The War Years

 "3rd Sept 11am War declared!"

That was the stark entry in the parish log for that day. A few days before on 1 September 1939, with war already threatening, the school children were "voluntarily" evacuated to Blackpool with Sisters Veronica Mary and other staff members. Sister Veronica Mary wrote in the school log book

By means of the BBC we received Government orders to prepare for evacuation the following day. We dismissed the children a little earlier than usual to allow parents to prepare their hand luggage"

The following day, she continued 

Evacuees assembled at 8.30am. Previous to departure the 60 children lined up in groups of ten, with either a teacher or voluntary helper in charge of each group. We then walked to "The Height" (railway station) to board the train which took us to Broad St Station, Pendleton. From there at 9.05am train we set off for Blackpool. The children were very good on the journey and being innocent of the significance of "Evacuation", they viewed the entire venture in a holiday spirit" 

This must have been both a frightening and exciting time for them. Jim McCormick, who as a child was in the St Boniface parish, was evacuated to Fleetwood. "I'd never seen the sea before", he said remembering those times.

Governors' meeting 15th Oct 1939

Re: Children evacuated to Blackpool, it was pointed out that of the 164 scholars on the Register in August , 67 had been evacuated to Blackpool with 5 Teachers & 3 Helpers. Now only 41 remain in Blackpool with all the Staff while 123 remain at home without any or instruction whatever. It was decided to draw the attention of the L.E.C. to this state of affairs, urging that something be done for the non-evacuees

The expected air raids, however, did not happen and so on 9 January 1940 the children and teachers returned. The next day Sister Veronica Mary re-opened St Luke’s school.

By the following April the school was being "run on Tutorial method i.e."

1 1/2 hour session: 3 sessions per day: not more than 30 children at each session and only for children of 7 years and upwards.

For the first few months of the war, some of the school rooms were used by the "ARP authorities" but by early Summer of 1940 they were evidently stationed elsewhere because the matter of redecorating the rooms vacated was discussed and put on hold for the time being.

The school re-opened full-time on 26th August with 170 on the roll and with a new teacher, Miss Nellie Wright. 

On 27 August 1940, however, the nightly air-raids started in earnest: from 12.10 to 3 a.m. that night; from 11.10 – 2 a.m. on the 28th; from 10.30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the 29th and again on the 30th.  On 2 September the air-raids began at 11.15 that night. The bombs crashed down on Swinton Town Hall.  The Sisters in St Luke’s, however, carried on regardless: on 8 September seventy-five children in St Luke’s parish received the Sacrament of Confirmation. By then the main German thrust seemed to be on London but on 12 September the bombers returned to the north. On 2 October St Luke’s school was under fire. The next day the pupils picked up large pieces of shrapnel in the playground.

Because of food rationing the 1940 Christmas Party was not to take place. This was the least of their problems - worse was to come - the great Manchester and Salford blitz followed.

At  6-45 p.m. on Sunday, 22 December 1940 the sirens sounded.

Almost immediately all Manchester and Salford were vividly lit up by enemy flares. Thousands of incendiary bombs followed. Terrifying orange flames climbed high into the air, to be followed by volumes of smoke from burning buildings

The all-clear did not sound until 6.40 am. On the following day, the 23rd, the time-bombs, high explosives and land mines started at 6.30 p.m. and continued until 12 p.m. By Christmas Day, 5,000 people were made homeless in Salford alone and some houses on the Height were hit. So at 1a.m. on Christmas Day, Sisters Veronica Mary and the teachers had to go to report for duty, first at the Education Office, then to their schools to help the WIS with the homeless.   

During the blitz of 1941 St Luke’s parish suffered severely. To assist with the war effort, the School Hall had been allotted as a Rest Centre in case of Air Raid. (The school governors' minutes note that the storage of Food and Bedding was putting a strain on its main school use.) St Luke’s school took in and sheltered eighty-five homeless people, Sister Veronica Mary helping to organise their care.

St Luke's avoided direct damage but suffered damage to the stained glass windows behind the altar and the roof tiles.

