Memory experience…

There an absolutely fascinating project going on at BBC Radio Four at the moment called the Memory Experience. For some time I’ve been wanting to do something with memory, though not necessarily personal ones. Some of the strongest images I have of historical events are generated from older people’s personal accounts of them.For instance, my father’s memory of Independence was as a six year boy watching locals raze the local Coastguard Station (though not to the ground, it is still standing, if derelict). My mother talks of her memories of taking the tram back from the Floral Hall gardens on the day the VE Day was announced, and having to walk into the centre of town from York Road station because the crowds were so thick.

But probably the one that sticks most is from one of my colleagues in my first job who had a strong (if borrowed) memory of her father’s return from the first world war.

He’d been struck with flu in the last year of the conflict and had spent some time with other flu victims in a dug out. No one still uninfected dared enter, so their daily food rations were tins of bully beef thrown in through the door. On his return to Belfast he ordered his wife to dispose of all tinned food in the house a situation that persisted for the rest of their long life together.

If you have any such vicarious memories of the past, let us have them below…

  • Doreen

    I remember UTV’s Gerry Kelly interviewing Lord Molyneaux, who was present at the liberation of, I think, Bergen/Belsen. Lord Molyneaux said that after that he would never wear striped pyjamas.

  • Henry94

    He always was a man for the big picture.

    I remember my father taking me to shake hands with DeValera at a train station.

  • Way Icit

    My first encounter with sectarianism was around 1947 when I was 5yrs old and living on Duncregan Road in L’Derry. When coming home from Derry Model a group of Catholic girls forced two of my sisters and me to sit on a grass bank where they verbally abused us – I can remember how scared I felt. Fortunately my older sister arrived to rescue us.

    In those days, although a Prod, we called the city both Derry and Londonderry – no problem.

    I also remember watching King George VI inspecting the troops at the Guild Hall in about 1946.

    It must have been when I was 4 or 5 that my Mother took me shopping in the centre of L’Derry. We came to a street corner where suddenly I was faced by a man with no legs, shuffeling along on a piece of leather strapped under his torso and supporting himself with a block of wood in each hand. I can still feel the emotion I felt as my Mother explained to me that this man had been ‘wounded for me’ in the War, just like Jesus.

  • Colm

    My earliest memory is of my baby brother being taken home from hospital. I was 3 years old and clearly remember looking up at all the adults in the lift as we left the hospital cooing over the baby and ignoring me !

    Apparently about 3 or 4 months before my brother’s birth I had been involved in an accident which severed one of my fingers but I do not remember that occuring. Obviously my brother stealing the limelight was a more traumatic memorable experience !

  • joeCanuck

    Way Icit.
    I remember that legless man well.

    He lived in Stabane in a shed of a house belonging to a wealthy family.
    He was allowed free bus transport (courtesy of the local conductors.
    We knew him as Ghandi, although I don’t know why.
    In his later years he had a little wheeled cart and I can rembmer pushing him along the streets in Strabane on occasion.

  • Way Icit

    Thanks Joe, for adding that interesting detail to my memory.

  • Yokel

    That reminds me Joe, I think every area had someone nicknamed Ghandi, I know our area (part of West Belfast) did. Again it was an oul fella.

  • Ca Va

    Has anyone memories of signing Ulster Covenant?

  • Bobby

    I recall, as a young child on family holidays to Crookhaven in SW Cork, listening to the stories of a resident there called Pat Murphy. He had been a foreign correspondent before the second world war and had met Hitler, Goebels, Stalin etc… He also claimed to have helped Einstein escape from Germany! I don’t think he was ever taken that seriously until RTE did a programme on him verifying his tales. I remember him conceding that Hitler had incredible charisma but that Goebels was a little shit.

  • DK

    Does anyone else remember a very old taxi driver (not black taxi) in Belfast who drove at about 20 mph and swerved all over the place – to the delight of other drivers. This was only about 10 years ago. I have very strong memories of being in that taxi.

  • joeCanuck


    Given the previous commenters reference to Einstein,
    if perchance you took that taxi late at night, are you sure that it was the taxi that was swerving and not you?

  • Yokel

    Is that the taxi driver who would just stop in the middle of the road as well, blocking cars behind him?

