Clydebank Blitz Anniversary

– in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 15th March 2016.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire 8:07 pm, 15th March 2016

Jane Adair, John Adair, William Adair, Mary Adams, Archibald Adamson, Hannah Ahern, Isobel Aird, Marion Aird, Tomina Aird, William Aird, Joseph Allan, Andrew Anderson, Esther Anderson, George Anderson, John Anderson, Thomas Anderson, Ellen Bainbridge, Thomas Bainbridge, John Barclay, Elizabeth Baxter, Annie Beaton, Rosetta Bell, Mary Bennett, Eric Betty, Maria Bicker, Walter Bilsland, Isabella Black, James Black, Caroline Blyth, Robert Blyth, Sarah Blyth, Georgina Borland, Jessie Borland, John Borland, James Bowles, Albert Bowman, Archibald Bowman, Hannah Bowman, Lilian Bowman, James Boyd, Bridget Boyle, Elizabeth Boyle, Isabell Boyle, Margaret Boyle, Mary Boyle, William Boyle, William Boyle, William Boyle, Catherine Bradley, James Brimer, Martin Brown, Rosina Brown, Euphemia Burns, Adam Busby, Daniel Busby, Anna Cahill, Elizabeth Cahill, Wilhelmina Cahill, Wilhelmina Cahill, Mary Cairns, Margaret Cameron, Agnes Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Annie Campbell, David Campbell, Ellen Campbell, Martha Campbell, Mary Campbell, Rose Campbell, Archibald Canning, Daniel Canning, Margaret Clarkson, Agnes Clason, Elizabeth Clason, Nellie Clason, Wallace Cochrane, George Coghill, Jonina Commiskie, Mary Cook, Isabella Cooper, Minnie Cooper, James Coutts, Michael Crerand, Jane Cryan, Patrick Cullen, Patrick Curren, Samuel Currie, Thomas Currie, William Daniels, Thomas Dean, Elizabeth Deans, Thomas Deans, Thomas Deans, Euphemia Dempster, Gilbert Dempster, Mary Dempster, Mary Dempster, Jean Dennis, Samuel Dennis, Samuel Dennis, Ian Dick, William Dick, Duncan Dinning, Jane Dinning, Janet Dinning, Edward Diver, Edward Diver, Edward Diver, Edward Diver, Hugh Diver, John Diver, John Diver, Margaret Diver, Mary Diver, Mary Diver, Adam Divers, James Divers, James Divers, Margaret Divers, Rose Docherty, Evelyn Doherty, Francis Doherty, Francis Doherty, John Doherty, Margaret Doherty, Mary Doherty, Mary Dolan, Thomas Dolan, Thomas Dolan, Edward Donaldson, Hugh Donnelly, Margaret Donnelly, Mary Donnelly, Maureen Donnelly, Roseleen Donnelly, Theresa Donnelly, Charles Doran, Isabella Doran, Mary Doran, Neil Dougall, Gladys Drummond, James Drummond, Ralph Drummond, Ralph Drummond, Elizabeth Duffy, Thomas Duncan, William Duncan, James Dunleavy, Andrew Dunn, Grace Dunn, Grace Dunn, John Dunn, Mary Dunn, Mary Dunn, John Dyer, James Findlay, John Findlay, Charles Finnen, John Flemming, John Forrsester, Margaret Forrsester, Christina Fotheringham, Janet France, Margaret Fraser, John Furmage, Delia Gallacher, Margaret Gallacher, Thomas Gallagher, Thomas Galloway, Duncan Gardener, William Geddes, John Gibson, Annie Gillies, Margaret Gillies, Matthew Girvan, Elizabeth Given, Archibald Graham, Andrew Graham, Peter Graham, John Gray, Madge Guiney, Sarah Guiney, Robert Haggarty, Thomas Hamilton, Samuel Harris, Hugh Hart, James Harvey, Charlotte Heggie, Elizabeth Heggie, George Henderson, Mary Henderson, Charles Henry, Elizabeth Henry, George Hislop, Marthesa Hislop, Alexander Howie, Jane Howie, Catherine Hughes, Charles Hughes, Michael Hughes, Sarah Hughes, James Hunter, Margaret Hunter, Mary Hunter, Sarah Hunter, William Hunter, Daniel Jobling,

