Report by Sandra Millsopp
Members of Bangor Historical Society were due to enjoy a talk on cinemas on 9th February, but unfortunately the speaker was indisposed. He was replaced at short notice by Ronnie Hanna whose subject was G.I.’s in Ulster.
The first part of the talk consisted of general remarks on the role of American soldiers in Northern Ireland. Mr. Hanna had originally researched the topic for a book. The USA entered the Second World War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. By the end of January the first American troops had arrived here. It was the first part of the UK to receive the G.I.’s. He discovered that some US troops had already come to Northern Ireland before the US entered the war. They were “technicians” who had been sent to identify suitable locations in which to station troops if it became necessary. This meant that once the USA entered the war it was able to send large number of troops here quickly.
In all some 300,000 G.I’s passed through the country, with a maximum of 120,000 at any one time. During the period 1942-45 they even accounted for 10% of the population of Fermanagh. As well as soldiers and airmen, the US navy was also stationed in Londonderry. Mr. Hanna suggested several reasons for their presence here. It was the first landfall for those crossing the Atlantic. There was also fear of a German invasion of the UK, which would be carried out by landing first in the Irish Free State.
The entry of the USA transformed the war. It was no longer merely defensive: more offensive operations could now be launched. US troops based in Northern Ireland usually stayed for nine months. They were trained for events like Operation Torch, the allied landings in North Africa and Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy in 1944. The soldiers who came were mostly young men who brought American culture with them. Usually they got on well with the local population and some even married local girls. There were also visits from top American generals such as Eisenhower.
Ronnie McClements gave the vote of thanks for a most interesting evening.