We can confirm that following further guidelines from the NI Executive (subject to any further clarification), the Northern Ireland War Memorial will close from 4pm today (Friday 26th October 2020) for a four-week period.
If you have booked tickets to visit tomorrow, or for any of our upcoming Saturday Tours, we will be in touch with you later today by email.
We’re sorry for the inconvenience and we look forward to welcoming visitors back when it is safe to do so.
To mark Black History Month we are sharing with you some extracts from our oral history collection about the black GIs that were stationed in Northern Ireland during the Second World War.
Segregation in the US armed forces during the Second World War has been well documented but in short, black Americans served in their own units and were often given noncombat, support roles such as quartermasters or cooks. These were designated as ‘colored’ units and were based in locations such as Cookstown, Donaghcloney and Spring Farm (Antrim).
For many of our interviewees, their encounters with black Americans was their first time seeing anyone of a different skin colour. Ida Thompson recalled first meeting a black person at an American Christmas party for local children when she was around seven years old. She stated that ‘it was the very first time that I’d seen a dark skinned man, he offered me an ice cream… but I didn’t see the ice cream I could see a big dark face and I sort of recoiled… afterwards, I realised that he was no different from anybody else they were all the same but it was just the surprise of meeting this person… I just hadn’t come across anyone different and nobody had told me’.
Artist James McKendry remembered seeing black Americans who were stationed in a camp near him in North Antrim, he stated ‘that was the first time I’d ever seen black people and they were just very friendly and the people here were very friendly with them. You know, I think we just really appreciated them being here, and those guys, a lot of them lost their lives in France… I’ve read a bit about that since then and they were impressed by the Irish, they thought we were terribly friendly’.
Kathleen Porter remembered one-night walking home in Dundonald past where the Ulster Hospital is now ‘when a nice polite boy asked to walk with me’. He was a black American GI who was stationed at Rose Park in Knock, and she remembered being shocked as she had never met any black GIs at dances (which she supposed was due to military segregation), regardless she walked with him and ‘enjoyed talking to him’ telling him about three trees planted nearby called faith, hope and charity. As Kathleen alluded to, American soldiers were not only segregated in their units but also socially. In Belfast, American Red Cross clubs have been recorded as being ‘white staffed’ and ‘negro staffed’.
Despite little local experience with black people before the war it seems that for the most part, black GI’s were treated the same as any American stationed here and were appreciated the same for doing their part. Maureen McAllister ‘didn’t take any notice of them’ stating that they had heard ‘in America they weren’t allowed to sit on the same side [on buses] and that they didn’t understand why as ‘their blood’s still the same no matter how it comes… nobody passed any remark and I didn’t see anything wrong with them’.
Others interviewed remember seeing more examples of American racial segregation and racism. Roger Weatherup told us that ‘there were two camps outside Carrickfergus, there was an estate there and one camp was entirely white combat troops but the other one was a black service battalion because during that stage of the war, the black Americans weren’t allowed to carry arms’. He recalled an interaction his aunt had when returning to her home from collecting dulse and whelks at the seashore in the evening ‘this Jeep pulled up beside them and a voice said “What are you ladies doing walking these roads at this time of night?” and they looked round and it was two black American military policemen. So they told them what they were doing and he said “well ma’am you just get in and we’ll take you up home”… so they took them up and invited them in and gave them coffee’.
Alan Cook recalled another incident when the squadron leader who was billeted in his house had American visitors, ‘there was young man called Colonel Bacon who came down to visit and he came down in a car and went upstairs… my mother decided that she would ask the driver in for a cup of tea into the kitchen, so she did, and he was black. When Colonel Bacon came down to say goodbye to my mother he saw this black driver sitting there, and he told him to “Get out!” in very specific terms and my mother just turned to him and said “If this man leaves my kitchen, you leave it with him” and there was very, very strong segregation between black and white at that time, and that was just a very small incident but typical of their attitudes’.