James Jobling, John Jobling, Mary Jobling, William Jobling, Annie Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, John Jolly, Doris Kelly, Hugh Kelly, James Kelly, Mary Kelly, Sarah Kelly, Ellen Kennedy, Hugh Kennedy, Annie Kernachan, Janet Kernachan, Richard Kernachan, Jean Kidd, Agnes Kilpatrick, Andrew Kilpatrick, Helen King, James Lawrie, James Lawrie, Evelyn Lee, James Lee, Kathleen Lee, Margaret Lee, Margaret Lee, John Lindsay, Margaret Lindsay, Violet Lindsay, Alexander Lochhead, Elizabeth Lochwood, Frederick Lochwood, Margaret Lochwood, Margaret Lochwood, Joseph Logan, Mary Loughlin, Elizabeth Lyon, William Lyons, Thomas Marlin, Josephine McAulay, Joseph McBride, Marina McClelland, Marion McClelland, Annie McClory, James McClory, John McClory, Mary McClory, Matthew McClory, Sarah McClory, Hugh McConnell, Mary McConnell, Mary McConnell, James McCormack, Brenda McDonald, Christina McDonald, James McDonald, Jessie McDonald, John McDonald, Malcom McDougall, Margaret McFadden, Michael McFadden, Thomas McFadden, Robert Macfarlane, Patrick McGeady, John McGeehan, John McGill, Mary McGill, Agnes MacGregor, William MacGregor, Kathleen McGuigan, Theresa McGuigan, Donald McIntosh, Agnes McIntyre, George Mack, James Mack, John Mack, Jane McKain, Jeanie McKain, Agnes McKay, Violet McKay, Agnes McKechnie, Allan McKechnie, Emma McKechnie, Michael McKechnie, William McKechnie, Margaret McKendrick, Robert McKendrick, Thomas McKendrick, Alexander McKenzie, Angus McKenzie, John McKenzie, Margaret McKenzie, Martha McKenzie, Mary McKenzie, Murdoch McKenzie, Robert McKenzie, John McKinlay, Marion McKinlay, William McKinlay, William McKinlay, John McLafferty, George McLaren, David McLean, Edith McLean, James McLean, Jeanie McLean, John McLean, Margaret McLean, Alexander McLennan, Norman McLennan, Edward McMillan, Patrick McMorrow, Sarah McMorrow, David McNamara, Janet McPherson, Winifred McQuillan, Alexander McRae, Edward McSherry, James McSherry, Lucy McSherry, Margaret McSherry, Mary McSherry, Mary McSherry, Matthew McSherry, Sheila McSherry, Margaret Malaugh, William Malcom, Peter Marks, Archibald Marshall, Johanna Marshall, Peter Marshall, Joseph Martin, Fredrick Massey, Thomas Martin, Agnes Mealyea, Elizabeth Miller, Archibald Miller, Eileen Miller, Mary Miller, Sheila Miller, Isabella Moore, George Morrison, Helen Morrison, Helen Morrison, John Morrison, Margaret Morrison, William Morrison, John Morton, Grace Mulheron, Rebecca Mullinger, William Mullinger, Annie Nisbet, James Nisbet, James Nisbet, John Nisbet, Helen Parke, Andrew Patterson, Susanna Peddie, Elizabeth Peden, Elizabeth Peden, Robert Peden, James Peoples, James Peoples, Janet Peoples, Samuel Pillar, George Porter, Samuel Porter, Elizabeth Quigg, Samuel Ramage, Margaret Rankin, Charlotte Reavey, Agnes Reid, Alastair Reid, Annie Reid, Rachel Reid, Catherine Richmond, Catherine Richmond, Christina Richmond, Douglas Richmond, Elizabeth Richmond, Janet Richmond, John Richmond, John Richmond, Margaret Richmond, Trevor Roberts, Annie Robertson, David Robertson, Henry Robertson, Margaret Robertson, Mary McAllister Robertson, Ann Rocks, Annie Rocks, Elizabeth Rocks, Francis Rocks, James Rocks, James Rocks, John Rocks, Joseph Rocks, Margaret Rocks, Patrick Rocks, Patrick Rocks, Theresa Rocks, Thomas Rocks, Thomas Rocks, Ian Russell, Margaret Russell, Peter Russell, Thomas Rosemary, Elizabeth Scott, Morag

