Red Bay Defences in WWII (1)

Bob McMullan describes the slow outbreak of the war for the people of the Glens

When WWII broke out in September 1939, Glens people were apprehensive as to how their lives would be affected.

Would their many men in the Merchant Navy be safe? Would foodstuffs be scarce? How would the farmer fare? Answers soon evolved.

Rationing of basic foods such as sugar, butter, tea and bacon was introduced quickly but within a farming community, deprivation was less pronounced than in towns. Farmers were offered generous subsidies to grow more food and prices were excellent for the 'blackmarket' butter and eggs, much in demand by dealers from Belfast.

Since television was not invented, accounts of hostilities were followed with much interest on wet battery/valve radio. Casualties were always greater on the enemy side. It became almost a religion to tune-in to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) from Germany to hear his character assignation of English political figures and indulge in his liberal propaganda. It all proved to be a welcome temporary diversion from card playing.

The war seemed to be passing The Glens by. Pathe News, as a preview to the weekly films in McAlister’s Cinema in Cushendall, gave some indication of death and destruction in far-off lands. Then one-day, news got around that well paid jobs were on offer, constructing four heavily reinforced buildings on the foreshore, with an unobstructed view of Red Bay.

Local response was forthcoming, but Sunday work was involved, which in those days was frowned upon. A few individuals however preferred work to worship, which prompted Rev James Connolly, curate at St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s Church in Glenariffe, to denounce such profanity from the altar.

These 'blockhouses' or 'pillboxes' as their shape suggested, were elaborately camouflaged towards the sea. One sited near the present entrance to the popular play-area, at the Bay end of Glenariffe beach depicted a shop, and was adorned with the necessary signs advertising 'Players Please' and 'Craven A' cigarettes.

Charles McAllister recalls another on the foreshore nearer the village opposite Bay View Park. From seaward, its large 'Boats for Hire' sign was conspicuous, as were a number of old sawn-in-half wooden boats on adjoining sand dunes.

A third was built to blend in with the then existing chalets on the riverbank, south of the caves near the pier. The skilfully painted doors, windows and curtains, on the exterior concrete were convincing. A fourth building disguised as a shop was sited on the foreshore opposite Cushendall Golf Club.

It was 1940 when the Army lorries and a large company of the Oxford and Buckingham regiment arrived and quickly requisitioned The Glens of Antrim Hotel as a base, with many soldiers billeted-out throughout Cushendall.

This was the first time many locals had come within touching distance of a black person and soon they became used to the bugle call to muster and the bellowing of the Sgt Major as he marched the soldiers up and down the streets.

Their task was to defend the area against a German invasion, so they promptly got to work erecting an elaborate barbed wire entanglement fence the whole length of Glenariffe beach and at Cushendall beach.

A half-mile trench network on the hillside south of Waterfoot Bridge to the pier was developed and interconnected by means of a wire telephone network with the blockhouses. Remains of the trenches may still be seen.
Supported by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation