A warm Ulster welcome for Major-General Hartle and his troops

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.

On the morning of 26th January 1942, activity began to build around Belfast Docks. The sky was as grey as the dock sheds but inside, soldiers were hard at work hanging flags and bright coloured bunting. Scores of newspaper reporters, radio broadcasters, and camera operators gathered in the cold. A babble of accents from Great Britain, the United States of America, Australia, and Canada chatted with great excitement. The Americans were coming.

At the quayside, the Union Flag and the Star-Spangled Banner fluttered, flanking the drab docking shed. Nearby, the band of the Royal Ulster Rifles awaited the moment when they would play to welcome their new transatlantic comrades. After what seemed like a wait of hours in the cold January air, the band struck up the British National Anthem. As the strains of ‘God Save The King’ floated across the docks, the Duke of Abercorn (Governor of Northern Ireland) arrived. Before long, the grey hulks of tender vessels appeared on the horizon. On board, khaki-clad, steel-helmeted troops lined the decks, eager to make their way ashore.

There was little fanfare as the vessels docked. The American soldiers remained quiet. So too did those on the quayside. The gathered media commented on the troops’ smartness and the good looks of those on deck. The silence broke when two women working for an American newspaper smiled and waved to the troops. The soldiers reciprocated. Then someone somewhere started a rousing British welcome of three cheers. Hip-hip-hooray.

With the first vessel made fast at the docks, British soldiers began the task of helping their new comrades ashore. With troops from both nations in good humour, there were plenty of smiles and laughs as the first soldiers crossed the gangway.

First to cross the gangway was Major-General Russell P. Hartle as the band of the Royal Ulster Rifles struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. A fellow U.S. Officer was one of many already ashore making preparations ahead of the “official” landing. He greeted Hartle and introduced the Major-General to assembled dignitaries. Then Milburn H. Henke made his famous arrival ashore.

An assembled party of dignitaries gathered at Belfast Docks to welcome the American troops. They included:

Name Role
Duke of Abercorn Governor of Northern Ireland
Sir Archibald Sinclair Secretary of State for Air
John Miller Andrews Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
Lieutenant-General Harold Edmund Franklyn General Officer Commanding British Troops in Northern Ireland
Major-General Vivian Henry Bruce Majendie General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland District
Air Vice-Marshal John Beresford Cole-Hamilton Royal Air Force
Rear-Admiral R.M. King Royal Navy
Lieutenant-Commander Oscar Henderson Private Secretary to the Governor

Sir Archibald Sinclair gave a speech from the quayside, as eager American troops lined the rails of their docked vessels. Referring to the soldiers as an example of American military might, he noted this:

Marked a new stage in the world war – not an isolated manoeuvre but part of the general disposition of our resources which is being made under the supreme responsibility of your President and our Prime Minister… It is a gloomy portent for Hitler. Nor will its significance be lost on General Tojo.

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Secretary of State for Air), Belfast Docks on 26th January 1942

He also added that a contingent of American troops could be no more welcome in any other part of the British Empire. He referred to the strong historical ties between Ireland and America. To that date, a total of thirteen Presidents of the United States of America had claimed Ulster birth or descent.

Before and since the War of Independence, it sent many of its sons and daughters across the Atlantic to play their part – no small part, as it proved – in founding and developing the Republic. And it may well be that many of our guests of today can claim to have returned to the motherland.

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Secretary of State for Air), Belfast Docks on 26th January 1942

The new arrivals listened intently to the Minister’s address, applauding heartily at its end.

Washington – Observers here believe that the arrival of U.S. troops in Northern Ireland will be entirely welcome to the American public, which has a growing realisation of the world nature of the conflict. General comment was to the effect that this is just the beginning. – Reuter.

War Correspondent, Belfast News-Letter on 27th January 1942

Home Away From Home by Mary Pat Kelly

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'.

Northern Ireland, the United States, and the Second World War

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'.

  1. Staff Writer (1942) 'Around and About', Belfast News-Letter, 27th January 1942, Available at: [ https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/19420127/054/0002], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  2. Staff Writer (1942) 'American Troops in Ulster', Belfast News-Letter, 27th January 1942, Available at: [ https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/19420127/054/0003], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  3. Staff Writer (1942) ‘American Troops in Ulster’, Northern Whig, 27th January 1942, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001542/19420127/001/0001], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  4. Staff Writer (1942) ‘Here To Give Hitler Hell’, Northern Whig, 27th January 1942, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001542/19420127/095/0004], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  5. Staff Writer (1942) ‘Thousands of men came from “Over There”’, Northern Whig, 27th January 1942, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001542/19420127/024/0002], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  6. Staff Writer (1942) ‘British Army As Hosts’, Londonderry Sentinel, 27th January 1942, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001480/19420127/054/0002], Accessed 8th December 2021.
  7. Staff Writer (1942) ‘Enemy Planes Over Ulster Fired On As American Army Vanguard Arrives’, Belfast Telegraph, 27th January 1942, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19420127/026/0002], Accessed 8th December 2021.

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