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: Parkmount and Corcrain

Portadown Arches: Parkmount and Corcrain

An Arch to be proud of: Parkmount

It is believed an arch was first opened in Parkmount in the 1920’s, although it could have been earlier. It stood at the junction of Park Road and Water Street.

 

Parkmount Flute Band under the Arch in approximately the 1920’s

Parkmount Arch 1945

The second Parkmount Arch was opened in July 1945.  Many leading members of Portadown District LOL No. 1 were present including Brother Herbert Whitten who presided over the opening ceremony and Brother R J Magowan who acted as Chairman.  Brother George Dougan, who was a well respected Doctor of the town, as well as the Portadown District Master at the time, switched on the lights at the official ceremony.

Dr Dougan received acclamation during the opening ceremony of the arch on his recent election victory.  In turn he thanked the crowd and paid tribute to the members of Parkmount Flute Band who had rendered assistance during the campaign.  George Dougan was MP for central Armagh.  He was elected to Stormont in March 1941, replacing David Graham Shillington.

 

Parkmount Arch 

 

The Present Arch

The present Parkmount Arch has been refurbished and repainted many times as it has been attacked by republicans. The latest refurbishment took place in 2014, one side of the Arch reads ‘In memory of the Parkmount Community’ while the other side reads ‘In Memory of Bro Ivan Forbes’, who was a tireless worker for the Arch.

 

 

 

 

An Arch of the Past: Corcrain

The Corcrain Arch was officially opened in June 1937.  It was a magnificent structure of wood and steel, and the decorations were described as ‘artistic’.  The sixty foot span was comprised of three arch-ways which harmonised in colour and size.  The arch contained various symbols of the Orange and Black Orders.

The Arch was completed by Mr Fred Mccullough of Corcrain and Mr A Murphy carried out the painting.  Members of the Arch Committee were; Mr John Wright Junior, Mr Thomas Gilpin, Mr William Thompson, Mr David Hamill, Mr Robert Burns and Mr James Fleming.

Corcrain Arch

The Opening

A large parade of Orangemen, including the Junior Orange, were led by Corcrain Flute Band who provided the music throughout the ceremony. The opening was performed by Mrs Woods under the Chairmanship of Brother David Rock.

David Rock MBE JP held office in Portadown District LOL NO 1 and was a member of LOL 56.  He had been a District Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary in Portadown.

Portadown Arches: Mourneview Street and Queen Street

Portadown Arches: Mourneview Street and Queen Street

The Arches of Mouneview Street and Queen Street provide a great sense of pride and community to local residents.  One thing that has become clear through our journey of discovering the heritage of the local Arches, is the amount of time and effort local residents give to the Arches. The members of the different Arches committees’ throughout the town deserve a lot of recognition for maintaining this great tradition.

Mourneview Street Arch Official Opening

Mourneview Street Arch was unveiled in July 1939 by Sir Knight Alex Adair, District Master of Portadown Royal Black Chapter. The majority of the arch was designed and constructed by Mr Wilson Binks.  The old English lettering of the inscriptions and the glass panels were completed by Mr Joseph Wright.  During the speeches at the opening, both men where congratulated on their success.

The weather conditions were particularly poor for the opening ceremony.  But that did not dampen the spirits of over 1000 people who gathered to witness the official opening.

Portadown Pipe Band and Edgarstown Accordion Band provided the music for the evening. The proceedings of the evening was led by Sir Knight and Brother R J Magowan, Worshipful Master of Edenderry LOL 322.

“It’s Lovely!”

“Isn’t it nice!”

“The Colouring and lettering are beautiful”

‘These exclamations are typical of what a bystander heard at the unveiling of Mourneview Street Arch on Thursday evening last’.

Portadown Times 14th July 1939

 

It is interesting and very appropriate to note that no fewer than nine members of the committee had the first name William; William Baxter, William (Billy) Cooper, William (Billy) Whitten Junior, William Taylor, William (Billy) Magee, William Baxter Junior, William McKeown, William Power Senior and William Power Junior.

The other members of the committee were Teddy Grimason, Arthur Magee, George Whitten, George Hodgen and George Magee.

Queen Street Arch

In 1983, a few of the local residents on the street had the idea of erecting their own Arch at the Thomas Street entrance.  A Committee was formed and a collection was made in the neighbourhood.  Planning permission was requested and granted.

An arch shed was built to store the Arch throughout the year.  The building of the shed was done on a voluntary basis mainly by Mr Paul Trouton, Mr Trevor Bonis, Mr Brian Beattie and a few others.

The Arch was sourced from the Derryadd area; one that was no longer in use.  It was then adapted in size as the steel was too short.  The steel poles were made to measure locally. The wooden structure was built to suit by residents from the street; mainly Mr Paul Trouton and Mr Trevor Bonis.

It was then painted by local residents Mr Paul Trouton, Mr Trevor Bonis and Mr Brian Beattie.  The artwork was completed by Mr Neville Austin and the electric work was completed by Mr George Trouton.  The lettering was done by a local sign-writer Mr Bracken Anderson.

Official Opening

The Queen Street Arch was officially opened on 28th June 1985 by local MP Mr Harold McCusker and dedicated by the Reverend Tom Taylor.

Portadown Defenders Flute Band provided the music during the opening ceremony and a reception was held in the Trouton Household for the dignitaries.

Maintaining the Arch

The Arch was maintained for the first fifteen years by a collection from the residents of the street, but unfortunately due to the change in the population of the area this became unfeasible.

The Arch has been put up each year since with the goodwill of the Trouton family and friends and with the kind help of The Beattie family; who look after the shed and supply the electricity.  It has been refurbished a number of times during its almost thirty five year existence.