Dromore and District Local Historical Group Journal

Volume 1-1991




Commemorative programmes about the Belfast Blitz of fifty years ago, sparked off some discussion in committee, as to the rescue work performed by Dromore people on that occasion. We have heard that some of you helped with the ambulance service, while others accepted evacuees into their homes, but to date, material on the subject has been rather thin on the ground. So if you have any items of interest, or original stories relating to that period, the journal committee would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, we offer for your perusal, (2) an article by Mary Cardwell on the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, Dromore and (1) a chapter from Trefor Vaughan's new novel "A Season of Lamplight" published by Tabb House. It is an adventure story set in the Is landderry - Coolsallagh area of Dromore during the early days of the Second World War. Apart from enjoying the tale, Dromore readers have the added entertainment of deciding, which, if any, of his characters were based on local folk.

In the following poignant extract Trefor ably expresses the feelings of a young boy suffering separation from his parents due to the circumstances of war.

ARTHUR looked round at his new bedroom. A big, long window faced south, across a landscape of fields and wooded hills. In the adjacent wall was set an intriguing round window, almost covered by virginia creeper through which light streamed in a deep green glow. The room was solidly furnished in a Victorian style, with a mahogany writing-table below the main window.

He was alone.

He sat on the bed and pulled out a bit of string. With practised speed he began to crochet it between his fingers. 'I will not cry,' he told himself. 'They must not see me crying. Anyway what is there to cry about? It will be just as though the holiday was going on and on. How lovely. I'll be able to gather blackberries again all up the roadbanks of Summerhill. While Jim and Nick and the gang are kicking their shoes along the Kensington Road on their way to school.' He looked up through the window at the distant hills. 'I suppose they will send me to a school here ... what an odd idea, a school in the middle of the fields . . .'

A wave of desolation swept over him. He stopped crocheting and clenched his fists, fighting away the tears. 'I don't want to go to a strange school on my own,' he though. 'I don't want them to go away.' His mother was leaving tomorrow, and his father on Monday. But then, he remembered, 'Daddy's taking me to Newcastle tomorrow, as well.' His spirits lifted briefly. The seaside! Seaweed and sun and the bright crash of waves and his striped swimming suit and the cold rush of the sea and the sand running out between his toes ... If it didn't rain.

His mother would be gone when he got back. And his father would be gone on Monday.

He looked round him again at the room, the big window, the little green-lit window, the heavy furnishings. He picked up the string and began to crochet again more slowly. How long, he asked himself, does a war last?

The door opened and his father came in. He crossed the room and sat down quietly beside Arthur on the bed. Faintly from the wireless in the sitting-room downstairs, a girl's voice floated gently upwards in the sad cadences of an impossible dream:

"Somewhere over the rainbow Way up high
Birds fly over the rainbow Why then, O why can't I?"

Someone must have left the sitting-room door open. Arthur's head drooped slowly onto his chest and he began to sob. John Oakley fumbled in his pocket and brought out a big white handkerchief. He handed it to Arthur, who slowly wiped his eyes with it and turned his face to look away out through the big window. A hazy tumble of little hills and woods interspersed with the green and gold of harvest time lay quietly under the early morning sunlight. His father began to speak to him gently. It wouldn't be for long. They would both come over to see him at Christmas.

There were many new things to be learned in the country. And there was his new friend Peter, almost his own age, who lived in the farm just up the road.

Arthur remained uncomforted. At last he looked down and said, very quietly "You're going away and you haven't given me anything ... I haven't anything to keep . . ."

John Oakley searched in his pocket. He brought out a handful of change. He looked at Arthur, who was now moodily drawing a pattern on the window-pane with his fingertip. Then he carefully selected a coin and put the rest back in his pocket.

"Here then, I know you don't want money, because I've already given you some. Here's something to keep."

Arthur took it and looked at it. It was a bright new Eire halfpenny with a pig on it. He clutched it tightly and afterwards kept it safely and in secret, transferring it to his pyjamas pocket every night. At first it was a stab of pain, then it became a comfort in pain, and at last a hope. His father would come back.

He thought of his mother far less often, and when he did, he quickly turned his thoughts to something else.


1938 - 1946 by MARY CARDWELL

A St. John's Ambulance Brigade Unit was formed in Dromore just before the Second World War. The Ambulance Division (men) was first registered on 28th May 1938, and the Nursing Division (women) on 22nd August 1938. The Ambulance Division was under the leadership of Mr. John Murphy. Mrs. Florence Wilson was in charge of the Nursing Division until 1944 and Miss Hannh Hobart thereafter. In 1943 Amy Silcock and Lila Beattie started a junior branch of Nursing Cadets.

