Liverpool Blitz: Volunteer helpers and the emergency services

Those left homeless after a night of bombing could initially get help in the form of food and drink from volunteer-staffed vans. The Queen's Messenger Convoys rushed badly needed hot meals to bombed towns like Liverpool. They operated 18 fleets of vehicles, mostly supplied by the Americans and staffed by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS).

A bomb damaged house
A bomb damaged house at Smithdown and Portman Road. On the wall to the left you can see a sign pointing to the emergency meals centre. 3/4 May 1941
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Shelter for the night could often be found at rest centres run by volunteers (usually the WVS). They tended to be schools and church halls holding beds and little else. They were meant to be temporary but the homeless often had nowhere else to go so returned night after night. This worried the government so essentials like blankets and washing facilities were limited, discouraging people from spending long periods there. Many of these rest centres were damaged by bombs, making the homeless situation even worse.

Damage from a parachute mine
A parachute mine landed on Lace Street and Henry Edwards Street, destroying tenements
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When it came to finding new homes, ration cards, identity papers and clothing, bombed out people were in for a trek as there was no central office and public transport was often damaged and not running. This walk was especially difficult if you'd managed to rescue some of your belongings and had several children to take from office to office.

Around 10,000 homeless Merseysiders were sent out to new homes, called billets, in Lancashire and Cheshire. Others went to North Wales. Many of these people were children who had been orphaned during the night's attack and needed to be evacuated to outlying areas. Many came from Bootle where the damage to houses was especially great.

Some financial aid was available to people who had lost everything but it appeared slowly and was often too little. The owners of houses holding unexploded bombs couldn't return home, but also couldn't claim financial aid as technically they weren't homeless. Travel vouchers were available for homeless people to go to relatives and friends outside the area. This also helped the local authority as it got the homeless off their hands.

Those who had suffered physical injury and so couldn't work could claim compensation. The amount awarded depended on several factors including the degree of the injury, the number of dependents (ie children) and whether the injured person was a man or woman (men got more for the same injuries).

Model of the mobile kitchenModel of the mobile kitchen
A model of the mobile kitchen, or British restaurant, designed by staff at Lewis's Liverpool store

For those who had lost power to their homes, or who simply needed a hot meal while working, mobile kitchens called 'British restaurants' were created. Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, commissioned staff from Lewis's Liverpool store to create an economic mobile kitchen that could provide a three-course meal (eventually costing 1/6) for hundreds of people at a single sitting. The kitchens were provided free of charge to local councils with the space to house them. Prefabricated huts were later provided to house the kitchens where a suitable space couldn't be found. Kitchens could be loaded into the backs of lorries and rushed to bombed cities, of which Liverpool was one.


Find out more about the history of the WVS during the Second World War.