The Second World War in Northern Ireland

The Second World War in Northern Ireland

County Armagh Part 3

S.A.S. Soldier from County Armagh Killed during "Operation Gain"

At 23.34 on the night of 4th July 1944 Captain Garstin and eleven other S.A.S. Soldiers took off from Keevil Airfield in a Short Stirling aircraft to be dropped by parachute behind enemy lines at near La Ferte-Alais to the south of Paris as part of “Operation Gain”

The Unit had been divided into two groups with all of the Northern Ireland soldiers being with Captain Garstin and Lance Corporal Vaculik who was Free French.

French Resistance Fighters had been informed of the parachute drop however two of them believed that a third, who used to take used parachutes and sell them in Paris, was missing for some time and may have been captured by the Gestapo.

On the previous night of 3rd / 4th July a coded  BBC radio message had been received by the Resistance Fighters telling them of a Parachute Drop however on that occasion the flight was cancelled with insufficient time to inform the French.

Ominously while they waited at the Drop-Zone some automatic gunfire was heard in the area.

The following night the Resistance again went to the same location having received another coded message via BBC Radio however on this occasion the first two Frenchmen to arrive were fired on and killed by Germans and all of the others, except one, returned home not knowing that the Germans knew the recognition letter for the drop which was “B for Bertie”

At 01.53 the S.A.S. parachuted from the aircraft with most landing on the Drop Zone, which was a field of wheat, whilst the final five to jump had landed in a Wood. At the edge of the D.Z. was a group of men wearing civilian clothes who greeted Captain Garstin with the words “Vive la France” immediately after which the soldiers came under fire from automatic weapons.

There was a brief exchange of fire however it soon became obvious that the S.A.S. were surrounded and subsequently Vaculik was captured at 06.00 and Corporal Jones an hour later. - They soon learned that Captain Garstin, Lieutenant Wiehe, Trooper Thomas James “Tot” Barker (Previously of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and from Cookstown, County Tyrone) and Lance Corporal Howard Lutton (Who had been Army Air Corps and from County Armagh) had also been captured after being wounded.

Lance Corporal Lutton subsequently died of his wounds and is buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery.

Captain Garstin and Trooper Barker received hospital treatment for their wounds whilst the other men were initially taken to a converted Hotel near Champ de Mars in central Paris and then a Gestapo Headquarters where they were kept and interrogated for three days before being returned to the converted hotel.

A day or two later Captain Garstin and Trooper Barker were reunited with the other soldiers however Captain Garstin was very weak.

On 8th August all of the soldiers were given civilian clothing and told that they were to be exchanged for German Agents who were held by the British in London and that they were required to wear civilian clothing to ensure that they could pass through civilian areas.

At 01.00 the following morning all of the men were told to board a lorry and were driven north of Paris.

About five hours later they reached a Wood which was East of Noailles and here they were ordered out of the lorry and told to walk along a narrow path to a clearing in the Wood.

Corporal Vaculik asked if they were to be shot and received a reply to that effect.

The S.A.S. men were lined up from left to right Jones, Captain Garstin, Corporal Vaculik, Varey, “Tot” Barker, Joseph Walker (From Moira, County Down) and William Pearson “Billy” Young (Previously Royal Ulster Rifles and from Randalstown, County Antrim), although it is not certain if the order was Barker, Walker or Walker, Barker.

Facing the men were a number of Gestapo.  Two Officers who were armed with Sten guns at the ready whilst another read out the Sentence. A Sergeant of the Gestapo who translated and a Gestapo Agent in civilian clothes.

The Sentence was as follows :- “For having wished to work in collaboration with the French Terrorists and thus to endanger the German Army, you are condemned to the Penalty of Death and will be Shot”

On hearing the word “Shot” all of the men tried to escape into the woods.

Corporal Vaculik managed to get away while Corporal Jones tripped and fell. The Gestapo men ran past him thinking he was dead and when he got up again he saw four bodies lying where they had been shot but could not identify them before he tried to escape.

This Incident was investigated by Captain Sadler and Major Poat of the S.A.S. who visited Noailles  around 20th September and on speaking with the local Resistance Leader he showed them where he believed the murders had taken place and also where the bodies of the S.A.S. soldiers were buried.

A grave had been dug in a wooded area about two miles from where the shooting had taken place and near a large chateau that is approximately one mile to the east of Noailles.

The Resistance fighter said that the Germans had a two day Curfew in place following the shooting and were searching for the bodies of Soldiers Jones and Vaculik.

