Tragedy at Edge Hill

A parachute mine leaves its terrible mark

The Durning Road disaster occurred during the Liverpool Blitz in 1940 when a bomb intended for Edge Hill railway station struck Ernest Brown Junior Instructional College.

The explosion caused extensive damage, collapsing the building and trapping hundreds in the basement shelter. Rescue efforts lasted for days, with many fatalities.

The tragedy highlighted the indiscriminate nature of wartime bombing raids and the vulnerability of civilians in wartime, even when sheltering in a usually safe location.

Two people survey the damage caused by an air raid on Liverpool during the Liverpool Blitz. The city would suffer greatly at the hands of the Luftwaffe. 

Liverpool during the Second World War - Liverpool Echo

A hill with a history

Edge Hill, located in Liverpool, England, holds a rich history dating back centuries. Its name is derived from its elevated position on the eastern side of the city center. Initially, Edge Hill was a rural area characterized by fields, farms, and open countryside.

...Edge Hill experienced rapid urbanization and industrial development...

However, with the expansion of Liverpool during the Industrial Revolution, Edge Hill underwent significant transformation.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Edge Hill experienced rapid urbanization and industrial development. The construction of the world's first intercity passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, began in Edge Hill in 1826.

This pioneering railway, engineered by George Stephenson, revolutionized transportation and further spurred the growth of Edge Hill as a hub of commerce and industry.

St Mary's Church in Edghill, built in 1813. This photo appears to be from the early 1900's (although corrections are welcome).

St Mary's Church, Edge Hill, Liverpool | G Naylor | Flickr

...the area became densely populated...

The opening of the Crown Street railway station in 1830 marked the beginning of regular passenger services between Liverpool and Manchester, further cementing Edge Hill's importance as a transportation center. Subsequently, the area became densely populated, with terraced housing built to accommodate the influx of workers drawn to the railway and associated industries.

Throughout the 19th century, Edge Hill continued to evolve as a vibrant urban neighborhood..

The opening of St. Anne's Church in 1836 and the establishment of educational institutions such as Edge Hill College in 1885 contributed to the social and cultural fabric of the community.

Historic Ordnance Survey Map of Liverpool with the location of Edge Hill approximately marked. 1923.

Historic Ordnance Survey Map of Edge Hill, 1923 (

...proximity to Liverpool's city center and strategic transportation connections made it an attractive location...

By the early 20th century, Edge Hill had become a bustling residential and commercial district, home to a diverse population engaged in various trades and occupations.

Its proximity to Liverpool's city center and strategic transportation connections made it an attractive location for businesses and residents alike.

Leading up to 1939, Edge Hill remained a thriving urban neighborhood, albeit with some challenges associated with rapid urbanization and industrialization.

The area's resilience and adaptability in the face of economic and social changes were indicative of its significance within the broader context of Liverpool's history.

A tram at the junction of Durning road and Tunnel road on the outer circular route. Date unknown but likely pre-Second World War (clarifications welcome).

A look back at the age of Trams on Merseyside. Pics Trinity Mirror Archive - Liverpool Echo

Blitzing Liverpool

The Liverpool Blitz was a period of intense and sustained bombing of the city of Liverpool and its surrounding areas by the German Luftwaffe.

Lasting from August 1940 to January 1942, the German Luftwaffe aimed to disrupt British industry, demoralize the population, and weaken the country's war effort by simply battering the country into submission.

Liverpool was a prime target due to its strategic importance as a major port and industrial centre.

The city played a crucial role in supplying Britain and its allies with essential goods and materials, making it a key hub in the Allied war effort.

Additionally, Liverpool's prominent maritime trade made it a vital target for German bombers seeking to disrupt Britain's supply lines and maritime commerce.

A bombed warehouse in Liverpool dock area. The Liverpool docks were a key strategic target for the Luftwaffe.

IN PICTURES: Merseyside during the World War 2 Blitz - Liverpool Echo

...inflicted significant damage...

The Liverpool Blitz began in earnest in August 1940 with devastating air raids targeting key infrastructure, including the city's docks, factories, and residential areas.

