One feature of the Blitz of 1940-41 reported in popular memory was the idea of ‘Blitz Spirit’. The people of Britain reacted to the German bombing of their cities by demonstrating a spirit that united communities in an altruistic effort against an external enemy. People worked together to suffer hardships for the sake of victory and put pre-war social and class differences aside in stoical endurance to fight on in the face of Nazi aggression.

Several historians have shown that the so called Blitz Spirit was a myth and was not wide spread (see Calder below).[1] Other scholars have suggested that while the Blitz Spirit has been mythologised there was some evidence that people were drawn together in mutual adversity.[2] There is evidence to suggest that people in Belfast were drawn together as a consequence of the Blitz, giving each other mutual support and assistance in the aftermath of the raids.

This is in many ways surprising as Belfast was riven by social, political, cultural and economic divides. It was a city of rich and poor with one third of the city living in poverty.[3] The city was also divided by a Protestant majority and a small Catholic minority of around 25%. The city had witnessed inter-community rioting, murder and destruction in the early 1920s and in 1935.[4]

There are many examples of communities coming together despite the age old sectarian and economic divides. The Catholic Clonard Monastery opened its crypt as a shelter and was used by ‘all, Protestants included’.[5] The Irish Times on 17 April believed that ‘the people of Ireland were united under the shadow of a national blow. Has it taken bursting bombs to remind the people of this little country that they have common tradition, a common genius and a common home?’ Many people gave bedding, cloths and cash to various calls for charity (see letter below).[6]

[1] Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991).

[2] BBC One – Blitz Spirit with Lucy Worsley

[3] Brian Barton, Belfast in the War Years, Belfast in the War Years (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1989), p.15.

[4] Brian Barton, Belfast in the War Years, Belfast in the War Years (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1989), p.21.

[5] Cited in Stephen Douds, The Belfast Blitz, The People’s Story (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2011), p.128.

[6] Northern Whig, 23 April 1941, p.2.