NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections C + D
Today we are looking at sections C & D of the McKendry frieze. In these sections McKendry continues to record the American presence in Northern Ireland.
Three airmen are shown, and they are all wearing flying helmets and goggles. When we interviewed the artist, he pointed out that one is holding an earpiece, which is something we hadn’t noticed before. It is no wonder McKendry included airmen within his work as aircraft sightings are a key part of his wartime memories. ‘I still remember hearing the planes go over at night. The drone of the engines, you know the Germans flying over. I still remember the tension’. McKendry also recalls two plane crashes in the local area. On one occasion ‘a plane crashed in the field behind the school in Bushmills… it was like a Spitfire or one of that type of plane. Just with a pilot, but he wasn’t killed’. He also spoke about an RAF air crash at Stranocum. James recalls that is was ‘a Wellington bomber with four crew on board’ and that ‘it happened beside the big house at Stranocum and the locals who worked there all rushed out, got them out of the plane and they were all saved’.
James used the landscape of Co. Antrim as inspiration for the frieze. In this section he has included a typical ulster five-bar gate, and a round tower. A GI holds the American flag bearing 48 stars for 48 states which was correct for the time. American visitors to the museum are often impressed to see this level of detail. Again, McKendry hints towards the mechanisation of war by including an American tank. Commenting on the GIs marching forward he states, ‘they are getting towards the sea, and there’s a sense of we’re going to have to get on the sea and go and fight’. He reflects on their readiness for battle and points out that ‘their fists are clenched ready for action, they’re all ready to go you see’.
Our Trustee and Second World War aviation expert Ernie Cromie has been able to provide more details on the Stranocum air crash which James recalled:
This was a twin-engined Wellington bomber, serial number JA383, which was on strength to the Empire Air Navigation School based at Royal Air Force Shawbury in Shropshire. During the night of 24 November 1944, with five crew on board, it was on a cross-country navigation exercise to Rathlin Island when, on the return leg, it developed engine trouble. Although it was a moonlit night and the pilot was attempting a forced landing, unfortunately the aircraft struck the tops of trees and crashed into a small orchard at Stranocum House. It caught fire on impact but mercifully all the crew were helped to escape by locals before it burned out. Injuries were comparatively minor but the pilot, Flight Lieutenant J F Biddle, suffered a broken leg. A letter of thanks was subsequently received by locals and very much later, in 2005, a commemorative plaque was erected at the site.