Dr. Wilson, a local GP, who was Divisional Surgeon gave lectures on First Aid, Hygiene and Home Nursing to both men and women in Banbridge Road Lecture Hall. Members also practised bandaging, using both triangular and roller bandages, and learnt how to carry a stretcher in such a way as to avoid the risk of further injury to the patient. Examinations for certificates in these subjects were conducted by doctors from other areas, including Dr. McCandless of Hillsborough.

The men were expected to participate in the Home Nursing as the Brigade Standing Orders make clear;

". . every male member is to be encouraged to obtain the home nursing certificate of the St. John's Ambulance Association. . ." 1

However it would appear that the women were not expected to carry stretchers, but to commandeer amateur assistance if the need arose;

"Women should receive sufficient instruction in stretcher drill to enable them to instruct the uninitiated in loading and unloading a stretcher and removing a patient." 1

When it became clear that war was imminent, and preparations were being made, some of the members of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade also joined the Civil Defence or Air Raid Precaution Unit, organised by John Murphy and meeting at his premises in Bridge Street. They wore the same uniform with the addition of a 'CIVIL DEFENCE' armband and helmet. Some of the women became members of the Civil Nursing Reserve.

Everyone was issued with a gas mask and courses in how to cope with gas attacks formed part of the ARP training. They covered not only precautions to be taken, but also the treatment of victims, including those whose injuries might interfere with the proper wearing of their masks.
Sheds at the back of Bridge Street were used to practice rescue work, using ropes to lower people and stretchers from the upstairs windows.

In addition the Unit took part in 'exercises', in Dromore, or further afield. Transport to these depended on the few people who had a car available and was made even more difficult by the blackout. On one occasion Mr. John McGrehan was in a group who were being driven to an exercise in Lisburn by Mr. McAllister, a local schoolmaster. He decided to 'dribble' behind a red light showing on a vehicle in front. Unfortunately this turned out to be a (very slow-moving) horse-drawn bread cart!

Although Dromore did not have any air raid shelters there were local Air Raid Wardens. When the Siren sounded ARP personnel reported to John Murphy's in Bridge Street. The siren went in Dromore on several occasions, but the only bomb to fall in the area came down
at Sylvan Hill. The bomber was seen releasing the bomb as it passed overhead at Gribben's Hill, the momentum carrying it on some distance before landing.

In spite of warnings from the German propaganda broadcaster Lord Haw Haw, the possibility that Belfast would be bombed does not seem to have been taken seriously by the authorities. However on Easter Tuesday 1941 the full horror of the 'Blitz' came to Belfast. The sirens had sounded about 10.40 but it was another half hour before the approaching bombers were heard over Carlingford Lough and soon flying over Dromore.
"Minutes later, in the old cathedral city of Dromore, Co. Down, people thronged onto the streets to listen to the convoy passing over in ominously large numbers. Stumbling in the moonlight, some scrambled up the adjacent low-lying hills to gaze helplessly and expectantly in the direction of Belfast." 2
The falling bombs and the fires in the city were visible from Dromore and the surrounding countryside. Mr. Jim Hawthorn watched from Barban Hill, seeing the flash of the bombs landing, followed after short time by the bang of the explosion.
"In Dromore, Co. Down, people, stunned and tense, watched for a time the great glow in the night sky, before making their way back to their homes, 'wondering what had taken place and what news (they) would hear when morning came'." 2
The Dromore Ambulance Unit was called to Belfast the following day. An ambulance crew consisting of Willy Moore (driver), John McGrehan, Jim Hawthorn, Sammy Murdoch, Carson Cardwell, Maggie Fairley and Mollie McCalister travelled to Belfast to help with the rescue operations. Through slits in the canvas-covered the sides of their vehicle they glimpsed wrecked buildings and people clutching suitcases trying to make their way out of the city.
When they reported to Victoria Square they found utter chaos. Their task was to relieve the regular ambulance service, mainly in the evacuation of the sick and elderly to places of safety. The party was divided up, answering calls as required. One call was to evacuate a
woman suffering from Rheumatic fever. Another was to York Road Railway Station where the crowds of people trying to flee the city were so dense that the stretcher party found great difficulty getting through with their patient. In the confusion it was not always clear just what kind of help was needed. One of the women was sent in answer to a request for 'a nurse'. Fortunately she asked one of the men, who was not on a call at the time, to accompany her in the ambulance as the task turned out to involve the removal of an elderly, infirm man from an upstairs room - a job for a rescue team rather than a nurse.
On the way home that evening their vehicle became an unoffical bus. Public transport was completely disrupted so when the crew spied a Dromore family waiting at the bus stop at Smithfield in Lisburn they offered them a lift. Other people who set out to walk to Hillsborough and Banbridge were picked up en route.
For a time after the blitz some people left Dromore each night to stay in what they hoped was the greater safety of the countryside and people in Belfast also evacuated their families, many of them coming to the Dromore area:

The women of the Nursing Division helped out in various local hospitals, including the Cowan Heron Cottage Hospital - then a general hospital. As the war progressed the hard-pressed London units appealed for assistance to allow their members a much-needed break, especially over Christmas. The party of 5 which went from Northern Ireland in December 1944 included one of the Dromore Division. They spent the next fortnight working 12-hour shifts every night in shelters in Bermondsey, the dock area of East London. They were assigned to 4 underground shelters, each accommodating 300 - 1000 persons. The main danger in these underground shelters was from flooding as a result of bombing rather than directly from the bombs.

