Belfast Telegraph

D-Day: Fermanagh's key role in mighty undertaking is remembered

By Adrian Rutherford

In a quiet corner of rural Fermanagh, far removed from the horrors of the battlefield, they came to pay homage to Northern Ireland's heroes of Normandy.

The event at Crom Castle near Newtownbutler was one of the largest in the UK to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The castle was one of 20 locations where US forces were stationed in the country during the Second World War.

In the build-up to June 6, 1944, a quarter of Fermanagh's population consisted of American personnel. At any one time there were almost 15,000 GIs based in the picturesque lakeands.

Yesterday the stars and stripes of the US flag fluttered from the castle roof while wartime vehicles were parked in its grounds as memories of the war years in Fermanagh were stirred.

Inside the castle, a jazz band played a selection of tunes from the era.

Among the several hundred guests was Bill Eames, a former RAF pilot who towed a glider full of paratroopers to targets in Normandy ahead of the main landings.

Now 91, the passing of time has not diminished his memories of the night.

"I remember it all – it was a significant operation and it's one you don't forget easily," Mr Eames told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We were on a squadron of Albemarle Aircraft and we towed the Horsa gliders. We were delivering troops from the Sixth Division to the eastern side of the front, near Pegasus Bridge. The conditions were difficult, it was a very unpleasant night.

"I don't remember being particularly frightened, there was an element of excitement to it."

Yesterday's event also celebrated Northern Ireland's wider contribution to the war effort.

More than 300,000 American GIs passed through Northern Ireland between 1939 and 1945, peaking at 120,000 prior to D-Day.

General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, went to Enniskillen in May 1944. Eisenhower, who later became the 34th US President, inspected 2,000 soldiers before the Normandy landings.

He would later remark: "Without Northern Ireland I do not see how the American force could have been concentrated to begin the invasion of Europe."

The US Government was represented yesterday by Gregory Burton, the US consul for Northern Ireland. Mr Burton said the war had helped to reinforce the strong bond between Ireland and America.

"Our relationship is a very old one and a very deep one," he said.

"We had great migrations of people from the island of Ireland to the United States, in some cases even before it was the United States.

"We've always had a strong relationship and co-operation and in World War Two it was perhaps at its maximum in terms of number and people and what we were working to achieve together." Mr Burton said yesterday's anniversary was a special occasion.

"One of the bittersweet points about a 70th anniversary is that there aren't going to be too many more anniversaries when you will actually have veterans who can tell the story themselves," he added.

Some of the crowd had come specially dressed for the occasion. They included Liam Wallace, the proud owner of two Willys MB US Army Jeeps.

His father Patrick, originally from Co Louth, served in the RAF and was part of the second wave of the assault.

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