Between 13th October 1942 and 17th October 1942, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal visited Northern Ireland. During her time in Ulster, she inspected members of the services. In particular, these were in her roles as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals and Controller Commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Her Royal Highness also spent time in several hospitals around Belfast. Perhaps this was a nod to her own training as a nurse. On 13th October 1942, she traveled from Government House, Hillsborough, Co. Down into the city of Belfast to begin her official engagements.
On 13th October 1942, the Princess Royal arrived at Government House at Hillsborough Castle. During her short visit to Northern Ireland, she stayed there as a guest of the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn. Each day spent in Ulster saw several visits to hospitals and military establishments. Her trip saw a strong focus on the role of women in wartime.
The first main engagement on the Royal Visit was at the Samaritan Hospital for Women on Lisburn Road, Belfast. On 12th October 1928, the Princess Royal had opened an extension to the hospital. On that occasion, a young girl names Miss Rosemary Haughton presented Her Royal Highness with a bouquet of flowers. More than a decade later, Miss Haughton returned to greet the Princess Royal and present a souvenir box of Irish Linen Handkerchiefs.
During the visit, the Princess Royal – a Patron of the hospital – met with Lady Coates (President), Mrs. Oscar Henderson (Deputy Vice-Chair), Miss Margaret Holland (Honorary Secretary), Mrs. Roland Sinclair (Assistant Honorary Secretary), Mrs. W.T. Rogan (Chair of the House Committee), Mr. A.C. Medlok (Vice-Chair of the House Committee), and Mr. W.E. Bell (Honorary Treasurer). She also spent time with the nursing staff under Miss E. McRobert (Matron). On her tour of the building, the Princess Royal commented on the green and white colour scheme. She also showed great interest in the new maternity facilities and nursery ward.
The Princess was thrilled with the A.R.P. Station, which has been fitted up in a downstairs apartment. This is under a Warden who gives first aid instruction, which is proving a real boon. To help him, he has a number of life-size figures occupying stretchers. Once these figures were centres of attraction in a city store. Now they are used for demonstration purposes.
Continuing her visit to Belfast, the Princess Royal next stopped at the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. She had previously been a nurse at a children’s hospital in London and showed great affection towards the staff and patients. During the visit, she met with Mr. J. Holden Craig (Chairman of the Board), Mrs. Frank Acheson (President), Mrs. Harold Gray (Honorary Secretary Ladies’ Committee), Mrs. A.S. Atkinson (Honorary Secretary), Mr. J. Morton McAuley (Honorary Treasurer), Mr. Rowland Hill (Chairman of the Medical Staff), Professor P.T. Crymble (Senior Surgeon), and Mr. R.W. Harland (Secretary Superintendent).
Accompanied by Matron Miss A.P. Knox, the Princess Royal spent time on the wards chatting to several of the young patients. They included a pair of young brothers with injuries sustained due to being knocked down by a United States Army lorry. Another young man on the Fagan Ward who met the Royal guest was 11 year old James Reid of 19 Milan Street, Belfast. He had sustained injuries when a bomb was thrown at a passing police patrol on Raglan Street, Belfast the previous week.
As word began to spread of a Royal visitor in the city, small crowds began to gather at key points. One such crowd formed on the corner of Bedford Street and Donegall Square. They gave the Princess Royal a rousing welcome as she stopped at the Ulster Gift Fund Headquarters. There, she met with the Duchess of Abercorn (President), Mrs. Ainsworth Barr C.B.E., Mrs. R. Hanson, Mrs. Stirling, Mrs. Reid, and Miss Nancy Kinghan (Organising Secretary).
Her Royal Highness inspected the various articles closely. A rug – a veritable Joseph’s coat as regards colours – her Royal Highness picked out from an almost bewildering array of knitwear. She discovered it was the work of a Downpatrick woman more than 80 years of age. “What joy those colours will bring to some patient” remarked the Princess.
Around the corner, the Princess Royal then attended a short visit to Belfast City Hall. There, as a guest of Alderman G.R. Black (Lord Mayor), she met with Alderman T. Henderson M.P. (High Sheriff), and Mr. J.F. McKinstry (Acting Town Clerk). Like many other distinguished guests to the City Hall, the Princess Royal signed her name in the Visitors’ Book. She also explored the building including the severely damaged ballroom, which fell victim to incendiary fires during the Belfast Blitz.
The final engagement of the first day was a reception at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. Along with the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn, the Princess Royal was a guest of Prime Minister and Mrs. J.M. Andrews. A few civil servants clocking off at 1700hrs caught a glimpse of the Princess Royal as she entered the Parliament Buildings. Other dignitaries in attendance included Major General Russell P. Hartle (U.S. Army), Rear Admiral King (Royal Navy), and the Right Honourable H.G.H. Mulholland (Speaker of the House of Commons).
