Sunday, May 19, 2024

PROJECT BRINGS WAR BACK TO LIFE FOR PENINSULA RESIDENTS

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RESIDENTS of the Ards Peninsula have been sharing their memories of how life was in the area during the Second World War.

Their recollections have been added to a fascinating collection of stories gathered by the Northern Ireland War Memorial (NIWM) and National Museums Northern Ireland.

The project was 15 years in the making and consists of transcriptions taken from oral history interviews recorded by Una Walls in 2008.

The project was the subject of a recent feature in the Newtownards Chronicle which prompted others to come forward with their own interesting wartime memories.

Amongst them was Netta, who lived at Ganaway, between Millisle and Ballywalter, who related how she lived next to a Chain Home Radar Station (an RAF early warning network) and recalled many of the Scottish soldiers stationed at the camp.

She particularly remembered Geordie Huddleston and Bob Pollock from Glasgow, who became very friendly with Netta’s parents, and how they would often drop in to sit by the fire while on guard duty.

She said they were always made welcome, provided they followed Netta’s mum’s instructions of unloading the bullets from their rifles and leaving them by the door.

Of course, the soldiers were supposed to be on duty and shouldn’t have been enjoying local hospitality and Netta recalled how one night there was a knock at the door and the visiting soldier took off out the back door, leaving his jacket, coat and rifle behind him.

Another resident to share her memories was Ena, who grew up in Portavogie, who remembered the start of the war and her eldest brother, Reggie, joining the local Home Guard.

Ena, who was aged five in September 1939, thought his uniform was lovely and was very proud of him but she recalled her mother crying and not understanding why, unaware of the danger (and loss) the war would bring to many families.

There were 24 Nissen huts on her father’s farm, accommodation for many of the RAF and WAAF personnel from Kirkistown and Ballyhalbert Airfields in the vicinity.

Ena’s family became friends with many of the allied personnel as well as the evacuees who came to Portavogie fleeing the Belfast Blitz, with Ena continuing a lifelong friendship with Helen, an evacuee, who is now almost 97- a wartime friendship that has lasted 83 years.

After the war, Ena’s father kept the Nissen huts and rented them out as holiday/weekend homes to families from Belfast, remaining holiday lets until 1988 when they finally decided to clear the field.

Anyone, like Netta and Ena, who has wartime memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland and would like to share their story, please get in touch with NIWM Research Officer, Michael Burns, by emailing projects@niwarmemorial.org or calling 07588 634847.

For more information on the museum’s ongoing Oral History Project, The War and Me, and to listen to clips from the interviews conducted by Una Walls, please visit www.niwarmemorial.org .

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