American Troops

By September 1943, most of the British troops had moved out of the area and things were becoming slightly more normal. Suddenly there was great excitement with the arrival of American troops. They were mainly from the Southern states of America, especially Virginia, Georgia and Carolina. The first U.S. troops to arrive in Gilford were black soldiers, and were billeted in the Orange Hall on Stramore Road. They were an Advance party of the United State 6th Cavalry Regiment, who were to prepare for the main body of troops who would arrive six weeks later. When they first arrived they were marched through Gilford, escorted by what appeared to be a group of United States marines, wearing blue jackets, orange gaiters and crepe-soled boots.

These men had sailed from the U.S.A. on the Queen Mary, and arrived on September 25 in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. From there they moved to Markethill, Co Armagh, from where 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.

At the outbreak of war The Queen Elizabeth was still an unfinished luxury liner, it had been loaned to the US, and was loaded to double capacity for this trip. It was so crowded it was necessary for the men to divide their time between the regular cabin bunks and the covered decks. Because of its great speed, the ship was able to travel without convoy, and zigzagged across the North Atlantic in five days, completing the voyage without incident.

The men arrived at Greenock, Scotland, on October 18, 1943, remained aboard ship for a further day and then left for Northern Ireland. The Regimental Staff, Headquarters Troop, and sixteen men from each of the other troops, arrived in Belfast October 20. They then travelled by rail to Tandragee station (the Madden). Headquarters Troop moved into Tandragee Castle the following morning, and the detachments from each troop moved into their respective areas and began preparations to guide the troops upon arrival. They showed up the following day.

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 Headquarter Detachment 2nd Squadron, Troops C, D, and their Squadron Medical Detachment were moved into the Bannvale Camp in Gilford.

Racial segregation was still rife in America at this time, and the arrival of these new troops meant that the black soldiers of the Advance party were moved to the premises at Stramore Farm, originally used by the R.E.M.E.’s, as the Orange, Masonic and British Legion Halls were needed for the other men.

Unfortunately within the past two years the buildings at Stramore Farm, where these men were billeted, have been demolished, for 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.” Fortunately the man who demolished the building rescued the large pieces of one mural, and rebuilt it at his own home in Portadown.  Others have been photographed. It is thought possible that the murals may have been painted by Joe Ben Wheat, from Chicago whose name was found on one of the walls.  On his return to America he became academically famous for his anthropological studies of the patterns and history of Native American quilts etc.

Two of a number of wall paintings from demolished buildings at Stramore farm
Two of a number of wall paintings from demolished buildings at Stramore farm

It took a few months for the new Americans troops to settle in. There were numerous road marches, extensive firing courses, physical and mental toughening and routine housekeeping details to be undertaken. Eventually their vehicles and armoured cars arrived, and on Armistice Day 1943, the entire Regiment, including the Gilford troops, formed in Tandragee to pay tribute to the soldiers who had fallen in World War I.

The 6th Cavalry Regiment in Tandragee - Armistice Day 1943
The 6th Cavalry Regiment in Tandragee – Armistice Day 1943

Many local families befriended the young men, and welcomed them into their homes, hopefully making their stay in Gilford as happy as possible. Even the animals were friendly and near the end of the year, a litter of collie pups was born on an old pair of overalls in the Commander’s quarters at Gilford Castle. The men adopted one of the puppies and called it “Shamrock.” It remained with the American soldiers throughout the rest of the war.

Christmas was quiet for the men, although there were lots of informal parties and dances held in Bannvale and in outbuildings at Elmfield. Sweets, cakes, and soap were donated by the soldiers from their personal rations, and given to the local children. The two Gilford Camps swarmed with children all day. Although local families befriended the young Americans, they did miss their own families especially at Christmas and local Post Office staff recall how they were kept busy with young soldiers sending telegrams back home at this time.

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 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. He commented how much he enjoyed the 6th Cavalry band playing at the event, and perhaps not surprisingly, a short time later the band was transferred and became the 61st Army Ground Forces Band. Whilst in the area General Patton visited the American troops at Gilford Castle and also at the Gilford Bannvale camp.

After reorganisation, training continued with map exercises, combat courses, crew drills, communications and command post exercises, as well as mounted and dismounted marches. Finally 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+33. The ships crossed with two convoys, each comprising craft of all types, screened from above by Allied fighter aircraft. No enemy aircraft or surface vessels were encountered throughout the voyage.

In recent years Captain Jim Dunlap from Gainsville, Georgia, returned to visit Tandragee Castle. In Gilford he called with Albert Uprichard, whose family had owned Bannvale, where many of the U.S. troops had been based. Major Calvin Satterfield from Richmond, Virginia, also visited in 1992.

Mr Dunlap said that he had been stationed with the American forces at Tandragee Castle, and had participated with activities of the 28th Cavalry Squadron, 6th Cavalry Group, 3rd U.S. Army under General George S Patton until Germany surrendered. They had participated in the following campaigns – Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and Central Europe.

In December 2003, we received an email from Mr Maurice Lusk, an American from Dalto, Georgia, seeking information about Gilford. During the war he had been stationed in Gilford Orange Hall with a U.S. Chemical Warfare Company. He explained that their units needed the nearby river Bann to process their product. Some of their Company were also in the Masonic Hall building, and in the old R.U.C. station (now the Royal British Legion Hall), in Mill Street.

He explained that the exact name of their Company was the 115th Chemical Processing Unit. They had originally been called the 115th Chemical Impregnating Company, but had undergone a name-change, having found it difficult explaining the meaning of the word “impregnating.” Their role was to impregnate clothes with a compound which would protect the wearer from gas attacks. The equipment used was similar to that used in commercial laundries, in fact whilst in Gilford they washed the hospital laundry to test their equipment. They arrived in Gilford on 18th October 1943 and remained until 16th June 1944.