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I was born in March 1936 the younger of twins and the youngest in a family of 7 children with both parents alive.
Reflecting on my past creates impelling thought patterns; what with family ties and experiences never to be forgotten, some treasured others better out of sight out of mind. This record outlines what I can remember of those early war years, even though from time to time, I tell my wife who is slightly older than I, that I don't remember the war.
In 1942 we moved from a very small terrace house in Victor Street off the Woodstock Road . The story of the Mother living in a shoe comes to mind for I just don't know how we all lived so happily in such a confined space. The house on the Woodstock Road was a three- storey terrace and with one daughter it was good for her to have a room for herself. The boys slept head to toe according to age in the upstairs attics. The smaller room at the back was reserved for the oldest of the boys and so we hoped that the older brothers would hurry up and get married and let us all move up in the queue for the single bedroom or even just to get the feet out of your face at the bottom of the bed. Outside toilet and no bathroom inside were the accepted conditions of the day. A large zinc bath hung on the wall in the backyard and we heated the water in kettles and filled it up as required.
My twin sister and I continued to attend The Boyd Endowment P E School that was on the Ravenhill Road. They were happy years and even when the snow fell hard and we had to walk the extra distance it was a pleasant learning time. For some it was not, for I recall one girl who was found chewing gum in class and the teacher took it from her and stuck it in her hair. I am sure a teacher would not get away with that now. We walked past the air raid shelters on the way to school and that triggers the memory that my brother split his nose when endeavouring to cross the street at night during the blackout; he misjudged where the end of the shelter was and ended up with a permanent scar on his snitch.
The house on the Woodstock had a very small kitchen, ie cooking area, for the back room of the house was called the kitchen and the front room was known as the parlour. How mum cooked for us all I do not know. We all washed at the sink in the morning before going to school or work Under the staircase was where we huddled when we heard the air raid siren The tall pile of coal-brick didn't make a pleasant back rest but how wonderfully safe!!! We felt that, because the youngest of us were given the privilege to shelter there. Soon ,that was not viewed as the place to be and were transported regularly by my uncle on his milk lorry (he worked for Dobson's Dairies) with many others from the local area to the Castlereagh Hills. We stayed in the Orange Hall, kindly granted I'm sure, and my memory suggests me stepping over people on the floor to get a seat on a form and that many of the people there had their arms and legs in plaster of paris. The situation was high above East Belfast so when we were going to and coming from the Hall we could see the fires in the city where the incendiary bombs had fallen. We were near enough to the shipyard to be affected by the bombing. Grandfather wouldn't leave his house in Grovefield Street; he preferred to sit outside his door and listen and watch, with interest to all that was going on.
A number of the family with mother were evacuated to Rostrevor. I don't recall travelling to or from the place called The Homestead which was owned I believe by a cousin of my mothers. Happy days they were. We used to climb into an old kiddies car and drive at full speed down the hill at the back of the house to the bottom; very often we never made it that far for we were tumbled out of it because there were too many passengers.. Another memory is that of my second cousin, I suppose he would have been, taking us out to the hen house and collecting the eggs. If the hen wouldn't move when instructed by him he caught it and threw it up in the air. They never seemed to mind and continued much to my surprise, to lay eggs again later. In the late sixties and early seventies I renewed acquaintance with my second cousins through the business I was in and often on St Patrick's Day we would meet up at their home in Warrenpoint and click back through the pages of memory that each of us retained of the time spent together.
VIEWING THE CITY CENTRE AFTER THE BOMBINGS
When the war was nearing an end my dad used to take me into Belfast City centre. There we would go to High Street and look at the bombed buildings and I recall a large water reservoir on High St/ Bridge St corner which I assume was used to dampen the fires in the local buildings. I went to work when I was 15 yrs old in 1951and 72 High Street was the address where I was gainfully employed. The older members of the staff used to tell how they were obliged to stay in the office during the war so that the files of clients would be protected from fire. Across the street in Church Lane in hose war years I recall the street vendors with one guy in particular who shouted out the benefits of the product he had to sell. It was called Blue Lightning It was supposed to remove any stubborn stain even that caused by iodine which he stated was the hardest stain to remove, even worse than blood. We used to buy a liquid that changed copper coloured articles to silver. We used to polish the Yale locks on neighbours' doors and then wait and watch how they reacted to seeing their lock now of a different colour. Of course it only lasted for a little while but it was innocent fun for us. Old pennies were also bathed in this and we surprised many with the cleanness and the newness of these coins once they had been dipped in the concoction.
In the Ormeau Park on the Ravenhill Road American forces were camped. I used to stand at the railings and watch the army take the parts of jeeps from containers and watch as they made them up into the vehicles and drove them around the park. Another thing that made the place different was a large barrage balloon that was hoisted up when darkness came, if I remember correctly. There was a pond in the park but once the air raid shelters were knocked down the rubble was used to fill in the pond. No more skating on the ice and I still have the marks on my leg where I was injured by the reinforced steel wire that had been used in the building of the shelters.
Happy days indeed but he we didn't know much about what was happening at the war front. Pathe and Movietone News in the local cinemas showed the details much later; quite a change compared with the present instant vision of what is happening on the battlefields around the world..
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