Victory in Europe: V.E. Day celebrations in Gilford, Co. Down

Crowds gathered for VE Day celebrations in Gilford, Co. Down on the 8th May 1945 and the Belgian Infantry joined in with the burning of an effigy of Hitler.

On Monday 7th May 1945, broadcasters announced on the radio that Prime Minister Winston Churchill would address the nation the following day. The important announcement would be the German surrender and an end to hostilities in Europe. That day would go down in history as Victory in Europe Day or VE Day.

On the Monday night, the Lambeg drums came out to usher in the VD Day celebrations in Gilford, Co. Down. Other musicians joined the drummers in the street and villagers danced and celebrated well into the early hours of Tuesday morning. When Tuesday 8th May 1945 came, Churchill addressed the nation as expected and the celebrations intensified.

Craigavon School in Gilford, Co. Down hosted a party of around 400 local children. They dined on pastries and lemonade before following Gilford Flute Band through the streets to the Dumbarton Cinema. There, a day of special programming had been put in place.

The Belgian Infantry Celebrate

Gilford Presbyterian Church held a service of thanksgiving in the early evening. Following the church service, the congregation gathered once more in the streets. Mrs. Ida Pentland had created an effigy of Hitler and members of the Belgian Infantry in the village carried it through the town, burning it upon a large bonfire near the Gilford War Memorial. Mrs. Pentland’s collection for the British Red Cross raised the sum of £6.

Residents of Hill Street, Gilford with Belgian soldiers

Family archive photo: Belgian soldiers from 4th (Steenstraete) Infantry Brigade. L-R Bella McConville, Sally McConville, Bernadette Fitzpatrick holding baby Wendy McManus, and Mary McManus. Photo taken at Hill Street (Keady Row), Gilford, Co. Down in 1945. Supplied by Wendy Granville (née McManus).

Other bonfires glowed into the night at the blacksmith’s shop on Mill Row, and at Castle Hill where Mr. Michael Barlow JP gave a speech. All through the streets, the dancing continued into the early hours of the morning. Locals danced in The Square to the sounds of the Pioneer Dance Band and others danced in the Orange Hall until around 0300hrs.

As well as residents of Gilford, there was much involvement from the members of the Belgian Infantry based in the area. They would also attend a large outdoor thanksgiving service on Sunday 13th May 1945. This brought to an end a week of VE Day celebrations in Gilford, Co. Down.