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Fire Watchers Alarm Bell, Manchester
Fire Watchers were civilians who spent the nights on the roofs of buildings during air raids, looking for and dealing with incendiary bombs, rather than taking shelter from the falling bombs like most other people.
This account by Frank Walsh, who was on duty just around the corner from where the above photo was taken, gives a flavour of what they did.
“Although strictly not of age, I volunteered to fire watch, tempted by the small remuneration each volunteer received for the nights work. Abel Heywoods was a five story building with a flat roof. It had a huge wooden sign on top, approximately eight feet high. The large gold letters spelled out ‘A H & SONS’. By standing on the middle of the letter H you had an uninterrupted clear view all over the centre of Manchester.
When not on alert some volunteers slept on camp beds while others toured the building on a rota basis. However, once the sirens had sounded everyone went on to the flat roof to watch the searchlights criss cross the sky, occasionally highlighting one of the many barrage balloons floating high in the sky. These were to help deter planes from undertaking low level bombing.
Then, not long to wait before the heavy drone of the bombers engines could be heard in the distance. This noise gradually increased as the planes got nearer and nearer, then the crump of bombs falling and the noise of the anti-aircraft batteries opening up. These helped light up the night sky with the flash of exploding shells. Sometimes on a moonlit night you could see the silhouette of a bomber high in the sky.”
View period maps of Manchester showing Luftwaffe damage to buildings during the Blitz.
The link above re; Frank Walsh’s recollections of the Christmas Bltz have been a prime source of information. He vividly describes the scene below; the area to the south of Piccadilly – which comprised mostly cotton warehouses – being totally ablaze. Contemporary bombing maps of the City show that every building between Parker Street and Charlotte Street, and Chorlton Street and Abingdon Street with the sole exception of the telephone exchange, was destroyed on December 23rd 1940.
Frank was a Fire Watcher with his employers, Abel Heywood & Son. The shop pictured here is in Lever Street just to the north-west of Picadilly and only a couple of hundred metres from where the lead photo was taken.
Photo from Manchester Archives photostream
A fire watcher on duty (photographed in London)
Photo used with IWM Non-Commercial Licence
This is the building which has the Fire Watchers Alarm Bell. It is on the corner of Dale Street and China Lane.