Baseball and the WWII Battlefield

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In January 1942, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944), the national commissioner of baseball, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt in which he asked if professional baseball should shut down for the duration of the war.

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In what came to be known as the “green light” letter, Roosevelt responded that professional baseball should continue operations, as it was good for the country’s collective morale and would serve as a needed diversion.

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During the war, 95 percent of all professional baseball players who donned major league uniforms during the 1941 season were directly involved in the conflict. Future Hall of Famers Bob Feller (1918-), Hank Greenberg (1911-86), Joe DiMaggio (1914-99)

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and Ted Williams (1918-2002) exchanged their baseball jerseys for military fatigues. Feller, in fact, enlisted in the U.S. Navy one day after Pearl Harbor. Because baseball was depleted of so many able bodies, athletes who otherwise likely never would have made the big leagues won spots on rosters. One of the more notable was Pete Gray (1915-2002), a one-armed outfielder who appeared in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945.

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By June 1942 more than 41,205 American military personnel were stationed in Northern Ireland, and with the Americans came American culture, from bubble gum and candy to big bands and, of course, baseball. The build-up was an impressive display of American efficiency, but one obstacle, unforeseen by military high command, was causing a dilemma.

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In a country where similarities with home seemed to end with the language, troops became desperately homesick. Daily training left them restless, agitated and suffering low morale. Something was needed to prevent the worsening of an already difficult situation.
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It was evident that a competitive sports program could help improve matters, and team games of basketball and soccer, combined with track and boxing, went a long way to make amends. But America ‘s national pastime – baseball – had by far the greatest impact on morale.

The first recorded baseball game took place near Belfast on Saturday, April 25, 1942. Despite overcast, blustery conditions, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, attracted an inquisitive crowd of more than 1,000 locals who were treated to a play-by-play account over a public address system, a concert by the regiment band, and an impromptu jitterbug demonstration on the sidelines.

 
Major General Russell P Hartle, acting commander of the US Army Northern Ireland Force (USANIF), was invited to throw out the first pitch, and with all the fanfare of a major league opening day, baseball had arrived in Northern Ireland .

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Pitching for the winning 3rd Battalion in the 14-4 game was Corporal Robert Lange of Wilton Junction, Iowa.

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a 21-year-old right-hander who was a member of the Cleveland Indians’ farm system and had an 8-4 won-loss record with the Flint Arrows of the Michigan State League in 1940. In the sixth inning, Corporal Leo J Robinson, a 24-year-old outfielder from Harper’s Ferry, Iowa , hit a solo home run for the winning team. It was the first home run hit in Europe by an American serviceman in World War II. “[Robinson] was well known as a semi-professional player prior to World War II,” explains his son, Stephen L Robinson. “He was an outstanding hitter and pitcher in high school and was offered a professional contract from the Crookston, Minnesota , baseball team of the Northern League in 1936, but he turned it down because the family was suffering greatly as a result of the Depression and he could make more money working in the Civilian Conservation Corps.”

Neither team had uniforms, equipment was scarce, and a soccer field, without a backstop or pitcher’s mound, served as a diamond for the afternoon.

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But baseball had arrived, and the troops welcomed it with open arms. With the Army Air Force based at the Combat Crew Replacement Unit at Greencastle in County Down and the Langford Lodge Base Air Depot in Antrim, the Navy at the United States Naval Operations Base (USNOB) in Londonderry, and the Army scattered throughout the island, battalion-level baseball soon flourished on the Emerald Isle.

In July 1942, 34th Infantry and 1st Armored division all-stars teams were selected to participate in Northern Ireland ‘s first officially recognized baseball game of World War II. The last “official” game had taken place 25 years earlier, on October 31, 1917 , when Canadian and American troops put on an exhibition game for the local people. Staged at Windsor Park , a soccer stadium in Belfast , and a part of the Anglo-American Independence Day celebrations, the local government and American military pulled out all the stops to put on a July 4 spectacle.

