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Uncovered tree carvings shine a light on forgotten war history of Mount Stewart

By Rachel Martin

Published 02/01/2016

The carvings found in tree bark at Mount Stewart by National Trust ranger Toby Edwards
The carvings found in tree bark at Mount Stewart by National Trust ranger Toby Edwards
National Trust ranger Toby Edwards
The carvings found in tree bark at Mount Stewart by National Trust ranger Toby Edwards

Ground maintenance work at one of Northern Ireland's most beautiful estates has uncovered a series of carvings nodding to a part of its past that many had forgotten.

After spending decades hidden beneath vegetation, remnants of Mount Stewart's involvement in the Second World War have surfaced once again.

National Trust ranger Toby Edwards was clearing rhododendron bushes at the Co Down landmark when he noticed markings on a tree.

They appear to have been made by soldiers and airmen stationed at the estate during the war. One of the carvings looks to have been by a Royal Air Force airman in 1940.

During the clearing work, which saw a large area of overgrown foreign species removed from an area of the estate near the coast, two bunkers also thought to date back to the conflict were uncovered.

Close by, another inscription reads: "Victory Hours R.A.F." A third tree inscribed with initials also appears to have been claimed by the soldiers.

Mr Edwards said that he had seen carvings on the trees in other parts of the grounds, but added that none had been as well preserved as the ones that he discovered last month.

Records show that the Headquarters Company of the Royal Engineers was based at Mount Stewart, with Officer Commanding Major Fulton in the house and junior ranks billeted in the buildings around the coach house and stables.

Slabs of concrete where bunkers and outpost service buildings are believed to have once stood were also uncovered. The buildings are thought to have been used as house showers, toilets and storage and Nissen huts during the Second World War.

During the renovation work, similar buildings were also found buried in the woods at the back of the estate.

Research shows that attic rooms connected to the estate's house were used as a convalescence ward in both World Wars.

But it was not just the buildings at Mount Stewart that played a part in the war effort. Before the war, the former marquess of the estate, Lady Mairi Bury, and her father, Lord Londonderry, a former British air minister, flew to Berlin to talk to Hitler. Her father spent years attempting to reason with the dictator, although his efforts came to nothing.

The teenage Mairi, accompanied her father, later said she was less than impressed with the German dictator, describing him as "nondescript."

In the Great War, she also served with the Woman's Legion, an organisation set up by her mother, Lady Edith.

In the 18th century, a group of stores thought to be a megalithic burial site was discovered.

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