28th March 1960

Firemen are killed at a whisky bond house explosion

Nineteen fire and salvage corps lost their lives when fire broke out at a Glasgow bonded warehouse used to store more than a million gallons of untaxed whisky and 30,000 gallons of rum.

It was obvious from the moment that the first crews arrived that the fire posed significant risk, and they immediately called for backup. An order was put in for eight fire engines, but the alcohol vapours ignited before they arrived. The explosion was so severe that it blew out the front and back walls of the building, which rained down on fourteen firemen and five salvage workers, killing them on the spot.

The following day’s edition of the Daily Mirror wrote that “people in houses nearby took their families to safety and police would not let the huge crowds come closer than 500 yards. An eye-witness, John Hunter, said ‘I was standing at the corner of a street when I heard a rumble. Then the entire sixty-foot wall collapsed’.”

Stunning explosion

At the same time, the Liverpool Echo described how “there was a stunning explosion and the building split, throwing up gigantic tongues of flame and sending two walls crashing into the street on top of the fire fighting teams. The men and fire appliances were buried under tons of rubble which were immediately enveloped in flames.”

Thirty fire engines converged on the scene, along with 450 firefighters, but even with so many resources on site the fire took several hours to bring under control and a week to fully extinguish. By then it had spread to neighbouring warehouses, one of which was used to store tobacco. It could have been even worse, but “special efforts were made to prevent the flames from spreading to the [nearby] ammonia plant of a cold store in a butcher’s warehouse,” wrote the Birmingham Daily Post of 29 March.

Greatest tragedy

The Coventry Evening Telegraph that night quoted MP Sir Meyer Galpern, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, who called the fire the “greatest tragedy in the history of the city”. Attempts to recover the bodies of the men who had been killed in the initial explosion had to be put on hold when it became clear that more might become buried under the crumbling brickwork left standing. The paper also revealed that “just over a week ago whisky valued at £300,000 was lost when fire swept through a Glasgow dockside shed” and that Fire Brigades Union leaders were “perturbed at the fact that last night’s fire is the third whisky warehouse fire in Glasgow in five weeks”.

There were calls to end the practice of storing whisky in residential areas, and to move the warehouses away from population centres.

When the debris had been cleared and the bodies of the deceased men had been recovered, they were laid to rest in Glasgow Necropolis where their names are inscribed on a memorial.



Other events that occured in March

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