (1992), History of Children’s Services in the Western Region – Regulating Footscray Mothers: The Tweddle Baby Hospital and the Plunket System.

[xxi] Blundell, Ruth (nee Cameron) (2007), The Tweddle Baby Hospital and School of Mothercraft. A Memoir.

[xxii] The Herald, Wednesday 27 July 1932, p4

[xxiii] This book is “missing” from the National Library of Australia Collection

[xxiv] Weekly Times, Saturday 16 April 1932, p21 Saturday 23 April 1932, p22 Saturday 30 April 1932, p24 and, Saturday 7 May 1932, p21

[xxv] Weekly Times, Saturday 30 April 1933, p24

[xxvii] Weekly Times, Saturday 4 August 1934, p9

[xxviii] Caesar, Ann et al, ‘A Bush Hospital by The Bay: Altona Hospital 1932 to 1996, Altona – Laverton Historical Society Inc. 2018


Those known to have served with

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

  • Allison Henry. Pte. (d.4th Nov 1941)
  • Badham James William. Lt.
  • Baker Edwin Alfred.
  • Barnett Louis Jack.
  • Bartter Arthur John. Pte.
  • Bell Kenneth Herbert.
  • Bond James William. CQMS (d.1st October 1942)
  • Botchin Harry. Sgt
  • Bridges Gordon Bryce. Lt. (d.23rd May 1940)
  • Brookman John. L/Cpl (d.8th August 1944)
  • Brown Leonard.
  • Bryant George Albert.
  • Burgess John Thomas. L/Cpl (d.25th December 1941)
  • Cheeseman Albert Patrick. Cpl.
  • Cheney James Michael. L/Cpl.
  • Clark Albert Edward.
  • Cloke William George. L/Cpl.
  • Coates John George. Pte.
  • Coates John George. Pte.
  • Crabb Sidney. (d.8th Aug 1944)
  • Cressweller Ernest Walter.
  • David Howell. Pte. (d.12th May 1945)
  • Dawkes Timothy. 2nd Lt. (d.10th Sep 1943)
  • Day John Francis. Pte. (d.16th May 1940)
  • Delaney Thomas Leslie. Bmdr.
  • Despy Stanley Malcom.
  • Dixon Henry John.
  • Doyle Alfred. Pte.
  • Durkin Charles James Louis. L/Sgt.
  • Eagle Leonard Arthur. Cpl.
  • Evans John Arthur. Pte. (d. 1945)
  • Everett Walter Richard. A/Capt.
  • Eyles James Edwin. Pte. (d.26th Jun 1944)
  • Fewell JS.
  • Flood Thomas Michael. Pte.
  • Foulser William George. Sgt.
  • Gage Sydney John. Sgt.
  • Green Alfred William. Pte.
  • Green Thomas Roderick. Pte. (d.20th August 1944)
  • Greenough Leonard Oswald Harold. Pte.
  • Gribben Joseph. Pte. (d.27th Mar 1942)
  • Hall John William. Cpl.
  • Harrison Cyril Herbert. Pte. (d.1st June-30th August 1940)
  • Hasker R.
  • Hearnden G.
  • Heywood Joseph N.M.I.. RQMS.
  • Hickman Peter Ronald. Pte.
  • Hope Frederick James. Pte.
  • Hurst GF.
  • Hurst PE.
  • Hussey DJ.
  • Hutchinson Harold Octavius. Pte.
  • Ion Ronald William. Pte (d.4th Jan 1944)
  • Jackson James.
  • Johnson Robert Lewis. Capt.
  • Kirkpatrick William. Pte.
  • Knight Albert John. Pte.
  • Knott RR.
  • Lonsdale Roy Alfred. Pte.
  • May Frederick John.
  • McLoughlin George Edward. Pte.
  • McNeill Alan. Cpl.
  • Moore John Leslie. Pte. (d.12 Jul 1945)
  • Mordey Robert W. Pte.
  • Morosoli RA.
  • Neanor William. Pte. (d.12th Dec 1943)
  • Nelson Christopher. Pte (d.6th June 1944)
  • Noakes Walter William. Pte.
  • North Frederick Ernest. Pte. (d.1st Oct 1942)
  • O'Brien Robert. Sgt.
  • Oliver Norman George. Pte. (d.20th January 1940)
  • Page Leslie Charles. Sgt.
  • Page Phillip Eric.
  • Palmer Thomas Gerrard. L/Cpl.
  • Powell Gilbert Crampton. WO2
  • Reeves Peter John. Pte.
  • Rich Jack. Sgt. (d.23rd December 1941 )
  • Richards Albert Edward. Pte.
  • Richardson Peter Herbert. Pte. (d.24th Feb 1944)
  • Rowson Albert Henry. Sgt.
  • Ryan Michael Christopher. Pte.
  • Ryan Michael Christopher. Pte.
  • Sale Stanley George. Pte.
  • Salmon Philip Sidney. Drmr. (d.31st May 1940)
  • Samuels Leslie Samuel. Pte.
  • Saunders Charles.
  • Saunders Charles. Pte.
  • Saw JE.
  • Shimmons Eric Bert. Pte.
  • Simmonds Peter Samual . Pte.
  • Siveyer EA.
  • Skeats Joseph Charles. Pte.
  • Stone KW.
  • Sword Roderick Dennistoun. Mjr.
  • Taylor GM.
  • Taylor Reginald George. Capt.
  • Thie R. L/Sgt.
  • Tidey FE.
  • Tite HS.
  • Tossell Harold.
  • Tunmer William Arthur. Bndsmn. (d.1st-2nd Oct 1942 )
  • Turner Robert. Cpl. (d.26th September 1941)
  • Wakeman Alfred Percy. Cpl.
  • Walshaw William Henry. Pte.
  • West E.
  • Wilderspin Harry Albert. L/Cpl. (d.4th March 1943)
  • Wood James William. L/Cpl.
  • Woods Thomas. Pte. (d.27th May 1945)
  • Wrigglesworth Victor George. L/Cpl.
  • Young Arthur Leonard. Pte.

