Albert Bridge, Belfast – Collapse on 15th September 1886

By Gavin Bamford, History Hub Ulster


A previous bridge on this site was a privately owned five span masonry bridge which was built in 1831. It was officially called Lagan Bridge, although it was known as Halfpenny Bridge due to the toll charged. It was subsequently renamed to Albert Bridge after Queen Victoria’s husband. In 1860 it was acquired by the Belfast Corporation, which abolished the toll. 

Imminent Collapse

The Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee (note 1) met on 8th September 1886:

Albert Bridge – The Surveyor reported that in consequence of the Albert Bridge having shown signs of subsidence and fracture, observations were being taken to determine whether any danger is likely to occur to the public.

The Witness (Belfast) newspaper of 10th September 1886 reported in their local and provincial news column that:

It is stated that the Albert Bridge is sinking, and that it is consequently becoming dangerous for heavy traffic. We understand that the Town Council officials are engaged in examining it.

The Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee met again on 15th September 1886: 

Albert Bridge, closing of vehicular traffic etc – The Surveyor reported that he considered the Albert Bridge to be in a dangerous state and the Mayor (note 2) who had examined the bridge with him concurred. Resolution: that the bridge be closed to vehicular but not foot traffic and the Surveyor be instructed to put for the guidance of boatmen a notice on each arch the word ‘dangerous’ and to take the necessary steps for shoring up and placing centering under the dangerous arches.


The bridge must have collapsed shortly after the Improvement Committee meeting (mentioned above).

The Ulster Echo newspaper of 16th September 1886 reported:

The Catastrophe at the Albert Bridge, Recovery of Bodies, Later Particulars – …. The lamentable catastrophe which occurred at the Albert Bridge last night, when the central arch fell, involving the loss of a number of lives, and inflicting injury upon others. 

Thankfully, there was only one death in this horrific incident.


John Matthews, 64, night-watchman, married, died on 15th September 1886 at Albert Bridge. His body had been recovered from the bed of the river at 5 o’clock on the morning of 16th September 1886.

An inquest was held later that day with R F Dill M.D., Coroner for the Borough of Belfast presiding. 

The Ulster Echo newspaper of 16th September 1886 reported:

James Callaghan, residing in George’s Court East, Lagan Village, stated that he was passing along the bridge from Ballymacarrett in the direction of the town about twenty minutes to eight along with Mrs Maguire (now in hospital). Witness saw a watchman on the bridge; and immediately after he passed him he heard a crash. Witness looked around and saw that the woman Maguire (note 3) had fallen into the chasm created by the breaking of the bridge. The watchman had also disappeared.

The cause of Matthews’ death was found to be “Homicidal injuries. Death instantaneous”. This information was included in the death registration made on 17th September 1886. 


The Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee met again on 17th September 1886:

Albert Bridge (Collapse) – The Surveyor reported the action he had taken from the first time his attention had been attracted to the condition of the bridge till its collapse. Moved by Alderman Dixon. Seconded by Councillor Jenkins.

Temporary Wooden Bridge – Specification for the erection of a temporary wooden bridge over the Lagan as a present substitute for the Albert Bridge until arrangements can be made, either for the repair of the old one or the erection of a new Bridge; the width of the temporary Bridge to be 30 feet including an eight foot footpath and that advertisements be published inviting tenders for doing the work before the 1st January; and that the Improvement Committee be instructed to take charge of the matter; also to report to the Council as to whether the old Bridge can or should be repaired or a new one erected.

The Belfast News Letter of 20th September 1886 reported:

There is nothing new in connection with the collapse …. no additional fatalities …. no enquiries have been made for persons missing.



The bridge collapse was later raised in Parliament where Hansard records:

21st September 1886 vol 309 cc1113-4 1113 

  1. SEXTON (Belfast, W., and Sligo, S.) 

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whether any lives have been lost through the collapse of the Albert Bridge, Belfast, on Wednesday evening last; whether the bridge was thronged at the time of the accident; whether it is true, as reported, that a gradual sinking of the structure had been observed for the past two or three weeks; whether the Town Council is responsible for having allowed the continuance of a thoroughfare across the bridge weeks after its collapsing condition became apparent; and, how soon an official inquiry will be held? 


