Thomas Topping and William David Topping were brothers signed up to serve their country during WWII

My father Tommy and Uncle Billy were Gilford boys through and through. Their father was a groom employed by the Uprichard family of Elmfield Castle. Tommy followed his father into the trade in his early working life. He joined the TA in 1934 before enlisting with Billy on the outbreak of WW11 in 1939. Both boys answered the call to defend their country, Tommy joining the Royal Artillery, Billy the Irish Guards. The photo was taken on home leave at Christmas (year unknown) at one of their few meetings during the War.

Tommy and Billy Topping
Tommy and Billy Topping

Tommy was the holder of a Dunkirk medal (amongst others) having been evacuated from the beaches on a Royal Navy minesweeper ship in May 1940. He landed back on English soil on the south coast at Poole Harbour. He often told us as children about his adventures and experiences of army life during the war years. His unit and hundreds of other British troops were taken prisoner at Le Palm Beach in Northern France close to Dunkirk before the evacuation, but a British counter attack freed them and ultimately saved them from a horrible fate. This ‘counter’ created a wider area for British troops, approximately 400,000, to escape by sea from the infamous German Army. Tommy was a driver and was ordered to sabotage his vehicle and Anti-aircraft “Boffers” gun rather than let it fall into German hands.

After the evacuation he was stationed on the south coast of England, near to Lyme Regis where retraining for the D Day invasion took place. He talked of a severe drought in that area at that time and the hardships the farmers suffered in a bid to water their crops and animals. The Army of course had to help out and I believe those were happy days in his life as a few extra shillings exchanged hands from farmers to troops for services rendered especially those who knew horses well. He returned to France on the 3rd day after D Day. The conditions must have been harsh and at times unbearable but he could always relate to the funny side of life during those horrid days. One storey remains vivid in my memory.

Josh Willis from Banbridge and my father were on guard duty at their camp on the Western Front. It was a Saturday and they were, to say the least, starving with hunger. The McConaghie’s rations he talked about so often were obviously army issue, stable diet but, I imagine, not the tastiest food in the world so dinner for them was not what we know it to be today. A flock of sheep in the next field would provide a beautiful Sunday roast, so, one shot was fired (he never said from who’s gun) and the mutton feast was served up by the cook the next day. All hell broke loose when the Commanding Officer entered the mess hall on a surprise inspection to discover the troops tucking into the sumptuous feast and he had already eaten, yes, his McConaghies Rations.

After the War Tommy returned to Northern Ireland and worked as a groom for the Workman family in Belfast. He met and married mum, Elizabeth (Betty) Graham from Ballynahinch. They lived for a short while in Portadown where he was employed as a bus driver with the Ulster Transport Association, but returned to Gilford to live in 1955. They had four children, three boys, Martin, Tom, Graham and one girl Rita (Curran). Later in life he was employed by Royal Mail. He became the village postman in his home town where he worked until his retirement. Following retirement Tommy returned to working with his beloved horses as he worked part time for the Sinton family of Woodbank, straight across the road from Elmfield Castle on the Portadown Road out of Gilford. Things had turned full circle.

Tommy was a proud British Legion man. He was a member of the Gilford Branch where he enjoyed the social life with his ex-comrades. Armistice Day was always something special in our house. He died on the 5th October 1990 in his seventy-fifth year and is buried in the New Cemetery, Banbridge.

His younger brother Billy had died suddenly some twenty years earlier. He is buried in Roselawn Cemetery, Belfast. Ex-Guardsman Billy joined the RUC on his de-mob. Following various postings in Co. Fermanagh and Tyrone and ended up in Belfast where he lived and worked as a Policeman. He had three children by his wife Florence nee Wilson from Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, two boys Will and John and a girl, Janet (Bottomley).

Their names are commemorated on a WWII service plaque in the family church, St. Pauls Church of Ireland, Gilford.