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Representing the 34th Infantry Division were the Midwest Giants while the 1st Armored Division were represented by the Kentucky Wildcats. It would appear that the Kentucky Wildcats nickname was chosen because the original player line-up featured troops who were predominantly from that state. Indeed, a pre-game press cutting listed the southern-state players. However, for reasons unknown, but probably because the originally selected players were with a military unit that was otherwise indisposed, the Kentucky Wildcats were represented by players mainly from New York and the east coast.

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Dublin and Monaghan bombings

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The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 were a series of co-ordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland. Three bombs exploded in Dublin during rush hour and a fourth exploded in Monaghan almost ninety minutes later.

They killed 34 civilians including a full-term unborn child, and injured almost 300. The bombings were the deadliest attack of the conflict known as the Troubles, and the deadliest attack in the Republic’s history.Most of the victims were young women, although the ages of the dead ranged from five months to 80 year.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for the bombings in 1993. It had launched a number of attacks in the Republic since 1969. There are allegations taken seriously by inquiries that elements of the British state security forces helped the UVF carry out the bombings, including members of the Glenanne gang. Some of these allegations have come from former members of the security forces. The Irish parliament’s Joint Committee on Justice called the attacks an act of international terrorism involving British state forces.The month before the bombings, the British government had lifted the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation.

Two of the bombs went off on Talbot and Parnell Streets before a third blast exploded on South Leinster Street near Trinity College, 27 people died.

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Shortly afterwards another bomb exploded outside a pub in Monaghan, killing seven people. Hundreds more were injured.

In the aftermath of the coordinated attacks, then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave condemned the atrocities:

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I do not know which evil men did this but everyone who has practised violence or preached violence or condoned violence must bear his share of responsiblility. It will bring home to us what the people of Northern Ireland have been suffering for five long years.

Derek Byrne was just 14 and only a week into his first job working as a petrol pump attendant. Just as he was filling a car with petrol, a huge explosion struck on Parnell Street.

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His injuries were so horrific that emergency services thought he had died. He recalls waking up in a hospital mortuary.

“I just remember pulling back the sheets and then the lady in the morgue, she ran out,” he says.

“I don’t know whether it was hospital porters or doctors who came in. I was put on a trolley and brought straight to theatre. I was 18 hours in theatre and then 12 weeks in a coma after that.”

After the blasts, bystanders rushed to help the wounded, and emergency response personnel were on the scene within minutes. Hospitals across Dublin were put on standby to receive casualties. However, rescue operations in Dublin were hampered by heavy traffic due to the bus strike. Rescuers, feeling that help was not coming fast enough, lifted the dead and wounded, wrapped them in coats and bundled them into cars to get them to the nearest hospital.[Garda Síochána squad cars escorted surgeons through the crowded streets to attend the wounded. Many people, on finding out what had happened, went straight away to offer blood.

Paddy Doyle of Finglas, who lost his daughter, son-in-law, and two infant granddaughters in the Parnell Street explosion, described the scene inside Dublin’s city morgue as having been like a “slaughterhouse”, with workers “putting arms and legs together to make up a body”.

At 18:00, after all of the dead and injured had been removed, Garda officers cordoned off the three bomb sites in Dublin. Fifteen minutes earlier, at 17:45, the orders were given to call out ‘national cordons’, to stop the bombers fleeing the stat] Garda officers were sent to Connolly Station, Busáras, Dublin Airport, the B&I car ferry port, and the mail boat at Dún Laoghaire.At 18:28, the Dublin-Belfast train was stopped at Dundalk and searched by a team of 18 Gardaí led by an inspector.During the evening of 17 May, Gardaí from the Ballistics, Photography, Mappings, and Fingerprints section visited the three bomb sites in Dublin and examined the debris.