So far as is known one life was lost through this accident. Fortunately, it is not a fact that the bridge was thronged at the time. It is, I understand, true that a gradual sinking had previously been observed; but the immediate collapse of the bridge was not apprehended. I am advised that the question of responsibility is one of law, which must be decided in a Court of Justice, if raised. I am not aware that there is any obligation on the Government to institute an official inquiry; but I shall look further into this matter.”

New Bridge

This new bridge, of granite with three cast-iron arches was designed by Mr J. C. Bretland, the Borough Surveyor of Belfast at the time, and was constructed by Messrs Henry of Belfast on behalf of Belfast Corporation, at a cost of £36,500 was built in 1888/90. All of the cast iron including the decorative lampposts were made in Derby by Andrew Handyside & Co. It was opened in 1890 and the name Albert Bridge was kept, but now in honour of Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, who had laid a foundation stone in 1889.


(1) The author was given the minutes book of the Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee for the period from 20th August 1884 to 21st March 1888. It had been found in a skip.

(2) Sir Edward Harland Bt, Mayor 1885 to 1888.

(3) The Northern Whig of 23rd August 1916 reported on a court case:

An old woman, named Bridget Maguire was charged with an assault. The prosecutor advised the court that the prisoner was nearly lost in the Albert Bridge disaster in 1886, being rescued by police from the debris floating in the Lagan after much difficulty.

The Last Man to Let You Down

A unique presentation and talk by Chris Scott, Funeral Director with Kirkwoods and Wilton Funeral Directors.

Since his teenage years, Chris has always taken a keen interest in local history, and at an early age interviewed older members of the community and recorded their stories for posterity.

Over time, Chris developed his skillset and was a regular columnist with The Ulster Star, Lisburn, producing hundreds of local history stories. Over the past fifteen years Chris has been invited to speak to various groups, including local history societies and church groups. He also trained as a tour guide and led several walking tours in villages on the eastern shores of Lough Neagh, County Antrim. Chris has, in the past, touched on aspects of local and family history on both BBC and commercial radio, presented his own programme on local community radio in County Down, and now is an active podcaster and interviewer in his spare time!

Chris is a “late joiner” to the funeral profession, starting out as funeral arranger and progressing to a Funeral Director. His curiosity and passion for history doesn’t stop here! Chris recently uncovered several original Wilton Funeral Day books covering the period May 1929 to December 1933. These registers provide an invaluable insight into aspects of the funeral business and our social history almost one hundred years ago.

Chris has carried out an analysis of the books revealing some stark facts about aspects of our ancestors’ lives across Belfast and beyond in the “Hungry Thirties.” Chris also explores the early history of Wilton Funeral Service from the mid 1920’s and briefly looks at the Wilton family history.

You might well imagine it might be all doom and gloom – but we can dispel that myth. Chris will be relating some strange stories around funerals from the 1930 era, combined with some personal accounts he recorded in the past from people who lived through that era.

Find out about the court case, in 1931, focusing around falsifying the age of a person during the death registration process. Hear all about the invention of a foghorn for a vault in 1932, specifically designed for those who feared premature burial! Chris will also talk about some of the funeral customs and superstitions from that era. “Never count the cars or people at a funeral” – Apparently it would bring you bad luck!  The original Wilton Day books and other funeral related material will be available for inspection. Who knows – you might discover something to supplement your own family history research!

Chris will be more than happy to arrange for you or your group to avail of the
presentation. This can be held at your venue or at one of the branches at:

Wiltons, Ravenhill Road (Belfast)
Wiltons, Shankill Road (Belfast)
Wiltons, Shore Road (Whitehouse)
Wiltons, Holborn Road (Bangor)
Wiltons, Scotch Quarter (Carrickfergus)
Kirkwoods, King’s Road (Belfast)
Kirkwoods, Church Street (Newtownards)

Whilst there will be no charge for the presentation, any donations kindly received will be forwarded to Marie Curie Hospice, Kensington Road, Belfast.

If your group or organisation would like to arrange or attend a presentation then please get in touch with Chris at Wilton Funeral Service, 334 Ravenhill Road, Belfast, BT6 8GL.

Telephone number 02890 450723. Email:

Homes for Heroes in Glengormley

Homes for Heroes in Glengormely

In the aftermath of the Great War, parliament passed the Irish Land (Provision for Soldiers and Sailors) Act in 1919 which provided for the erection of dwellings for ex-servicemen across the island of Ireland.

