Michael Burns (Project Co-ordinator of Oral History Projects at NIWM)
Since 2016 the Northern Ireland War Memorial has run a series of oral history projects seeking to capture the memories and stories of those local people who fought and lived through the Second World War in Northern Ireland. To date over 120 interviews have been recorded and added to our museum accredited collection, these stories cover the length and breadth of Northern Ireland and include a number of stories local to Bangor.
Alan Cook (BBP75 26) was interviewed in 2016 and lived in Helen’s Bay at the outbreak of war, his house was the local ARP station and he felt that he did his part for the war effort.
“There were maps on the wall as to how the war was going on in the desert or whatever, so yes, I was delighted because with the ARP station my mother would take the calls on the telephone. They would be green for possibility of a raid, yellow was that they were getting nearer and red they were overhead. So, she would summon people by phone who would arrive on bicycles and in those days the warning system for an air raid in Helen’s Bay, very primitive, it was somebody circling Helen’s Bay blowing a whistle.
“Now who was supposed to hear that whistle I have no idea, but of much greater concern was one Hunter Tate who would be on his very upright bicycle. He had a very red face and everybody was obviously worried that he would have a seizure blowing this whistle whilst riding the bike. But more interesting for me was the all-clear, because the all-clear in those days was a car going round the same circle and someone ringing a bell. It was Miss Oswald’s Lanchester, which had a sliding roof and one of my jobs was to ring that bell; you see, I personally was a major contribution to the war effort (laughs).”
Alan remembers his time fondly at his preparatory school Garth House in Bangor and was Head Boy in 1945 and thus partly responsible for the school’s VE Day celebrations.
“I remember we had a firework display and I was in charge of the firework display because I was the head boy and I can remember one rocket leaving my hand and going horizontally towards the crowd of the public boys and luckily it was just above the head of the lot of them (laughs) and I felt very stupid but of course claimed that I was very accurate eh yes it was a big day we do remember it I can’t think much more about that because again we were in the country primarily we were on the outskirts of Bangor and I don’t know what went on in Bangor, I suspect not very much.”
Another interviewee with memories of Bangor during the Second World War is Maureen Lightbody (W&M36, right) from Groomsport, she was a member of the WReNS and was stationed in the Bangor area.
“Yes, at the Orlock or Greypoint. Helens’s Bay - GreyPoint it was called, it was the Signal Office at Helen’s Bay and the Orlock was the other one … Four hour watches you called them. You’d have gone on at nine in the morning and then off at one. And then you might have been on one , from one o’clock to four o’clock. You know there were different measures, but there was somebody on all the time.
“Then the night was a longer one… You maybe went on at 11 at night and you weren’t off till seven the next morning. Because those ships were coming in all the time and then there were ships leaving the Lough. You had to see them in and see them out, you see … they had to give a code who they were and you just had to put down, ‘left Lough’ or ‘entered Lough’. As long as you’d the book saying who they were but you’d the three lovely big, big American battle ships, the Arkansas, the Texas and Nevada. Beautiful big ships and they were all off Bangor.”
Maureen also remembers fondly the dances such as those organised by Lady Dufferin at Clandeboye Lodge and life about Bangor like the daily parade where “the American band came down Main Street every afternoon at 4 o’clock. Real jazzy. Lovely. The town was alive at that time. Far more life than there is in it now.” Maureen was still a Wren when the war concluded and was chosen to parade in Belfast, she doesn’t remember the parade itself but she remembers practicing their marching on Bangor Pier.
“We were training then on the North pier in Bangor for this parade in Belfast, I remember that and there was a ship anchored along the harbour and of course, all the sailors were out watching us. The petty officer that took us, all her life she had worn high heels and she just could not walk in flats and she hardly … If you’d seen her trying to walk down the pier (laughs) and of course all the sailors were laughing at her, making fun of her. Poor Dorothy was in a state. And they’d say, ‘Mind your hat, mind your hat, it doesn’t blow off’, and ‘Remember to shout Halt!’, in case you fell off the pier. They had a great time just mocking us. And she hated it. I’m sure she hated it.”
These are just a few extracts from our collections which represent a valuable resource for the public and researchers interested in the role of Northern Ireland in the Second World War. If you or a loved one have a story to share or perhaps you just want to hear more about Alan or Maureen’s stories you can get in touch with the NI War Memorial on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07588 634847.