Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Blitz’s unknown victims remembered as restored gravestone is unveiled

By Amanda Poole

Thirty nameless victims of the Belfast Blitz have been honoured with the restoration of a mass grave at Milltown Cemetery.

A wreath of white flowers was laid at the 30ft grave by the chairman of the Northern Ireland War Memorial, C T Hogg, to mark the 71st anniversary of the second major Luftwaffe attack on Belfast on May 4, 1941.

Around 1,000 people lost their lives in the aerial bombardment during April and May of 1941 and the mass grave in west Belfast contains the remains of 30 unknown men and women.

They were buried at Milltown because their bodies bore religious emblems which identified them as Catholics.

The recent restoration work on the grave was undertaken by McAdams Memorials and, ahead of today’s ceremony, Mr Hogg said it was important to honour victims of the tragedy.

“The Blitz was the single greatest disaster in the history of the city of Belfast,” he added. “As a result of the Luftwaffe bombing, half of the houses in Belfast were damaged and 100,000 were left homeless.”

The areas worst affected by the German air raids were east Belfast and the city centre, including Bridge Street, High Street and Waring Street.

St Anne’s Cathedral had a narrow escape, but the Great Hall at City Hall was gutted.

At Harland and Wolff shipyard, three corvettes were burnt out and two-thirds of the workshops were devastated, and at Short and Harland aircraft factory there was also widespread damage.

Sinn Fein councillor and author Tom Hartley (right), who has written about the history of the graves in Milltown, welcomed the restoration initiative from the NI War Memorial.

“The restoration of the Blitz plot at Milltown Cemetery by the NI War Memorial is a reminder of the terrible loss of over a thousand Belfast citizens in April and May 1941,” he said.

“It is particularly relevant that those who are being remembered, and who lie in the Milltown plot, are the nameless victims of the Belfast Blitz.”

A number of other unidentified bodies are buried in a mass grave in the nearby City Cemetery.

Earlier this week, during a full meeting of Belfast City Council, Mr Hartley made an urgent appeal for the stone tribute for Blitz victims at City Cemetery to be cleaned up.

For more information about the Belfast Blitz contact NI War Memorial on 028 9032 0392 or visit www.niwarmemorial.org.

Background

Belfast was an important centre for the manufacture of munitions during the war, making an attack by Germany inevitable. Harland and Wolff built 140 warships, including six aircraft carriers, and Short and Harland delivered 1,200 Stirling bombers and 125 Sunderland flying boats.

The city had insufficient anti-aircraft guns and shelters, therefore air raids carried out by the Luftwaffe in April and May 1941 claimed around 1,000 lives.

Half of the housing stock was also damaged, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

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