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Do you recall Anna and her duck gift from back in 1942?

By Eddie McIlwaine

It was just before Christmas in wartime 1942 and the Yanks were here preparing to fight the Germans. But in their spare time - away from the B-17 bombers, B-27 Liberators and P-38 Lightning fighters they were servicing and getting tuned for the battle ahead at Langford Lodge on the Lough Neagh shore - the civilian technicians of the Lockheed Overseas Corporation were making toys and organising Santa Claus parties for local children, including some who would be spending the festive season in hospital.

The children included little Anna Hunter, seen in my picture from 74 years ago, perched on her sick bed with her toy duck on wheels beside her after opening her Christmas stocking.

Aviation historian Ernie Cromie would like to find out what happened to Anna. He believes she was a pupil at Princess Gardens College in Dunmurry (now called Hunterhouse), but after that the information dries up.

Even the name of the hospital where she was a patient is a mystery.

The Yanks of Lockheed also set up a trust fund in 1942 for 17 young people whose fathers had been killed during the Second World War air raids on Belfast in May and June 1941.

The toys the thoughtful American technicians carved from wood offcuts and waste timber had wheels attached and were painted to resemble animals.

"I wonder if Anna, or her family, still have the toy she received that Christmas long ago?" wonders Ernie.

He has been on the trail of Anna for several months as Christmas approached - without luck.

"My interest is simply that this young girl, who hopefully has had a good life and grew old gracefully, is typical of the many who were treated so well by the Americans when they were here.

"We should never forget the role these visitors from across the ocean played in the social life of the province - we tend to just remember them only for the big job they carried out in the war.

"But sadly there is no trace of Anna today, which is a terrible pity, because she would have such a wonderful Christmas tale to tell."

Ernie adds: "Just imagine that in the midst of all the turmoil and danger you ended up in hospital just as the festive season dawned.

"It must have seemed to her that there really was a Santa Claus lighting up her life again when the visiting Americans filled her stocking and then presented her with that toy they had made."

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