Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Top secret WWII files released: Documents on US Marines’ operations in Northern Ireland to go in new Derry museum

US Marines get involved in rural life in Derry during the Second World War
US Marines get involved in rural life in Derry during the Second World War

Top secret files detailing the presence of US Marines in Londonderry during the Second World War have been declassified and are to return to the city.

More than 5,000 US government documents are to be stored in a new museum in the Beech Hill House Hotel as part of a new project detailing the history of the Marines.

Rural Development Minister, Michelle O'Neill, yesterday announced £94,000 for the project from the Rural Development Programme during a visit to the hotel in Ardmore.

The final quarter of the funding will be donated by the Beech Hill US Navy Marine Corps Friendship Association and the owners of the historic hotel.

More than 500 Marines were stationed at the 195-acre Base One Europe around the hotel in Ardmore from 1942 to 1945, and celebrities such as Bob Hope, actress Martha Raye, singer Al Jonson and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the sailors there.

Around 4,500 Derry and Donegal people were involved in the construction of the base.

Thousands more US naval personnel were stationed at 13 other bases across Derry right through until the 1970s.

New York filmmaker, Mary Pat Kelly, discovered more than 150 boxes of documents at the National Archives and Records in Washington DC after an investigation lasting several years.

Speaking at the announcement of the project yesterday, Ms Kelly said: “In 1992 I was here at the Beech Hill making a documentary about the Yanks in Ireland, the presence of American military.

“I came and stayed here and brought veterans and I really didn’t know beforehand of any connection then with this area and the Marines.

“There was very little documentary evidence and I searched and searched the national archives for years and somebody went down to the very bottom basement and found 150 boxes of files.

“They hadn’t been opened in over 60 years. They were still classified top secret. There was images, letters from Derry girls who wanted to marry US sailors.”

Among the documents on display are scrapbooks donated by ex-Marines from their time in the city.

It has emerged that the first American armed forces personnel arrived in Belfast not in 1942 as was traditionally held, but in Derry, to prepare the base at Ardmore in August 1941 — four months before Pearl Harbour was attacked.

American Deputy Consul General to Northern Ireland, Kevin Roland, was among those attending the launch event yesterday.

Mr Roland said his department had already received inquiries from Americans looking to find out more about the Marines archive.

Background

Derry and the road to war:

June 12, 1941 — Contracts signed in Washington for construction of Naval Operating Base at Ardmore.

June 30, 1941 — 362 civilian technicians arrive in Derry.

August 1, 1941 — US Navy Civil Engineering Corps begin construction work.

December 7, 1941 — Pearl Harbour attacks.

January 26, 1942 — 4,508 soldiers from 34th Infantry Regiment docked in Belfast.

February 5, 1942 — Naval Operating Base in Derry formally commissioned.

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