Monday, 12 September 2011

23: The Bootle Air Raid Shelter Song

This kind of patriotic song may seem seriously out of step with modern sentiments, what with its references to "motherland" and the victory over Germany, with the tune lifted from Oscar Rasbach's music for Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" (you know, the poem that goes "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree" - Rasbach's setting was a big hit for Paul Robeson during the time of the war). All that aside, I've decided to include this air raid shelter song here anyway, because it's an important memorial to a big part of Merseyside's social history.

I got the words from Kiss Me Goodnight Sargeant Major: The Songs and Ballads of World War II, where Mrs Mary van Eker explains: "I was but a civilian who ran to the air-raid shelter every time the alert sounded. There was no author to this song really, someone sang a line and then someone sang another. It comes spontaneous to us here."

As Liverpool was such a strategically important bombing target for Nazi Germany, Bootle was very much in the line of fire, being at the northern end of the stretch of docks. Night after night the town was under a blanket of bombs, with the people of Bootle taking shelter in places like the basement of the Co-operative store on Stanley Road. On the 7th May 1941, the Co-operative basement shelter was full to capacity when the building above was hit. (The photo I'm using here records the wreckage at the site after the bomb hit.) At least 36 people died as a result; there is a memorial garden to the victims on Ash Street.

I include the song here because it's important to remember the spirit of the people of Bootle who were able to sing together as the bombs fell around them.

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