Forgotten Female War Workers – Pollock Dock Naval Canteen

Forgotten Female War Workers

In 1939, the Ulster Branch of the Missions to Seamen decided to provide a canteen to meet the needs of the men from British and allied naval ships docked in Belfast Harbour. The canteen was housed in premises at Pollock Dock owned by the Harbour Commissioners. The premises had formerly been part of the offices of Workman Clark. The Pollock Dock Naval Canteen, which included a spacious concert hall and facilities for games such as darts and billiards, was formally opened on 1st January 1940 by Rear Admiral Richard Matthew King DSO, Flag Officer in Charge for Belfast. The staff at the canteen were all volunteers, who gave their time as a form of war service.

Just after 11pm on 29th February 1940, Captain Frederick FitzCurrie Trench, a volunteer worker at the club, bade goodnight to five female volunteers who had been on duty since 5:30. He saw them climb into an Austin 10 cabriolet car and heard the engine starting before he went back into the club to finish tidying up and to secure the premises. It was the last time that the women were seen alive. When the women failed to turn up at their respective homes, the alert was raised, and a search was instigated by Captain Trench. The following morning, the police noticed traces of oil on the water and a diver was called in to investigate. James Trainor from Fortingale Street located the car with its radiator embedded in the silt at the bottom of the dock and the vehicle was removed with the assistance of a crane. It seems that, as the car was being driven off in the blackout with minimum lights on the vehicle, the driver took a wrong turn and the car plunged into twenty feet of water in the dock. There were four bodies clasped together inside the car but the body of the fifth lady could not be located. The missing body was recovered on 3rd April, approximately fifty yards from where the car had entered the dock. The owner/driver of the car is not recorded in any of the newspaper articles relating to the incident or the Coroner’s Enquiry.

Mr E R Stephens, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Missions to Seamen, received messages of sympathy from the Duke of Abercorn, Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast), and Lord Craigavon. The latter said, “I have been deeply shocked to learn of the most distressing accident involving the death of five ladies, who, with such patriotism and self-sacrifice, had ministered to the comforts of our brave sailors at the Pollock Dock Canteen. They lost their lives while serving their country and their names will be held in honoured remembrance by us all.”

A Coroner’s Enquiry was held by Doctor Herbert Perry Lowe, City of Belfast Coroner, on 6th March 1940 and the solicitor acting for the Glass family was critical on the lighting restrictions. Mr George Leitch said, “Northern Ireland was miles away from the seat of hostilities, the lighting restrictions were stricter here than in cities and towns thirty miles from the Western Front. This tragedy should impress on the authorities the necessity for some alleviation in the lighting restrictions.” Doctor Lowe said, “of all the tragedies associated with the black-out he did not think they had one more tragic than this one.”

Captain Trench, who had served with the Army Service Corps and the Tank Corps in the Great War, volunteered at the canteen five afternoons and two or three evening a week. When on duty, he was in charge of the club and the other volunteers.

The five fatalities all lived in the Malone area of Belfast, four are buried in Belfast City Cemetery and one is buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

Mary Gorman Stafford was born on 11th May 1877 at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin to Reverend William Gorman, a Methodist Minister, and Mary Smallman Sibthorpe. The Reverend William Gorman ministered in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Belfast and has been described as “the prince of Irish Methodist preachers”. Mary Gorman married Frederick Stafford on 1st March 1898 at Balmoral Methodist Church (which was also known as Osborne Park Methodist Church), and they were members of the congregation for the rest of their lives. Frederick Stafford died on chronic nephritis on 29th June 1937 at the Rosapenna Hotel in Carrigart, Donegal. Like her husband, Mary Stafford was on the Board of Directors of J J Stafford & Sons, wholesale boot and shoe factors, of Union Street in Belfast and she also did voluntary work for the Voluntary Aid Detachment at the South Belfast Hospital Supply Depot. Mary Stafford as living at 1 Bladon Drive when she died at the age of 62 and is buried in the Stafford family plot in the Glenalina Extension of Belfast City Cemetery on 4th March. Her funeral was attended by the Reverend J E C Lawlor, Chaplain of Belfast Port, and Rear Admiral King. Mary Stafford left effects amounting to £4,117 eleven shillings and eightpence (approximately £245,261 in current terms) to her second son, Malcolm Ashman Stafford (Company Director) of Shrewsbury Drive in Belfast.

