Sunday, 24 January 2010

Aberdeen's Blitz - 21 April 1943

In my capacity as Force Curator for Grampian Police, I issue the following invite: you folklorists and oral historians in the Blogosphere - if you're in Aberdeen, Scotland between 30 Jan and 14 Feb, come and visit my exhibition of previously unseen photographs featuring the damage caused in the city's worst air raid of WWII.

As I mentioned on my other blog The Other Scottish Storyteller, I had these slides digitised and printed by John Sullivan of the Aberdeen Environmental Education Centre, based in the city's Skene Square Primary School; the AEEC were doing a fantastic job of presenting the history of Aberdeen's built environment and I wanted to share this resource with them for their school groups, however it turns out that this may be the last EVER event AEEC is involved in. The City Council in its so-called wisdom is planning to shut it down. Therefore, this may be your only chance to see these photos on public display, as the police does not have a museum either.

This date represents a dark chapter in Aberdeen's history - 127 bombs were dropped by a 25-strong squadron of Dornier 217s from the Luftwaffe, who flew over from Norway, bent on the city's destruction. Nazi spies had somehow acquired the 1939 town plan and had a long list of sites they were going to bomb.

  • 98 people were killed, 27 soldiers died at the Gordon Barracks as well.
  • 93 civilians were seriously injured
  • 141 civilians were slightly injured
  • Over 9,300 houses and business premises were damaged - 599 houses irreparable.

Tragic stories have already emerged from the oral history interviews that I've been conducting with local history teacher, Colin Johnston. Some of these will feature in audio extracts at the exhibition, which takes place at the Limousine Bull Artists' Collective Gallery, Unit 3c, Deemouth Business Centre, South Esplanade East, Torry, AB11 9PB. (Click Postcode for Map) from Saturday January 30th - Sunday 14 February, 12-5pm (closed Mondays & Tuesdays).

5 Stafford Street

Two stories which really bring a tear to the eye are firstly the man from 5 Stafford Street, - which was hit by two incendiary bombs in short succession - out in the street with his neighbours after they had all been rescued from the cellar after the first bomb, decided he would go back and collect his boots as his feet were bare. While he returned to the tenement, the second bomb struck, engulfing the building in an inferno. He was never seen again.

Gerry Scanlan was an 18 year-old Glaswegian from the Catholic district of Provanhill, he was a steward in the army, based at the Gordon Barracks. He and 26 of his young fellow soldiers were killed that night. His grave is in Trinity Cemetery, which shows his parents' names. One of his colleagues was so badly burned, the death certificate for the lads which was issued in Oldmachar parish, simply reads 'unidentified male'.

Gerard Scalan - killed by enemy action

Our interviewees, aged from 8 to 12 on the night of 21 April '43, found it hard to keep back their emotions on seeing the pictures again. Swanson McKenzie, a retired teacher, cried when he saw his granny's house, the same tenement in Stafford Street, where her neighbour was lost returning for his boots. I felt it so important to share both their memories and these pictures with the rest of the city, and also to promote my project partners, the AEEC, the Limousine Bull Artists' Collective, Photoghost (a new photo lab soon to open in Bridge St) and students from Gray's School of Art, RGU.

Do come along to the exhibition and take a challenging trip back in time.

More details will appear on Grampian's main website nearer the time, where you will also be able to view a web gallery of the entire slide collection, as only 35 of the 140 images are being displayed at the exhibition.

The areas of Aberdeen represented by the exhibition include:

  • Charles Street & Fraser Place
  • Causewayend
  • Elmbank Road
  • Bedford Road/ Bedford Place
  • Former Meat Market, Hutcheon Street
  • Stafford Street
  • Cornhill former Nurses' Home, Ashgrove
  • Ashvale Place
  • the 'Tartan Kirkie', aka St Mary's, Carden Place
  • Kingshill Avenue (no.19)
  • Kings Cross Terr (no.18)
  • Hilton Terrace
  • Cattofield Place
  • Middlefield Primary School
  • Cummings Park Road (no's 9-11)
  • Provost Rust Drive (no's 106-108)
  • Church Street/ Brown Street, Woodside
  • Clifton Road (no.282)
  • Westburn Drive (no.9)
  • Erskine Street (no's 33-35)
If your address is here, come and see what happened to it in 1943 and compare with images taken between last summer and this winter.

Also featured are some wartime artefacts from the Grampian Police Force Museum collection

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