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15 October 2014
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Memories of a Bumboater in Moville

by BBC Radio Foyle

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Foyle
People in story: 
George Clarke
Location of story: 
Moville, Co Donegal, Ireland
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5622608
Contributed on: 
08 September 2005

George Clarke: Inishowen war story

I was starting off in life and the war was starting at that particular time and we got acquainted with ships coming to Lough Foyle. At that time there was naval ships coming to Lough Foyle and to the port in Derry. Lough Foyle was the main port nearly in the British Isles for the North Atlantic convoys. That is without a word of doubt. The war was a very short time started whenever they put a boom across from Greencastle in Donegal to Macgilligan in County Derry and that was opened and closed by an Icelandic trawler on the Greencastle side and the Magilligan side to let tankers and Royal Naval ships in and to keep submarines out. That was the start of it. There were two Admiralty tugs stationed in Lough Foyle.

Then the Merchant Navy was oil tankers and they made arrangements with a man in Moville to supply meat, vegetables and all the provisions to the merchant ships. There was a great butter at that time they called Black Swan butter, creamery butter, plenty of eggs and everything else. And I happened to be occasionally a member of the boat that was taking out the stuff to them. We had a wonderful time.

Then we got acquainted with doing business with the Royal Navy ships for they wanted butter, fresh eggs, they couldn’t get any eggs, and we did that for them through a bartering trade supplying them with butter and eggs in exchange for cigarettes which was the start of a dawn. And we sold them silk stockings fully fashioned silk stockings, women’s underwear, in exchange for the cigarettes and tobacco. The exchange rate was very good and money was handy got at that time.

The war was a considerable time on before the Americans entered the war. Before the Americans entered the war the invasion of Normandy happened. The Americans did not invade Normandy but they sent invasion crafts to assist and five invasion craft lay in Lough Foyle for a fortnight and nobody knew what they were. Nobody had seen them before. They were built in America, in Todd shipyard. So one particular evening the town was invaded by these boys in white trousres and everything else and it was the crews of these invasion ships. They were like barges and the bottom dropped out of them and the men walked off. They were two nights ashore. There was chewing gum and everything , American cigarettes and all and we had a great time. There was an occasion in a bar in town which was very popular. There was a crowd in and this fellow came in, an American, and he ordered a drink he wanted a Paddy’s he said and everybody was talking and somebody said to him “Have you nothing to say?” He said, “I came in here for a drink I didn’t come in to talk.”

But that went on, things like that went on There was a lovely time with the Americans and the Canadians. There was an incident with a Canadian ship and they were arresting a boy aboard the Navy ship and they went out. The ship left the port of Derry and moved here. He couldn’t be arrested in Derry. And he couldn’t be arrested anywhere in Lough Foyle. The waters around Moville were disputed waters so he was eventually arrested in Lough Swilly which didn’t share waters with Northern Ireland. The Canadian ship had to move. There was a lot of incidents like that. It was to do with girls going aboard ship and coming off next morning badly beaten up or abused by what they went through during the night with drink and everything else. And then you had the select girls coming from different establishments and they were treated like royalty. That went on.

The merchant navy, there would have been about five tankers in here at any one time to supply. You see the Royal Navy ships rendezvoused out at the Fairway buoy to escort the ships out or in to the English ports and they left Derry or maybe they were in the bay. But when they were out long enough, maybe they were torpedoed, there was a lot of ships out at Malin Head and they had to rush in but they couldn’t go to Derry and they got supplies of oil out here from the tankers. Many’s the time we went out and supplied them with stuff you know, not me but quite a lot of other fellows.

The Americans did come then and it was a wonderful time with the Americans. But the better time in Lough Foyle actually I would say in Moville was the time of the NATO exercises long after the war in the fifties.

