Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Over the past few posts I have been working through a series of letters from a Scottish branch of my ancestors and delving into some of the themes that come up. You can check out my introduction to the letters, and look at death and disease, and contemporary thoughts on emigration in my previous posts.

Today I’ll be looking at issues of agriculture and farming, another topic that comes up frequently in the letters. The Gilchrists and Shearers were not strictly farmers. Several worked in service (as servants), for example, and as such I’ll take a closer look at employment opportunities in a later post.

Farming opportunities, the land and the weather, and how the markets and trade in general were doing were of interest to the writers and recipients of these letters. These factors affected their well-being, their diet, their place of residence, and their ability to survive. Continue reading

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Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

I have been writing about some of the themes that arise out of a series of letters from the latter half of the nineteenth century that travelled across the Atlantic between Scotland, Canada, and the United States. You can read my introduction to the letters here and my first thematic post on life and death in the letters here.

I’m following the story of some of my Scottish ancestors, and today the story brings us to a discussion of travel and immigration as shown in the letters.

Travel and Immigration in the Gilchrist Shearer Letters

The central figures in today’s letters are James Shearer Sr. and James Shearer, Jr. Continue reading

Postcard from Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights, Canada

Postcard from Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights, Canada

 

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Brock’s Monument at Queenston Heights National Historic Site — Photo credit: P. Dumas

Brock’s Monument commemorates the work of Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Brock was a leading figure in the early battles against American forces in the War of 1812 and died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The monument stands an imposing 56m (185ft) tall and is actually the second to commemorate Brock at Queenston Heights, as the first was dynamited in April 1840 in an act likely related to the 1837 Rebellion. The monument towers above the Niagara River, very close to the modern-day border between Canada and the USA.

Queenston Heights offer beautiful picnic grounds, a historic walk related to the Battle, and a new monument and garden acknowledging the vital contributions of First Nations peoples to the War.

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Brick’s Monument, Queenston Heights — Photo Credit: P. Dumas

Charleston’s Hibernian Hall

I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time, and anyone with an interest in Irish history or architecture cannot help but be struck by the massive, Greek-columned Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street.

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Hibernian Hall, Charleston – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Hibernian Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1840 for the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent association founded in 1801.  The Hibernian Society celebrates its non-sectarian identity, alternating between Catholic and Protestant presidents. Continue reading

Patsy Donovan, Fleet-Footed and Prolific Irish Baseball Player

Patsy Donovan was a quintessential player of his age, and was quite possibly the most successful Irish-born baseball player.  Like many other players of the deadball era, Donovan hit for high average but little power, compiling a lifetime batting average of .301 with 1,957 singles out of his 2,256 career hits.  He was fast and aggressive on the base paths, stealing 518 bases over his career.  And he played for seventeen years, spending time on the Boston Beaneaters, Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Louisville Colonels, Washington Statesmen, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Brooklyn Superbas.

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Patsy Donovan – Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Donovan was born in Cobh (then Queenstown), County Cork, in 1865 (or possibly 1863 – he may have fabricated his age to appear younger) and immigrated with his family to the United States as a young child as part of a huge wave of Irish immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century.  They moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Donovan went to work in the cotton mills after finishing elementary school.

He got his start in baseball in his home town, playing for the Lawrence club in the New England League.  From there, he joined other clubs in the minor leagues, playing in Salem, Massachusetts, and London, Ontario, before making his major league debut with the Boston Beaneaters in 1890.  The outfielder was soon noted for his leadership abilities.  As David Jones notes, “In a decade that was infamous for rough play and rowdyism, Donovan was most admired for his quiet dignity and work ethic.”  He is a strong contrast against negative stereotypes of Irish and Irish-American players of his era.  Consequently, Donovan was hired as a player-manager of the Pirates in 1897.  He was replaced as manager after leading the team to a 60-71 record, but granted a second chance in 1899.  In total, he spend eleven years as a manager of the Pirates, Cardinals, Senators, Superbas, and Boston Red Sox, where he also worked as a scout.  Donovan was one of the first managers to regularly use relief pitchers, with his 1899 Pirates team handing to ball to a reliever 39 times that season, the most ever at that time.  He is known for convincing the Red Sox to sign Babe Ruth after watching him play for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914.

After his time in the big leagues, Donovan spent 14 years as a minor league manager and continued to scout until 1946.

