Derrymore House is another National Trust property which still has evidence of the US presence remaining. Most of the buildings constructed during the war have since been demolished but a concrete path built during the war and nissen hut bases still remain. Please visit The National Trust site for visiting information.
Derrymore House was built 1776-1787 for Isaac Corry and the Demesne around the house was apparently planted with about 140,000 trees. The house passed through several owners when in 1952 all 110 acres were acquired by the National Trust. During the Second World War the property was occupied by units of the British Army and nissen huts were built in the grounds. They were in Bessbrook for several years and the day after they moved out the Americans arrived. The Americans were in occupation from November 1943 to August 1944.
American troops were based in Northern Ireland for approximately nine months in 1943–44. In May 1944 most of them went to France to take part in the Normandy Landings and the following push into Germany.
Derrymore firstly hosted British troops, and this was recalled by a John McDonald of Bessbrook as a child of 6. He remembers nissen huts being built in the grounds of Derrymore House on what had been a nine-hole golf course. The ‘pond field’ was dug up to provide practice in trench warfare.
“On the day the British troops moved out, the Americans moved in. The Yanks were very patient with us kids when we hung around and gave us chocolate and chewing gum, we had the odd ride in a jeep. We naturally got involved in some mischief, it was not uncommon for them to hear the engine of a jeep or lorry start up when they were left unattended. We enjoyed the subsequent chase across the pond field. “
A story written by Mr F G Quinn, a resident of Bessbrook during the War, was submitted to the BBC WW2 People’s War Archive in November 2004.
“A large number of American Army troops were stationed in Bessbrook. They were billeted in the Town Hall, the Technical School and the Orange Hall, the officers were housed at Mount Caulfield, the home of Sarah Richardson. They constructed a large camp at Derrymore. They had Nissan type huts, footpaths and roadways and also had a PX Stores where they stored all their equipment, food, and gear. They also had plenty of cigarettes, chocolate and even nylon stockings, which they sometimes gave to their girlfriends in the village.
I was working in the Post Office and delivered telegrams to the Townhall. I became friendly with the young soldiers and one especially whose name was George Earl Cooper. He was about 20 years old. He was a Cherokee Indian, another was a Mexican called Chicko.
In May 1944 they were confined behind barbed wire in the pond field and my friend told me that they were soon leaving.
The Normandy landings started early in the morning of 6th June 1944 and my friends were some of the first to land at Omaha Beach. Many were killed. After some hold up at the beachhead cliffs they broke out and were soon on their way through France to Germany.
Top Sgt George Earl Cooper survived the War and came to Bessbrook to see me before he returned to America. It was both exciting and sad times especially remembering all the young men and women who lost their lives in WW2.”
The was a signifigant presence of black soldiers in units of the US Army in Bessbrook. Reports from the time suggest that the Northern Ireland natives treated the black personnel as equals to the white. If you want to learn more about African Americans in the Second World War please follow this link to the National Archives site.
To find out more about the US presence at Derrymore, please follow this link to a study carried out by the Ulster Archaeological Society. Much of the above information was taken by this study.