From Belfast to Ballynahinch to escape World War 2 Blitz

From Belfast to Ballynahinch to escape World War 2 Blitz

20 May 2020

Eighty three year-old Meta Price was a little girl when she and her family were evacuated from Belfast to Ballynahinch at the height of the Blitz during World War 2. In this article, based on a letter she wrote to Ballynahinch Royal British 

Legion to mark VE Day, she describes what it was like arriving in her strange new surroundings


I WAS only four years old when we came to live in Ballynahinch. Belfast, where we lived, was bombed in 1941 and was a dangerous place to be and I think my granny took matters into her own hands and decided that we would evacuate ourselves to the country.

At that terrible time many people took themselves off to the Castlereagh Hills for safety, but not my granny. I don’t know how she came to choose Ballynahinch as our new home, but I’m glad she did.

We arrived on the train with our belongings. There was mum and me — dad was in the Army, Auntie Martha and her son Willie, and Auntie Lily and her son Tom, to name but a few.

The new home was actually a big loft up an open staircase on a piece of rough ground which I don’t know the name of, if indeed it had one. I remember that it was beside the back entrances to Stewart & Gibson’s shop and McFaddens, and across from McCoubrey’s Mill. It was all very exciting for a child and then the fun began.

My mum and Auntie Martha were sisters and added to the number was Uncle Andy, Auntie Martha’s husband, who had managed to get a job at Montalto House along with his young daughter. My auntie’s two remaining sons were in the RAF and the Navy — one was killed in Normandy in 1944.

My two unmarried uncles worked in the Belfast shipyard, as did Uncle Joe, Aunt Lily’s husband, and they travelled by train to the yard every day. Granny was the matriarch and kept us all in order. The loft belonged to Mrs Price who kept the lovely Crown Bar in Railway Street. There was a magnificent painted crown on the wall above the door — but I digress.

The day we arrived there was a row of beds along one wall, later divided by a curtain the length of the room and sub divided for the married couples. There were also a couple of army type camp beds, which I enjoyed sleeping on. There were 12 of us sleeping and living in that room.

Ahem, our kitchen and sanitary arrangements beggared belief. Granny washed up in a basin on a cupboard at the end of the room next to a corner which was curtained off to hide a large galvanised bucket, which was our toilet. This was strictly for weeing and for anything else it was down the steps and a run up the pub yard to the proper toilet. It was something we took for granted and just got on with it, like most other people then.

Granny Galbraith soon became well known and part of the community. There were no supermarkets then and I liked going to Barr’s shop beside the pub with granny to get the messages, as we called it .There were sacks on the floor filled with dry goods. Butter was cut from a big slab — the allowance was two ounces — sugar was weighed out into blue bags and there were packs of Lyons tea.

Sometimes we walked up into town to a large grocer’s called Walkingshaw’s. I remember there was a son named Drew, who was very kind to me. The shop was at the top of Dromore Street.

Ballynahinch, like all wee towns then, had lots of independent shops. Mrs Charles had a sweet shop; she was a lovely lady. Then there was McNamara’s ice cream parlour and it was a treat to go there.

I went to school for a wee while in a building opposite the railway. We were very ecumenical and I remember going to Sunday School sometimes in the hall of the First Presbyterian Church in what was called then Meeting Street and also further up the hill to the Christian Workers Union hall. We were members at the Congregational Church and I even popped into the Church of Ireland occasionally with Mrs Price’s daughter, Hilda I remember a wee girl who fell down some steps, it might have been the chapel, hitting her head and resulting in her death sadly.

We went to pay our respects and there she was laid out with her rosary beads draped over her folded hands. Like I said, we were ecumenical.

Now back to wartime and the arrival of the Yanks. They were barracked off Meeting Street and my cousins and I would go over on a Sunday morning to visit them. I would do my Carmen Miranda act and we came away with gum, apples and boiled sweets, which I think were called Lifebuoys.

My late husband was fond of telling folks that I entertained the troops during the war. My mum started to do washing for them for a bit of extra money and at times the loft was like’ a laundry, but the money must have been so useful.

We had a sturdy stove in the corner which kept us warm and on which we cooked, and I think it had a small section at the side which was an oven. Life was very happy and felt safe. Auntie Martha joined the Civil Defence and I was very proud to watch her parading down the street in her uniform.

Ballynahinch was buzzing then and there were regular concerts in a hall under an archway in High Street. The cinema was down Dromore Street and that’s where I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

It was very exciting when the funfair arrived on the rough area where the loft was. The showmen were very nice to us and it was very noisy and great fun as we were easily pleased. There were of course visits from relatives still in Belfast and that was great too, although I’m not sure where they slept.

A lot of happy memories have stayed with me but there were sad times too. Uncle Andy ped dead at Montalto and his son was killed at Normandy. After these awful losses Auntie Martha began to sell clothes in Ballynahinch Market to make ends meet — no benefits then.

She was a very resourceful lady. We had lovely friends — the Murray family from Meeting Street and the Marsh family from Thiepval Villas on the Crossgar Road.

I loved Ballynahinch and my sister took me back for a visit in 2017, but it was so different. The loft has long gone and Walker’s bike shop at the corner of the alley. There are shops instead of sheds where the funfair caravans parked. Granny Galbraith bought me a Conway Stewart fountain pen for passing my 11-Plus in a wee jewellers in High Street — happy days.

The streets now have different names, but I remember the old ones and at nearly 83 that’s not going to change.

Mrs Price (née Telford) now lives in Eastbourne in East Sussex, but still has connections with Ballynahinch.