Over the history of the major leagues, forty-seven players have been born in Ireland, mainly from the 1870s through the 1910s, an era which is heavily associated with Irish-American influence on the sport.  Since 1910, there have only been three Irish-born players.  Cork-born Joe Cleary was the most recent, appearing in a single game for the Washington Senators in 1945.  Having pitched 1/3 of an inning, he had an unfortunate career ERA of 189.00.

Happy opening week of the baseball season!  Go Rockies!

 

Further reading:

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Player Page.

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Manager Page.

David Jones, “Patsy Donovan,” SABR Bio Project.

Patsy Donovan, New York Times obituary (The Deadball Era).

Brian Sheehy, “Baseball Star!,” Lawrence History News (Spring 2003) – Lawrence History Center: Immigrant City Archives and Museum.

John C. Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers (2003).

Josephine Roche’s Coal Mining Tour of Britain and France, 1945-1946

In September 1945, Josephine Roche arrived in London as part of a European trip to investigate coal mining across the Atlantic and to attend the conference of the International Labor Organization, to which she was delegated by President Harry S Truman.

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Josephine Roche – photo credit: Library of Congress

Roche was the remarkable owner of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, operating several coal mines in Colorado’s Northern Coal Field. Her career spanned everything from working as Denver’s first woman police officer, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and running the United Mine Workers’ Welfare and Retirement Fund.  She promoted workers’ rights, aided immigrants, ran for Colorado governor, supported Progressive Party politics, and fought for social and civic reform.

After Roche’s parents died in early 1927, she inherited her father’s minority holdings of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.  After a strike, violence, and six deaths at the RMFC-owned Columbine Mine,  Roche gained majority control of the company. She announced that employee welfare would be a key component in the way the company was run.  The first permanent mutual union agreement ever signed by a coal mining company in Colorado was between the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and the United Mine Workers in 1928.  This was considered a groundbreaking agreement for coal miners’ rights. Roche became known for her concern for her employees and their rights.

As Assistant Secretary of the Treasury beginning in 1934, Roche was the second woman to serve under a United States President.  She worked in the areas of education, finance, health, and welfare, helping to shape the Social Security Act and the National Youth Administration.  Her work in the realms of health and welfare laid the foundations for Medicare and Medicaid.

Her prominence in the political realm, in labor relations, and in the coal mining industry are all key contexts to her European trip immediately following the end of World War II.  Roche spent several days in London conducting background research, then traveled to Paris to attend the ILO conference.

Thirty-nine countries sent delegates to the International Labor Organization conference, held at the Sorbonne.  In her autobiography of Roche, Elinor McMinn writes of the conference, “The delegates described their wartime struggles to survive and expressed their common concern: to activate Europe’s paralyzed industrial and economic facilities and increase production of food, clothing, coal, and shelter.”  Roche was assigned by the ILO to study European coal production.  Robyn Muncy writes in Relentless Reformer, “Suffering terrible fuel shortages by war’s end, both France and Britain had nationalized their coal industries, and Roche was interested in how nationalization was affecting workers and whether the mines in each country would be able to retool fast enough to provide fuel for winter heating and industrial production.”  Roche also was commissioned by the Department of Industrial Studies of the Sage Foundation to collect information on British coal mining.  In addition, she wrote articles for the Survey Graphic and New York Herald Tribune about her findings and experiences – highlighting the interest in the United States for information about coal mining, industrial, and labor issues abroad.

After the end of the ILO conference, Roche toured coal mines of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, reportedly becoming the first woman to descend into a French coal mine.  She perceived the French coal mining industry as being in a more positive position than the British because they had regained their pre-war production levels.

Traveling back to Britain, she embarked on a tour arranged by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.  Roche inspected the coal fields of Wales, northern England, and Scotland, going down into at least one mine per day, and discussing mining conditions with everyone from superintendents, engineers, miners, and even the miners’ wives.  She also studied the history of coal mining in Britain from medieval times.  Roche found that the root of current problems in the coal mining industry was the ownership structure, which she believed would have continued repercussions after nationalization.  McMinn writes, “Approximately four thousand families owned all the mines and leased them to many different operators, who all worked simultaneously to produce quick royalty profits for the owners.  Thus, an excessive number of small and poorly designed mines operated with a capacity inadequate to justify the equipment or technical staff essential for efficient mining practice.”  Mines had also been neglected and had inadequate technology, and also produced far less coal per day than American mines.  In addition, there was a postwar shortage of labor.

