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White rock that guided WWII aircraft over Belfast's Cavehill now historic monument

By Rebecca Black

Published 01/12/2016

The restored rock used to guide wartime pilots,
The restored rock used to guide wartime pilots,
Iconic: Cave Hill

A rock that helped steer pilots safely past Cavehill during the Second World War is to be recognised as an historic landmark.

It is close to the lonely mountain top site where 10 US airmen died in a crash that inspired 2007 Hollywood movie Closing The Ring, directed by Lord Attenborough.

The crew was killed when its B-17 Flying Fortress bomber went down in heavy fog after losing its bearings on the way to RAF Nutts Corner.

Such was the scale of the tragedy that the War Department moved to try and prevent anything similar from happening again.

Local man William Caulfield was entrusted with painting a large rock on the mountain white as a warning to pilots flying over.

It established a navigational landmark for aircraft coming in to land at Nutts Corner and RAF Langford.

He was a postman who lived with wife Ellen and family in Cave Hill cottage, which stands today just beyond where Upper Cave Hill Road ends.

In 2008 Alan Caulfield told the BBC: "I remember my father Jack telling me that my grandfather was paid a small sum - I think £5 - to keep a large rock at the top of Cavehill (on the forehead) painted white because it was used as a beacon during the war for pilots landing at Nutts Corner airfield during blackouts when the lights of Belfast could not be seen."

The Cave Hill Conservation Campaign has been working to raise awareness of the important role the rock played during the Second World War.

It repainted it white in May to inform passing walkers of its history.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has confirmed that the rock is an historic landmark.

Its location will now be added to its new historic environment map viewer.

Belfast City Council's people and communities committee has approved the group's request to install a £200 granite plaque beside the stone to explain the history.

The decision is subject to formal approval by the December meeting of the full city council, which will take place this evening.

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