The names of the tankers that were stationed a long time in Lough Foyle was the President Sergeant. Now the President Sergeant was, did you ever hear the name of Captain Dove that was a big German ship that was sunk out at the Hague? Well he was captain of the President Sergeant. The Dolphin, the Scottish Heather, the Petrofilt which was a French tanker, the Norven which was a Norwegian tanker they were all very popular about Moville captains and all. The captains came ashore at the weekend and they commandeered a hotel at the seafront and they had a poker school going from Friday night to Monday morning big money exchanged at that time. Now when you talk about big money £500 was a lot of money. So that was the war years.

Then there was the smuggling, I didn’t mention that. There were big landings of cigarettes off the boats then because there was forty-seven boats working, but they wouldn’t be all out at the one time. Two business men in Moville arranged through the NAFFI boat that was tied up at Moville pier for a consignment of cigarettes. Now a carton of cigarettes, duty free cigarettes, there was twenty-five packets of twenty in a carton and what came from Rotterdam was fifteen cases with twenty cartons in each case. And the NAFFI boat couldn’t come completely ashore and they couldn’t land at Carrickaroary Pier so we went out in a small boat, there was an engine in her, to land them and we were landing and a good friend of ours told us that the customs had us under observation in Moville so then we turned round and we diverted.

Instead of going through Moville we landed at a lane down to the shore on this side of the bay field and we loaded the fifteen cases and went up Pat Pogues lane and out over Cooley to Gleneely. And the cigarettes, we weren’t there for the exchange of money but I was told the next morning that those cigarettes were in Sligo the next day at twelve o’clock the biggest consignment of cigarettes that was ever landed. Because days we went out, clear of this particular landing, and any bum boat would have maybe ten cartons of cigarettes with twentyfive packets in each no bother.

On one occasion I had a bag of tea. The mail bags, that letters went in, went aboard ship and I got the full of one of them of tea one time. It landed here and I went up over the Plantin’ behind us and my aunt and uncle was living up there. I was walking down the road here for I knew the Customs wouldn’t have known and this old lady was coming behind me and she called me, she says, “There’s something dropping out of that bag”. I looked and there was a wee leak and there was tea coming out and she says, “Jesus Mary and Joseph and nobody has any tea”. Says I, “Do you know what you’ll do? When you have your shopping done,” she always called in with my aunt,” When you have your shopping done go in and you’ll get tea in there.” So she got a bag of tea. There was no plastic bags, they were paper bags. And she circulated all round the country that she got tea off me and I was selling the tea on the black market.

Other things sold on the Black market? We couldn’t get raisins here and the chief stewards aboard the tankers especially the American tankers, they had raisins and sultanas and everything. We sold sultanas, we sold raisins by the boxes. That was wooden boxes. There were other things like gum. Now oil was very scarce there was no electricity here, but believe it or not there was oil came off the tankers kept Moville and Carndonagh lit. Now I was never in that because I was scared because they had forty gallon barrels on the ship and there was motor boats and they had pipes down from the tankers loading up the barrels and when you were coming across the channel maybe with twent barrels in a motor boat there were destroyers going up and down they would have run you down because they were in a rush. It was a dangerous time. Another great thing was carbine for bicycle lamps. Bicycles were the main kind of transport and needed lamps. Well there was two ton of carbine landed here at one particular time now how the Navy had it or how it got in I don’t know. It went to Carn.

At that time they would nearly have sold you the boat if they could have got away with it. Because they were chancy boys. We were chancy men at this game too and they called us pirates. You could get anything. I was approached on several occasions to get guns from the boat which I didn’t do. But myself and another fellow got a gun one time. A fellow gave us a revolver, he was a sentry. There was that much trouble about this gun that came off the ship that my mate had a lean to to the house. Said I “The only place to put that is in there” and he put the revolver where the corrugated iron came down and the beam was across, he put it in there and it could be in the same house yet we were that glad to get rid of it.

But with stuff changing hands, the arrangement was the boats were always anchored out there, the motor boats, and punts were tied at the pier and any boat that was tied at the pier was a rowing boat and the crew members got always orders to take the oars out of them in case the customs would come and lo and behold one day somebody got orders to run to the town for something and left the oars there and the Customs went out in it and raided the boat, took the cigarettes and all. But then another time there was a boat came in with a good lot of cigarettes and they knew the Customs were about someplace and they turned and they went out to Moville Light. There was a house in Moville Light and they out the cigarettes there so somebody knew the cigarettes were there and next day when the boys that owned them went out somebody else knew it too and they were gone. So then there was a row about that.

