The Second World War

At 11.15 on the morning of 3 September 1939 Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, announced over the radio that Britain was at war with Germany. Robert McConnell (D) remembered returning home from Sunday school to Fourmileburn to hear that the announcement had been made.

Sheila Herdman had also been at Sunday school in Whitehead that morning. She had taken Dorothy Jackson with her. Dorothy was the daughter of Jean Jackson, nee Workman, who had once been a neighbour of theirs in Whitehead, but who had emigrated to Canada. Jean was making a return visit to Whitehead and had brought her daughter with her. On their return from Sunday school Sheila and Dorothy found their mothers crying. They had just heard the news on the radio and were fearful that the Jacksons would not be able to return to Canada. Thankfully they were able to make it back.

Of all of those interviewed, only one had been on active service – William Andrew Turkington who had been born in Cogry Square in 1919. He joined the RAF not long after the war began, serving as a Ground Gunner with his role to defend airfields from enemy attack. The longest he was stationed anywhere in England was in Lincolnshire. He remembers trying to combat the threat of the Doodlebugs, the challenge being to bring down something travelling at 400mph: ‘There’s only one good thing about them – they couldnae fire back at you.’ Later he was transferred to the south of England, around London.

During his time in England William Andrew made many good friends, some of whom would take him home to meet their families. Later in the war he was sent abroad, serving in India, Burma and Java (where he was when the war ended). He lost many friends in the war, but for him personally he acknowledges, ‘I had a great war.’ William Andrew left the RAF after the war, though he regrets not staying on, especially not joining his regiment for its visit to Japan. He also regrets not accepting an offer to go on a driving course when he was in the RAF.

William Andrew’s brother-in-law was Sergeant William Bell of Doagh. He was a wireless operator/air gunner in 44 Squadron of the RAF. He was killed on the night of 6 September 1940 when his bomber was shot down returning from an operation over Germany. He was later buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Germany.

Although, with the exception of William Andrew Turkington, those interviewed did not experience the war at first hand, that did not mean that it did not have major repercussions for their lives. For Roisin McLernon the war changed the course of her life. After leaving boarding school she worked as a teacher in Haywards Heath in the south of England for a year. She was then offered a place at a teacher training college in Cardiff, but following the outbreak of war and start of the air raids she returned home. However, for those who were children through the war or at least when it began there was a sense of excitement. As Robert McConnell recalled, ‘The war years were to us good crack.’

There was no conscription in Northern Ireland though at times there were concerns that it would be introduced. Isabell Cooper feared that her brother would be conscripted and thought that her father could hide him in the hayshed if he was. Many local men served in the Home Guard, however, including two of Wallace Fenton’s brothers. Greta Milliken’s husband Shaw was in the Islandmagee branch of the Home Guard.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: