William Polion was 5 years of age in 1941. He speaks about visiting a family friend, Matt Adams, who lived at 9 Bessborough Avenue, and whose house was damaged by the bombing. He also recalls stories of survivors and victims which circulated in the aftermath of the bombing.
Listen to William’s story here:
Duration: 30 mins.
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project (Part 1)
Track Number: 06
Name of the Interviewee: William Polion
Name of Interviewers: Ellen Murphy and Elizabeth Kane
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 1
Date of Interview: 6 April 2009
Name of Transcriber: Andrew O’Brien
Length of Track: 00:29:39
Ellen Murphy (EM): This is an interview with William Polion on the sixth of April 2009 and present is Ellen Murphy, Elizabeth Kane and Ulrika Nilsson of Dublin City Archives.
EM: So thanks very much for coming Mr. Polion, you’re very good, and do you want to start by just telling us what age were you in 1941 and a little bit about your family, and who was…how many family members you have?
William Polion (WP): I was five years old in 1941 – I was born in February 1936, and I was brought up by a man called Jack Adams and his wife, because my father at the time was in England working, and my mother had to go out and work because he didn’t always send home the money, and it was during that time that the North Strand bombing took place and one of Jack Adams’ brothers, Matt was his name, lived in Number 9 Bessborough Avenue – he had his roof blown off and Jack brought me in to see it. He went in to have a look and we were able to see it at the time and during the course of…while we were there I was listening to the conversations that took place about the bombing and the extent of it and people who suffered worse than what Matt did and one of the conversations was about a nephew of Matt Adams called…I think his first name was Sean – Sean Jenkins, who lived in Whitehall, and he was at a dance and coming home with a friend of his – he was going to spend a night with Matt Adams who would be his uncle – and when the lad that was with him got to the North Strand he discovered that the apartments or flats that they lived in had been completely demolished and his whole family had been killed – so that was probably the worst incident that I personally can recall, having heard. But I would suggest that these things would be checked out in the meantime. I’m hoping to be able to contact some of the family – the survivors or the descendants of the people that were affected to verify what I’ve been saying…I just wouldn’t…as a five-year old it mightn’t be 100 per cent reliable you know, but I think it is.
And the other thing that I can recall is the bombers when they flew into Dublin…I was…that particular night when they were flying in I was staying with my mother in the Whitechurch Road – and the noise and they were down so low and they were so noisy that people got up worried about what was happening and came out to look, and we could see the bombers flying over, and we stood there on the path watching and eventually we saw the flashes – the flashes in the city, over the city – we didn’t really know what had happened, and it was only afterwards then that we found out and apparently, if I’m not mistaken, there was a bomb dropped in Terenure.
EM: That’s right, there was. [On 2nd and 3rd Jan 1941, German bombs were dropped in the Donore area, around the South Circular road and in Terenure]
WP: Which was very close to us – I’m in Rathfarnham you know, I lived in Rathfarnham and there was a story told which could be…I don’t know if it’s true or not… but a house that was blown up, there was supposed to be a baby in a cot that was actually blown out through the roof and landed in the garden and survived, there was nothing…
EM: …a miracle.
WP: It was a talking point at the time, so I don’t know now if that’s true or not. But that’s basically now my information about the North Strand. Matt Adams, whose roof was blown off, he also had a son living on Charleville Avenue, which is just across the road – 37, Tommy Adams – but I don’t think Tommy was affected by the bombing. I don’t know exactly the extent of it, you know, where the worst part…I think it was around the flats was the worst part of it.
EM: And, eh, do you remember the…being given air raid precaution drills or anything like that?
WP: The only thing I can remember – not air raid – I remember being given gas masks…you know we all had…in boxes…we were given gas masks…I don’t remember the air raid – there was the ARP [Air Raid Precaution]– was a unit in the…an army unit –
EM: Yes, that’s right.
WP: And I do remember them going around, but I can’t recall any warnings like being given to us at all, you know.
