Belfast Blitz: Sandbags and Statues

23rd September 2019

With tens of thousands homeless in Belfast in the wake of the Belfast Blitz, matters of importance for the government included protecting the Carson statue.

Between 7th April 1941 and 6th May 1941, the city of Belfast endured 4 devastating Luftwaffe raids. Tens of thousands of residents became homeless, many fleeing to the suburbs and countryside for safety. Damage inflicted across the city to residential areas and business premises would affect Belfast for many years.

Throughout this, the government of Prime Minister John Miller Andrews remained under criticism. With the threat of more raids still present, Belfast still had relatively few public shelters. Yet, at Stormont, other issues were more pressing for the new government.

Stormont during World War Two

A number 26 trolley bus passes by Stormont. The seat of the Northern Ireland government in 1941 was painted black with a mixture of tar and manure to hide it from Luftwaffe bombers. Photo taken on 26th March 1942. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

Among these were plans to camouflage the parliament buildings. There were also several lengthy discussions on how to protect the statue of Sir Edward Carson. On the protection of the bronze sculpture, Sir Wilfred Spender noted:

I feel sure that Carson himself would not have wished this matter to be regarded as one of major importance.

Other vocal complaints came from Tommy Henderson, an independent unionist MP for the Shankill area. The conservation of the Carson memorial came up in parliamentary discussions at least 3 times. On 17th June 1941, only 2 months after the devastating Easter Raid, Andrews laid out costs to protect the sculpture in the grounds of Stormont. His estimate was:

An expenditure of some hundred pounds… to provide protection by sandbags, etc. over the entire monument.

Lengthy and confusing correspondence between civil servants debated if a decision was taken. Nothing happened and the matter arose again on 19th August 1941. A third protracted sebate took place on 23rd September 1941. By then, tens of thousands of citizens in Northern Ireland’s capital still had no available public shelters.

Luckily for Andrews’ government, the Luftwaffe never again troubled the city of Belfast. The bronze monument depicting Lord Carson remains outside Northern Ireland’s parliament buildings.

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