During her trip, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was introduced in Parliament and subsequently passed on 12 July 1946.  The Act established public ownership and control of the coal industry, set up the National Coal Board, and aimed to tackle issues with efficiency in the country’s coal mines.

Roche believed that a better course of action would be to empower the coal miners through strong unionization.  She stated, “The chief need in the English coal mines, where production remains a million tons a week below pre-war levels, appears to be a strong national union headed by a leader who can get results.”  She did not think that organizing coal mines to work in the national interest necessarily would be in the workers’ best interests.  Muncy writes that Roche believed the British Labour Party had betrayed the miners.  She approved of the government taking some role in economic intervention or regional planning, but in this case believed that miners “had simply exchanged one set of employers for another” without having a chance to bargain collectively for higher wages and safer working conditions.

According to Muncy, on this European trip, “what had crystallized for Roche was a belief that, in the achievement of economic justice, the crucial thing was not whether government or private interests operated an industry; the crucial issue was whether workers maintained independent power.”  After returning to the United States, Roche’s views of the European coal mines were part of her speeches on the lecture circuit, as audiences were eager to learn of post-war conditions abroad.

Further Reading:

Leigh Campbell-Hale, “Remembering Ludlow but Forgetting the Columbine: The 1927-1928 Colorado Coal Strike” (Unpublished PhD Diss., University of Colorado, 2013).

Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame: http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/josephine-aspinwall-roche

Larry Dorsey, “Josephine Roche, a ‘Grand Old Gal,’” Superior Historian 3, no. 3 (Winter 2005).

Elinor McGinn, A Wide-Awake Woman: Josephine Roche in the Era of Reform (Denver: Colorado Historical Society, 2002).

Robyn Muncy, Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

In the News: Ben Carson, ‘Immigrants’, and Slavery in America

In the News: Ben Carson, ‘Immigrants’, and Slavery in America

On March 6, 2017, newly-sworn-in Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson, made a speech to his agency’s employees that confused enslaved Africans for immigrants seeking a better life in America. Word of this mix-up quickly gathered momentum in news outlets, on social media, and the late show circuit.

Regular readers of our blog know that we rarely get political, but in this case I wanted to contextualise Carson’s remarks and hopefully shed some light on why his assertion immediately received such strong criticism. Continue reading

Oscar Wilde in Leadville, Colorado

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Harper’s Bazaar 10 June 1882

I came across this Thomas Nast cartoon earlier this week.  The caption reads, “Wilde on US.  Something to “Live Up” to in America.”

“Mr. Oscar Wilde has lately delivered a lecture in New York on Art Decoration…. In all his travels, he says, the only well-dressed men he has seen have been the miners of the Rocky Mountains.  ‘Their wide-brimmed hats, which shade their faces from the sun and protect them from the rain, and the cloak, which is by far the most beautiful piece of drapery ever invented, may well be dwelt on with admiration.  Their high boots, too, were sensible and practical.  They only wore what was comfortable, and therefore beautiful.'”

At the top of the cartoon are sketches of boxers, a liquor bottle, fighting roosters, and houses with the caption “Leadville.”

You can find more about the history of the Irish in the silver mining town of Leadville, CO in my post here.  As part of his tour of the United States in 1882, Wilde traveled to Leadville, Denver, and Colorado Springs.  He gave a talk to Leadville’s miners at the Tabor Opera House on art and aesthetics, and drank a remarkable amount of whiskey.

In his Impressions of America, Wilde noted:

From Salt Lake City one travels over the great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world.  It has also got the reputation of being the roughest, and every man carries a  revolver.  I was told that if I went there they would be sure to shoot me or my travelling manager.  I wrote and told them that nothing that they could do to my travelling manager would intimidate me.  They are miners – men working in metals, so I lectured to them on the Ethics of Art.  I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted.  I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me.  I explained that he had been dead for some time which elicited the enquiry ‘Who shot him’?  They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across.  Over the piano was printed a notice:

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Oscar Wilde, Impressions of America

The mortality among pianists in that place is marvellous.

John F. Kennedy and Irish History

Last fall, I wrote a series of posts discussing US Presidential visits to Ireland, and one thing that I found striking was the use of history in the Presidents’ speeches.  What did they choose to focus on in Irish history, and what historical connections between Ireland and the United States did they call upon?

The most famous visit of an American president to Ireland was that of John F. Kennedy from 26 to 29 June 1963.  Find my overview of his trip here.

