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Who was the first civilian death in the UK in World War 2?

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βˆ™ 2008-01-19 17:07:45

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The consensus seems to be a Mr Joseph McLuskie in Edinburgh on Monday 16th October 1939. Below is an eye whitness account and this is corroberated in "Here Is The News" (a history of the BBC during the war) by Richard Havers

ISBN 978-0-7509-4122-8 Sutton Publishing 2007. This quotes the transcript of the BBC news broacast of the news of 17th ; People in story: : Marjory Morton Shaw nee Brown, Alan Linsley Shaw, Joe McLuskie, Frank Flynn, Betty McClure ; Location of story: : Portobello, Edinburgh, and The Craigs, Linlithgow ; Background to story: : Civilian ; Article ID: : A3084671 ; Contributed on: : 04 October 2004 Wartime in Edinburgh 1939-45 by Mrs Marjory M Shaw

World War 2 commenced on Sunday 3rd September 1939. The first seven months are remembered as "The Phoney war" because there was so little military activity in France, where the British and French armies faced the Germans, and there was still no significant bombing of civilian targets in England and Wales. In May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force evacuation via Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain in August and September 1940 changed everything.

However in the Edinburgh and Glasgow regions of Scotland armed conflict from the air commenced on Monday 16th October 1939 with the bombing of British warships in the anchorage of the Royal Navy's Rosyth naval base alongside the world famous Forth Railway Bridge. At the time , and for decades afterwards few details were published of such events.

Hitler still had hopes of negotiating peace with the United Kingdom so the German bomber pilots had strict instructions not to bomb any warships actually in Rosyth harbour in case of civilian casualties.Five hundred miles across the North Sea was the northernmost German Airforce base at Sylt on the island of Westerland. Edinburgh and the nearby major Royal Navy base of Rosyth was within reach of their Heinkel 111 and Junkers 88 bombers. But they had no fighters with enough range to accompany them. Nevertheless during the "Phoney War" many air attacks, particularly on Royal Naval and convoy shipping in and around the Forth and Cyde estuaries continued to be made. Bombs were also dropped in Edinburgh and Glasgow areas but not in the systematic and intense way seen later in London and other English cities.

The Forth and Clyde region was defended mainly by two Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadrons, "602 City of Glasgow", based at Drem, East Lothian, and "603 City of Edinburgh", based at Turnhouse, now Edinburgh airport. Flight Lieutenant George Pinkerton of 602 Squadron, a Renfrewshire farmer, was the first pilot of the RAF ever to engage the German Luftwaffe with a Spitfire fighter, which he did on 16th October 1939. A captured German airman told his Scottish interrogators that the Forth was known to the Luftwaffe bomber crews as "Suicide Alley" as they had no fighters able to accompany them.

In 1939 I was a recently graduated primary school teacher living, as I had done for twenty years, with my widowed mother in Portobello, a seaside suburb of Edinburgh only twelve miles along the coast from the Forth Railway Bridge and Rosyth. In August, immediately before outbreak of war, I was posted by the West Lothians Education Authority to take sole charge of 25 Edinburgh schoolchildren aged five to twelve.. They were evacuated from Edinburgh Education Authority schools to a fine mansion house , "The Craigs" near Linlithgow, a small country town twenty miles West of Edinburgh. There I divided them by age into five separate groups and, single handed, taught them all assembled in one large room, moving continuously from group to group.

I had been trained at St George's Teachers Training College Edinburgh in what was still regarded as an advanced system developed by the German educationalist Freidrich Froebel, who had opened the first kindergarten in 1837. My job at "The Craigs" was a golden opportunity to put all I had learned into practice. Froebel teacher training is no longer used because it has long since been accepted and absorbed into the present British educational system.

However, I was at least to have a snapshot view of the violence of war. Briefly home from the Craigs for a mid term holiday, on the afternoon of Monday 16th October 1939 I was walking along Portobello High Street. Suddenly I was overtaken by the war in full blast in the form of a ground hugging Heinkel 111 bomber heading for Rosyth and hotly pursued by a couple of Spitfires each with eight machine guns blazing and showering brass cartridges over Portobello High Street and the power station a quarter of a mile further on.

It all happened very suddenly of course. First from the East a rising crescendo of aircraft noise and gunfire then the sight of a bomber so close that I could clearly see the face of one of the German airmen in it! A Luftwaffe communique stated the following day " Our bombers were flying low enough to see Scottish peasants waving to them!" Perhaps that was me! I was stunned!

A few seconds before, less than half a mile along the same road, where Portobello High Street is named Abercorn Terrace, Joe McLuskie, a painter and decorator was up a ladder painting a first floor window frame. He was shot by a machine gun bullet from the same bomber! His mate Frank Flynn, steadying the ladder, said "it was flying well below the height of St Philip's Church steeple just across the road"! Joe McLuskie was rushed to Leith Hospital for an emergency operation to remove a bullet lodged next to his stomach.Several other houses were hit including that of Lord Provost of Edinburgh Sir Henry Steele, all along the line of Portobello High Street and its extensions..

Of the very many ships sunk or damaged in the Forth estuary one was the Royal Navy's then newest cruiser - HMS Belfast, now a memorial in the Thames. She was so badly damaged by a German magnetic mine in the Forth estuary on 21st October 1939 that she was unable to resume active service until late 1942 having had to be almost completely rebuilt.

2008-01-19 17:07:45
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