Red Bay Defences in World War 2

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Glens people were apprehensive as to how their lives would be affected. Would their many men in the Merchant Navy be safe? Would foodstuffs be scarce? How would the farmer fare? Answers soon evolved. Rationing of basic foods such as sugar, butter, tea and bacon was introduced quickly but within a farming community deprivation was less pronounced than in towns. Farmers were offered generous subsidies to grow more food and prices were excellent for the “blackmarket” butter and eggs much in demand by dealers from Belfast. Since television was not invented accounts of hostilities were followed with much interest on wet battery/valve radio. Casualties were always greater on the enemy side. It became almost a religion to tune-in to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) from Germany to hear his character assignation of English political figures and indulge in his liberal propaganda. It all proved a welcome temporary diversion from card playing.

The war seemed to be passing The Glens by. Pathe News as a preview to the weekly films in McAlister’s Cinema in Cushendall gave some indication of death and destruction in far-off lands. Then one-day news got around that well paid jobs were on offer constructing four heavily reinforced buildings on the foreshore with an unobstructed view of Red Bay. Local response was forthcoming but Sunday work was involved, which in those days was frowned upon. A few individuals however preferred work to worship, which prompted Rev. James Connolly, curate at St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s Church in Glenariffe, to denounce such profanity from the altar. These “blockhouses” or “pillboxes” as their shape suggested were elaborately camouflaged towards the sea. One sited near the present entrance to the popular play-area, at the Bay end of Glenariffe beach depicted a shop, and was adorned with the necessary signs advertising “Players Please” and “Craven A” cigarettes. Charles McAllister recalls another on the foreshore nearer the village opposite Bay View Park. From seaward its large “Boats for Hire” sign was conspicuous, as were a number of old sawn-in-half wooden boats on adjoining sand dunes. A third was built to blend in with the then existing chalets on the river-bank, south of the caves near the pier. The skilfully painted doors, windows and curtains, on the exterior concrete was convincing. A fourth disguised as a shop was sited on the foreshore opposite Cushendall Golf Club.

Arrival of the Soldiers

It was 1940 when the Army lorries and a large company of the Oxford and Buckingham regiment arrived and quickly requisitioned The Glens of Antrim Hotel as a base with many soldiers billeted-out throughout Cushendall. This was the first time many locals had come within touching distance of a black person and soon they became used to the bugle call to muster and the bellowing of the Sgt. Major as he marched the soldiers up and down the streets. Their task was to defend the area against a German invasion so they promptly got to work erecting an elaborate barbed wire entanglement fence the whole length of Glenariffe beach and at Cushendall beach. A half-mile trench network on the hillside south of Waterfoot Bridge to the pier was developed and interconnected by means of a wire telephone network with the blockhouses. Remains of the trenches may still be seen.

Submarine Activity

In the event of the Germans landing and overcoming the immediate defences, a series of stone barricades, four feet wide and six feet high staggered the Coast Road at Waterfoot Bridge and on the adjoining Ballymena Road. Training was a regular occurrence, which at times involved the use of live rounds especially around the Glenariffe area, which was alarming to both locals and livestock. Cushendall residents Chris McMullan, Malachy Skelton and Hannah Emerson recall many events. On one occasion during manoeuvre on Cushendall beach, a tank became a casualty of the incoming tide and later with the aid of a similar vehicle its hazardous recovery was watched with interest by the locals. The land around the present Bowling Club was used for recreation by the soldiers, and at times the Golf Course was used for football matches against the locals. Films and dances in the cinema gave an opportunity for romance. An unusual fact has emerged – the layde which supplied the water to the mill and electricity turbine in the Mill Yard was damaged in places and used for underwater storage of ammunition which was subjected to round the clock security.

When Captain Gerry Blayney was young, his Aunt Lizzie O’Hara recounted how the night before while on a late night courting walk below Layde Monastery she saw a submarine near the shore. Her story was received with skepticism. A few years ago a German man on holiday inquired as to the whereabouts of Layde burn, recalling during the war as a submariner going ashore for water. It appears that their charts of the North Channel recorded the burn as a relatively safe and accessible location to acquire a supply of quality drinking water and that it had been visited a number of times. Miss O’Hare was right.