Elizabeth Kane: Can you remember any Red Cross or anything like that going around?
WP: Eh…no, I don’t remember the Red Cross. I think at a later stage, I could be wrong now about this, but we used to have what was like Dads’ Army, it was the LDF [Local Defence Force].
EM: That’s right.
WP: The Local Defence Force, and that eventually was replaced by FCA which I was in myself at 17, that was Fórsa Cosanta Áitiul, is the Irish – much the same thing, it was much the same as the LDF [Local Defence Force] but you brought your rifle home with you…
EM: Really? Go ‘way…
WP: …a 303 – it’s a big heavy one.
Elizabeth Kane (EK): You had to put that up somewhere safe did you?
WP: Nobody used to care. You didn’t get any ammunition. (laughs)
WP: You were allowed the rifle, you weren’t allowed bring any ammunition.
EK: Did you always want to play with the rifle?
EM: Can you remember how did your uncle feel afterwards – were they very shocked by what happened, or did it affect them for a long time do you think?
WP: It wasn’t my uncle now…
EM: Oh sorry – the Adams – that the roof was blown…
WP: Jack Adams – I’ll just explain. My father – his mother died in childbirth and my father was only three and my grandfather was a postman and Jack Adams was a postman, and they shared a house it’s Number 1 Main Street Rathfarnham. It was a fairly big house – but when my grandmother died my grandfather wasn’t able to look after them so he brought the two – he had two older sisters – he brought them back to Dunboyne, where he came from originally and the Adams asked could they bring up my father and he really liked them very much – he didn’t want to go back to my grandfather, and then something similar happened when I was four. He went off to the war – he went off to Coventry and worked during the war and they adopted me – they didn’t adopt me officially.
EM: They looked after you though?
WP: So they took me over you know – so I actually was brought up by them I went everywhere with them.
EK: That’s the way it was done years ago, that’s the way it was done, same with my family.
WP: Oh I idolised him you know – Jack Adams he was…he was an ex-British soldier he fought in the Boer War and he was in the Army Ordnance Corps and he had a medal with three bars – he was the only one, in fact, of the veterans when King Edward came over, that had three bars on the medal, and he was picked out to meet the King.
But he came out of the Boer War I think in 1901 or 1902 because he had a house in Bessborough Avenue, where his brother had his roof blown off, and he had number 34, he moved in to, whereas Matt was in Number 9, you know, and there was another Adams in 36. I don’t know what the connection was there – all on Bessborough Avenue. But he was a fantastic man, Jack Adams. He was a great…I grew up on…that’s why I memorise him so well…I grew up on tales of the Boer War and the details and his last job – he was very badly wounded now…he had a scar from his ankle to his hip, I used always be asking to have a look at it – I was fascinated by it, I never seen a scar so big, you know, and his last job when he was sent home before the war had actually ended was to escort prisoners, a group of them were being sent home escorting prisoners, and one of the prisoners he was escorting – he was talking to him – was Sean MacBride’s father Major John MacBride, who got out of the train when it was stopped…it was slowed down…and he was climbing up an embankment and he said they could have shot him as easy as pie. But they all thought he was mad going back to the War.
EK: Sean McDermott Street was named after him wasn’t it?
WP: No, Sean McDermott was one of the…McBride – the son became a Minister in the government, Clann na Poblachta.
WP: But Major John McBride – he was married to a very beautiful woman, Maud Gonne.
WP: Yes, she was very famous – W.B. Yeats used to be chasing her. No – he happened to be passing by Jacobs factory and he saw the rebels, or whatever you like to call them, you know, and he asked them what was going on and they said they were going to have a go at the British and have a go at them but I’d say they executed him because of the Boer War. I was always hoping to meet Sean MacBride, the son, to ask him about that incident on the train but I never got the chance. And funnily enough Noel Brown was in MacBride’s party – that was the first party he joined. So there’s a lot of round and round it goes.
EM: I was just thinking about Matt Adams then – did he get compensation or?