Frances Alexander McCammon was born on 12th August 1895 at Belmont Road in Strandtown to Richard Whytstock Leslie, a Medical Doctor, and Rosa Scott Alexander. Frances Leslie married John McCammon, a soldier, on 14th August 1919 in Belmont Presbyterian Church. John McCammon was a Manager with John Shaw Brown & Sons (Damask Linen and Handkerchief Manufacturers) of the Ulster Works on Dublin Road and Marcus Ward Street. Frances McCammon was a founder member of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in Belfast. The family home was at 103 Osborne Park when Frances died at the age of 44. She is buried in Belfast City Cemetery and was survived by her husband and her daughter, June.

Mary Kathleen Jefferson was born on 18th July 1895 at Salisbury Avenue in North Belfast to John Cunningham McClung, a Linen Salesman, and Agnes Martha Currie. She took an active part in canteen work during the Great War and was later Honorary Secretary of the Duncairn-Clifton Women’s Unionist Association. Mary McClung married Frederic Jefferson on 25th August 1927 at Belfast Registrar’s Office and was living at 20 Bristow Park when she died at the age of 44. She was buried in the McClung plot in Belfast City Cemetery on 5th April 1940. The Right Reverend Doctor James Haire, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Reverend J E C Lawlor, Missions to Seamen, and the Reverend Alexander Lyle Harrison, Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian Church, officiated at the funeral. The Earl of Kilmorey and Rear Admiral King represented the Royal Navy. Mary Jefferson was a member of Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian Church and the Reverend Harrison said that he had made an appeal for books and magazines for the club on the Sunday before the tragedy and was to have handed them to Mrs Jefferson on 1st March. He said he felt that the five ladies were all victims of the war.

Winifred Jameson Glass was born on 14th June 1899 in Cooktown to Reverend Thomas Glass, Minister of First Cookstown Presbyterian Church, and Emily Wilson. Winifred Glass grew up in Australia as her father had accepted a call from a congregation in Melbourne. Following his death, she returned to Northern Ireland with her mother and was living at 53 Malone Road when she died at the age of 40 and was buried in Dundonald Cemetery on 4th March. She was an excellent golfer, being a member of Malone Golf Club.

Emily Margaret Davison was born on 31st August 1904 at Eia House on the Antrim Road to John Smith Morrow, a Medical Doctor, and Mary Mathers McLaughlin. Her maternal grandfather was William Henry McLaughlin, the founder of McLaughlin & Harvey, a construction company. The Morrow family was living at Malone Park when Emily Margaret married Alexander Davison on 12th September 1928 at Malone Presbyterian Church. Alexander Davison was the Managing Director of the Grove Weaving Company and Chairman of the Irish Power Loom Manufacturers Association. Emily Margaret Davison was on the Board of Governors of Ashley House School and was an active member of the Royal Maternity Hospital’s “Gleaners Committee”, which had been formed in August 1933 to further the interests of the hospital. The family home was at 15 Harberton Drive when Emily Davison died at the age of 35 and she was buried in the McLaughlin family plot in Belfast City Cemetery on 4th March. Amongst those attending the funeral were Mr E H Stephens, Missions to Seamen, and Rear Admiral King. Emily Margaret Davison was survived her husband and three children, aged five to eleven.

 

Ballymena WW2 War Memorial Names Project – Public Call

  Credit: Nigel Henderson

  

Background
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has launched a public call for missing names on Ballymena’s Second World War Memorial located in the Memorial Park.

The public call is the next phase of a council search for any missing names of Ballymena Town and Rural District’s Fallen that can be identified and verified. After being fully collated and approved by council, these names will be added to the town’s Second World War Memorial in 2022.

History Hub Ulster has been working with the council and has identified 27 additional names that fall into the criteria listed below.

Consultation

Between 4 October and 1 November 2021 Mid and East Antrim Borough Council are inviting the public to examine the list of names provided below (these include those currently named on the Memorial and those newly identified) and advise us if there are any other names that should be considered for inclusion. This consultation deals only with the ‘Fallen’ and is NOT a collection of names for a ‘Roll of Honour’.

The current names on the War Memorial can be viewed HERE.

The list of 27 additional names can be viewed HERE

Set Criteria

For a name to be considered for inclusion it must meet all of the agreed selection criteria below.

  • Those born within the former Ballymena Borough or Rural District or had residency within the district’s boundaries, who died in action or subsequent to war service.  A list of townlands in the district can be viewed HERE. A map can be viewed HERE.
  • Following guidelines adhered to by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission all names will be verified for death in service or subsequent to service within the time period of September 3 1939 until December 31 1947.

It should be noted that the names of people who died after being discharged from the armed forces can be submitted if the death was connected with war service and if the person is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. This link can be used to check the CWGC database – www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/

Should you or your group consider, after looking at the set criteria and the Fallen list, that a war fatality is missing from this list, and you wish them to be considered for inclusion on the Ballymena Borough and District War Memorial, please complete THIS FORM with as much detail as you can. This will enable History Hub Ulster to verify the name supplied.