This possibility must have been known to the authorities as coast-watchers were recruited at various centres. In the Cushendall/Cushendun area older residents recall the following recruits-Barney and Fred Humphrey, Mick Stone, James Whitford, Alex McKay and Smyth McDonald. They regularly patrolled on bicycle with a Canadian Ross rifle strapped to their backs with a rendezvous with the Carnlough group at Ardclinis. Their local base was a hut situated at the present slipway adjoining the life-boat station.

The Ballymena platoon of the Home Guard used the former coastguard station (now owned by Lawrence McCrudden) as a holiday training centre. It was not uncommon for them to utilize the large salmon holding pool near the head of Glenariffe for hand grenade practice and a source of fresh fish.

Contribution to the War Effort

The upper reaches of Glenariffe Glen in the 1940s was well furnished with mature Spruce and Larch which was much in demand in England towards the war effort. One plantation was owned by the Dobbs family, former landlords in the area, and the other by the Duffin family who lived near the present O’Boyle residence. Both plantations were requisitioned by the Government, felled and shipped out of Red Bay pier. Since there was always the risk of German submarines in the North Channel each ship had a designated gunner, usually the Captain who was supplied with a Lewis sub-machine gun. It was customary to undertake practice from the pier before sailing which provided the local boys, including the author the opportunity to acquire a regular supply of coveted brass casings as they emerged hot from the gun.

Beachcombing Rewards

Red Bay’s reputation as a safe anchorage was exploited to the full by the Navy. Dozens of ships including destroyers, corvettes, motor-torpedo vessels and supply ships could be identified at any one time, especially when they were mustering to convoy the dozens of merchant ships from Liverpool and beyond on their voyage across the Atlantic. These were easily visible in the Channel as they cautiously progressed westwards, often protected by gas filled barrage balloons connected to their decks. Beachcombing in wartime was an interesting, rewarding and at times a dangerous activity, as the North Easterly winds brought ashore from sunken ships such items as boxes of oranges and apples (destroyed by the salt water but the boxes were useful). Boxes of lard (used to grease cart wheels), new timber in plenty, mines and hundreds of boxes of smoke signal flares. The latter were shells, approx. 12” long designed to be fired from a gun but the locals designed their own firing pieces, or alternatively coiled the casing with fencing wire, before placing in a whin bush which was duly ignited. The internal canister, which came in many colours would be propelled hundreds of feet into the air before exploding with a deafening bang and a cloud of coloured smoke. Needless to say the Coast Guards and the Police were keen to recover these, as their use became a serious risk to the local community. The late Michael McIlhatton, a famous Glensmen fondly remembered in song and verse used his entrepreneurial skills by purchasing boxes of flares from the beachcombers and making them available to young people in the inland communities for a small consideration.

Air Raid Precautions

In villages throughout the U.K. the threat of German attack was being taken seriously. In Cushendall, an Air Raid Precaution (A.R.P.) company was formed to be of service to the community in the event of an air raid. They trained in the skills of evacuation procedure, fire fighting and when gas masks were made available by the Government to every adult and child in the area they co-ordinated this and helped with sizing and fitting. Many amusing situations are recalled; during practice a fire was ignited near the bridge and with unparalleled enthusiasm the canvas hose was quickly reeled out and connected to a hydrant some distance away. To the dismay of the team the hose was so perished that only a dribble reached the fire. For greater flexibility an essential set of equipment was a stirrup hand pump and a bucket. An inspector named Capt. Shoot came to access the expertise of two of our stalwarts in the use of the pump and having ignited a device was momentarily distracted. Our firefighters quickly decided there must be a more effective method so the flaming canister was quickly dipped in the bucket. Their ingenuity on the Captains return was rewarded with the words “exceptional, great time”. It wasn’t always hilarious. Once a van arrived into which the local members were obliged to enter and test their masks in a gas filled atmosphere. The A.R.P. headquarters was adjoining Maginn’s chip shop which was situated in Bridge Street. Enquiries have revealed the following names as having served: Terry Lynn, Chris McMullan, Patsy McCormick, Bene O’Loan, Charlie Thompson, Gerard Newe and Jamie Connolly.

