For the last 10 years, Andy Glenfield’s life has been consumed by the stories of the blood, sweat and tears shed by Ulster’s World War Two generation.
The 57-year-old north Down man was inspired by his grandfather’s remarkable wartime service to start up a website, which acts as a repository of old photos, records and tales relating to the conflict.
He said that Northern Ireland tends to get forgotten when people consider the Allied efforts against the Axis, and that he wants to provide a reminder that, by the time Nazism fell in 1945, countless Northern Irish soldiers – and civilians – were left either dead or bearing the indelible scars of war.
The website he runs is called simply ‘The Second World War in Northern Ireland’, and is found here:
It went live in the summer of 2009.
It describes itself as “the ultimate website about World War Two in Northern Ireland” and it consists of a sprawling mass of text and over 4,500 photographs, broken down by region.
A conspicuously unpolished effort laid out in plain Arial font, it ranges across dozens of jam-packed sub-sections, from pages titled “Greater Belfast, Parts 1–7” to some simply called: “Information, Other, Parts 1–4”.
There is no doubting the effort which Mr Glenfield has put in to collect all the material into one place.
As the site’s homepage itself announces, in prominent red lettering: ***This is my HOBBY and I receive NO FINANCIAL GAIN***
So what got him involved?
“One of my grandads was a carpenter in the shipyard,” Mr Glenfield told the News Letter, who is married with two adult children.
“The other one joined the army. He was on the north-west frontier when war was declared. He was in the Northumberland Fusiliers.
“He was later evacuated from Dunkirk, and fought through the war. He actually fought from the first to the last day.
“My mum [who was born in 1940] said when he arrived in the house she was terrified of him – she didn’t know who he was at all. That gave me the interest in the whole WWII.
“When I started this 10 years ago, it was obvious to me that the when people think of World War Two, they think of mainland Europe, the Far East, Africa.
“They never think of Northern Ireland and what happened here.
“I want to be able to show what took place here. You can walk around cemeteries and see people killed as a direct result of enemy action.”
A SPRAWLING MASS OF INFORMATION:
The site gathers together accounts of places which formed part of the war effort, including the D-Day build up at Ballyholme beach in Mr Glenfield’s north Down, to the destruction of homes in the little-remembered bombing of Londonderry in April 1941.
And it also collects together stories of local folk who fought – for example, Tommy Maxwell, whom Mr Glenfield had known.
He said Mr Maxwell never publicly disclosed details of his wartime service.
A Belfast man, the website says Mr Maxwell joined the Royal Marines aged 16 in 1938.
He went on to serve at Dunkirk, then Palestine during the Arab revolt, then was onboard a ship which was torpedoed near Sicily, leaving him with sharpanel wounds in his right thigh and left calf as the vessel – the HMS Cairo – was abandoned.
He went on to serve in France, India, and Burma – and in the latter location was shot in the head, but still survived, albeit with a metal plate in his head. After the war, he became a TA instructor. He died in 2011.
There is also a list of the Ulstermen who died flying in the Battle of Britain with the RAF; the deaths serve to highlight the air force’s terrible attrition rate, with seven of the 28 men killed in the battle (and another 11 dying in other action before the end of the war).
It also tries to include the stories of the many thousands of foreign Allies who temporarily called Northern Ireland their home on their way to ultimate victory in Europe (see below).
The number of such troops were vast, he notes, adding that from a tourism perspective “this is an opportunity being missed when you look at all the nationalities that were here: New Zealanders, Poles, Americans”.
There is a financial cost to running the site, perhaps a couple of hundred pounds to keep it online.
But the real cost involved is his time.
“I get quite emotional with all of these things. It’s so tragic,” Mr Glenfield said.
“It just grips you, and as you can see from my website it’s become a bit of an addiction. There’s always something I’m looking into.
“My wife calls herself a war widow! Because I’m just so much into all this.
“We were away in the hills of Jersey some years ago; I’d break suddenly and jump up and be away over the sand dunes looking at a pillbox or something.
“She has to suffer it!”
Besides his main website, Mr Glenfield also operates a Facebook page, where he posts regular snippets about fallen soldiers or appeals for information (as an illustration of the level of detail he delves into, he is currently trying to seeking to find the family of an airman who received a wartime travel permit card from Aughnacloy to Whitchurch).
The Facebook page is titled simply ‘The Second World War in Northern Ireland’, and he asks people to contact him through it if they wish.
GIVING WARTIME ACCIDENT DEAD THEIR DUE:
There are almost too many tales on Mr Glenfield’s website to count, and most are naturally about the men who endured combat.
But he has also devoted time to cataloguing victims of military accidents too – and one thing that particularly animates him is what he sees as a lack of respect for those killed in incidents of this kind.
One such case recently saw him lay a poppy at the final resting place of a child, Norman Russell, age 12.
Norman was unlucky enough to have been fishing in a field near Sydenham railway station when a friendly fighter aircraft dived out of the sky and hit him (killing the South African pilot too).
The accident was less than a month before VE Day.
Whilst the pilot got a headstone in Belfast City Cemetery and was treated as a war casualty, it was less clear to Mr Glenfield where Norman was buried.
With the help of historian Alan Freeburn at the NI War Memorial, who revealed his name and that he was buried in Dundonald, Mr Glenfield found the child’s grave by hunting through the cemetery on April 11 this year – one day after the anniversary of the 1945 crash.
It was marked only by a pot saying ‘Russell’, but Mr Glenfield has now added a small cross with a poppy to the grave, giving him the honour as a casualty of war which he felt Norman was due.
He also managed to track down and publish details of the graves of the six young women who died when a friendly aircraft at Aldergrove in July 19, 1941.
The three crew died, as did one airman on the ground and six young women who worked for the Navy, Army and Airforce Institute. The six ladies were thought to have been preparing tea and coffee. At the time of the crash, a rehearsal had been underway a nearby hanger for – of all things – a funeral.
“These girls aren’t registered in a war memorial,” he said. “Two of them are in unmarked graves.
“It just knocked the stuffing out of me. Two of them didn’t even have graves. They were obviously so poor they couldn’t afford a stone.”
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL:
A big part of Mr Glenfield’s work involves trying to tell the tales of the many men who temporarily called Northern Ireland their home, as they joined in the Allied war effort.
One such recent case concerns an American with the unusual name of Clydis J Patton.
“I research the various locations around Northern Ireland which have a Second World War connection; an airfield, pillbox, radar station,” said Mr Glenfield.
He visits the locations and photographs everything about them – particularly graffiti.
While touring a now-abandoned former shelter at a shooting range at Benbane Head, near the Giant’s Causeway, Mr Glenfield noted down a name carved into the brickwork of one of the old bunkers: “C.Patton 1944”.
After posting the photograph of this brick online, Mr Patton’s daughter in America got in touch, and was able to fill in the details of who the graffiti-writer was.
Clydis had joined the Army in 1941, and was posted to Northern Ireland for training in readiness for the liberation of Europe.
A paratrooper and communications specialist, he was especially heavily-laden with comms equipment when he jumped out of his aircraft above the Rhine in 1945, causing him to crunch hard into the ground and giving him a life-long injury.
He nonetheless survived the war, was awarded the Purple Heart, and became a manager at the Illinois Power Company – working for the firm for over four decades. He died of cancer in 2005, aged 86.
“It is always fantastic to find a human connection to these places,” said Mr Glenfield.