The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List


Second World War - overview

Strategy determined that New Zealanders involved in combat with Germans would mostly do so at a distance from New Zealand. New Zealand's security, it was accepted, depended on the success of British arms, which would inevitably be concentrated in Europe. Only there could the British Commonwealth be defeated and New Zealand's contribution, necessarily relatively small, could help prevent such an outcome.

As in 1914, the government immediately pledged to send an expeditionary force to assist the Commonwealth war effort in Europe, and the first of three echelons departed for Egypt in January 1940. Other New Zealanders were provided for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. New Zealand's naval vessels were placed under Admiralty orders, and its new medium bombers, which were about to be ferried to New Zealand, were made available to the RAF.

New Zealand's reaction to the outbreak of war was curiously muted. Even the departure of the First Echelon on 5 January 1940 excited little of the enthusiasm of the previous war. The 'phoney war' was shattered by the German onslaught in the west in May 1940. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France all succumbed to the blitzkrieg tactics of the German forces, and most of the British Expeditionary Force was dramatically evacuated from Dunkirk.

On 10 June 1940 Italy entered the war on Germany's side. This sudden reversal of fortunes had an immediate impact in New Zealand. Sweeping new powers, including conscription, were introduced, and a War Cabinet of both government and opposition members was established. Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, New Zealand declared war on Germany's Eastern European allies - Finland, Hungary, and Romania on 7 December 1941, and Bulgaria on 13 December 1941.

International relations

As with the First World War, the Second World War had important consequences for New Zealand's stance in the world, as it sought to bolster its interests in unfamiliar areas. For the first time it opened diplomatic relations with a non-Commonwealth power, establishing a legation in Washington in 1942. A similar step was taken in Moscow in 1944. Together with new high commissions in Canberra and Ottawa, they provided the basis for an independent approach to international issues.

