Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Brave sailors deserve recognition for vital role

This weekend's commemoration in Londonderry and elsewhere of the 70th anniversary of the climax to the Battle of the Atlantic is a fitting tribute to the bravery of those who helped to keep the Allies' supply lines open during the Second World War.

Too few people are aware of the significant role played by Northern Ireland in helping to win that crucial Battle of the Atlantic and in defeating the German U-boats which were such a menace. Winston Churchill said the only thing that really frightened him during the Second World War was "the U-boat peril." In that long struggle for survival, around 1,000 merchant ships were destroyed, and 10,000 people lost their lives.

The role played by bases such as Derry, Belfast and Larne harbours, and the Fermanagh lakes, was crucial at a time when, for political reasons, the ports of the Irish Republic were closed to Allied forces. Today's unveiling by the Londonderry Royal Naval Association of the International Sailor statue in Ebrington Square is a tangible tribute to the 100,000 mariners who lost their lives in the Atlantic conflict.

It is also a recognition of the crucial role which Derry played as an Allied naval base for the US and British forces. The magnitude of that role was underlined by the fact that Derry was the naval base in which the defeated remnants of the German U-boat fleet surrendered.

As time goes on, aspects of our history can be seen in different perspective. Derry has had its own divisions and troubles, but it is also the city which played such a significant role in helping to defeat Hitler.

This weekend's commemoration will help people to look at the past in context, just as this week's pardon of the alleged "deserters" by the Irish Government will bring justice at last to the memories of those who left "neutral" Ireland and who fought for the Allies in the Second World War. Age indeed will not weary them, nor will the years condemn. We are right to remember and thank them all.

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