Thorndyke Street, Belfast

Many residents of Thorndyke Street, Belfast died on the night of 15th-16th April 1941 when a High Explosive Bomb detonated close to the Public Air Raid Shelter.

On the night of 15th April 1941, a 250lb High Explosive Bomb detonated between rows of houses on Thorndyke Street and Chatsworth Street in East Belfast. About 45 yards away, a poorly constructed Public Air Raid Shelter was unable to withstand the blast.

The explosion resulted in the walls giving way, causing the reinforced concrete roof to collapse on those sheltering inside. Housing along the street also sustained a great amount of damage. Along one side of the street, the blast destroyed 7 terraced red-bricked houses.

Deaths and Discrepancies

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty List names 17 total fatalities on Thorndyke Street on the night of 15th April 1941. Of those, 9 specifically have the Public Air raid Shelter as their listed place of death. Sarah Hughes of 12 Thorndyke Street died as a result of her injuries on 17th April 1941 at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Professor Brian Barton in his book ‘The Belfast Blitz: The City in the War Years’ (2015) cites a higher number of 20 fatalities, 14 of whom were in the shelter.

On 26th June 1941, Robert Wherry Jr. of 16 Thorndyke Street, Belfast spoke at an inquest. Coroner Dr. Herbert P. Lowe heard the evidence at Belfast City Hall. Wherry stated he left his parents Robert Wherry Sr. and Margaret Jane Wherry, and sisters Martha Wherry and Elizabeth Wherry in the Public Air Raid Shelter. Robert too had been in the shelter from around 2330hrs but left soon after 0230hrs as he felt tired… much to his families disproval.

Coroner Lowe: What prompted you to do that?
Robert Wherry: I was tired standing in the shelter.
Coroner Lowe: Did the others not go with you?
Robert Wherry: No, they coaxed me to stay.

Robert climbed into bed and after no more than 15 minutes heard a “terrific explosion”. The force of the blast knocked him to the floor. After the all-clear, he rushed back to the street finding the shelter demolished.

The evidence given in June 1941 suggests that at least 4 members of the Wherry family may have died in the Public Air Raid Shelter. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty List gives their place of death as “Thorndyke Street”. Taking Robert Wherry’s timeline into account also suggests that all those killed on Thorndyke Street and in the shelter should have a date of death of 16th April 1941 rather than 15th April 1941.

Reverend M.A. Thompson visits on 16th April 1941

The following morning, Reverend M.A. Thompson of Mountpottinger Presbyterian Church visited Thorndyke Street. Along with his son Alexander Irwin Thompson, and A.R.P. Wardens, he surveyed the surrounding damage. A photographer from the Belfast Telegraph newspaper captured the moment.

Reverend M.A. Thompson had gone to visit one of the families from his congregation. The A.R.P. Warden photographed wearing a respirator informed the Reverend the family had evacuated before the raid. Alexander Irwin Thompson recalled 11 dead in the Public Air Raid Shelter.

The Thorndyke Street Mural

A mural painted on Thorndyke Street in October 2004 recalls the events of 15th-16th April 1941. Entitled ‘Hitler Attacks Belfast’, it depicts the aftermath of the raid and lists the names of 7 residents and 2 A.R.P. Volunteers.

By 1941 Belfast was making a hugely significant contribution to the British war effort, a fact, which did not go on unnoticed by the Germans. During the war, Belfast built 140 ships, ten percent of the merchant shipping of the United Kingdom. The city and province also manufactured guns, tanks, ammunition, aircraft (including 1,500 heavy bombers), two million parachutes, 90% of the shirts required by the armed forces and one-third of the ropes required by the War Office. All this made Belfast a glaringly obvious target for the Germans. The Luftwaffe made several attacks on Belfast with including an attack by 180 bombers on the night on 15th and 16th April 1941. The principal targets were the shipyard and the aircraft factory in east Belfast. East Belfast in general and Thorndyke Street in particular, as you can see from the mural did not escape the attention of the German bombers. Across Belfast 745 civilians were killed, 420 were seriously injured and more than 1,000 less seriously. April and May 1941 an estimated 56,000 houses were damaged, some 100,000 people were made temporarily homeless and a further 15,000 were deprived of their homes completely.

Thorndyke Street Memorial Plaque

In 2016, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz, Belfast City Council unveiled memorial plaques across the city. One of these stands at the end of Thorndyke Street on the side wall of the Iron Hall on Templemore Avenue.

Casualties of the Belfast Blitz

The following died here as a result of enemy action during the Belfast Blitz.

The Thorndyke Street Shelter

The following died here as a result of enemy action during the Belfast Blitz.