Later in the war New Zealand took an active role in efforts to establish an effective international security regime, which bore fruit in the United Nations Organization created at the San Francisco Conference in April-May 1945.


The Blitz

Blitzkrieg – the lightning war – was the name given to the devastating German bombing attacks to which the United Kingdom was subjected from September 1940 until May 1941.

The Blitz as it became known in the British press was a sustained aerial attack, sending waves of bombs raining down onto British towns and cities. The attacks were carried out by the Luftwaffe and made up a larger campaign of attempting to destroy British infrastructure, cause devastation, destruction and lower morale.

Across the UK, towns and cities were subjected to the German bomber raids which, over the course of eight months resulted in 43,500 deaths of innocent civilians.

The planned campaign emerged from the failures of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain which played out in July 1940. The battle itself was a military campaign fought in the air whereby the Royal Air Force successfully defended the United Kingdom from Nazi air attacks.

In the meantime the Germans had been successfully marching through Europe, overpowering the Low Countries as well as France. Within this context, Britain was facing a threat of invasion, although seaborne attacks seemed unlikely as the German high command had assessed the difficulties of such an assault. Instead, Adolf Hitler had been preparing Operation Sea Lion as part of a dual attack by sea and air which was subsequently foiled by RAF Bomber Command. Germany instead turned to night-time bombing attacks in a tragic episode of history called the Blitz.

The lightning war began on what became known as “Black Saturday”, 7th September 1940 when the Luftwaffe launched its attack on London, which was to be the first of many. Around 350 German bombers executed their plan and dropped explosives on the city below, particularly targeting the East End of London.

In just one night, London suffered approximately 450 fatalities and around 1,500 injured. From this moment onwards, the capital city would be forced to become shrouded in darkness as the German bombers launched a sustained attack for consecutive months.

Nearly 350 German bombers (escorted by over 600 fighters) dropped explosives on East London, targeting the docks in particular. The intention was to completely destabilise the economic backbone of London which included docks, factories, warehouses and railway lines, in a bid to destroy and weaken the infrastructure. The East End of London was now a main target for incoming Luftwaffe attacks, resulting in many children across the capital being evacuated to homes around the country in a bid to protect them from the dangers of the Blitz.

Within weeks of the first bombing raid executed on London, the attacks turned to night time bombing raids, increasing the fear and unpredictability. This was not just a physical act of destruction but a deliberate psychological tool.

When the air raid sirens sounded, Lononders would often be forced to sleep in shelters, either in underground stations running throughout the city or Anderson shelters built at the bottom of gardens in case a public shelter could not be reached in time.

Anderson shelters were able to provide a certain level of protection as they were made by digging a large hole and placing the shelter within it. Made out of corrugated iron, the defence was strong and provided nearby shelter as time was of the essence in many cases.

As part of the wider programme of dealing with night time attacks, “blackouts” were subsequently enforced, leaving cities in darkness in an attempt to hinder the progress of the Luftwaffe in spotting their targets. Sadly, the bombs continued to rain down on cities around the UK.

In the eight month period of bombardment, the docks would become the most heavily targeted area for civilians living in fear of attack. In total it is believed that around 25,000 bombs were dropped on the Docklands area, a statement of German intention to destroy commercial life and weaken civilian resolve.

London would remain a primary target throughout this phase of the war, so much so, that on 10th to 11th May 1941 it was subjected to 711 tons of high explosives leading to approximately 1500 dead.

Across the country however, a similar picture was beginning to unfold as the Blitz was an assault on the entire United Kingdom. There were very few areas left unaffected by the devastation wrecked upon towns and cities up and down the country. The ominous sound of the air raid siren became a sadly familiar sound as it echoed through the streets warning the public of incoming dangers.

