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?


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  • sherdy

    Brian, if you think Nigel Lawson’s time in Derry worth a mention, maybe you’re unaware that Prince Philip apparently enjoyed some female attention during his naval service during WWII.

  • Harry Flashman

    I would have thought that pretty much any sailor in the Royal Navy from 1940 to 1970 would have had a run ashore in Derry with a nip over the border for a spot of golf, fishing and off ration luxuries.

    And that goes for a not insubstantial number of USN servicemen too given the signalling base in Clooney. Who was the famous US boxer born in Derry? I well recall the big American school bus in navy grey (gray?) pulling up at my primary school dropping off the American kids in the morning in the 70’s.

    This is still reflected in the odd names you’ll find in Derry, Olaffson, Aquino, Thorndyke, are a few I remember.

    Derry was a garrison town, always was no matter how much nationalists now try to rewrite its history. I was particularly appalled back in 1995 when for the 50th anniversary of the end of the War Derry City Council produced a commemorative tie, crimson for the city with the city’s crest surmounted by a U-Boat on a big “U”, yes that’s right, Derry City Council chose to memorialize the Nazi enemy rather than the people who fought from Derry to beat the bastards.

  • GEF

    Harry, with respect I think you may have the story a little bit mixed up. I remember that weekend ceremony and the tie you mention was to commemorate the surrender of the German U Boats into Lisnahally in 1945.

  • Brian Walker

    Perfectly aware of the Prince Philip stories. Were they authenticated?
    Harry. Not aware of any US boxer born in Derry. But world heavyweight champion Joe Louis did have his hair cut in a Duke St barber’s.

    The Lisahally U boat surrender was recalled in Dan Snow’s recent documentary

    and cross border themes on the war were brilliantly covered in Frank McGuinness’s play set in Buncrana, Dolly West’s Kitchen

  • Harry Flashman

    GEF my memory is fine, the symbol Derry City Council used to commemorate Derry’s proud role in the defeat of the Nazi U Boat menace in the Battle of the Atlantic was a, er, Nazi U Boat.

    They chose to remember the enemy.

    It is akin to the City of London remembering the Blitz with a commemorative tie showing a Heinkel 111, the Hawaiians remembering Pearl Harbor with a Zero dive bomber, the Desert Rats remembering the Battle of El Alamein with a Panzer tank, or Stalingrad remembering the siege using the German’s Sixth Army insignia.

    Derry City Council spectacularly missed the point.

    Derry wasn’t important because of the minor end-of-war ceremony in which some U Boats (not the entire fleet as has been thought) were ordered to Derry to surrender but because of the five brutal, bitter years beforehand when British, Canadian and then American sailors bravely set out down the Foyle to defend the Allies’ Atlantic convoys.

    But then a Royal Navy corvette flying a big White Ensign, which would have been much more appropriate, might have grated with certain elements in the Council majority.

  • GEF

    “They chose to remember the enemy.”

    Harry, A defeated enemy. Lisnahally has always been remembered by ex RN veterans (like myself) as the end place were over 100 U’Boats surrendered in 1945 before being towed out to sea to be sunk. In fact I wish I could get my hands on one of those ties for a keepsake. Harry, surely you are not suggesting this German Bomber is being raised now to shower praise on the German Luftwaffe over the RAF in the Battle of Britain?

  • GEF
  • Harry Flashman

    “Harry, A defeated enemy.”

    GEF yes, my point exactly.

    The council chose to ignore the heroes who fought in the frigates and corvettes of the Royal, Royal Canadian and US navies, or the airmen flying the Catalinas and Sunderlands trying to send the bastards in the U boats to the sea bed and instead chose as the icon of Derry’s role in the Battle of the Atlantic the evil thing itself, the tool used by the Nazis to try and starve the people of Derry and the rest of the UK into submission.

    It’s mindboggling.

    I wonder will New York commemorate the 50th anniversary of 9/11 with a tie with a jihadi holding a box-cutter? I somehow doubt it, proper recognition will be given to the firemen and policemen who are the heroes of the story, unlike Derry City Council and their memorialisation of the bad guys.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Ah I dunno, maybe there were understandable sensitivities about commemorating the British armed forces by Derry Council but I still reckon they are commemorating a victory over the U boats. RAF & USAF planes used to put swastikas on the sides of their aircraft to count their kills and closer to home, War of Independence service medals came with a Black and Tan ribbon. I doubt if those who got them ever thought they were commemorating the enemy.

