Hambone Junior and Company

It’s Remembrance Sunday today – a day for remembering and honouring those who sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom. Since June 6th, I’ve been blogging about Alresford’s memories of the American soldiers who came here to prepare for the D-Day invasion in 1944 and today I’ve compiled a roll of honour for Hambone Junior and Company

Hambone Junior was the mascot of the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division, US Army. He was a ‘brown and white scruffy little terrier’ who lived in their camp in The Dene, Alresford until June 1944. He was accidentally run over by a ‘deuce and a half’ truck as the troops mobilised for D-Day and was buried beside the River Arle, which runs nearby. At first his grave was marked by a wooden memorial, but when that rotted away in 1962 the council replaced it with a proper headstone. Several GIs returned to the town for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, and one of them left flowers on Hambone Junior’s grave with the note, ‘I still remember you, Bill‘.

Wally Weilenbeck  was a soldier who lived in the camp in The Dene. Ann Hone, who lived with her grandparents in The Dene Arms pub during the war, has fond memories of being fed chocolate by the soldiers and given rides in the US Army jeeps with her mother. Wally befriended her family and kindly sent Ann a beautiful doll when he returned safely to the USA. He went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam in the 47th Infantry Regiment – Forest Gump’s regiment in the film of the same name.

Eddy Knasel was a sergeant in the 47th Infantry Regiment. He led a unit of GIs who maintained Sherman tanks in the camp in The Dene. The tanks were delivered by rail to Alresford Station, then after servicing they were lined up along The Avenue, before driving on to the Winchester by-pass and down to Southampton for embarkation. His sons, Eddy Junior and Richard, remember his service in The Battle of The Bulge, Remagen and after the war, he acted as a translator for the military police as they gathered evidence for Nurenberg War trials. Eddy married a local girl, Marjorie Small, and settled here. They are commemorated together in St. Johns churchyard.

Dwight Eisenhower  (Supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe) came to Alresford with Field Marshall Montgomery to inspect the troops along The Avenue. Sybil Philpot remembers standing with the other in Perin’s school to watch. General Eisenhower became the 34th President of the USA after the war.

Omar Bradley  (Commander of all US ground forces invading Germany from the west) visited Northington Grange, which was the US Ninth Army headquarters. Prime Minister Winston Churchill held a planning meeting with General Bradley and General Eisenhower in the ballroom. Jim Smith remembers exploring the HQ at Northington Grange and finding ammunition dumps in the nearby woods at Abbotstone.

Walter Kraft (Captain 47th Infantry Regiment), Elvin Martin (Soldier US Army) and Ambrose Speer (Staff Sergeant US Air Force) are remembered in the Parish registers of St. Johns Church Alresford and St. Nicholas Church Bishop’s Sutton, for they married their sweethearts. Alresford’s GI brides were intrepid girls and travelled as far as Hawaii and Alaska with their husbands after the war.

Joe Louis (Sergeant US Army) was the world heavyweight boxing champion during the war years. He staged exhibition bouts throughout Southern England to entertain and inspire the troops during the build-up to D-Day. Thousands of US soldiers (and one small boy from Cheriton) congregated at Cheesefoot Head to watch him box in April 1944. Joe Louis insisted that black and white soldiers were not segregated in the audience (as they were in the US Army) and became a civil rights campaigner after the war.

Earl Rasmussen, Johnnie Defreitas, Harold Nelson, Danny Forte were US soldiers based in the camp at Tichbourne House. They were good friends to Harold Young, who remembers them going on rigorous marches in training for the conflict to come – and sharing their Chesterfield cigarettes with him on their return. Harold’s wife Pat loved to hear the soldiers singing  their call-and-response cadence as they marched through town. Both Harold and Pat remember the soldiers throwing down their English money for the local kids to pick up as they marched through Broad Street for the last time, on their way to battle.

Many other un-named American soldiers passed through the town during this time, in order to prepare for the biggest amphibious invasion in history. These young men, mostly in the early twenties, could have been daunted by formidable task ahead of them, but Alresford’s memories are simply of their friendliness and generosity at a time when we really needed their help.

