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Living in Donegal, Working in Derry

by BBC Radio Foyle

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Foyle
People in story: 
Dan Gillespie
Location of story: 
Inishowen,Donegal and Derry
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A8980400
Contributed on: 
30 January 2006

[interview 2 = Dan Gillespie,

This story is taken from an interview with Dan Gillespie, and has been added to the site with their permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions. The interview was by Deirdre Donnelly, and transcription was by Bruce Logan.
====
[Stroove is in Donegal, Eire. It is located on the south-eastern side of the Inishowen Peninsula, just outside the passage that enters into Lough Foyle.]

I remember 3rd Sept 39. I was at home here. I was only 16. My 3 brothers went to sea, all over the world. One brother was in Sierre Leone for quite a while, based out there. A younger bro was in Wexford Shipping Co, ship was machine-gunned. The other brother, Jack (died aged 86) was in Dunkirk, one of the last out of it.

I was banned by his parents from going to sea. Instead I got a job with the Royal Navy in Derry harbour, and operated transport of Ammo to destroyers in Moville. Then the ship went to Glasgow to do same job.

There were more RN ships in Derry than Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow combined.

When the U-Boats surrendered at Lishalley, the RN workers carried 15-16 stone bags of food bags out and dumped them at the Head. They were worried it might be contaminated.

The bay was very busy for the pilots. One day I was counting the boats at anchor — 57 or 77 between Greencastle and Moville! It was a bad day, they were all anchored.

One day I was out cutting corn, and saw a boat sail round the head. The Cumberland had been sunk, the Crew were in lifeboat. 1941, approximately.

When I was aged 17-8 I'd just left St Columb’s College — I was not academically minded, wanted to go to sea. He helped father cut corn, Kept the cow and pony

“Examination boat”
Crew were fishermen from East-coast of England, commanded by a Naval Lieutenant.
Contact with all ships coming through, to get their flags before they pass Magilligan.

WE'd take snared rabbits and Guinness to them, and come back with Coal

Winter night, Oct/Nov 1940-1
There was a tug coming in, Wrecked at “metal man” rocks - Beacon at side of Lough Foyle entrance. At the Ceildh house, everyone dropped what they were doing and went to help. A Salvage boat from Liverpool tried to haul it up, didn’t work. Divers stripped it bare, but the masts still stick up.

Sailors went to sea, got ticket as a “master” or “mate” or whatever. Then they got a job at the harbour. “Pilot” was a handed-down job — when one man quit, someone local took over. The Pilot would take over the ship, Navy Boat, wherever, then steered them up to Derry or anchored them.

They used to go to Glasgow, that was a big day for them. They wore white covers on caps, white shirts, spick and span.
The big passenger ships anchored in Moville Bay, tender down from Derry and put the passengers aboard and take the rest ashore.

3 pilots in Derry, 9 Pilots stationed at Shroove [Pilot-house is still there]

1944
War was nearly over.
Derry Dock crew were supervised by Royal Navy staff. You had to know what you were doing, and be careful not to drop anything.
The big naval ammo storage yard at Kilnappy, outside Derry, contained the Old depth charges, torpedoes, etc.

Moville used to be the main depot — come to refuel. “Empire Dolphin” and other tankers in Moville Bay. There was also a Tanker at Derry was for refuelling. “San Ubaldo”

“bum boating” = tea and sugar moved ashore, chickens and food moved to boats.
There was even smuggling cattle and sheep between Magilligan and Greencastle.

Dan worked for a while in an insurance company. 2.5 years.

In June 1944 the plane crashed on the hill here. Lovely summer day, thick fog. My sister was buried that day. The plane crashed fore-noon, all killed. I got a couple of tracer bullets off it.
There was other planes crashed. There’s a bit of plane from the crash site beside the Drunken Duck, as a sort of memorial.

There was Harbour Police in docks at Derry.
Dan felt that the B-Specials were a form of Gestapo. They were civilian dressed in uniform who weren’t very nice. They weren’t very popular in this area.
There were a few people this side of the border [ie in Eire] who joined the B Specials. For a few pounds.
They had nothing to do with the Harbour. There was 5-6 harbour Police, I knew them. They were all right.

When the subs came in … The pilots, at that time were very busy. That was about 1945-6. The pilots made 2-3 trips every day. There would be a taxi waiting for them in Derry. They were up and down the road all the time. They were sleeping on their feet. It’s non-stop.

The sailors said they were helping, but they didn’t. Ireland wasn’t at war, but it might as well have been. The ships used to all anchor in the bay, in for a night or 2, then away again. The bay was a hive of activity.

[Germans in Donegal]
They did not help the Germans in any way at all. There was too many fatalities during the war of local sailors. Boys were killed and lost and torpedoed. A couple of people, 2 brothers lived up the road, were lost during the war. Everyone went to see from the area at that time.

[Do you remember the Derry Jail-break in 1943?]
No.
I had a cousin in Derry, well known in IRA circles. He spent a few years in the prison ship Argento in Belfast Lough in the early years of the war.
I don’t remember a security threat, and I worked in the harbour. When you went in the gates there was a navy man as a sentry, but you didn’t think about it.

Dan spent 8-9 months in Derry harbour, then over to Scotland for 6 months in Greenock. The boat was a “Glasgow Puffer” VIC 23. I was just a deck-hand.
The ships were using depth charges and target practise. The VIC crew would take off empty shells and ammo stuff, put the torpedoes aboard the ships or depth charges on corvettes and destroyers. You used a winch. Working out of this boat — small, about 100ft long.

Kilnappy on the hill, over on Waterside. It couldn’t be in Moville, that would be breaking Neutrality.
There were 3-4 Tigers, 3 at least, used to lie in Moville to refuel. The Water boats come down and gave fresh water. All kind of small craft. But not with ammo.

There was no electricity. We had a wind-charger. We used to hook it up, and had electric before it arrived. We were the first. Then ISB arrived, and everybody had it.

I worked in the harbour from 1960. I left it 17 years ago.

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