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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Carved on a Tree for 56 Years.

by fiona jones

Contributed by 
fiona jones
People in story: 
Gerald Bradley,Callum Hegarty,Dale Sweet, Stephen Sweet
Location of story: 
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Contributed on: 
26 May 2005

Gerald Bradley (74) was a boy, growing up in Castledawson during WW2. Here are some of his recollections;

In 1942, with the Americans entering the war, the GIs occupied the camp behind our house.
I believe they were the 82nd Airborne Division who had just returned from service in North Africa and Italy. Their new homes were the Nissan huts erected around the perimeter of the Moyola Park Estate, Castledawson, and only yards from where my family and I lived.

Unlike the previous tenants of English regiments, security was very lax with the arrival of the GI’s.
Us lads could wander round the camp and were made welcome in their huts.
Each hut was occupied by around 24 soldiers, 12 beds down each side and a solitary stove in the centre, fuelled by coal.
We would spend our evenings in the huts watching the GI’s play cards, throw dice and tell stories about being in Africa and Italy.

It was exciting times for us young lads! We were introduced to American comics such as Superman, Spiderman, and Batman and Robin.
There was plentiful supply of candy, chewing gum and cigarettes (Lucky Strike, Phillip Morris and Chesterfield.)
Music in the huts was provided by a solitary speaker which blasted out big band sounds like Glen Millar.

The soldiers did a lot of training during the day in preparation for D-Day.
At night time one could see the searchlight in the distance lighting up the sky over the airfield at Aldergrove.
At nearby Toome we had an airfield occupied by the American Air force.
I mind being invited at Christmas to a party and then being entertained to a film show in the camp picture house.
It was wonderful for us lads to see the pilots walking back to their huts wearing their flying boots, fur lined leather jackets and hats after returning from a flying mission. It fired our imaginations! You could get quite close to the Airplanes parked around the airfield. Most of then were called after a film star and usually had a swimsuit clad girl painted below the cockpit.

A lot of young lads made pocket money going around the huts as shoe shine boys. All GI’s wore brown shoes or boots. The heels must have been soft as we never heard them walk around like the English soldiers.

Another memory is of a regiment of Black GI’s who were stationed in a neighbouring village of Moneymore.
The town of Magherafelt lay between the villages. It boasted a picture house, cafés and pubs and attracted a lot of the GI’s.
In the early days of the war there was still strict segregation in America and when the Whites and Blacks got fuelled up on Irish whiskey there was some fighting took place.
Occasionally the Military Police were required to crack some heads with their batons!
Eventually a rota was put in place where only one race was allowed to visit on certain nights.
Yes there was never a dull moment while the Americans were in town!

The Americans made a great impression on me as a young boy.
Years later when I was in the forest of Moyola with my young grandsons they spotted an inscription carved in a tree. It read 'Dale Sweet Mapleton Oregon 1943.’
The older boy, Callum, was intrigued as to what might have happened to this young soldier and a letter was send to the Postmaster General.
A letter arrived from his son. Unfortunately, although, Dale had survived the war he passed away in 1997.
Stephen his son had not known he had served in N. Ireland.He really appreciated the photos we had sent him.
He said his father rarely talked of the war as the memories were painful except to say that on D-Day the 'water ran red' (Dale was in the sixth wave on the beach in Normandy.)
56 years later and we had tracked down one of those GI's that I probably even knew and talked to.
My grandson was fascinated by the outcome of our research.

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