Category Archives: World War 2

Portadown Soldier’s Ordeal: Home for VE Celebrations after 5 years as a Prisoner of War

Portadown Soldier’s Ordeal: Home for VE Celebrations after 5 years as a Prisoner of War

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”.

First Visit

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”.

Fusilier Hughes

He also acknowledged parcels sent by Mr George Hughes, 13 South Street.  Although he never personally received the packages.

The Parcels

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.

Louisa Shillington (Nee Collen)
Image courtesy of Shillington Family records

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.

Enlistment

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.

Dunkirk

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.

Experiences

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

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.

Home Thoughts

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.

The Bonfires to Celebrate VE Day 1945

The Bonfires to Celebrate VE Day 1945

Bonfires have been used for centuries to celebrate and mark historical occasions.  The VE Celebrations were no different.

Organised Bonfires were set alight at several locations in the town.  The first one was ignited in High Street.

An effigy of Hitler was the source of entertainment when it was carried through the town. The effigy was hoisted on to scaffolding by locals with the help of Servicemen, including Belgian Soldiers, who were ‘delighted with the experience’ and the introduction to the Northern Ireland Bonfire Tradition.

The large collection of boxes and timber of all descriptions made up the bonfire.  It was set on fire and the crowds cheered as the effigy went up in flames.

Main Bonfire

The main Bonfire of the evening took place in the Fair Green.  The local Boy Scouts, under the guidance and leadership of Commissioner Cyril Abraham, had built the large structure.

A large crowd of people gathered to watch. The occasion was opened  by the band of the Salvation Army.  They played the hymns ‘O God our Help in ages past’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Dr George Dougan MP and District Master of Portadown Orange District LOL No 1 led the speeches.

“We are met here to celebrate  the greatest victory ever, this will become more apparent as we see the fruits of the success.  We are this evening honouring the Boy Scouts who have arranged this fire.  The future of this district in particular and the province in general, is in good hands when guided in any way by Boy Scouts who carry out work of great usefulness”.

Captain Ian Graham of the Royal Army Service Corps had connections with scouting in America.  In his speech he stated:

“I am greatly honoured at being asked to join the ceremony this evening. It would give American Scouts great pleasure if they knew an American Scout had been invited to the proceedings “.

Mr R J Magowan, Chairman of the Urban District Council, stated:

“Once again we see that where the Union Jack flies man is free.  Portadown has played a wonderful part in the waging of the war during the past 5 or 6 years.  Every section of service has had its share of the support of their people, the Armed Services, Shipyards, Factories, Civil Defence , Home Guard and the farms.  We all feel proud of the triumph which has been achieved and that our province is still attached to the British Empire”.

“Portadown is very proud of all of her Men and Women in H.M Services and it remains for those at home to make this a better place to which they will return”.

Speeches were also heard from Mr H Murray, President of the the British Legion and Mr W.A Mullen.

A Community Together

Mr T A Shillington, President of the Portadown and District Boy Scouts Association, placed a lighted torch to the bonfire. The Bonfire was a mass flame in a few short minutes and spread ‘light across the entire neighbourhood’.

As the fire burned the Band led the people in community singing. Mr Joshua Bell had led the proceedings with announcing those giving speeches.  He finished with the famous lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem in memory of the fallen ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.  This was followed by ‘a short silence of respect to the gallant dead’.

The Lords prayer was recited by the Rev H W Plunkett.  The crowd sang the hymn ‘Abide with me’ and the National Anthem concluded the event.

Symbolic

The burning of the effigy of Hitler was described as:

“symbolic of the ending of the Nazi tyranny of mind and soul, and the lighting of the four torches symbolised the four freedoms and the rekindling of a new home of freedom, brotherhood and peace for mankind”.

Other Bonfires

Bonfires were set alight in several other locations in the town.  Some of those recorded in our archives are John Street, South Street and Meadow Lane. The Bonfires were described as a ‘magnificent event’.