On 7th January 1941, the school re-opened with some adjustments to the timetable around the "black-out" times. On 13th February, the children were given a half day holiday in honour of the visit to Salford of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who visited the blitzed areas. Air raids continued during April to May. The school remained open but attendance was affected. 

In 1939, the church acquired new benches (£288) and the chairs prevously used were taken over to the school hall for use there. In May 1941, the parish logs notes that St Luke's loaned 140 chairs "for the duration of the war" to Fr John McNulty who had the difficult task of starting a new parish St Bernard's Shawbrook, Burnage. (The parish log fails to tell us whether these were ever returned!)

Much of normal life continued. 12 June 1941, 30 Children made their First Holy Communion. A very forward thinking parish initiated "a youth club for both sexes" which met in the school hall twice a week (Mondays & Thursdays) under the care of the parish priest, Mr Hamer and Miss Picton(?). About 70 youth attended the very first meeting.

On 18 July 1941, however, in spite of the blitz, St Luke’s school gave its first concert. On 3 May 1942 St Luke’s parishioners had their Crowning of Our Lady’s statue. Amongst the 7 year old's taking part were May Queen Ann Hathaway and trainbearer Barbara Hodges. When St Luke’s parish and school celebrated Father O’Shaughnessy’s Silver Jubilee on 28 June 1942, the Sisters in Parkmount made him a cope, humeral veil, stole,  burse  and  tabernacle  curtain, which were presented to him by the children. In the summer of 1942, Miss Monica Massey, one of the original teachers when the school opened, resigned as she was joining a religious order.

In May 1943, the Director of Education wrote to the school requesting that the blackout in the corridors. The governors replied that the blackout was essential for the school's use as a Rest Centre. The issue appeared to have been natural sunlight for the children as the reply to the Director of Education pointed out that 

If more sunlight for children were required, cleaning of school windows (not done for 2 years) would be far more effective

On 12 March 1944 eighty-six children received the Sacrament of Confirmation at St Luke’s.

On 1st January 1945 Sister Veronica submitted her resignation "on the ground of protracted ill-health". The position was advertised in the Catholic Newspapers and there were more than 30 applicants. Mr Bertrand.E. Woolf, previously of All Souls, was appointed as Headmaster and took up his position on 12th March 

On 8th May 1945 the war in Europe ended and the children were given three days holiday.14th to 18th May was celebration time, the LEA gave permission to suspend the timetable and there was a bonfire in the school grounds, field sports, a school party and 175 children went on a visit to Belle Vue zoo.

Following the end of the war a number of renovations were put into action (not all as a direct result of the war) Gerards & Co of Swinton were contracted to undertake the work: Red porcelain roof tiles to replace the existing asbestos tiles, replacing stained glass windows behind the altar - the old ones had been damaged beyond repair in the blitz, side doors strenghtened and the whole church redecorated on the inside. Finally to the outside, a new tarmac drive was lain and new carved oak gates replaced the old ones. A special re-opening ceremony was held on Low Sunday. Fr O'Shaughnessy wrote proudly

The whole church is in new condition.


  • Parish Log
  • School Governors Minutes
  • St Luke's RC School 1938-1988 (Fr Peter Gooden)
  • The Archive of Sisters of the Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Parishioner Interviews

Can you help?

  • Any photos of St Luke's or the Height in the war years (or just before)
  • Do we know any of the school children that were evacuated?
  • Do we have any stories, recollections of servicemen of the parish from that time?
  • Monica Massey: which order did she join?

Parish History Group

If you would like to help research the history of the Parish or have any stories or photos then please get in touch. or speak to Paul Ashton, Stephanie McDonough or Pat Murray

We have some specific requests for information

  • Photos of our Assistant Priests/Curates
  • Photos and stories of the Charter Players
  • Photo
    • Fr J Leo McGinnell
    • James O'Garr  (1891-1979)
    • Billy Brady Sr
  • Servicemen of WWII (your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents ?)
  • Early photos of Ss Peter and Paul