Scott, Nathaniel Scott, Walter Scott, Emma Scrimshire, Sheila Semple, Kathleen Semple, Jeanie Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Isabella Shaw, William Shuter, Elizabeth Skinner, Joan Skinner, Joan Skinner, Margaret Skinner, Robert Skinner, Robert Skinner, Janet Slater, David Smart, Robert Smart, Susan Smart, John Spence, Cecil Stevens, James Stevens, Mary Stevenson, David Stewart, Elizabeth Stewart, Jane Strachan, Joseph Struthers, James Taylor, Margaret Thom, Rosemary Thomas, Russell Thomas, Christina Thomson, Margaret Thomson, Margaret Thomson, Williamina Thomson, John Toland, Helen Ventilla, Louis Ventilla, Michael Ventilla, Jessie Wade, Charles Waite, Annie Walker, Archibald Walker, John Walker, Catherine Walsh, Robert Wark, George Watson, George Watson, Isabella Watson, James Watson, Lillian Watson, Thomas West, Alfred Westbury, Alfred Westbury, Elizabeth Westbury, Samuel Westbury, Walter Westbury, Robert White, Jessie Williams, Annie Williamson, Catherine Williamson, James Williamson, Janetta Williamson, Archibald Wilson, David Wilson, Hugh Wood, John Wood, Margaret Wood, James Wood, Christina Wright, Dougald Wright, Maria Wright, Martha Wright, Marie Young.

An unfinished litany! Even now, in the community of Clydebank and across these islands, 75 years after the event, and with questions remaining about the official record, it is a litany that we believe could exceed 1,200—from a population of 48,000. It is now time, on the Floor of the House, to rectify a long silence and to correct the myths. The raids were supposedly a failure: that powerhouse of shipping, John Brown’s, hardly touched and factories left nearly intact. The most ridiculous proposition still exists that the Luftwaffe mistook the Forth and Clyde canal for the Clyde itself and thus were drawn away from the shipyards. Are we really proposing that the elite Pathfinder squadron KG 100 of the Luftwaffe, which had flown across Europe, over hill and glen, on a bright moonlit night, could not tell the difference?

It has been proposed—and I agree—that the target was not Clydebank’s industrial base, but her greatest asset: her people. So precise was the Luftwaffe’s delivery, in a spread-out formation, that of the thousands of bombers, only two would be shot from the sky in an valiant attempt by the crew of the Polish naval destroyer, ORP Piorun, in the dock of the greatest shipyard on the Clyde, John Brown’s.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I found the service at noon today immensely moving. I am not one for greeting, and I have not a drop of Scottish blood in my body, but my eyes misted over as I heard about the heroism of those people. I realised that it was not just the ships that were made of steel in Clydebank. This debate is very much to the hon. Gentleman’s credit. On the subject of the ORP Piorun and her gallant captain, Eugeniusz Plawski, would he not agree that it was an occasion when the very close familial links between Poland and Scotland were forged—in blood?

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is an adopted Scotsman.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I know he knows my constituency, especially Clydebank, very well. The bonds forged with the Polish nation on those March evenings will be for ever in the memory of my community and the whole of Scotland.

At 9 pm on 13 March 1941, as the wireless introduced the nightly news, over 40 air-raid sirens gave the call to shelter. At that moment, on the western fringe, the small yet not insignificant town would be held in the sights of the Luftwaffe.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing this debate to the House and for the service in St Mary’s Crypt today. It was a very poignant occasion. I think that starting this debate with the names of all those people really focuses attention.

We in Northern Ireland share the pain that Clydebank has suffered when it comes to remembering the blitz. Belfast was second only to London in lives lost in the blitz. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nationally—today’s church service provides an example—we must ensure that the story of the blitz is remembered and commemorated so that future generations know the ultimate pain and sacrifice of war, and what extremism can lead to?

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, and I extend them to the people of Northern Ireland and particularly Belfast who suffered greatly. It was commendable when at the weekend I was joined by my close friend and colleague, the Member of the Scottish Parliament, Gil Paterson and we were indebted to the First Minister for being the first-ever Head of any Government to attend the mass grave of Clydebank.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I grew up as a wee girl at my granny’s knee, hearing stories of watching the blitz from Hillington where she worked at Rolls-Royce and lived in Pollok. I heard the stories of her returning to work the next day, not knowing where her friends were and then going to Clydebank and seeing the sheer destruction. Does he agree that it is so important to use the tools of this Parliament to remember those who were lost—not just in the blitz, but in other conflicts?

