It’s Derry again – with London and Liverpool, commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic

From the Dalai Lama to a “ VVIP”  at the weekend, Londonderry is proving quite  a venue, one of three for  commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic this weekend. Good to see the UK City of Culture grafting this  on to the programme  and the recognition given to its role as a major port for the destroyer escorts of the convoys in and  out of Liverpool and the Clyde. I recommend the absorbing selection of memoir writing on Derry in the war in the chapter “HMS Marlborough will Enter Harbour” in the terrific  “Derry Anthology” edited by Sean McMahon  (Blackstaff Press). (At £50, better get it out of the library).

See Stephanie Merritt’s review for the local impact of the naval presence:

“A whole chapter is devoted to the naval presence in Derry during the Second World War and, in particular, their effect on the local women: ‘Who could blame Derry girls for succumbing to their other awful temptations?’ wrote Tomás O Canainn in ‘Home to Derry’. Like many Derry girls, my grandmother was swept off her feet by a sailor and returned to England after the war as a wife..”

Or try Ian Samson’s

The naval and RAF presence lingered well into the sixties. When the NATO flotilla came into port for a regular visit,  the pubs in Waterloo St and many a wee back room in what’s now called the Bogside rocked and rolled. Naval police of several nations patrolled the streets with truncheons to restrain over excited sailors.  I never heard of any anti-imperialist protests.

The naval base HMS Sea Eagle became Ebrington Barracks again and  was finally demilitarised with the coming of peace. It  is now the  sacred shared space which is a centrepiece for UK City of Culture.

I’m still trying to find out what happened to all the  photographs presented by many ship’s companies that used to hang in the old Maiden City bar in Linenhall St, now long gone. But good to see the recovering memory in active good health.

Finally, here’s a pub quiz item for you. Did you know that the former Chancellor Nigel Lawson did his national service aboard the Derry submarine training school HMS Stalker?


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London