Iris Crowfoot

Just messing about on the river

Here’s Big Minnow making friends with Ruby the Labrador, paddling in the river on Saturday. I had to smile at the image when I interviewed Jim Smith that evening, for he was about the same age when he met a soldier by the river in Abbotstone back in 1943.

‘Do you want a trout for your supper, lad?’ the soldier asked.

‘Well, I wasn’t bothered,’ Jim told me. ‘Father worked on the water anyway. But the soldier still threw in a hand-grenade and up the fish came!’

Growing up in Bishop’s Sutton during the war, Jim made the most of the freedom afforded by a lack of grown-ups to tell him off. He sneaked into Northington Grange (headquarters of the US Ninth Division) to look at the oak-panelling and gold-fittings. He explored the brick ammunition dumps in the woods around Abbotstone and survived to tell the tale. And when he crawled through the hedge to get into the army camp in Bishops Sutton, they invited him to dinner.

‘They lived like kings and they shared it. They would put a plate out for me, whenever they ate.’

Little Jim was also an entrepreneur: he started with two chickens (Henny-Penny who laid one egg a day and Henny-Tuppence who laid two) and sold their eggs to the cook-house at 6/- a dozen. When he expanded his flock, he was given wooden boxes from the camp to recycle into a new henhouse.

The army camp at Bishop’s Sutton was a rest camp: many different units came here to recover for a few weeks before going out into the war zone. First the black Americans, then the white Americans, then the Canadians passed through. After the war, each family in the village received a big tin of cocoa from a Canadian unit which had stayed there. Later, Jim managed to get hold of a box of paints and a sketch pad to paint this map of the camp between Water Lane and Bishop’s Sutton Road from memory (Water Lane is at the bottom).

bishopssuttoncamp

But that was enough of military logistics, I wanted to ask Jim the million-dollar question. ‘Did the Bishop’s Sutton soldiers have a mascot like Hambone Junior, the dog who lived in the camp in The Dene?’

‘No, they didn’t need one,’ he replied. ‘They had me!’

Iris Crowfoot and Jim Smith

Does anyone still remember Bill?

Photograph courtesy of Winchester City Council: Hampshire Record Office: W/C35/5/18

I found this archive photo of Hambone Junior’s grave in Alresford. It’s tucked away in a manilla folder in the Hampshire Record Office. I believe it may show two of Hambone Junior’s comrades who returned to the town in June 1994 to commemorate the 50th Annivesary of D-Day.

The clues I have about their story are:

  • Alex Hankin recorded the following in the Wessex Film and Sound Archive in 1999:

‘The dog was run over by a military truck and died. It was buried where the memorial stands, and flowers were always left. When the wooden cross rotted away, the Alresford community decided to erect a small memorial stone. On the 50th Anniversary of D-Day a bunch of flowers arrived with a note: “I still remember you, Bill.”. Alex does not know who left the flowers and message.’

  • Hambone’s headstone was unveiled by the American Vice Consul in Southampton in 1962, and so the photograph must have been taken later than that.
  • Photographs of the D-Day commemoration event in Broad Street, 5th June 1994, which was organised by the Alresford Chamber of Commerce. Local people have told me that they remember some of the original GIs returning to the town to participate.

Does anyone recognise either of the men in this photograph? Anyone remember a GI called Bill coming back to Alresford? It would be great to identify Hambone Junior’s comrades in time for Veterans Day next Friday – great to be able to say, ‘We still remember you Bill!’

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

Memories of Mr Alex Hankin recorded 22/09/1999, Wessex Film and Sound Archive

Alresford Museum Photograph Gallery, D-Day Commemoration 1994

Tanks on the Winchester bypass – an update

Churchill Mk IV tanks in storage on the Winchester by-pass in Hampshire, in readiness for the invasion of Europe, 16 May 1944 © IWM (H 38510)

I couldn’t resist posting this picture when I found it in the Imperial War Museums online collection – and I’ve uncovered a snippet about further liberties taken with the Winchester bypass. Before the D-Day invasion, the War Office politely asked Hampshire County Council for permission to use one carriageway of the bypass as a parking space for tanks. But by February 1945, both carriageways were being used in places and workshops had been built beside and on top of the road. The Country Surveyor, Brigadier “Archie” Hughes, was summoned to a meeting at the War Office (presuambly after he had complained about this state of affairs) and was informed that £30 000 had been spent on the workshops, hutments and camp equipment and the senior officers who had been party to the agreement were serving in France and therefore unavailable for questioning. ‘Quit whining’ in other words. The M3 smart motorway roadworks seem tame in comparison!

