War hero appeals for modern day harmony in Northern Ireland

Veterans reminisce on 70th anniversary of formal end to second World War

Alfie Martin, a 95-year-old second World War hero, caught the current mood at Belfast City Hall yesterday.

The war was supposed to be about "peace in our time", he recalled before more than 50 veterans at a commemoration lunch marking the end of the war 70 years ago, "but here we are in Northern Ireland and we haven't quite achieved our goal".

Mr Martin paid tribute to fallen comrades and all the veterans who have passed on since the war, and concluded his strongly delivered pre-lunch speech with an appeal to the councillors present: “Please council, will you do your best to fulfil the peace, which we deserve, and create an understanding between individuals, which is so necessary. There is no difference between us – why should there be?”

An RAF man and a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, he was shot down over France and had great adventures being spirited out of the country to Spain, Gibraltar and back to Britain with the help of the French Resistance. While his appeal for modern day harmony was sombre and heartfelt and based on his own experience of a bloody war, otherwise his speech was nicely pitched between the serious and the humorous.

Social life

He said he did his training in the US where his motto was: “Never let a war interfere with your social life.”

Mr Martin, a native of south Belfast, also paid tribute to the women who served, mentioning both the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and the Waafs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Apologising to his wife, a former Wren, he said: “The saying used to be, ‘Up with the lark and to bed with the Wren’.”

The lunch of chicken or poached salmon and Eton mess or bread and butter pudding washed down with Spanish wines was hosted by the DUP deputy lord mayor Guy Spence – the Sinn Féin lord mayor Arder Carson was at another event in Derry.

All the veterans received commemorative medals to mark the end of the war, when Japan formally surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay 70 years ago yesterday.

There was great spirit and energy about the veterans. A former Waaf, Kathleen Porter from Castlereagh in Belfast, was attached to RAF fighter command, involved in the early days of radar, plotting the routes of the German bombers coming over England. She worked 80ft underground in London and recalled coming up for air during the blitz to "that awful burning brick smell".

Uncle Sam tried to conscript Teddy Dixon (95) from east Belfast. He came to Northern Ireland with his Belfast parents, who had emigrated, when he was five, which left him open for the American draft.

In the end, he voluntarily signed up for the US army and fought his way through France and into Germany and was at the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in April 1945. "It was a desperate experience," he said.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times