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I could not agree with her more. The community of Europe in which we now live needs to show unity in the face of fascism and oppression.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire South

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially given the fact that I am half a Bankie with my family coming from Whitecrook. I can remember my Granny Joe telling me stories about my Auntie Mary’s friends who went to the cinema. When she went home, she discovered that her entire family had been bombed and killed, leaving her all on her own. Will my hon. Friend join me not only in paying tribute to those who lost their lives, but in giving praise where it is needed for all the people who have rebuilt Clydebank into the wonderful town it is today and which I am proud to call a second home?

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Who would have known that night that Shirley Temple would have saved nearly 1,000 lives? Today, two of the survivors who sheltered under the balcony of the

La Scala cinema in Graham Avenue joined us in St Mary Undercroft and the Speaker’s House. I am indebted to them; they are my aunts. Without their survival and the thousands who survived with them, Clydebank would not be the wonderful place it is today.

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I want to make some progress.

That Luftwaffe formation, of which I spoke a few moments ago, travelled in formation from bases in Germany and occupied north Europe, passing Dundee and Aberdeen, following the moon towards its most westerly ever target on a clear crisp March evening not so dissimilar to that of Sunday past. It turned south, heading to bonnie and innocent Loch Lomond. At its base, the planes turned left across the mighty Vale of Leven and across ancient Dumbarton. Who would have known that they would rain a blitzkrieg of fire and devastation that in the first night alone lasted over nine hours?

Over the western village of Old Kilpatrick, the incendiaries began to fall and Dante’s inferno was unleashed as high-explosive bomb after bomb set a fire of biblical proportions ablaze with the destruction of the Admiralty Oil Storage facility, then the great industrial complex of the largest sewing machine factory in the world and then one of the largest munitions complexes in the empire. With that mighty woodyard ablaze, the horror was then directed to the centre of a densely populated borough. Finally, those incendiaries generated a tryptic of fire with the whisky bond of Yoker in flames on the eastern boundary. The air was punctured by the drone of hundreds of planes, so low across the burgh that pilots and rear gunners were visible to the naked eye to those in Parkhall—leaving the swastika for ever in the minds of those who saw them.

The all-clear sounded after the seven hours of bombardment on the second day, 14 March, and the long march of exodus continued. It was a march of 40,000 souls—mothers, fathers, children, entire families, if they were the lucky ones—through the inferno and smoke to safety. They marched to Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven, and to refuge between the Clyde and the banks of Loch Lomond. They marched towards mother Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. They sought shelter and refuge in the arms of strangers, in places from which many would not return: in Helensburgh, Renfrew, Stirling, Kilsyth, Denny, Paisley, Lanark, Hamilton, Motherwell, Airdrie and Coatbridge, to name but a few, and even in Ireland.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Defence)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He has told us that this is the first time the subject has been raised in the House, and I am sure that his constituents are enormously proud of him tonight. My neighbouring constituency includes Helensburgh and the village of Cardross, which took in hundreds of Bankies in the immediate aftermath. May I, on behalf of all of us, send sincere best wishes to the people of Clydebank, and wish them all the very best for the future? They should be assured of our continuing support, particularly on this occasion of the 75th anniversary.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Scottish National Party, West Dunbartonshire

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I will be sure to take that message back to the entire community of West Dunbartonshire.

Never in the modern history of these islands has such an evacuation taken place, and it took place from no vast metropolis, but from a relatively modest burgh in the west of Scotland, home to 48,000 Bankies. It is now clear that, on the basis of evidence built up over seven and a half decades, we recognise the sacrifice and the loss that took place in Clydebank and across these islands. Even more, we recognise those who found the ability, through their suffering, to return to work, school and home, and to play their part in an allied victory over national socialism. I have felt no greater pride, ever, than I feel in representing them today.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 8:27 pm, 15th March 2016

I congratulate Martin Docherty-Hughes on a truly remarkable speech. I apologise for having been unable to join him in the Crypt today. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend Mr Dunne, were there, but unfortunately other duties prevented me from joining them.

The hon. Gentleman spoke with enormous passion. I believe that he is the grandson of someone who worked in the docks building the great Queen Mary, which brought three quarters of a million soldiers across the Atlantic to the continent during the war, in dozens of voyages. I cannot match his personal connections, but he has given us an opportunity to reflect. I am afraid that I must rely on the statistics that we have now, because at that stage people had things to do other than compile accurate statistics, but we believe that 528 people lost their lives—the hon. Gentleman read out their names—and that a further 600 were seriously injured.

