Bangor Seafront in 1900During the Great War, the civilian population, in the absence of home radio, was receiving the bulk of its information about the conflict from local daily and weekly papers.

Ours was, and still is, The County Down Spectator & Ulster Standard.

Reduced to four pages by paper rationing, it got on with advertising farm implements, market days and campaigning against ladies’ corsets made in Germany. It announced hatches, matches and despatches, and on a Saturday night was wrapped round your chips.

Apart from War Reports there were stories of interest like the one about a riot in Castle Street, Bangor, that had neighbours fighting each other with saucepans and pokers - over the ownership of a clothesline! TV makeover programmes (and the USPCA) might be interested in the enterprising woman who dyed her cats to match the furniture! And there must be an Irish joke somewhere about the Belfast lady missionary who escaped being boiled in a cannibal stewpot – did she threaten to eat the spuds, I wonder?

No doubt these articles endeared the “oul paper” to the men at the front and provided light relief, as well as coming in handy for more mundane purposes - like - lining their boots.

And, as well as printing the Regulations of the Defence of the Realm Act that now governed daily life, the paper featured enlistments, and casualties, and letters home from men at the Front - our “Local Heroes”.

Perhaps the most well known was The Honourable Barry Bingham, son of Lord and Lady Clanmorris. On the high seas, Commander Bingham, later Rear-Admiral, won the Victoria Cross for “indomitable pluck” displayed at the Battle of Jutland. His medal is one of the proudest possessions of North Down Museum, and the U-Boat Gun in Ward Park is a tribute to his bravery.

Another local hero, this time an airman, Capt. E W Barrett, died after challenging two German Fokker aircraft. He was shot in the head and his biplane crashed into the ground at full speed. His parents in Farnham Road lost another two sons, Knox and Norman. Their names would join those of Ernest, Willie & Holt Hewitt, three brothers from Downshire Road, making a total of 39 on the Bangor Parish memorial. In 1916, in the space of three months, the Angus Family from Albert Street, lost their three boys - Robert, James and Blair’s names are on Trinity Church’s memorial, in addition to the other 9 lost from that congregation.

In King Street, Bangor, 28 men had enlisted, almost a little Pals’ Battalion. By October 1916 there were two killed, one missing and eight wounded. The Unionist Club by January 1917 had lost 24 members, the Royal Ulster Yacht Club lost 11, Bangor Rugby Club 20, and the Golf Club 32. First Bangor Presbyterian had 31 members killed, Wesley Centenary lost 6, including brothers Herbert and Percy Cumming.

But this was a war that for the first time involved the whole nation and there were other “Local Heroes”.

In addition to the Western Front, Dardanelles, Middle East and South African campaigns, the Home Front’s support for the war effort was essential. Local clubs and organisations pulled out the stops to raise funds, send parcels, and organise entertainment for convalescing servicemen.

First Bangor Scout Troop ran a bottle recycling bank in Mrs Absolom’s front garden in Bryansburn Road. They lost Lieutenant Vivian Rea, their secretary, in the early days of the war, and Mrs Absolom would lose her son, Lee, at the Somme. Ballygilbert Sunday School donated the value of their annual prizes to the Prisoner of War fund. Bangor Bowling Club played tournaments in aid of the Red Cross. The Ulster Herb Fund grew plants for medicinal use, and, the “Plum Pudding for the Front Fund” was well supported too.

In the midst of this activity the population had to endure blackouts – although the lampposts were painted white – the introduction of Daylight Saving Time; and requisitioning of their horses. Alcohol, Fuel and food rationing were introduced. There were Meatless Days, and - Sugar Rationing - perhaps the most devastating of all to a seaside resort – as it meant the prohibition of ice-cream!

So, the term “Local Heroes” covers all sorts of people. Those bank clerks and barbers and underage schoolboys, who volunteered to fight, the parents and spouses who gladly let them go, the suffragettes who trained as nurses and served overseas. Gently brought up “gels”, and former kitchen maids, who worked side by side in munitions, and learned the arts of bus conductoring, and blacksmithing, and……… were roundly condemned as “indecently clad” in The Times for wearing trousers!

The list includes the citizens who went without so that money and goods were available to service the war effort…they were the ones who “turned the dark clouds out” “till the boys came home”, …….who “kept the home fires burning” for those who returned home - gassed, injured and shell-shocked - And those who were bereaved - all of whom had to pick up the pieces - and soldier on – after the fighting was done.

They all were - Our Local Heroes.