St. John Ambulance

As early on as 1936/1937, the Government in Northern Ireland had already given thought to many matters likely to arise in the event of war – such as the defence of the civilian population against air attack. St John Ambulance and Red Cross took the initiative in training volunteers in anti-air raid and gas precautions.

In due course some officers were sent for training to local classes in Banbridge, organised by the local District Council. Gilford had its own town commissioners at that time and they were expected to attend the classes, so too were the staff and management of Dunbar & McMaster’s thread spinning mill, and local police officers and school teachers. People such as George Higgins, Tommy Curran, and Cecil McElroy attended the classes and were then expected to pass on their knowledge within their own work environment and communities.

Classes covered the construction of air raid shelters, air raid warnings, and precautions against incendiary bombs. There was also information on dealing with pets, animals and evacuation. Many of the lectures were taken up with training in the identification of different poison gases, effects of such gases and how to treat casualties of gas attacks. New gases were being introduced all the time, and it was believed likely that poison gas would be used in the event of a German invasion.

Air Raid Class Enrolment Card
Air Raid Class Enrolment Card


Gas masks had been delivered to all households. Instructions were given on how to fit the masks, first aid etc. as well as how to clean the lens of the gas masks – use soap sparingly, (ordinary household soap, not toilet soap). These classes were given by Tommy Curran at the newly built Craigavon Primary School, situated at Castle Hill Gilford. Often there were long queues at the school, as it was here that the townspeople went for replacement filters, which regularly needed changing as the different new types of gas were introduced.