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Patsy Gillen's Memories of Moville, Co Donegal

by BBC Radio Foyle

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Archive List > Rationing

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Foyle
People in story: 
Patsy Gillen
Location of story: 
Moville,Innishowen, Co Donegal, Ireland
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5622419
Contributed on: 
08 September 2005

Patsy Gillen : Inishowen war memories

The destroyers I remember one night in Moville on the Foyle. The Foyle and the Clyde were the two places where they would assemble for the convoys for the north Atlantic to escort the ships to America and back. And there was one night in the Foyle we counted 75 destroyers and corvettes in the bay and when we got up the next morning there wasn’t one to be seen anywhere. And in the Foyle there were four tankers anchored there all the time and the big tankers would come in and discharge into these smaller ones. Then the destroyers and corvettes and submarines and all would come in and you would hear often the words “Come alongside the oiler.” There was one night Lord Haw-Haw came on the air and he said that they were going to do something about these sucking bottles on the Foyle, that’s what he called them.

Another night we were up at a concert in the wee Protestant hall and it was hosted by Lady Montgomery and the officers and men from the ships were in it, they were the artistes that night. And during it the Guards arrived. They wanted to know what was happening and they knew that the planes were coming to bomb Derry that night so we were all sent home and we didn’t know a lot but the planes we thought had a different sound from the ones that were going over Moville all the time, the German planes going up. There was a landmine close to Pennyburn chapel, that was damaged that night. It seems they were looking for the harbour where the boats were anchored so they didn’t miss it by very much actually.

Speaking of Lady Montgomery, she used to go round Moville and do all her shopping in a wee pony and trap.

Then there’s one night a Chinese tanker went out. At that time the U-boats just lay off Malin Head or Shroove Head, between Malin and Shroove, and they got an awful lot of boats going out. I was speaking to one of the deep sea divers here recently and he was telling me that it’s a great place for them for diving. It’s just a mass of wrecks with all the shipping that was destroyed at the time. But there was one night there was a Chinese tanker going out and there was a fellow on it, an Irishman, I’ll not mention his name, but anyway she was blown up off Shroove and they got into lifeboats, and Paddy was pulling them in one side and as he was pulling them in one side the Chinese were so excited they were jumping out the other side. He couldn’t keep them in at all. He probably never got any award or anything for it but he was the only survivor of that tanker that night.

Then the boats, the liberty boats they were called, would come in to shore about six o’clock or so and they would stay in till late. They bought all kinds of things, eggs and silk stockings. The bumboats went out too to the ships and they sold cosmetics, silk stockings, eggs, they took an awful lot of eggs and butter.

The Chinese, it was remarkable, they always walked in a straight line one after the other, there was nine, and there was one guy, I don’t know his name at all Johnny the Chink was all he was called, and he seemed to lead them all the time. People used to buy wee tubes of lipstick for theepence or sixpence and put it on the hens combs. When hens get older the combs get very light coloured but the Chinese always liked them very dark coloured . People got the lipstick and rubbed it on the combs. The Chinese bought the hens and they had to kill them on board themselves. They got their legs tied always. This day they went into a pub and they left the hens outside and there was a character there and he went into the egg store and he took out an egg and he put it under one of the hens but of course it was years before that since that hen had layed and the Chinese man came out, went to lift it and the egg rolled away and he was delighted. He thought it was the greatest thing since the sliced pan.

Another night they were in a pub down at the anchorage. It was one of the unusual pubs in Ireland it had a 23 hour licence for fishermen you know. But it had a terrazzo floor and the Royal Navy of course weren’t well paid the Merchant Navy was very well paid . He ordered six bottles of whiskey he picked them up and whatever way he caught the cord they just crashed on the ground and smashed and he didn’t even look down to see if any of them were all right he just said, “Give me the same again.” They had that much money then.

I was telling you about those liberty boats coming in every night and going out, probably some of them drank well but not wisely but there was never one man lost in all that time. There was one lost after the war, I don’t know what happened but not during that time.
We had all kinds of aircraft carriers on the Foyle. We had Canadian and I remember we had a very big American and then there was a Russian one on and we’d go out on wee punts and go on board and the Russian one, the captain and the officers just seemed to sleep in the same conditions, there didn’t seem to be any differential between the officers and the men. There was all kinds of craft going up and down to Derry. There were boats called torpedo boats they torpedoed the subs and that, but they made an awful noise you would think it was an aeroplane very close over head, and there was this fellow, he was sent down for salt, a quarter stone of salt and he heard the wild noise so he left the salt on a wall and ran down to the shore to see what was happening and he came back and somebody had lifted the salt and he arrived home and said to his mother,” Did the salt come up?”

Yea that was the different things they took out, eggs, silk stocking, cosmetics. Then from the boats they would exchange for the eggs and butter and the silk stockings and cosmetics, paint and diesel. They had a lot of deisel in from the boats and the local electricity suppliers were able to use it, one of the few places maybe in Ireland that could run their engines.

Another thing that came in a lot was tea, chests of tea, big chests not bags, and the people would buy it from the bum boaters. Then they sold it off at five shillings a quarter pound. At that time we were getting half an ounce of tea or something so it was well thought of.

