Child Smuggling in Wartime

As I recall, the war years in Newry did not prove to be too disruptive as far as I was concerned.


I remember of course, the dreaded ‘rationing’!


 Who of my generation doesn’t? 


Each family was supplied with a book of coupons that were used to obtain food, sweets (candies), chocolate, etc. and clothing.  Even if one had sufficient coupons for a particular item it did not guarantee availability.


As regards clothing, a lot of ‘making do and mending’ was necessary.  Fashion did not change for the duration of the war and so there was not the need to have a new outfit each season.  My mother was handy with a sewing machine and knitting needles and so I didn’t feel deprived in that area.  We were of course deprived of a lot of food-stuffs but can honestly say we were never hungry.  All of the ‘fattening’ foods were very heavily rationed and so the nation as a whole was extremely fit and healthy and slim!


And of course there was always the odd bit of smuggling done from the then “Free State”.  Dundalk was the nearest town in the Free State, only thirteen miles down the road.  Doubly convenient for my smuggling as I often travelled to Dundalk to visit my maternal Grandparents.  Oh! yes!  I hold my hands up……I was guilty of trafficking in illegal goods!  Not by choice you understand.  More by manipulation! 


My Grandparents would send me home to Newry laden with butter, sugar, meat etc and tobacco for my Dad’s pipe.  These items were concealed about my person.  I always returned from a visit to Dundalk at least half a stone heavier!  Butter, I recall, was wrapped in what was known as ‘tar paper’.  It had a waxy surface with a sandwich of tar.  This paper prevented the butter from melting as it nestled around my middle. 


About half way along the Dundalk to Newry road there was a British Customs Post.  Vehicles were obliged to stop and driver and passengers were required to produce their Identity Cards and submit to being searched.  Identity Cards contained personal information; i.e name, address, place of birth, etc. and had to be carried at all times.  Sometimes a less than thorough search would take place and following the card check the driver would be waved on to continue his journey.  Usually a child on board was passed over and not subjected to a search. 


On one occasion however I thought my number was definitely up!  My Grandmother had bought me a pair of beautiful black, fur-lined boots.  I was instructed to wear them home and act as though I’d had them for ages!  Difficult, as they were so obviously new!  A lot depended on which Customs Officer was on duty and on that particular night it was bad news!  The female officer, who had definitely missed her vocation…..had she been German she’d have been a top-ranking S.S. Officer……was on duty! 


The reputation of this woman was known far and wide and she had the ability to reduce the toughest of men to nervous wrecks!  It was an extremely cold and wet winter night and she ordered everyone off the ‘bus.  We followed orders and lined up inside a very basic wooden hut with concrete floor.  She took great pleasure in hand searching each passenger, especially those who appeared frail and/or vulnerable.  I stood alone and quivering in my new boots and she pounced! Then followed the usual interrogation; where had I been, for what purpose, how long had I been there and where was I going to and was I returning to Dundalk and if so, when?  She then surveyed me from head to feet……and yes, she did notice my boots!  I was ordered to remove my boots.   She deliberately put my boots to one side while she continued her search of other passengers.  Tactics.  She was no more than a bully and thought she would reduce me to tears and perhaps admit that my boots had been purchased in the Free State.  I honestly thought she was going to confiscate the boots and send me home bare-foot!  While she allowed the other passengers back on the ‘bus, she gave me further interrogation and a lengthy lecture and reluctantly returned my boots.  I was all of nine years old and although my stomach churned and my lip quivered, it was not until I was safely home that I allowed the tears to flow.  My parents were horrified when I related the incident and would happily have reported that officer but it would only have served to draw further attention to me and my family on future trips to Dundalk.


I continued to travel, mostly alone, to Dundalk to be with my adored Granny and Grandfather.  I grew up betwixt and between Newry and Dundalk.


Indeed a fortunate child.       



















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