In November 1940, an offensive began against cities around the country, provincial or otherwise and areas where industry was believed to be. The only lull in attacks came in June the following year when the attentions of the Luftwaffe were drawn to Russia and new targets emerged.

In the peak of activity in November 1940, the Midlands city of Coventry was subjected to an horrific attack which resulted in huge loss of life and a complete destruction of infrastructure which would forever change the blueprint of the city. The medieval Coventry Cathedral was amongst the casualties on that fateful night on 14th November. The ruins of a once magnificent historic building were left behind as a poignant memory of the atrocities of war.

Winston Churchill visits the ruins of Coventry Cathedral

Such was the scale of the destruction suffered by the people of Coventry that a new verb was used by Germans from that night onwards, Koventrieren, a terminology used to describe a city raised to the ground and destroyed.

A similar picture of horror played out in other cities across the UK including Birmingham which was struck by raids in three consecutive months, successfully destroying a critical epicentre of industrial activity, the Birmingham Small Arms factory.

During the same year, it was Liverpool that would be the second most targeted area besides London, with the docks serving as the principle focus whilst the surrounding residential areas were left completely destroyed. In the first week of May 1941, the bombing in Merseyside had reached such proportions that the raids continued every single night, resulting in fatalities of up to 2000 people, not to mention the astronomical numbers of people made homeless.

Liverpool Blitz

Meanwhile, in Manchester heavy raids were executed around the Christmas period with significant landmarks destroyed, including Smithfield Market, St Anne’s Church and the Free Trade Hall. Unfortunately many Manchester firemen were still fighting the inferno burning in Liverpool. As Merseyside was ablaze, the bright flames of wartime destruction provided a useful point of reference for the bombers making their way to Manchester.

Port cities and epicentres of industry were always the main targets during the Blitz, with a similar fate suffered by many locations across the UK including Sheffield, known for its steel production and the port of Hull. Other Luftwaffe attacks were launched on port cities around the UK including Cardiff, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, Swansea and Bristol. In Britain’s great industrial heartlands, the Midlands, Belfast, Glasgow and many others saw factories targeted and transportation lines disrupted.

Whilst eight months of bombing took its toll on the civilian population of Great Britain, it did not significantly hinder the functioning of the wartime economy. The continued bombing did not stop war production from continuing, instead the British were forced to carry out production in different areas whilst locations were rebuilt. The speed and organisation of the wartime effort was maintained against all odds.

Wartime poster

In light of this stoicism against the horrors of war, the “Blitz Spirit” emerged as a way to describe the characteristics of the British civilian population soldiering on in a crisis. No slogan better sums up this spirit than “Keep calm and carry on”. The desire to uphold a certain level of morale was the main aim of the game, to continue life as normal and follow procedure.

The efforts of the civilian population can thus not be underestimated as they played a crucial role in protecting and rebuilding their cities. Many organisations such as the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence played a vital role in keeping things moving in a time of great upheaval.

By May 1941, night time attacks were decreasing as Hitler turned his attention elsewhere. The Blitz had become a period marred by destruction, death, casualty and fear, but it did not lessen the resolve of people or crucially destroy wartime production.

The Blitz will forever be remembered as a crucial episode of the Second World War, a time when people needed to stick together, help each other and resolve to continue life as best they could. This is why the Blitz remains a vital part of British and global history and will be remembered for many years to come.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.


Your guide to the Blitz, plus 9 places affected by the bombings

From September 1940 until May 1941, Britain was subjected to sustained enemy bombing campaign, now known as the Blitz. Find out how it began, what the Germans hoped to achieve and how it severe it was, plus we visit nine places affected by the attacks

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Published: September 7, 2020 at 12:00 pm

From his vantage point in Normandy, Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring pointed his binoculars in the direction of the English coast. It was 7 September 1940, a fateful day in the history of the Second World War. Overhead close to 1,000 German bomber and fighter aircraft headed towards the English capital where they would shortly wreak devastation on the streets below.

