37,000 American troops – V Corps – disembarked at Belfast and Londonderry on 26th January 1942. Corps HQ was at Brownlow House, Lurgan, with 34 Division in Tyrone and Fermanagh and 1 Armoured Division in South Down. The troops left at the end of the year to take part in the Allied landings in North Africa.
XV Corps arrived in the autumn of 1943 to prepare for the Normandy landings in May 1944. The 120,000 troops made up the 2nd, 5th and 8th Infantry Division and 82nd Airborne Division.
The airfield at Langford Lodge was the centre of the air activity, with 6,000 personnel engaged in assembly, servicing and repair work.
Contact with the local population led to many enduring friendships and some 1,800 local girls sailed to the States to marry their GIs.
Part of the original War Memorial Building on Waring Street was named the Hall of Friendship in honour of the close bonds formed between the US soldiers and people of Northern Ireland in World War Two. When the War Memorial moved to the new building on Talbot Street the main exhibition area was also named the Hall of Friendship in order to continue to honour the link.
Two copper friezes form an important part of the Hall of Friendship. The friezes by Ulster artist James McKendry depict the US Presence in Northern Ireland 1942-44 and the war effort in Northern Ireland.
The upper frieze records the presence of the United States forces in Northern Ireland from 1942 to 1944. The soldiers are shown training in the countryside, as depicted by the traditional Ulster five-bar farm gate with its two pillars of stone and the round tower in the background. The troops are shown with their weapons and armaments. They progress from left to right towards the transport ships in Belfast Lough to embark for the Normandy landings.
The lower frieze illustrates the war effort of Ulster men and women on the home front. The images from left to right depict farmers gathering flax, a woman at a weaving loom, stone masons building a wall, the barrage balloon affixed by ropes to the York Street linen mill (to prevent daytime bombing), a fishing boat, a crane (Harland and Wolff/ Short and Harland), a welder at work, a crane driver at the control and scenes from the countryside.
McKendry graduated from art colleges in Belfast, London and Liverpool. His internationally acclaimed work can be found in corporate and private collections around the world, including that of the Duke of Edinburgh. He now lives and paints in Bushmills on the north coast.
The two friezes were commissioned in 1960 by the architect of the original building, Michael Bowley of Sevenoaks in Kent. McKendry has executed many commissioned murals and sculptures for churches and public buildings in Ireland and abroad. The friezes in this exhibition are his largest works.
Visit the NI War Memorial to view the section of the exhibition dedicated to telling the story of the American Presence in Northern Ireland during the Second World War.