Nigel Henderson, a researcher with History Hub Ulster, has been documenting locations of the 1252 cottages built in Northern Ireland for war veterans between 1921 and 1939 under the auspices of the 1919 Act and the men who lived in the cottages. In the Whiteabbey/Glengormley area, 111 cottages were built under the auspices of the Act between 1922 and 1925. In 1922, one house was built in Ballyduff Townland and four cottages were built at the top of Whitewell Road. However, May 2023 marks the centenary of the completion of the cottages built at Glengormley. The centenaries of the colonies built at Cambrai Park and Ypres Park in Whiteabbey fall in January 2024 and March 2025 respectively. The British Legion built four cottages for ex-servicemen at Doagh Road, Whitehouse in the late 1920s.

A colony of forty cottages, known collectively as St Quentin Park after the 1918 battle, was built in two phases in 1922 and 1923 on 10.5 acres of land purchased from Thomas Alexander Archbold of Hillview and Captain Robert Humphrey Bland of Tobarcooran for £1503-6-6, which equates to approximately 68,380 in current terms. Mr Archbold’s daughter, Jane Russell Archbold, had served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a Staff Nurse at the UVF Hospital in Belfast from January 1916 to February 1919. Captain Bland had served with the Royal Irish Rifles and the Labour Corps in the Great War. There were three cottage types in the colony with 38 semi-detached cottages and two detached cottages. 

Work commenced in August 1921 and the ten cottages at Block A were completed in September 1922. The fourteen cottages at Block C were completed in January 1923 and the sixteen cottages at Block B were completed on 11th May 1923. The average size of each plot was 0.26 acres which provided a sizeable area in which the veterans could grow fruit and vegetable and the initial rent was five shillings per week (approximately £11pw in current terms). The cottages did not have a water supply and four pumps supplied water to forty households. The first record of occupants of the cottages appears in the 1924. 

These are the details on just two of the veterans who lived for a time at St Quentin Park.

Patrick Joseph Finnison was born in Leith and enlisted with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in October 1908 and was stationed with 1st Battalion at Woolwich in Kent in 1911. He was deployed to France on 22nd August 1914 and taken prisoner at Le Cateau five days later, being held at Limburg and Stendal camps. He was discharged in January 1919 and was living at Dandy Street in Whitehouse when he awarded a 40% Disablement Pension in respect of Neurasthenia at the rate of sixteen shillings per week (approximately £46 per week in current terms). He was employed as a Clerk when he married Agnes Canavan, a tailor, on 15th July 1919 at St. Mary’s Star of Sea Roman Catholic Church in Whitehouse. Patrick and Agnes Finnison later moved to Warrenpoint, where Patrick died on 28th November 1943, aged 49.

Isaac Doherty was born on 5th July 1877 at Ballyfinaghy to Robert Doherty and Anne Doherty (nee McGowan) and he married Mary Graham of Drew Street on 5th September 1912 at St Anne’s Parish Church. Isaac enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was posted to France with the Ulster Division in October 1915. He was serving with the Royal Engineers when he was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on 8th May 1919. In 1928, Mary’s daughter from her first marriage, Lily Graham, died at the Royal Victoria Hospital at the age of 21. Isaac Doherty was living at 909 Crumlin Road when he died on 24th February 1940, aged 63, and Mary Doherty died on 7th May 1957, aged 80. Isaac and Mary Doherty and Lily Graham are buried in Dundonald Cemetery. 

Whilst many of the cottages have been extended or altered, with some of the semi-detached cottages being converted into single dwellings or business premises, it is still possible to see features of the original cottages. One pair of cottages have been demolished and replaced with Milibern Close, a housing complex for ex-service personnel. The support for service personnel continues, albeit in a different way.

Nigel Henderson, History Hub Ulster

Belfast Blitz Plaques

Belfast Blitz Plaques

Following the 75th Anniversary of the 1941 German air raids on Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council erected a number of memorial plaques at various locations in the city. The phrasing of the inscriptions on all but three of the plaques refers to “lives lost here” but it is unclear whether it refers literally to fatalities at the location/street, the number of people who lived in the location/street who died, the number of people from the area near the location who died, or a mixture of the circumstances.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website includes a Civilian War Dead section which lists the place of death and the place of residence for fatalities, the information having been collated from the Civil Defence Authority fatality lists and other sources. The anomalies between the figures specified on the Belfast City Council plaques and the CWGC Civilian War Dead List (henceforth CWGC List) will be examined in this article.

