My husband Cyril Harley was based in Gilford, as a driver with the R.E.’s

Cyril and Olive Harley
Cyril and Olive Harley

During the war I met and married Cyril Harley from Sheffield. He was a young driver with 297 Company Royal Engineers. They were over here for approximately three years training. Their first billet was to N. Ireland. Cyril had not been abroad before. When the men arrived in Gilford, they travelled by road in convoys of army trucks. They had no idea where they were. They even thought it could be Southern Ireland for there were no road signs. All they knew was it was not Belfast.

They arrived early in the war. I always remember the first batch of soldiers to arrive. I remember coming home from the mill one night to our house in Terry’s Row, and suddenly there were hundreds of soldiers in the vicinity of Wright’s wood and Tandragee Road. Everybody thought the invasion had already taken place. I remember at the Blue Doors and McAdams entrance to the wood, there were sentry boxes. There was a NAFFI cookhouse there too, and Cyril got free rations from the Army, things like ham and eggs.

In 1942 Cyril and I married, shortly before he was sent to Egypt. Cyril was shot in the leg whilst in Egypt and hospitalised.

When he was in Gilford, Cyril drove trucks to different camps, all over the country. I remember he went twice weekly to Cookstown. I remember after the Engineers moved out of the Wall Road / Blue Doors area, of the Castle Grounds, the North and South Staffordshire Regiment moved in. This was before the arrival of the US forces. They were based all over Gilford.

I know there were German prisoners here, but I don’t remember them, and I don’t remember Cyril being here at the time of the Belfast Blitz. I think he must have already been in Egypt at this time. I do remember there were parties and dances at Elmfield Ballroom and possibly also at Bannvale House. The Army bands played at them, and they were always well attended. Local girls and men all went along. There were parties too for the children. Soldiers came around the houses and asked if there were any children in the house or any young people under 25, if so they were invited along, especially at Christmastime.

There were lots of evacuees in the town, especially up the “Row”. I seem to remember Norman Kirkland from Belfast coming to Norman Douglas who lived beside us in Terry’s Row. I’m not sure if he was an evacuee but I can remember him arriving with his attachĂ© case. He never went back home.

New uniforms for individual soldiers e.g. a regimental dress uniform for Cyril, were all made by George and Mrs Pentland who lived at Dunbarton Street. They were tailors and did a lot of work for the army. They were commissioned to make new uniforms, and carry out all kinds of alterations. They also made badges, sewed on braids etc.

I remember the Belgians and US troops. They were untidy, compared with the British troops. I remember one Belgian soldier asking for a match, and we couldn’t understand him. I think most of the young soldiers travelled to Portadown or Banbridge by bus in their free time. The last bus from Portadown on a Saturday night was at 10.30pm and it would have been full of soldiers. I was never that interested for by then I had met and married Cyril. I do however remember two young Americans, buying two loaves of bread at Gertie Anderson’s shop. I often wondered why they were needed.

After the war a few local women married Americans. I remember Edna Green marrying an American soldier and moving to America. Sadie Hamill too married a soldier, (Eduard Gaillard). Although he was from Belgium, he was in the British Army as a Royal Engineer. Lillian Guy and Kathleen Hill also married soldiers and Mary Finnegan married Jock Moore from Scotland.

The mill at this time was very busy, working late into the night. Linen thread was needed for parachutes, uniforms, tenting, camouflage netting etc. All the Churches were full too, and special prayers were said for the armed forces, and for the victory of right and the return of peace.

We thought things were great in Gilford, but there were some awful tragedies too. Two young Anderson boys from the Wall Road, half-brothers of Gertie Anderson, were killed when they picked up a grenade on the Scarva/Banbridge railway line near “Toherdale” and carried it home. The grenade had obviously been left behind by soldiers in training. The boys were killed when the grenade exploded in a shed at the back of their own home. They were approximately 8 and 11 years old at the time.

“The Portadown Times” reported that the tragic incident happened in July 1942, and that the boys had been picking raspberries. The inquest was told that their deaths had unfortunately resulted from the children tampering with strange objects found in the fields. The Coroner stressed that the Ministry had advised parents not to touch or go near strange objects.