Some time ago the Whitehead and Islandmagee Methodist Men’s Group had a talk given by Guy Warner from Greenisland. Guy had written a book about the Royal Naval Airships during the First World War. Much of the information in this short piece is taken from that book “Airships over Ulster”, published by Colourpoint, but the book not only provides an interesting history of a part of that conflict about which little had ever been written but also provides an interesting link to one of our church members, Miss Vera Girvan.
During the early months of the Great War attacks on warships of the Royal Navy by submarines or “U-boats” of the Imperial German Navy concentrated on the Grand Fleet in waters around the Orkney Islands or along the east coast of Scotland. However in 1915 the area of hostile action began to spread into the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The waters between Scotland and Northern Ireland were vital to any ship using the Western Approaches and this is where the U-boats had their hunting ground. When completely submerged the U-boat was, in those days virtually undetectable, but one of the most successful ways to detect a submerged U-boat at periscope depth was by the distinctive wake left on the surface by the periscope and the best way to see this was from the air. That job of detection and surveillance was given to the Royal Naval Air Service using airships operating initially from Luce Bay in Scotland but an emergency landing station was created just outside Whitehead at Bentra, roughly where the Jubilee Wood is now situated and was used throughout the war.
After the war the buildings at Bentra were left behind and became holiday homes, though some became permanent homes until the 1950’s. It was in one of these buildings that Vera Girvan’s parents, William and Elizabeth, began their married life in 1921/22 and where Vera’s oldest brother Lexy was born. Vera has provided photos of her family in front of one of those buildings to Guy Warner and these are included in his book with a grateful acknowledgement to Vera.
Listen to Radio Ulster’s recording of Guy Warner talking about the airships…