New book celebrates Northern Ireland’s wartime generation through personal stories and pictures

A Co Armagh woman has put together a book of personal stories of ‘ordinary’ people living in Northern Ireland during World War Two.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 2:12 pm
Two of the people interviewed for the book - cousins Maude Alexander and James Grant at the site of the old aircraft factory in Banbridge
Two of the people interviewed for the book - cousins Maude Alexander and James Grant at the site of the old aircraft factory in Banbridge

Lorna Quin, a retired primary school teacher from Tandragee, believes it is vital to not let these stories slip away.

She said: “I knew that these stories were going to be lost if we didn’t write them down.

“I’m not talking about the big war events and the battles, I’m talking about the lives of ordinary people. Especially the children who grew up during the war years, what it was like for them.

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“I believe everyone has a story to tell. I also wanted to celebrate the qualities of the wartime generation, qualities such as resilience and optimism.”

She said: “The oldest person I spoke to is in her 102nd year, the babies are 82. I didn’t do anyone born after 1939, I wanted them to be old enough to remember the war years.

“I started with research through Markethill and District Historical Society. It grew bigger and bigger and I thought I could do better justice to these stories if I captured them all in a book.

“While I was looking for a title, people were telling me independently about the first time they ate a banana and how they remembered it 80 years later. I thought of that song ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ – it was used during the hunger riots in 1930’s Belfast because it was non-sectarian.”

The author’s uncle, John Aston, at the War Memorial, Tandragee.

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Lorna, 60, spent her entire 33-year career in education at Mullaglass Primary School on the outskirts of Newry.

She interviewed 24 people over the course of the project which has taken nearly two years: “Four were done before Covid, the project was then put on hold. In order to get it back on track some of the people were able to type up their stories for me, some of them I did over the phone.

“The people have also given me very personal photographs.

Interviewees (front) Ann Cassidy, Lily Reaney, Edith Latimer and (back) Stephen Hartley, Harry Carson and Neil McGleenon in Armagh

“The majority of them are from Co Armagh, but I have Banbridge, Enniskillen, Belfast, three people from Co Tyrone, three from England, the only place I don’t have is Co Londonderry.”

Lorna said she first became interested in history through her late father Tommy Aston.

She said: “Mummy and Daddy were of the wartime generation. My mummy died when I was five so I didn’t get asking her anything. Dad always encouraged me to find out about the past and to listen to both sides of the story.

“It’s his love of history that was passed on to me.

Freda Muldrew, Pauleen Singleton, Eleanor Roulston, George McHugh and Edsel Muldrew in Gosford where troops were stationed during the war years

“History for me was never about dates but the stories of the people behind the dates.”

One of the ladies interviewed for Lorna Quin’s new book on Second World War experiences shares an account of what it was like for children whose father had come back from battle.

Doreen Jones said: “Yes we had hardships, deprived of a dad wasn’t easy as he missed a large part of my growing up.

“When my dad returned from the war, he spoke to my little brother in a fatherly way to give him some instruction and my brother said, ‘Can that man tell me what to do?’ as he wasn’t used to having his father around.”

Pauleen Singleton, who lived near Gosford Demesne, said in her interview: “I recall the party the American soldiers gave the local children.

“We were taken out in big covered military lorries. The children were lined up and each soldier took a child but I wouldn’t go with the one allocated to me but went with the next one.

“I remember the beautiful food and peaches in particular which they gave us.”

Author Lorna commented: “All the stories are so different. I can think of one of a lady who is in her 100th year, who lived in Co Armagh – her life was virtually untouched by the war. Then you’ve the little boy who grew up in the Blitz in Belfast, his story is completely different.

“Some of the people I spoke to grew up close to Gosford Demesne where there were British and American soldiers and prisoners of war so they have those stories to tell.

“I’m being unbiased here, I think the stories are very interesting.”

‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ is dedicated to Lorna’s uncle John Grant, a Banbridge man who bravely lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. All profits will go to Parkinson’s research.

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