Big thank you from

Dark times at the seaside during the war

IT was February 1942 and the gale force wind which had been forecast was drenching Portstewart seafront with spume. The prom was totally deserted with all doors and windows tight shut. I had just reported my bed on the second floor slightly wet with spray which had been driven in around the wooden frame - not unusual I gathered. The lady of the house, Mrs Moffett (Post Office House) had treated it as matter-of fact and taken remedial action.

It was wartime and blackout regulations were strictly enforced in the seaside town. Not a glimmer of light to be seen and the Lighthouse off Magilligan barely visible. Wallace Moffett the householder was absent on cross-channel business and only Mrs Moffett and the telephonist were around.

Then it happened. There was a power failure leaving all three of us in the dark and Portstewart telephone exchange out of action.

Automatic dialling had not arrived which meant that all telephone subscribers were without service with no one to respond to 'number please' when they lifted their phone, that was when my knowledge of electricity courtesy of my technical school teacher Jimmy Allen came in handy.

With the aid of a couple of candles held by Mrs Moffett and the telephonist I managed to locate the vital house fuse and replace it. Inside half an hour I had light and the telephones reconnected and two very relieved and grateful ladies singing my praises.

How come that I was a guest in Feb at the Post Office guest house Portstewart? It was like this, when the time had come for me to spend a week on duty at the Department's Coleraine Area Office I had immediately thought of Mrs Moffett for digs, as I had holidayed there and her place had the tourist people's highest rating. There was an excellent bus service linking the two towns - so good that I was actually able to nip 'home' for lunch in little over an hour.

Mrs Moffett always had my lunch on the table as soon as I got off the bus. I was in clover. Looking for digs in Coleraine in Feb in wartime didn't appeal to me whereas Mrs Moffett's home cooking, especially her scones, did.

I did the same at Newry. I stayed at Warrenpoint, where I had a friendly seaside landlady along the prom, Anne Hogg. When I made a summer visit I actually took my bike and cycled daily making the discovery that both every morning and evening the wind, as always, on my face on the Newry/Warrenpoint Road, especially at Narrow Water.

My proof-reader has queried my reference to the light from the lighthouse shining in wartime blackout days but I clearly recall a dim light visible off shore. After all, local shipping would have needed the vital light to guide them off the rocks.

For younger readers perhaps I should explain that before automatic telephone dialling became available, one had to rely on a telephone operator to respond 'number please' when one needed a number. If one wanted to find out the cost of a call one needed to ask for ADC ie for duration and cost to be given when the call was terminated.

By Pat Smyth
Ulster Star