On Tuesday 8 May 1945, the people of the United Kingdom celebrated the end of the war in Europe.
In Ballymoney, the town was covered with buntings and flags. The Diamond became the focus of the crowds as they gathered in anticipation beside loud speakers to hear the BBC announce the news. During the broadcast, speeches by Winston Churchill and King George VI were greeted with loud cheers. Then Johnnie Owens and his Moderniques climbed on top of the air raid shelter in the centre of the road and the streets filled as the revellers began to dance.
“The streets were choc-a-bloc. I remember seeing an Austin 7 trying to get down Main Street. It was so full of men, it couldn’t move!” – Fred James
Elsewhere in the town, Services of Thanksgiving were held in the local churches. Drumming parties from local lodges paraded through the streets. As the day drew to a close, bonfires were lit at the Roddenfoot and Semicock Road, with the biggest in a field next to the Robinson Memorial Hospital.
Johnny Owens kept everyone dancing and 1,200 people followed him for a concert in the Town Hall with added variety and sketches from Harry Bailey’s Entertainment Company.
“People knew victory was imminent. For weeks we’d been gathering up stuff for bonfires. That night there were bonfires all around and dancing and singing in the streets. The celebrations went on the whole night – terrific!” – Dan Hannah
VICTORY DAY IN THE VILLAGES!
Factory horns had been banned since 1939…but not on 8 May 1945! At Balnamore, Churchill’s words were heralded by a long blast of the mill horn. People gathered in the richly decorated streets and a bonfire was lit at the entrance to the village.
North of Ballymoney, the entire district descended on Dervock to enjoy spontaneous band parades.
The climax was the fifes and drums of Dervock and Stranocum Loyal Orange Lodges leading the party to Liggett’s Hill to burn an effigy of Hitler. The entire village then celebrated until the early hours with a Victory Dance.
A WEEK OF CELEBRATIONS
The celebrations continued throughout the week. On Wednesday, the Orange Lodges marched through the town in anticipation of the first 12th July commemoration in six years.
A fancy dress parade attracted families to watch the fun with the ‘Funeral of Hitler’ proving a crowd pleaser. In Castle Street, residents clubbed together to host a popular Sports Day for young people aged 5-11+ in the Cricket Park.
On Friday, yet another fancy dress carnival paraded in procession through Gate End, Milltown, Castle Street and Meetinghouse Street, with almost every household en route participating! The long line of colourful outfits was led by the bagpipes of Miss McCoubrey in full Highland costume. The residents gathered at a large street bonfire and the day concluded with a minute’s silence and an open air dance in Castle Street, with music by Michael McKay Jnr.
For a few days, people had allowed themselves to enjoy the wonderful party atmosphere. However, they all knew the world was still not at peace. The war in the Far East eventually ended in August and, across North Antrim, families waited anxiously for their loved one’s homecoming. Sadly, many would never return.
AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.