Reporting for duty at 7 p.m. each evening they were taken to the shelters where, until 7 o'clock the following morning they attended to the various ills from which the shelter occupants suffered. Many of these had endured continuous nightly life in the shelters for over 4 years. At first the party were appalled by the conditions but after a few nights they became accustomed to it, finding that shelter life had its lighter side and in spite of their privations the people were cheerful and appreciative of their help. One of their more seasonal duties was assisting in the distribution of toys, given by Belgian evacuee children, to East End children who had been rendered homeless by enemy action. 3

When the war ended the ARP Unit, being no longer needed, was disbanded, and a short time after, the St. John's Ambulance Brigade in Dromore also ceased to function.

I would like to.thank the following people for their assistance in preparing this article:
Mrs. Amy Brown, Dromore
Mr. Corkey, St. John's Ambulance Brigade HQ, Belfast Mr. & Mrs. Jim Hawthorn, Newcastle
Mr. John McGrehan, Dromore

Other Sources
1 St. John's Ambulance Brigade Standing Orders
2 'The Blitz: Belfast in the War Years' by Brian Barton
3 The Dromore Weekly Times, January 13th 1945




The Cowan Heron Hospital at Dromore is a building steeped in history as anyone visiting there will readily appreciate. As will be gleaned from a plaque above the entrance door, it was erected in the year 1898 by William Cowan Heron, D.L., J.P., who in those days had his home at "Altafort," Skeogh, about three miles from the town.

Below the plaque is a heron and the words "Avec Ma Vie" (with my blood), and above the door is this quotation from the Book of the Prophet of Isaiah: "Comfort ye my people, saith your God."

Inside the hospital there is a most interesting illuminated address which was presented to Mr. Heron in January, 1891, in appreciation of his gift of a clock for the tower of the Town Hall.

His portrait as president and founder of the hospital also adorns the walls of the corridor.

The wording on the illuminated address is couched in the following terms:"Address to William Cowan Heron, J.P., Maryfield, Holywood, Co. Down, at a banquet in the Town Hall, Dromore, on the occasion of his presenting the Township with a town clock:

"Dear Sir, - Some months ago we heard with most agreeable feelings of your intention to present the town with a clock. There were several reasons why that announcement gave us pleasure. In the first place, some years have elapsed since the completion of the building of our Town Hall and, notwithstanding the powers conferred on the Town Commissioners, they hesitated and did not carry out the provisions of the Towns Improvement Act by which at the expense of the townspeople they could have purchased a town clock for the use and benefit of the town.


"Our boundary as a township is small, and there were a number of pressing improvements connected with our bridges and footpaths which called for attention, and in the successful completion of which we were particularly anxious. Your very generous gift came therefore most opportunely, and we, the Town Commissioners of Dromore, representing the ratepayers and inhabitants generally, desire to publicly acknowledge your liberality, and ask you to accept this illuminated address, together with our best thanks.

"Your family has been long and honourably connected with this County, and your handsome gift, while adding considerably to the appearance of our Town Hall, will often remind us of the donor, and, as time flies, we hope long to have the pleasure of seeing you and your brother in Dromore - near which some of your property is situated, and your prosperous tenantry reside.

"Signed on behalf of Dromore Town Commissioners, Robert Sprott, J.P., Chairman; J. B. McConnell, Town Clerk, 15th January, 1891."
Down the years the hospital has been admirably served by many learned physicians and a dedicated nursing and ancillary staff. The Sister-in charge at present is Sister C. Ervine.


A plaque records the work of one of the physicians in the following terms:

"In honour of William J. Cowden, M.D., M.Ch. (1st honours), L.M., the senior medical officer of this hospital and for 56 years a practising physician and surgeon in this parish of Dromore, of which he was medical officer of the Dromore Dispensary District and medical officer of health for the Dromore Urban and Rural areas, and also held other government appointments.

"He performed all the duties relating to his offices with punctuality and efficiency. He was an apt pupil, a brilliant student of his University and a physician of great skill and ability, of a homely and kindly disposition, full of sympathy for the poor and suffering. He
was a trusted physician, greatly beloved by his patients and esteemed and respected by everyone.

