The Belfast Blitz: Two men, who were just boys at the time, recall their incredible escape on the night that terror rained down from the skies
More than 900 people were killed and 1,500 injured 75 years ago when Nazis carried out their biggest air raids outside London
It is 75 years since almost 200 Luftwaffe planes rained bombs down on Belfast, wiping out more than 900 people in what came to be known as the Belfast Blitz.
It was the biggest loss of life in any raid outside London during the Second World War when, as well as the huge death toll, more than 1,500 people were injured.
This weekend, Belfast City Council is to stage a series of commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz.
There were four German air raids in total on the city in April and May of 1941, with the second, on April 15, proving the deadliest.
Another 150 people were killed in a subsequent raid on the night of May 4-5, with the final raid happening the following night.
Events to remember those caught up in the Blitz will begin this Friday, the anniversary of the worst raid, with the unveiling of the first in a series of memorial plaques at 10.30am at St George’s Market, which was used as a temporary mortuary during the war.
A commemoration ceremony will then be held at noon in the Northern Ireland War Memorial Gallery, which is also open to the public.
Everyone is also invited to an ecumenical service this Sunday at 3.30pm in St Anne’s Cathedral, an event organised in conjunction with St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street. Candles will be lit to offer symbolic reflection for those who lost their lives during the Blitz.
A number of other events will be staged throughout the city over the weekend, including a lecture by Dr Brian Barton, author of The Belfast Blitz: The City in the War Years, in the Bobbin coffee shop in City Hall (Friday, 6.30pm-8pm); a ‘sound and light’ presentation in the City Hall grounds, accompanied by the screening of the names of the dead on the Big Screen (Friday, 8pm); a Blitz-themed family open day in the Northern Ireland War Memorial gallery in Talbot Street (Saturday, 10.30am to 2.30pm) and a 1940s-themed tea dance will also be held at the Ulster Hall on May 2.
Seventy-five years on, and there are few people alive today who can recall first-hand the terrifying events of that night.
But two people who have never forgotten the horror of those hundreds of bombs devastating Belfast, today share their memories with our readers.
The passage of time has not erased a single moment of the memories which have been forever etched in the minds of Belfast men John Kielty and Robert Porter, who give a fascinating account of their experiences of the Belfast Blitz.
John Kielty (87), a retired postmaster, was just 12 years old and at home with his family in Hopeton Street, off the Shankill Road, when the bombing started.
The family were visiting a neighbour’s house after the attack when a bomb exploded under them, burying them in rubble.
John, a widower, who has three children, 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, was the first to be dug out and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
He spent the next three days believing he had been left orphaned and that his family had been wiped out in the blast.
Fortunately they, too, survived, but because of the mayhem that followed they didn’t realise John had been saved. It was only when a friend of the family spotted his name on a list of survivors that he was able to pass on the good news and the family was reunited.
John recalls: “I lived in Hopeton Street which is next to Malvern Street and opposite Percy Street off the Shankill Road.
“I remember during the bombing my sister Jean and brother Billy and I hid under the stairs, while my parents were under the kitchen table.
“Afterwards, when you looked at the houses that were ruined, the only things left standing were the staircases, so it was actually one of the safest places to be.
“It was very frightening — you could hear the drone of the planes and then the bombs exploding and the ground shaking beneath you.
“When it finally stopped, a neighbour who lived two doors away, Mrs Mewhirter, came down to us and said ‘come and see my wee house, it is ruined’. She was a spinster and the only one on the street who owned her own house.
"We all tripped down the road to see the damage and I remember another neighbour, Mr Adair and his daughter Jean, came too.
"The whole lot of us crammed into her hall and stood on the rubble of her house looking up at the sky.
"She then left to see if her sister was alright and Mr Adair and his daughter left and I remember I was standing at the doorway with my hands in my pockets when the all clear siren went and my mother said 'Thank God' and the next thing I was in darkness.
"There had been a bomb with a defused timer under the rubble we were standing on which exploded.
"I remember men coming with picks and shovels to dig us out. They got me out first and put me on a stretcher and carried me to a first aid post in Percy Street. A dog I played with on the street came over and licked my hand.
"The ambulance came and took me to the Royal and no-one thought to ask who I was or where I had come from.
"The rest of my family got out and there was no trace of me and they presumed I was dead.
"I was put in a wee annex in the Royal with other injured people and for three days I thought my family had been killed.
"It was only when a friend of my brother's noticed my name on the list of injured that he was able to tell my family that I was still alive.
"I had been lying in hospital thinking that I was an orphan and I was very, very glad when my father came into the ward.
"We had to move to stay with relatives in Ballymena because our house was destroyed and I went to school in Harryville.
"It was a year before we got rehoused and we got back onto our old street again.
"The Blitz is not something you would ever forget and it's great that the council is remembering it. I hope to attend some of the events this weekend in the city."
‘When I got home there were eight people hiding under our kitchen table’
Robert Porter (93) was 18 years old during the Blitz. A year later, he joined the Navy where he served for four years during the war. A retired headmaster, Robert now lives in Gilnahirk and has been married for 69 years to his teenage sweetheart Elizabeth (94).
They have three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was at home on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast on the night of the worst attacks.
He recalls: "I was walking along the Lagan towpath when I saw the first plane on the first night which turned out to be a reconnaissance plane taking photographs of the shipyard and targets in the city. And it was the following night that the Blitz happened.
"I'd come home about 8pm and the bombing had started. I remember my father, who had lost a leg during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, was trying to put on what was in those days his dreadfully old artificial limb because he wanted to go down to the Newtownards Road and check if his business, a butcher's shop, was alright.
"I told him to stay and I would go instead. I got the bicycle and headed out.
"There was a dreadful mess and I was cycling over lots of broken glass and I remember Thorndike Street and Templemore Avenue were among the worst hit. There was a felt works on fire and what we called 'the wee hospital' in Templemore Avenue was in flames.
"The windows of my dad's shop were blown out and next door there was a shoemakers which was run by two elderly people and I went in there to see if they were okay and found them hiding under a sewing machine.
"There was nobody on the streets, I didn't see a soul - everyone must have been still hiding.
"When I got back home there were around half a dozen or eight people still hiding under our kitchen table, apart from my dad who was mooching around in disgust.
"I remember the streets being so very quiet. It was the same during the war.
"I joined up the next year and served in the North Atlantic which was no place to be, as we lost ships in every convoy. In one convoy we lost half a dozen ships and that was tough to see. Some of them were tankers and when they were hit that was the end. They were in flames and there wasn't any chance of surviving.
"Just like after the Blitz when there was an attack at sea no one spoke and silence reigned supreme as everyone had their own private thoughts about what was happening. And they just had to get on with their jobs.
"After the war I went to college to train to be a teacher and there were loads of ex-servicemen of all ranks back from the war doing the same thing and most of them became headmasters or deputy headmasters.
"From those days there were about 30 of us who went on to meet up once a month in Carnalea Golf Club and every year some dropped off so that there are only two of us now and we meet every couple of months for lunch.
"There are so few left and I think it is great that the council is commemorating the Blitz after all these years."
For further information on the Belfast Blitz commemorations, visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/events