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Belfast to mark anniversary of US troops' arrival in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Published 24/08/2016

American troops in Lurgan during the Second World War
American troops in Lurgan during the Second World War

Belfast City Council is planning an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Northern Ireland in the Second World War.

More than 300,000 soldiers were stationed here during the conflict as they waited to be deployed to Europe and Africa.

The first arrived at Belfast docks on January 26, 1942, with Private Millburn Henke reputedly leading the way.

The council is considering hosting an event at the docks in January as part of its Decade of Centenaries schedule, and Lord Mayor Brian Kingston is to send a letter to Private Henke's family.

Minutes of the council's diversity working group revealed that officials have held discussions with the US Consulate in Belfast, which "indicated that the consulate does not have any plans to initiate specific events marking this anniversary". "Bearing in mind that this is a 75th anniversary and not a centenary, the date could be marked in a modest way," the minutes read.

Councillors were presented with a proposal for a small-scale event at the docks, which would need to take place in consultation with the Harbour Commissioners.

It is understood that the Northern Ireland War Memorial has also been in contact with the US Consulate regarding ways in which anniversaries might be marked in terms of US-Northern Ireland relations.

Several US soldiers who lost their lives in Northern Ireland during their stay were laid to rest at the City Cemetery in Belfast, and in 1943 a US military cemetery was opened at Lisnabreeny in the Castlereagh hills.

In May 1944, the greatest gathering of US ships ever seen in a British port assembled in Belfast Lough and sailed for the Normandy landings, which took place on June 6, after an inspection by General Eisenhower.

A commemorative stone that was sculpted by Belfast stonemasons Purdy and Millard, and which bears the crests of he US Army, Marines and Navy, alongside a portion of the Belfast coat of arms, remains in the grounds of the City Hall as a means of marking the troops' period here.

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