BOMB TRAGEDY: Community remembers night when air raid tore it apart 

Reproduced from the Liverpool Echo, Wednesday, April 15, 1998. 
(With the kind permission of: 
Chris Walker 
Regional Managing Editor
Web site:

58 years on … a tribute to secret victims of war

Looking back … Billy Bellis was rescued from the rubble by father but his mother
and six brothers and sisters were killed on the tragic night, see below

By Ann Todd

A memorial to the families of a close-knit Liverpool community who lost their lives in World War II air raid is to be unveiled on Sunday. And it will give the people of Vauxhall an opportunity to tell for the first time the story of the tragedy which rocked the tenements of Blackstock Gardens, off Vauxhall Road. Up to 200 people were killed when a bomb dropped on a shelter in the Gardens on the night of December 20, 1940.


            Families who had run for cover to the shelter were killed. So were passengers on two packed trams caught up in the raid on their way home from work, who had fled to what they thought was to the safety of the shelter. Many of the bodies were never identified, and according to locals, some disappeared down a well and were swept into a stream.

            For all these years, those who died in the Blackstock Gardens attack have been forgotten – except by their families and the people of Vauxhall. But that will be remedied on Sunday when a memorial Mass will be held in Eldon Gardens, followed by a procession to the memorial in Vauxhall Road opposite where the shelter stood.

            The 10ft stainless steel memorial built by Merseyside Development Corporation states: “In memory of the residents of Blackstock Gardens who died during an air raid on 20/21 December 1940.”  Relatives hope eventually to collect all the names of those who died to inscribe on the memorial.

            The story hadn’t been told because reporting restrictions kept it out of the papers. The Echo of December 21, 1940, the day after the raid, was just able to reports that “Heavy bombs dropped among the homes of people were taking their toll. A communal shelter was hit and it is feared there are many casualties. Several families were trapped beneath the debris of the homes and rescue squads and first aid parties worked heroically, also under fire, to release them.”

            Sunday’s service will be ecumenical with Father Kevin Kelly, parish priest of Our Lady’s and Rev Steven Williams team vicar of Liverpool Parish Church, taking part.


Tony McGann, Eldonians chairman, one of the prime movers in the memorial, said “After the war there used to be a procession round the parish with the Archbishop, priests and alter boys, to commemorate the people who died in the air raid in Blackstock Gardens. “I used to take part and it was very moving. But sadly it stopped after St Bridget’s, the parish church, and the tenements in Blackstock Gardens were knocked down in 1968, and the community broke up. We felt something should be done to remember those who died – and that their story, which only we know, should be told to everyone in Liverpool. We owe it to those who lost their lives so tragically”. 

I was only one of the Family to survive horror

Dad dug Billy out of rubble

BILLY’ BELLIS’S story is the most tragic of all of the night in 1940. He went down into the shelter with his mother and six brothers and sisters. He was the only one to survive. Killed in the raid were his mother Sarah, 36, sisters Catherine, 14, Joan, 7, Patricia, 4, twins, Robert and Cecilia , 3, and baby Edward 6 months.

            Billy was playing further up the shelter when the bomb fell and he was buried, unconscious, under a pile of rubble, with his best mate John Manning. His father, Billy senior, dug them both out with his bare hands. Billy, now 68, who still lives in Vauxhall, was a lively boy of 11 when the eight of them went down into the shelter for safety when the bombing got heavy.

            He said “I was out to play with my mate John Manning in the top end of the shelter, away from my family. Suddenly, everything went black. When I woke up I was found I was trapped under the debris and I was on top of John. We were there a long time, unconscious a lot of the time. But then I heard a faint voice. It was the old feller shouting, looking for me. He got us out, moving the rubble with his bare hands. I went to Mill Road Hospital. I lost one finger but they saved the rest”. His eyes filled with tears as he said: “ When I got home three weeks later I found my mother and brothers and sisters had died”. He added: “I’m glad we’re having the memorial.”

His friend John Manning, 66, who also still lives in Vauxhall, said “I never heard a sound – everything just went black.”

Joe Campbell, 68, from Vauxhall, said: “I was in the shelter with my family when a lady threw herself on top of me to save my life. Her name was Mrs Wade and she was killed but I lived.”

Chris Gill, 71, who now lives in Aintree, said: “We were lucky. Two trams stopped at the Gardens because the air raid was getting heavy and the people off the trams took our usual places in the shelter. We went to another shelter.”


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