1 Temporary Mortuaries

The first plaque was erected at St George’s Market, which was used as a temporary mortuary following the air raids and was the centralised location for the identification of bodies. On 21st April and 9th May, funeral corteges left St George’s Market, with unidentified and identified but unclaimed bodies being interred in publicly-owned plots in Belfast City Cemetery and Milltown Cemetery.

Plaques were also erected to mark the use of the Peter’s Hill Baths and the Falls Road Baths as temporary mortuaries, but no arrangements were made to erect a similar plaque at the temporary mortuary at Erskine’s Felt Works in Whitehouse.

2 Campbell College

Campbell College was taken over by the military authorities as the 24th (London) General Hospital shortly after the start of the Second World War and was hit on the night of 4th/5th May 1941. The Blitz Victims List compiled by the Northern Ireland War Memorial records that 24 people died at the hospital, including one civilian fatality. Of the 23 army personnel killed, nine are buried in Northern Ireland and the remainder were repatriated to Great Britain for interment. The civilian was Mary Jane Close (58) who was injured at her home in Westbourne Street and died at the hospital and is buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

3 Pottinger – Ravenscroft Avenue

The CWGC List records Ravenscroft Avenue as the death location for only five people, including four members of the Frizzell family from Number 39 and Thomas Crone Bingham, a sixteen-year-old ARP volunteer from Isoline Street. However, a further sixteen people died in the Ravenscroft Avenue area. Fifteen lives were lost at Avondale Street, including six members of the McCullough family at Number 8. Another sixteen-year-old ARP volunteer, William James Mays from Lichfield Avenue, died at Rosebery Street. Consequently, the German bombing of the Ravencroft Avenue area resulted in the deaths of 21 people but only five died at Ravenscroft Avenue. Ravenscroft Public Elementary School was destroyed, and 47 houses were either destroyed or left uninhabitable. 

4 Mountpottinger – Thorndyke Street

On the night of 15th/16th April, a 250kg bomb exploded near the air raid shelter, causing the walls to buckle and the concrete roof fell on the people inside. The CWGC List records that seventeen people died in Thorndyke Street, nine at the air raid shelter. Thirteen of the fatalities were residents of the street, including six members of the Wherry family from Number 16. Four of the Thorndyke Street fatalities resided elsewhere – ARP Warden Joseph Bell (45) of Lord Street, ARP Messenger Phares Hill Welsh (16) of Paxton Road, William Stewart (55) of Lord Street, and William Murray (30) of Cherryville Street. Another resident of Thorndyke Street, Sarah Hughes (62), died at the Royal Victoria Hospital and Andrew McAdams (75) died in nearby Dufferin Street. The bomb that exploded at Thorndyke Street resulted in the deaths of nineteen people.

5 Sandy Row – Blythe Street

The only Blitz Plaque in South Belfast is attached to an outer wall of St Aidan’s Church of Ireland and records that thirteen lives were lost at Blythe Street, which matches the details on the CWGC List. Fourteen people who lived in Blythe Street died as a result of the air raid, including a father and daughter who were injured at Blythe Street, died at the Belfast Union Infirmary, and are buried in Ballynure Cemetery – Rebecca Craig (7) died on 16th April and Robert Craig (36) died two days later. Nine people died at 95 Blythe Street, the home of William and Jane McKee, who lost a son, two married daughters, and five grandchildren. David McKee (26) was an Engineer in the Merchant Navy and Sarah Jane (Sadie) Thompson (21) from 313 Donegall Road, was visiting the family when she died. 

6 Yorkgate – Sussex Street and Vere Street

Although the York Street Flax Spinning Mill took a direct hit, no fatalities are recorded as dying at the mill. However, the falling masonry from the mill and other bombs brought death and destruction to the close-packed streets of housing between the mill and Gallaher’s tobacco factory at Earl Street. In 1939, there were 260 residential properties in the area but there were only 128 houses after 1941. In addition, York Street Presbyterian Church on the corner of Earl Street and York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church were destroyed. The CWGC List records that thirty-four people died in either Sussex Street or Vere Street, with twenty-nine being residents and the other five being from Pilot Street, New Lodge Road, Chatham Street, Artillery Street, or Orchard Street. Mary McSourley (12) of 74 Vere Street died at the Mater Hospital and the Civil Defence Authority’s 9th List (dated 21st April 1941) records Kathleen Malone of 31 Sussex Street as a fatality but she is not recorded on the CWGC list or on the NIWM Blitz Victims List. Lance Corporal John Thomas Park and Corporal David Cooper Simpson from 507th Field Company, Royal Engineers, died at the junction of Henry Street and North Queen Street during the May air raids. The death toll for the area was 38 and not 40 as recorded on the plaque.