This was the first day of the sustained bombing campaign against Britain, popularly known as the Blitz, which Adolf Hitler hoped would soon bring a stubborn enemy to its knees. That day Göring had made a confident broadcast on German radio: “This is an historic hour, in which for the first time the German Luftwaffe has struck at the heart of the enemy”.

The September raids were not in fact the first aerial attacks Britain had suffered in the war. There had been sporadic incidents of bombing since the previous October but these were small and infrequent, a far cry from the massed bombardment that Britain would face in late 1940 and early 1941.

For Germany, the Blitz was in part a recognition that Hitler’s plan to invade Britain that summer was failing. After the fall of France in June 1940 Britain had been all that stood in the way of victory for Germany in the European war. However, because of the strength of the Royal Navy, an invasion of the British Isles would be a highly risky gamble and one that Hitler was not prepared to take without first achieving aerial superiority.

Over the next few months the Luftwaffe clashed repeatedly with the RAF, hoping to win control of the skies. It was a close run thing but in the end it was the British fighters that emerged triumphant, inflicting heavy losses on their German counterparts. The legend of the Battle of Britain was born.

With an invasion seemingly unlikely, Hitler switched his focus to the bombardment of British cities. This was to have the dual purpose of damaging Britain’s infrastructure and weakening civilian morale. Furthermore, on 25 August, British bombers had raided Berlin, and it is likely that the Blitz was also partly motivated by revenge.

London received the brunt of the initial attacks, being bombed for 57 consecutive days at the start of the onslaught. Other cities did not escape, however, with ports and industrial centres also selected for destruction. The bombers came over in waves several hundred strong and because they flew by night it was very difficult for British defences to prevent them getting through.

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Preparations had been made for air raids including the distribution of Anderson air-raid shelters, evacuations of civilians to the countryside and the establishment of the Air Raid Precaution organisation, but nonetheless there was significant loss of life. Despite government efforts, many people were without effective shelters and so underground alternatives, notably tube stations, were commandeered for this purpose.

In May 1941 the main phase of the Blitz ended. By this time British air defences, aided by developments in radar, had improved, meaning the Luftwaffe was suffering heavier losses during the raids. Perhaps more importantly Germany was about to embark on the invasion of the Soviet Union and needed to divert resources to the east.

What is clear is that the Blitz did not achieve either of its objectives. British production was impaired but nothing like enough to knock the country out of the war. And while the population was undoubtedly shaken, civilian morale held up remarkably well in the face of the bombs.

Air raids, albeit on a smaller scale, continued throughout the Second World War. Towards the end of the conflict the British people faced a new menace when the Germans began launching V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets at the country. These weapons arrived too late to shift the direction of the war but were still able to inflict a great deal of suffering.

Around 60,000 British civilians were killed by German air raids in the war and countless buildings were damaged. But the legacy of the Blitz is not just limited to broken walls and bones. “It has become part of the mythology of the war,” says Dr Jeremy Crang of the University of Edinburgh. “The Blitz has come to represent the indomitable spirit of the British people against the odds and, along with the evacuation from Dunkirk and the battle of Britain, forms one of the planks of Britain’s ‘finest hour’.

Words by Rob Attar. Historical advisor Dr Jeremy Crang, co-editor of The Burning Blue: a New History of the Battle of Britain (Pimlico, 2000)

Your quick guide to the Blitz

What was the Blitz?

The Blitz was a sustained bombing campaign against Britain launched by the Germans towards the end of the Battle of Britain.

What does Blitz mean?

The word Blitz is an abbreviation of the word ‘Blitzkrieg’, meaning ‘lightning war’.

When did the Blitz begin and end?

The main phase of the Blitz began on 7 September 1940 and ended in May 1941, though Germany continued with sporadic bombings until 1945.

A series of German raids in 1942 targeted historic cities and were nicknamed ‘Baedecker raids’ after the German guidebooks of that name.