  • son of sam

    In your post at 11 05am,you refer to “certain elements in the Council majority”.To whom are you referring?

  • Harry Flashman

    “maybe there were understandable sensitivities about commemorating the British armed forces by Derry Council”

    If they didn’t want to recognise the heroic men of the Allied forces who helped defeat the Nazis then the council should have had the good manners not to take part in their victory celebration.

    To hand those men a memento commemorating their sworn enemy while ignoring their role was an offensive insult.


    See Tochais Síoraí’s post above to see the sort of mean spirited people I’m referring to.

  • son of sam

    I doubt if Tiochais Saorai’s post above adds anything to your continuing obsession with Derry City Council.You have yet to define the identity of “certain elements in the Council majority”.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    All you need know, sos, is they’re a disloyal breed of ungrateful wretches.

    Damn the lot of them, I say.

  • mylesgee

    @Harry Flashman: There’s always two sides to stories – ever thought of looking at Wikiapedia and the Stormont government during World War Two?

    In the past week or so it has been almost impossible to look at a newspaper or listen to TV or Radio without a story of honouring members of the British Armed Forces and Home Front personnel of World War Two.
    Among those honoured we had the Bevan Boys; Italy Star survivors, the Atlantic convoys (now finally getting a deserved statue in Londonderry), the Russian Murmansk convoys and even a pardon for the Irish army deserters to the British Army during WW2.
    I almost made a Freudian slip and said ‘now we have the Dishonoured’ – but even that would be incorrect – you can’t be dishonoured is you don’t exist!

    I am talking about some Northern Ireland members of the National Fire Service/ Auxiliary Fire Service personnel of World War Two.

    The following is only one example of an honourable man who was air-brushed out of his place when the history of World War Two was written – according to the Unionist political parties!

    A Londonderry man, who, as an “Old Contemptible” served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and fought in some of the bloodiest battles of World War One, again offered his services at the outset of World War Two.
    Considering his hard won experience – having been a regular from 1908 to the end of World War One – a first preference would have been with the LDF as the Home Guard were then known.
    Unfortunately, he – like many others – because of their assumed ‘nationalist’ persuasion was effectively dissuaded from enlisting.
    Despite this, but determined to “do his bit” yet again, he opted to join the AFS/NFS and served throughout WW2. This included service in Belfast during the worst periods of the Belfast blitz.
    His son recently decided to re-mount his father’s campaign medals and realised his father had not been awarded the Defence Medal for this service during WW2; he applied to the Cabinet Office for same.

    After extensive correspondence he was appalled to learn that, not only was his father’s service NOT recorded but no details for the NFS men involved had been reported by the revelent authorities to the Cabinet Office for inclusion in WW2 records.

    Sadly it seems like an air-brushing out of many gallant men who were always there when they were needed most. Men, of proven worth who we should be proud of. So much for parity of esteem!

  • Kevsterino

    My dad’s battleship docked at Derry several times. He told me the locals were very hospitable towards him. He was unable to travel to see relatives 20 miles away, neutrality and all that. He couldn’t write them in advance to meet him in Derry (loose lips sink ships). Pity

  • Reader

    mylesgee: After extensive correspondence he was appalled to learn that, not only was his father’s service NOT recorded but no details for the NFS men involved had been reported by the revelent authorities to the Cabinet Office for inclusion in WW2 records.

    Sadly it seems like an air-brushing out of many gallant men who were always there when they were needed most. Men, of proven worth who we should be proud of. So much for parity of esteem!
    Are you saying that the NFS/AFS was a wholly Catholic service? Or that only the Catholic members were left out from the award of medals? If not one of those claims, what does this have to do with Parity of Esteem? It looks like a cock-up.
    On a separate note, I would be in favour of a measure of official recognition for the Dublin Fire Brigade members who sped to Belfast to help to put out the fires of the Belfast blitz. Unfortunately, some of the people up here would complain that there might have been a fire in Dublin, and they should never have left their posts.

  • GEF

    ” After extensive correspondence he was appalled to learn that, not only was his father’s service NOT recorded but no details for the NFS men involved had been reported by the revelent authorities to the Cabinet Office for inclusion in WW2 records.”

    mylesgee, it seems to me the son of this man has not produced some form of documentation ( NFS number) to prove his father served in the NFS during WW2 otherwise the revelent authorities cannot prove otherwise. A name is just not enought or is previous war service in WW1.