7 Tiger’s Bay – Hogarth Street

Unlike other locations where the Belfast City Council plaques specify exact numbers, the plaque at Hogarth Street records “up to 80 lives lost here”. The CWGC List records that 69 civilians died at Hogarth Street and nine died at Edlingham Street, including eight people from other streets. A memorial at Hogarth Street, since removed after being vandalised, recorded the names of 117 fatalities from the Tiger’s Bay area. The CWGC List records that 71 residents of Hogarth Street and Edlingham Street died, with six-year-old Jean Spratt dying of injuries at Belfast City Hospital. Six members of the Wilson family died at 56 Edlingham Street and five people living at 65 Hogarth Street died, including two women from Glasgow. Hugh Baxter McNeill had died on 3rd March 1941, aged 49, and his widow Annie Lorna McNeill (nee Dornan) died on the night of 15th/16th April at the age of 46, along with her children, Hetty (23) and Hugh Baxter McNeill (19). Also at the house were her mother and sister – Harriett Dornan (69) and Cissy (30) – whose home address was in Glasgow. It is possible that William John Dornan sent his family back to Belfast as it was deemed to be safer than Glasgow. 

8 New Lodge – Sheridan Street

Two plaques relating to lives lost at two streets which no longer exist were placed at Sheridan Street. The CWGC List records that eleven civilians died at Burke Street, with the twelfth fatality being Stoker 1st Class Henry Brown (51) who was serving on HMS Caroline and died at 18 Burke Street with his mother, his wife, and his daughter – Mary Jane (89), Georgina (50), and Georgina (18). Thomas Mason (33), who was injured at his home in Burke Street and died at the Mater Hospital, is not included on the plaque. The CWGC List records that 18 people who lived in Annadale Street died at their homes, including Ernest William Riecken (65), the only German-born fatality of the air raids, and his wife, Mary Louisa (66) from Number 6.

9 New Lodge – Victoria Barracks

The only Blitz plaque that relates exclusively to military fatalities was placed on the gable wall of the terrace of houses called Victoria Barracks on Carlisle Parade. These houses were built in the 1930s as married quarters for the Victoria Barracks and the first house in the terrace was destroyed during the air raid on the night of 15th/16th April and was never replaced. The NIWM Blitz Victims list records that five men from 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment died at Victoria Barracks. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Douglas Sutcliffe (50), Second Lieutenant Edward William Cobble (40), and Corporal John William Oliver Mason (29) died on 16th April. Private Denis Patrick James Cuffe (20), and Private Albert Joseph Skinner (20) died on 5th May.  Second Lieutenant Cobble, who died whilst being transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital, is the only one of the five fatalities to be buried in Belfast, the bodies of the other four men being repatriated to Great Britain for burial. 

10 Donegall Street – St Patrick’s Church

This is the only Belfast City Council Blitz plaque that had been placed inside a church in Belfast and records “130 lives lost here”.  This is not true as there were no fatalities recorded for Donegall Street and St Patrick’s Church was not one of the churches to be badly damaged or destroyed in the air raids. The specified fatality figure could refer to the number of parishioners of the church who died. Alternatively, it could refer to the number of fatalities from the parish area who died, which would include people who were not Roman Catholics.

11 Carrick Hill – Unity Street and Trinity Street

Two Blitz plaques have been erected on the outer wall of the Carrick Hill Community Centre, which was built on the site of the former Trinity Street Reformed (Covenanting) Presbyterian Church. There were no military fatalities recorded for the Carrick Hill area.

The Unity Street area was devastated when a parachute mine struck the spire of Holy Trinity Church of Ireland, which was located on Unity Street and faced down Trinity Street. The CWGC List records that 34 people died at Unity Street, with another person dying at Wall Street, which was immediately behind the church. The CWGC List records that 28 residents of the street died, with John McAnespie (19) dying of injuries at the Mater Hospital. As many of the houses on Unity Street and Wall Street were subsequently demolished and Holy Trinity Church was not rebuilt, the council built the Stanhope Street Playground on bomb site in 1954.

