Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Historical Perspective: The Liverpool Blitz

This is the second extract I'm making available from my grandfather Les Parkinson's memoirs, dealing with his experience as a Manchester police officer during the early years of the Second World War - the previous one, dealing with the Manchester Blitz, is available here. Essentially every major English city was clobbered by German bomber raids at some point during the course of the war. While my grandfather was based in Manchester, the exigencies of wartime didn't allow the luxury of staying in one place, and so on more than one occasion he was sent to lend assistance in Liverpool during its own Blitz. He was twenty-four years old at this point, which may shed some light on why he did what he did.

Life became very tedious, for all we did was work and sleep and it was beginning to take its toll. In order to relieve the situation, the powers that be decided after much debate to stop us from reporting for duty when the sirens sounded whilst we were at home. They decided that even-numbered officers on even-numbered days would report to the station nearest their place of abode. This was a welcome change. The only snag was that on our "day off" from reporting, we had to go to Liverpool. We used to leave at 5:00 AM and return at 10:00 PM, but this only happened after they had had a raid.

We practically knew when we were going to be hit for the Germans had a fellow named William Joyce, an Englishman - he was after the war hanged for treason. He used to be known as Lord Haw-Haw. He broadcast every night from Germany and told us where the raid was to be, and he was never far off the mark. On night he told us that he liked the new cinema that had been built at Ardwick Green, and said that it wouldn't be nice after the next raid. The next night they came and dropped their bombs, but missed the cinema and hit the theatre across the road. Was it good luck or judgement or pin-point bombing, we never knew, but people started to think that there were spies around to guide the bombers.

My first trip to Liverpool was rather adventurous for me. The night's raid had been very heavy in dockland, with ships sunk in the dock and in the river and lots and lots of fires. Fortunately the firemen had plenty of water but not enough pumps, for the fires had to be put out before nightfall. I was assigned to work with a Liverpool policeman at Canada No. 1 dock. There, the warehouse had been destroyed. It contained food that had been unloaded from a ship and was to be salvaged. In addition to the food, there was lots of booze that was ready to be loaded on the ship for export at some future date. There was great activity in the dock area, for damaged cargo vessels were being got ready for towing to enter and unload.

The rubble from the demolished buildings was being loaded onto the trucks to be taken to a dump site. There was a "scuffer," a Liverpool bobby, on duty and I was assigned to help him. Our job was to prevent the truckers from taking out looted property.

The "scuffer" told me that he took no messing from anybody and that he expected me to be the same. I watched him for a while, checking and searching trucks as they left the area and saw that the truck drivers did as they were told. After a while, he told me that he was "going to the bridewell for his scoff" - going to the police station for his meal - and that I would be in charge. He told me that if I was not satisfied with a truck I could make the driver tip his load in an area that had been prepared for tipping. With that he left and I took command of the situation.

After a while a couple of the workers came up to me to have a chat, as they said they wanted to be friendly with the stranger, but I took it that I was being sounded out so I decided to be very careful and crafty. Two trucks came together, fully laden with rubble. The first one I gave a good doing over and let through. The second one was driven by one of the blokes who had tried to sound me out. I searched his cab and found nothing, but had the feeling that something was not right, so I ordered him to the tipping area to tip his load. He left his truck and went for his foreman, and he happened to be the union representative. He told me that I was not a Liverpool policeman, but an out-of-towner, and that I had no authority to do what I was doing.

I stood my ground and told him that I had reason to believe the driver was taking out of the dock area looted property, and with that I wanted to check the contents of his load and that if he did not obstructing me in my duty I would arrest him.

When he saw that I was not going to move, he told the trucker to take his load and tip it for inspection. Just then the Liverpool chap came back from his scoff. I told him all that had transpired and he said that he guessed something would happen, as he came back on time. So we both went over to the tip site, and lo and behold we found seven cases of tins of herrings in tomato sauce in amongst the rubble.

The scuffer told the foreman to reload the truck and move it, and that the driver was being arrested for looting. He returned with the driver and sent for the "Black Maria." While waiting for it, the scuffer said that he had had his eye on the driver but couldn't nail him, and asked if I wanted to take him to court. I said "no, it's your area, you do it, for it will act as a warning to the others and perhaps make life a little easier." He thanked me and said, "I had you right from the start, I knew you was a real policeman." For the rest of the day life went very easy and we had no more trouble. I felt really good, for I knew that I had left a good impression of the ability of a Manchester policeman in Liverpool.

I only went to Liverpool twice. The second time I went I was really stupid. I was sent to a cold storage warehouse that had been damaged during the air raid the previous night. The place was full of frozen beef, and with rationing being as it was they had to salvage as much as they could. When I got there I relieved a Liverpool bobby. After he put me in the picture he went home. As it was just getting daylight, the workers began to arrive. Their task was to get the meat out as soon as possible. The place had been badly damaged by bomb blast, so they did not have fire to worry about, and they started to empty the place and put the meat onto trucks to be transported to another storage place.

For a couple of hours all went well, then someone found an unexploded bomb in one of the freezers. That did it, for they all came out and the work was stopped. I went to see what was wrong and found that an unexploded incendiary bomb had got wedged in a wall of the insulated area. Anxious to get the work re-started, I said to them, "Don't worry, I'll shift it for you then you can get back to work."

I pulled the bomb free and took it outside to check it out. It was about two and a half feet long and about three inches in diameter. There was no doubt about what it was. I told the fellows not to worry, as it was a dummy UXB. I explained to them that "Jerry" often put a dummy incendiary bomb to frighten people and to cause panic, as had happened to them as they had stopped working.

So back to work they went, and off to the station I went with the unexploded bomb. I got a lot of stares as I walked through the busy streets carrying the bomb. They must have thought me mad. That's what the desk sergeant called me when I put it on the counter in front of him. All ended well, for when I got back to the site all were working hard to get the place empty before darkness came.

Past Perspectives:

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