A former Wren has recalled the day comedian and actor Bob Hope visited Derry, as final preparations are put in place to mark the 70th anniversary of the German U-boats surrendering on the River Foyle.
A series of events are planned for this weekend to mark the landmark anniversary.
The surfacing of the u-boats in Derry brought to an end the most prolonged naval campaign ever waged and the Battle of the Atlantic was instrumental in bringing to a close the devastating conflict of the Second World War.
On May 14th 1945 the first of the German U-boats made their way up the Foyle to the port of Lisahally, where they were formally ordered to surrender by Admiral Sir Max Horton, Commander-in-Chief (CinC), Western Approaches.
The surrender on the Foyle was a testament to Derry’s pivotal role as a strategic allied base, with over 100 military ships docked here from 1943, facilitating the Allied domination of the Atlantic sea lanes and playing a key role in the invasion of France in 1944.
This weekend will see a series of events in Derry focusing on how the war impacted on the lives of people living throughout the North West.
One local woman, Muriel Nevin, recalled 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 the city 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 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.Former Wren Muriel Nevin
“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, Francis 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 city’s history.
These will take place in the Guildhall, Tower Museum and Harbour House this Saturday, 16th May, featuring guided tours, original artefacts, stage drama, living history actors, a 1940s photo booth and much more throughout the day from 10am – 5pm.
The events are suitable for all ages and everyone is welcome to attend.
For more information please contact the Guildhall on 028 7137 6510, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.