Was London the only city targeted during the Blitz?

No, although London did endure 57 consecutive nights of bombings. Other cities targeted included Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton and Swansea.

How many people died in the Blitz?

Between September 1940 and May 1941, 41,480 people were killed, says Richard Overy, of whom 16,755 were women and 5,184 were children.

During the entire war, 60,595 British civilians were killed by enemy action in the UK, writes Daniel Todman, of whom 7,736 were children.

How many German bombs were dropped on Britain?

German bombers dropped 58,000 tonnes of bombs in 1940 and 1941.

Nine places in Britain affected by the Blitz

St Dunstan’s Church, London

Where the first bombs fell

Long before the Second World War began the British authorities were deeply concerned about the possibility of air raids in a future conflict. “The bomber will always get through,” former prime minister Stanley Baldwin had warned back in 1932. The Spanish Civil War had shown the potential for aerial destruction and, by the time Britain went to war with Germany, many feared a catastrophe. Two years earlier it had been estimated that 1.8 million might be killed or injured in a 60-day attack.

The people of Britain would have to wait a year to find out whether their worst nightmares would materialise. On 7 September 1940 the Blitz got under way when two waves of German bombers dropped their loads over London, killing or wounding 2,000 people and igniting the largest fires the city had seen since 1666.

Then, as on several future occasions, the docklands in London’s East End were the principal target. The district of Stepney took a savage mauling on that first day of the Blitz. Bernard Kops, who lived locally in 1940, later said: “That day stands out like a flaming wound in my memory. Imagine a ground floor flat crowded with hysterical women, crying babies and great crashes in the sky and the whole earth shaking”.

During the Blitz many buildings in Stepney were reduced to rubble but the church of St Dunstan and All Saints survived with only its windows destroyed. The church is one of London’s oldest, dating back to at least the tenth century, although the main structure is chiefly late medieval. Today one of its stained glass windows recalls the Second World War, with an image of Jesus rising above the ruins of Stepney after the Blitz.

Chislehurst Caves, Kent

Where people hid from the bombers

This ancient cave complex has been gradually dug out of the rock over the course of several thousand years. Up to the early 19th century Chislehurst was mined for chalk and after that it became a popular tourist attraction, which it still is nowadays. During the Second World War, however, the caves became very popular for an entirely different reason.

Londoners living through the Blitz were in desperate need of shelter. Hundreds of thousands of households had been provided with Anderson shelters by the government but these offered limited protection and were only available to those with gardens. The indoor Morrison shelter was not distributed until March 1941. So as the skies filled with bombers night after night, huge numbers of civilians sought to find alternative places of safety.

In this spirit Chislehurst Caves became a giant impromptu air-raid shelter. So many Londoners took advantage of its caverns and passageways that special trains had to be put on to transport them all there. Some even took up residence, as an observer noted in November 1940. “We were told to go to the inner caves: but they had been filled by regular visitors – who had commandeered positions weeks before. Some had taken possession of cut out rooms, and curtains were fixed in front and behind… there were tables, cooking stoves, beds, chairs behind the curtains. Bombed out families live there permanently and the father goes to work and returns there and the mother goes out to shop and that is their home.”

How dangerous was ‘Blitz Spirit’?

The stoicism of the British people in response to the Luftwaffe raids of 1940–41 is seen as heroic, but their defiance resulted in needless deaths, says Richard Overy.

“The popular slogan that the bomb that killed you ‘had your name on it’ is not just a Blitz myth, but is recorded in wartime diaries and eyewitness accounts,” he writes. “After a flurry of sheltering in the first weeks of the Blitz in September 1940, Londoners developed a growing insouciance…”

Bethnal Green Tube Station, London

Where a tragedy of the Blitz occurred

One obvious place to shelter from the Blitz was London’s underground network, deep below the city. Initially the government sought to prevent the stations being used for this purpose but the weight of popular pressure was such that the authorities were compelled to back down. As many as 177,000 people hid from the bombers in tube stations where they were sometimes supplied with beds and toilet facilities by the authorities.

