A 91-year-old Armagh war veteran has recalled the day she asked none other than Bob Hope to entertain the troops here – and the legendary comic offered her chewing gum instead!
Muriel Nevin has been reflecting on her role during the Second World War and has taken part in commemorations in Armagh last weekend for Victory Europe Day.
Like many of her generation, she lied about her age to sign up, doing so at the age of just 16!
Muriel, from her home in Armagh, has been looking back and sharing her own memories of World War II, as Derry-Londonderry marks the 70th anniversary of the German U-boat surrender.
It was the most prolonged naval campaign ever waged and the Battle of the Atlantic finally brought to a dramatic close the devastating conflict of the Second World War, with the surrender of the German U-boats who shook the Allied defences for over six years.
On May 14, 1945, the first of the German U-boats made their way up the Foyle to the port of Lisahally in Derry-Londonderry, where they were formally ordered to surrender by Admiral Sir Max Horton, Commander-in-Chief (CinC), Western Approaches.
The surrender on the Foyle acknowledged Derry’s pivotal role as a strategic allied base, with over 100 military ships docked there from 1943, facilitating the domination of the Atlantic sea lanes and playing a key role in the invasion of France in 1944.
Today, a series of events is taking place in Derry-Londonderry to commemorate one of the most significant periods in local history, and how it impacted on the lives of people living throughout the North West.
Muriel Nevin is one woman who will certainly be marking the weekend, as she fondly looks back on the era and her time stationed at the buzzing base at Maydown.
Muriel recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of VE Day as a veteran of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, popularly known as the ‘Wrens’, from her current home in Armagh.
Now aged 91, she recalls Derry-Londonderry as a special place where the warm welcome made the base a second home for visiting troops from England, Canada and the US.
Her fascinating story has been captured by Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Museums Services, and will be a part of the programme this weekend during the 70th anniversary U-Boat surrender event.
“I was born in Liverpool and I joined the Wrens in 1940 during the Battle of Britain because I wanted to serve my country,” she recalls.
“As I wasn’t 18, I had to get my father to sign, but he didn’t see that I put down 17 instead of my real age, which was 16!
“First I had to go to the training college, then I went to work at Western Approaches at the Liver Buildings in Liverpool.
“That’s where Admiral Max Horton masterminded operations during the Battle of the Atlantic. He was a marvellous man. He came over here specially for the surrender of the U-boats at Lisahally in 1945.”
Muriel remembers the demands of military life during the conflict but the friendliness of the people here still resonates as one of the things which made the time more bearable for the troops.
“I quickly came over to Northern Ireland and was posted with the A36 and A37 Fleet Air Squadron in Maydown. The atmosphere was great. 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 recalls 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, Frances 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! I was never allowed to eat chewing gum before that!
“I was married in 1944 and I came home on leave. Soon after my son was born I had to leave the Wrens. I missed it very much.”
This weekend a number of events will take place capturing the atmosphere and recounting the story of this remarkable vintage era in the history of Derry-Londonderry.
These will take place in the Guildhall, Tower Museum and Harbour House today, Saturday, May 16, featuring guided tours, original artefacts, stage drama, living history actors, a 1940s photo booth and much more throughout the day from 10am until 5pm. The events are suitable for all ages and everyone is welcome to attend.
For more information contact the Guildhall on 028 7137 6510, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictures: Muriel Nevin, pictured during a Pensioner’s Parliament event, and the legendary Bob Hope and Frances Langford.
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