Seventy years ago today the first German U-boat travelled up to the Foyle river where they were formally ordered to surrender by Admiral Sir Max Horton, Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches.
The surrender of the German vessels followed the most prolonged naval campaign ever waged – the Battle of the Atlantic finally – and acknowledged Londonderry’s pivotal role as a strategic allied WWII base, with over 100 military ships docked there from 1943.
Muriel Nevin, now 91 and living in Armagh, remembers the friendliness of the people in Londonderry when she served with the A36 and A37 Fleet Air Squadron in Maydown, Co Londonderry as a Wren.
“The atmosphere was great,” she said. “Everybody helped everybody, no matter who you were.
“I remember the dances and all the lovely music. There were of course sad moments when you heard of people being killed and ships going down, but you had a job to do and you did it.”
While not on duty Muriel would leave the camp and visit towns nearby, sometimes crossing the border to the neutral Irish state.
On one occasion she and her friends had a rather surprising encounter.
“One day we went from Londonderry across the border to a hotel by the Foyle where we had beautiful steaks and there was a man sitting there. We invited him over to talk to us as he seemed to have perfect English.
“We talked a little about Germany and remarked that he seemed to know a lot about it. ‘I ought to,’ he said. ‘I’m a German U-boat commander.’
“We thought he was joking, but he took us to see his U-boat, and there it was, in the water.
“We asked him ‘Is this the only one?’ ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We come in here regularly to refuel and have a pint of the black stuff.’ We left quickly after that as we were worried we might be captured!”
Muriel also recalled the day when none other than Bob Hope came to Maydown to entertain the troops.
“I remember at the Fleet Air Arm Base in Maydown when Gerry Colonna, Francis Langford and Bob Hope came to visit. I asked Bob Hope would he entertain our troops and he said, ‘No little Wren, we’re not allowed to!’ and he offered me some chewing gum. They were only there to entertain the US troops!”
This weekend a number of events will take place capturing the atmosphere and recounting the story of this remarkable vintage era in Londonderry’s history.
These will take place in the Guildhall, Tower Museum and Harbour House this Saturday, featuring guided tours, original artefacts, stage drama, living history actors, a 1940s photo booth and much more from 10am to 5pm.