The Cold War was a clear backdrop to Kennedy’s words, as he referenced Ireland’s past, present, and future role as a beacon of freedom in the world.  Other frequent themes included the role of the Irish diaspora, the life of De Valera, and the Irish participation in the American Civil War.  A breakdown of his speeches follows.

Remarks Upon Arrival at Dublin Airport (26 June 1963)

In this opening speech, Kennedy set out many of the themes for the speeches he would make throughout his visit.

As you said, eight of my grandparents left these shores in the space, almost, of months, and came to the United States. No country in the world, in the history of the world, has endured the hemorrhage which this island endured over a period of a few years for so many of her sons and daughters. These sons and daughters are scattered throughout the world, and they give this small island a family of millions upon millions who are scattered all over the globe, who have been among the best and most loyal citizens of the countries that they have gone to, but have also kept a special place in their memories, in many cases their ancestral memory, of this green and misty island. So, in a sense, all of them who visit Ireland come home.

In addition, Mr. President, I am proud to visit here because of you–an old and valued friend of my father–who has served his country with so much distinction, spreading over the period of a half-century; who has expressed in his own life and in the things that he stood for the very best of Western thought and, equally important, Western action.

And then I am glad to be here because this island still fulfills a historic assignment. There are Irishmen buried many thousands of miles from here who went on missions of peace, either as soldiers or as churchmen, who traveled throughout the world, carrying the gospel as so many Irish have done for so many hundreds of years.

Remarks on the Quay at New Ross (27 June 1963)

Kennedy fittingly recounted his own family history as emigrants from Ireland.

Remarks at Redmond Place in Wexford (27 June 1963)

Kennedy remembered the role of John Barry in the American Revolutionary War and the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.

It seems to me that in these dangerous days when the struggle for freedom is worldwide against an armed doctrine, that Ireland and its experience has one special significance, and that is that the people’s fight, which John Boyle O’Reilly said outlived a thousand years, that it was possible for a people over hundreds of years of foreign domination and religious persecution–it was possible for that people to maintain their national identity and their strong faith. And therefore those who may feel that in these difficult times, who may believe that freedom may be on the run, or that some nations may be permanently subjugated and eventually wiped out, would do well to remember Ireland.

Remarks at the City Hall in Cork (28 June 1963)

I would like to ask how many people here have relatives in the United States.  Perhaps they could hold up their hands, if they do.

… Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people. They have gone all over the United States, and the United States has been generous to them. And I think it not unfair to say that they have been generous themselves and with their sons and daughters to the United States.

… And I come to this island which has been identified with that effort for a thousand years, which was the first country in the 20th century to lead what is the most powerful tide of the 20th century–the desire for national independence, the desire to be free. And I come here in 1963 and find that strong tide still beats, still runs. And I drive from where we arrived to here and am greeted by an honor guard on the way down, nearly half of whom wear the Blue Ribbon which indicates service in the Congo. So Ireland is still old Ireland, but it has found a new mission in the 1960’s, and that is to lead the free world to join with other countries of the free world to do in the sixties what Ireland did in the early part of this century and, indeed, has done for the last 800 years–and that is associate intimately with independence and freedom.

Address Before the Irish Parliament in Dublin (28 June 1963)

Earlier in the day, Kennedy laid a wreath at the graves of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising, at Arbour Hill.

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Kennedy in Ireland – photo credit: RTE

He then became the first foreign leader to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. In this important speech, Kennedy began by calling upon links between Ireland and the United States through recounting the role of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.

…I am proud to be the first American President to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and proud of the welcome you have given me. My presence and your welcome, however, only symbolize the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days.

Benjamin Franklin–the envoy of the American Revolution who was also born in Boston–was received by the Irish Parliament in 1772. It was neither independent nor free from discrimination at the time, but Franklin reported its members “disposed to be friends of America.” “By joining our interest with theirs,” he said, “a more equitable treatment … might be obtained for both nations.”

Our interests have been joined ever since. Franklin sent leaflets to Irish freedom fighters. O’Connell was influenced by Washington, and Emmet influenced Lincoln. Irish volunteers played so predominant a role in the American army that Lord Mountjoy lamented in the British Parliament that “we have lost America through the Irish.” John Barry, whose statue we honored yesterday and whose sword is in my office, was only one who fought for liberty in America to set an example for liberty in Ireland. Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell–whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America-and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country,” he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland …. ” And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America.

And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears. And an earlier poet wrote, “They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay.”

He then called upon the words of Yeats, of Henry Grattan, of John Boyle O’Reilly, of George Bernard Shaw.

To conclude, he quoted poet George William Russell (Æ):

A great Irish poet once wrote: “I believe profoundly … in the future of Ireland … that this is an isle of destiny, that that destiny will be glorious… and that when our hour is come, we will have something to give to the world.”  My friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world–and that is a future of peace with freedom.

Remarks at a Civic and Academic Reception in St. Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle (28 June 1963)

Kennedy praised Ireland for its educational traditions, serving as a beacon for Europe during the Dark Ages.  He compared Ireland to the United States, in its establishment of schools through the Northwest Ordinance and Land Grant colleges.

Remarks at Eyre Square in Galway (29 June 1963)

If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay, and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Mass. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.

I wonder if you could perhaps let me know how many of you here have a relative in America, who you would admit to–if you would hold up your hand? I don’t know what it is about you that causes me to think that nearly everybody in Boston comes from Galway. They are not shy about it, at all.

Remarks at a Reception in Limerick (29 June 1963)

I wonder, before I go, if I could find out how many citizens here have relations in the United States?  Do you think you could hold up your hand, if you do?  No wonder there are so many of them over there.

Well, I will tell you, they have been among the best citizens and they behave themselves very well, and you would be proud of them.  And they are proud of you.  Even though a good many years have passed since most of them left, they still remain and retain the strongest sentiments of affection for this country.  And I hope that this visit that we have been able to make on this occasion has reminded them not only of their past, but also that here in Ireland the word ‘freedom,’ the word ‘independence,’ the whole sentiment of a nation is perhaps stronger than it is almost any place in the world.

He then referenced the role of De Valera:

To see your President, who has played such a distinguished part, whose life is so tied up with the life of this island in this century – all this has made the past very real, and has made the present very hopeful.

Remarks at Shannon Airport Upon Leaving for England (29 June 1963)

In his final remarks in Ireland, Kennedy emphasized the role of history in Irish culture, and the historic connections between Ireland and America through the diaspora:

Ireland is an unusual place.  What happened 500 or 1000 years ago is yesterday; where we on the other side of the Atlantic 3000 miles away, we are next door.  While there may be those removed by two or three generations from Ireland, they may have left 100 years ago their people, and yet when I ask how many people may have relatives in America nearly everybody holds up their hands.

 

On the 75th Anniversary of US Troops’ Arrival in Belfast

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Northern Ireland. People watching members of the first contingent of the New American Expeditionary Forces as they march to their trains after disembarking from transports – photo credit: Library of Congress

After the United States entered World War II following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the first American troops were deployed to assist in the defense of the United Kingdom.  US troops debarked in Belfast on January 26, 1942, a contingent of 4,058 led by Major General Russell P. Hartle. Private First Class Milburn H. Henke was the first to descend the gangplank onto Northern Irish soil. By May of that year, about 32,000 troops and 2 divisions were in Northern Ireland.

US troop presence had an impact throughout Northern Ireland. For example, the 34th Infantry Division was headquartered in Omagh, County Tyrone, while the 1st Armored Division was based at Castlewellan, County Down.  The V Corps was headquartered in Lurgan, County Antrim, and American soldiers and sailors participated in training throughout the country.

Each American soldier and sailor received A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland to get them “acquainted with the Irish, their country, and their ways.”

“You will start out with good prospects,” the guide enthused.  “The Irish like Americans.  Virtually every Irishman has friends or relatives in the United States; he is predisposed in your favor and anxious to hear what you have to say.  This, however, puts you under a definite obligation: you will be expected to live up to the Irishman’s high opinion of Americans.  That’s a real responsibility.”

Over the course of the war, 300,000 American servicemen were stationed in Northern Ireland.  American troops in the United Kingdom worked with British forces to fight for control of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, to launch operations for invasions of North Africa, the air war in Europe, and D-Day.

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British Sergeant instructs U.S. gunners. A British Sergeant taking some of the U.S. troops in Northern Ireland through a course of light A.A. gun drill – photo credit: Library of Congress

See also:

The American Battle Monuments Commission’s interactive resources on Americans in Great Britain, 1942-1945

Francis M. Carroll, “United States Armed Forces in Northern Ireland During World War II,” New Hibernia Review 12, no. 2 (Summer 2008)

Images of the American troops from the Belfast Telegraph