During World War II Northern Ireland hosted many US soldiers. The first to arrive were mainly from the Southern states of America, especially Virginia, Georgia and Carolina. In an area of County Down near the village of Gilford, the first U.S. troops to arrive were billeted in the Orange Hall on Stramore Road. They were an Advance party of the United States 6th Cavalry Regiment, who were to prepare for the main body of troops who would arrive six weeks later.
This advance detachment made arrangements for the reception and housing of main troops at Tandragee Castle, Bannvale at Gilford, and Gilford Castle. The rest of the Regiment back in the U.S.A. (the remaining 1556 enlisted men, 4 warrant officers and 78 officers), completed their physical examinations, received immunizations, and left New York harbour on the Queen Elizabeth on October 13 1943.
The 1st Squadron, Troop A, B, E, and their Squadron Medical Detachment was stationed at Gilford Castle. The medical corps occupied the high field which ran at right angles to the previously used Wall Road Camp, and overlooked the back of the Castle. A hospital was built on this site.
The 2nd Squadron consisting of Headquarters Detachment 2nd Squadron, Troops C, D, and their Squadron Medical Detachment were moved into the Bannvale Camp in Gilford.
Some soldiers of the Advance party were moved to the premises at Stramore Farm, originally used by The Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E’s). The farm buildings, situated roughly one mile from Gilford, were the main service depots for the many army vehicles in the area. The garages were in the large sheds close to the main road. At the opposite side of the road, the soldiers initially used wooden sheds as sleeping quarters.
The R.E.M.E’s built a large concrete water butt in one of the fields and constructed a pipeline to carry water to it from the town’s supply. The vat is still in use by the farmer and can be clearly seen behind the wall at the farm. The R.E.M.E’s were also responsible for extending the electricity supply from the town, out as far as the camp.
The buildings at Stramore Farm, where these men were billeted, have been demolished. In an upstairs room, although very dirty and well worn, were a number of wall murals depicting “G.I. Jane” type paintings. One wall also bore the names of the soldiers who were billeted there, and there were also beams in the room on which was written “MIND YOUR HEADS” and “CARBON.”
The original building in which the paintings were located can be seen in this photograph. Fortunately the man who demolished the building rescued one mural, and rebuilt it at his own home in Portadown.
The original brickwork was preserved and strengthened using steel rods and a sturdy wooden casing.
At the time of writing no artistic preservation has been carried out yet on this unique piece, so it is in its original state. Others have been photographed.
At the end of 1943 the Regiment was reorganised, and the final parade of the old 6th Cavalry Regiment was held on December 31 1943 in nearby Tandragee. Under the new reorganisation it became the Sixth Cavalry Group, the Sixth Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, and the 28th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
General George S. Patton carried out an informal inspection tour of the U.S. troops in Northern Ireland at this time, and was guest-of-honour at a dance in Tandragee Castle.
At the end of May 1944 the Cavalry left Gilford for England, and eventually crossed the English Channel on the 8th and 9th July disembarking on Utah Beach in France on D Day They had participated in the following campaigns – Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and Central Europe.
But who was the artist. One of the murals provides a clue. Is it one of your ancestors?
If you are interested in this unique piece please contact Philip in Northern Ireland at [email protected] or telephone +44 2838 391503