Mount Stewart, Newtownards, Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert Airfield
Lord Londonderry, cousin of Winston Churchill and a former Secretary of State for Air, flew to Berlin in 1936 attempting, in vain, to reason with Hitler and other senior Nazis. Later in the year Lord Londonderry welcomed to his home German ambassador Joachim Von Ribbentrop, who landed at Newtownards along with several SS soldiers. A striking 18 inch Meissen statue of a helmeted SS stormtrooper holding a flag is a reminder of the visit. Whilst not a Nazi sympathiser, Londonderry’s futile crusade meant that he was ever afterwards classified as an appeaser and he lost favour with Churchill.
In the grounds of the estate, some of the trees bear carvings that appear to have been made by soldiers and airmen stationed in the grounds during the Second World War. One carving looks to have been by a Royal Air Force airman in 1940, while another reads ‘Victory is Ours, RAF’. There were three active airfields across the Borough in the Second World War, o which Newtownards is still commercially operational today.
In April 1941, 13 young soldiers (one aged just 16) from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were killed in a German air raid on the site. The airfields on this side of Northern Ireland mostly housed fighter and training squadrons. Limited ruins can also be seen at Ballywalter, while runway lighting and control tower remains can be found at Ballyhalbert. There are also memorials to individual airmen killed in accidents. Training flights took place along Strangford Lough and if walking there today you may still find spent shells from these aircraft on the shore.