Like many other stations, Bethnal Green became a popular hideout. On 3 March 1943 it was the scene of a disaster. The worst stage of the Blitz was by then long finished but raids did still occur from time to time. That day air-raid warnings were heard and people hurried towards the station where they hoped to shelter. Exactly what happened next remains slightly unclear, however it seems that the firing of a new type of anti-aircraft gun caused panic and all at once a crowd of people surged forwards as they were descending the steps. In the resulting crush 173 people were killed and dozens more injured. Alf Morris, who was 12 at the time, later recalled the scene. “People were falling around me. I don’t know who they were, they were just falling. I went to move and couldn’t because they had trapped me. I couldn’t move at all. I was crying and screaming.”

Afterwards the survivors were told not to speak about what had happened and it was only gradually that the full story emerged. There is now a plaque at the station commemorating the incident.

How did Britons rebuild their lives after the Blitz?

The German bombing of Britain from 1940–45 exacted a terrible price, in lives lost, infrastructure wrecked and nerves shattered. Daniel Todman reveals how Britons rebuilt their lives, and their cities, in the aftermath of the raids.

“Psychiatrists reported that, although survivors of bad raids often showed signs of extreme shock, almost all of them recovered fairly quickly, without much more treatment than a kind word, a blanket and a cup of tea,” he writes.

“Those with more severe reactions to the horrors they witnessed, however, may have been discouraged from reporting by the media’s celebration of stiff-upper-lip endurance…”

Coventry Cathedral, Coventry

Where a city was wrecked

Two months into the Blitz, the German bombers began to target Britain’s other industrial cities in earnest. This new phase was announced in horrifying fashion on 14 November when 449 bombers emptied their loads onto the city of Coventry. It was the most concentrated attack yet carried out over the British Isles and the effects were so severe that the German propaganda machine coined a new English word: ‘Coventrate’, which meant to destroy a city from the air.

The raid cost 554 lives. The physical destruction was also great, including buildings with no military purpose such as hospitals. Coventry’s medieval cathedral sustained tremendous damage, as reported by Tom Harrisson, director of Mass Observation, at the time. “At each end the bare frames of the great windows still have a kind of beauty without their glass but in between them is an incredible chaos of bricks, pillars, girders, memorial tablets”.

In the aftermath of the war it was decided to let the ruins stand and construct a new cathedral close-by. The architect Basil Spence was commissioned to design the replacement structure, which was consecrated in 1962. Unlike so much of the postwar reconstruction, Spence’s cathedral is a majestic achievement, often held to be the architect’s greatest work.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Where a London icon survived

In 1940 London was bombed 126 times. The last great raid of the year on 29 December was also one of the worst. Incendiary bombs were dropped around the square mile of the City causing an inferno that was dubbed the Second Great Fire of London. That night photographer Herbert Mason took a photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral’s distinctive dome emerging out of the smoke. This picture was shown on the Daily Mail front cover two days later and is probably now the defining image of the Blitz.

Many of the buildings around St Paul’s were ruined during the war but Christopher Wren’s masterpiece (completed in 1710) avoided major damage, even though it was struck by 28 bombs. The cathedral’s survival owed much to a group of volunteers called St Paul’s Watch who took it upon themselves to douse incendiary bombs and prevent fires taking hold.

Close to the cathedral is The National Firefighters Memorial. This bronze sculpture was created by artist John Mills in 1991 to recognise members of the United Kingdom Fire Service who risked their lives tackling the blazes of the Blitz. The names of 997 who died in the conflict are inscribed on the memorial. More recently the names of firefighters killed in peacetime have also been inscribed on the monument.

Was the Blitz a ‘golden era’ for criminals?

Joshua Levine reveals how the German bombing of British cities in the Second World War created new opportunities for lawlessness.

