Belfast Telegraph

Sam Bargewell fled the Blitz to Armoy aged 8 - now, 73 years later, he's reunited with the sisters who were his wartime pals

By Ivan Little

Two sisters whose parents welcomed a family of Belfast evacuees into their home during World War Two have had an emotional reunion with one of their childhood friends... 73 years on.

Meta McConaghie and May Knox had not laid eyes on Sam Bargewell since he and his siblings left their hosts' houses in Armoy towards the end of the war, and they had no idea what happened to him or where he was.

But they met up again last week after hearing his unusual name by chance on the radio.

May said: "I was listening to a programme on Radio North and the presenter, Eric Stewart, was talking about a Sam Bargewell who was coming to the Lodge Hotel in Coleraine to sing his sacred songs at a charity concert.

"I didn't think there could be two people with that name so I asked my daughter Carol, who's the hotel's manager, to contact the singer to ask him if he was the same Sam Bargewell who was evacuated to Armoy with his sisters and brothers, and he said he was."

Meta (78) and May (82) went to the concert and afterwards met Sam, but it was something of a bitter-sweet reunion.

For 85-year-old Sam told Meta and May that his two sisters, Dina and Mary, who'd lived with them, had passed away.

But he and Meta and May agreed to get together again in Coleraine the following day, when they shared happier memories of the 1940s.

Sam was just eight years old when he and two of his brothers, John and Sidney, went to live on a farm owned by the McMullan family near Armoy, and Dina and Mary stayed with Meta and May (formerly Hill) on their parents' neighbouring farm.

The children all played together and attended the same school.

"It was very emotional for us all to meet up again," said Sam. "It was lovely to see Meta and May after 73 years.

"We had lots to talk and reminisce about and we are looking forward to another chat in the not too distant future."

May said: "We were all young children the last time we met and I remember all the evacuees who lived with us or beside us. But we all lost touch after the war."

Meta added: "It was very nice to meet Sam, even though I don't recall as much about the wartime era as the rest of them because I am a few years younger than them."

Some of Sam's wartime experiences were harrowing. A year after he and his siblings were evacuated from their home in Eglinton Street in north Belfast, it was completely destroyed in the Blitz, though their mother and father, who was a soldier based at Hollywood, survived the onslaught from the Luftwaffe.

But even more tragic news reached Sam in January 1943 when a teacher kept him and his younger brother Sidney back after class and asked them what their mother was called.

Sam said: "When I told the teacher that mum's name was Victoria Bargewell, he showed me a newspaper with her death notice in it.

"It was a dreadful shock and we later found out that she had died from cancer in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast."

For decades, however, Sam was never able to establish where his 43-year-old Spanish-born mother was buried.

But a relative revealed 40 years later that he thought she had been interred in a friend's grave in Carnmoney cemetery, but there were no records.

"I don't know why all that happened," said Sam, who was involved in church work in Co Wicklow for many years before returning to Belfast.

"But I eventually discovered the surname of the people in whose grave my mother was buried and I located it and left a small memorial to her on it."

Sam's mother gave birth to a total of nine children in six different countries as she travelled the world to different British garrisons with her soldier husband.

The five youngest children were evacuated from Belfast while the older ones were all working or serving with the Army.

Only Sam and his brother Sidney are still alive. Sam recently recorded a CD of sacred songs with his pianist wife Edna and he has published a booklet giving his testimony as a Christian.

The couple have also been helping friends to raise money for a home in Timisoara in Romania, which looks after abused children.

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