The fatality figure recorded for “Trinity Street Church” does not stand up to scrutiny as the only person recorded as dying at Trinity Street was Kathleen Duff (16) from Hanover Street who was a Typist at ARP Post 396 and was killed by falling masonry. Six other volunteers at ARP Post 396 died at Unity Street. The only resident of Trinity Street recorded as a fatality was Katherine Muldoon (32) from Number 20 who died in Unity Street and is buried in the graveyard at St Joseph’s Church, Hannahstown.

In an oral account, an ARP Warden refers to the spire of “Trinity Street Church” being hit by a parachute mine but Trinity Street Reformed Presbyterian Church did not have a spire – it was Holy Trinity Church of Ireland that was hit. In effect, the “Trinity Street Church” fatality figure relates to people who died in Unity Street and demonstrates the danger of relying on oral accounts without cross-checking against historic documents and sources.

12 The Bone – Ballynure Street

The CWGC List and the NIWM List both record that 29 people died at Ballynure Street, with 26 of the fatalities being residents of the street, and there is no record of any military fatalities. Eleven people died at 4 Ballynure Street, including three members of the Thompson family from 3 Lee Street. Jeremiah and Lavinia Clarke (both 51) and six children ranging in age from 10 to 26 died along with their married daughter, Unice Thompson (19), their son-in-law, John Thompson (21), and their granddaughter, Joan Thompson (2). Only four of the eleven fatalities were identified, with the deaths of the others being presumed at a Coroner’s Enquiry on 14th June 1941. John Thompson is buried in Belfast City Cemetery and Lavinia Clarke is buried in Carnmoney Cemetery. William Clarke (15) and Cecil Clarke (12) were buried in marked coffins in the Blitz Ground at Belfast City Cemetery on 21st April 1941. Robert Clarke (26) was involved in war work at the Short & Harland aircraft factory. In total, 34 people living in the “Bally” streets in this part of Belfast died during the air raids.

13 Woodvale – Ohio Street and Heather Street

Two identical plaques were erected one at the Welcome Evangelical Church on Heather Street and one at the junction of Ohio Street and Disraeli Street. The CWGC List records that 40 people died at Heather Street, with 37 of the fatalities being residents and the two being from nearby Disraeli Street and Montreal Street. ARP Warden James Henry Robinson (29) from Donaldson Crescent off Twaddell Avenue. The CWGC List records that 25 people died at Ohio, with 22 of the fatalities being residents of the street – two of the fatalities lived in nearby Columbia Street and one lived in Glencairn Crescent off the Ballygomartin Road. The CWGC List records that 72 people died at Heather Street, Ohio Street, and the streets with which they intersect, and that 73 residents of the same area died, three of the latter dying of injuries at hospital.

14 Shankill – Percy Street

The Blitz Plaque erected for Percy Street is another which records an approximate fatalities figure. The CWGC List records that 37 people died at Percy Street, ten of whom were not residents of the street. The CWGC List records that 29 residents of Percy Street died in the air raids, with Frederick Owens (41) dying of injuries at the Royal Victoria Hospital. One resident of Percy Street died in the first German air raid on the night of 7th/8th April. Archibald McDonald (22) from 80 Percy Street was a volunteer with the Auxiliary Fire Service and he died fighting the fire at the McCue Dick Timber Yard on Duncrue Street and is buried in Dundonald Cemetery. Four people injured at Percy Street died at the Royal Victoria Hospital, including Thomas Harvey (38) of 12 Tyne Street who died on 8th May 1941 and was buried in Belfast City Cemetery two days later. Ten people died at the Percy Street Air Raid Shelter, including two Able Seaman of the Royal Navy. George James Henry Saunders (21) from Brighton in Sussex was a crewman on HMS Skate which was moored in Belfast Harbour and is buried in a military plot at Belfast City Cemetery. Samuel Corry (26) of Joseph Street in Belfast was on home leave from HMS Quebec and died with his wife, Martha Mary (27) and their ten-month old daughter, Elizabeth. They are buried in a family plot in Belfast City Cemetery.


