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Reminiscences from Derry

by patriciamcadams

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Patricia McADams
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06 November 2003

World War II reminiscences in Waterside Library 04/11/2003

Experiences of Life in Derry 1939-1945

I lived in the Strand Road. I was 6 or something when the war started.
I was in a mountain in Donegal on holiday when the bomb in Messines Park happened. When I came back the town was devastated. I remember the gas masks and the rationing books. My mother would get me up when the air raid sounded and run me up the Rock Road to safety.
I was only about 6 or 7 during those years
My step father was in the services and he was away in the army. He was away abroad actually and he came home in 1945 when the war was over. I remember the day the war was declared my mother let the potatoes burn, she was so shocked.
The atmosphere was very strong, and everyone pulled together.
My name is Nora Daly I was originally Tate from the Strand Road where my mother had a shop.

Bertie Lynch
I was born in Emerson St., Waterside. My father served in the reserve Royal Air Force. I was the oldest in the family. From 1939-46 we saw my father about 3 times. Killyadease was where he spent the last 3 years of the war. It was near Fermanagh.
It wasn’t such a bad time. The post office was at the top of King St. and every day I had to post a letter for mother to my father. I had an uncle who was so badly shook from being in the war that he didn’t come out of the house again after the war. I remember my father used to give him over some cigarettes. He lived in Bonds St.
The services were very badly paid and wages didn’t go up until 1960. As you can imagine my mother got all the money. I saw the ration books there and I was saying that if ration books were here now I wouldn’t be as fat as I am!

q….Did you remember air raid shelters during the war?

a….Yes I was only 7 yrs old during the war but I remember the shelters. There was a lot around the Waterside in King St and Alfred Street.
I remember the Church parade of the regiments which was compulsory. I went to Ebrington Church

I remember the gas masks.
We would have gone up the Rock Road and then we were in the country.
Times didn’t appear to be hard. The diet was always potatoes and something.
As far as I was concerned they were lean times but not hard times

We were evacuated to Ballylong up near Artigarvan. Their were two families and it was like a barn. We gathered spuds. We were evacuated from the Fountain. It was decided the accommodation wasn’t suitable in Ballylong and we were sent to Strabane. It was in a Catholic school. And when we came back our Drew was able to recite the rosary right off, when my mother made us kneel to say our prayers

Me mother came to visit with my aunt and brought us scones and other food between them. In Ballylong we went to school and we seemed to be more advanced and we were put up a class.

My name is Paddy Gillespie from Strabane I wonder if that lady is one of the people I fitted gasmasks to in Ballylong. That was my job to fit gas masks on the people in Strabane .. I had a car with a big boot, so I was employed by the Council to do this. Some of the gas masks were like a windscreen on the children. I think the masks were a con I think they were brought in to make people feel protected.

Q Tell me, Paddy, about Herdmans Factory
A It was a munitions factory during the war and hundreds of people were employed.
So coal was scarce and I used to go up to the mountains and buy turf for £25 to keep the factory going. When ever I drove in the back of Herdmans there were stokers waiting for me. You were kept busy to keep the furnaces going.
It was kept going 24 hours a day. I enjoyed it. Herdmans was in Sion Mills

Could anyone paint a picture of Derry during the war years?
Population was about 45,000
I was born in Rosemount and it was a village. All around it was countryside.
There was a boy named Charlie fell into a bog and came out as a Pete!
There were only about 6 streets in Rosemount then. Lewis Street during the war when I was growing up it was known as a courting place.
I remember going over on a ferry to St Columb’s Park for a picnic.
I remember it had to be rowed.
I remember two ladies in Shan tallow telling me they went on the ferry with two yanks.
Q Any memories of the yanks and memories of Springtown?

They were in Creevagh too. I was too young for silk stockings. The first time I had coffee it was of the Yankees. The Yankee bread was white, all we had was brown bread. I didn’t like chewing but I got chocolate. My father worked in Creevagh with the yanks he would bike it out.
The black hut…….when we were living in Rosemount we used to go to the black hut over the border behind Rosemount to buy goods. They were more plentiful and cheaper


I lived in the Waterside and the buses went from Rosemount to the Waterside.

Used prams. My mammy used to walk to Killea and there was a false bottom in the pram I was the baby at the time.
Some people had pockets inside their raincoats to smuggle butter and one customs man made a man stand inside on a hot day until the butter melted.
You could buy shoes and dresses in Buncrana an people used to go over on pay day.
The Americans went over as well.
They used to wear special skirts. They had pockets in them and they used to bring stuff across. They used to bring bags of sugar on strings which hung between their legs and gave them a particular way of walking…
The customs men got used to them so they would get the women out of the buses and look at the women from the waist down. The women would blatantly put goods on top of their heads and they got away with it because the men never lifted their heads above their waists.

I smuggled a bit, anything you could mention that could make money. I smuggled turnip seeds I brought it over to a wee shed in Lifford, some of the bags bust. The market got bad and I never bothered to collect the seeds from the shed. My dad said, “Paddy, when are you going to come and collect these turnips ‘cause I can’t get into the shed”? The seeds had grown in the shed into big turnips.