Aye and another thing, getting away from the navy but about war years, when we were waiting on ships to come in we always had a game of pitch and toss you know for a penny and there was one day we left the game when the navy came in and left the money all there and there was silver for if you wanted change you got change off the ground and when we came in two hours after, the money was still there. There would have been five to ten pounds there and nobody touched it.

The time that the big lot of sailors was in and the Liberty boat had to take them over to board at eleven o’clock you see. But one particular night there was a gale of wind and there was a terrible lot of sailors ashore, there was only about one bed and breakfast place in town and two hotels. They couldn’t get aboard so the few skippers and officers that were ashore they got accommodation in the hotels. They could pay their way. For the crew members the Masonic hall opened up and they stayed there overnight just lying on the floor in shelter till they got out the next morning.

Then there was another time, a Swede aboard the Norwegian tanker and he wasn’t allowed ashore this particular time so he swam ashore, the wee Swede and then he didn’t get ashore again for a week. Things like that.

There was an American tanker in supplying the other tankers, she came from America, I can’t remember her name, but the ship’s chandler was giving out supplies and we went out that day with them. Christmas was coming so the skipper asked the man who was supplying him to come out to the ship for Christmas dinner along with his three crew members. You grubbed with the officers that particular day. The crew served the captain and officers and we were the captain and officers’ guests, there werefive of us, and we got a nice drink and everything else. We were all sitting down and “Do you want sweet potatoes or do you want pepper potatoes?” we didn’t know what was there. And then we were finished and all and they came round, “Anyone want cigar?” The cigars and cigarettes were on the table. So we all smoked. Then there was no lighter but these little things were on the table in a little vase and somebody says, “There’s matches there” and I picked up this thing butwasn’t a match. So one of the crew members who was serving us came along and I said “We thought it was matches and it’s not matches.” “Oh my dear man” he said, “Those are toothpicks.” That was all we knew.

I was aboard another ship that came in here she wasn’t torpedoed but she was machine gunned by the Germans and she was loaded with pig ore. And there was a woman aboard her who was chief engineer. This ship was a coal burner too and there was twenty-seven of a crew on her, twent-one different nationalities. They had flat fifty packets of cigarettes, tokens from the Canadian Government Red Cross. We went down into the fo’castle where there was a big fire with one funnel going up through the ship. All of a sudden everybody started to cough and a big black fellow put pepper in the fire and she started to spark and suffocate us. We all got jammed coming up the catwalk but it was all a laugh.

There was another occasion too and I don’t know whether it was during the war or not but there came a boat in here one time with seven thousand tons of stockfish, salt fish from Canada. The fish was being taken ashore in big bales. My uncle was driving the tankers up to Derry at that time for money, up to Burkes agents they were agents for the shipping companies and he went up to Derry with them and coming down again, it was Captain Oliver and Captain Morrison that was on the two tankers, and they said to my uncle, “Would you like some refreshments?” He said,”Well, I don’t drink.” One of them said, “Well we’ll have to go and get something.” So they went in to a pub at Quigley’s point there was no restaurants or anything it was just pubs. So they had a drink. But the pub at Quigley’s Point at that time had a grocer’s shop next door to it in the same premises. One of the skippers was walking around smoking a cigarette and he said,” There’s better stockfish than is aboard my ship.” Little did he know they were off his ship.

As to socialising in Inishowen, the Merchant navy came freely but when the NATO exercises started after the war it was open to everyone. But the Royal navy was restricted during the war. If the Royal Navy came ashore they brought their own guards with them to keep control. Oh that was during the NATO exercises. Because at that time the Americans would have a walkie-talkie system ship to shore. No Royal Navy came ashore during the war not that they weren’t wanted but they weren’t allowed ashore but the Merchant men some of them got married to local girls the same as in Derry. A lot of the girls got married to service men.

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