23 May 2013
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 23 May 2013
Technical Memories (Part 55) – War Breaks Out
Choosing the first week of September 1939 to give a cross-section of insights into the early state of vocational education in Cork (as outlined last week) means one cannot also avoid the myriad of column inches devoted to the outbreak of World War II. On 3 September 1939, as a consequence of Germany invading Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun, which despite Ireland’s neutrality, witnessed enormous amount of refugees settling in Ireland fleeing Great Britain and a limit put on the import of materials and food.
The beginning of “The Emergency” can be seen in the Cork Examiner. Many cross-channel boats brought Irish emigrants home and British refugees to Cork, especially children. The evacuation of children and mothers from London began early Friday morning on 1 September 1939. In the poorer quarters of the city, children were lined up in readiness to be taken away into the country as early as five and six o’clock. They were taken to the various London stations and entrained for the destinations, while parents shouted messages of farewell. The ages of the children ranged from three to thirteen years. Each carried a gas-mark, a packet of food, a change of clothing and was identified by three labels.
The Cork Examiner on 4 September 1939 noted that the previous afternoon a cross-channel boat arrived nearly four hours late and berthed in Cork. The boat was crowded by those fleeing London with a total of 850 passengers.“The scene when the passengers were disembarking was both confused and pathetic. Children were very much in evidence, but babies were even more numerous. Quite a large number of the women who came ashore had babies in their arms, and some could not have been more than a few weeks old…there were tears in the eyes of many too, as they returned to the home-land, where they presume they are safe from raiding aeroplanes”.
Outside the arrivals shed, the quay was a solid mass of people. Some came out of curiosity but many were there to await the arrival of their loved ones. Tears were again shed as old friends welcomed home their grown-up children, and gazed for the first time upon their grandchildren. Of the huge numbers on board, by far the greater number seemed to be travelling third-class. As the motor-vessel drew up the quay there was hardly an inch of standing room around the stern and other spaces utilised by passengers aft.
The reason for the ship being so late was that the trains on the other side were all running well behind time, due to troop movements and evacuation. Three trains were to bring passengers for the ship, but she sailed before the third train had arrived. One of the passengers from the boat told an “Examiner” reporter that there were several hundred left behind as there was no accommodation for them. Precautions had been taken to prevent any lights showing; portholes were painted over and all curtains drawn. The London stations were also practically in darkness, the only illumination being from dark blue lamps, which were insufficient to read by. A gentleman who travelled to Dublin from Liverpool expressed to the “Examiner” representative that there was a great rush for accommodation on the boat. Armed military assisted in controlling the crowds.
The discontinuation of public lighting in the Cork City and elsewhere was to continue at the request of the government. The Cork Examiner on 2 September 1939 advertised that proprietors of electrical and other lighting display signs, as well as those whose shop windows were normally illuminated by night were respectfully requested to discontinue all such lighting displays one half hour before sunset each evening until further notice. Those that were partially lit were also cowled even further.
At a special meeting of Cork Corporation on 4 September 1939, air raid precautions were the topic of debate by councillors and city manager Philip Monahan. One of the main stances adopted at the meeting was in the form of “now it’s your turn” to the citizens at large. The Cork Examiner in a follow-up editorial argued the importance of the role of citizen participation; “Admittedly, war seems far removed from us at the moment. Any day, however, news of the bombing of cities and town about an hour’s journey from Britain may come”. An appeal was made to the public to give some of its spare time to the modern craft of saving life in the event of attack from the air. Medical and first-aid workers were wanted; wardens were needed, and the rank and file, of Air Raid Precautions, who were to be the control of wardens, were required; The Cork Examiner commented;“The application of a few hours each week to the study of certain types of wounds, certain types of bombs and certain types of grisly situations may not be exactly a past time. That is what ARP requires, however, and particularly, the younger men of our city will be asked in the near future to give their time to such tasks”.
To be continued…
692a. Air raid precautions poster, World War II (picture: Cork City Library)