One of the parachute mines landed on a 3 storey school/college, the Ernest Brown Junior Instructional Centre on Durning Road, Edge Hill, L7. It was closed of course because it was in the middle of the night, but in the basement was a shelter, used by many local people from the Edge Hill area. It was the boiler room, chosen because it had a reinforced ceiling with metal girders running across it. It would be a safe enough place if bombs fell nearby, but it could not withstand a direct hit.
The bomb brought the whole building crashing down, rubble and debris falling on the 300 people sheltering there. Men, women and children, the youngest a 5week old baby, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. The boilers burst with the impact, the furnace exploded, flames and scalding water inflicting horrifying damage and killing many whom the initial impact had spared.
It took two days to pull the bodies out of the shelter, in the end, with fear of disease rampant, the body parts that had not been recovered were covered with lime and the basement was sealed. The police believed that 160 people were recognised as having been killed on this terrible night, but it was obvious to everyone that there were those who were never named or identified and the true count will never be known. The Fire Service are reported to have believed the number of dead was nearer to 180. There are 150 names on the memorial, whole families who perished together.
This horrific event devastated the community. Had the full story been told in the newspapers at the time, the authorities worried about the impact that it would have on British morale and so the details were not made public until many years later. Winston Churchill later called it "the worst single (civilian) incident of the war".
Picton Labour Councillor Tim Beaumont, member of Kensington Remembers, keen that this event should be remembered again following the 61st anniversary memorial when the full story was told publicly for the first time, contacted Reverend Mike Coates, in whose parish the tragedy occurred to ask him whether he would hold an ecumenical commemorative service. Tonight, on the 70th anniversary, several hundred people gathered at Kensington Junior School, Brae Street, 100 yards from the Ernest Brown Junior Instructional Centre to honour and remember the dead and their mourners.
We heard moving testimony from Molly O'Connoll of Fairfield who was a young teacher in 1940, describing how the schoolwork of the children in her school by the docks was regularly disturbed by air raids, they were eventually evacuated to North Wales. Stan Smart described how, as a young man, he and his family made the decision that night to shelter in Clint Road school, waving goodbye to their Uncle who was going to the Ernest Brown centre with a young neighbour looking for her own family to shelter with. Only his wristwatch, the leather strap perished by the scalding water, was ever identified.
The children of Kensington School choir sang beautifully for the congregation and the Kensington Methodist Girls Brigade read the names of the identified victims as a candle was lit.
After the moving ceremony we all moved into the school reception area to view the monument to the dead, moved from its former home at St Cyprian's Church and reconsecrated.
While we stood in front of the memorial, I spoke to an elderly gentleman who told me that he had been in the shelter when the mine fell. He was in there for a day and a half before he was rescued. He said his 17 year old brother was killed, having come to the shelter along with others when another one had been damaged nearby. I have since searched the list of names and wonder whether this was John James Phillips. He told me about having to walk over and among so many bodies as he was finally rescued.
Another resident, Audrey Smith of Elm Park Residents Association told me earlier this week that her father was part of the rescue and clean-up operation.
So many people in the congregation had stories to tell, either first hand or learned from relatives and friends.
I have found further information that you might find interesting on the following websites. Daily Mail covering the 61st memorial. Liverpool at war names the dead of this and other wartime losses in the city.
The BBCs coverage of tonight's event.
Kensington Remembers would like to thank the Press Office of Liverpool City Council for their help in publicising the event, Trinity Mirror for coverage in the Daily Post and Echo, ensuring that survivors, friends and relatives could come forward and take part in the service. We would like to thank all the churches in the area, Father Fitz, Rev Flip den Util, Rev Andrew Porter and of course Rev Mike Coates for their participation and organisation, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Hazel Williams for attending on behalf of the people of the city, Kensington Junior School for hosting the service and allowing us to hear the beautiful school choir, Kensington Methodist Girls Brigade for their contribution, members of all congregations, the CofE music group and all those who came to pay their respects.