Local Reaction

Reaction to this large influx of troops was mixed in Gilford. Most families befriended at least some of the young soldiers, especially during the cold wet winter of 1941.

As happened elsewhere in the U.K. many local boys were not too happy about having to compete with the young men in uniform, who at times were showing an interest in local girls. With many of the men from Gilford already fighting for their country, there was the fear that affections could change, whilst the soldiers were away from home.

Young women, on the other hand found the young soldiers in uniform very attractive, especially the Americans who always appeared to have stockings, cigarettes etc. to give away. They also enjoyed the social life of the town at this time, for the troops, especially the Americans often organised dances in Elmfield or Bannvale House, to which they were invited. The British soldiers too organised dances and parties, and held cinema shows in the old Catch-my-Pal Hall, (now the Presbyterian Church Hall). The building had originally been an old tuck mill, and was not designed for large crowds. On occasions when there was a large attendance at the picture shows, the Army placed large temporary jousts underneath the building, to reinforce the floor. Some of these jousts are still visible underneath the old building.

Many families were inconvenienced at having to accommodate the wives and children of the English servicemen. In many cases local families were already sharing their tiny homes with evacuated children from Belfast. Most evacuated children only stayed for approximately six weeks following the Belfast Blitz, returning to school after the summer holidays had ended. Families were not expected to take in soldier’s families or evacuees if both the man and woman of the house were out at work.Many people in the town also had servicemen’s families staying.  Wives of Officers were billeted to the better homes. The best houses were picked out for them. Locals found them interesting as their habits differed from most Gilford people.  Many of the women smoked and wore make-up, and there were even some wives who publicly kissed their husbands.

With so many troops in the town, young boys and girls enjoyed the excitement and buzz about the town. While girls enjoyed the excitement of the dances and parties, the young men were more interested in the military perspective. Many young boys collected badges, others enjoyed the bands, or watching the long convoys of vehicles. At times the soldiers let children cadge a ride on the front of the tanks or armoured vehicles. The swimming pool too was popular with all age groups. Many recall watching the army buglers taking up position at the War Memorial for Reveille, Last Post etc., and mealtime calls were also done from there. Others enjoyed watching the buglers and bandsmen practising at the bottom of the ‘forty acre’ field, at the Whinney Brae, behind K.D.Cars.  There was a deep valley here, and the Scrogg stream ran along the bottom of the hill.  The sound of the bugle was reasonably well muffled by the hillside, providing an ideal location for practice.  The same valley was used for target practice, as it was out of the way and there were no houses on the site at that time.

Gilford and its inhabitants like many other villages and towns throughout the district learned with great satisfaction of the unconditional surrender of Germany, and many remember the jubilations when war ended, and families were reunited with loved ones.

A carnival was held in a field belonging to the Porter family at Roes Hall, Laurencetown, in aid of the Welcome Home Fund. Residents of Gilford joined others from Lenaderg and the district to enjoy a sports and carnival day. There was a Fancy Dress parade, tug of war, and many other very popular events, with lots of competitors. Music was provided by Gilford Amateur Flute Band as well as Milltown Silver Band.

In Gilford, the town was decorated with flags and bunting and a huge bonfire was erected on Stramore Road and set alight by Mr R.K.Moodie. Another bonfire was erected at the bottom of Hill Street and attracted a large crowd. Schoolchildren from the different schools assembled at Craigavon P.E. School and were entertained to minerals and pastries. Later they formed into processional order and in charge of their teachers and others, paraded the village, preceded by Gilford Amateur Flute Band. They were then entertained to a cinema show hosted by Mr R.K.Moodie.

A thanksgiving service was held later that evening in Gilford Presbyterian Church conducted by the Rev. A. Cromie.

The end of the war was not easy for many families. Many had lost sons, brothers or fathers in the fight for our freedom. For their families there would be no returning to normal life. Other servicemen returning from the war had trouble getting decent jobs. Many families had grown accustomed to a female dominated home, and suddenly “daddy” returned home after a long absence, in some cases barely recognisable to his own young children. Hasty marriages between childhood sweethearts in 1940 were less rosy looking in 1945 when partners had spent longer apart than together.

By the end of 1945, the Americans, Belgians and virtually all the British troops had gone from Gilford. A small number of British troops were still billeted at the POW camp, for the prisoners remained in the town for a further couple of years. Gradually even they were repatriated, the Elmfield Camp closed, and Gilford returned to a more normal life.