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Some accounts give a total of 34 or 35 dead from the four bombings: 34 by including the unborn child of victim Colette Doherty, who was nine months pregnant; and 35 by including the later still-born child of Edward and Martha O’Neill. Edward was killed outright in Parnell Street.Martha O’Neill was not caught up in the attack, although two of their children were seriously injured in the bombing; one of them, a four-year-old boy, suffered severe facial injuries. The 22-month-old daughter of Colette Doherty survived the Talbot Street blast; she was found wandering about near the bomb site, relatively unharmed.Six weeks after the bombings, the elderly mother of Thomas Campbell, who was killed in the Monaghan bombing, allegedly died of the shock she received at the death of her son.

Due to the bombings, the Irish Army withdrew its troops from UN peacekeeping missions for four year.

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Belfast Blitz-15 April 1941

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Although the Republic of Ireland was neutral and was left largely unscathed during the war, Northern Ireland as part of the UK was not that lucky.

Belfast being the biggest city of Northern Ireland was hit by German bombers 4 times, between the 7th of April and 6th of May 1941.

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Northern Ireland was ill prepared for the Luftwaffe’s arrival. Ministers felt it unlikely that the bombers could reach Belfast.

There were only four public air raid shelters in Belfast, and most of the city’s searchlights had been sent back to England. There were plans to evacuate 70,000 children from Belfast, but little over 10% of that number actually left. When an unobserved German plane flew over Belfast to identify targets in November 1940, it saw a city defended by only seven anti-aircraft batteries. By March 1941, Northern Ireland’s minister of public security was close to panic – with some justification.

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Around midnight on Monday 7 April 1941, seven German planes began bombing Belfast targets that had been identified the previous year.

The moon, half-full, enabled the Germans to attack by sight as they flew low, just above the barrage balloons. In half-hour intervals, the Luftwaffe bombed the docks and shipyards with alarming accuracy. The fuselage factory at Harland and Wolff was hit by a parachute mine, destroying 50 Sterling bombers. Incendiary bombs and high explosives also destroyed houses in north and east Belfast. By the time the raid ended at around 3.30am, 13 people had been killed.

William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw”) announced in radio broadcasts from Hamburg that there will be “Easter eggs for Belfast”.

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On Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, spectators watching a football match at Windsor Park noticed a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 aircraft circling overhead.

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That evening up to 200 bombers left their bases in northern France and the Netherlands and headed for Belfast. There were Heinkel He 111s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dorniers. At 10:40 pm the air raid sirens sounded.

Accounts differ as to when flares were dropped to light up the city. The first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired.

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However that attack was not an error. Three vessels nearing completion at Harland and Wolff’s were hit as was its power station. Wave after wave of bombers dropped their incendiaries, high explosives and land-mines. When incendiaries were dropped, the city burned as water pressure was too low for effective firefighting.

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Public buildings destroyed or badly damaged included Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children and Ballymacarrett library, (the last two being located on Templemore Avenue). Strand Public Elementary school, the LMS railway station, the adjacent Midland Hotel on York Road, and Salisbury Avenue tram depot were all hit. Churches destroyed or wrecked included Macrory Memorial Presbyterian in Duncairn Gardens; Duncairn Methodist, Castleton Presbyterian on York Road; St Silas’s on the Oldpark Road; St James’s on the Antrim Road; Newington Presbyterian on Limestone Road; Crumlin Road Presbyterian; Holy Trinity on Clifton Street and Clifton Street Presbyterian; York Street Presbyterian and York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian; Newtownards Road Methodist and Rosemary Street Presbyterian (the last of which was not rebuilt).

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Streets heavily bombed in the city centre included High Street, Ann Street, Callender Street, Chichester Street, Castle Street, Tomb Street, Bridge Street (effectively obliterated), Rosemary Street, Waring Street, North Street, Victoria Street, Donegall Street, York Street, Gloucester Street, and East Bridge Street. In the east of the city, Westbourne and Newcastle Streets on the Newtownards Road, Thorndyke Street off the Albertbridge Road and Ravenscroft Avenue were destroyed or damaged. In the west and north of the city, streets heavily bombed included Percy Street, York Park, York Crescent, Eglinton Street, Carlisle Street, Ballyclare, Ballycastle and Ballynure Streets off the Oldpark Road; Southport Street, Walton Street, Antrim Road, Annadale Street, Cliftonville Road, Hillman Street, Atlantic Avenue, Hallidays Road, Hughenden Avenue, Sunningdale Park, Shandarragh Park, and Whitewell Road. Burke Street which ran between Annadale and Dawson streets in the New Lodge area, was completely wiped off the map with all its 20 houses flattened and all of the occupants killed.

