When World War II broke out, the guardians of Clifton House thought the basement area would serve as the perfect air-raid shelter. There were approximately 130 elderly, frail and infirm residents in the house at the time. It didn’t seem feasible to move them any further should the air-raid siren sound. However, air strikes in April 1941 terrified and traumatised the whole of Belfast. Although Clifton House remained unscathed in the attacks of April 1941, those in charge of Clifton House set about making arrangements to get the residents and the staff out of Belfast.
The Belfast Charitable Society, after much deliberation, moved all of the residents to Garron Tower on the north coast. Garron Tower was a quiet, isolated spot compared to life in the city of Belfast. Rationing also had an impact. In Belfast the relatives of the residents could have easily walked for visits, however with petrol rationed, even those with cars didn’t have enough fuel to get to Garron Tower. The Matron requested additional games, gramophone records and a wireless to help the residents wile away the days.
Dr Purdon, whose family had over a century of association with the Belfast Charitable Society was struggling to get to Antrim to visit the patients due to petrol shortages. The Committee decided to appoint Dr Brennan from Carnlough to take some of the pressure off Dr Purdon. Dr Purdon was delighted with the positive effect the move to Garron Tower had on the residents. He wrote in the 1942 Annual Report;
“The number of deaths was the lowest for many years and this is partly due to the more healthy surroundings and peaceful nights at Garron Tower. A number of the residents who were confined to bed, some for months in Belfast, are now able to go out for daily walks.”
The move to Garron Tower also had unexpected outcomes. For the first time in over 170 years permission to marry was sought for two residents. The bridegroom was 82 year old John Bloomer, who had been employed by the Belfast Rope Works for 40 years. He requested permission to marry 65 year old Frances Ash, a spinster. They were married on 17 August 1944 in Largy Parish Church, Carnlough and the service was celebrated by Rev. J.L. Spence.
Ms Ashe was given away by Captain J.K. Gray, secretary of the Belfast Charitable Society, and she had the support of her sister as bridesmaid. After the ceremony a reception was organised by Miss E.H. Howie, matron of the Charitable Society, and a large company of residents, staff, board members and well-wishers joined in the celebrations. The new Mr & Mrs Bloomer honeymooned in Larne and returned to Garron Tower to live in the married quarters afterwards.