WP: No…I think he did – because I think that’s what they were discussing. That sort of thing I would lose interest you know – I’d be more wrapped up in the roof missing and the slates being blown off the roof.
EK: Could you see the inside of the houses and all?
WP: The inside was okay. it wasn’t badly damaged – how I know – a couple of years afterwards Matt died and Jack and I went in and the coffin was in the…we slept in a bed…the coffin was beside us with him in it you know – so it wasn’t that long after – he used to work for McCann Verdons on Burgh Quay, he was a sailmaker – Jack was a harness maker, the one that reared me, apart from being a postman in the British Army, but…he served his time in Boxes of Abbey Street, that’s what he told me – he even told me how much he got – he told me got three shilling and four pence, was his wages when he started.
EK: Which was a lot in those days?
EM: So did people talk about the North Strand bomb afterwards in the years that followed, in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
WP: Oh yes, it went on for quite a while.
EM: It was in people’s consciousness.
WP: It was indeed. There was a lot of discussion as to why it happened in the first place.
EK: What are your views on that?
WP: My views are different…my views are that Churchill…the war was in progress at the time…Churchill wanted the ports here to use them for the British Navy and De Valera at the time wouldn’t give them – I think he was on the point of conceding the ports to Churchill and the Germans would probably find out about it and they bombed them as much to say that’s what you’ll get if you…because it makes more sense – the others doesn’t make sense to me, you know.
EM: Yes – There are so many theories about it. Probably only the bomber himself is the only one who knows.
WP: Well, There was a group of bombers, there wasn’t just one of them, there was a number of them.
EK: How many do you reckon, how many bombers do you reckon were up in the sky that night?
WP: Oh, I wouldn’t really have an idea. I know – we were woke up with the noise of them approaching our area. And they were in front of our house, you know, they flew over the trees just where we were – it was just becoming light now if my memory is correct because…there’s one funny thing that I can recall – there was a woman she lived two doors up, but she came out with her husband and she was wearing a dressing-gown and pyjamas and that in them days women….most of the women didn’t do that…they couldn’t afford them you know but Mrs. Harvey was her name and I remember like looking at my mother and…but she was curious and there was a number of planes flew over and they were down very, very low because the noise was unbelievable.
EM: What did they sound like…was it?
WP: [makes droning sound] A real low drone – not like you hear now at all – they looked like planes that had been well loaded up or whatever, you know.
EK: …with bombs.
WP: But they…they…that’s when they…We watched them disappear then out over the city – like the excuse given, that was normally given – was that oh, it was a mistake, they meant to bomb Belfast – I don’t believe that at all – because pilots are not that stupid, you know. I wouldn’t believe that.
EK: Sure they were really regimental, the Germans you know, so if they had a mission they knew exactly what they were doing, if they failed on some sort of mission they’d be sure they’d be court-martialed or executed, wouldn’t they?
WP: They would of course. Well, I mean you’ve only got to look at London. They didn’t bomb Buckingham Palace and that was the head of the…or any of the palaces, you know, or any major…they bombed all the East End – that’s where the workers were and they were the people that were going to make the bombs or whatever…so they knew exactly where to….east end blends in with the west end – you wouldn’t know where one ends and the other begins where so they must have been pretty accurate in their navigation, you know.
EM: There’s another theory then that the British had some sort of scrambler that interfered with the navigation equipment of the Germans and that’s why they accidentally…
WP: …Here? Oh it’s possible, I don’t know…
EK: Just another theory that people have – but no, it’s interesting to hear your views on it – was that what…?
WP: Well, I always ask the question no matter what it is – who is the beneficiary or the beneficiaries, you know. That’s the question I always ask about everything. Because the Germans would gain nothing by mistakenly bombing Dublin and Dublin certainly wouldn’t gain, you know – the only ones that would gain…well, the Germans would gained in the long-term you know – if they didn’t, if Ireland didn’t concede the ports to England because they would have been a strategic advantage to England – a big advantage because an awful lot of…the most effective weapon nearly in the last war I’d say was the u-boats. See, people don’t realise Britain had to depend on America for their oil during the War, and you can’t run an economy without it and they normally got it from the Middle East but there was no…they had to come through the Gibraltar Straits and sure the u-boats’d pick them off like shooting ducks – that’s why they just didn’t come that way anymore.