It is very hard for most of us today to imagine what it must have been like to see the picture that the hon. Gentleman has so vividly painted. Eighty workers died in one shipyard shelter, and 15 members of one family—the Rocks, of No. 78 Jellicoe Street—were wiped out. Of those who were saved, three quarters—35,000 out of 47.000—found themselves homeless. Proportionally, Clydebank lost more people and more buildings than any other major community anywhere in the United Kingdom.

I think it important, however, to remember the other side of the story. First, let me say a word about the forces themselves. I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the heroism of those sons of Poland, but the Air Force was also engaged, including pilots from Glasgow’s own Auxiliary Air Force 602 Squadron, which went on to do such distinguished service on the occasion of, for instance, the Normandy landings. I was privileged to visit the squadron today following its assuming a new role in Glasgow last year. Across the two nights, the RAF managed to shoot down 12 Luftwaffe aircraft including four bombers. Nor should we forget the work of the anti-aircraft gunners.

The most remarkable spirit was shown by the locals themselves, under the truly horrendous conditions that the hon. Gentleman described. They included Police

Constable Archibald Walker, who picked himself up after being knocked down by a blast that had demolished part of a two-storey tenement. He went again and again into the building to rescue survivors as the building threatened to collapse. He was quite rightly awarded the George medal.

There are so many other stories, half remembered, half recorded, of heroism. Isa McKenzie remembers an ARP lady standing near the entrance to her close and waiting for the whistle of a bomb before shouting “duck” and eventually giving the okay to rise. She never saw that lady again. And then there were the emergency services, many of them staffed by citizen volunteers as well as professionals.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans)

In November at our Remembrance Day service I met a firefighter who told me that he and his colleagues had cycled from Barrhead to Clydebank to help to put out the fires. He is now the only one left, and I should like to let him know that we appreciate what he and his colleagues did.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Indeed. The hon. Lady is quite right.

The emergency services and the volunteers struggled against the growing fires and explosions. Some of the craters still had unexploded bombs in them. People were straining every sinew to save lives. One man, John Woodcock, was recovered alive from under the rubble eight days later. The Glasgow Herald reported at the time:

“The cool, unwavering courage of the people is evident, and when the full story of their heroism in the face of the Luftwaffe is told, they will take their place alongside the citizens of London and Coventry.”

In fact, their suffering was proportionately slightly higher.

Perhaps the greatest tribute of all should be paid to the way in which, despite their great suffering, the men and women of Greenock and Clyde went on to make an immense contribution to the war effort. One might have expected their spirit to be shattered. In reality, the events only stiffened their resolve. Not only did many who fled the raids soon return home, but in Clydebank just a few days after the blitz, five major firms reported that out of a force of 12,300—many of whom had been killed or wounded—around two thirds were already back in work.

Within weeks of the raids, the shipyards and ordnance factories were once again up to full production and their efforts were unceasing in the years that followed, despite further Luftwaffe attacks in subsequent months.

By 1943, some five ships per week were being completed on the Clyde. We remember Winston Churchill saying that it was the battle of the Atlantic that really kept him awake at night. That was the one struggle that he really thought might result in our losing the war. It was those ships that helped to ensure that we won it.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The Minister is making some important points. Is he aware that a few months after taking part in the defence of Clydebank, Captain Eugeniusz Plawski and the ORP Piorun were part of the destroyer flotilla that was detached to hunt down and sink the Bismarck?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I was not aware of that, but it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to have had a school teacher who had been a naval reservist and a boffin who persuaded the Navy that a particular gizmo was too complicated for the Navy. He was therefore taken to sea as a naval instructor and was decorated for gallantry in that same action.

Like the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire, I applaud the Clydebank blitz memorial group, the town and the entire community for their immense efforts in ensuring that the story is properly commemorated. Seventy-five years on, the story of what happened on the Clyde in 1941 deserves to be remembered not just in Scotland, not just here in the Commons, but across the UK. We would do a great disservice to our history if we only taught that we won the war because of great deeds by great men. [Interruption.] And women. Indeed, but it is unfortunately so easy to read history as just great deeds and great men. We won because of the heroism and fortitude of men and women like those people on the Clyde. They should remain an inspiration not just to their generation, not just to ours, but to all who follow. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman again on bringing this debate to the House.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

I commend Martin Docherty-Hughes for bringing to the House this evening such a moving debate and for having brought to the Crypt this morning such a moving service. Having heard first-hand accounts from members of my family about the Clydebank blitz, it is absolutely correct that it should at last be commemorated here in this House.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.