“Red Army Day” celebrations on the streets of Belfast

On 20th February 1943, the people of Belfast commemorated "Red Army Day" with a large military parade through the city attended by dignitaries.

"Red Army Day" took place on 20th February 1943. Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, events marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Red Army. Parades and speeches also celebrated the ongoing efforts of Soviet Forces in the Second World War.

In Belfast, a parade departed from Royal Belfast Academical Institution on Wellington Place. It would pass through the streets of the city, past Belfast City Hall before dispersing on Chichester Street. At 1100hrs, Duke of Abercorn (Governor of Northern Ireland) accompanied by Commander Oscar Henderson took the salute at City Hall. The remainder of the platform party was the Duchess of Abercorn, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Andrews, Mr. William Grant (Minister of Public Security), Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast), Sir Thomas Dixon, a Naval Officer representing Rear Admiral Bevan, Major General Majendie, and Air Vice-Marshal Cole. Prominent in the parade was the U.S.S.R. Embassy in London representative Naval Lieutenant Elagin.

Duke of Abercorn on Red Army Day

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 27394) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) The Duke of Abercorn (Governor of Northern Ireland) takes the salute at Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Behind him is U.S.S.R. Naval Lieutenant Elagin. Photo taken on 20th February 1943. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

Massed bands performed musical numbers on Donegall Place, Belfast facing the City Hall. The tunes included the national anthems of both the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R.

Among those on parade were members of the British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Auxiliary Territorial Service, Womens’ Royal Naval Service, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Ulster Home Guard, Royal Ulster Constabulary, Civil Defence Service, National Fire Service, Air Training Corps, Sea Cadets, and nurses.

Military Officers in Belfast on Red Army Day

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 27395) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) Major General Majendie C.B., D.S.O. greets U.S.S.R. Naval Lieutenant Elagin at Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Photo taken on 20th February 1943. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

Prime Minister Mr. John Miller Andrews addressed the large crowd:

By deeds of superb heroism, the Red Army has written a glorious chapter in the grim annals of war. The 25th anniversary of the Red Army coincides with splendid victories that have hurled back the enemy and brought much nearer the day of final triumph over the barbarian invaders.

The inspiring leadership of Stalin, the brilliant generalship of the Russian commanders, the bravery and devotion of the rank and file, the people’s capacity for sacrifice – all these have made possible the present offensive, one of the miracles of this war.

It is gratifying to know that tanks, aircraft, and other wat material sent from the United Kingdom and America have helped the forces of our great Russian ally to achieve these spectacular successes.

This is a symbol of the unity of purpose that inspires the United Nations and which is leading to an overwhelming victory. Today, Northern Ireland salutes the officers and men of the Russian forces, whose valour has saved Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, and will yet liberate their entire native land.

U.S.S.R. Naval Lieutenant Elagin in Belfast

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 27396) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) U.S.S.R. Naval Lieutenant Elagin and Commander Oscar Henderson D.S.O. at Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Photo taken on 20th February 1943. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

A statement from U.S.S.R. Premier Joseph Stalin was read:

On behalf of the armed forces of the Soviet Union, I welcome and thank all citizens, men and women, of Great Britain who honour the 25th anniversary of the Red Army.

This demonstration of friendly feelings on the part of the British people for the army of the Soviet people strengthens our confidence that the moment is near when the armed forces of our countries, by joint offensive operations, will smash our common enemy.

Red Army Day Parade in Northern Ireland

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 27393) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) Personnel of the Auxiliary Territorial Service parade past Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Photo taken on 20th February 1943. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

The Governor of Northern Ireland had appealed to the public to fly the flags of the United Nations. The Union Flag and the Red flag of the Soviet Union were evident in number. Lord Mayor of Belfast Sir Crawford McCullagh supported the motion.

The day’s commemorations drew to a close with an E.N.S.A. (Entertainments National Service Association) show at the Belfast Hippodrome. Manager Mr. G.L. Birch put together an evening of entertainment including Bebe Daniels, Ann Dvorak, and the “Shepherds Delight” party. Proceeds went towards Mrs. Churchill’s “Aid To Russia Fund”.

Red Army Day 1944

On 23rd February 1944, a second "Red Army Day" parade took place in Belfast. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Mr. A.V. Alexander (First Lord of the Admiralty). During his time in Northern Ireland, he was a guest of the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn at Government House, Hillsborough, Co. Down. Mr. Alexander took the salute as the parade passed by Belfast City Hall.

Also in the platform party were Commander Oscar Henderson representing the Duke of Abercorn (Governor of Northern Ireland), Sir Basil Brooke (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland), Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast), and representatives of the Belfast Corporation. There were also 3 Soviet representatives in Mr. M. Zonov (Second Secretary), Captain Lieutenant Voronin, and Colonel Gorbatov.

Red Army Day in Belfast, 1944

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 36118) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland Lieutenant-General Sir Alan G. Cunningham with Officer's cane accompanies the platform party at Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Photo taken on 23rd February 1944. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

The march began at 1055hrs with bands playing ‘Land of Freedom’, the new National Anthem of the Soviet Union. This was the first time the anthem had been publicly played in Northern Ireland. The honour fell to the massed bands of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Ulster Rifles, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

During the proceedings, Sir Basil Brooke spoke on the role of the Red Army in the ongoing conflict.

By deeds of unsurpassed valour and superb generalship, the Red Army continues to thrill the world by its exploits and to inflict on the German forces a succession of disastrous defeats.

The name of Stalingrad will echo through the ages as the symbol of a spirit that is unconquerable. In October, we in Northern Ireland, had the privilege of seeing the Stalingrad Sword of Honour, the gift of Hs Majesty The King to the heroic people of that immortal city.

The victory of the Red Army at Nikopol was likewise an ever-memorable event. The recent annihilation of the encircled German divisions in the Ukraine proved once again the genius of the Red Army’s leaders and the bravery and devotion of the rank and file.

Soon the Red Army will sweep the invader completely from the soil of the U.S.S.R. Soon also the British-American assault on Western Europe will be launched. I look forward with confidence to the day – not, I hope, far distant – when the victory of the Allied Nations will be final and complete and when security and peace will reward their common sacrifice.

Red Army Day in Belfast, 1944

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 36124) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection) General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland Lieutenant-General Sir Alan G. Cunningham, First Lord of the Admiralty Mr. A.V. Alexander, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Sir Basil Brooke, Lord Mayor of Belfast Sir Crawford McCullagh and other members of the platform party at Belfast City Hall on 'Red Army Day'. Photo taken on 23rd February 1944. Copyright Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge - War Office Photographer.

Among those on parade were elements of the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Auxiliary Territorial Service, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Women’s Royal Naval Service, Merchant Navy, Ulster Home Guard, Royal Ulster Constabulary, National Fire Service, and Civil Defence Service.

As each service passed by Belfast City Hall, the massed bands provided an accompanying march:

  • ‘Hearts of Oak’ for the Royal Navy, WRNS, and Merchant Navy.
  • ‘Life On The Ocean Wave’ for the Royal Marines.
  • ‘British Grenadiers’ for the British Army.
  • ‘R.A.F. March’ for the Royal Air Force.
  • ‘Old Comrades’ for the Ulster Home Guard.
  • ‘Young May Moon’ for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • ‘Sons Of The Brave’ for the National Fire Service.
  • ‘Great Little Army’ for the Civil Defence Service.

The Soviet guests remained in Northern Ireland for several days, accompanying Mr. A.V. Alexander on a visit to Harland and Wolff Ltd., Short and Harland Ltd., and a Royal Navy air establishment on Thursday 24th February 1944. They also attended a gathering at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast.