Red Bay Defences in WWII (2)

Bobby McMullan recalls German submariners landing on the Antrim coast

In the event of the Germans landing and overcoming the immediate defences, a series of stone barricades, four feet wide and six feet high staggered the Coast Road at Waterfoot Bridge and on the adjoining Ballymena Road.

Training was a regular occurrence, which at times involved the use of live rounds, especially around the Glenariffe area.  This was alarming to both locals and livestock. Cushendall residents Chris McMullan, Malachy Skelton and Hannah Emerson recall many events.

On one occasion, during a manoeuvre on Cushendall beach, a tank became a casualty of the incoming tide and later with the aid of a similar vehicle, its hazardous recovery was watched with interest by the locals.

The land around the present Bowling Club was used for recreation by the soldiers, and at times, the Golf Course was used for football matches against the locals. Films and dances in the cinema gave an opportunity for romance.

An unusual fact has emerged. The layde which supplied the water to the mill and electricity turbine in the Mill yard was dammed in places and used for underwater storage of ammunition, which was subjected to round the clock security.

When Captain Gerry Blayney was young, his Aunt Lizzie O’Hara recounted how, while on a late night courting walk below Layde Monastery ,she saw a submarine near the shore. Her story was received with scepticism.

A few years ago a German man on holiday inquired as to the whereabouts of Layde burn.  During the war, he had been a submariner and he  recalled  going ashore for water during the War. It appears that  German charts of the North Channel recorded the burn as a relatively safe and accessible location to acquire a supply of quality drinking water and that it had been visited a number of times. Miss O’Hare was right.

This possibility must have been known to the authorities, as coast-watchers were recruited at various centres. In the Cushendall/Cushendun area older residents recall the following recruits: Barney and Fred Humphrey, Mick Stone, James Whitford, Alex McKay and Smyth McDonald. They regularly patrolled on bicycle with a Canadian Ross rifle strapped to their backs, with a rendezvous with the Carnlough group at Ardclinis. Their local base was a hut situated at the present slipway adjoining the life-boat station.

The Ballymena platoon of the Home Guard used the former coastguard station (now owned by Lawrence McCrudden) as a holiday training centre. It was not uncommon for them to utilize the large salmon holding pool near the head of Glenariffe for hand grenade practice and a source of fresh fish.

The upper reaches of Glenariffe Glen in the 1940s was well furnished with mature spruce and larch trees,  which were much in demand in England towards the war effort. One plantation was owned by the Dobbs family, former landlords in the area, and the other by the Duffin family who lived near the present O’Boyle residence.

View from Lurigethan MountainsBoth plantations were requisitioned by the Government, felled and shipped out of Red Bay pier. Since there was always the risk of German submarines in the North Channel, each ship had a designated gunner, usually the Captain, who was supplied with a Lewis sub-machine gun. It was customary to undertake practice from the pier before sailing which provided the local boys, including the author,  the opportunity to acquire a regular supply of coveted brass casings as they emerged hot from the gun.

Red Bay’s reputation as a safe anchorage was exploited to the full by the Navy. Dozens of ships including destroyers, corvettes, motor-torpedo vessels and supply ships could be identified at any one time, especially when they were mustering to convoy the dozens of merchant ships from Liverpool and beyond on their voyage across the Atlantic.

These were easily visible in the Channel as they cautiously progressed westwards, often protected by gas filled barrage balloons connected to their decks. Beachcombing in wartime was an interesting, rewarding and at times a dangerous activity.  The North Easterly winds brought ashore from sunken ships such items as boxes of oranges and apples (destroyed by the salt water but the boxes were useful).

Additionally, boxes of lard (used to grease cart wheels), new timber in plenty, mines and hundreds of boxes of smoke signal flares were washed up. The latter were shells, approx. 12’ long designed to be fired from a gun but the locals designed their own firing pieces, or alternatively coiled the casing with fencing wire, before placing in a whin bush which was duly ignited.

The internal canister, which came in many colours,  would be propelled hundreds of feet into the air before exploding with a deafening bang and a cloud of coloured smoke. Needless to say the Coast Guards and the Police were keen to recover these, as their use became a serious risk to the local community.

The late Michael McIlhatton, a famous Glensmen fondly remembered in song and verse,  used his entrepreneurial skills by purchasing boxes of flares from the beachcombers and making them available to young people in the inland communities for a small consideration.
Supported by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation