Soldiers perished within days

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Coleraine Historical Society has produced a learned and well-researched 20th volume of the Bann Disc, encompassing 100 pages.

Remarking that the volume is published during a year of significant anniversaries, Editor, Jennifer Cunningham also contributes her usual several short but pithy items of new scholarship and research.

Fortunately for us, she has also found time to author articles herself and not only to probe the life and times of the glamour years of motor-bike racing on the Magilligan Sands between the wars and of bike racing in Ulster from 1911 to the present day, but also to present the life of the principal benefactor of the Ragged School for deprived children, which stood for many years in Stone Row, Coleraine, Dr Drummond Grant.

One of Jennifer’s many links with correspondents in the antipodes gave rise to her cameo on the fates of tanks, named after towns and local areas, such as Ballyrashane and Bushmills, which bore gallant members of the North Irish Horse into action in World War II. Pictures illustrating the men and their steeds make this report all the more poignant.

But we have evocative pictures, too, in other articles, bringing home to us the faces of some of the 300,000 G.I.’s who were welcomed to Ulster’s shores and homes during World War 2.

Murray Cameron’s piece tells us about the fates of some members of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who spent time in the area before being shipped off to conflict.

Like myself, many readers will be surprised to read that Cromore House played a considerable role for many of these men while they were here, and I was touched to learn that there is a Memorial Stone dedicated to them close to what was then ‘Camp Cromore’.

Michael Gilmore’s tribute to the US 82nd Airborne Division records the kindness of the families in the Triangle area who took these young men into their homes and it comes as a shock to learn that so many of them left the comfort of these, their adopted homes and were dead within a few short days. The statistics are stark – during the first days of the landings in France, of the 2004 men stationed in Portrush, 303 had been killed, 254 wounded and 178 were already listed as missing. Camp Cromore’s tally is just as heart-rending – of the 2056 troopers stationed there, 1162, over 50%, became casualties almost immediately, 307 being killed in action on D-Day alone.

Fortunately this volume also offers us several accounts from our area which are heart-warming, such as a brief biography of one Ned Quinn, who, from humble origins in Ballyrashane, fought through the two World Wars and finished his service as Chief of Police in Alberta, Canada. Ken Ward pays tribute to the Coleraine Art Society and, in an erudite delineation of its history, pays tribute to one of its stalwarts, Aylmer Armstrong. Whilst James Nesbitt reveals his painstaking obsession with the fortunes and fame of two notable Castlerock families, the McCarters and the Magilligans, Frances Wilson recounts the right carryings-on that used to characterise the heyday of Portstewart’s ‘Big Sunday’, when the World and his wife apparently all had ‘drink taken’ as a matter of course. Bann Disc can be purchased from the usual local outlets or contact Diana Kirkpatrick at 02870 834878 ore-mail dianak50@byinternet.com