- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Michael O'Shea
- Location of story:
- Belfast and County Down
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 November 2003
I was seven years old when WWI was declared.
In primary school on the Falls Road, Belfast, it meant little to me, until the bombs began to fall.
The first night it happened my Mum and Dad put a mattress in a corner of the dining room, next to the chimney, so if a bomb hit the house we might survive.
My young brother and sister appeared to sleep through the night. I kept waking, listening to the crunch, crunch sound of bombs exploding, while our father and mother sat in armchairs saying the rosary — well, I suppose if you are in immediate danger of being blown into the next world you have to take some preparation!
The next day we went to school as usual, and on coming home we were amazed to find a big hole - about forty feet diameter - in the field opposite our house. A bomb had landed there, we were told, but had failed to explode. Quite amazing, we thought. It was a very large, very deep hole, but the bomb had been taken away.
After that big numbers of the children, their parents and their teachers were evacuated to the countryside, right through Northern Ireland.
We were lucky! Our Grandfather and Grandmother lived in the little fishing village of Ardglass, and we were going there for the ‘Duration’. I had no idea what the ‘Duration’ meant, but it sounded a long, long time — and it was great, for we loved ardglass more than anywhere else. There you could run around the village with out any danger, except you had to be careful not to fall in between one of the fishing boats and the quayside. There you could be crushed. If you fell in anywhere else you could always swim or be fished out.
It was fantastic — to be able to run around, free as a bird, to be able to fish, and, best of all, only to have to go to school for half a day, every day, because there were so many kids. We were lucky too because my father was one of the teachers, transferred from the school he taught in central Belfast, and our mother was there too — all of the family together, along with many cousins who were also evacuated. It was heaven!
We were there for three years, and the place was packed by airman from the RAF station at Bishopscourt, where an airfield was built, and then by American soldiers who were gathering for an Invasion of Europe. Tremendously exciting.
Only occasionally we knew that dreadful things were happening, when we gathered on the quay to get a better view of the sky over Belfast, thirty miles away, lit up by great fires that burned all the night. This was because Belfast was being bombed by the Nazis.
One beautiful summer’s day I stood in the lane outside our little house and watched two small planes twirl around in the blue sky, trying to shoot each other down. One had black crosses on the wings and the other had the RAF circles. I could hear the sound of machine guns as they twirled around in the sky, gradually disappearing across the sea in the direction of the Isle of Man. It was weird to think of two men trying to kill each other on such a beautiful day.
There were other exciting things as well: large ack-ack guns ranged along the rocks at the golf club, firing at targets towed by aircraft, hordes of American soldiers and their tanks arriving in the village, and a great mixture of fishermen, soldiers and airmen mixing in the village bars, with great fights breaking out now and again when they had too much to drink.
Then suddenly all the men had disappeared, and there was a great shaking of heads among the old people at the news that most of them had been killed in the war, when they invaded France. That was bad news.
But it got better and better, and we learned that the Allies were winning — and then they had won! It was great news, and there was marvellous dancing on the pier in celebration. It was VE Day! Everyone was very, very happy.
We had a while to wait for VJ Day. But it came — and then everything began to get back to normal. Three years after we were evacuated we returned to Belfast and to school on the Falls Road.
I really missed being Ardglass, but it was very interesting to eat a banana after so many years. I nearly forgot how they tasted.
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