No Internet Access

To facilitate those who have no internet access or for further information on how to provide the name of one of the fallen who is not already on the War Memorial please contact the council by emailing braidmuseum@midandeastantrim.gov.uk or telephoning 028 2563 5027.

Verification Sources

Depending on the level and quality of the information provided by members of the public when submitting names, the following primary sources will be used to verify whether the names put forward during the public consultation process satisfy the specified criteria:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
Civil registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths;
British Newspaper Archives; and
1901/1911 Ireland Census returns.

Privacy Policy

Your personal information will be shared between History Hub Ulster and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and will be used solely by us for the purpose of verifying the historical data provided and only used with your consent.  Mid and East Antrim Council’s privacy policy can be viewed here : https://www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/privacy-notice

Please be aware that by providing us with the military personnel information you are consenting for this data to be held and used, not only for the purpose set out above, but in future Mid and East Antrim Borough Council publications, websites, presentations or other projects associated with the Second World War.

Belfast Blitz 80 – Wartime in the Foreign Department

As part of our #BelfastBlitz80 series, we publish an article by the late Ned Dyas, retired manager of the Northern Bank, Foreign Department, Victoria Street, Belfast. ‘Wartime in the Foreign Department’ was first published in the Northern Bank Staff Magazine ‘The Link’ in June 1993. Ned Dyas died on 14th October 2019.

Setting the scene

Northern Bank, Head Office, Victoria Street, Belfast

If you transfer your gaze momentarily to the left of the main door of the old Northern Bank, Head Office in Victoria Street you will see nearest the corner a tall window. This, double glazed and pretty sturdy, was the window to the world of the wartime Foreign Department of the Bank. A second window looked out, as it still does, onto Ulster Street and the building of G. Heyn & Sons Ltd. In the third wall stood a fireplace where a bright, richly burning fire greeted you each morning and the remaining wall was in fact an oak partition separating the room from the Bank’s main waiting room. Apart from the Manager’s large and imposing desk and those for the typists, a high solid desk stretched round two of the windowed walls. The staff either sat on high stools at this desk or more often than not stood and leaned! The high desk was essential to carry and spread the huge ledgers recording the transactions. The old-style telephones with separate earpieces were still in use. I well remember too that one of the cupboards held bundles and bundles of Reichsmark Notes dating from the collapse of the mark in the twenties. This was 1943 – fifty years ago.

Extract from a wartime fire prevention document completed
for Northern Bank, 110 Victoria Street branch.

Fire-watching at Head Office

Belfast had been the subject of its main air attack in 1941 and while our Head Office, like the Belfast, Ulster and National Banks, was very much in the target area being so near the shipyard it escaped any major damage. The other banks were similarly fortunate. A solitary incendiary bomb had left a hole in the floor of the Stationery Store and I remember having to step over this hole to get at our supplies. Fire-watching was at once a chore and a source of much needed extra remuneration as far as ‘juniors’ were concerned, so those of us in digs did as many nights as possible. Pay was at the rate of 3/= (three shillings) per night, in modern terms 15p but in real value more like £5 to-day [1993]. If you were lucky enough to be asked to do an extra night for a Director or Chief Cashier or other senior member of staff you could earn as much as 7/6d for the night. This as you may well imagine was regarded as a plum! When I tell you that our annual starting salary was £100 per annum plus a 16% War Bonus out of which in my case £78 went on digs you will see that the fire-watching shillings were valuable indeed. Many’s a nice-looking girl would not have been asked out without them. You cycled from your digs to the office, arrived for fire-watching about 10 pm, slept the night in the main waiting room or Foreign Department where the beds were assembled and cycled back for breakfast making sure that you would be back in good time for your day’s work. If you were going to arrive late for fire-watching you made a prior arrangement with a fellow watcher to let you in at the side door. Quite often the pulley bell on the great front door would clang out in the darkness to announce a late comer and I can remember on occasions seeing the face of the Albert showing midnight as I made my way down to the side door. We had an almost permanent firewatcher in Mick the porter. You would find him doing his football pools when you arrived in for duty. Almost completely deaf, he was nevertheless bright of eye, beaming smile and a loyal servant of the Bank. His favourite comment when you handed him a letter or parcel for delivery was “Thank you kind Sir, your kindness exceeds your personal beauty by far; your face I may forget but your kindness never.”

