After having spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in the hands of the Germans, Fusilier James Hughes of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers returned home in time to experience the VE Celebrations.
Fusilier Hughes returned to his home at 13 Fowlers Entry, Portadown. He was met at Watson Street Railway Station by Mr R J Magowan, Chairman of the Urban District Council, Mr Geo McGowan, Town Clerk, and Mr R Heathwood, B.E.M.
Fusilier Hughes’ widowed Mother, Mary, and other members of his family were of course overjoyed to see him. Some of the younger members of the family had never met him. Some of his younger siblings had only a handful of memories of him before the war and didn’t know what he looked like.
He was described as
“looking little the worse of his long period in German war prisoner compounds”.
One of the first visits for Fusilier Hughes on his return was to the News Office. There he requested a public thank you to be published to the local citizens for their support of the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund.
“these parcels reached us regularly, though the Germans had been ghoulish enough to open them and merely hand over about half of what was intended for the men to whom they were dispatched”.
He also acknowledged parcels sent by Mr George Hughes, 13 South Street. Although he never personally received the packages.
One of the main contributors to the parcels for local men being held in German prisoner of war camps , was Portadown Women’s Orange District. They worked alongside Portadown Women’s Unionist Association.
Sister Louisa Shillington, was one of the main organisers and a driving force behind donations for the appeal. It was something close to her heart as she had lost her son, Tom Shillington, and nephew, Geoffrey Shillington Cather, in the First World War. Her Husband, David Graham Shillington had sadly died in 1944 and never saw the war come to an end.
David Graham Shillington was MP for the area and was District Master of Portadown Orange District LOL No 1 right up until his death. He had been a company commander in the local Ulster Volunteer Force during the Home Rule Crisis and went on to become a Major in the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers during the First World War. He had also took over the family firm T A Shillington & Son (now Haldane and Fisher) after his father died suddenly when he was 16.
Fusilier Hughes, who in civilian life, had been employed by Mr Edward Cassells of Woodhouse Street, enlisted in 1936.
He was taken prisoner at Ypres, Belgium on 27th May 1940. Some of the places he had been to in the course of his travels across Germany, some of them in forced marches, included Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Marienwerder and Danzig.
Fusilier Hughes had been in Berlin when the Dunkirk Evacuation took place. During his incarceration he had acquired a good understanding of the German language.
While a prisoner he was allowed one letter home per week, but since the Normandy Invasion correspondence ceased and at all times contact with German civilians was strictly forbidden.
The bombing by the RAF and USAAF gave the Allied war prisoners cause for anxiety, as at times their camp had narrow escapes.
Fusilier Hughes described the Germans as harsh. On one occasion he escaped from the camp and enjoyed four days of freedom. He was caught by the Gestapo, taken to their headquarters and severely beaten.
He described the occasions of forced marches as gruelling. The Supreme headquarters of the Allied Nations had dropped leaflets into Germany demanding more consideration to the welfare of their prisoners, but no improvement in camp conditions was noticed.
Liberation came when the 8th American Army reached Hamburg. The Russian Forces converged at the same time. Another local man they set free was George McCarragher from Obins Street, Portadown.
Fusilier Hughes arrived by Lancaster at Croydon. There, liberated prisoners of war were met with crowds and fellow servicemen and women to welcome them back. James then continued to Stranraer and arrived back in Northern Ireland via Larne.
One thing that surprised Fusilier Hughes on his arrival home was the small extent of the damage by air raids. In Germany, all the big cities he had passed through were completely flattened.
Fusilier Hughes was given 6 weeks leave with double rations which were to help towards his complete recovery from undernourishment. He was to rejoin his unit on 28th June 1945.
His Father, the late Mr James Hughes Senior, had served in the 1st World War with The Royal Engineers and The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.