After James Welsh’s mother, Ann McKinlay died in
1931 the family moved into her house at 13 Ingleston Street.
This was a basement “room and kitchen” – a single large room
with a sink and cooker at one end and a second simple room off.
Each room had a
coal fire but the flat had no hot water, it did have a washhouse (clothes and people)
as well as a toilet across an open back yard.
In all some 22 families lived at this address and the windows in the Welsh’s
flat were at street level.
The flat had a large coal store and during her lifetime Ann McKinlay had
built up a huge stock of coal, a practice that Mary Agnes continued.
By May 1941 the family consisted of, parents James (39), and Mary Agnes (37),
their sons James (15) and John (11), daughters Rosemary (10), Margaret (7),
Dorothy (4) and Maureen (22 months).
At this point in the Second World War, Greenock had not seen any enemy action.
Apart, perhaps from the strange man seen by Mary Agnes some months before,
taking photographs of the Ardgowan Distillery across the street from the Welsh home.
This changed in the early hours of Tuesday 6th May 1941.
On that night around fifty bombers attacked the town in an apparently random fashion.
Bombs fell all over the town and surrounding area, serious damage being
inflicted on Belville Street – where Patrick and Anne Welsh (McKinlay) had
lived many years before.
Belville Street on 6th May 1941
At 00:26 on 7th
May 1941 the Fire Brigade received warning of a second night of air raids. This
time The Luftwaffe started the raid by dropping incendiary bombs around the
perimeter of the town.
Then the distillery opposite the Welsh’s home received a direct hit, the
igniting spirits acted as a beacon and at least six other bombs
struck the site.
With the Welsh home near by it was only a matter of time
before it too was struck.
James and his fifteen year old son, also James were quickly out assisting wherever they could.
Meanwhile, two bombs landed in the courtyard of 13 Ingleston Street and another in the
The heavily pregnant Mary Agnes gathered the family together,
with overcoats hastily thrown on over their nightclothes, and with Maureen in the arms of
neighbour Mary Coyle, they fled into the streets.
Mary Coyle was Mary Agnes’s best friend, Mary Coyle later found that she had broken her arm,
probably caused by throwing herself to the ground – as they were all told to do so, by
the Air Raid Wardens, when a bomb was dropped, despite this injury she carried Maureen all through
The streets were already a mass of confusion around them, dropping bombs,
search lights and the persistent Ack-Ack fire from the Royal Navy on the River Clyde as well as the
deep boom-boom of inland anti-aircraft fire.
Ingleston Streets was already flowing with burning whisky and industrial spirits,
with an army of rats fleeing before the flames.
At first the family sought refuge in the nearby Cartsburn School.
Map of the bombing, bombs 216 and 217 fell in the flats courtyard and bomb 218 just beside the Welsh home
They were there only a
short time before they heard shouts of “If there’s any one in there get out NOW!”
, bomb 219 fell on the school.
They made a hasty retreat to the railway tunnels.
There were two railway tunnels in the east end of the town and since the March
air raids on Clydebank they had been used regularly by people as air raid
shelters during false alarms.
When the family were sheltering there,
they missed out on the hastily organised evacuation buses taking children to
Glasgow and beyond.
The local authority, Greenock Burgh Council, in charge of Civil Defence, worried
that a bomb or mine might land at the tunnel mouth and wipe out all
They persuaded the occupants to move to proper air raid shelters and it
was in one of these that the family spent what remained of the night.
When the "All Clear" sounded; the whole of the town appeared to be in flames.
The sugar refineries, distilleries and foundries were all extensively damaged,
as well as several churches, including St. Lawrence’s, the Welsh family church, all left as
burnt out shells.
Damage to the shipyards was minimal.
The blitz continued until 03:39 and the Fire
Brigade reported "by 10:15, that the fires were
well in hand and should be blacked out before the following night.
Apart from spasmodic outbreaks and a small section of the
distillery in Ingleston Street this was possible”.
A Fireman later recalled, You couldn’t get along Ingleston Street at all.
Our unit was at the corner of Drumfrochar Road and Baker Street.
There was a part of the distillery that contained six tanks. These tanks had
what we called industrial alcohol, I think, part of the war effort — they had
something to do with high explosive bombs.
These tanks were burning but not in the sense that they were ablaze. There were
jets of flame all around the seams and, as access could only be made from one
side, it made extinguishing these jets almost impossible. It was a case of
staying there all night while the raid was on, cooling these tanks down till it
was safe to approach them closer
By daylight the area around Ingleston Street
was a scene of complete devastation.
The Welsh home
was completely demolished and there was only the fireplace still left standing,
and when Mary Agnes returned to the house to salvage any belongings, she found
her clothes rope – that was all.
Despite the surrounding grief the Fire Brigade were still able to joke with
Mary Agnes that the real cause of the blaze lasting so long was the amount
of coal in her cellar!
It was from this school that the family had
made their second escape the night before
Over the two nights 280 people were killed and over 1,200 injured. From a
total of 18,000 homes nearly 10,000 suffered damage and 1,000 were destroyed
Months later the Air Ministry informed the burgh council that approximately 250
Luftwaffe planes in 3 waves had taken part in the raid of 7th May 1941.
Whereas in the 6th May raid only 60 planes took part.
It was obvious that the family would have to find somewhere to live.
The local authority was stretched to its limits, so it was decided that the
children would be best off spending the day with their Aunt Mary (Welsh) in her
home, while their parents searched for a place to stay.
For the night of the 7th / 8th of May the family stayed
at a guest house on The Esplanade.
The following day they were taken in by Thomas Gilchrist, the employer of
Mary Jane Bannon, the mother of Mary Agnes. They lived there at 53 Octavia
Terrace for three months and it was here that Mary Coyle Welsh was born on
the 3rd of July.
They then moved to a two storey tenement at 14 Cobham Street, here they had the
luxury of not only two bedrooms and a bathroom, but of living in the eastern
outskirts of the town with stunning views across the Clyde.
It also brought them closer to the Bannon’s home at 17 Ladyburn Buildings which
over the two nights of the blitz suffered no more that a minor roof fire caused
by an incendiary bomb.
Greenock Burgh Fire Brigade
McLean Museum, Greenock
"WW2 People's War" an online archive of wartime memories contributed by
members of the public and gathered by the BBC.
The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'