The bombings intensified in November 1940 during what became known as the May Blitz, a sustained period of heavy bombing that caused widespread destruction and loss of life.

The raids inflicted significant damage on Liverpool, with thousands of homes, factories, and public buildings destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

The city's iconic waterfront and historic landmarks were also heavily hit, including the Liver Building and St. George's Hall, symbols of Liverpool's heritage and identity.

Bomb Damage in Liverpool, 1940. Civilians and rescue workers search through the the bomb damage buildings in the centre of Liverpool following a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe during the blitz.

IN PICTURES: Merseyside during the World War 2 Blitz - Liverpool Echo

...emergency services worked tirelessly...

Despite the destruction, Liverpool's resilience and spirit generally remained unbroken.

Civilians endured nightly air raids, seeking shelter in underground bunkers and makeshift shelters, while emergency services worked tirelessly to rescue survivors and extinguish fires caused by the bombings. 

The bombing exacted a heavy toll on the city, with thousands killed or injured and countless families displaced from their homes. 

A residential area in Liverpool shows the aftermath of a Luftwaffe raid.

Striking new images show the devastation of the Blitz on Liverpool's suburbs | The Guide Liverpool

Death in the shelter

However, even amongst all this destruction and mayhem which spread out across the city, one particular tragedy stood out.

The gravest single incident to occur in the city, unfolded during a heavy raid, when a direct hit on an air-raid shelter in Durning Road resulted in a devastating loss of 166 casualties.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill - himself no stranger to the horrors of the German onslaught - described this event as the "single worst incident of the war.

On the fateful night of the 29th November 1940, Liverpool found itself under a relentless onslaught of bombing raids that lasted nearly eight hours.

The devastation wrought by this sustained attack was felt far and wide, with approximately 2,000 residents in the neighboring Picton area left homeless in its wake.

Durning Road, Edge Hill, 28 November 1940 after being hit by a Luftwaffe bomb. 166 people were killed in this single incident.

Merseyside Police

Stories from the Liverpool Blitz | National Museums Liverpool (

...that night’s onslaught onslaught pushed Liverpool's emergency services to their limits...

Notably, Parachute mines, weighing 1,000kg each, were unleashed for the first time by the Luftwaffe, delivering unprecedented destruction upon impact or via clockwork fuses.

One was dropped onto Durning Road.

To further complicate matter, that night’s onslaught onslaught pushed Liverpool's emergency services to their limits.

In addition to the tragic events at Durning Road, where gallant rescues would earn a policeman and an RAF member George Medals,

Garston gasworks suffered a devastating blow. This led to a significant evacuation of the area that lasted for days.

An unexploded German parachute mine in a Liverpool garden, 1940. A similar type would cause carnage at Durning Road.

...caught unaware in the chaos...

The calamity unfolded when a bomb  - the aforementioned parachute mine - intended for the nearby Edge Hill railway station and its adjacent sidings, missed its mark and struck the three-storey Ernest Brown Junior Instructional College on Durning Road instead.

The college, caught unaware in the chaos of the Blitz, bore the brunt of the explosion, leading to catastrophic consequences for those seeking refuge within its walls.

Rescue workers search for survivors after the bombing. The extent of the damage can be seen in this photo.


...boiling water and steam scalded people, and gas pipes ignited...

Approximately 300 individuals had sought refuge in the basement of the College on Durning Road during the early hours of the air raid.

This group included factory workers, tram passengers, and local residents.

When the building was hit, it collapsed onto the shelter, causing chaos as furnaces exploded, boiling water and steam scalded people, and gas pipes ignited.

The exact number of casualties at Durning Road Air Raid shelter is unlikely to ever be known.

Bluecoat Press

Officially, 166 people lost their lives at Durning Road, although some estimations claim up to severla hundred, due to unconfirmed reports that two trams – caught in the air raid – came to a halt either on, or close to Durning Road and discharged their passengers so that they could enter the shelter. It is likely that the true number of people killed in this horrific tragedy will never be known.