Dealing with the U.S. Forces

Northern Bank was first to operate a Foreign Department and was appointed by the Government as its Agent to deal with the U.S. Forces and authorised to deal with all foreign currency notes and coin on behalf of the Bank of England. This resulted not only in all the other Banks clearing their purchases of U.S. Dollar Bills, etc. to us on a weekly basis but also meant that we were in the front line for dealing with the U.S. Forces Finance Officers. Such sights as our Head Office Cash Office packed with U.S. Navy Personnel when a U.S. Cruiser or Destroyer docked in Belfast and the boys needed cash for the weekend were not infrequent. At such times we all became cashiers for an hour or so! On Pay Days when U.S. Finance Officers were drawing sterling cash for their Forces pay the steps on either side to the Main Door at Head Office would be lined by troops with rifles at the ready, all the way indeed from their bullion van in the street below to the very counter inside. There was an unofficial arrangement that the Bank would try to oblige Officers and Men of the Forces who were here for a longer spell and wanted cheques cashed.

Sailors queuing at the Belfast Banking Company, Bangor branch

It was, and probably still is, a very serious offence for U.S. service personnel to issue a dud cheque so the risk was not perhaps regarded as a major one. Nevertheless, we and the other Banks did have occasional trouble with unpaid cheques. I can recall cheques written out on ordinary sheets of paper shaped like a cheque being returned by our Agents not with “Refer to Drawer” or “Insufficient Funds” but with the ultimate answer “No such Bank”.

 

Glimpses of the Daily Routine

To outline the daily routine in the Foreign Department would be a bore but a couple of features I recall may be of interest. We received dozens of cables each day from the States asking us to make payments to individual U.S. Army personnel at Camps all over Northern Ireland and these were domiciled at our local Branches or with another Bank if we hadn’t a Branch in the nearest town. As many as 150-200 “Advices to Beneficiary” were despatched daily to these personnel. How’s that for a postage book! [Editor: every outgoing letter had to be detailed in a hand written ledger]. Not only that but happily the Linen Industry kept its flag flying right through the war. Linen was still in great demand in the U.S.A., Mexico, the Latin American countries, Cuba and the Caribbean Islands and in all the countries of South America. We might have had a dozen Registered Airmail letters a day containing Shipping Documents for Havana, Rio de Janeiro, etc. Despite the risks of war, I cannot recall us losing an original set of Shipping Documents, though duplicate documents were always sent on by surface mail (even more hazardous).

The Bank as a Family

Nostalgia has a habit of painting one’s memories in a rosy glow but I’m sure I’m not mistaken in saying that Banks of those days, not alone ours, were very much large families. And as in all families there were the lighter moments! I could tell you of duets in the Letter Department in the morning interrupted by our Bank Secretary, Hugh Murphy, a man of imposing stature but gentle in manner, asking with a broad smile when the Opera was beginning. Incidentally it was Mr. Murphy’s dictum that if you walked round the Office with a bundle of papers under your arm no one would ever ask you to do anything. To conclude, our small staff of eight or nine in the Foreign Department was kept at full stretch during this time but there was very much a family feel about all we did and to someone like myself (and, if I may include him, John Tunstead) coming from Dublin to Belfast and not knowing a soul it was good to find oneself among so many friends and so soon.

On This Day 70 Years ago: The Bombing of Dresden

The Bombing of Dresden city in Germany took place in the final months of the Second World War.
In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the RAF and 527 of the USAAF dropped over 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed 8 square miles of the city centre. It is estimated between 22,700 and 25,000 people were killed.

Three more USAAF air raids followed, two occurring on 2 March and 17 April aimed at the city’s railroad marshaling yard and one small raid on 17 April aimed at industrial areas. Post-war discussion of whether or not the attacks were justified has led to the bombing becoming a moral controversy of the war.

A 1953 UnitFotothek_df_ps_0000010_Blick_vom_Rathausturmed States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target,
which was a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort. Several researchers have claimed that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre.

Critics of the bombing argue that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance,
and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains

Large variations in the claimed death toll have fueled the controversy.
In March 1945, the German government ordered its press to publish a falsified casualty figure of 200,000 for the Dresden raids, and death toll estimates as high as 500,000 have been given. Although Dresden authorities at the time estimated no more than 25,000 victims, a figure which subsequent investigations as recently as 2010 support.

After Dresden: A play by Philip Orr

On After DresdenShrove Tuesday 1945, Allied planes drop bombs on Dresden, killing thousands of people, most of them believed to be civilians and refugees.

An Irish prisoner of war bears witness to the horror of the bombing and, in post-war years, it prompts him towards an ethic of tolerance and reconciliation.

In the 1990s, a young woman whose life has been damaged by the local conflict seeks answers to her questions about the peace process and its ethos of hope, trust and mutual forgiveness.

That young woman and that former prisoner of war meet at a reconciliation centre on the Irish coastline and exchange their heart-breaking stories.

What will be the outcome?

Belvoir Players from 30 April – 2 May 2015

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