Writing this almost 80 years ago to the day, it is difficult to believe while walking up the main drive through the trees and into the quadrangle in front of the school buildings,that the peace of this place was shattered in 1941 by war.
Belfast was considered too far for Luftwaffe bombers to travel from bases in northern France and Holland. Defence arrangements for Belfast were vague. Anti-aircraft guns were sited on high ground in the Castlereagh hills and in Rose park at Dundonald. A fighter Squadron was stationed at RAF Aldergrove but did not engage while the guns were firing.
Germany , on the other hand, saw Belfast as a legitimate target. One of the worlds' largest shipyards(Harland & Wolff) was the prime target, coupled with Sydenham airport and various other enterprises such as water and power sources. The latter would add confusion to the scene.
The Luftwaffe picked full moon nights to help with navigation on the flight path.
Some aircraft arrived via neutral illuminated Dublin and the rail line northwards, which lead them conveniently to the shipyards. One could hear the low pitched drone of the bombers. It was different from our own aero engines in that the engines turned over at a slower rate with a monotonous drone.
Between 7th April and the 5th May severe damage was inflicted on Belfast. During two heavy raids about eleven hundred citizens lost their lives.
As a small boy at Cabin Hill at that time, one could see the shipyards ablaze from end to end lighting up the night sky. Another smaller fire in the foreground was the left wing of the front of the school.
At the outset of the war, Pupils and Staff had been evacuated to Portrush, being exchanged for a Military Hospital complete with Staff and Patients. Boys at Cabin Hill “helped” with the construction of air raid shelters at the back of the school. German Prisoners could be seen in chocolate coloured battle dress with large black diamond shaped cloth inlays on their backs. They seemed to play football incessantly on wire enclosed pitches and they looked no different from us!
The main resistance to the Luftwaffe came from an RN Aircraft Carrier which was being refitted in the shipyard. It continued firing till it ran out of ammunition. Heavy anti aircraft guns did operate with deafening effect. Doors and windows had to be left ajar to prevent splintering of glass. Only one German aircraft was shot down (by the RAF). During the raids eleven hundred civilians were killed The hospital suffered damage and several RAMC soldiers were killed.
It was an exciting time during which we were not old enough to appreciate it's significance. Having been warned not to pickup anything resembling the impedimenta of war, an immediate search of the district was undertaken by bicycle for shrapnel.
The final action was from the German Consul to the Irish Republic. He signalled Berlin to stop the bombings as eleven hundred civilians had been killed and further raids would be counter productive in terms of public opinion. There were no further raids.
Arthur Eakins (3091)