“The range of offences committed during the Blitz, from breaches of regulations to cold-blooded murder, was wide,” he writes. “And while some were committed by inveterate wrongdoers, many were carried out by ordinary people reacting to opportunity…”

St Luke’s Church, Liverpool

Where a church recalls Merseyside’s pain

Britain’s ports enabled vital supplies to be brought into the country so it is little surprise that they were targeted in earnest by the Luftwaffe. Bristol, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Swansea, Plymouth and Southampton were all hit. Merseyside, then the country’s second most important port, endured a particularly torrid time, with almost 4,000 killed in the area between August 1940 and January 1942.

The most intense period of bombing in Merseyside occurred from 1–7 May 1941. This ‘May Blitz’ saw 870 tonnes of high explosives dropped on the area, resulting in 1,741 people being killed. Among the Liverpool buildings damaged in these raids was St Luke’s Church, which was the recipient of an incendiary bomb on 5 May. The late-Georgian church’s ruins were left as they were after the war to act as a reminder of the trauma of the Blitz. It is now popularly known as ‘the bombed-out church’ and also contains a memorial to the Irish potato famine.

Dalnottar Cemetery, Clydebank

Where victims of Scotland’s Blitz lie

Most of Scotland avoided serious damage in the Blitz. The main exceptions were Glasgow and the neighbouring Clydeside towns that served as hubs of industry and shipbuilding. In the spring of 1941 they were subjected to heavy raids by the Luftwaffe. One of the worst casualties was the small town of Clydebank, which was ravaged in successive nights of bombing on 13 and 14 March.

Clydebank had been earmarked as a potential victim at the start of the war and most of its women and children had been evacuated in 1939. However when the expected attacks failed to materialise many of the evacuees returned to a town that they hoped had been spared.

These illusions were shattered in dramatic fashion on the first night of the raids when 1,650 incendiaries were dropped along with 272 tonnes of high explosive bombs. By the end of the second night Clydebank had been devastated. It was reported that only seven of the town’s 12,000 houses escaped harm in the fierce bombardment. The number of dead was 528 and hundreds more were seriously injured. As it happened the industrial sections of the town were less badly damaged, meaning that the cost to British production was relatively limited.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Where the Belfast Blitz is remembered

Belfast was spared the bombers for the first few months of the Blitz, but with its valuable shipyards and factories it was never likely to escape entirely. Yet the local authorities seemed reticent to prepare for this eventuality, which meant that Belfast’s air-raid precautions left a lot to be desired.

The Luftwaffe struck the city on three occasions in April and May 1941, wreaking havoc with high explosives, incendiary bombs and parachute mines. In total around 1,000 people were killed, most on the night of 15 April when the loss of life was significantly higher than after the attack on Coventry. “It was like an earthquake that night,” said resident Jimmy Penton. “The ground shook and the people squealed and yelled. They thought it was the end of the world.”

RAF Middle Wallop, Hampshire

Where British fighters took on the bombers

The British tried several tactics to stop the bombers getting through. Searchlights, anti-aircraft guns and night-fighter planes were all employed for this purpose, yet with limited success initially. Early in the Blitz it was taking an average of 30,000 shells to bring down a single Luftwaffe aeroplane.

As time progressed, the use of radar and the introduction of the Bristol Beaufighter enabled the defenders to make life more difficult for the bombers. Spearheading the attack was John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham of the RAF’s No. 604 Squadron. He accounted for several German aircraft, earning both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts in 1941.

His morale-boosting achievements were trumpeted in the press where his remarkable ability to track down enemies at night was attributed to a diet of raw carrots. In reality, his secret was the Beaufighter’s airborne interception radar. RAF Middle Wallop was completed in 1940 and utilised as an RAF base for the remainder of the Second World War.

This article has been curated from content first published in BBC History Magazine, BBC History Revealed and HistoryExtra between 2009 and 2017


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