EM: And what was it like growing up in Ireland then during the Emergency? Because you were five in 1941 – Do you remember much about it, or?
WP: Well, I do, I remember a lot of the things – for example, we used to use Shell cocoa – you couldn’t get tea. And I remember my father sending home from Coventry he sent home – you weren’t allowed to send tea out of England. So what he did was – you know them rag dolls – well he use to pack that with tea and send it home and my mother used to get it that way – and there was a number of things – we had – we ran out of coal there was no coal available and we ran out of turf because was no turf available and the nearest turf was Dublin mountains we couldn’t afford to pay someone to go up and bring it down, so we had to rely on word going around and I remember my father went over to Coventry he took me up to – there was a famous ruins in Rathfarnham at the time, it was still relatively one piece but it was called the Priory and it belonged to John Philpot Curran, Sarah Curran’s father, and he brought me with him and he left me standing outside while he tore the wood out of it to burn in the fire because we had no wood and I also remember another incident when my mother and another woman who lived up the road a Mrs. Dowling – they dressed up there was a few women we had no fuel of any kind, so they dressed up with men’s clothes and they went up with saws, and they got into Patrick Pearse’s place, you know, he was gone at that time but his sister was still there, Margaret, and they took – they were cutting the wood and they were all arrested and summonsed.
EM: Weren’t they great women though to…just making sure…
WP: …Well you see circumstances…they had no choice…
EK: They used to break the furniture up as well you know…
WP: Oh yes, that happened, but it’s a funny coincidence now – my sister is called Enda, after Saint Enda…Pearse’s place, and my daughter now, my eldest daughter, she lives on the grounds where the Priory was and that’s called the Priory now – there’s a few houses built on it now because it’s a decent bit of ground, so it’s a coincidence they’re both…
EM: You still have connections with those places…
WP: …she was born in London.
EK: [laughter] They don’t be long coming home.
WP: And the funny thing, they must have listened to something I said, they were all dying to get back to Rathfarnham – both my daughters when they got married went over there, settled over there…ah it was a nice place though other than that – there was fields, we were surrounded by fields. They were all landed gentry you know, big estates, but they were nice people, you know, they were nice people.
EK: Did you ever go like hunting?
WP: Oh indeed I did – shooting rabbits?
WP: Oh, indeed, I did. Loads of times. I didn’t like shooting rabbits to be honest with you now – I thought it was a bit cruel, but I did go out with them several times. 22s we used to carry, rifles you know.
EK: So did you have a bit of Rabbit stew?
WP: Oh, I love rabbits. Oh I love rabbits.
EK: Nicer in a pot though aren’t they. And did you ever remember – because I remember – when my granddad was alive, he used go down to the beach and dig up all the periwinkles and boil them in a big pot – did you ever go fishing?
WP: I used to go out on the…not far from – it’d be where you live…I used to go out on the beach there and I’d dig cockles and mussels – you used to get the mussels down in eh Baldoyle, beyond on the rocks, mind you it was dicey eating them…poison, from the pollution..
EK: You have to be careful. You have to really boil them don’t you?
WP: Yes. You get a lot of pollution.
EK: Did you like going fishing or anything like that?
WP: Oh yes, I used to go fishing regularly.
EK: Where was the best spot? Was it Dun Laoghaire?
WP: We did a thing called pooching during the war or just after the war, and pooching was what the English call tickling. It’s catching trout with your hand – you put your hand under the bank where they’re hiding under the bank, you tiddle them and they move back, or you put your thumb through their gills and whip them out you know it’s an art takes a bit of practice – yes, pouching we called it, but that was another…we used to pouch up in Pearse’s place and ould Margaret Pearse used to come out, giving out hell, you know, and she had a butler called Grasey knife, we called him, and he came down, you know.
