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Personal Reminisces of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Four of us started work at the same time in September 1962; Pastor Davy, Billy from Bloomfield, Hank and myself. None of us was older than 16 years of age.

Pastor Davy got his name because it became very clear early on that he belonged to the evangelical tradition of the protestant church; good livin’, as they say in the north of Ireland. Billy hailed from the Bloomfield district of east Belfast, so in the tradition of that work place his first name was substituted by that of his locality. Hank was different. He was tall, with dark auburn hair and he wore rectangular rimmed glasses. To some he resembled Hank Williams of the Shadows, a popular electric guitar plucking group long before boy bands were invented. True to the time honored tradition I was Lisburn.

I never really took to factory life, not from the get go. So going to evening classes after work three times a week to learn the basics of my trade – how many teeth in a hacksaw blade, the names and uses of different files- didn’t seem such a burden. My three co- workers gave night school a miss.

Of course we all came from protestant families. Never mind that Mackies factory where we worked was located in the middle of a catholic neighbourhood with high rates of unemployment. Fred Allen, the company’s personnel officer – may he lie in an uneasy place – made sure that.

Religious identity was important for us youngsters even though not that many went to church on a Sunday. Trade union membership was something that would come later, when we had finished our apprenticeships. To say that the new president of the USA, JF Kennedy, was a concern because he was a catholic would be going over the top. But we knew he was.

On the other hand the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was the aloof, plumy voiced Captain Terrance O’Neill; Eaton College and the Brigade of Guards. Back then that was sufficient to give him a pass to being considered one of our own. The aloofness lasted but O’Neill did not.

In many ways those were quiet years. There were more jobs than in our parent’s time, even if access to work was often denied of religious grounds. The folk revival was starting to bring political and social questions to the fore. The Northern Ireland civil rights movement was not yet born. The brutality of extreme British unionism to any form of change was mostly out of sight. Irish republicanism was quietly considering its options.

That guy Castro was in the news again. I remembered hearing about him on the radio when I was still at school. Him and his rebel army came down from the mountains and toppled a dictator. The Yanks didn’t like him much. But that didn’t matter, we didn’t like the Yanks much. British is best, after all. But there again, the idea of a rebel army had some appeal to a 15 year old. Mixed up? You bet.

On the green and pale yellow walls of the assembly shop where we worked was a clock. The hours ticked by. “We’re all doomed,” announced Hank. “We’ll all be blown to pieces.” The hours ticked by, so did October, so did the missile crisis. As far as we were concerned nothing much happened.

The factory where we worked closed years ago and I have no idea what happened to my work mates. During the early 1970s, with the troubles in the north of Ireland well under way, I met Pastor Davy in a street near Smithfield market. He too gave up factory work and was off to study at a bible college.

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Sam Gordon worked in a Belfast factory, then an engineer in the merchant navy, a trainer, researcher and co-coordinator of community projects in Scotland. A graduate from various universities, on a good day he claims he’s a decorative artist and sometimes writer. Most days he’s a blacksmith, welder, and painter in Nicaragua.

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