    Along with thousands of civilians (many ex WW1 veterans) who volunteered, and many serving personnel who were unfit for war service also served in the NFS but did not qualify for a “Defence Medal”. The reason was because their service fell short of the three year qualification period. See here: “Defence Medal (United Kingdom) WW2”

  • @Flashman,

    When I was in Sofia, Bulgaria on pass from service in Kosovo I bought Soviet memorablia such as a victory medal from World War II and a Lenin medallion; I thought it was an appropriate souvenir from the Cold War. Putting an iconic enemy weapon on a medal can be a valid recognition of those that helped to defeat their enemies.

  • mylesgee

    @Reader: Sorry, I specifically did not bring religion into the topic, the reference to “parity of esteem” (note the lack of capitals) was not sloganising but simple comparison. As for your reference to the Firemen from the Southern Ireland, I agree wholeheartedly. These men – all volunteers – appear to have been treated shabbily by the Northern powers that be, “Sent home” when Scottish firefighters eventually got to Northern Ireland.

    @GEF: Unfortunately, the NFS number was the first stumbling block, initially he had approached the Fire service museum to find a picture of his father as he thought all branches of the forces, including Home Front personnel had to have a picture in war-time for identification purposes. He was then advised to approach the Home Office as it appears no place in Northern Ireland actually holds the records of those who had served in the NFS/AFS during WW2.

  • On past experience, I guess I’m inviting an abusive tirade …

    However, here goes.

    Surely the essential purpose of the RN and USN presences in Lough Foyle was to counter the threat of Dönitz’s U-boats. If a commemorative tie was needed, how else might that significance be depicted? Does the 617 Squadron badge, for one example, equally “memorialize the Nazi enemy”?

    On the other hand, there were the plans to raise U-778 from the sea-bed off Malin Head, to match U-538 at Birkenhead. As I recall one of the prime movers in that was Shaun Gallagher of the SDLP.

    There is a comprehensive account of the surrender of the U-boats, and their arrival at Lisahally, on the Barrow Submariners Association site. It includes:

    Admiral Sir Max Horton arranged a public ceremony at Lisahally on 14 May, where he accepted the formal, but staged, surrender of the eight U-Boats which had been the first to surrender from sea in Loch Eriboll, and which were being transferred to Lisahally via Loch Alsh (U-293, U-802, U-826, U-1009, U-1058, U-1105, U-1109 and U-1305). These eight U-Boats were manned by skeleton German crews under the supervision of RN personnel and, as they sailed into Lough Foyle, they were escorted by warships from the Royal Navy (HMS Hesperus), the Royal Canadian Navy (HMCS Thetford Mines) and the US Navy (USS Robert I Paine) in recognition of their joint contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic.

    When the U-Boats arrived at Lisahally their senior officers, led by Oberleutnant Klaus Hilgendorf who had commanded U-1009, made a formal surrender to Admiral Horton on behalf of the German U-Boat fleet. As well as Admiral Horton, the official party at Lisahally included representatives of the Canadian and US Navies, and personnel from HMS Ferret, RNAS Eglinton (HMS Gannet), RNAS Maydown (HMS Shrike), the Army and RAF Ballykelly. There was also a representative of the Irish Defence Forces, Colonel Dan Bryan. His presence was an acknowledgement of the assistance given by the Irish government in the Battle of the Atlantic. This ceremony, which was given extensive press coverage, has been responsible for the long-held, but nevertheless incorrect belief that some of the U-Boats actually surrendered directly in Lough Foyle.

    I hesitate to question why some folk have to find dissension and division where none previously existed.

  • son of sam

    Well said,Malcolm Redfellow.Your last sentence above sums up very adequately.Mr Flashman seems rather coy when asked to substantiate his claims!

  • GEF

    “On past experience, I guess I’m inviting an abusive tirade”

    Certainly not from me MR, your excellent post only adds to the historical importance to this event. When Veterans from around the world converged on Londonderry yesterday to mark the longest military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Maiden City played a key role.

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm, No tirade from me! Thanks for the account.
    The two day commemoration seems to have gone well. Prince Michael of Kent a.k.a Tsar Nicholas ii unveiling the sailor’s memorial.