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 rise of the Women’s Orange Institution in Portadown: 1923

The rise of the Women’s Orange Institution in Portadown: 1923

In 1923 the Unionist Women of Portadown and District became the leading force for Women joining the Loyal Orange Order in increasingly large numbers.

The first Portadown Lodge of the Women’s Orange Institution, WLOL 62, was formed in Carleton Street Orange Hall in 1921. By 1923 the town had three flourishing Women’s Lodges.  In the same year Women’s Lodges were also opened at Tamnificarbet and Bannfoot.

A special meeting of the officers of Portadown Women’s LOL No. 62 was held in Carleton Street Orange Hall in May 1923.  The purpose of the meeting was to install the first officers of Portadown Women’s District LOL No.3.

The Formation of Portadown District Women’s LOL No.3

The chair was occupied by Sister Martin, Grand Secretary, who acted as installing officer. Sister Martin was assisted by Sister Beatty, Deputy Worshipful Mistress, Antrim.  Also present at the meeting was the Worshipful Mistress and Officers of Clounagh Women’s LOL.   Brother W.H Wright and Brothers Hamilition, Patton, Bell and Jenkinson represented the Men’s District.

After the Installation, Sister Martin addressed the officers, congratulating them and Portadown on ‘being raised to the position of a District, and stating that Newtownhamilition Women’s LOL would also be attached to their District’.

The First Worshipful Mistress of Portadown District

The chair was then taken by Sister McDonald, Deputy Grand Mistress of Ireland, who thanked those present for unanimously electing her to the position of the first Worshipful Mistress of Portadown District.  In her speech she urged all to “live up to the high religious ideals for which the association was instituted”.

Brother Wright congratulated the Sisters on the success of the order in Portadown.  He said:

“the Women’s Loyal Orange Lodge was a good united sisterhood banded together in a religious order for the uplifting of the people”.

 

Formation of WLOL 101

It was during this meeting that the officers of the newly formed Women’s Lodge No.101 of Edenderry were also installed by Sister Martin:

Worshipful Mistress: Sister Jessie Collen

Deputy Mistress: Sister Morgan

Chaplin: Sister Hoy

Secretary: Sister Sullivan

Treasurer: Sister Campbell

Committee: Sister Haack

                      Sister McCrory

                      Sister Smith

                      Sister Taylor

                      Sister Allen

 

Influence of Women’s Orange Lodges

Brother John Patton and R.H Bell spoke in appreciative terms regarding the influence of Women’s Orange Lodges, ‘congratulating Sister Collen on her appointment as Worshipful Mistress’ and the Lodge on having made such a “splendid choice”.

Both Brethren felt assured that “the Lodge would prove a credit to both Edenderry and Killycomaine”. 

All present were afterwards entertained to tea by sisters of the newly formed Lodges.

Over the period of the next few years a number of other Women’s Orange Lodges were formed within Portadown District Women’s LOL.