The soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force left Belfast by train destined for camps across Ulster. Many of them did not arrive until late in the evening. As they marched into camp, they carried lanterns and sang old American songs like 'Marching Through Georgia'. At camps, British soldiers halted and stood to attention for their fellow Allies, struck by the free and easy attitude of the U.S. Army.
On the way to camps, Americans noticed many ‘V for Victory’ signs chalked and painted on gable walls. This prompted one newly arrived soldier to note the Americans had gone one better in their propaganda line.
The V sign was a grand idea but the latest over there is Q.V., which of course, stands for quick victory – just what we’re here for. They have got a lot of other cute slogans over there. One of the best is ‘Taps for the Japs’ – ‘Taps’ as you know is the bugle-call sounded last thing at night and at funerals.
Having to become accustomed to the British rules of the road, British Army Sergeants in some cases guided the Americans back to the left-hand side as they marched. In some cases, the march from railway stations to camps was around 3 or 4 miles. One American soldier told a reporter from the Belfast News-Letter:
We were asked not to holler in the streets. We started to whistle popular airs and were told to cut it out. After that, we were as quiet as mice.
No crowds gathered along the routes but in some places, a few spectators awaited the troops’ arrival.
There were no crowds anywhere as the Americans stole along so silently in their soft soled brown boots, which made no noise at all, and those who entered the town in the moonlight came like a ghost army, making no sound as they swung along in free and easy style, carrying hurricane lamps as a warning against traffic.
At camps, the soldiers found that British Army staff had prepared beds, cooked a four-course dinner, and completed other arrangements for a comfortable first night in Ulster.
We brought the best specialist cooks from all parts of the British Isles to get ready for the arrival of the Americans who are to have two big meals a day as well as a specially prepared homely breakfast. Eventually, when they get settled down, the Americans’ own cooks will take over the duty of preparing the meals.
Most of the food for the visiting American forces would also come from the U.S.A. One main difference in the diet between American and British troops would be the use of coffee over tea in camps.
On arriving at camps late in the day, the weary soldiers flung themselves on the hard but well-made beds. With barely time to take the weight off, dinner was announced:
The following morning’s breakfast would include:
A midday lunch meal would be the first of two meat-based meals of the day for the hard-training soldiers including:
Well-fed, this nourishment would help the United States Army train during their time in Ulster. While ample rations and coffee were welcomed, many troops were just as keen to get stuck into the ongoing war in Europe.
On 26th January 1942, elements of the United States Army began to arrive at Belfast Docks in Northern Ireland marking their entry into the war in Europe.
On 15th January 1942, Convoy AT-10 departed from the eastern seaboard of the U.S.A. Unknown to most troops onboard, the destination was Northern Ireland.
On 26th January 1942, Sir Archibald Sinclair gave a short address at the quayside in Belfast welcoming the first contingent of the American Expeditionary Force.
As the first contingent of the American Expeditionary Force arrived in Ulster, a host of dignitaries gave a warm welcome to Major-General Hartle and troops.
In January 1942, elements of the United States Army crossed the Atlantic Ocean arriving in Northern Ireland and beginning a "friendly invasion" of Ulster.
As the first elements of the U.S. Army arrived in cities, towns, and villages throughout Northern Ireland, locals remarked on their good looks and uniforms.
Following the arrival of the first elements of the U.S. Army in Belfast in January 1942, Prime Minister Mr. John Miller Andrews issued an official welcome.
Mary Pat Kelly is an Irish-American writer and filmmaker. In the 1990s, she researched the American Military's time in Northern Ireland for her book and accompanying documentary 'Home Away From Home: The Yanks In Ireland'.
Dr. Simon Topping is a lecturer at the University of Plymouth. He has undertaken extensive research into the social, and political impact of the time spent in Ulster by GIs for his latest book 'Northern Ireland, the United States, and the Second World War'.