Roamer: New WWII exhibition opens at Brownlow House, Lurgan

Teddy Dixon and Bill Eames Reminisce in front of Brownlow House
Teddy Dixon and Bill Eames Reminisce in front of Brownlow House

Roger Edmondson has been one of Roamer’s much-appreciated contributors of wartime reminiscences on this page.

Roger Edmondson has been one of Roamer’s much-appreciated contributors of wartime reminiscences on this page.

He has been recounting his attendance last Saturday at the opening of a special WWII exhibition in Brownlow House, Lurgan, a magnificent building that played a pivotal role in the American GIs sojourn in Ulster.

It’s said that Brownlow provided a very palatial B&B for General Dwight D. Eisenhower for a night or two!

The exhibition at ‘Brownlow HQ’ vividly recalls the American troops’ sojourn in Lurgan and surrounding areas, with some original WWII ‘graffiti’ on show and a ‘virtual GI’ in his Nissen Hut!

Roger tells me that visitors to Brownlow can “eavesdrop on top-secret military strategists; get the low down from an American drill-Sergeant; hear about the culture clashes, dances and love stories from local folk, and discover where the US troops came from and why they were based here.” Roger’s account began at the outbreak of WWI when Brownlow House (or Lurgan Castle) was the headquarters of the 16th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and the 10th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.

“The flag of the Old Comrades Association of the former Battalion, and the Kings Colour of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers are laid up in Shankill Parish Church,” Mr Edmondson pointed out.  

During WWII various contingents of British and American troops were stationed in Lurgan between 1942 and 1945.

“One of the stained glass heraldic panes on Brownlow House’s grand staircase was removed, reputedly by the GIs as a memento of their stay!” Roger added. “It has however been replaced by a replica.”

During the months following the deployment of troops throughout Northern Ireland, Brownlow House was used as HQ for the V Army Corps and later by the XV Corps.

Photographic evidence and accommodation arrangements suggest that officers stayed in the house while the general military population lived in Nissen huts in surrounding areas.

Lurgan played a strategic role during this period but on March 1, 1944 Brownlow House’s role as a full-scale headquarters’ ended.

Roger outlined the large number of places in the area where US Army units were stationed during WWII including Portadown, Loughgall, Gilford, Charlemont, Tandragee, Poyntzpass, Waringfield beside Moira, and several locations around Lough Neagh at Sandy Bay and Rams Island.

Located in the basement of Brownlow House, the brand new exhibition was officially opened last Saturday by the new US Consul General for N. Ireland Daniel Lawton, accompanied by his wife and children.

Roger Edmondson told Roamer “two very special guests were also in attendance at the exhibition,” and he included a short outline of the two war hero’s memorable exploits in his letter.

“Flight Lt. Bill Eames from Enniskillen was a former RAF pilot who dropped the Paras off behind the lines on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day) He also towed gliders in at Arnhem containing airborne troops, part of operation Market garden. It was during a supply drop over Arnhem that Bill’s plane was hit and he was badly injured.”

“Teddy Dickson, whose parents were from Belfast, was born in the USA. The family moved back to Belfast prior to the war but because he was born in the States he was called up for active service with the USA’s 42nd Rainbow Division. Teddy was among the first allied soldiers to discover the horror of the Nazi death camp at Dachau. He said he would ‘never get over the smell. We discovered endless boxcars full of rotting corpses. This was Dachau.’”

“Then Sgt Dixon found himself guarding an Austrian salt mine, surrounded by thousands of priceless artworks looted from Europe’s major museums and art collectors by the Nazis. The film The Monument Men starring George Clooney and Matt Damon was based on this true story.”

The Friends of Brownlow House are appealing to the people of Lurgan and the wider area to please get in touch if you have any stories and artefacts relating to the US Force’s time in Armagh during WWII.

Exhibition curator Sam McCleary said “We’re looking for anyone with any memorabilia about the Americans in Lurgan.”

The exhibition, organised by The Friends of Brownlow House and funded by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, is open to the public and entry is free. For opening hours and more information please ring 07708 727 454.