Interviewee of the Month – Alec Murray

Interviewee of the Month – Alec Murray

Once a month we highlight a person who has contributed an important wartime story to our oral history collection. Our August interviewee of the month is Alec Murray who was born in March 1931. Alec was interviewed in 2016 when he vividly recalled the Belfast Blitz.

Alec Murray

Alec remembered the Easter Tuesday raid of 1941, recalling that the sirens went off and then ‘all of a sudden we heard these thuds and I went out to the door and all the children of the street were out, we thought it was great saying “look it’s like fairyland all lit up” little did we know that the German planes were dropping flares down you see… well everybody caught it running to the hills and the Shankill Road was packed with people walking up to the Glencairn to safety’. He recalls hearing about the nearby Percy Street shelter being destroyed and states that his family knew quite a few people who died such as the Swann family, ‘There were six in the family and five of them went into the air-raid shelter but the other one was in a wheelchair and she opted to stay under the stairs where people said was the safest place in the house, but anyway the bomb fell and all her people, the air-raid shelter was totally destroyed’.

Children on Percy Street with a shelter sign behind them. This picture was taken before the Belfast Blitz in April 1941.

The next day he remembered seeing the devastation, ‘the next morning it wasn’t like now when something occurs, they seal it off, people were just walking about, and the place was totally destroyed… I saw a woman holding a baby and there was a piece of plate glass stuck through the two of them, stuck to the wall’. Yet amid all the destruction and death Alec remembers there was lighter side recalling Salvation Army volunteers chasing ‘a dog round and round down North Street because there was a head in its teeth, in its mouth but it was a head of a dummy from one of the shops’.

Thankfully the only casualty in Alec’s family was their cat Snowball, however their house was damaged and so along with his grandmother, aunt, cousins, mother, and sister Alec was evacuated to Ballyalton near Newtownards to live in a big farmhouse with a lady called Mrs Skillen. They were only there for about 6 months when Alec was glad to get back to Belfast as he didn’t like country life at all, ‘it was a culture shock, I didn’t like it , it was alright during the war, but you get homesick…we thought it was million miles away, now I can go down and it takes only ten minutes to go down the back road’. At the end of the war, Alec recalls the sense of relief stating ‘I was in the BB at Townsend Street and it was the annual party… and the Captain of the BB came in and he says “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an amazing announcement to make… the Nazis have surrendered”. Everybody jumped up and cheered and that was the end of the party, you grabbed the nearest girl guide and people were walking from all over the country down to the City Hall and bands were playing and marching’.

We began interviewing people in 2016 and it is always a privilege to meet people who lived through the war years, and to hear and record their stories for future generations. Our aim is to record, while it is still possible, as many of these vivid stories of Second World War as possible. Do you have memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland? Please get in touch with us via email at projects@niwarmemorial.org or you can give us a call on 07588634847.

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