The fatality figures recorded on the BCC Blitz Plaques rarely tie in with the fatalities recorded by CWGC and NIWM but, as no names are available relating the BCC plaques, it is not possible to reconcile the figures. When I was in contact with BCC about the plaques may years ago, I was told that the council had just been given the figures. The person whose role covered the erection of the plaques moved to a new role and contact with Belfast City Council lapsed. Several plaques (e.g. Antrim Road and Greencastle) were not, as far as I am aware, ever erected. “With hindsight, it would have been better if the plaque figures had represented a combination of fatalities at each location and fatalities who lived at each location. It would also have been better if all the plaques had used “up to nn lives lost” rather than specifying an exact figure.  A Freedom of Information Request has been lodged with Belfast City Council seeking details of how the figures quoted on the plaques were determined.

Author: Nigel Henderson, Researcher, History Hub Ulster

Heroes of the Belfast Blitz

Whilst a lot has been written about the destruction and lives lost during the German air raids in April and May 1941, the men and women who were honoured for bravery have received less attention.  At least twenty people received awards for ‘brave action in Civil Defence’ with three George Medals (GM) and nine British Empire Medals (BEM) being issued.

John Shaw (46), an Electrical Foreman at the Belfast Electricity Department and a Divisional Superintendent in the St. John Ambulance Brigade, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his devotion to duty at the Belfast Electric Power Station at Laganbank.

Three members of staff at the Ulster Hospital on Templemore Avenue were commended for their actions on the same night – they were Matron Eleanor Elizabeth Aicken (37), Radiographer Isobel Margaret Dickson (34), and Honorary Surgeon Robert John McConnell (57).

Three George Medals and two British Empire Medals were awarded to members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Constables Alexander McCusker (44) and William Brett (52) from the Leopold Street Barracks were awarded the former for rescue work Ottawa Street and Ohio Street.

On the same night, the York Street Flax Spinning Factory received a direct hit, with the debris and blast destroying 42 houses in Sussex Street and Vere Street. Constables Robert Moore (43) and Alfred King (36) from York Street Barracks were awarded the GM and the BEM respectively for rescue work, specifically at the home of the McSorley family at 74 Vere Street.

A unit of the Auxiliary Fire Service was travelling along Royal Avenue when their vehicle was damaged by an exploding bomb, one man being killed and another dying of his injuries. The remainder of the crew carried the pump to the designated location and commenced to fight the fires, remaining on duty well into the following day. Patrol Officer John Walsh (36), a tram driver, Leading Fireman Robert Clyde Rainey (40), a radio trader, and Fireman James Jameson Lee (28), a salesman, were commended for their devotion to duty.

The British Empire Medal was awarded to seven members of the Belfast Civil Defence Services. 

During an air raid in May, Auxiliary Nurse Denise Forster (21) was on duty at the Ambulance Depot on the Holywood Road when it was demolished by a high explosive bomb.  After extricating herself from the wreckage, Denise set about rescuing others from the rubble. She later volunteered to go with an ambulance into a district which was being heavily bombed. Nurse Forster continued to work in the greatest danger throughout the night and only ceased her activities some hours after the raid was over.

Three teenage boys who were Messengers with the Civil Defence were recommended for the George Medal for devotion to duty in April 1941. 

Messenger Alexander Cecil Hill (17), an office assistant from Convention Street, received the BEM. Although severely shaken by an explosion nearby, Alexander directed traffic at a main road whilst bombs were falling nearby. Later, whilst delivering an urgent message to the Report Centre, he was blown off his bicycle by explosions twice but each time he remounted and delivered the message.

When telephone communications were dislocated during the early stages of the air raid, Messenger George William Otway Woodward (18) of Glenburn Park carried messages of vital importance between stations. When his bicycle was put out of action, he continued to keep the lines of communication open by delivering messages on foot. He received a commendation.

BEMs were awarded to Bomb Identification Officer William John Ford (51) and Messenger William Ernest Bennett (15) of Wandsworth Gardens for rescue work at Cliftonville Road where bombs had destroyed a number of houses and fractured a gas main. Ford and Bennett burrowed six yards through rubble to bring an elderly man to safety and then they rescued two stranded women from a house that was in danger of collapse. Bombs were falling as they worked and both suffered from the effects of inhaling coal gas. William Bennet later joined the National Fire Service.

Messengers Bennett and Woodward were pupils and Belfast Royal Academy and William John Ford was the caretaker for the Model School on Cliftonville Road.

These people were from different backgrounds and their ages ranged from 15 to 52, but the common factor was their willingness to put the well-being of others before their own safety. They deserve wider recognition.

Nigel Henderson, History Hub Ulster Researcher.