Rescue efforts lasted two days, with volunteers and emergency personnel tirelessly recovering survivors and bodies.

Finally, with the fear of disease increasing, body parts that had not been recovered were covered with lime and the basement was sealed.

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating bombing in Liverpool, journalists from the Echo newspaper diligently surveyed the widespread destruction.

They recounted entire residential districts reduced to rubble, vividly describing the scene as one of utter devastation. One harrowing report depicted the affected area as a "smoking shell," a haunting image of destruction and chaos.

The devastation caused by the explosion at Durning Road had a huge impact on the tightly-knit local community.


Even those outside of Durning Road were not safe from the Luftwaffe. Fifteen-year-old Derick Phillips was at home when the devastating blast rocked his neighbourhood on Hollywood Road.

Taking refuge under the stairs with his mother, Kathleen, and younger brother, Norman, 13, Derick's grandmother, Harriet, remained in the kitchen with their dog.

While they survived, tragically, the explosion claimed the lives of friends and neighbours, including the entire Seafield family (Father, Mother and three sons) from Fernwood Road, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Williams, proprietors of a greengrocer's in Birchtree Road.

A family tragedy

The disaster impacted those who were not even in the shelter. Stan Smart was aged 12 at the time yet years later, would vividly remember the tragic events of the disaster that claimed the lives of his aunt, uncle, and neighbour.

His routine of reserving spots in the Durning Road shelter for his family, even on calm nights, reflected the pervasive fear instilled by the ongoing Luftwaffe air raids.

Yet that night, Stan was not in the air raid shelter – a decision which would probably save his life.

However, unbeknown to him at the time, the tragic events of that night would be the last encounter between his uncle and neighbour.

A Luftwaffe bombing map of Liverpool, dated 4.10.39. Looking at the map, it is clear how difficult it would be for the German flyers to carry out bombing with any degree of accuracy. Therefore, it was sadly inevitable that the civilian population would find themselves in the firing line.

Liverpool during the Second World War - Liverpool Echo

...The aftermath brought heart-wrenching scenes...

The neighbour’s daughter, already having sought refuge in the air-raid shelter, was worried about the safety of her father. Not wanting to worry her, the neighbour – along with Stans uncle – departed to join her. That would be the last time Stan would see either of them.

The aftermath brought heart-wrenching scenes as Smart's father and his brother scoured makeshift morgues, hoping for a glimpse of their missing relative.

Their only solace came in the discovery of his uncle's watch, its leather strap disintegrated by scalding water, rendering identification impossible.


The aftermath of the Durning Road tragedy left an indelible mark on Liverpool, reverberating through its communities and shaping the city's collective memory for years to come.

The devastating loss of 166 lives, and possibly more, in a single incident deeply impacted the fabric of society, prompting widespread grief, reflection, and resilience.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, religion played a pivotal role in providing solace and support to the grieving community. Churches and religious institutions opened their doors to offer comfort, counselling, and spiritual guidance to those affected by the disaster.

Clergy members and religious leaders played a crucial role in providing pastoral care and organizing memorial services to honor the victims and facilitate collective mourning.

A woman searches the wreckage of her home for belongings, after a German raider had dropped bombs on it during a raid to a block of flats in Belvidere Road, Liverpool. 27th September 1940. With civilians finding themselves on the front line during the Blitz, the support of friends and neighbours, as well as community and church leaders, would help those who had lost loved ones or seen their homes destroyed. Those affected by the tragedy at Durning Road were no different.

75 years since the blitz started in August 1940 - Liverpool Echo

...united people in their shared grief...

The tragedy also prompted a wave of solidarity and compassion among Liverpool's residents, with individuals and organizations rallying together to support the bereaved families and rebuild shattered lives. Community-led initiatives, charity drives, and fundraising efforts were launched to provide practical assistance and financial aid to those in need.

Neighbours offered support to one another, forging bonds of solidarity that transcended social divides and united people in their shared grief.

In addition to the immediate humanitarian response, the Durning Road tragedy sparked broader conversations about public safety, emergency preparedness, and the impact of war on civilian populations.

