I was four when the war started. The previous May we had moved from Antonio Street, Bootle, to Haselbeech Crescent, Norris Green. I can remember the move clearly. My grandmother, who was 86, had come back from Ireland with us the previous year and she had not been well enough to return on her own. She and I travelled with the removal men, she on the front seat of the van and I on her knee. We arrived long before the rest of the family, who came by tramcar.
It seems to me, looking back, that these two ‘moves’ – my grandmother to Liverpool and then all of us to a new house – set the pattern of the war for me: people moving. We never seemed to visit the same house twice!
I have a cousin who is a priest with the De Montfort Fathers. At that time he was 21 years old and was studying in France before finally being ordained. My mother and grandmother were very anxious. They had both experienced loss, in Northern France, when my uncle had been killed on the Somme in the First World War. Then we heard that my cousin was safe and well and that he and the other novitiates had been brought back, at the time of Dunkirk, and were now in Chipping, Lancashire.
As already mentioned, my grandmother was living with us. Her real home was in Kilmore Quay, County Wexford. She had not been in good health and although the possibility of us all moving to Kilmore Quay had been discussed and, I believe favoured by my father, after a long summer spent there in 1938 she returned to stay, for a while, with us. I don’t believe she contemplated not returning home but then, in May 1941, she was taken into Belmont Road Hospital. My mother would visit her, if possible, each evening and my father, who was in the Home Guard, would see to my brother and myself. On these occasions, when we got up for breakfast the next morning, my mother would be there and my father gone to work. One particular morning, however, I came downstairs to find my father anxiously looking out of the front window. He was distraught. He had been up all night and my mother had not returned home. I don’t know for how long we waited but all I can remember her saying, on her return, was “Liverpool is on fire: everything is burning.”
The air raid had started just as she was about to leave the hospital and she had had to shelter there. It had been many hours before it was possible for her to leave. The nights were then pitch dark, because of the blackout, and the trams had stopped running. She had had to wait until daylight to commence the long walk home, from Belmont Hospital to near West Derby Cemetery. There was no way to let us know. No-one had a phone in those days. My grandmother died at the end of May and as we could not get over to attend to her house in Ireland, it fell down. It was to be a long time before we went back.
My mother had been born in Falkner Street in Liverpool and she still had friends living at the top of Mount Pleasant. These were old friends, also connected with Kilmore Quay. Every school holiday we would visit them and usually, on the way we would go into the Swiss Cafe which stood on the left-hand side of Bold Street, on the corner of Newington. There they had settees, as well as chairs, that you could sit on to have your tea. They also still had cakes. We never did this in the Christmas holidays. We knew that when we arrived at the Murphys, in Arrad Street there would be a parcel, from relatives who had emigrated to America, waiting to be opened. Best of all, inside would be a large Christmas cake and a tin of salmon.
After my grandmother died we had a bit more room at home and my mother’s friend and her two children came to stay with us. They lived in Bootle and the bombing had been bad. It was great fun as her two children were just a bit younger than my brother and I. They stayed with us for some weeks. I think it must have been the summer holidays of 1941 because I can remember visiting all sorts of places: New Brighton; Waterloo sands and Walton, Stanley and Derby Parks come to mind. Shortly after they left, when we went to visit them, they had moved to another house. Other relatives in Bootle also moved, this time they moved from the Marsh Lane area to Wadham Road. Then another aunt and uncle, who lived in the Marsh Lane area, moved. They moved to Rainford.
There are a lot of families in Rainford who came here during the war. I believe they used to move out, nightly, along the railway lines, from Kirkdale, Bootle and other city areas, to the safer countryside around Liverpool. The next morning, when the raids were over they would return. Some initially slept rough: some were taken in by local families and, I think, eventually some stayed. My aunt and uncle stayed.
My uncle worked in the offices in Exchange Station. During the May Blitz, because of its proximity to the docks, Bootle was very heavily bombed and so his friend, from the office, invited himself and my aunt to stay with them in Rainford.
We went to visit them shortly afterwards. Even though we lived on the outskirts of Liverpool and the trams, at that time, went no further down the East Lancashire Road than I lived, it was not country like Rainford was. You could see pigs killed in Rainford! They stayed for a short while with his friend and then my uncle got a railway cottage and then a pensioner’s bungalow. And all the time we visited. My aunt was still alive when I moved here, in 1965, in fact it was through visiting her that we bought a new house that was being built in the road she lived in.
I can remember other things about the war: the way the road you usually took would one morning be blocked as there was an unexploded bomb; my mother worrying because my father was on fire-watch; the people in the house in Haselbeech Close being killed as they had gone inside to make a pot of tea during a lull in the bombing; taking one pound of margarine, in exchange for half a pound of butter, to a woman with more children than we had and sitting with my father, drinking tea in the shed on his newly acquired allotment.