The bodies of 5 murdered S.A.S. men lay at the scene for three days before finally being buried by a German Army Unit consisting of one Officer and approximately nine men who had been in the Chateau.

During the Investigation it was necessary to open the grave and on doing so a total of five bodies were found. All of them were dressed in civilian clothing and showed signs of having been handcuffed.

One of the bodies was identified as that of Captain Garstin.

All of the bodies were subsequently buried in  Marrissel Cemetery at Beauvais with Captain Garstin being grave number 325 and the others 326 - 329.

The Gestapo had tried to conceal their actions so the Investigation looked into the Germans who had occupied the Chateau who had buried the bodies.

A woman Collaborator, who had worked for the Germans in the Chateau and believed that they had been a Luftwaffe Signal Section,  identified a number of the soldiers including Captain Hans Garling, Officer Hans Zool and Oberfeldwebel Gall.

Lance Corporal Howard Lutton is named on the War Memorial in Portadown as shown above.

(My Sincere thanks to Janice Surgenor and Sheldon Murray for their assistance)

Special Air Service Lance Corporal George Robinson from Portadown Murdered by Nazis

Lance Corporal George Robinson from Portadown was serving with A Squadron, 2 S.A.S.

 

He was involved in Operation Loyton which took place in the Vosges area of Eastern France where the Special Air Service were tasked to cooperate with local Resistance Groups, sabotage German Communications and be involved in both covert and overt actions against the enemy.

Movement of enemy was to be reported back and the operation was planned to last for approximately three weeks until advancing American Troops would liberate the area of operations.

On Saturday 7th October 1944 George Robinson was one of six Special Air Service soldiers, who had been captured in the Moussey area by soldiers from a Panzer Division which was commanded by Colonel Wolff.

The other Soldiers were :-

Lieutenant Dill, Sergeant Hay, Lance Corporal Austin, Private Bennet and Private Weaver.

Following capture they were taken to a Factory at Le Harcholet to be interrogated.

At 19:00 on Monday 9th October 1944 the men were transported by lorry to Saales where they were given by the Panzer Soldiers to Einsatz-Kommando zbV.6 which was under the Command of Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Hans-Dieter Ernst.

The Headquarters of this Unit was in Saales at the Maison Barthlemy where the prisoners were kept in a large Cell within the building.

On Sunday 15th October 1944 the Non-Commissioned Officers and Ordinary Ranks , including George Robinson, were driven by lorry to a remote area where each of the soldiers was made to strip before being shot.

The clinical action was such that steps were taken to ensure that no evidence was to be left which could lead to the identity of the S.A.S. Soldiers.

Having been stripped they were shot singly in front of an already prepared grave.

All the clothing which had been taken from the prisoners was brought back to Maison Barthlemy where it was burned.

Following the murder of these soldiers Dr Hans-Dieter Ernst sent a message to Dr Erich Isselhorst reporting that eight Parachutists had been shot "Whilst trying to escape"

The bodies of these eight soldiers were exhumed on 6th November 1945 and all, including George Robinson, were positively identified.

Isselhorst was later captured, tried and executed by shooting at Strasbourg on 23rd February 1948. (Information from S.A.S. War Diary)

The photograph above shows the site of the Exhumation of the bodies of S.A.S. Soldiers who had been murdered and below is the memorial which now stands at the scene.  (From Telegraph.co.uk)

(Above picture from ExtrordinaryEditions.com)

Camp Drumilly, Loughgall

Camp Drumilly in Loughgall was used by 202 Field Artillery Battalion U.S. Army Headquarters along with Headquarters Battery, Battery A, B and C as well as a Medical Detachment and Service Battery.

These Troops were joined by 961 Field Artillery Battalion Headquarters with their HQ Battery, Batteries A, B and C, Medical Detachment and Service Battery.

The pictures here show a Firing Range which remains as well as two bullets which were sitting on the sand.

Camp Drumilly was used by both American and British Soldiers during the Second World War. 

Dartry Lodge, Blackwatertown

This was a Billet for 3 Field Artillery Observation Battalion, Battery B of the United States Army.

Summer Island, Charlemont

Summer Island was used by both American and Belgian Troops.

The U.S. Army 3 Field Artillery Observation Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, Battery A and Medical Platoon were based at Summer Island.

Here we can see the remains of an American Constructed Quonset Hut however the sign on the inner wall shows that this building was probably occupied by Belgian Troops after the departure of the Americans.

"Defence De Fumer" meaning "No Smoking"

Brownlow House, Lurgan

A Company (Lurgan) County Armagh Battalion of the Ulster Home Guard at the front of Brownlow House - You can make a comparrison with my picture of how the building looks today.

