Reunion for ‘squatters’ from former Londonderry WWII US naval base

Picture taken in January 1964 at the Springtown Camp in Londonderry. The camp closed in 1967
Picture taken in January 1964 at the Springtown Camp in Londonderry. The camp closed in 1967

Residents of a former World War Two US navy camp in Londonderry, who moved in when it was vacated by the Americans in 1946, are to attend a reunion event this weekend.

The reunion on Saturday marks 50 years since the closure of the former Springtown Camp, once home to thousands of ‘squatters’ in need of housing who moved in when the US navy moved out.

The camp, now an industrial estate, was the biggest and best-equipped base in the city for the billeting of US personnel during World War Two.

It consisted of 302 huts, a chapel, gym, laundry, canteen, barber shop, and even a jail and a theatre.

During the war, it was heavily guarded by US Marines until the Americans vacated the camp the year after the war ended.

Almost immediately, hundreds of local families in need of housing moved there en masse and began living in the now vacant ‘tin huts’ left behind by the Americans.

Former camp resident Willie Deery is one of the reunion organisers.

“It was common to see horse-driven carts loaded with beds and what little furniture the families had heading out the Northland Road to a new beginning at the camp,” he said.

“Soon afterwards, Derry Corporation made the ‘squatters’ legal tenants and gave them a ‘rent book’. They were charged five shillings a week rent.

“Growing up in the camp, I was oblivious to how bad things were. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised something wasn’t right.”

Mr Deery added: “The tin huts were round and very cold and damp in winter. In the summer, however, they were like a sauna. When we were young we thought of the camp as a gigantic adventure park, not realising how bad it was for our parents.

“However, in the camp, we were all a big family and a close community. We all had the same social standing.”

The gates of Springtown Camp closed for the final time in 1967 when the last resident, Kitty Lynch, closed her front door and headed to a more suitable new home.

The reunion will take place in the Delcroix Inn on the Buncrana Road on Saturday from 2pm to 4.30pm, and will feature films, photographs and talks documenting the history of the camp.

Mr Deery said: “It will be a great opportunity to meet up with old neighbours and childhood friends.

“All ex-residents are invited to attend and take this opportunity to reminisce on times gone by.”