Civil Defence

As the country slowly moved into war and young volunteers made their way to recruitment offices, older men and women began to feel the impact of the Civil Defence preparations and constraints imposed by the Government on civilian life. Gilford like the rest of the province suffered from restrictions in the use of coal.  Petrol was restricted too, as was the use of paper in schools and offices.  Trees were not to be cut down, as timber was needed for vital industries.  If and when new items were available for purchase, they carried a Utility Control Commission mark CC41.  Such items were considered basic but serviceable.

On1st September 1939, two days before war was declared, blackout restrictions were imposed on the province and windows had to be blacked out or taped up. Fingerposts were removed and in many places kerbs, lampposts, telegraph poles, and even trees were painted with bands of white to aid visibility at ground level.  Transport vehicles were painted dull blue with dimmed lights, and the first of the gas-masks were being distributed.

On Gilford’s main street, outside Paddy Kennedy’s public house at Dunbarton Street, (now the Gilford Inn), tank restrictors appeared.  These were heavy concrete half-cylinders, joined together with heavy duty chain.  They normally lay piled up at the side of the road, but in the event of an imminent German invasion, they were to be dragged across the main street to prevent possible tanks or army vehicles getting through the town.  Fortunately they never needed to be put into effect, and after the war ended they were rescued by Mr Tom Sinton of Tullylish and for many years could be seen lying in one of the fields at the rear of Banford House.

National registration brought home the realism of war when it was introduced in September as a preliminary to food rationing, which began in 1940. Suddenly identity cards had to be carried, and civilian movement was limited. All travel was controlled by a system of travel permits.

Food rationing was introduced gradually and by 8th January 1940 included butter, ham, bacon and sugar.  Meat was not rationed until 11th May 1940, and tea and margarine were not rationed until July 1940. Such rationing meant that families quickly learnt nothing was to be wasted.  Food scraps were to be saved and used to feed animals.  Local farmers collected food scraps, especially from the various army camps, to feed pigs and hens. The Government promoted a ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign whereby people were encouraged to use their gardens and allotments to grow crops that would supplement the rationed food.

Tins, old saucepans and railings were saved too, as it was understood the metal could be used to make aeroplanes and munitions.  New clothes were a rarity and as in most homes “make do and mend” became the norm. Old knitwear was ripped out, wool washed and re-knit into other garments.  Other clothing was altered or patched, shirt collars were turned, and even old unbleached flour-bags were unpicked, bleached and boiled to remove the writing and when enough had been accumulated they were sewn together to make bed sheets. Even the local schoolchildren were expected to play their part in helping the war effort. On one occasion “coxfoot grass” was needed for the war effort. Mr Balmer, the headmaster of Craigavon Primary School, sent all the children out into the fields to search for and collect as much as they could carry.

Generally speaking the food controls had little impact at first on the people of Gilford.  There were a number of farms in the area and in the 1940’s many people grew their own vegetables, kept hens and of course fished the Bann river or snared the odd rabbit.

The local Food Office covered the Banbridge Urban, Banbridge Rural and Gilford districts.  By May 1942 it employed 11 full-time officers and by November 1944 employed one full-time Food Executive Officer. They were responsible for the distribution of orange juice, cod-liver oil and national dried-milk, which in Gilford was given out by Mrs Gough, in the old Courthouse building in Dunbarton Street.  Retailers of cereals, butter, bread, potatoes, fats, meats, tea, sugar and confectionary had to be licensed with the Food Office to sell these “specified foods”. The Food Officers were also responsible for the distribution of ration books to every home in the district.  Families had to register their ration books with local shops and it was necessary to go to the same grocer, butcher etc.  Likewise these shops were only given sufficient stocks to cover registered customers and couldn’t sell to anyone else.  The ration books contained coupons which were cut out and used to buy a fixed amount of rationed items each week, e.g. when all sugar coupons were used up, it was necessary to wait until the following week before more sugar could be purchased.

From early 1941 there was plenty of casual building work in and around Gilford with the influx of soldiers coming into the area.  Gun emplacements (concrete bunkers) – more commonly known as pillboxes began appearing in the area.  Two of these pillboxes can still be clearly seen overlooking the railway and canal bridges at the Madden.  Another two still exist at Moyallon. One of these is a rectangular-shaped pillbox at Drumlyn Hill, the other one the more common five-sided type, still stands at Richardson’s field close to Knock Bridge.

As a young 14 year old boy, Eddie Geoghegan, who still lives in the town, worked for a firm called Logan’s who were contracted to build these and other concrete bunkers. Like many others, Eddie was benefiting from the increased job opportunities which were emerging as preparations were made for war.

Eddie says the walls of the pillboxes were four and a half feet thick, with holes to prop up the machine guns.  The walls were reinforced by four strands of steel and cased, (concrete was poured in).  The roof was one and a half feet thick.  These buildings were erected at the beginning of the war, mainly by private companies.

Later Eddie also helped assemble and build Nissan huts at Wall Road, (part of the Gilford Castle estate). He says that the Nissan Huts were very dangerous to build as the corrugated iron was razor sharp and difficult to handle.

Albert Heak, who until recently lived at the Madden also helped build the Gilford camps.  At the time he worked for P.J. Walls, a construction company from Saintfield, who erected many of the Nissan huts at Bannvale

Another local building firm – Collen Bros., helped build other army camps in the area.  Local men Albert Livingstone, Tommy Nesbitt, Alex Vaughan and Tommy McDowell worked for them and helped erect Nissan huts in Banbridge – although not in Gilford.