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An Ulster Log: How a cave proved safe haven during Belfast Blitz

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 16/05/2015

Next stage: Zoe Rainey will star in the musical Anything Goes

A neighbour knocked on the door that May day in 1945 to tell us the war was over. So I didn't have to sleep under the bed in a back downstairs room with Tartar the Cocker Spaniel as my guardian ever again.

That's where my mother Marty found me, a refuge on the first night of the Blitz on Belfast in 1941. We lived in Carnmoney, just six miles from the stricken city and were within range of stray enemy bombs.

And mum parked me there every time the hateful air-raid siren blared, before she admitted I would be safer in a dug-out shelter in the Well Field on the outskirts of the village. It was a cave, like the ones early man dwelt in back in time, dug out of the side of the meadow and stocked with food and drinks. I remember being carried there, a babe in arms, at the height of another horrific attack and gazing up at the night sky, lit up by the piercing searchlights and actually hearing the drone of German engines.

I survived the Second World War and so did my mother and father, John, who was working in essential war services at Henry Campbell & Co Four uncles and two cousins were in the war, either in the Army, the Navy or the RAF and they came home, too, although Uncle Bob McIlwaine was a prisoner-of-war and worked on the notorious Burma Road. My aunt, Sadie, my mum's sister, was also in uniform and I can remember her on leave from the Women's RAF, singing The White Cliffs of Dover with me on her knee.

My scariest moment of the war happened when I saw a smoking Spitfire, nearly out of control, brush the trees across a road called Tapsy Toosey and spin away to knock a chimney pot off a house across the street. I gazed into the pilot's eyes for a second, as he desperately avoided the village, before he crashed on the side of Carnmoney Hill.

The tragedy was kept under wraps and I never did discover the pilot's name. It was a Spitfire just like the flying legend in my picture today.

On a more cheerful note, to herald in the peace, the bell of the old Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, which had been silent since 1939, was tolled again. And the Rev Samuel Nicholson allowed me to pull the bell rope to tell the villagers that the last all clear was being sounded.

Zoe's all at sea in next big role

Bangor lass Zoe Rainey is poised to give audiences at the Grand Opera House in Belfast a glimpse of stocking when she arrives at the theatre on Tuesday, May 26, for a week to star in the musical Anything Goes.

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, according to the lyrics of a Cole Porter song she and the rest of the cast will be harmonising in on Zoe's favourite stage.

In this up-to-date version of the show (originally written in 1934), Zoe (30) plays Hope Harcourt with whom Billy Crocker (Matt Rawle), a wannabe stockbroker (but currently broke), is hopelessly in love.

He's trying to steal her away from wealthy Elisha Whitney (Simon Rouse) on board the liner SS American.

Jimmy's a winner on and off the football pitch

Good to hear that Jimmy Greaves is recovering from his stroke. He's a lovely man. I can't believe he's 75 - I used to watch him dashing into the Irish goalmouth to score when he was playing for England in his 20s against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.

I met him once when he came to Belfast, years after he retired from football. He was talking about his career with Chelsea and Tottenham and his struggles to beat the booze.

Jimmy was left heartbroken when injury forced him out of the England World Cup winning team of 1966.

Eventually the Football Association gave him a World Cup medal in 2009 and about time, too. Jimmy wasn't fussed - he wasn't in the team in that Wembley final, so he didn't think he was entitled to the medal, anyway. He promptly sold it for £44,000.

Bully for Greaves. I hope he makes a full recovery.

Praise be for charity music project

It will soon be Shine Out time again, promises celebrated choir maestro Judith Watson. The Shine Out Praise music project, a huge success in its inaugural event last year, will run from Monday, June 29, until Saturday, July 4, in St Nicholas' Church on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.

And one of the coaches will be Aine Miller with Paul Savage and Audrey Gillan there, too, alongside youth leaders Nikki Porteous and Lesley-Anna Tosh.

During this workshop week there will be sections for adult choir, young musicians, and orchestra, and it will all lead up to a gala concert on the night of July 4 in aid of Christian Aid's Ethiopia Appeal and the Salvation Army Community Appeal.

Hit selfish drivers where it hurts

A friend of mine who is recovering from an operation and has a disabled badge in his car drove into a Tesco car park to discover that six spaces in a row for people like him were occupied by the cars of perfectly fit and well folk who had ignored a sign that couldn't be missed, advising that these six places were reserved for drivers with a handicap.

So he did a wee bit of research around six other car parks in this corner of south Antrim and discovered that most of the disabled spots were occupied by the vehicles of the uncaring.

The solution, I say, has to be a fine that hurts the pocket.

Last laugh's on the poll naysayers

I have to laugh at all those political commentators who got the result of the General Election so wrong and bored us rigid with their never-ending mumbo-jumbo, especially on TV.

All that talk about a hung Parliament made me want to pull my hair out.

Those so-called experts must be red faced with embarrassment that their predictions were rubbish.

Especially as I had a successful £20 wager that earned me a tidy sum when I forecast that the Tory Party and David Cameron would go back to Westminster 100 seats ahead of Labour. And I would never call myself a political animal.

Belfast Telegraph

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