Bananas were very scarce I heard that they mashed the turnip and added bananas essence. It was parsnips as well.
Q How many remember their mothers using tan and black lines instead of stocking?
Was it tea used?
No it was a cream.
On the Swilly trains things used to be lowered outside the far side window. A string used to be tied to parcels of food and the string pulled to keep ahead of the guard.
Derry wasn’t too hard done buy because of the proximity to the border.
Dad’s army gives a good idea of what it was like.
I don’t think they were too concerned about the small smuggler more the big smuggler… paddy there.
I remember them smuggling cows and pigs on the ferries.
Q What about the yanks…. you talked about being evacuated…
there were people evacuated from Gibraltar to Derry.
They were in Nissan huts kitchens and everything - the huts came from America
I worked there before the people came to go to work in the sailors rest. It was for shipwrecked sailors. They stayed until they went back to the war.

There was a POW camp in Portstewart
Schools had to make an effort for the war effort if you brought in 25 books you were made a Sergeant and you could go right up to general if you brought in 250 books. . There was a party in the Guildhall if you reached 250. Miss Hyndman brought the books to our house for me... I t was the paper they wanted for the war effort, it was a good thing.
Railings were all taken away from the Courthouse and around gardens….. it was all for the war effort…… gates were taken away. The cannons were taken away as well, all those were taken away for scrap metal. The coal merchants all became scrap merchants… weren’t asked your were just told to give.
The captured German gun in Brooke Park was said to be taken away to fire back at the Germans!

Paddy... yes we had railing at the front of our house in Strabane that were taken away
When I think of Sea Eagle and Eglinton airfields I think the history of Derry hasn’t been appreciated enough
Any other city or town in England would have got more publicity.

That’s right the U-boat surrendered in Derry. Survivors of the Bismarck were brought into Derry in the middle of the night.
Around Derry you had RAF stations. I went into a shop in Wales one time and I was asked what part of Derry I came from….he had been stationed in Derry through the war.

Almost overnight the Americans disappeared.
My father’s sister was charmed by an American and got married and went over to a place near Chicago. The rest of the family lived in Kilfennan in the country. The family thought she had gone to the “Land of Plenty”, a wonderful life. It was 40 years before she came back and told us... he was very poor and she had 3 jobs and he had a tyrannical mother. The family back home thought she had a great life. She sent back dresses from her children to us back in Derry. She told how hard it was for many Derry girls in America…..I heard that if a lady from the town got involved with an American the Derry men wouldn’t touch them….. I see the ladies agreeing with me.

There were captured u boats brought into Derry and I often wondered if the enigma machine was on it was tied up a the great northern station.
HMS Londonderry had its rear end blown off in the Atlantic and was towed into Derry docks
I heard a story about musicians in the town trying to take a double bass down the conning tower of a U-boat. It was Donal McCafferty, brother of James.
Mick Mc Williams used to sing and entertain the troops. Mick sang with Donal Mc Cafferty and he said Mick was too quick moving when the bottles were thrown at them.
American troops brought the music of Sinatra here before it was known in rest of UK. Most people sang on the beat but Mick sang like Sinatra which was on the off beat which the audiences weren’t familiar with and so thought he couldn’t sing!

Q Does anybody remember the dance halls?

Crete, Corinthian, dance halls

Two tug boats in Derry which went to Dunkirk.. one was called the java. I started work in 1942 I eventually went to work in the docks 8 shillings to ten bob a week scaling boilers on the boats in Derry docks. There were boats from Penny burn right up to the bridge. The Yankee technicians blasted rocks out of Bready to build the docks, all the boats docked side by side. The yanks construction battalions’ cb’s they were called.
Why did we not get bombed …only Penny burn…we were very lucky….
Jim Collins used to go mad. He lived up the long hall …only him of his family survived the bombing in Messines Park. He had been buried in rubble and was mentally scarred. No 17 Messines Park was the house bombed.
Shortly after I came to Derry people were talking about it.
When the explosion happened it put out a window in Drumahoe, the watery bray-
I came from the West of Ireland earning £3 a week 30shilling for digs.
20 cigs was 11p and a halfpenny
Halfpenny covered the cost of the matches which they gave you when you bought the cigarettes.
Warhorse tobacco was sold in the black hut. When the man gave you your tobacco he said”Here’s your horse” and then he gave you a curl from a lump of tobacco on the counter and said “Here’s your saddle”
Margarine was 4pence and halfpenny. My mother used to mix it with a bit of butter for a better taste.
Buttermilk was tuppence a quart
2pennies for 5 woodbine
Camel’s and Passion were American cigs and they stunk
The Turkish cigs smelled like camels dung
30 shillings for a good suit

Q So you came in as a bus driver, what was that like?
Very few cars….full journey was a few pence…it went from Rosemount right over to Waterside…..halfpenny tickets were green… probably for children….buses were blacked out…hard to drive….no light. The conductors wore a bicycle lamp around their necks to see. Thousands of troops, every nationality….they all hated each other especially the Canadians and the Americans. Canadian soldiers broke a plate glass windows in Phillip’s music shop in Shipquay Street and this was the last plate glass window broken —it was not replaced

Military police took no nonsence, they would come along with truncheons, hit the soldiers and throw them in the jeep.
The bus depot was in Victoria Market, Strand road.
A bus went over the Lecky road……When you went as far as Messines Park you were in the country then.

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