    No wait, thats every effing taxi….

  • true irishman

    I remember Martin McGuinness telling everyone in 86 that there would never ever be an end to armed struggle while a single British soldier remained in Ireland.

    I remember walking out of a meeting in Dublin in December 1969 with Sean MacStiofain and others leaving Gerry Adams behind.

    I remember Gerry Kelly telling us that the Brits wouldn’t be getting a Balaclava.

  • miss fitz

    One of my first and most vivid childhood memories was of my mother standing in front of our television when I was about 4 and weeping. She phoned my father who came home, and there was a pall of sadness among all the friends and neighbours where we lived in New York. It was of course the day JFK was shot. I can remember going to see his brother lying in state a few years later, and what I remember most about that was the hot chocolate I got from the Red Cross!


    I remember going to see the Pope in Drogheda when I was 4. I was so excited when I saw the helicopter coming in that I wet my pants.

  • Rory

    I remember being at a very boisterous wedding party in the late 40’s but I can’t recall who was being married.

    Any suggestions from scurrilous detractors that it was probably my parents will occasion a strong letter from my solicitors.

  • topdeckomnibus

    Three memories from early 60s. We lived at the local ambulance station and welfare clinic where dad was the ambulance driver and mum the caretaker.

    (1) An outpatient (to hospital) patient was a former officer of the 1st World War. After he retired and passed his farm on to his son to run, he develp[ed parallysis. This was called, at the time, “Hysterical parallysis” as the doctors could find no reason for the old chap being confined to a wheelchair.

    His story (to the ambulance crew) was that he was at the Christmas truce in 1914. Fraternization occurred, games of football in no mans land. At the end of this a number of men from both sides refused to return to trenches. There was, according to him, a conference between British and German officers. A time was agreed and at that time both sides fired on the dissenters who had remained in no mans land. British fired on British and German on German. That was what was on his aging mind. That it was within grasp to have stopped the carnage if only everyone had dissented.

    (2) Once a week there was a chest clinic for which my job was to ensure that the boiler was glowing. Former POWs of the Japanese from WW2 attended and were expectorated with the product burnt immediately.

    One chap had been told, by the doctors since 1945, that his problems were in his mind. One day it emerged that he had the strongyloid infection. His wife’s facial expressions were an encycloepedia of emotions. Shame that she had believed the doctors and had often coerced her husband to pull himself together. Anger that a test available since the late 40s had only just been used for the POWs. And so on. Anger that officers from his regiment were accorded Geneva Convention Treatment by the Japs and emerged in good health whilst the other ranks had suffered slave labour, death and disease.

    (3) In the town was a meat factory run by two families of the Plymouth Brethren religion. To gain promotion a middle aged single man, who lived with his mum, had converted to the faith. He had then told his mother that they could no longer eat at the same table. The mother had asked a neighbour if there was anything in the bible which said that a son cannot eat with his mother. Then she borrowed the neighbour’s bible.

    When dad got the emergency call she was dead sat by the fire with the bible open on her lap at its last page. No cause of death ever found. But she had a bible reading marathon. At its end, she died.

  • Rory

    Thanks for those memories, Top Deck. My own sweet Herself came from a Plymouth Brethren family in Somerset. No radio, no t.v., no newspaers, no music apart from hymns and bible reading and meetings, meetings, meetings were the order of the day with a good leavening of hellfire and damnation thrown in to deter any from breaking away.

    When in their teens the children rebelled and broke away from the sect, father was in a dilemna. He could not eat at the same table with non=brethren, but mother, who had been a Methodist and indeed a scientist before her marriage also rebelled and insisted the children would not be turned away from the table.

    Father then came up with an ingenious solution – he would saw the table into two sections, leaving just a tiny gap between the two halves and the tablecloth would cover the gap. He and mother would sit at the “top table” and the children at the “bottom table”. The mother rebelled completely and shouted, “David James, you will not saw in half the dining table which has been in my family for generations and there is nothing in the Bible insists upon it”.

    On this occasion the hereditary pride of mother’s Methodist Somerset yeomanry stock defeated the dogmatism of old J.N. Derby (founder of the Brethren).