The caption to the Signal Corps photo (SC-169783) below reads ‘First American negro troops to arrive in Northern Ireland line up in formation in a warehouse at a dock in Belfast before going to a camp 7/14/42’.
Despite President Truman signing Executive Order 9981 in 1948 that abolished discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the US armed forces, examples and instances of segregation and racism persisted. During the Second World War, no black American was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in January 1997 President Clinton awarded the medal to seven recipients (six of whom had their Distinguished Service Cross upgraded) after an extensive review. Only one, Vernon Baker was still alive to receive his in person.
If you are a relative of a black GI or have any memories of black GIs in Northern Ireland and would like to share your experiences, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
It’s National Baking Week! During the Second World War home-baking adapted to meet the restrictions caused by wartime rationing. Our oral history collection is full of stories about baking during the war.
Some interviewees fondly recall their mother’s great baking skills. Renee McAllister (US2-pictured with mother & siblings) remembered coming home to the smell of fresh baking stating ‘when we’d got in from school in the afternoon, she would have had them up on those wire trays on the big farm kitchen table cooling… bannocks; a treacle one, a wheaten one and a fruit or a plain one, a fruit and treacle one, you know mixing them, these big fresh bannocks’.
Some weren’t as lucky as Renee, with Maureen McAllister (US1) telling us she dreaded her mother baking, stating ‘my granny, she was a lovely baker and so was my aunt, but my mother couldn’t bake… she bought the flour and all and she was just going to bake the bread for us, but luckily enough the BU’s came in… the coupons came in so she didn’t have to bake thank goodness, I wouldn’t have liked to taste it believe me!’
Due to wartime rationing, home bakers were greatly limited in what their coupons could buy, with shortages common and many bakers forced to adapt their recipes. Rhena Montgomery (W&M1) recalled that ‘baking changed a wee bit because they wouldn’t have been as lavish with some of the stuff you’d have put in, had to use different things like powdered eggs, but you made it as tempting as you could’.
Many home-bakers who had a garden took the opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables to ease the severity of rationing. Robert Thompson (BBP6) remembered that his family started to grow vegetables as well as many fruits such as ‘berries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries…. Rhubarb, we grew loads of rhubarb… There was jam made out of it. My mother baked, she put all that into the baking, apple and rhubarb tarts, she made it all, so she did’.
Some bakers saved up weeks’ worth of rations to be able to bake treats for special occasions, such as birthdays, Christmas, or weddings. Sadie Lineker (US20) was married to her Navy sweetheart during the war and after the wedding they didn’t have a reception. They ‘went back to my mother-in-law’s house… there was about eight of us there, so my father-in-law was a baker and he made me a lovely wedding cake… he was a confectioner and he had made this lovely cake and it was iced on top and it had a big anchor in the middle, with the anchor chain of shamrocks going round it and roses around the side, all handmade, all little iced roses; they’d used all their rations on it.’
Do you remember baking during the Second World War? How did your family cope with rationing? Do you remember any of your favourite wartime recipes? If you would like to share your story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847.
#WorldPostDay – I’ll be back when Summer’s in the Meadow
Our final story today to mark #WorldPostDay is from a written story in our oral history collection. It was submitted by Melanie A. Ippolito in March 2020 on behalf of her parents Muriel Mitchell and Raymond Friscia who came to Northern Ireland as a GI during the Second World War.
Muriel was born in Belfast in 1922 and she lived with her family on Posnett Street during the war. In May 1942 she met American GI, Raymond Friscia at the Albert White’s Ballroom in Belfast. Raymond was from New York and at 25 years-old he had recently been stationed as part of the 5th General Hospital at Musgrave Park. On arriving in Northern Ireland, he wrote some letters home to his mother:
We arrived in Ireland and all is safe and well. Northern Ireland is very beautiful, everything is in bloom. I have never seen so many beautiful flowers in all my life. Their trees are so old, the country is so green and well taken care of, everything is just so.