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

Echoes of the Winchester bypass from 70 years ago

Imperial War Museum Photographs

 Hampshire’s Highways Under Military Occupation, Malcolm Walford

The GI who married a local girl, and stayed in Alresford

‘It was almost unbelievable, to think of Dad in the Ordnance Corps – he just wasn’t a practical person.’ Both Eddy Knasel’s sons remembered this. ‘He couldn’t even change the oil in the car, when we were growing up!’ Nevertheless, Sergeant J. Edward Knasel spent his working hours supervising a team of GIs maintaining Sherman tanks in the US Army camp in The Dean, Alresford. He was 24 at the time, a bit older than most, and he had completed more of his education – perhaps that was why he was given more responsibility.

In his spare time, Eddy went to a tea dance organised by Winifred Small at the Alresford Community Centre. ‘Who’s that pretty girl over there?’ he asked Winifred, ‘I’d like a dance with her’.  ‘You have to ask me first, she’s my daughter,’ Winfred replied and thus Eddy was introduced to Marjorie Small, usherette at the Civic Cinema. The rest is history – Eddy and Marje were married in Winchester in November 1945.

Between meeting Marje and marrying her, Eddy had an eventful war. Afterwards, he suffered from claustrophobia and always blamed this on von Rundstedt, the German Commander in Chief in the West. The 47th Infantry Regiment fought in The Battle of the Bulge, from December 1944 to January 1945. As the battle lines moved back and forth through the snowy Ardennes forest, Eddy became separated from his team and had to hide behind enemy lines. He didn’t talk about it much to his family, but explained that his claustrophobia had been triggered by the sheer hell of being in a foxhole for days on end. I shuddered when I looked up ‘foxhole’ in Wikipedia – by 1944 it was a vertical, bottle-shaped hole that allowed a soldier to stand and fight with his head and shoulders exposed. The foxhole widened near the bottom to allow the soldier to crouch down whilst under fire.

Eddy was reunited with his team after two days and went on to fight at Remargen in February 1945, as part of the relief troops who came up after the taking of the Ludendorff Bridge. A fictionalised account of the capture of this bridge, one of the last two remaining which crossed the river Rhine into Germany, is given in the 1969 film The Bridge at Remagen.

After Eddy and Marje were married, they moved to Esslingen in Germany. Their younger son, Richard, explained to me that Eddy spoke some German and worked as a translator for the Military Police as they gathered evidence for the Nuremberg war trials – another chilling experience.

After Esslingen, the couple travelled back to his family home in Kentucky. Marje couldn’t settle there, but Eddy remembered how friendly the people were over here and so they returned to England after six months. They lived in London at first. Eddy studied for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the London School of Economics and went on to work in Industrial Relations at the US Embassy. Marje had a visceral feeling that Alresford was her home and so the family moved back in 1958. Eddy worked in finance for SCATS and BOC, their sons went to The Dean School, Alresford and had a typical Hampshire childhood – except for wonderful memories of times spent in hillbilly country and flying over for Christmas in a US Airforce plane, stopping in Iceland on the way!

eddyand-marjegoldenwedding

The photo above is of Eddy and Marje celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in 1995. Sadly, they have both passed away and are commemorated together in St. John’s churchyard. Their older son, also called Eddy, says, ‘There’s a nice view from where they are – on one of the walls between the church and the path down to where the Civic Cinema used to be.’