Calls for improved air-raid shelters, better disaster management protocols, and increased government assistance for affected communities gained momentum in the wake of the disaster.

A street surface shelter which withstood the strain of a tall building which fell upon it during the weekend raids. 2nd September 1940. Those who sheltered here were luckier than those who entered the Durning Road shelter, highlighting the importance of safe and secure places for civilians to access during Luftwaffe bombing raids. Happily, most shelters proved to be up to the job, and barring a direct hit by a bomb, were usually safe.

75 years since the blitz started in August 1940 - Liverpool Echo

...tragedy served as a poignant reminder...

Over time, the scars of the Durning Road tragedy began to heal, but its memory remained etched in the collective consciousness of Liverpool. Memorials, plaques, and commemorations were erected to honour the victims and ensure that their sacrifice would never be forgotten.

The tragedy served as a poignant reminder of the human cost of war and the resilience of communities in the face of adversity.

Durning Road Bombing memorial board.

John Morrison

Durning Road Air Raid Shelter Bombing | War Imperial War Museums (

Further reading

Stephen McGreal's "The Liverpool Blitz" provides a gripping portrayal of the city's wartime ordeal. With meticulous detail and compelling narrative, McGreal vividly captures the devastation inflicted on Liverpool during the Blitz. Through firsthand accounts and historical analysis, he illuminates the resilience and courage of its inhabitants in the face of relentless bombing raids. A poignant and insightful read, offering valuable insights into the human experience of war and the enduring spirit of Liverpool.

Neil Holmes' "Liverpool Blitzed: Seventy Years On" offers a poignant reflection on the enduring impact of the Blitz on Liverpool. Through a combination of archival photographs and insightful commentary, Holmes brings to life the harrowing experiences of those who lived through the wartime devastation. With meticulous research and heartfelt storytelling, the book pays tribute to the resilience of the city and its people in the face of adversity. A compelling and moving account that sheds light on an important chapter in Liverpool's history.

Echoes of the Merseyside Blitz" offers a comprehensive timeline of the region's wartime events, amalgamating various sources to provide insight into each night's occurrences. Neil Holmes utilizes ghost photography, merging historical wartime images with present-day counterparts, to narrate Merseyside's blitz. This technique offers a captivating glimpse into the region's past, while carefully selected photographs enrich the narrative, illustrating the enduring impact of the wartime era on Merseyside.

The book offers rare glimpses into life in war-torn Merseyside, presenting untold stories from eyewitnesses of the Blitz, the port's defense, and the challenging conditions in Huyton's prisoner of war camp. Through diverse narratives, including personal memoirs and newspaper accounts, it vividly recounts the experiences of ordinary individuals on the Home Front, showcasing their courage and resilience during the wartime trials.

Renowned historian Juliet Gardiner delivers a long-awaited exploration of the Blitz in her latest work, highlighting its profound impact on Britain. Through meticulous research, she reveals the nationwide consequences of the nightly bombings, illustrating how amidst loss and devastation, the attacks spurred a newfound national resolve. The book sheds light on the transformative effect of the Blitz, showcasing Britain's resilience in the face of the menacing Nazi threat.

Through firsthand accounts from Liverpool Blitz survivors, this book captures their experiences of adventure, danger, and resilience during wartime. Delving into the childhood memories shaped by conflict, it offers a poignant glimpse into the lasting impact of war on individuals' lives. With humor and sorrow, it illuminates the collective spirit of a city defiant against the Luftwaffe's onslaught, showcasing the indomitable resilience of those who endured the darkest hours of the bombing campaign.


Merseyside Police

Terry Sweeney,the%20nearby%20Edge%20Hill%20railway%20station%20and%20sidings.,liverpool/map-of-edge-hill-1923_pop699226

Bluecoat press

Marc Waddington

John Morrison

Durning Road Air Raid Shelter Bombing | War Imperial War Museums (

More stories from the Liverpool Blitz | National Museums Liverpool (

Liverpool during the Second World War - Liverpool Echo

"The spirit of an unconquered people": How Liverpool survived the Blitz - Liverpool Echo