About our set up I can’t say very much only that we have a lovely building for our hospital. It has a big outdated swimming pool, ten tennis courts and two golf courses nearby, so you can see we have it really nice.
About the people, well it seems you are in a different world- they are 100 years behind the times. The few cars they have they drive on the left side of the road; the steering wheels is on the right. You see more horse drawn carts and bicycles. The homes are old and beautiful, especially the estates of the landholders. I wish you were here to see it all, especially the flowers.
The Irish people are very good to us, and the girls are not bad. They play all American music and are starting to dance the way we do. I went to Belfast the other night to a dance and had a very good time.
In December 1942 Raymond was sent to England, so he was separated from Muriel for nearly three years. The couple married in Donegall Square Methodist Church in September 1945. Throughout their separation they wrote almost daily to each other about what they were doing as well as how much they missed spending time with each other. In one such letter Muriel wrote about buying her wedding dress;
My Dearest Ray,
Today has been a very busy day for me. To begin with, this morning we were extra busy at the office but as usual we had our 15-minute morning break for tea. During the break I asked the girls if they knew of a good dressmaker who would make me a dress and wouldn’t take too long. Kathleen Quigley told me she knows a girl, a friend of hers and she offered to meet me this afternoon and take me to her as she was sure the girl would oblige and make a dress for me inside a week or two. You see, Ray, it takes 11 coupons to buy a woollen dress readymade and 9 coupons for a silk one, but I haven’t that many. I decided the only thing I could do was buy material as it only takes 6 coupons that way……
Then we decided we would go in the shop and look at the things just for fun. That did it, Ray, I ended up buying the loveliest little suit I’ve ever seen. It’s a London model and the only one like it the shop had, what is more it took 18 coupons. After I fitted it on, I said, “Gosh, but I wish I could have this, but I can’t as I haven’t anything like 18 coupons.” Then I got a wonderful surprise as the girl in the shop said, “I tell you what, I’ll accept your new period coupons, but don’t tell anyone or I’ll get into serious trouble.” You see, Ray, we were issued with new coupons a few weeks ago but the shops aren’t allowed to accept them until September. I didn’t even dream of asking the girl to take my new coupons because it seemed hopeless so you can guess how surprised and pleased I was when she herself suggested it. As of yet I haven’t the suit home with me as I hadn’t enough money. I gave the girl 2 pounds and my 6 coupons and told her I would call back with the rest of the money and 12 coupons. I’ll ask Mommy for the money and won’t tell her it’s for my wedding suit……
Muriel & Raymond’s relationship survived on ink and paper for the duration of the war as it was really the only way the two could keep in touch apart from the odd phone call or visit on leave. From reading them it is clear that these letters were very important to them, with censorship often causing them much frustration as well as the frequent delays in post resulting in weeks without any letters, only for a three or four to arrive all at once. Melanie has complied and edited the approximately 2000 letters they wrote to each other and published them, I’ll be back when Summer’s in the Meadow: A World War II Chronicle: Volume I 1942-1943, Volume II 1944 & Volume III 1945-1946 available on Amazon.
Did you know any GI brides like Muriel? Did you write letters or plan a wedding during the war? If you would like to share your memories, or the story of your parents, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
It’s #WorldPostDay so we’re highlighting some of the wartime letters mentioned in our oral history collection.
Maurice Newell (W&M79) was interviewed in August 2020. In addition to his interview, he submitted a copy of a letter he wrote shortly after the Easter Tuesday air raid on Belfast in 1941.
Maurice was born in Belfast in October 1927 and was the youngest in a family of three boys. For Easter 1941, Maurice had been sent to stay with some of his cousins at his grandparent’s farm near Ballynahinch, Co. Down. From there he witnessed the raid which he recounted in the letter to mother.
