Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Greenisland in the War Years

In an earlier kerr's Corner, Ian from Greenisland asked some questions about his area during the Second World war. I promised to forward the questions on to Billy - a lifelong Greenisland resident and local historian. Billy's sent me "a copy of a letter that was sent to the People's War and the BBC from a person who lived in Greenisland during the war. As you can see it tells most of what you ask. On the subject of the Scouts I have some log books telling of taking part in training with the Home Guard and of logging shipping in the Lough. I will try and read through them and get back to you."

The fascinating letter from Pat O'Neill is reproduced below.

"As Pat Graham I grew up in Greenisland on the shore of Belfast Lough, 8 miles from Belfast and 3 miles from Carrickfergus. Greenisland lies at the bottom of Knockagh Hill on the top of which stands the County Antrim War Memorial to those who lost their lives in both world wars. I attended Trooperslane Public Elementary School as there was no school in Greenisland until 1938. I lived on the Upper Station Road once known as the Junction Road. My home was almost opposite where the school is now. An early sound from my childhood, that I would love to hear now,is that of the corncrake. This has been lost due to extensive development of both public and private property.

My teenage years were spent during the 1939-1945 war but living in Greenisland the situation didn't have a great impact. Halcyon days were spent on the hill and at the shore, playing tennis on the court at Faunoran (a large private house eventually demolished for the building of a Housing Estate.) Love was young and love was sweet. Those who suffered most were victims of the two great air raids on Belfast in April and May 1941. Many lives were lost and there was much destruction of property.

First indication of the threat of war was being fitted with a gas mask at school. This had to be carried everywhere in its little cardboard box. Some had more sophisticated holders.

On one occasion I had to come home from the country because of having mumps and was surprised to see the windows criss-crossed with sticky tape in case of bomb blast.
From my bedroom window I remember watching the L.D.V. drilling in the school playground. LDV stood for Local Defence Volunteers, sometimes jocularly called Look, Duck and Vanish! They eventually became known as the Home Guard.

Of course, one of the things affecting all was the Blackout. Every home had to have dark curtains or blinds so that light didn't show. A.R.P. Wardens (Air Raid Precaution) went around the district and alerted householders if even a chink of light was showing. Blackout also affected public transport and railway carriages only had the illumination of a very pale blue light and when travelling we were always reminded "watch who you get in with."

There was a First Aid Post in a house on Station Road, now at the bottom corner of Knockfergus Park. Also an A.R.P. bus. Many attended First Aid Classes in the school taken by the late Dr Loughridge. There was an exam at the end of the course. The examiner was the late Dr Dundee. I just recently disposed of the Certificate awarded by the Red Cross on passing the exam.
Iron gates, railings and other forms of metal were taken to help the war effort.

There were Army Camps in the area - one at Ravenhill (now a Nursing Home) and another at Neill's Lane (now Belfast High School Playing Fields.) Some of the soldiers and ATS girls played Table Tennis with us in the Unionist Hall on Station Road. I still correspond with one of these girls who now lives in Canada. Barrage balloons and searchlights were a common sight.
I was at a Business School in Belfast, travelling by train. After one of the air raids trains were unable to run into York Road Station and we had to walk from Whitehouse. When we got to York Road Station the Midland Hotel was still burning and the station complex was wrecked. We were able to walk in over the glass as the area hadn't yet been cordoned off.

There was rationing of food, which went on till well after the war. but I can't remember ever feeling deprived. Two ounces of butter per week wasn't much and many took to shaking the top of the milk to churn a little butter. As the Republic of Ireland was neutral and many things we were short of were available there many people took the occasional trip to Dundalk or Dublin to bring back butter, tea, sugar etc., not to mention material for making clothes. This was really smuggling and one had to take the risk of losing all at either the Southern or Northern Custom Posts.

In 1941 I got a job in the Antrim Electricity Supply Company. People were encouraged to be careful in the use of water and power, so our Electricity Account had a little sticker attached - Switched on switches/And turned on taps/Make Happy Huns and Joyful Japs.
After the blitz as the Air Raids were called it was sad to see so much waste ground in and around Belfast where homes, shops, mills and churches were all destroyed. Very often spaces like this were used for static water tanks. Shop windows were reduced to small squares of glass.
Beaches round the province were strung with barbed wire entanglements supposedly to prevent landings from the sea. Boats used for pleasure, no matter how small,had to be registered. I remember having good fun in a small rowing boat, which didn't have a name but was registered as C130.

Reference has been made to the A.R.P. bus. Together with some of the Wardens this bus was used to give assistance in Belfast after the blitz. After these Air Raids many people left the city and sought refuge in country areas. There were even people evacuated to Greenisland!! Some of the Railway Offices were moved to accommodation at Greenisland Station and the Presbyterian Church Halls on the Upper Road. Local ladies helped in Canteens at the various Army Camps. The Air Raid Siren was located on the home of Mr N V Cooke one of the Head Wardens who would've been one of the first to know of an impending Air Raid.

A relative of mine had army personnel billeted with her from time to time and I got my first love of poetry from one of these young men. The last time I heard from him he was in South East Asia Command. His name was D J Shott and I believe he came from Wales. I don't know if he's alive or dead but if anyone reading this knows anything about him I would be glad of news. Marriage changed my name from Pat Graham to Pat O'Neill. "

'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at http://bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'

Great stuff. Thanks to Billy for sharing this with us and if Pat O'Neill is still about I'd be glad to hear from you too.

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