The outbreak of the Second World War saw a vast number of foreign military personnel arrive in Derry.
The glamorous Americans, in particular, lifted the city out of the depressive insularity that had marked the 1930s.
A secret agreement which had been signed between the British and the Americans in 1941, before America had entered the war, provided the setting up of a United States naval base in Derry. On June 30, 1941, 362 ‘civilian technicians’ arrived. That number was doubled before Christmas of the same year.
By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, after which the Americans did enter the war, a huge network of US facilities had been built in Derry. These included storage depots, radio installations, a ship-repair base, a new quayside at Lisahally, as well as domestic accommodation, medical and administration offices. Later, other facilities would also be added.
The US Naval Operating Base, Londonderry, was officially commissioned on February 5, 1942. Derry was the first US navy establishment in Europe and became a key terminal for US convoys bound for Britain.
Although the American service presence was relatively short, memories of the ‘Yanks’ dominate many accounts of life in the city during the war.
In part that was because the Americans were more colourful than their British and Canadian counterparts, had more money to spend than the British servicemen and were, of course, very different. Here was Hollywood come to the streets of a small town.
Almost sixty years later, the memories of the ‘Yanks’ are still strong but few citizens realise just how important their city was during WWII.