The first day of the Royal Visit was conducted in relative secrecy. A few small crowds gathered in parts of the city, including Broadway, where they waved Union Flags and handkerchiefs. Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol cars parked in streets along the route and plainclothes police officers walked the streets to ensure a high level of security.
The first stop for Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and her attendant Miss Kenyon-Slaney on 14th October 1942 was Wallace Park, Lisburn, Co. Antrim. In her role as Colonel in Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals, she was a guest of Major General Majendie (G.O.C.N.I.) and Brigadier Hanson V.C.
In Wallace Park, she reviewed several Companies of the Royal Corps of Signals. Part of her visit included observing the use of highly secretive equipment before she took the salute during a march past. As with the rest of the visit, security levels were high in Lisburn, Co. Antrim. A handful of curious onlookers gathered at the park gates on Belfast Road as the Royal visitor arrived. During the visit, the band of the Royal Ulster Rifles played the National Anthem.
When she went along to their quarters to make sure that they were being properly looked after, her eyes, like any housewife’s, were gladdened by glimpses of scrupulously clean billets, shining cookhouses, and last but not least, a toothsome display of steaks, roasts of beef, mounds of sausages, and trays of rashers of ham in the butcher’s shop.
The butcher showed the Princess Royal how he used the leftovers and empty bully beef tins to make prime quality pressed meat. She also visited the N.A.A.F.I. canteen and sampled some of the food before enjoying lunch with the Officers.
Following lunch in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, the Princess Royal returned to Belfast where she visited Stranmillis Military Hospital. During the visit to the military medical facility, she met with Mrs. Gordon Johnson of Shrewsbury Gardens, Belfast. Mrs. Johnston is a native of the Channel Islands and had fled only 10 days before the arrival of the occupying enemy forces.
In Belfast, Mrs. Johnson operated ‘Mobile Canteen No. 1’. The canteen is a converted pram, painted in cream and green. From this makeshift trolley, patients may buy a range of goods. These include cigarettes, chocolate, writing materials, etc. She visited the hospital twice a week. ‘Mobile Canteen No. 1’ was of great interest to the Royal visitor and is thought to be the first innovation of its kind at a Military Hospital in the United Kingdom.
During her time on the wards, the Princess Royal spoke to Leading Aircraftman D.H. Ward of Kent, England. He had received injuries in a motoring accident in Northern Ireland. She also observed men undergoing massage treatment and perming physical therapy exercises.
During the late afternoon, Her Royal Highness – as Controller Commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service – inspected members of the A.T.S. at Palace Barracks, Holywood, Co. Down. Mrs. Ogilvie Graham, Chief of the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Northern Ireland organised the visit.
The Princess Royal inspected rows of hundreds of young women, complimenting them on their smart appearance. Male soldiers from both the British and American services observed from vantage points around the parade ground. The Union Flag flew and the band of the Royal Irish Fusiliers played the National Anthem before the inspection began.
A parade lead by Junior Commander Miss Marjorie Anderson of Ballymena, Co. Antrim filed past the Princess Royal who took the salute flanked by A.T.S. Military Police ‘Red Caps’. Among those on parade was Corporal Winifred Vance, the official barracks tailor. Chief Controller of the A.T.S. Mrs. Jean Knox once described Miss Vance as the “smartest A.T.S. girl in Britain”.
During an inspection of the billets, Her Royal Highness spoke with new recruits who had been with the A.T.S. for just a day. She also encountered ‘Flirt’, the Dachshund mascot of the A.T.S. Camp. The tour of the barracks also included the living quarters, lecture rooms, recreation facilities, dining rooms, kitchens, and the camp sick-bay.
She also spent an amount of time observing a physical education class in the gymnasium and spoke with instructor Corporal Dorothy Gordon of Derry/Londonderry. Her Royal Highness also chatted with Private Ida P. Dunn, a Dubliner enjoying her time in Northern Ireland with the A.T.S.
On 15th October 1942, Lieutenant Bainbridge photographed Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal as she inspected members of 61st Division Signals in Ulster.
On 16th September 1942, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal inspected members of 59th Division Signals during her short royal visit to Northern Ireland.
During the Second World War, Hillsborough Castle or Government House was the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn who hosted many important visitors.
On 14th October 1942, the Samaritan Hospital for Women, Lisburn Road, Belfast hosted Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal for an official visit to the wards.
On 14th October 1942, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal visited the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, now part of the Royal Victoria Hospital complex.
During the Second World War, women in Northern Ireland established the Ulster Gift Fund to help provide home comforts to service personnel across the world.
During, and in the years after, the Second World War, Belfast's City Hall on Donegall Square North became a focal point of commemoration in the city centre.
During the Second World War, governments under three successive Prime Ministers - Craig, Andrews, and Brooke - sat at Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal visited Wallace Park, in Lisburn on 14th October 1942 inspecting officers and soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals.
During the Second World War, Stranmillis Military Hospital took over the site of a relatively new teacher training college in an affluent part of south Belfast.