This stone marks the resting place of 154 blitz victims who were never identified. Isn’t it time for a more fitting tribute?
Belfast sacrificed more than most during the Second World War. Almost 1,000 people were killed during the blitz on Easter Tuesday, 1941.
But 70 years down the line, there is still no civic memorial to those who died. And 154 bodies buried in mass graves have also largely been forgotten.
Belfast City Council has backed a proposal for a commemorative monument and talks are under way regarding the location but as yet, no site has been decided.
Representatives from the Northern Ireland War Memorial organisation want it erected in the grounds of City Hall.
It is understood there is an issue with erecting more memorials at City Hall. But Buoys Park, near St Anne’s Cathedral, is also being considered.
Of the hundreds of blitz dead laid out in temporary mortuaries at St George’s Market and the Falls swimming baths there were more bodies or parts of bodies were never identified.
They were buried in mass graves in the City and Milltown Cemeteries.
If Rosary beads or a crucifix was found, then the victim was deemed to have been Catholic.
But nobody will ever know if the identifications were correct.
In today’s modern society the loss of more than 150 unaccounted-for lives seems unthinkable, but it is a shocking illustration of the chaos and poverty of the time.
Sadly, these men women and children who literally disappeared off the face of the earth have also been largely forgotten. Stone monuments in both cemeteries have been overgrown with moss and the inscriptions are all but faded.
“This was a horrific day for the city of Belfast,” said Sinn Fein’s Tom Hartley.
“They talk about 1,000 people killed but, really, they don’t know how many people died because there were others who were vaporised and just disappeared.
“The stone in the city cemetery is well-worn and would probably need to be coloured again so that you could read the inscription. More should be done.”
Last year a 5ft-high bronze structure by Carolyn Mulholland symbolising the devastation was officially dedicated at the Northern Ireland War Memorial Hall on Belfast’s Talbot Street.
But trustees of the centre are hoping for a more nationally recognised commemorative statue for all those who died.
“I am very keen to make sure it is a civic memorial,” said Major John Potter, who remembers the blitz. “I want a memorial for the city that represents all the people from the city who lost their lives in the blitz. We would have hoped it would have been ready in time for the 70th anniversary but that obviously hasn’t happened.
“These things take time to evolve but, I would certainly think it will be in place by next year.
“I would like to see it put in a place where everybody, strangers and our own citizens, can see a piece of stone or plaque or something reminding them that 1,000 people died during the blitz.”
John Hughes, also from the Northern Ireland War Memorial, added: “The trustees feel there ought to be a commemorative sculpture for the city as a whole.
“It was the single greatest loss of life outside of London. We are currently in touch with Belfast City Council about a location for such a sculpture.
“Our preference would be in the grounds of City Hall.”
In a statement a City Council spokeswoman said: “We have been discussing the matter with the Northern Ireland War Memorial organisation to ascertain a location which might be appropriate but no decision has yet been made. A report will be brought to Strategic Policy and Resources Committee when we have something to report.”