Especially for the young children who experienced them for the first time.  The normality of Bonfires being built and set alight in July to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne had not happened for the duration of the 2nd World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portadown Arches: Carleton Street

Portadown Arches: Carleton Street

 Carleton Street: David Rock Memorial Arch

In July 1939 the David Rock Memorial Arch was unveiled in Carleton Street.  Sir William Allen and Lady Allen were present.  There was a large gathering in the street and the Arch was unveiled by Mrs S A McDonald, JP, Cranagil.  Sir William Allen DSO, MP presided.

The Arch was described as an “imposing structure which is a credit to the designers, and is a worthy perpetuation of the memory of Brother Rock”.

 

Opening of the David Rock Memorial Arch in Carleton Street

David Rock

David Rock was one of the most distinguished men to have held office in Portadown District LOL No.1.  He held the position of District Secretary. He also served as Worshipful Master of his Lodge, Prince of Wales LOL 56.  He was Deputy Grand Master of Ireland.  He was also Worshipful Master of Carrickblacker Guiding Star RBP 503 and Deputy District Master of Portadown Royal Black District Chapter No.5.

 

David Rock MBE JP

 

David was a leading citizen in Portadown.  He topped the voting polls on many occasions in the Portadown Urban District Council elections.  He also served as Chairman of Portadown Urban District Council for several years and worked tirelessly on behalf of both communities.

His greatest contribution to Portadown was in the early 1920’s at the time of Partition.  The IRA launched a terrorist offensive across Ulster.  This affected many large towns.  David was a Senior Officer in the Ulster Special Constabulary and maintained strict discipline over his men.

When four Portadown ‘A’ Specials were kidnapped by the IRA at the border, David led patrols of Specials to prevent reprisals against the Nationalist Community.  Negotiations between Unionist leaders and Orange leaders, including David Rock, and the IRA resulted in the four Specials being released unharmed.

A leading Nationalist member of Portadown Urban District Council paid tribute to David saying “David Rock had more than anyone kept the peace in Portadown”.  This was echoed by Joe Devlin Nationalist MP for West Belfast at a function in Portadown in 1923.

Under David Rock’s leadership, the Orange Order in Portadown flourished, with a number of new lodges being formed.  David Rock died on 16th October 1937 and thousands attended his funeral at St Saviours The Dobbin.

David Rock’s headstone reads “A noble and unselfish example of a true Orangeman”.

An imposing and handsome structure

Surmounted by three Gothic Arches, the structure was completed with symbols of the Orange and Black Institutions.  An open Bible occupied a prominent position and the memorial attribute was indicated in a black and white finish.  There were two photographs of Brother Rock, which were taken by Brother W J Moffett, in the centre of the structure.  One portrayed him as an Orangeman and the other as a Sir Knight.

 

“The people of Carleton Street are making a ‘strong pull’ to have their new arch erected in good time for the ‘Twelfth’, and we understand that it will be really worthy memorial to the late Brother David Rock, MBE JP, in the street in which he spent such a big part of his life”.

– Portadown Times April 1939

Valuable Help

Orange Lodges and Royal Black Perceptories gave valuable help towards the Arch.  Funds for the arch was raised through subscriptions.

Below is listed the subscriptions made by Lodges and Perceptories.  The subscriptions were published in newspapers at the time.

  • LOL 56 -£3 3s
  • LOL127- 5s
  • LOL 31- 5s
  • LOL 99- 5s
  • LOL 273 -5s
  • LOL 417 -5s
  • LOL 58 -10s
  • RBP 466- 10s 6d
  • RBP 744- 10s
  • RBP 199- 5s
  • RBP 267- 5s

Sadly, the Carleton Street Arch was erected only once.  The 2nd World War broke out in September 1939 and the Arch was put into storage.  There are no records available as to what happened the Arch after the 2nd World War.

New Exhibition at Carleton Street Orange Hall

New Exhibition at Carleton Street Orange Hall

Portadown Heritage Tours are hosting the Memorials to Sacrifice Exhibition at Carleton Street Orange Hall and Heritage Centre for the month of February.

The Memorials to Sacrifice Exhibition highlights Orange Halls, throughout Northern Ireland, that were built as memorials in the aftermath of the Great War.  ‘Memorials to Sacrifice’ is the latest initiative by the Museum of Orange Heritage marking the centenary of the Armistice, and the contribution of members of the Orange Institution on the front line.

