My husband Raymond Griffiths, came to Gilford with 297 Company of the Royal Engineers. At the time my family lived in Donegal Cottage, in Castle Street, (McDowells house), just opposite the army camp.
Raymond had been in the Territorial Army before the war, suddenly he found himself transferred to the Regular Army. Initially he came to Lambeg, and then on to Gilford, where he was billeted at the front of Gilford Castle.
After 582 Company moved to Lambeg, Raymond and part of 297 Company moved into the vacated camp at the Blue Doors / Wall Road.
Raymond played a trumpet in 297’s band. They paraded each Sunday to Church. It was there that he and I met one evening in the local Presbyterian Church. At the start of the service I heard a loud noise, and looked up to find this young soldier looking back at me. He had been leaving off his heavy belt and it had hit the floor of the gallery. That was the start of the romance.
The band used to play in lots of different places. One Sunday they were in Dundrum, and one of the soldiers bought shellfish. He brought it back to Gilford, and kept it in their sleeping quarters in the camp. One of the officers detected the smell. After a full scale search he enquired who was responsible. When no-one admitted the offence the whole group were punished. Their punishment was to clean out McCaugherty’s pond, at the top of Hill Street. As a result of this punishment the pond was cleared, cemented and turned into a swimming pool, which was used extensively by troops from all over the province during the war years. Members of the public could also attend galas etc and use the pool.
The 297 band was formed within their own ranks. It was not the official regimental band, but in it there were many soldiers, who had already been members of bands before the war. The 297 band only lasted approximately one year before it folded. When in Gilford the band paraded the town on Sundays to local Churches, and band practices took place in Wright’s wood at Tandragee Road.
During the summer of 1943, Raymond’s Company left via Lambeg for Durham, England. They then moved to Stirling, Scotland and eventually to the Isle of Wight before D Day. I remained in Gilford till after the war ended, and then left to join Raymond in England in May 1946.
Raymond’s actual trade was a carpenter, and most of his army service was spent bridge-building. 297 Company built bridges across the Elbe and Rhine. Whilst bridge-building, they ferried the men, twelve to a boat, back and forward across the rivers. This was near the end of the war.
When the war ended, Raymond was on the boat returning home, when he was told they were being given embarkation leave to go to Kentucky in U.S.A. They were to join with the American forces to invade Japan. However, all that came to an abrupt end with the dropping of the bomb and the consequent surrender of Japan.
After August 1945, Raymond was sent to Egypt, where he remained until he was finally demobbed in April 1946. We moved and set up home in England in May 1946.
Other Gilford girls also married 297 Royal engineers. Peggy Kennedy married one of the bandsmen, so too did Lily Adamson. Her husband was called Sammy, but I don’t remember his surname. Later they had twins, but Lily and Sammy didn’t stay in Gilford. Nora Clayton married another engineer called Arthur White, and Jean Maule married Sergeant Day of 583 Company Royal Engineers. She was the daughter of R.U.C. Sergeant Maule from Gilford.