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DESTRUCTION OF
ST ALEXANDER'S, May 1941

 

by Father Louis Coupe

 
 
     At 10-30 on the night of Saturday, May 3rd, 1941, the warning of the approach of enemy aircraft was again sounded for the third successive night. We had previously thought that the raid of Christmas 1940, was as bad as could be experiences - but tonight we were sadly disillusioned.  
     My diary records "a terrible, frightful night; much worse than the Christmas blitz." At 2.08 am we were badly shaken by an obviously very near miss - so near indeed, that when we were able to investigate, we found that the School had received a direct hit, demolishing completely the entire middle of the building. Both end blocks were, however, damaged only by blast; and fortunately, about 200 people sheltering in the reinforced cellars of the front section abutting onto St John's Road, were not even aware that the school had been hit.
     During the course of the night, both Fr C Rigby and Fr A Maguire were not attending to casualties in the neighbourhood, and helping to rescue people buries under the debris of their demolished homes. After a period of comparative quiet, during which the clergy helped and supplied water to control fires started by incendiary bombs, the "Raiders passed" signal was sounded at 5-20 am (according to Double Summer Time - the second hour having been added during this night).
     Fr C Rigby and Fr L coupe went up to Miranda Road to investigate the position of St Richard's Chapel-of-ease, and to see Fr C Taylor who had been on duty there throughout the raid. Everything there was in perfect order; but throughout the Parish were scenes of desolation and destruction. Much damage had been done along St John's Road and in the area around Stanley Road. A land-mine dropped early in the night (at 10-30 pm) had left the whole block surrounded by Stanley Road, Rosalind Street, Hermia Street and Celia Street, a mass of debris. The corner, Stanley Road-Olivia Street, was one blazing inferno. Fr Maguire reported similar scenes from Derby Road area, where Vincent Murphy's timber yard was ablaze and fire spreading to the adjacent property.
     On account of delayed action bombs in the immediate vicinity (on the junction St John's Road-Ceres Street-Sylvia Street, etc) the neighbourhood was evacuated by police orders. About 6-20 am, Sunday, a weary procession of priests and people wended its way to St Richard's, where Masses were said for surprisingly large congregations. During the first two Masses (Canon Kelly's and Fr Maguire's) an ammunition ship in the nearby docks blew up with nerve shattering effect. To quote Canon Kelly: "At about 7 am I had just said Kyrie Eleison once, and before the server could reply, there was a terrible explosion which shook the church and roared for 5 seconds. No one moved - the silence was intense". The Clergy were kindly and hospitably received around St Richard's - Mrs Brosnan, Mrs Smyth and Mrs Cadley.
     Explosions of various kinds from the ammunition train at Anfield were continuous throughout Sunday, May 4th - the "Alert" was again sounded during the afternoon, and again at midnight. On the latter occasion Fr Maguire went straight back to St Alexander's, knowing that there was no one about the premises. He returned in a short time to St Richard's with the 'news' that a delayed action bomb had dropped in the yard behind St Alexander's presbytery, and he had got away as soon as possible. There was a sharp attack for about an hour, then comparative quiet until "Raiders passed" at 5-20 am.
     On Monday morning Fr Taylor was told that the delayed action bomb had exploded about 6-30 am. Arriving at the scene, he found that the whole of the sacristies and the Sacred Heart Chapel had been completely destroyed, leaving four bays of the main roof hanging unsupported; the wall had gone, too; the Predella of the High Altar was lifted at a precarious angle and the Altar Rails buried under bricks, but, not a single vase of flowers on the Altars (decorated for the First Sunday in May) had been disturbed! Returning, Fr Taylor was met by Canon Kelly who asked him, "Have you got it?" meaning the Ciborium and the Blessed Sacrament. "It isn't there" replied Fr Taylor. "What isn't?" - "The Sacristy - it's gone!" Whereupon, Canon Kelly and Mr Tom McDonald (First Asst Master at the School) went on to St Alexander's, and having found a duplicate key of the Tabernacle, Canon Kelly was able to bring away the Blessed Sacrament. Incidentally, he had much trouble with the policeman; who tried to prevent him entering the evacuated area. 
     Again at midnight of Monday, May 5th, the "Alert" was sounded. This raid was much lighter than those of the previous nights and the "All Clear" sounded about 4.10 am without further incident. Much the same happened on the night of Tuesday, May 6th, the "Alert" being in operation from about midnight to something past 4 am, again without incident.
     It must be borne in mind that during all these days, an area of St John's Road, Kirkdale, where St Alexander's is situated, was under police and military supervision on account of the delayed action bombs (about 11) dropped there, and hence St Alexander's Clergy and many people were not allowed the use of their own houses. During the afternoon of Wednesday, May 7th, however, Canon Kelly, Fr Taylor and Fr Maguire were able to persuade the police officer on duty to allow them into St Alexander's and they brought away some few things, both parish and private property.
     Once more about midnight, Wednesday, May 7th, the "Alert" sounded. This attack was apparently concentrated on the Bootle area, and houses near St Richard's Church in Miranda Road were demolished, fortunately without causing casualties or damage to St Richard's. But it was not until about 6-30 on Thursday morning that Nurse O'Keefe from St John's Road, came to tell the Canon the dreadful news that St Alexander's Church was ablaze, and that the roof had fallen in about the time the "All Clear" had sounded - 4-30 am.