He begins ‘Dear Mammy, I hope you have escaped last night’s raid unharmed. I was just going to bed when I heard the sirens and 20 minutes later, I heard the ‘Jerries’ overhead… Then the fireworks started and flashes brilliantly lit up the room (our room is facing you) and explosions followed the flashes… We saw the “flaming onions” going up and saw parachutes flares being dropped. All the windows shook violently and threatened to break… On hearing the planes leaving, I expected to hear the “all-clear”, but the only noise that broke the silence was another relay of bombers, which bombed and flew away, followed by another, until a good dozen groups had dropped their bombs and flown home… as I am writing, cars with beds on their roofs and crowded buses are moving up the road: a quick evacuation is taking place’.
Maurice put pen to paper the following morningwhen for all he knew a member of his family in Belfast could have been killed. His father was in the Ulster Home Guard, his mother volunteered in the ARP and his older brother Cecil was a Despatch Messenger.
While the letter is upbeat in tone, Maurice’s anxiety from the bombings is evident as he continues his letter. He wrote that he was ‘digging a shelter and am down to about 5 feet and am using a pick now’ in a field belonging to his grandfather.
During his interview Maurice told us that once he had completed the hole for his shelter, he promptly had to fill it back in as there were concerns that one of his grandfather’s cows could fall in and injure itself.
Regardless Maurice was in no rush back to Belfast and he enjoyed his holiday in the country, signing off his letter by asking his mother ‘I wonder if I could stay out here for another week and, if so, kindly send another shilling as I am short on spondulics. I remain, yours truly, Maurice’. Thankfully, all of Maurice’s family survived the Blitz with Maurice returning to his home in Belfast for the rest of the war.
There must have been so many letters written by evacuees who were separated from their parents during the Second World War. Our oral history collection is full of evacuation stories. Some host families became life-long friends while other evacuees were desperate to return home. Do you have memories of the Belfast Blitz? Or perhaps you or a loved one were evacuated to the countryside? If you would like to share your memories, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847.
Today is #WorldPostDay and throughout today we will be highlighting some of the wartime letters mentioned in our oral history collection, stressing the importance of their role in the lives of our participants.
In 2017 we interviewed Shauna Kyle (US4) & Kyle Meinzter (US13). Shauna and Kyle are cousins. Shauna is the niece and Kyle is the son of Ballymena woman Dorothy Kyle who met and married GI Wade Meinzter in April 1944. Wade was wounded in action in June 1944 during the Normandy landings as Shauna states ‘there were eight of them in a patrol, and a shell exploded and it killed the guy in front of him and it killed the six guys behind him and he was badly wounded and he lay behind a hedge missing for three days. Now my grandmother was aware that there was no word and that he was in action and she gave word to the maid that if the telegram boy arrived my Aunt was not to be given any telegram, it was to come to her. The Americans were eventually able to rescue my Uncle. He was quite badly wounded and he somehow managed to get to a telephone. He phoned my Aunt (Dorothy) to say that she would receive word that he was missing but he was all right. A telegram did arrive that he was Missing in Action presumed killed but she knew that he was safe, and I think that he was medevacked out to Southampton’.
Dorothy was naturally very worried as she was in Ballymena while her new husband was recuperating in a hospital in Southampton Hospital. Dorothy decided to write a letter to General Eisenhower, who went on to become the 34th President of the United States and who was at that point a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.
Kyle grew up hearing about this letter stating ‘I always heard that my mother had a letter from Eisenhower and I’d never seen it and I didn’t know much about it; I just knew she had one’. After his mother’s death Kyle looked through some boxes in the attic stating that ‘I never found the letter that she wrote to Eisenhower but Eisenhower was obviously responding to a letter she had written to him saying something like “My husbands wounded, he’s in a hospital in Central England, we’ve got Hospitals here in Northern Ireland, could you get him transferred”’.