Brownlow House became Headquarters for United States Army on December 21st 1942 when Major General Wade H Haislip established his HQ in Brownlow House.

American Servicemen Zach and Wilbert of 5th Corps, U.S. Army are pictured at the rear of Brownlow House.

This is the same Wilbert who is shown with Sarah Jane at Lurgan Park in the County Armagh Part 2 section of this website.

(Thanks very much to the Old Lurgan Photos Facebook Page)

Original WW2 graffiti which can be seen on the wall of the Basement in Brownlow House. Interestingly the wording appears to have been written by both English and Belgian Soldiers. You may be able to see that one of the swear woods used has been spelt incorrectly!

General Russell P. Hartle, centre standing, Commander 36th Infantry Division and Commander of all United States Army Forces in Northern Ireland surrounded by Officers of his General Headquarters Staff in Lurgan. (More at Rangers Museum, Carrickfergus)

"KEEP OUT by orders of Headquarters Commandant" - These pictures show what can be seen in the basement of Brownlow House which has now been converted into a Top Quality Museum.

(Colour Photograph by Jeff Hobson. ***PLEASE DO NOT COPY***)

Here we see the side of Brownlow House with American Servicemen during WW2 and the same location looks today whilst above left is the Stars and Stripes on parade in Lurgan. (Black and white photographs from Belfast Telegraph)

Johnston & Allen Factory, Woodville Street, Lurgan

Here we see what was the Johnston and Allen Factory in Woodville Street, Lurgan. 

During the War the factory was used to manufacture Wings for Aircraft. 

Although the building has now been developed into housing the "Johnston,Allen&Co" can still be seen above the front door.

(My thanks to the excellent Old Lurgan Facebook Page and in particular the Old Lurgan Military Album.)

Thomas Brown from Brownlow Terrace, Lurgan

Tom Brown served initially with the Irish Guards. He is shown in the first photograph whilst in the guards Depot at Caterham in 1939 whilst the second picture shows him in a group photograph in Italy.

Tom is seen wearing his Irish Guards uniform on the left however things had become much hotter in the next photograph which was taken when he was in Tunisia. He is now wearing the badge of the Royal Military Police.

These photographs show him as a Military Policeman. Firstly in his Summer Uniform and then on a Military Police motorcycle.

These final two photographs show Tom in Italy in 1944 and then with a friend beside a truck. 

(Thanks very much to Old Lurgan Photos facebook Page and Jeff Hobson for these fantastic photographs which he has coloured.) ***PLEASE DO NOT COPY***

Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (N.A.A.F.I.) in Armagh

There were a few N.A.A.F.I. locations in the City of Armagh

One of them was at 57 Scotch Street which is shown here with another at Sleater's Garage in College Street and a Hostel at Drumsill.

There was also an American Red Cross at the City Café and McKenna Hall in Dobbin Street. (This information comes from a WW2 Telephone Directory)

Crossmaglen Chain Home Radar

A Chain Home Radar was operated by the Royal Air Force at Urcher Hill, Crossmaglen during WW2.

This was a Mobile Radar System rather than a permanent fixture.

There were various types of such Mobile Radar Systems and the photographs here show a few variations. (From Compass Library)

Urcher Hill lies to the East of Crossmaglen at Newry Road / Creamery Road.

Slieve Gullion Training Accident

This Training Accident took place on 17th December 1942. 

One of the Fatalities is named in the Northern Whig and Evening Dispatch newspapers as Private Bernard H. Wordley and i believe the other two Soldiers who were Killed were Lance Corporal Bernard Wilkes, 4919879 who was the Son of George William and Ada Elizabeth Wilkes and the Husband of Edna Wilkes. He is buried in Carleton Cemetery, Blackpool.

Private George Fletcher, 4918522 who was the Son of Joseph and edith Eugenie Fletcher from Walsall, Staffordshire.

Both these men were serving with 7th battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and Private Fletcher is buried in Belfast City Cemetery. His headstone is shown above.

(Sincere thanks to Angela Radice for bringing this to my attention and Nigel Henderson for the vital newspaper information)

Second World War Nissen Hut in Meigh

This Nissen Hut was originally part of the various sites around Greencastle Airfield near Kilkeel (See the County Down Airfields section of this website)

It was purchased by Killeavy GAA Football Club near Cloughoge, south of Newry and subsequently moved to Meigh as a changing room & store as the football field was nearby at the time.
(Thanks very much to Ann Ward and Gavin McQuaid for the photograph and information.)

