Did you know that bombs fell on Southport during World War II?
As we head towards this year’s VE Day, it is astonishing to imagine that Nazi German bombers once flew over homes in our town, night after night, bringing indiscriminate death and destruction.
The devastation in Liverpool and Bootle were particularly severe as Hitler sought to destroy the region’s port and docks during the Blitz in the early months of the war.
Southport residents also lived in terror at the sound of Heinkels, Junkers and Dorniers flying overhead, not knowing where or when the bombs were going to drop.
Do you have memories of life in Southport during World War Two? Please email me at: email@example.com
Seventeen people were killed in Southport and 76 others were injured during enemy raids between September 1940 and July 1941.
The Germans even bombed a home for blind babies in Birkdale.
Hundreds of homes were flattened or damaged, while explosives were also dropped on the Brockhouses factory in Crossens.
Many families in Southport built air raid shelters outside their homes.
Businesses barricaded themselves with sandbags.
Local residents didn’t know whether the Nazis were going to deploy poison gas, as they had done during the First World War, so issued children with gas masks.
The bombing was so severe that a new fighter airfield was created on the edge of Southport in 1942 – RAF Woodvale.
It hosted several Spitfire Squadrons throughout the war, flown by Polish and Dutch pilots among them.
Six brave Polish airmen who lost their lives while based there are buried nearby.
Britain, along with Allies across the world, were at war with Hitler’s Germany for six brutal years from 1939 until Tuesday, 8th May 1945, when VE Day – Victory in Europe Day – was declared.
Tempering the jubilation somewhat, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Harry Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won.
In his radio broadcast at 3pm on 8th May, Churchill told the British people: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued.”
In the USA, Truman broadcast at 9am and said it was “a victory only half won”.
VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day) would not be celebrated until 15th August 1945.
With the anniversary of VE Day taking place on 8th May, we are today looking back at those dark days when people built air raid shelters outside their homes, hundreds of refugees were evacuated to Southport from inner cities such as Liverpool and the sound of engines from bombers flying overhead brought terror to the local population.
Until 1944, reports of German bombing raids by the Southport Visiter and other newspapers had to be sketchy for security reasons. Enemy missions were always reported as having taken place “somewhere in a North West town”.
But in October 1944 the Southport Visiter was able to report for the first time in detail the raids and casualties and their dates and locations.
One of the most terrifying incidents took place on the night of 26th April, 1941 when German aircraft bombed the Sunshine Home for Blind Babies on Oxford Road in Birkdale. It was on this night that Southport suffered its heaviest raid and Sunshine House suffered a direct hit.
Incendiary and high explosive bombs also fell at the junction of Waterloo Road and Sandon Road; the sandhills at Hillside; in the grounds of Terra Nova School on Lancaster Road; Ryder Crescent; Breeze Road; St Thomas More School on Liverpool Road in Ainsdale; Stourton Road; Oxford Road; Westbourne Road; Salford Road; Mossgiel Avenue; Pinfold Lane and Palace Road, near the Palace Hotel. Parachute mines were responsible for the damage at Salford Road and Pinfold Lane.
Extensive damage was caused to residential property at Ainsdale and Birkdale. Parachute mines were also dropped on the foreshore.
That tragic night around 200 people were left homeless, and were housed in two emergency rest centres.
Official statistics tell us that in the nine raids on Southport 12 houses were totally destroyed, 35 had to be demolished owing to extensive damage, 131 were seriously damaged, 1,467 were slightly damaged and 651 had damage to windows. All told the town had 135 air raid alerts.
The first bombing raid of World War II on Southport took place on September 4, 1940, and caused the death of five people and left three others injured. Bombs were dropped in a line stretching from Southport Town Hall, Lord Street, to Warren Road.
The most serious damage was caused in Hartwood Road where numbers 51 and 53 were completely demolished. Because of a number of unexploded bombs, 1,100 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
During a raid the following night, fires were caused by incendiary bombs being dropped on Upper Aughton Road, Belmont Street, Kent Road and Grove Street. Incendiaries were also found on Alma Road, but there were no fires.
An unexploded bomb was reported opposite the old Lifeboat House on Esplanade, which meant that trains had to be stopped from using the Cheshire Lines Railway. Miraculously there were no reported casualties during this air raid.
Southport suffered its next bombing raid four days before Christmas 1940 when two parachute mines and one high explosive bomb were dropped on the town. One mine fell in the garden at the rear of 69 Alexandra Road.
The other fell in Stretton Drive and caused substantial damage, destroying two homes and damaging several more. A large number of properties within a radius of a quarter of a mile suffered superficial damage with windows, doors etc being shattered by the blasts.
It must have been utterly terrifying for families. Around 2,650 people had to be evacuated. Nazi bombers returned on March 12, 1941.
Incendiaries were dropped on Birkdale golf links and were extinguished by members of the Wardens’ Service. Incendiary bombs were also reported on Cromer Road, but no fires were caused. There were no reported casualties.
High explosive bombs were dropped on the Churchtown and Crossens area on March 13, 1941. Most of them exploded on Balmoral Drive, Lexton Drive and Rufford Road. Two houses were demolished and a factory was damaged.
Unexploded bombs were reported at a works and at the junction of Rufford Road and the Crescent. Incendiaries were also dropped and caused six house fires. Some also fell on Crossens Recreation Ground.
During this raid one person was killed and 15 were injured, with 250 people having to be evacuated due to the presence of unexploded bombs. The following month, on April 8, 1941, a 16-year-old girl was killed and three people were injured.
High explosive bombs were dropped at the junctions of Waterloo Road and Arundel Road, Dunbar Road and Kirklees Road and also at Trafalgar Road and Sandon Road.
Damage was caused to residential property and to water, gas and electricity services.The eighth raid was when the Blind Babies Home was hit.
The ninth and last raid was on July 24, 1941 when a high explosive bomb destroyed two homes in Claremont Road in Birkdale. Three people were injured. Residents in the Everton Road area of Birkdale had to be evacuated due to an unexploded bomb.
During all the raids tremendous work was carried out by Civil Defence personnel, police, NFS and other services. Many hours were also devoted to “raid nights” when no bombs actually fell on the town.
Looking back today it is difficult to imagine the terror that Southport residents must have been living through, amidst the constant threat of Nazi bombing raids.
But on the 70th anniversary of the end of six years of bloodshed across Europe, it makes us appreciate the incredible courage and sacrifice made by Southport’s older generations who lived through those dark days between 1939 and 1945.
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My mother and brother lived in the rural area of Maghull during WW2 and they spent a lot of time under the stairs in the pantry. One night a German aircraft let go a string of bombs and destroyed the marshalling yard and a local pig farm. And that was the night the huge concrete “cold slab” in her pantry literally cracked as it absorbed shock from one of those bombs. We had to put a cloth over the large crack for the rest of the time we lived in that house as a jar of jam fell into the open space and may well be there still! We could never get it out. And there was other mild damage to the house but it is still standing.