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Horrors of Belfast Blitz brought to life in new publication

Son’s book Down Under recalls Sandra’s nightmare memories of the Belfast Blitz 75 years on

By Rebecca Black

Published 19/04/2016

Sandra Hanna
Sandra Hanna
The cover of the book
Sandra (second from left) in a recent family picture in New Zealand
Sandra with her brother Billy
Sandra as a child in Belfast

The Belfast Blitz has been remembered on the other side of the globe, thanks to the son of an Ulster woman who survived the ordeal and who wrote a book from her memories.

Sandra Hanna grew up on a street just off the Shankill Road - one of the areas hardest hit by Nazi bombs - and although she emigrated to New Zealand as a young woman, she shared her memories of that terrible night with her young family as they grew up.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 100,000 people made homeless after 200 Luftwaffe planes bombed Belfast on April 15, 1941.

Sandra passed away in New Zealand at the age of 77, but her son Darrin has kept her vivid memories alive through a book about her childhood in Belfast.

A memorial service took place at St Anne's Cathedral to the victims of the blitz on Sunday to mark the 75th anniversary.

Sandra's father William James Hanna left Belfast to fight the Nazis and her mother Alice looked after her and her brother Billy.

That year saw what Sandra described as a "terrifying Easter".

On Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1941, 200 Luftwaffe bombers left for Belfast, where wave after wave of bombers dropped their deadly cargo across densely populated areas of the north of the city.

Alice had been washing clothes when she heard the air raid sirens, and then the ominous hum of heavy plane engines.

Alice took Sandra and Billy to their grandmother's house on Louden Street, where they saw a huge black plane flying in their direction.

Her son Darrin evocatively writes of his mother's memories: "The plane simply seemed to hang there like a huge black crow."

That had been a reconaissance aircraft - later the Luftwaffe came back in greater numbers.

"That night the sirens went off again, and the sickening sound of planes returned, but this time in much greater numbers," Darrin writes.

"Everyone knew that they were in for it this time, and all they could do was huddle in the dark under the stairs in the coal bunker or in an air raid shelter with hearts pounding."

Darrin describes his mother's memories of the noise as "terrible".

"The constant thrum of aircraft engines and the long, drawn-out, high-pitched shrieks of bombs tearing down through the sky," he writes.

"Following each bomb's descent was a brief sound of silence in which you could hear someone ask: 'Oh my God, where is this one going to hit?' In Sandra's circumstance, it was her grandmother who asked this several times that night, and everyone was always more than relieved to hear Grannie answer her own question with: 'It's gone past'.

The next few days were among the "most awful and strangest" in Sandra's life. "When daylight eventually came the exhausted people of Belfast poured out onto the streets to find ruin all around them," Darrin writes.

"Sandra's family opened the door to discover that their own house in Louden Street had been obliterated. It was the only one in their street that had taken a direct hit.

"They had lost everything. No pots, bowls or plates. No blankets or clothes. Nothing was left."

Through Darrin's book, Sandra And The Flying Elephants Of Belfast, her memories are now being shared across New Zealand.

Darrin said: "I wanted to share with people what happened in my mother's life and show what helped shape such a lovely character, because ultimately it's a story about family, caring, loyalty and goodness."

Belfast Telegraph

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