As an extra back up to the A.R.P. volunteers a dark green ex-army ambulance was made available to the community. It was based in Lynn’s yard (now Spar) and Joe Lynn was the regular driver.

The American Presence

The history of wartime in the Glens would be incomplete without reference to the small team of American soldiers who made their headquarters in the Thornlea Temperance Hotel, then owned by the Faulkner family. Informality was the keynote and the hotel became the mecca for local girls. Unlike their English counterparts the Americans had access to copious supplies of luxury items. Mrs. Eileen Faulkner (nee Murray) wife of the late Jim Faulkner recalls many happy events. After they returned home many continued to keep in contact and have since returned to renew acquaintances. The boss was George (his surname cannot be recalled) who was a 6’2”, sincere, generous individual full of devilment. His jeep was regularly used to transport fellows and girls to dances and hurling matches since there were only a few cars locally. From time to time on his trips to Carnlough he teased the Navy by contravening the blackout regulations and they responded with salvos of tracer bullets. Of course by the time the order to shoot was given George had extinguished his lights and had moved on.

George was determined to attend an All-Ireland hurling final in Dublin at the risk of being interned in a neutral country. A local obliged him with a civilian suit and advised him not to talk so he returned safely with the Glens colleagues. Other Yanks were Larry Keane, Joe Fernandez, Randolph Himmelberg, Lloyd Alexander (a genius at making ornaments and jewelry from seashells) and Archie Newman. Archie of Czechoslovakian stock was much in demand as an entertainer and his visits to concerts in the cinema as Hitler impersonator were memorable.

The buildings and extensive aerial complex situated in the sports field adjoining St. Aloysius School was part of a communication and aircraft-tracking network.

Did the Germans really intend to land?

Over the years questions have been asked as to why this part of the province received such defence attention. We may never know but the secret service wartime files released by the Public Records Office in 2001 may give cause for speculation.

According to MI5 records, Germany parachuted a spy into Southern Ireland in 1940 to access the feasibility of linking up with the I.R.A. to invade Northern Ireland. But the plan was foiled after the spy, Dr Herman Goertz, aka Heinz Kruse, or just “K”, was arrested a year later by the Irish Government.

The memorandum, written in 1943 read: On the 5th May 1940 Goertz landed by parachute at Ballevor, Co.Meath. Earlier that year the I.R.A. had been in touch with the German S.S. through the intermediary of Stephen Carroll Held. Held had visited Berlin with a proposal from the I.R.A. for an attack on Northern Ireland by the Germans to be supported by the I.R.A.

Goertz’s mission was to examine this proposal. The report says that he met Stephen Hayes, then leader of the I.R.A. in Dublin, but the meeting was raided. While money, a radio transmitter and a German airman’s cap were seized, along with manuscripts of the plan, code-named “Kathleen”, Goertz escaped. For the next year Goertz lived in a number of I.R.A. safe houses. Incidentally he had been arrested in England as a spy before the war and deported. During his year “on the run”, he was approached by a member of the Irish Army, Major General McNeill, a fascist, the files say,

“It is believed he was hoping to resurrect some kind of Fascist “Blueshirt” organisation with the help of the Germans. At first, British intelligence believed McNeill’s involvement meant that the Irish Government was collaborating, but subsequent investigation showed he was acting independently”.

The operation of McNeill’s to link up with the Nazi’s came to nothing when the Irish authorities arrested Goertz in November 1941.

The files make good historical reading, but could they throw any light as to why Red Bay area was selected for special defence against a German invasion? It is speculation. But could the seized documents in Dublin have made reference to the Glens as a suitable bridgehead?

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