Search for Lisahally legacy

EIGHT Kriegsmarine U-Boat crews famously surrendered at the port of Londonderry on May 14, 1945, with Commander-in-Chief Admiral Sir Max Horton officially taking the kapitulation at the close of World War II.

Later a further 60 U-Boats surrendered in Londonderry, its strategic position and its availability to the allied navies underlining its importance as an escort base in the Atlantic. Its story is well-known.

But what of the young German servicemen who ended up behind the barbed wire in a range of POW camps that sprung up throughout Ulster during the war.

County Londonderry historian John McCann wants to know where the seamen got to and if any German soldiers or sailors imprisoned in camps here during the great conflict stayed behind afterwards.

“I want to find out if any stayed behind and got married,” explained Mr McCann. “I’m more interested in the social history, otherwise all you are left with are facts and figures.”

He said Londonderry was a key player in the story and would like to hear from anyone with information about German servicemen who may have stayed behind beyond 1948 when the majority were repatriated.

“The U-Boats famously surrendered in Londonderry,” said Mr McCann. “Most of the crews would have ended up in the camps. Some of the heavier Nazis would have been moved to Scotland but the majority would have been housed here.”

Between 1944 and 1948 approximately 13,000 German POW were held captive in camps throughout Northern Ireland.

Distinguishable in the white and grey armbands that categorised their political allegiances, these infantrymen of the Wehrmacht, sailors of the Kriegsmarine and aircrew of the Luftwaffe soon became a common - if not curious - sight to the people of Ulster.

However, some 62 years after the camps closed and the final prisoner was offered repatriation to a shattered Germany, Mr McCann asks the question: did any choose to stay behind, and if so, what social legacy did they or their compatriots leave behind?

Shortly after D-Day, 6 June 1944, several POW camps were established in Northern Ireland to intern over 2 per cent of the influx of captured Germans entering Britain.

These included: Monrush Camp, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone; Gosford Camp, Markethill, Co. Armagh; Elmfield Camp, Gilford, Co. Armagh; Holywood Camp, Jackson Rd, Belfast; Grangefield Camp, Belfast Military Hospital, Belfast; RAF Camp Rockport, Belfast; Dungannon Camp, Co Tyrone; Lisanoure Camp, Loughgiel, Cloughmills, Co. Antrim; and Craigavad Camp, Belfast.

Suddenly, as the German prisoners arrived, a human face of war presented itself to a populace somewhat isolated from its horror. Nevertheless, before long, local schoolchildren were going to the camps in trepidation to “see the enemy” and attempt to trade cigarettes for handmade toys.

Whilst inside the barbed wire enclosures, the young men of a defeated nation glimpsed out at the victorious enemy looking in.

Soon, however, as the war drew to its inevitable conclusion, restrictions were lifted and POWs could be seen working the land and fixing the roads and buildings.

Then, by Christmas 1946, the ban on fraternisation was lifted, allowing many people to put the war behind them and invite German POWs into their homes.

It is estimated that even after the offer of repatriation in 1947, some 24,000 German POWs decided to stay in Britain. Did any remain in Northern Ireland? Did any move to Londonderry? Were there any marriages to local girls? Are any children or grandchildren still living in Ulster?

What social impact did the POWs really have? Was there a compassionate nature shared between friend and foe? What contribution did the prisoner workforce provide to rural and urban society? Are there still any friendships that managed to span the past 62 years?

If you can help in answering any of these questions, or provide further information or photographs relating to this theme, please call 07885731202 to contact John McCann, a local author researching for a book on this subject. Alternatively you can send an email to jpmccann82d@yahoo.com