On 17th February 1942, Mr. John G. Winant (United States Ambassador to Britain) arrived in Northern Ireland. He spent the first night in a hotel in Belfast before enjoying a list of engagements the following day. Winant visited several camps across Ulster, arriving in a fawn-coloured American car flying a red and white silk pennant. Major General J.E. Chaney (Commanding Officer of U.S. Army Forces in the British Isles), and Major-General Russell P. Hartle accompanied the Ambassador.
Winant’s visit was a closely guarded secret. United States Army troops were surprised and honoured by his short stay. Taking a break from his busy schedule in London where he worked 18-hour days, he described the short visit to Ulster as “good as a trip back home”.
I certainly got a first-hand view of something American, and you know I haven’t been back home for eight months.
On 18th February 1942, the American dignitaries visited Sunnylands Camp, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. There, 63rd Signal Battalion began its time in Northern Ireland. Captain K.I. Grimes (Medical Detachment, 63rd Signal Battalion) and Lieutenant L.A. Keisler (Adjutant, 63rd Signal Battalion) accompanied Winant and Co. on a tour of the facilities including a dispensary.
6rd Signal Battalion was under the command of Major Walter Eugene Dobbins Jr. (0221555) of Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. Winant spent half an hour with Dobbins and his troops. The Ambassador and the American soldiers chatted by the stove in a Nissen hut. Mr. Winant spoke to First Sergeant Spencer Hardin of Tatum, Texas, U.S.A. They shared stories of places he had visited in the state. Mr. Winant then watched Mess Private Paul Jones of Almosan, Colorado, U.S.A. at work in the kitchen where he prepared a pot of boiled potatoes.
It made me happy to talk to all these boys from Texas, Minnesota, and the Middle West, but I did not see any boys from New Hampshire. You know that’s my home state.
During his short visit to Northern Ireland, the American Ambassador enjoyed lunch at the Ulster Club, Belfast with Mr. John Miller Andrews (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) before resuming his day of inspections of troops and facilities. Andrews first welcomed the Ambassador to Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast before lunch. Mr. Winant also met with the Duke of Abercorn (Governor of Northern Ireland).
John G. Winant’s visit to Northern Ireland was his first glimpse of American troops since their arrival in the European Theatre of Operations.
This is the first time I have seen modern American troops in the field since the last war. They are great. I talked with dozens of men and found them happy. All the boys were quiet and reserved and there was nothing said which I might describe as being typically American – they are just Americans.
We inspected the camps, ate at the same mess as the enlisted men, and had a swell time all round. I thought the men looked well, that the food was good, that the housing was good, and that the sanitation was excellent. I certainly appreciate what the British services are doing for our boys, too. They have done a lot to help our men and I particularly appreciate the friendly welcome given our men and boys by the people of Northern Ireland.
Pleased with all he saw, Mr. John G. Winant departed Northern Ireland by plane on 18th February 1942.