In February 1942 the United States Navy established its first base on this side of the Atlantic, on the banks of the River Foyle in Londonderry.
Ships there were to play a crucial role in North Atlantic operations. The sailors were soon joined by the United States Marines who were ordered in to provide security for America’s new military in the North of Ireland. One fear was that the naval base could be attached by German commandoes landed by submarine or by subversives from neutral Ireland, south of the nearby border.
Around 750 Marines found themselves guarding the Navy base and various other vitally important installations in the area. They became known as ‘The Irish Marines’ and they were billeted in the grounds of the Beech Hill estate, the men living in Quonset huts, officers in the house itself.
While they were here the Marines formed warm and lasting friendships with local people. Many married girls from Londonderry and the Beech Hill-United States Marines Association that was formed then is still active today. Every year groups of Marines from America and Europe visit Beech Hill to learn about the men who came before them in World War 2. Serving Marines who come here today uphold a tradition that started around 70 years ago when many of their wartime predecessors carved their names on a tree deep down in our woods. Initials and dates are still visible on the trunk of what is now known as 'The Marines Tree'.