Keep the memory alive with your stories of the Americans in Ulster during the war

Mi Amigo's crew: back row, Robert Mayfield, Vito Ambrosio, Harry Estabrooks, George Williams, Charles Tuttle and Maurice Robbins. Front row, John Kriegshauser, Lyle Curtis, Melchor Hernandez and John Humphrey. Picture courtesy of American War Museum
Mi Amigo's crew: back row, Robert Mayfield, Vito Ambrosio, Harry Estabrooks, George Williams, Charles Tuttle and Maurice Robbins. Front row, John Kriegshauser, Lyle Curtis, Melchor Hernandez and John Humphrey. Picture courtesy of American War Museum

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 fast approaching, the United States Embassy in London has just launched an initiative called ‘Keep the Memory Alive’.

Their Consulate in Belfast explained that the Embassy wants “to hear stories of American troops who were stationed in your communities during the Second World War.”

A Second World War Flying Fortress B17

A Second World War Flying Fortress B17

Roamer’s page has often shared wartime memories and accounts of the Americans in Northern Ireland – by local folk here who welcomed them, and American GIs, sailors and airmen who were stationed here.

In his note about the initiative the Belfast Consulate’s Public Affairs Specialist Peter McKittrick highlighted Northern Ireland’s “unique and vital role during these years” and explained that the Embassy “is mapping out personal stories of the US-UK Special Relationship”.

Their Facebook, Twitter and email addresses are on their website shown below, where anyone with a yarn to share can contact the Embassy, or just write to World War Two: Keep the Memory Alive, Public Affairs, US Embassy London, 33 Nine Elms Lane, London, SW11 7US.

“It could be a family story that has been passed down the generations,” Peter McKittrick explained. “Or a personal connection with an American GI.”

US soldiers wade ashore in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944

US soldiers wade ashore in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944

There’s an interview on the Embassy website by Ambassador Woody Johnson, US Ambassador to the UK, who has already been sharing a hugely evocative compilation of UK people’s memories, stories and some wonderful photographs.

For instance, an old black and white photo taken in 1943 in Cornwall shows two immaculately-uniformed American soldiers with two local, smiling youngsters.

The picturesis captioned with four poignant questions about the GIs – “Did they survive the war? Did they take part in D-Day? What were their names? Are they still alive?”

Also included in the US Embassy’s information pack about the ‘Keep the Memory Alive’ initiative is the moving story of the USAF ‘Mi Amigo’ war memorial in Sheffield – “proving that the sacrifice of those who served in World War II is still tangible today,” says the Embassy, stressing: “It’s living history.”

US soldiers at the Graan Monastery. Photographed at high mass, May 14, 1944

US soldiers at the Graan Monastery. Photographed at high mass, May 14, 1944

Mi Amigo was the nickname of an American B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed into Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, on February 22, 1944.

Tony Foulds was an eight-year-old lad playing in the park with his little friends when the huge aircraft came down.

The plane was “limping back” from a mission to drop a 4,000-pound bomb on a German target in Denmark.

It had been attacked by enemy aircraft and was very badly damaged.

Graan memorial statue. Donated by the Americans 75 years ago

Graan memorial statue. Donated by the Americans 75 years ago

It was off-course over Sheffield “circling above the park,” 82-year-old Tony Foulds recounted several months ago. “The airmen were waving at us but, being young boys, we just thought they were waving being friendly, but it was them saying ‘get out of the way’.”

The crew of Mi Amigo frantically tried to keep the plane in the air and “tried to rev off,”said Tony. “The next thing that happened it went over the trees and there was a huge explosion. Straight into the ground.”

Ten airmen died in the crash and since the early 1950s Mr Foulds has regularly returned to the crash-site, tending to the memorial that was erected there in 1969, planting flowers and sweeping off dead leaves.

There was a dramatic fly-past commemorating Mi Amigo’s heroic airmen earlier this year on the anniversary of the crash.

Planes from the US Air Force and Royal Air Force roared over Endcliffe Park, the end-result of a social media campaign initiated by BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker, who was jogging in the park when he first met Tony Foulds tending to the memorial.

Seventy-five years on from D-Day ,the US Embassy is asking us to share stories “of how the Americans who served in Britain during WWII impacted your lives and the lives of your families and friends”.

Coincidentally, almost exactly 75 years ago, on May 14, 1944 some 700 US soldiers knelt at the unveiling of a tranquil shrine in the Graan Monastery on Enniskillen’s Derrygonnelly Road in Co Fermanagh.

They were mourning the tragic loss the previous year of seven young colleagues in the same kind of aircraft as Mi Amigo.

A sombre cavalcade of military trucks delivered the grieving GIs from 20 bases across Co Fermanagh to Our Lady’s Bower in St Gabriel’s Retreat in the Graan where a memorial High Mass marked the dedication of the grotto to the seven young airmen.

Five fliers survived, mainly due to the bravery of the priests from The Graan who rescued them.

Their doomed Flying Fortress B17, nicknamed ‘The Galley Uncle’, plunged into a field beside the monastery on December 9, 1943, just as prayers were beginning for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Loretto.

The official accident report, based on radio communications and wreckage inspection, concluded with uncertainty: “Forced landing. Ran out of gas. Cause undetermined.”

The American servicemen who attended the special mass made a substantial donation for the erection of a white marble statue in the tree-shadowed bower, and a plaque was inscribed “In Memoriam to Our Fallen Comrades, 14th May 1944.”

After their heroic rescue mission the Graan’s Fathers and the local American military personnel became closely linked by tragedy, and on May 14, 1944 (just four days before General Eisenhower’s visit to Enniskillen) the grotto was dedicated in memory of the dead airmen, with a beautiful statue donated by the GIs.

Send your wartime stories and accounts to the ‘Keep the Memory Alive’ website at: uk.usembassy.gov/world-war-ii-keeping-the-memory-alive