 

There was no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the seven anti-aircraft batteries ceased firing. But the RAF had not responded. The bombs continued to fall until 5am.

Fifty-five thousand houses were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, with some 900 dead, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz.A stray bomber attacked Derry, killing 15. Another attacked Bangor, killing five. By 4 am the entire city seemed to be in flames. At 4.15am John MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, managed to contact Basil Brooke (then Agriculture Minister), seeking permission to seek help from the Irish government. Brooke noted in his diary “I gave him authority as it is obviously a question of expediency”. Since 1.45am all telephones had been cut. Fortunately, the railway telegraphy link between Belfast and Dublin was still operational. The telegram was sent at 4.35am, asking the Irish Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera for assistance.

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For decades now it has been part of unionist and loyalist lore that the then Fianna Fáil government was partly to blame for the Belfast Blitz due to a decision not to black out neutral Irish towns and cities at night.

Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 people were injured, 400 of them seriously. Fifty-thousand houses, more than half the houses in the city, were damaged. Eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools were destroyed.

Bloody Sunday-1972

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Today marks the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday sometimes also referred to as the Bogside Massacre.

Sunday January 30th 1972 started as any other Sunday in Derry but would end with tragedy and a population thrown into a dark backlash of opinion towards the British.

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British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march against internment. Fourteen people died: thirteen were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers and some were shot while trying to help the wounded. Other protesters were injured by rubber bullets or batons, and two were run down by army vehicles.The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The soldiers involved were members of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, also known as “1 Para”.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organised a march to start at 3PM from the Bishops Field area of the Creggan. The march had already been deemed illegal by the British and from previous march’s the police force and the British proved too ruthless against peaceful demonstrators such as the attack on a civil rights march at Burntollet bridge.

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The plan for the march was to walk down Creggan Hill, into William Street and onto the Guildhall Square, in the City Centre area. Over 15,000 people attended the march which proceeded from Creggan. The marchers were singing songs with some describing it as a carnival like event. As they reached the William Street area the British Army had set-up barricades so the march was diverted into the Bogside and towards Free Derry Corner, a small area that  isolated itself from the Northern Ireland state known as as no-go area for the British forces.Despite this, a number of people continued on towards an army barricade where local youths threw stones at soldiers, who responded with a water cannon, CS gas and rubber bullets.

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As the riot began to disperse, soldiers of the 1st Parachute Regiment were ordered to move in and arrest as many of the rioters as possible. In the minutes that followed, some of these paratroopers opened fire on the crowd, killing thirteen men and injuring 13 others, one of whom died some months later.

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A large group of people fled or were chased into the car park of Rossville Flats. This area was like a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by high-rise flats. The soldiers opened fire, killing one civilian and wounding six others.This fatality, Jackie Duddy, was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back.

 

 

While the British Army maintained that its troops had responded after coming under fire, the people of the Bogside saw it as murder. The British government was sufficiently concerned for the Home Secretary to announce the following day an official inquiry into the circumstances of the shootings.

Opinion was further polarised by the findings of this tribunal, led by the British Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery. His report exonerated the army and cast suspicion on many of the victims, suggesting they had been handling bombs and guns. Relatives of the dead and the wider nationalist community campaigned for a fresh public inquiry, which was finally granted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998.

Headed by Lord Saville, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry took 12 years and finally reported in 2010. It established the innocence of the victims and laid responsibility for what happened on the army.

Prime Minister David Cameron called the killings “unjustified and unjustifiable”. The families of the victims of Bloody Sunday felt that the inquiry’s findings vindicated those who were killed, raising the question of prosecutions and compensation.

 

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