The Princess Royal visits Northern Ireland

Between 13th-17th October 1942, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal visited Northern Ireland with a focus on the role of women in wartime.

Between 13th October 1942 and 17th October 1942, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal paid a visit to Northern Ireland. In her roles as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals and Controller Commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, she inspected members of both services.

She also spent time in several hospitals around Belfast, perhaps recalling her own training as a nurse. On 13th October 1942, she travelled from Government House, Hillsborough, Co. Down into the city of Belfast to begin her official engagements.

13th October 1942

Government House, Hillsborough Castle, Hillsborough, Co. Down.

On 13th October 1942, the Princess Royal arrived at Government House at Hillsborough Castle, Hillsborough, Co. Down. During her short visit to Northern Ireland, she stayed as a guest of the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn. Each day spent in Ulster saw several visits to hospitals and military establishments with a particular focus on the role of women in wartime.

Samaritan Hospital for Women, Lisburn Road, Belfast

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.

Belfast News Letter, 14th October 1942.

Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Falls Road, Belfast

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.

Ulster Gift Fund Headquarters, Bedford Street, Belfast

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.

Belfast News Letter, 14th October 1942.

Bedford Street, Belfast in 1944

Belfast Telegraph Photo: A view of Bedford Street, Belfast looking towards Donegall Square from the corner of Ormeau Avenue on 6th October 1944. Note the white striped markings on lamp and signposts to help drivers in the blackout, as well as the old Belfast trams and a United States Army Willy's Jeep. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

Belfast City Hall, Donegall Square, Belfast

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.

Belfast City Hall

WartimeNI Photo: Made of Portland stone, Belfast's impressive City Hall has dominated the city since opening in 1906. Photo taken on 15th April 2016. Copyright Scott Edgar - WartimeNI.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast

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.

14th October 1942

Wallace Park, Lisburn, Co. Antrim

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.

Belfast Telegraph, 14th October 1942.

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.

Stranmillis Military Hospital, Belfast

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.

Palace Barracks, Holywood, Co. Down

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.

15th October 1942

Library for the Forces, Fitzwilliam Street, Belfast

On 15th October 1942, one stop for the Royal visitor was the Library for the Forces at 3 Fitzwilliam Street, Belfast. Welcomed by Viscount Charlemont and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast Mr. D. Lindsay Keir, the Princess Royal was lead on a tour by Mrs. Harold Totton, Honorary Secretary of the scheme.

What a real joy these books must be to those who are doing so much for us.

Belfast News Letter, 16th October 1942.

From this base, books are distributed to members of the British Army and Royal Air Force. During the Princess Royal’s visit, around 600 boxes of books and parcels of magazines awaited distribution. Her Royal Highness also observed the repairing of old books and learned about the range of classes held in the library. These included classes in French, German, Spanish, and drama. Other rooms in the building included a reading room, a writing room, a rest room, and a gramophone room.

Hillsborough Y.M.C.A. Canteen, Hillsborough, Co. Down

On her return to Hillsborough, Co. Down, the Princess Royal made a brief stop at a Y.M.C.A. Canteen. President Mrs. Oscar Henderson and Honorary Secretary Miss Beattie showed the distinguished visitor around the premises.

The Duchess of Abercorn was also in attendance as were around 50 soldiers enjoying tea and a sing-song in the canteen. Around 300-400 troops make use of the canteen every day.

16th October 1942

5th General Hospital, Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast

On 16th October 1942, the Princess Royal spent time inspecting American facilities in Northern Ireland. On a visit to an American Military Hospital, she met with nursing staff and patients. Among those to greet the Princess Royal was Matron Major Bernice J. Sinclair of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Among the patients introduced to the Royal visitor was 2 and a half year old Sally Patterson of Belfast. She received injuries following an accident involving a U.S. Military lorry. On admission to the hospital, she quickly became a “mascot” for the troops. Her room was full of toys, brought to the hospital by soldiers and nursing staff.

On the medical side, she saw an apparatus which has been invented by an American Army doctor since his arrival in Northern Ireland, which is expected to revolutionise the treatment of broken and injured necks.

The invention has already been shown to Ulster medical men, whose consensus of opinion is that the apparatus is a tremendous progress on anything yet invented for the purpose.

Northern Whig, 17th October 1942.

She also learned about the use of arts and crafts among patients. The American Military used such occupational therapy to alleviate boredom on the wards. One prolific artist was Private Joe Golz, a 26 year old New Yorker. Having been a painter before enlisting, he had since become an instructor for arts and crafts to the American Forces in Northern Ireland.

Others who met with the Princess Royal included Private John V. Sabolenko of Elmont, Long Island, New Jersey, U.S.A. who received treatment for arthritis, and Nurse Miss Olena Cole of Bradford, Illinois, U.S.A.

British Sailors’ Society and Allied Seamen’s Committee Hostel, Donegall Place, Belfast

In Belfast, the Royal visitor also spoke with members of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy at a British Sailors’ Society and Allied Seamen’s Committee Hostel. Before meeting with British, Dutch, and Norwegian Merchant Marine Officers, she took part in a game of billiards with some of the sailors.

Princess Royal at the American red Cross Services' Club, Belfast

British Newspaper Archive Photograph: Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal with Corporal Owen Poucher of Ridgeville, Indiana, U.S.A., Sergeant S.W. Chamberlain of Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., Corporal Charles J. Platt of Rochester, New York, U.S.A., and Corporal Bennie Howard of New York, New York, U.S.A in the American Red Cross Services' Club, Chichester Street, Belfast.

American Red Cross Services’ Club, Chichester Street, Belfast

Following her visit to the hostel, the Princess Royal visited the American Red Cross Services’ Club on Chichester Street, Belfast. There, she observed the accommodation and facilities in place for members of the United States Military.

After a welcome from the Duke of Abercorn and Major General Hartle, the Princess Royal stood with some U.S. Army personnel for photographs. Among those to snapped by the ‘Stars and Stripes’ photographer were; Corporal Owen Poucher of Ridgeville, Indiana, U.S.A., Sergeant S.W. Chamberlain of Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., Corporal Charles J. Platt of Rochester, New York, U.S.A., and Corporal Bennie Howard of New York, New York, U.S.A.

An unexpected delicacy awaited the Princess when she sat down to afternoon tea in the spacious dining hall. She was served with delicious white bread sandwiches, and appeared to enjoy thoroughly a treat which is absent even from the Buckingham Palace menus.

Larne Times, 22nd October 1942.

Plaza Ballroom, Chichester Street, Belfast

The Plaza Ballroom on Chichester Street, Belfast became home to the American Red Cross Services' Club in Belfast during the Second World War. Copyright unknown.

Portadown, Co. Armagh

Outside of Belfast, the Princess Royal travelled to Portadown, Co. Armagh. There, she visited the Millicent Terrace home of Dr. George Dougan M.P. In the Co. Armagh town, a crowd gathered to cheer the Princess despite the secrecy of the visit. At 1200hrs, a band played a selection of music in the Market Square.

Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal left Northern Ireland on 17th October 1942, returning to England.