The Rambler 17/01/2003
A HEADLINE on a bill-board `H&W's last ship' caught my eye yesterday.
Reportedly, the second of two roll-on/roll-off ferry vessels, the `Anvil point', just launched, is expected to be the last at Queen's Island. The champagne is unlikely ever to flow again.
Gone are the days when a huge fleet of Belfast trams, all bearing the 'H&W' destination board, edged up High Street from Castle junction each morning with workmen clinging to the hand rail of the tail board like wasps on a rotting apple.
As they slowed at the Albert Clock junction, more and more 'chancers' leapt aboard (if getting one boot aboard merits that phrase).
Who lifted the fares? That was the question. And who the heck cared. The 'island men' ruled the roost.
At quitting time, the tidal wave of excited cyclists filled Queen's road - even before the first hoot of the hooter for the shipyard men were dandy time-keepers (at quitting time).
Who dared impede an excited shipyard man on his bike?
'The Hats', as the men called the bowler-hatted foremen, ruled with iron fists inside the Yard, but once past them it was full speed ahead and 'the devil take the hindmost', with motorised traffic swamped.
I well remember mid-April 1941, when the first German bombs rained down on the Antrim Road area of Belfast.
Reportedly the pilots mistook the waterworks for the Lagan basin.
I viewed that from South Antrim with great anxiety for a relative had borrowed my precious new car to take some local 'play-actors' to Belfast where they were staging a play.
When I got my car back in one piece, I heard that when they were at tea in a city-centre hall after the curtain had come down, they had listened with some amusement to the racket made by the raiders, not realising the danger until the cups began rattling on the table and air-raid wardens yelled at them to evacuate fast.
When they fled and found streets chained off they eventually realised war had started.
Next day, with a days leave to spend I took a train to Belfast and toured Peter's Hill, Carlisle Circus, Crumlin Road and vicinity on foot to view the damage.
I remember crunching over broken glass and rubble for the first time. Three weeks later, 5th-6th May, found me back in Belfast but this time I was on duty.
I haven't space to describe the horrific scene. Many more able commentators have done that.
My office was 5A Frederick Street and with the city ablaze from City Hall to the L.M.S railway at York Road I had to detour once more via Peters Hill.
The office had lost its windows in mid-April. In May, the roof had suffered and water was flowing out of the entrance following the striving of departmental fire watchers to save the building.
They succeeded, but we were left SANS windows, SANS heat, SANS water, SANS gas - windows covered with roofing felt and only candle power.
A skeleton staff had made it, including the heroic Zoe Irwin from head office at Ormeau Avenue.
She had ferried a carrier bag of cash, and our job was to offer immediate relief to local victims of the Blitz.
The earliest arrivals emerged from the air raid shelter beneath the office.
Pathetic, shocked, and homeless people, victims of direct hits on their homes, who had been shepherded to 5A Frederick Street by air-raid wardens and other relief workers.
I held junior executive rank and together with the local Manager Billie Irwin, my job was to organise the staffing of he Public Office and get cash to the destitute - fast.
By mid-day we had 600 people clamouring for aid at our gates.
We had the P.R.D Regulations (ie. the wartime Prevention and Relief of Distress, Regulations), limited funds and a free hand, but no experience.... Next week, the shipyard workers.
To be continued