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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Terror of the blitz remembered
Nuala McCann
BBC News Online Northern Ireland

A Northern Ireland woman can pinpoint the exact day that she first heard the ghostly wail of an air raid siren.

All her life, Myrtle Sinton has been keeping diaries and her memories of World War II come to life on the pages.

The devastation of the Belfast blitz in April 1941
Now, thanks to a funding initiative from Lottery distributors, the New Opportunities Fund, the Community Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, such memories are being marked and treasured.

Home Front Recall, a 300,000 project, will provide grants to fund activities by societies, clubs and community groups throughout Northern Ireland that wish to commemorate the role played by those on the home front during the war years.

The fire fighters, the fire raid wardens, dock workers, seamen, nurses and auxiliary workers will be saluted.

As a young girl, Myrtle, from Bangor, County Down joined the civil service and, when the war began, she found herself working for the Admiralty in London.

Looking back, I don't really know how I coped being in the middle of London in my late teens during the blitz
Myrtle Sinton

It was thrilling in some ways to be a young woman in the hustle of a big city, she told BBC News Online. But it was grim too.

"We worked shifts of duty, like the WRNs, only longer hours," she said.

"We used to type the messages from the decoders, from the ships at sea."

One night, when on Watch C, Myrtle found herself faced with the news that the HMS Hood had sunk.

"I remember crying as I typed the horrendously long list of the victims," she said.

"As a child, I had been on the HMS Hood when it came to Bangor bay on a courtesy visit. I never thought that I would end up writing about it being sunk.

"Looking back, I don't really know how I coped being in the middle of London in my late teens during the blitz."

Blitz memories

Richard Murphy, who is now 82 years old, was just 17 when he joined the fire service and moved from his native Armagh to Belfast, where he was stationed mainly at Sans Soucis station during the war.

"In 1940-41, I was sent to Lewisham, London. The bombers were coming over every night. We were sent there for blitz experience. Then, I was in Coventry when it burned.

"In 1942, I was back in Belfast."

The night of the blitz, when 1,000 people were killed in just one night, is etched forever in his mind.

Richard Murphy
I left the baby with some soldiers, having attached a note to say that the body was found on York Street
Richard Murphy
"In those days there were no radios and the telephones were knocked out.

"We got messages and went out putting out fires on the Antrim Road, Cavehill Road, York Street. We just lived from day to day at that time.

"Two of our comrades from the Sans Soucis station were killed. They were coming along Royal Avenue when a bomb dropped and it left a crater. They drove into the crater."

What Richard shall never forget is going out after a bombing in York Street, Belfast.

"I saw an Alsatian dog with a dead baby in its mouth. It was running away. I took off my metal helmet and threw it on the ground. The rattle scared the dog and he dropped the baby.

"I remember wrapping the baby's body in some old net curtain from one of the bombed houses.

"I left the baby with some soldiers, having attached a note to say that the body was found on York Street... Things like that, you never forget."

Mass graves in Belfast's Milltown and City cemeteries hold the bodies of all the people who could never be identified.

Richard remembers his friend, whose house on the Cavehill Road was bombed, and who was never able to find the remains of his father and mother.

"We went down to the stalls in the market. The dead were laid out on them. And I remember going along and lifting the sheeting to look at the bodies. But we never found his parents."

'Valuable lessons'

Such a rich seam of memories should be mined before it is too late and those who lived through the war are gone, said Walter Rader, director of the New Opportunities Fund.

"There are valuable lessons for today's generations from the experience of the war effort across the United Kingdom," he said.

"In launching Home Front Recall, we are stressing the importance of the sacrifices and contribution made by millions of people who may not have been fighting in the strict sense, but were indispensable to the war effort.

"Their work was vital to the success of the war effort. Through this scheme we want to help a special generation participate in the 60th anniversary of those days."

The Belfast blitz is remembered
11 Apr 01 |  Northern Ireland
Memories of the Belfast blitz
11 Apr 01 |  Northern Ireland

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