Eisenhower’s response can be seen pictured above, framed alongside Wade’s medals. Eisenhower replied ‘Dear Mrs. Meintzer, in reply to your letter of August 14, I fully understand your feelings, wanting your husband to join you, and feel sure it can be arranged. I will send your letter to the proper authorities, who will make an investigation’. Eisenhower was true to his word and within six days Dorothy and Wade were reunited when he was transferred to an Army hospital just outside Ballymena to recuperate, before eventually being invalided out of the American Army and sent home to America where Dorothy later joined him.
This Eisenhower letter may seem insignificant, but it shows the power of an ordinary letter, to reunite a couple separated by war. Did you know any GI brides? Do you want to share your family’s wartime story? If you would like to share your memories, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
Today marks the UN International Day of Older Persons 2020 which seeks to highlight the contributions that older people make to society and raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of ageing in today’s world. Older people obviously play a key part of our work here at the Northern Ireland War Memorial not least as contributors to our Oral History Projects allowing us to record their wartime memories. We tell their stories in our museum and preserve them for future generations.
As of September 2020, we have conducted 130 interviews with 135 individuals mainly across Northern Ireland and well as a number of interviewees in other parts of the UK, Australia, Canada & America. Noting the age of our interviewees at the time of their interview, collectively they have had 11,399 years of life experiences and were on average age of 84 ½ at the time of interview.
We have had five interviewees who were over 100 years of age when they were interviewed, with our oldest interviewee, Mabel Williams (BBP29) at 105, interviewed as part of our Belfast Blitz Project in 2016. Mabel was thirty-one in 1941 and lived off the Cliftonville Road in Belfast, she recalled that during the Easter Tuesday raid ‘mother and I were under the stairs… it was quite spacious under the stairs, we were able to get two stools in and as far as I remember for the first couple of hours, the bombs… the explosions going on didn’t sound too near and then suddenly I think it was about half past one or two the earth shook… the whole front of the house… well there wasn’t a window left! There wasn’t a bit of plaster in the front room, the furniture was just thrown on the floor’. Mabel and her family fortunately escaped uninjured although they did have to move house because of the damage; not everyone was so lucky. Mabel told us about her family friends who moved to Sunningdale off the Cavehill Road ‘just a few years before the war and they had a house, it was the middle house of five and they got hit… father, mother and twenty-year-old son were just killed and that was an awful shame to everybody that knew them’. Mabel sadly passed away in July 2018 just a few months shy of what would have been her 108th birthday.
Our second oldest interviewee, Thomas Herbert Coulter (W&M78) aged 104, was interviewed virtually in August 2020. Herbert told us about his early wartime experiences in Germany & France in 1939/40 and then later in India & Burma where he served with the 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. Not only did they have to deal with fighting the Japanese forces, but they also had to cope with the hot humid weather and the risk of tropical diseases. Thomas caught Dengue Fever in Calcutta and many of his comrades suffered from Dysentery and Malaria. Unfortunately, Tom passed away on the 23rd August 2020, just days after being interviewed. It was a real privilege to be able to speak to Tom and hear his wartime experiences. The thoughts of the staff and Trustees at the War Memorial are with his two daughters, Hilary & Alison as well as their families at this difficult time.
Listening to the stories of Mabel, Thomas and the many others who have graciously shared their wartime experiences with us emphasises the importance and value of older people to our society. It’s more important than ever to listen and preserve the memories and experiences of the generations that came before us. Do you know someone who remembers the Belfast Blitz and how life changed in NI during the war? Or perhaps they served overseas? If they would like to share their story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847 to discuss the possibility of an interview virtually or by telephone.
Are you learning about the Second World War in Northern Ireland?
Visit the museum to pick up your FREE Second World War Craft Pack.
Inside you will find lots of learning and fun as you make your own Identity Card, Ration Book and Spitfire. Each Craft Pack comes with colouring pencils and a badge sealed in a biodegradable wallet making them perfect for school teachers too.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you think your school class would enjoy some Craft Packs. Let us know your class size and when you propose to collect them from the museum.
Once you’ve completed your Craft pack, here’s what you can do next;