EK: What did you call the butler?
WP: Grasey knife – grasey, our way of pronouncing greasy – grasey you know. Ah there’s lovely estates up there.
EM: I was going to ask did you grow vegetables or anything during the war?
WP: Yep, we did indeed we grew every kind’ we grew every kind of blooming vegetables – beetroot, we grew onions, we grew potatoes, turnips, quite a few.
EM: And did you continue that afterwards?
WP: No, it disappeared, then you know. No, my grandfather was a great man – he continued on long for a long time. He lived in Ballinteer.
EK: Anybody grow rhubarb?
WP: Oh we did. Oh yes. I think that some of it is still – we had it up until to a while ago…in the garden where I’m living in Glasnevin now, you know. And my mother-in-law, she grew it as well, down in Roscommon, they had a lot of it.
EK: I bet they made nice rhubarb tarts, did they?
WP: Well, I never liked rhubarb, to be honest. A lot of people do – I thought it was a bit sour, you know.
WP: There was a lot of things then. I remember when we ran out of coal and all that was left was slack, and you used to get the slack and mix it with cement and make kind of cakes, you know, and burn the…
EK: Oh, that’s clever.
WP: There’d be heaps of slack left from over the years, you know, where they used to dump the coal out the back – the turf though was hard, hard to come by. Eventually then there was a coalman, he came around – Ned Lee, I remember.
EK: That was a tough old job as well, carrying round the sacks.
WP: Coalman? Oh God, they were as black as coal. And a bakery. The van used to come round with the bread. We’d a big bakery in Rathfarnham called Landy’s Bakery.
EK: You could probably smell the stuff as you walk by.
WP: Oh yes. There was holy murder there one time. There was a strike in town with the bakers, and they all came out to Landys to get their bread, and the locals then kicked up murder because they were being deprived of it, and there was a row actually, and the police had to step in, you know.
EM: What age were you when this happened?
WP: Oh I probably was about 10 or 11.
EM: About 1950 or so.
WP: They go back a long ways, Landys.
EK: Were the police strict in them days?
WP: Eh…they were and they weren’t. They were very visible, if you know what I mean you know. Every day you’d see a policeman going around and doing his duty and that. We all knew each other personally, you know. We were notorious for – we used to do what we called boxing the fox – did you ever hear that?
EM: No what’s that?
WP: Well, boxing the fox you know the big estates, they’d have big walled gardens, we used to climb over the wall, and nick the apples and pears, and that was called boxing the fox.
EM: Why did it have that name I wonder?
WP: I don’t know. I often wondered about that myself, but that’s what I grew up, everybody I know…
EK: We used to say they’re robbing the orchard.
WP: And every single place round the area we did, you know. And I remember when I was about 12, and I was very holy when I was 12, and we were getting in one day to rob, and I said to the other lad – do you know we have to pay it back, cos that’s what you were told in school…ah jaysus we’ll pay it back when we get a few bob later on. (laughs)
EM: …later on in life.
WP: It didn’t stop them.
EK: There was no harm done though, was there really?
WP: Well, the people themselves that owned, they didn’t mind. They might come out some day – get out of that garden now or I’ll get the police but that’s all, they wouldn’t do anything about it, they didn’t mind as long as you didn’t take too much – we nicked it out of the priest’s garden and everything. The Canon and all waving his stick at me – ould McGuirk, oh indeed I remember. I enjoyed them – they were great times really.
EK: I bet you never wanted for anything?
WP: Well, I was just saying to someone not so long ago, if you saw photographs of all the lads I was with during that period, not one of us had an ounce of fat – every one of us were thin – we were better off. Now, the problem is people eat too much and they are over-eating now and they’re getting worried about you know.
EK: My dad told me that there were four five boys in the house and he started working at the age of 11, my dad did. But it was always first up best dressed do you know what I mean? But you know you just got on with it didn’t you?
