BY Ryan McDougall | November 23 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

5-fire

Memorial Mass for 22 victims killed in 1968 Glasgow inferno

A memorial Mass to commemorate the lives lost in one of Glasgow’s worst fires took place in the city’s St Andrew’s Cathedral on Sunday November 18.

The James Watt Street fire claimed 22 lives—men, women and children—on November 18, 1968.

The fire was alleged to have been started by a cigarette, which caused a blaze in a building which was home to an upholstery business as well as a glass company.

The owners had the fire doors padlocked shut and the fire alarm had been disconnected for six months due to overdue bills.

Workers were unable to locate the keys in order to escape.

The building was owned by brothers Samuel and Julius Stern, who refused to remove barred windows that had been carried over from when the factory was a whisky bond, before it was in their hands.

There was little recognition for the tragedy, and council workers were prohibited from answering questions about what happened.

 

Semi-centennial

Exactly 50 years later, Archbishop Phillip Tartaglia of Glasgow welcomed the families of those who died into the city’s mother church, as well as members of the fire service and the council.

During his homily, he spoke to the families directly.

“We are here today remembering and praying for your relatives and friends who lost their lives in that fire and for you who have suffered and still suffer their tragic loss,” he said.

“After 50 years, the reasons for the catastrophic loss of life caused by the James Watt Street Fire are all well-documented; lessons were learned; and conditions in the workplace are now totally different.

“We are all much safer from the danger of fire now than then, and thank God for that.”

 

Grieving families

After Mass, the families of those affected, as well as council and fire service reps, were invited into the archdiocesan offices for a tea or coffee.

Joyce Davies, who spoke to the SCO last week ahead of the memorial service, said that her father, Henry Fulton Brown, was never mentioned again after he died due to the trauma her family faced, and for many years she was left with questions about his life and death.

Lesley Benedetti, whose father, George Benedetti, also died in the fire, said his stories are still shared in her family to this day.

Ms Benedetti was just 10 weeks old when her father died.

“My dad was spoken about from the moment I could understand—it was as if he was there,” she said.

“You knew the name of the street and you told everybody about it.”

She added: “It was a beautiful service, but there’s a lot of anger there for the families, because, as I say, the other fires have all been recognised but this one really hasn’t.”

 

Fire service

Members of the Fire Service were left touched by the service.

Lewis Ramsay, assistant chief officer and director of response and resilience at Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said he was ‘deeply moved’ by the commemoration.

“These were the types of incidents that inspired me to join the Fire Service and, in working within operations and fire prevention, I hope I have done all that I could over my 30 years of service to help ensure this never happens again,” he said.

 

Memorial

Families are now looking into having a proper memorial put into place to the tragedy.

Govan councillor Bailie John Kane previously helped to lead the campaign that saw a memorial for Mary Barbour erected.

In the 1910s and 1920s, Mrs Barbour exposed and protested against landlords who hiked up post-war rents and who threatened to evict people subsequently unable to pay.

He suggested that campaigners launch an official charity for the James Watt Street Fire memorial through charity regulator OSCR, as well as setting up a bank account.

He said: “If they were to name it something like the James Watt Street Memorial or something, they could then get a few trustees and such.

“It’s fairly straightforward to do and much safer than giving donations to individuals directly—it’s the correct structure and that way people are also more likely to donate.”

 

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