Elisabeth McCullough was a Belfast school girl aged 13 living in East Belfast. During 1941, she kept a diary of events. On 31 March 1941, she wrote a short entry: ‘Did lessons We sunk three Italian cruisers and two destroyers – Good!’. She was referring British victory at the Battle of Cape Matapan, fought south of the island of Crete in the Mediterranean. It was a British victory in which the Regia Marina, the Italian Navy, lost five warships. This diary was printed along with her memoir and she noted that this entry in her diary was the ‘first mention of war’ in her diary.[1] She commented that ‘I knew little or nothing of politics, or indeed what the war was about’.[2]

She was not alone, many adults in Northern Ireland also knew or cared little about the war feeling that it was not something that involved them. Moya Woodside, a member of a wealthy Belfast mercantile family and reporter for the Mass Observation project, noted in 1940 that ‘all sorts of rot are going on here. Air raid warnings and blackouts! As if anyone care or wished to bomb Belfast’. She further said that she sought ‘only comply with the bare minimum…to from any conviction…but because I shall be fined if I don’t.’[3]

G.T. Harris, part of Coastal Command based in Newtonards, noted in his diary in August 1940, that ‘in Ireland, we find ourselves in the fortunate position of being spectators. I wonder how long this state of affairs will last? Belfast will make a good target. You can’t miss it. And they don’t trouble about blackout much in Northern Ireland’. In October, he added ‘I, for my part, would like Belfast shook up by a good heavy bombardment’. [4] His wish was to come true five months later.

[1] Elizabeth McCullough, A Square Peg (Dublin: Marino Books, 1997), p.139.

[2] Ibid, p.133.

[3] Cited in Brian Barton, Belfast in the War Years, Belfast in the War Years (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1989), pp.52-53.

[4] Cited in Stephen Douds, The Belfast Blitz, The People’s Story (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2011), pp.10, 11.