Why the Exhibition is so important to Carleton Street Orange Hall.

Carleton Street Orange Hall and Heritage Centre has its own story to tell about it’s place in the Great War and the many Orangemen of Portadown District who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who came home again.

Carleton Street Orange Hall is home to the Ex-Servicemen’s Lodge and Preceptory of Portadown District.  The Lodge was formed in 1946 after the Second World War and the Preceptory was formed a couple of years later in 1949.  Its members were made up of First and Second World War Veterans.  This year Portadown Ex-Servicemen’s RBP 326 will celebrate its 70th Anniversary.

The reasons these Memorial halls were built after the war reflect the same meaning behind the formation of the Ex-Servicemen’s Lodge.  It was a place ex-soldiers could socialise, reminisce and have a brotherhood after the armed forces.

 

History behind the Exhibition

It is estimated upwards of 20 halls owned or primarily used by Orange Lodges were erected as memorials to Orangemen who paid the supreme sacrifice during the First World War.  Such properties remain actively used by the Institution at locations across Northern Ireland, including Randalstown, Muckamore, Tullylish, Templepatrick, Dungannon and Ballymacarrett in East Belfast.

Accompanying Booklet

There is an accompanying booklet with the exhibition which can be purchased.  The Booklet states;

“The War Memorial Orange Halls were not just erected to provide a meeting place for Lodges and Preceptories, they also provided a place where Ex-Servicemen could meet to socialise and to reminisce.  They also provided a place in which the core values of the Orange Order could be presented to members of the local community”.

The halls were often built by the brethren or by Ex-Servicemen and often had facilities-for example, washrooms, toilets, central heating, electricity- that were still absent in many residential properties.

 

Commenting on the exhibition, museum curator Jonathan Mattison said “We are delighted to launch this educational national travelling exhibition and informative booklet, which underlines the extent and contribution of Orangeism to the Great War, and its lasting legacy for local communities.

Opening Times

The exhibition will be on show in the Heritage Centre of Carleton Street Orange Hall for the month of February.  It will be open Monday-Thursday 9:15am until 4:15pm and Friday 9:15am until 1:15pm.  For visitors who can’t make it during the day, it was also be open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings 7:30pm until 8:30pm.

Everyone Welcome!

For parents and guardians, there is also a Kids activity corner available with lots of  fun activities relating to the Great War.  This will keep the kids busy allowing the parents and guardians time to enjoy the exhibition.

 

Exhibition Information provided by Museum of Orange Heritage. 

Sister Irene Wright

Sister Irene Wright

There are a total of 321 Portadown men on the towns war memorial who paid the supreme sacrifice in the 1st World War.  The plaque honouring the dead of the 2nd World War bears the names of 66 men and one woman who died in the 1939-45 conflict.

The woman who died in the 2nd World War was Sister Irene Wright, who served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services. Irene lived in Park Road, and was educated at Portadown Technical School where she played hockey for the school team. Irene was the daughter of Ernest and Eliza Jane Wright.

At the outbreak of the war she volunteered for the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing service and was sent to Singapore.  Sister Irene Wright was embarked on HMS Kuala, an auxiliary anti-submarine vessel, and it left Singapore on 13th February 1942.

The next morning Japanese aircraft sank Kuala off Pompong Island, 90 miles south of Singapore.  Although there were survivors, Sister Irene Wright was not one of them.  She was lost at sea, and is commemorated on the Singapore memorial.

Irene’s cousin Eva was also a trained nurse and was stationed in London during the Battle of Britain and The Blitz.  Her brother William was a draughtsman at Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast before emigrating to Canada.

Ernest Wright, Irene’s father, served in the 1914-1918 war and was employed in the family bakery at West Street, Portadown.

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World War 2 Air Raid Shelter

World War 2 Air Raid Shelter

The Bann Bridge air raid shelter was discovered in 2005 during the widening and strengthening of the bridge over the river.  It is believed to be one of the last remaining intact Second World War air raid shelters in Northern Ireland.  The unearthing of the air raid shelter coincided with the 60th anniversary of victory in Europe day (VE) on 8th May 2005.  It was decided to cover over the structure to preserve it for future generations of Portadown.

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