I wasn’t very old when war broke out, but I can clearly remember the soldiers in Gilford. I remember watching the American soldiers arriving in Gilford. Crowds of people gathered at the Portadown Road corner to see them. They drove round the corner into Bannvale so fast that they broke the kerbstones with their armoured cars. They threw American apples, bananas and chewing gum to the crowds. Sadly I understand many of these young men were later killed during the war.
The Belgians were here too. They had absolutely nothing when they arrived in Gilford, for they had just endured the severe invasion of Belgium prior to their arrival here. They were soon befriended by many local families. My wife Shirley’s family (Beattie) became friends with many of these young men, but became especially friendly towards one particular Belgian soldier called Louis Renard. The friendship continued after the war and Louis was a regular visitor back in Gilford and our family visited his home in Belgium on numerous occasions. Sadly Louis passed away recently but his daughter continues to keep up the friendship with Shirley and the remaining members of our family.
I remember too the German prisoners in Gilford. Later in the war they became friendly towards local people. They made lots of small toys from wood or tin cans. I had boats, aeroplanes, windmills etc given to me, as had many other children in the town. Unfortunately someone complained to the RUC about fraternising with the enemy, and our local police Sergeant Robinson called at various houses to confiscate the toys.
A few years ago an English soldier visited and stayed with Shirley and I at our home in Gilford. When out walking he met Brendan Kennedy at the end of Park Lane. Brendan recognised him as one of the first soldiers to come with the engineers to the Black Wood. He was called Eric Turner, from Kent. In fact his friend had married Brendan’s sister.
Eric also called with Roger Moffett in his newsagents shop. We took him to Church where he recognised some of the congregation. He called to see Maria Griffiths whose husband had been an RE bandsman with Eric. When we mentioned Freddie French, who was also an engineer lived in the town, Eric said he knew him from back home when both had lived in Northfleet, Gravesend. Eric spoke Flemish, German, French, etc.
Our family has stayed very much in touch with the Belgian soldiers who were based in Gilford during the war.