On May 8th 1945, the Manchester Guardian editorialised the end of war…
We may not know the answer to the troubles of mankind but at least we know some of the causes. We have learnt, or should have learn, how dangerous is the spirit of nationalism when harnessed to the fact of power. We have seen what can happen to a great nation which surrenders to its leaders the freedom of thought and speech and conscience.
But knowledge is not enough. Fear, hatred, nationalism and the like are not rational states but emotions which for a long time will continue to govern human behaviour and which will be fed by the chaos and misery in Europe. Hunger and unemployment are not the best schools for reason and tolerance, but they will have many pupils.
Most in Belfast (aside from those who had volunteered to join up) really only felt the terror of war in April 1941 on any scale. 900 people died in just a few nights, and another 1500 injured. After the first night, many took the hills and outlying parks.
Our science teacher once told us the possibly apocryphal story of one Sandy Row woman being pulled out of the debris of her house by some big burly southern fireman, to say, “Don’t tell me they’ve blown me all the way to Dublin”.
I know from conversations with an old colleague in my first job at the NIE that Duncairn Gardens was hit pretty badly, or at least the bottom half was. Eileen lived only a few streets up from the bombing line, whilst many of those living below it perished.
Had my late mother made it she would have been 100 next Tuesday. She was full of stories, about the hardship of the pre-Welfare State days of the 1930s, her and her siblings waving off her dad as he left Ballyward station for the US just before the crash.
She never talked to us about the war. But in her early 80s, she gave an interview with the News Letter on her experience as a nurse the day after the Blitz. Among the debris on the lawns outside the City Hospital she noticed a logbook from Arnott’s a mile away.
On VE day, her only story was a snippet. Of heading down into town from Bellvue (I think, she’d been at the Floral Hall) on the tram, and having to get off at York Street, because of the throngs of people filling the street on the way down to Royal Avenue.
It would be great if you have any such snippets or stories from members of your family or stories you remember being told if you could share them below? Do just stories mind, so no commenting on others’ contributions. Let’s make this about people we knew?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty