A.R.P. Post 396, Unity Street, Belfast

On the night of 15th-16th April 1941, A.R.P. Post 396 at 20a Unity Street in North Belfast was crushed beneath falling masonry when a parachute mine struck.

On 15th-16th April 1941, Luftwaffe bombs devastated Unity Street, as documented in the memoirs of A.R.P. Warden Jimmy Doherty. The Warden was on his way back along Clifton Street to A.R.P. Post 381 accompanied by a police constable. En route, the pair met a group of A.R.P. Wardens returning from the Delia Murphy cèilidh at The Ulster Hall, and reporting for duty to Post 396 at 20a Unity Street.

This post was perhaps in the parochial hall of Trinity Street Church and was soon to be in the midst of scenes of devastation. Doherty and the police constable watched as a Parachute Mine struck the spire of the church. He wrote:

The whole world seemed to rock; slates, brick, earth and flying glass rained down. I could hardly breathe.

Doherty rushed towards A.R.P. Post 396 but there was nothing left. The collapsing granite masonry of the church tower had demolished it. The scenes of destruction were so great that even a local like Doherty had trouble finding his bearings. Survivors of the blast staggered in the street, dazed with broken limbs and open wounds. Doherty gathered all he could find and led them to a nearby air raid shelter on Frederick Street.

He then returned to the junction of Unity Street and Trinity Street hoping for some sight or news from his friends at the A.R.P. Post. But there was none.

I consoled myself that all the wardens could not have been killed. There must have been some on patrol. I paused for a few moments in silent prayer before setting off for my post.

Both A.R.P. Post 396 and the nearby R.U.C. Barracks at Glenravel Street had been reporting to D District Control Centre between 0130hrs and 0200hrs. The 0200hrs message informed of the destruction of the post. A rescue party departed, bound for the rubble of the A.R.P. Post. An ambulance would follow to remove the fatally wounded.

Shortly after 0215hrs, Doherty’s hopes were realised. D District Control Centre received a further message:

Warden alone at Post 396. Send help. Incendiary bombs all around. Cannot cope with number.

Hours after the all-clear sounded, the scene at A.R.P. Post 396 was still one of chaos and devastation. Wardens Kelly and Fitzpatrick were still missing and not among the dead recovered from the rubble. Meanwhile another A.R.P. Warden John Gillespie had made his way into the post, rescuing three telephonists. Despite these heroics for which he was later commended, the death toll at Post 396 was the worst single incident experienced by any A.R.P. post in the city.

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