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.
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.
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”.
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.