Seymour Hill pupils welcome veteran

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Pupils at Seymour Hill Primary recently welcomed World War Two veteran Alfie Martin to the school.

The visit was organised by the Lagan Rivers Trust after pupils helped the Trust to plant a Poppy Field to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

The children sat in complete silence for ninety minutes, as Alfie, who lived in Dunmurry, told how he was shot down over France and made his way back to Britain with help from the Resistance underground.

95-year-old Alfie shared his story of life in the trenches and was pleased to answer the pupils questions.

Alfie had just started as a territorial with the Royal Engineers at Kilroot when the war began in 1939.

He later published a book about his dramatic rescue by the French Resistance after he was shot down while serving with the RAF.

Alfie can vividly recall September 3, 1939 – the fateful day when war was declared. He had been stationed at the salt mine near Kilroot, maintaining coastal searchlights in the area.

“We were on church parade and being addressed by an army padre when we heard the prime minister on the radio over the public address system,” he explained.

“Chamberlain said that they had tried to prevent the overrun of Czechoslovakia but that they had received no suitable reply from Germany, consequently we were at war.

“We thought, ‘oh well, that is where we were heading anyway’. We thought we would only be away for two or three weeks. But in the end it was six years.”

Alfie had 47 different postings across Northern Ireland, England, North America and Scotland.

In Northern Ireland he was responsible for maintaining searchlights along the coast at Magilligan, Kilroot and Helen’s Bay.

But then he was interviewed for the RAF and went to England where he was trained for navigation, bombing and gunnery on aircraft. He was later shot down on the Belgium-French border in April 1943.

“Although the area was German occupied it was relatively friendly,” he said.

“The French resistance got us home. First we went over the Pyrenees, then on to Madrid and finally to Gibraltar, from where we flew home.”

Class teacher and vice principal Mr. Stephen Nimmon was very pleased to welcome Alfie to the school and said the pupils were fascinated by his story.

“I am in the process of purchasing copies of Alfie’s book so that we can read it together as a class,” added Mr Nimmon.