The Mourne granite memorial at the former American military cemetery at Lisnabreeny in Castlereagh has 148 names etched on three sides. As the crowd gathered on Saturday for the dedication of the monument, I noticed a namesake (but not a relation) among them: FISHER, PATRICK A S/Sgt.
I thought of him during the service and afterwards I tried to find out if there was any record of his military service. I found two servicemen of the same name from different states in the USA but both were listed as Privates when they joined in 1942. The older one was from Pennsylvania and would have been around 31 when he enlisted in 1942. In civvy life his occupation was described as “express messenger and railway mail clerk(s)”. I would welcome any further information either via the comments below or by contacting me on twitter @fishbelfast.
The ceremony was organised by Castlereagh Borough Council, which also reinstated the entrance to the former US military cemetery and provided the monument. It began with a formal parade from Lagan College, headed by the Mayor Councillor David Drysdale, who was driven in a former US Army jeep of the type used in World War II. The pipes and drums of 152 (Ulster) Transport Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, followed with the other members of the Council, the Air Training Corps Cadets and members of local branches of the Royal British Legion.
The guests included the Lord Lieutenant of County Down, David Lindsay, the Acting US Consul General Gabrielle Moseley and the First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson. Wreaths were laid at the memorial at the end of the dedication service.
Councillor Drysdale explained the Council’s involvement with the site at the start of the ceremony. He said:-
“Over the last few years, the Council has been involved in an extensive restoration project to reinstate the original entrance to the former Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery and create a lasting commemoration to the American servicemen who lost their lives in the Second World War. A dedicated monument has been erected as part of the project, which will provide an opportunity for the people of Castlereagh to visit the site for generations to come and learn more about these brave servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom today”.
The service of dedication of the memorial was led by the Mayor’s chaplain, Pastor George Moffett. Lieutenant Colonel Travis Phillips, Assistant Army Attaché at the US Embassy in London expressed thanks to the Council for acknowledging the legacy of US military personnel who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Allied war effort. He said the recent restoration of the former cemetery underpinned the shared history and special ties of kinship between Northern Ireland and the USA. After an American Serviceman’s Medley sung by Donaghadee Male Voice Choir, Lt Col Phillips read the poem ‘His Rest is Won’.
After the wreath laying ceremony, the Mayor’s Chaplain led the Act of Remembrance, which was followed by a two minutes silence. “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them”. “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today“.
The ceremony concluded with the singing of the British and US national anthems.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Air Vice Marshall, David Niven of the Royal Air Force added:-
“I am proud to be asked to place a wreath, on behalf of all three Services, at this dedication ceremony. We are, in mid-September, commemorating the service and sacrifice of our servicemen during the Battle of Britain, a battle which prevented the invasion of the United Kingdom. We are also remembering, at the Service of Dedication of this cemetery, the sacrifice of our American Allies who served and died, here, in Northern Ireland. They came from the United States to fight alongside us, in our hour of need, when the rest of Europe had been over-run by the Nazi war machine. The sacrifice of our American Allies, commemorated in granite, and standing proud in the rolling Castlereagh hills, shall never be forgotten.”
On 26th January 1942 the first American troops arrived at the Dufferin Dock in Belfast as the first phase of Operation MAGNET, the defence of Northern Ireland, As agreed between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a meeting in Washington DC in December 1941. Over the next three years there were seldom less than 120,000 US servicemen in NI at any one time. A US Special Army Observer Group had been acting as an American Military mission in London since 1941. This group approached the war office in London on 9 December 1941 to obtain burial grounds for American forces in the United Kingdom.
Two plots were initially set aside for emergency burials in Northern Ireland, one in Derry and the other in Belfast. The Belfast plot, located within the City Cemetery, and extending to one sixth of an acre was chosen. The first American servicemen to die in Northern Ireland were 3 members of the US Navy who lost their lives in an accident at the American Naval Base in Londonderry. The first burial in the Belfast City Cemetery plot took place on 12th March 1942. From then until October 1942 a total of 41 American servicemen were interred there. At that stage the plot had reached capacity and it was decided to ship deceased personnel across to England for interment until an alternative could be found.
On 2nd December 1943 a ten and a half acre plot of land at Rocky Road was officially opened as the (link to photo chimneyrockb26crash.com) Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery. It was decided to re-locate all deceased personnel to this new site, and between 23rd May 1944 and 1st June 1944 all of the 41 bodies previously interred in the City Cemetery were exhumed and re-interred at Lisnabreeny. By the end of the war a total of 148 American servicemen were buried in Lisnabreeny, the majority being Army Air Force but also including US Army and US Navy personnel
The Cemetery was accessed via a red brick entrance with iron gates on the Rocky Road. A white gravel driveway, lined with cherry trees, led to a flagstaff where the Stars and Stripes was hoisted daily. The graves were laid out in rows with 25 to each row, and each grave had a simple white marker, either a Cross or a Star of David, depending on religious denomination, bearing name, rank, unit and date of death.
The Cemetery was looked after by 5 US Army personnel with a minimum of 2 on duty at any one time. A Nissan type hut was located on site and provided storage and office space for maintenance equipment and Cemetery records. The Cemetery was maintained to a very high standard with grass regularly mown, trees and shrubs clipped and pruned, and the stone paths borders whitewashed weekly. Following the end of the war, the Cemetery continued to be maintained right up to 1948 when all deceased were exhumed, and either transferred to the permanent American War Cemetery in Cambridge, or repatriated to the United States, at the request of their families. At that point the cemetery was deactivated. Some more information on the cemetery can be found on this American source:
“Graves registration activities of the Quartermaster Corps in the European Theatre (of WWII) began in December 1941, when the United States asked the British War Office about burial facilities for our military personnel expected to arrive in 1942 in Northern Ireland, where they would aid the British in their defence of that part of Ireland. Sadly, as was expected, American lives were lost after the men arrived. These burials had been in swampy ground in local cemeteries, but the U.S. Army negotiated with the British and secured a plot of land at Lisnabreeny, a suburb of Belfast, where the Americans were reinterred“.
From “A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham”, who worked for the American Graves Registration Command in Paris, quoted by his daughter, Jean Peckham Kavale in A Personal Look at U.S. Army History.