"He possessed the many noble and inestimable qualities of a true gentleman and was an honour to the profession of which he was indeed an ornament. He died full of years and honour on 9th January, 1936.

"This tablet is erected to perpetuate his memory by a few of his former schoolmates, fellow students, grateful patients and neighbours. "He went about doing good."

Dr. Cowden had his practice at Havelock House, Church Street, where in later years another local general practitioner, Dr. Victor J. Sterling, now residing at Newcastle, served the town and district and the hospital assiduously for many years.


There is a further interesting portrait in the hospital that the late Dr. Francis McKee, who had his surgery in Princes Street, at the corner of the Ballynahinch Road.

In later years Dr. John Charles Wilson, J.P., long since deceased, also resided and practised there, and it will be recalled that the late Dr. Samuel Thompson and Mr. S. C. Borsado F.R.C.S., also had surgeries there. The area has been known as "The Doctor's Corner" for the greater part of the present century.

The portrait of Dr. McKee bears this inscription: "Francis McKee, M.B., F.R.C.S., J.P. Obituary 10th March, 1918. This portrait and a bed were presented to the Cowan Heron Cottage Hospital by Dr. McKee's friends as a memorial of his services as an honorary surgeon from the opening of the hospital in 1900 to 1915, when he went on active service as a surgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps."

Dr. Wilson's work for the hospital is perpetuated by a charming day room erected to his memory and in which a plaque bears this testimony to his services:

"This room has been named the Wilson Room in memory of John Charles Wilson, M.B., J.P., a beloved physician who cared greatly for this hospital and served it faithfully for many years. November, 1968."


Over the years successive general practitioners in the town have taken a practical interest in the work of the hospital, bestowing care and attention on patients needing their help. In addition to those already named we must not overlook Dr. Samuel B. Carlisle and his son, also named Samuel B. Carlisle. Both have long since gone to their reward. They not only resided at Church Square, but had their surgery there.

There was also Dr. Thomas Forsythe, who had his surgery at Bedeque House in Gallows Street, and who now resides at Mossvale.

More recently we had Dr. Kenneth Patterson, who was responsible for building the present group surgery premises in Gallows Street, and who is now an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. He began his practice in the former surgery at Church Square, where the Carlisles practised.

For a short time we had Dr. Ruth Ingram and Dr. James Armstrong helping out locally, and to-day we are served by Dr. R. A. McNeice, Dr. C. J. Kenny and Dr. Eileen Aitchinson, with assistance pro tem from Dr. Elaine Close.

"One of the finest cottage hospitals in Great Britain." So the Cowan Heron Hospital was described at the time of its opening in 1900, and it's good to see the splendid use being made of it at the present time as a geriatric unit - a place where the elderly are cared for with such love and devotation. Long May it continue.


Preserved in the hospital to-day is a beautifully-illuminated album which was presented to Mr. Heron and the address in which is couched in the following terms:

"Dear Sir, We a number of your friends and supporters during the late contested election for a County Councillor in the Dromore Division of Co. Down, take advantage of this, the opening of the Cowan Heron Cottage Hospital, to present you with your portrait as a token of our respect and esteem.

"Whilst this was the primary cause of our action, we had also the remembrance of your many generous and benevolent acts to the people of this town and neighbourhood.

"Your undoubted liberality in providing this and the surrounding district with one of the finest Cottage Hospitals in Great Britian adds yet another to your many deeds of kindness, and places the people under a deep debt of gratitude to you.

"In asking your acceptance of this portrait and autographic album, we trust and pray that you may be long spared to come amongst us; and we know the only reward you seek is the assurance that the sufferings of many will be alleviated in this Hospital, which will remain to future generations a memorial to your philanthropy.

"We are, dear Sir, your sincere well-wishers - J. R. Miniss, chairman; John Mulligan, bon. treasurer; Robert J. Hunter, bon. secretary. June 7th, 1900."

Regrettably, space does not permit mention of the long list of signatures to the album.


At the time of Mr. Herons death in June, 1917, the Hospital Committee confined their business to paying tributes to its president and founder, coupled with expressions of regret at the news of his death.

A resolution expressing their deep sense of loss revealed that Mr. Heron had founded the hospital at a cost of �7,000 and subsequently provided Railway and Harbour Stock as a free gift, producing an annual income at that time of �205 towards yearly maintenance of the institution. He also from year to year personally expended large sums for improving and repairing the hospital buildings. Not only did he do all these things, but he spared neither time nor trouble in giving the benefit of his great business acumen in carrying on the hospital work.

Footnote-At the time of writing two public meetings have been held and an investigating committee appointed, and signatures are being sought to a petition registering emphatic opposition to any plans to downgrade, close or privatise the hospital.