Ballymoyer Woodland, Whitecross

This photograph shows some interesting "American Graffiti"!


The initials "H.C." were carved in this tree at Ballymoyer Woodland near Whitecross.

The date given in 7th February 1944 during which time the U.S. Armed Forces which were based throughout Northern Ireland were involved in increased training exercises prior to their departure for England and onward to be involved in Operation Overlord and the invasion of Occupied Europe.


Most of the Forces left Northern Ireland during the months of April and May of 1944.

It is unfortunate that H.C. has not left more details such as his Home City or State as has been done in a number of other examples which are shown on this website.


Do you have any information regarding the use of Ballymoyer Woodland as a Camp and / or Training Area for American Troops during the Second World War?

If so then please contact me at the Email Address shown below.


(Thanks very much to Gill Clarke for this photograph)

Mullaglass Home Guard

Photograph of the Home Guard Personnel from Mullaghglass taken at Jerretspass Primary School.

(Thanks very much to Aubrey McComb Old Pictures and Videos of Newry for this picture)

Acton

This is Acton House near Poyntzpass which is named on the "WBS Troop Accommodations Northern Ireland District" list as having a capacity of 964 Troops.

In 1944 Acton House became Acton House Camp for soldiers of the 4th Infantry Brigade "Steenstraete", Belgian Army

Sergeant Charles Malachi Murray from Acton

Sergeant Charles Malachi Murray was serving with 166 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

On the night of 29th / 30th August 1944 he was aboard Avro Lancaster 1, PD261, AS-S as Flight Engineer when the aircraft left R.A.F. Kirmington, Lincolnshire on a mision to Stettin, Germany.

402 Lancaster Bombers took part in this raid of which 23 were lost including AS-S which is believed to have been shot down by a German Night Fighter with the loss of all on board. Sergeant Murray is shown below along with the telegrams which his family received following his loss. He is buried in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery.

All these items are on display in Bagnels Castle Museum in Newry.

Keady

Soldiers of the U.S. Army were based in what they referred to as "Camp Keady"

They were 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion was in Keady.

The Rifle Companies, Heavy Weapons Company and Battalion Headquarters were all based in the Mill which is shown below.

The 120 men of the Cannon Company were next to the stone building which was used as the Officers Quarters.

(Thanks very much to Liam O'Manachain for the Information and Photographs)

One of the local Pubs which became a favourite with the American Soldiers was "The Anchor Bar" which was owned by Hugh O'Neill.

The Bar has now gone however a Sign on the wall gives some information as to the history of the premises.

With regard to the Sign which is shown here.

I have researched  9th Infantry Regiment, 2ns Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion and believe that they landed at Omaha Beach not on D-Day but D-Day +1.

Derrymore House, Bessbrook

Between Camlough Road and Derrymore Road in Bessbrook stands Derrymore House.

This was a base for 303 Quartermaster Railhead Company of the U.S.Army and was known as Q-111D, Quartermaster Depot between 23rd November 1943 and August 1944.

This was when there was segregation in the Army and this unit is identified as being "Coloured"

Some evidence remains with a Concrete road as well as the bases of a number of Nissen Huts on the Derrymore Road side of the estate, which is now owned by the Narional Trust.

Shown here is Sergeant William Johnston, Number  36012125, who served at Derrymore with 303 Quartermaster Railhead Company.

(Thanks very much to Liz Ironside for providing this photograph of Sergeant Johnston)

The Light Tank Mark 6 shown here is at Derrymore House, Bessbrook and is being operated by men of C Squadron Fife and Forfar Yeomanry on 25th March 1941.

(I.W.M. Picture)

Mount Caulfield House, Bessbrook

The village of Bessbrook had a number of places where the military were based during WW2 with one being Mount Caulfield House which is at Green Road in Bessbrook.

Officers of the U.S. Army were billeted in Mount Caulfield House which had been requisitioned from the Richardson family

Bessbrook "Town Hall"

Soldiers were based in the building which was referred to as the Town Hall (Shown here) as well as both the Technical School and Orange Hall.

The Technical School is now the Primary School.

Christmas Dance organised by 511 Field Park Company, Royal Artillery at the "Technical School", Bessbrook 

The Orange Hall is on Millvale Road and is shown above. It is interesting to note that there are two Nissen Huts immediately behind the building.

Children covering a British Light Tank Mark 6 in the centre of Bessbrook Village. My comparrison picture shows the same location as it looks now and the Ghost Picture is by Adam Surrey. (Imperial War Museum Photograph)