Many people enjoy reading the published diaries of politicians and other celebrities, and if they reveal family secrets, sexual indiscretions and character assassinations, they reach the 'best sellers' list. Sadly, the diary I kept as a teenager in the 1940s does not contain any of those, nor can I claim it as literature, as I simply recorded each day the War news and my personal activities.
On reading my diary for 1940 I discovered how things long forgotten looked from a personal view, and how local references brought back a way of life that has almost disappeared.
For news we turned daily to the radio and in addition it gave us music and comedy. The great provider of entertainment was the cinema; throughout the War years full houses and queuing were the order of the day. At the time of Dunkirk, one of the darkest periods of the War, Portadown film-goers could see Humphrey Bogart in "Swing Your Lady" or "Bachelor Mother" starring Ginger Rogers.
My diary shows I went to the cinema sometimes 3 times a week during the autumn and winter, at a time when we had three picture houses. During the summer this fell to about twice a week, as during those months tennis clubs were popular with people of all ages. The cinema had always provided cheap entertainment in comfortable surroundings, although by the end of the War the prices at the Regal were Stalls 9d, Balcony 2/- [two shillings or 10p].
There was "live" entertainment too - ENSA, the entertainment section of the Forces, provided a concert in the Town Hall and that was also the venue for a show presented by Edgar Benyon, a magician and ventriloquist, who over the years visited Portadown usually for a week; his shows were very professional and attracted full houses. In July 1940 Duffy's Circus was in town.
I recorded daily the number of aircraft lost in air battles or bombing raids, but serious students of the history of that time will find it was only later the full facts emerged. On Sunday June 16th people leaving church found troops building road blocks. Was this to halt an invasion? we asked. It was felt that a German attack on Britain could begin.
Then it was announced that air raid shelters ware to be built and on August 16th work began here on 14 shelters; the work was carried out by R. Heathwood at a cost of £1,966.
The "Belfast Telegraph" organised a "Spitfire Fund" whose target was to raise enough to buy 6 'planes, one for each county. Part of the fund-raising was a "'Midnight Matinee" at the Regal Cinema.
On August 23rd we were issued with gas masks; fortunately there never was a need for them. On October 20th the town had two air-raid warnings, one at 1.00a.m. and one at 8.00p.m.
The Northern Ireland Prime Minister Mr Andrews and Harry Midgley spoke in the Town Hall to launch 'War Weapons Week' and it was announced the town had raised £115,000.
The novelist L. P. Hartley coined the phrase "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" and the truth of that statement is borne out when we consider the change in our attitude to crime and punishment. In September, two boys who broke into a fruit shop in Woodhouse Street were each given three years in a reform schools. In November two local men, members of the then IRA, were sentenced for taking part in a bank robbery; they were given 12 years imprisonment and 10 strokes of 'the cat'. Most people today would find physical punishment abhorrent.
And so we came to what was the end of a momentous year. Although we did not know it, there lay ahead another four and a half years of the War.