WP: Yes. I think I have a photograph here. That’s my grandfather, he’s a postman.
EM: This is a photo…What’s his name?
WP: William, same as me, and my father’s William, and my son is William, we’re all Williams, we go back years you know.
EM: This is a photo of William Polion in his postal uniform, that’s amazing to see isn’t it. What date was that I wonder?
WP: God, I haven’t a clue.
EK: He was very young.
EM: He was born in 1880.
EK: God, he’s young isn’t he. He’s a little badge on his hat, look!
WP: There’s a photograph of the census 1911, I think is it? No, no or a marriage cert, is it?
EM: This is the marriage cert for William and Mary McShane in 1935.
WP: Yes, that’s my mother and father.
EM: So did you have any brothers or sisters, did I ask you that?
WP: I had two brothers and a sister.
EM: Were they alive in 1941?
WP: They were. The last one was my younger brother he was born in 1940. and the fellow next to me was born in 1937, my brother 43 He’s dead – two of my brothers are dead – I had eh…I go round taking photographs all over the place of the old days and the buildings and the tombstones of the people that lived there in them days
EM: They are a wonderful record
WP: That’s my family now
EM: Two daughters is it? And two sons
WP: And that’s my wife.
EM: I think they might come asking the questions at some stage, and you’ll have all the information gathered.
EK: They’ll all be going to their granddad now looking for all that information, about everyone.
WP: Well I’m storing it. I’ve loads of it.
EK: You never have enough though.
WP: Well the thing to do, the thing is knowing what to keep, and what not to keep. You can pile up stuff and a lot of it will be irrelevant in time, you know.
EK: The main thing is to take loads of photographs, because our house was flooded five years ago, and we lost all our photographs.
EM: Is there anything else in particular about the North Strand that you’d like to talk about, or have we covered everything?
WP: Well, I think you’ve covered probably as much as I can recall, but there’s quite a bit about that flats that got destroyed. I’m sure there’d be people; I’ll do a check on it. I’ll see if I can contact some of the people that might still be alive…I love to keep that alive. Because I’m hoping some day to point out the reason, the cause, you know what they say – the truth will out.
EK: Was anybody can you remember ever compensated for their belongings, their roof blow up?
WP: As far as I know Matt got compensated oh yes now unless now I’m actually mistaken the Germans actually compensated Ireland.
EM: That’s right.
WP: They paid them.
EM: They apologised for dropping the bomb, paid compensation – it did take a while for some families to actually get the money then.
WP: But I think now if I remember correctly Matt talking to Jack about getting compensation for his roof I know it was repaired in a very short time He didn’t live very long. I actually have the census for Number Nine Bessborough 1911 and all the ages are recorded, and Matt would have been – Jack would have been about 35, Matt would have been about 40, so if you add that, he was well in his seventies.
EM: That must have been an awful shock for him then in his seventies for that to happen. I wonder, he couldn’t stay in the house I suppose once the roof was blown off?
WP: I don’t think it was severe it was just the slates. But it wasn’t exposed right through, I don’t know now, I’m not quite sure about that, but as far as I remember he never moved out although he could have moved down to Tommy, see Tommy Adams died as well, his son, and he would have been the same age as my father, he was in 37 Charleville Avenue, and oddly enough about two years ago I was reading the Times and there was a property section an here down in the very front was a colour photograph of Tommy’s house, it was being sold, but it wasn’t he that was in it – it was someone else, but it was his house alright – ah there’s a few of them around – I never even found out…I know where they are buried, I know where Jack is, Jack is buried up in Templeogue.
EK: You’ll find him. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
WP: I’ll go into the church there, you know. I didn’t know where that church was you know but I found out a while ago. It’s right opposite the solicitors. And I’ll go in there and ask. Am I holding you up?
EM: No, not at all. I’ll finish it up now – is that o.k.?
WP: Yes, that’s fine.