Ronaldo Pacitti

Ronaldo Pacitti

Alfonso Pacitti

March 2024

A Primary School at War

Ronaldo, the youngest son of Michele Pacitti (Alfonso’s elder brother), was killed, aged just 16 years, during World War II at Bankhead School, Glasgow. Ronaldo was a younger cousin of my father and a Messenger within the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). He was killed, along with 20 Firemen and one other Boy Messenger when a parachute mine landed on the AFS station at Bankhead School on 13th March 1941. A memorial plaque was erected at the (rebuilt) Bankhead School to commemorate the events and loss of life.

The following description is an extract from a book by Bryan Cromwell that depicts the events;
Bankhead: ‘The Story of a Primary School at War’ .

As already noted, land mines descended by parachute. This was to prevent them penetrating the ground to any great extent. The fiendish aim of this device was to cause the maximum amount of surface damage by exploding laterally. The mines were cylinders eight and a half feet in length and two and a half feet in circumference; an awesome instrument of destruction. David McLintock, then a youth of 14, served as an AFS Boy Messenger in the Bankhead unit along with five other boys of similar age. We can let David recount what happened next.

“It had been a lovely spring day with clear skies. We had already experienced numerous air raids in the Glasgow area and much damage and loss of life had occurred, but these were carried out by single planes and often during day light hours.”
It has to be remembered that at this time there were no two-way radios fitted to fire engines, AFS cars or ambulances, and certainly no such things as mobile phones. The only means of communication was by telephone or written messages carried by, for example, Boy Messengers.
“At approximately 8:30 pm a ‘Yellow’ warning was received by telephone at the Bankhead AFS Watch Room. This was to signal a possible air raid. Shortly after this a ‘Purple’ warning was received to indicate a probable air raid and that all Civil Defence units should ‘stand to’. Shortly before 9:00 pm a ‘Red’ warning was then given which meant sirens to sound, and that all Civil Defence personnel must report to their respective posts; civilians should go to air raid shelters. My friend Donald Miller and I already knew that there had been a ‘Purple’ warning when we saw the street lights flashing. Shortly after this we made our way to the post at Bankhead School. As we approached the school gates the sirens sounded.”
“Donald and I met up with two other AFS Boy Messengers, Danny Woodhead and Ron Pacitti. Both Danny and Ron were soon to be killed when the mine exploded. Just then the Station Commander Mr. Forbes came out of the sandbagged area of the watch room. He had just received a telephone call warning of an impending major air raid. The Commander instructed Donald and myself to collect paraffin lamps and take them to the air raid shelters right away and get them lit. Most of the firemen were either already in the watch room or standing just outside it. All firemen not on stand-by squad were to proceed to the shelters as quickly as possible.”
“It was now 9:10 pm. We could hear planes overhead. Donald and I walked smartly along the corridor through part of the main building (where the school entrance is situated) and out on to what used to be the Girls’ Playground. There were two shelters situated there.”
“Suddenly I heard a flapping noise and looking up I saw a huge container with a parachute attached coming down. (I distinctly remember the canopy having a tear in it.) It hit the school roof and we could hear it sliding down the slates. Donald and I decided to run back and tell Mr. Forbes about this container. We thought that it could possibly be a prelude to a paratroop invasion. However before we could get far the device exploded as soon as it struck the ground on the CaIdwell Avenue side of the building (see plan). My friend was blown inside the shelter while I was thrown against the shelter wall. For a few seconds all was quiet and then debris began to fall all around me. Luckily neither of us was badly injured but had we not been given orders to hurry along to the shelters for the paraffin lamps we would surely not have survived. “
“Many of the firemen were not so fortunate. The majority of those who lost their lives had been walking along the open veranda bordering the playground. The veranda support pillars were blown out so that the re-enforced roof collapsed on top of them. A number were trapped and failed to survive since there was no heavy lifting equipment to free them in time.”
“Donald and I made our way out of the school by means of a side entrance and into Caldwell Avenue to find a chaos of debris and with fires burning in the surrounding houses. Some of the smaller fires we managed to extinguish using hand pumps. Eventually we reached nearby Killoch Drive and slumped down on the doorstep of one of the houses.”
“I returned to Bankhead the following morning and collected my bicycle which believe it or not was undamaged although covered with dust. By this time all fires had been extinguished. I spotted Mr. Forbes standing in the playground, face blackened, but seemingly uninjured. The scene was one of utter devastation with a large part of the building in ruins in addition to wrecked cars and fire pumps. Ambulances were still removing the dead and injured and rescue services would remain in the school for up to 12 days after the bombing.”
“The bombers returned the following night, Friday, 14th March with the raid commencing at 8:45 pm and continuing until 2.24 am on the Saturday.”