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The Passing of the Americans: In Northern Ireland

by ggjayson

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gerald Jayson
Location of story: 
Millisle, Northern Ireland
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 March 2004

In the winter of 1943 and spring of 1944 the US forces passed through our young lives. We, children, lived on a Refugee Settlement Farm (*) in Northern Ireland, Millisle, County Down; on the coast of the Irish Sea ("Don't point out to sea, they might think you are signalling to the Germans ships!"). There were refugees of all sorts on this farm : e.g. Mr.Patriaz, the Hungarian farm manager, Herr Kohner the solicitor from Czechoslovakia. However most grown-ups and children came from Austria and Germany. All had fled from the horrors of the Nazis who at that time straddled Europe and Russia. Although we had the greatest reason for being afraid of the Germans, we were considered to be "enemy aliens", and had to be on our best behaviour; for 6 to 15 year old boys somewhat difficult.
The war effort of us children on the farm consisted of weeding and potato picking, collecting scraps of metal from surrounding farms, displaying model aeroplane and collecting for the Red Cross. I had come to Belfast in 1939 as a 10 year old boy from Berlin, attended the Millisle Public Elementary School.
Mr.Palmer was the teacher for all the classes. By the autumn of 1943, after thousands of spellings and sums, the cane, the "Beano", "Dandy", "Hotspur", and "the 39 Steps", I had reached Regent House School, Newtownards, Co.Down. I was even in the Army Cadet force, ready to repel any German invasion with Boer war shot guns.
We loved the Irish cum English countryside, the literature, and sports, but we missed our parents.
Despite being "enemy aliens", the refugees on the farm were more scared of the Germans than any one else, because they had already had a taste of the Nazi horror before the war. Now, in 1943, the 25-word permitted Red Cross letter from our parents had stopped, because at this very time our parents and relations were being transported and murdered by the Germans. Of course we did not know it then in Northern Ireland.
Into this healthy, damp fresh aired atmosphere of Northern Ireland came suddenly an enormous number of American soldiers. Dressed in their beautifully tailored uniforms, compared to the
(*) The Refugee farm in Northern Ireland is a story on its own)
rough Khaki the British Tommy wore. The British army was thin on the ground in any case, being concentrated in England ready for the D-day landing. But in Northern Ireland, suddenly the whole of the province changed character. It became an American outpost, a jumping-off point for the Second Front. The roads filled with men, jeeps and new lorries.
American camps sprung up everywhere.
Millisle, Donaghadee and Bangor changed in character. For the next 8 months they became American frontier townships. Everybody, and especially the girls, in the surrounding towns were drawn into their lives, what with dancing, Jitterbucking and Jazz. "Arthur Murray taught me dancing in a hurry". The cinema and Hollywood had come to Northern Ireland. Most of the US service men were young. The faces in the streets were happy. They made Northern Ireland young and brought excitement into the lives of the girls. They were a six month flash of light.
Many of the girls went out with the G.I.s, and some became US brides. The Northern Irish accent and American twang was a heady combination.
All this was before they transferred to England and D-day, before they landed and went into action on the Omaha and the other beaches in Normandy, France. Those carefree soldiers would soon be subjected to accelerated ageing.

What struck us, Jewish refugees on the farm most, was the large number of Jewish US service men who came out to the farm, especially on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays. There were, of course, Jewish servicemen in the British and Polish armies, but they were spread thinly among the troops, a reflection of persons of the Jewish faith among the population. The American army which came over to Northern Ireland was enormous and its Jewish component must also have been larger. Some of them even spoke Yiddish, others appeared to have escaped themselves from the European continent, as they spoke different European languages. On Chanukah and Purim, they brought us their sweets which in the UK were carefully rationed. They also brought cakes and other rationed food we hadn't tasted since the outbreak of war.
On Passover the soldiers arrived with cooked food and matzo cakes.
Before the war the Jews were known to be meek and mild people, easily bullied, held in disdain as cowards by bullies. Unwilling to accept a challenge. Yet now in 1943, we saw Jews in large numbers, in military uniforms, ready to go into battle, to give up their lives against a common enemy. Later, in Israel, Jewish soldiers would show their prowess in defending their country.
There were of course also Jewish service men in the British forces. They fought in all theatres of the war.
Many of the older refugees from the Millisle farm also ended up in the British Forces. Graduating from the internment camp, via the pioneer corps and the engineers, into the commandos. Refugees were ideally suited, especially after the war, as interpreters in the British and US armies.

We children were lucky and spent the war on the farm and at school. Unfortunately we lost our parents and relations in the Holocaust. We shall always be grateful to all soldiers who fought the Nazi menace and saved our lives.

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