Sunday, 11 January 2015

Birkenhead, Laird Street - 12th March 1941

My post today was prompted by the memory of Thomas McGill, posted on the BBC Peoples’ War website:“I was born in 1929 in Birkenhead, and attended St. James Infant School followed by Brassey Street Secondary School. I left school aged 14 years in 1943. Prior to this, my family and I were in the May Blitz of 1941. At about 12:00 midnight we were all in a large brick shelter on our back field. The raids had ceased long past, not a sound of planes or anything else. My father called us out to go into our homes. It was a clear night, with no clouds etc. We went into our home, the kettle was put on the coal fire, and we were all settled down after a night of bombs and gun fire. My mother was making a pot of tea when suddenly all hell let loose. There was the most horrendous explosion, too hard to describe in words, doors, windows, roofs, everything was coming down on top of us. Then, deathly silence again. When we got out of the mess and into the street everywhere was aglow with fire. Two aerial land mines had floated down and landed on Laird Street. The whole main street had just vanished, with only heaps of rubble and dead bodies everywhere. The next day, like all children, we were climbing onto the school roof to pull down the parachutes. Vulcan Street was lined from top to bottom with dead bodies while they were digging out the dead- something a twelve-year-old will never forget, plus night after night of bombs and guns. We used to watch the bombs falling from the planes in the ray of search lights and we heard them screaming down before exploding, but to children it was fun.”

31 people died here, strongly supporting Mr McGill’s memory this was caused by a parachute mine.

This is how the site looks today, looking along Laird Street in the direction of the Mersey Tunnel, at the junction with Miriam Place; motorists might know the BP garage just visible on the right.  The houses here would have been numbered between 294 (the North Star pub in the distance, and 346, the older terrace houses which resume again just behind the camera on the left.

From above, Laird Street runs from top-left to bottom right. The row of trees on the north side in the middle of the photo mark the site. Bertha Street is the cul de sac just above the trees.

The people who died here were at:
Number 316 (furthest from camera): George and Peter Sherlock, aged 5 and 3.
Number 318: Florence and Stanley Gooding, aged 27 and 16.
Number 320: Frances Wilson aged 33, and her son John, 5.
Number 322: John and Mary Brennan, aged 61 and 58, and their son Robert, 15, as well as Mary Salmon, 45, possibly a lodger.
Number 324: John and Rose O’Callaghan, 73 and 71, and two daughters Margaret 36 and Catherine 34.
Number 326: Mary McElroy, 53, her daughter and son-in-law John and Josephine Roberts, 33 and 31, from Greasby in the Wirral, and another daughter and son-in-law, William and Vera Burkes, 24 and 23 who lived with Mary at this address.
Number 328: Harold Beattie, 55, Elizabeth Jones, 30, and her 12-month old baby, Beryl.  Elizabeth lived in Bidston, about a mile away.
Number 330: Catherine Edge, aged 77.
33 Bertha Street backed onto Laird Street to the left of the photo; at this address William and Annie Rowland, 35 and 37, and their son William George, 14, were killed.

At 39 Bertha Street, Charles and Penelope Upton, aged 60 and 40, and their son David, 6.
2 Miriam Place would have been on the corner with Laird Street, immediately in front of the camera in the photo above.  Maria Oakes, 74, died here.
The final casualty was Catherine Pierce, 19, whose home address was Merritt Avenue, Birkenhead, less than half-a-mile away.  She could have been walking home or possibly visiting a friend on Laird Street.

The bombing was part of an attack on the Merseyside dock area (Laird Street indicated by red circle and arrow to Miriam Health Centre, on the left hand side):

Dixie Deans, the footballer, was born at number 313 Laird Street, and would probably have known some of the families involved.

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