Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz (Book review)

Lee Ruddin reviews Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz by Neil Holmes

Last year, some locals were disappointed – dumbfounded even – that the BBC four-part series Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain overlooked Liverpool in favour of London, Hull, Clydebank and Bristol when examining the short, medium and long-term ripple effects of ‘a single bomb in a single street in a single place.’ Their disgruntlement was misplaced and premature, however, since the city not only featured in the five-part 2015 series Blitz Cities but was to have a four-part one wholly dedicated to it in 2018, entitled A House Through Time.

Presented by University of Liverpool alumnus David Olusoga, the programme tells the history of the city from 1840 to the present day through the prism of those who inhabited a grade II-listed, four-storey Georgian terrace. While only six minutes in the third episode is devoted to the Blitz, there is little doubt that those interested in the Second World War will find Olusoga’s use of bomb reports and archival footage first-rate viewing. 4,000-odd people died across Merseyside during 68 Luftwaffe raids though 62 Falkner Street never received a direct hit. The closest came on 2 May 1941 when bombs fell just metres away on the junction with Bedford Street, as Olusoga informs viewers, but they were not the only ones to land in the vicinity.

 Six months earlier, specifically on 27/28 October 1940, residents of Falkner Street would have heard the wail of air-raid sirens, drone of planes and thunder of bombs exploding close by since, according to Neil Holmes, high explosives landed in the street. Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz is the local author’s third outing on the same topic, but it differs – slightly rather than significantly – from Liverpool Blitzed, 70 Years On (2011) and Merseyside Blitzed (2012). Inspired by the work of Norwich-based graphic designer Nick Stone and his “Blitz Ghost” images (not to mention, although not explicitly stated, Daniel K. Longman’s Merseyside War Years: Then & Now), Holmes merges wartime photos with modern ones at the same location to create a ‘seamless image conveying exactly where the damage had occurred and its extent.’

 Holmes deserves praise for conducting painstaking research and intricate computer manipulation to produce 203 ghost images. The fact that Wirral features prominently is also praiseworthy given it proffers a more comprehensive picture of the devastation wrought on both banks of the River Mersey between July 1940 (‘The Early Raids’) and January 1942 (‘Late War Raids’), something the late Richard Whittington-Egan was arguably guilty of overlooking. The 175-page paperback is organised chronologically, which again ought to be praised, since some thematically-orientated volumes on the subject prove to be not as readable as they otherwise might be. As unwelcome as elementary entries in the Glossary (such as ‘Evacuation’, ‘Incident’ and ‘Raid’) and publishing/grammatical errors indubitably are, corrections to Merseyside Blitzed (pp.31, 60) and a concluding section on ‘Spotting Signs of the Blitz’ render Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz a colourful if costly title that will be welcomed by history societies and no doubt included on their reading lists.

Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz is published by Pen & Sword History, priced £12.99.