Big thank you from

The shady joys of wartime motoring

WARTIME motoring was a different experience and one episode is particularly memorable.

When I emerged from the Mater in Belfast all was in darkness. I groped my way to the car at the kerbside and switched on the sidelights. Immediately a pedestrian paused, stooped over, and checked the time on his wristwatch by the light of the side lamp. Power cut? No, worse, war had started and only side lamps were permissible.

There cannot be many pre-war motorists still driving today. Only such would remember what it was like driving after nightfall without headlights, yet that was the reality when the wartime blackout regulations came into force on the 3rd September 1939, that is immediately war was declared.

"No such undertaking has been given (by Hitler) hence for the second time in a generation we are at war with Germany" were the fateful words spoken over the radio on the Sunday morning (noon was it?) by the P.M. Neville Chamberlain.

Next evening I set off to Belfast (a 25 mile trip) in my brand new 'Austin Eight' saloon.

I had to visit the Belfast hospital and when I was free to head for home darkness had fallen. Only side lights were permitted but happily I was one of the very few travelling on the 'broad road' - the Lisburn Lurgan road.

I recall travelling slowly, very slowly, astride the centre line, around the Lambeg bends.

I wasn't familiar with the Hull's Hill left hand bend, for example, and nearly went astray. Lisburn to Moira I knew better and of course Trummery Cross road, the railway crossing and Lisnabilla were home to me.

I was heading for Soldierstown and Colane, all narrow enough to negotiate blindly, or nearly blindly.

Metal hoods, designed like the peak of a man's flat cap were soon made available for attachment to car headlamps. They were permissible but they only allowed the beam to extend say one car length ahead.

One first had to remove the glass fronts from the headlamps and substitute sheet metal disc which had this peak gadget protruding forward.

There were of course no motor ways and no rural speed limits. With the hooded lamps it was a case of peering ahead in third gear.

As I had no essential motoring needs, petrol rationing soon left me in additional difficulties. I invested in a motorised auto cycle. That was what I had to resort to, to do my courting! That or the GNR and a pedal cycle.

I sold the Austin Eight at an enhanced price, since no new cars were available. For a run about I bought a 1934 Austin Ten from Bill Lyness of Dromore who was salesman at Stevenson's of Castle Street Lisburn; the Austin main agent of pre war days.

When I changed my insurance from a 1939 Austin Eight to a 1934 Austin Ten the insurers were amused. Usually motorists changed to a more modern model - but I had my motive. I taxed the Austin Ten in my older brother's name as he had a farmer's petrol ration.

That way provided I was on farm business I was still legal. Funny how many wee trips that my brother let me make - even seeking dropped calves from a farmer who lived next door to my sweetheart (who is now my wife).

I used a trailer as a blind. But more anon.

By Pat Smyth
Ulster Star 20/05/05