April 15th is a fateful day in history, for on that day in 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, on that day in 1912 the Titanic was lost, and on that day in 1941, Belfast suffered her greatest tragedy when she lost hundreds of her citizens to Nazi Bombing.
In 1982 I had published, under my Pretani Press imprint, my identity of Ulster and in 1983, Colonel Paddy by Patrick Marrinan and with the proceeds of both books was able to sponsor my young friend Edmund (Eddie) Irvine into motor racing. In 1984 I published Bombs on Belfast , a Camera Record first published by the Belfast Telegraph in 1941, following the Blitz, I was also able to publish for Lady Caroline Kinahan, the wife of Sir Robin, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast, her second book, After the War Came … Peace. Sir Robin introduced me and my friend David Campbell, now Chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who is recorded in Bombs on Belfast visiting Belfast with her husband Henry just after the Blitz itself. Because of this connection we founded the Somme Association with the help of my friends Rev. Dr Ian Paisley, Eileen and Rhonda.
As our President, Princess Alice rededicated the Ulster Tower at Thiepval on 1st July, 1989. David Campbell and I had the privilege of visiting her regularly at Kensington Palace until she died on 29th October, 2004. But her son, Prince Richard, quondam Earl of Ulster, has continued in the role of President of the Somme Association, both in France and Gallipoli, and to him, and to the Royal Family as a whole, we will be eternally grateful. Our Association, with its most able Director, Carol Walker, has a permanent exhibition on the Blitz at the Somme Museum, Whitespots, Newtownards and there is a Home Front Exhibition at the Northern Ireland War Memorial, Talbot Street , Belfast. We must never forget the sacrifice of those ordinary people who fought for the freedom of nations. Nor those who were buried unclaimed in the Milltown and City Cemeteries of Belfast.
It is obvious that, during the Second World War, the Government of Northern Ireland lacked the will, energy and capacity to cope with a major crisis when it came. And come it did in April and May, 1941. James Craig, Lord Craigavon, who was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921, until his death on November 24, 1940, had become very frail. Richard Dawson Bates was the Home Affairs Minister. According to Sir Wilfred Spender, the cabinet secretary was “incapable of giving his responsible officers coherent directions on policy” Only Sir Basil Brooke, the Minister of Agriculture, actively pursued his duties and successfully performed with the task of making Northern Ireland a major supplier of food to Britain in her time of need.
John Clarke MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, after the first bombing, initiated the “Hiram Plan” to evacuate the city and to return Belfast to 'normality' as quickly as possible. MacDermott was the person who sent the telegram to de Valera seeking assistance. There was unease with the complacent attitude of the government, and resignations followed:
• John Edmond Warnock, the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, resigned from the Northern Ireland government on 25 May 1940. He said “I have heard speeches about Ulster pulling her weight but they have never carried conviction.” and “the government has been slack, dilatory and apathetic.”
• Lt. Col. Alexander Robert Gisborne Gordon, Parliamentary and Financial Secretary at the Ministry of Finance (i.e. Chief Whip), resigned on 13 June 1940, explaining to the Commons that the government was “quite unfitted to sustain the people in the ordeal we have to face.”
Lord Craigavon died on Sunday, 24 November 1940 and was succeeded by John Miller Andrews, then 70 years old, who was no more capable of dealing with the situation than his predecessor. The minutes of his cabinet meetings show more discussion on protecting the bronze statue of Carson than the provision of air-raid shelters and other necessities for the civil defence of the population..
On 28 April 1943, six members of the Government threatened to resign, thus forcing him from office. He resigned on 1st May.
To be continued