We got petrol in too. There was one night there was a petrol tanker in and the petty officer was going round all the pubs meeting different people. Everybody went out. They went out in all kinds of boats and what not taking tanks out. You couldn’t get petrol then it was rationed too. Then somebody came along and opened fire on them it was very lucky there weren’t some of them blown up that night.

Another night the destroyers went up very, very fast. I suppose some young lads got control of a ship they went flying up to Derry and without even seeing the destroyer you could hear the terrible suction. They were going so fast that they sucked the tide away out and then it came in again terribly fast and they sank a number of boats and there was a man there, Joe Kane, who had been in the navy during the first war and he was an agent for the Admiralty so he went to Derry and he got them stopped. They were only allowed to do so many knots going up the Foyle ever. They had sunk boats at the pier and the wharf.

They used the taxis a lot in Moville, going to Derry and there’s a standing stone down above Ballybrack, between Moville and Greencastle and one of the taximen took the Americans from the American aircraft carrier and he told them he would take them down to the Blarney Stone. But he took them to the standing stone and they would chip pieces off it and kissed it and what not then went back to the boat and told other people and they were looking to know how much it would be to go to the Blarney stone. The taximan worked out the miles but they said, “ Oh not atall there’s somebody far cheaper than you.” They didn’t realise that the Blarney Stone was hundreds of miles away and their friends had been conned.

I don’t know where the word bumboat came from but they were the boats that went out with stuff and sold it or exchanged it and gotstuff from the boats. The boats would exchange, as I say, paint and at that time nearly all the houses in Moville were painted battleship grey. Then the dear old ladies over in England were knitting away socks, balaclavas and jumpers and the sailors were selling them off cheap to these local people.
I was sorry for all the dear old ladies across the way all sitting knitting every night, socks and balaclavas scarves and pullovers and the boys giving them away for a dozen eggs or a pound of butter, but I suppose they served a purpose.
A number of people in Moville made a good deal of money out of the dealing and the sale of drink. The merchant navy bought a lot of drink and they would have to eat when they were ashore too.
Moville was the most strategic point in Inishowen because it was on the Foyle. The Foyle was disputed water then and they were quite at liberty to come in there. There was supposed to be a line down the centre but they were able to come in and out no problem and it was the last place that the convoys could gather going to the North Atlantic route and that was why Moville was so popular. A lot of the sailors went from Derry down to Buncrana and also Letterkenny but not in the numbers that they came through Moville.

The liberty boats came in every evening, I don’t know how many. These boats were tied up then till they would head out again. We had all nationalities in Moville. I remember one time there was a right row between a big Norwegian and a wee Eskimo that was some excitement. We were only wee nippers at the time and it was great crack watching all this carry-on.

Yes we had nearly all nationalities in Movillle then well at least all the Allies anyway. All the navies of the Allies were in and out all the time and we paid no attention. There was a Scotch lady who used to stay in our house on holiday and she had a nephew on the boats. I remember his number was HMS Legion G74 and every time he came in he’d come up to our house. We were always watching for this. The boats were all numbered you know. We’d see the HMSG 74 on his sleeve. It was an interesting time.
I don’t remember whether he had anything with him or not, probably a bit of tea that was a great thing then.

And there were romances too. The man I mentioned earlier that was on the Chinese tanker, he married a local girl. There was a man, an Estonian I think he was, he married a local girl. Ah I was quite young and there was probably a number of romances round about. The sailors came to the dances. They used to fill the dance halls and there was man had a dance hall just out of town, well it was a barn, and they came in a lot there. One morning after one of the dances he went down for his paper and the man in the papershop asked him, “How did the dance go down? Did you have many?” “Aw” he said, “it was great. I had them from every country in the world. And begod I even had them from heaven.” Some of them gave him a medal going in. You know they had no lights or only oil lights or something so it was easy to play a trick like that. But there was every nationality. They were allowed to come ashore in uniform and all. Some of them looked terribly well in uniform. The Americans looked very smart. I wasn’t interested in girls then. I was too young. It wasn’t my worry or problem at that time but it was very interesting times.

And then as I say this Russian aircraft carrier she was very very big. The Canadian one was very big. Some nights there was an awful lot of boats gathering up in the Foyle for heading away the next morning. I don’t know what time they went away but when you got up in the morning they would be gone. They’d be coming in for a couple of days then just overnight they’d be all away.
I don’t remember much what happened after the war. We just got on with growing up.

There were two landed families in Moville at that time. There was the Montgomerys and the Hazlitts. The Hazlitts lived a mile up above Moville and the Hazlitts wanted the town to be built on their side of the river and they built a pier. The pier’s still standing. The Montgomerys gave the recreation green in Moville to the people of Moville, left to them in perpetuity. There was a priest in Moville, a Fr. McGowan and during the war he decided they were going to plough the green to grow potatoes for the war effort at the time and he had a man there with a couple of horses, ready to plough but too many people objected and wouldn’t let him go ahead. But the green is there now and it’s a great asset to Moville. No-one can ever build on it or anything. And the walk away down the shore. You can walk now all the way to Greencastle which is three miles. Along the shore front.

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