  • topdeckomnibus

    Thanks Rory.

    I have always wondered about people who have a religious certainty.

    Yet now looking back I have to wonder about my own certainties as a young man.

    The simple things which I took for granted. For example when I was a lad and, if I needed extra pocket money, I got work riding a trade bike or working on the land.

    It was easy to get a temporary job.

    It never occurred to me that in another part of the country such a situation did not apply. A prospective employer might first want to know what religion you were.

    I joined the Army aged 18. Two years later the “Troubles” kicked off. And it simply never occurred to us that maybe the people marching for civil rights actually had a point.

    I never served in Ireland as I transferred early to the reserve under defence cuts in order to join police.

    In the police (1971) I was apparently chosen (without my consent) to be the subject of Home Office stress and peer pressure research. This was how I uniquely took 110 square miles and 24 villages unsupervised rural beat direct from training college. A situation of unique responsibility for a probationer.

    My applications for posting to conventional duties were refused. And only six months into this allaged “Research” the death of Matron McGILL at the Sue Ryder and leonard Cheshire HQ occurred.

    A DI tried to order me over the phone to destroy her clothing and footwear so as to prevent forensic (this is all subject ti undisputed affidavit). I knew in the instant that this was a watershed moment in my so far easy life. I refused.

    I learnt then what it is to be thrown to the mercy of the little man. This was only the second sudden death inquiry since I returned from compassionate leave in Dec 1971 for the loss of a baby boy.

    So refusing to corrupt the McGill sudden death inquiry was pretty soon made into a matter of my judgement and the idea that bereavement stress had caused clinical depression etc.

    I resigned three months later.

    Some months after that I suffered a medical accident and was temporarily dead.

    So emerged with the police history against me (This young man is not open to advice) and disabled with lung problems for life.

    Plenty of grounds there for obstacles to employ.

    I got in the civil service as medically unestablished. Four years later I faced OSA charge threats concerning a Panorama programme which exposed poor care standards in private care homes. Civil service gave me the never darken our door again message .. and the only place I could get work was the coalmine (yes already registered disabled with lung problems)

    What a laugh.

    In 2002 I submitted a case file weighing one stone to the ECHR seeking to invoke the Minnesota Protocol against UK in the matter of the death of Matron McGill in 1972 (deaths where government involvement is suspected).

    This got an inadmissibility decision (UK was not signatory in 1972).

    The case (and the role of Special Branch monitoring and corrupting police inquiry) caused me to be interested in the MI6 founding trustees of the Sue Ryder charity .. Airey Neave and Henry Sporborg.

    Some things have to matter.

    The tory minister and barrister Roger Evans who supported me in the McGill case was of the opinion that it is the most important police answerability case since 1829.

    let right be done … and unto thine own self be true.

    There is something rotten in the kingdom in which I made the mistake of taking an oath as a constable. The betrayal aint on my side.

    Some things have to matter. Most arguments are not worth the candle. But if the cause is just then never yield.

    I don’t think it is the religious who make a difference rather it is the rogue who knows himself and refuses to be made any worse than he is.

    Best wishes

  • Way Icit


    Pity this excellent string is running into the sand. Is this because most contributors to this blog do not use their real name and fear that relating their first or second hand memories might also reveal their ID? Any way this problem can be overcome e.g. for this string using a common name like ‘my memory’?

  • Zephyrinus Gamble

    I also remember Ghandi (or we as children knew him – Ghandi Goats) the legless man of Strabane. The shed that he lived in was by the side of the Strabane – Derry GNR railway line. I was led to believe that he worked for the GNR and he lost his legs as the result of a railway accident. We lived in Butcher Street and had a grocery shop there and at the back of the shop we kept livestock (horses/cattle/pigs) in biers. My father would occasionally feel sory for Ghandi when the weather was really bad and let him stay in one of the biers that had been cleaned out and had fresh straw put down for him to sleep on. I was always fascinated when Gandi would take off his thick leather pad at the base of his torso – it reminded me of an upturned lid of a churn made from very thick leather, and protected the base of his body as he slid along the streets of Strabane – before he settled down for the night. My memories of Ghandi Goats is crystal clear.