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15 October 2014
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Celebrity Events in Ballymena

by CSV Media NI

Contributed by 
CSV Media NI
People in story: 
John Luke, Mrs Montgomery, General Curtin DeWort
Location of story: 
Ballymena, N Ireland
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

This story is taken from an interview with John Luke, and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions. The interviewer was Mark Jeffers, and the transcription was by Bruce Logan.

In 1941 at age 16 life was very boring. There were no football matches as crowds were prohibited for fear of air raids. There was no television and very few radios which I think I mentioned earlier. There was nothing to do after work, so I joined the Ulster Home Guard. It was originally called Local Defence Volunteers — dubbed L.D.V — the Luk, Duk and Vanish Brigade. But volunteers were needed as invasion was a real threat. Nobody asked your age (17 was the minimum age for joining). Headquarters was in the old Ballymena Academy, now the site of the Fairhill Shopping Centre. We trained 2, 3, or sometimes 4 nights a week and every weekend. There was a training ground in the mountains above Cargan (Slievenanee Mountain). There were grenade ranges, mortar ranges, close quarter weapon ranges and a rifle range. But because of the large quantity of iron ore in the mountain, the rifle range was very inaccurate. Sights had to be set about 500 yards to hit a target at 200 yards. The magnetic pull of the iron ore affected the trajectory of the bullets.

Weapons included .303 Lee Enfield Rifle, .45 Webley Revolvers, MKI Sten Gun,
No 36 Grenades (Hand), No 38 Grenades (Blast) and anti tank grenades fired from a “cup discharger” fitted to the muzzle of the rifle. The heavy weapon was the Spigot Mortar which fired 14lb anti personnel bombs and 20lb anti tank bombs. The mortar was effective up to 800 yards. I eventually became an instructor on the Spigot mortar.

The Sten Gun was the weapon for house clearing and close fighting. It fired 400 rounds per minute but the magazine only held 32 rounds. 400 was the firing rate. It was not very dependable and quite often jammed and was later modified. The effective range was 75/100 yards. It cost 7/6 to make. It got very hot after firing so you just dipped it in water, cooled it down and started again. A very crude weapon really but it worked. On the rifle range we did night firing by shooting at noise. Targets were put up and tin cans with stones in them tied to the targets. You “stood to” in readiness. Somebody somewhere pulled a rope which rattled the tin cans and you fired where you thought the noise was coming from. It was surprising how often you could hit the target even in pitch darkness.

Training was really intense. We had training camps in Cushendall and Portstewart — these lasted 2 weeks and you were granted time off work under Emergency Powers to attend them. The early ones were under canvass. The last one was in Nissan Huts at Cromore House Estate in Portstewart. They were no pleasure camps I can assure you. It was all hard work. A ten mile route march in the morning, exercises on the beach or in the mountains in the afternoon and night training after dark. If you were lucky, bed was about 11.30 pm and up again for breakfast at 6.00 am. You also had to do all night guard duty on a company rota basis. By the end of it all the Home Guard was a well trained force capable of giving a good account of itself if need be. We fought mock battles against different regiments of the regular army and the American army, usually at weekends. A group of umpires were on hand to judge who were winners and who were losers — quite often the Home Guard won. We had the advantage of local knowledge.

We had a few ceremonial occasions like when Field Marshall Montgomery’s mother came to Ballymena. The Home Guard, along with other military personnel, formed a Guard of Honour from the railway station to the Town Hall.

We were also inspected by General Adrian Carton De Wiart on one occasion. He was stationed in Ballymena after his division was pushed out of Norway by the Germans. The Division came to the Ballymena area to re-group and were stationed around the town. Their headquarters were in a large house on Galgorm Road where the PSNI Station now stands.

The Home Guard was disbanded in December 1944, as far as I can remember the 11th was the date. We were involved in a parade of the County Antrim Battalions to First Ballymena Presbyterian Church. There were around 800 men on parade through the main streets of Ballymena to the Church service. During the service we were addressed by Mr Maynard Sinclair MP, a member of the NI Government. He spoke on behalf of HM King George VI and thanked all present for their services in the armed forces and for their time given voluntarily to train to defend the nation. I think Maynard Sinclair and Sir Walter Smiles were both lost when the Princess Victoria was sunk coming from Stranraer in January 1953.

Being at a dead-end some of us, along with members of the Transport Platoon, decided to start a motor club. So the Mid Antrim Motor Club came into being and still continues to flourish to the present day.

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