Iris Crowfoot, Eddy and Richard Knasel

Further information on the 47th Infantry Regiment battles in 1944

Prior to the Battle of the Bulge, the 47th Infantry Regiment was positioned in the town of Schevenhutte, in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany for 2 months. From here they advanced further into Germany, and also fought for an old castle, the Frenzerburg Castle in November 1944. Private Sheridan of the 47th Infantry Regiment was mortally wounded during this battle, but received the Medal of Honor for his actions here.

After the 47th Infantry Regiment took the Castle, they were pulled off the front line to get some ‘rest’. Their ‘rest’ however, would be the Battle of the Bulge.

Yuri Beckers

Operation War Bride

‘She had a baby by one of the soldiers. Mum followed up, but they shuffled the chap away somewhere else.’

That’s a line I’ve heard several times whilst researching ‘Hambone Junior and Company’. It would have been a familiar tale near any American Army base during WW2. The US Army did not want its soldiers distracted by romance, and particularly discouraged marriage. ‘Don’t Promise Her Anything – Marriage Outside the U.S. Is Out’, ran a headline in the armed forces magazine Yank in July 1942.

It’s a testament to the love and determination of the three Alresford GI Brides (Audrey Kraft, Lillian Speer and Phyllis Martin) and their husbands, that they managed to get married at all. To get permission to wed, the prospective bride had to allow the American Red Cross to visit her home, interview her relatives and compile a character report. Meanwhile, in the USA, they would seek the approval of the groom’s father and check the groom’s bank savings to ensure that he would be able to support a wife. After this, the groom’s commanding officer had to approve the application and often did his best to persuade the soldier to change his mind.

Even after their weddings – and the groom surviving the battles in Normandy, Germany, Belgium and Central Europe which followed – the couples had a long wait and more hurdles to overcome before they were reunited. Audrey travelled independently to New York by plane in February 1946, but Lillian and Phyllis (and their babies) travelled as Army dependents in ‘Operation War Bride’ later that year. They went to the Tidworth processing camp on Salisbury Plain. There they slept in large dormitories, were fed by disgruntled German and Italian prisoners of war and subjected to humiliating medical exams. ‘You may not like the conditions here,’ one group was told, ‘but remember, no one asked you to come.’ Lillian and Phyllis toughed out the processing and went on to Southampton to board the nursery ships which would take them across the Atlantic. Lillian and baby Angela sailed on SS Marine Flasher, a former troop ship. Phyllis and baby Brian sailed on the US Army Transport Henry Gibbins, pictured above.

Imagine the hugs in New York, when the husbands met their wives and children five days later! But the passenger manifests show that although Angela and Brian were received as USA nationals, their mothers were not. I’ve found Lillian’s Petition for Naturalization in 1957. By then, she had lived in Long Beach California, Honolulu Hawaii, San Antonio Texas and returned to California – and had five more children. Audrey’s Petition for Naturalization makes interesting reading, too. It was filed in Kodiak, Alaska, where she was living in 1952. Who would have guessed these intrepid Alresford girls would travel so far, when their families waved them off in 1946?

 

Sources

British War Brides Faced own battles During the 1940s Los Angeles Times

 

 

Where did all our trees go?

I took a scenic route into Alresford this afternoon – along the A272 and up through Cheriton. The trees were just turning colour and I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of shiny conkers as I walked along Sun Lane. ‘There used to be far more trees around Alresford and Tichbourne,’ Maurice Russell used to reminisce. ‘They were all cut down for the war effort.’ But was this nostalgia, or the germ of an interesting story?

I’ve written about the ‘hards’ constructed at Lepe for the launching of the invasion forces in Operation Seashell , and I’ve discovered since that the construction project for D-Day also included the roads leading up to the embarkation points. In December 1943, the County Surveyor received instructions to widen the A32 to Droxford, the A272 to Winchester and a huge amount of road improvements in the New Forest and Hambledon area – all to be finished by 1st May 1944. What would a modern project manager do? Say it couldn’t possibly be done and negotiate an extension, of course. The County Surveyor must have objected, for the deadline was moved out – a meagre fortnight to 15th May.

Considerable areas of land had to be acquired very quickly and it is the land beside the A272 that interests me. The gardens of six cottages at Cheriton were ‘gifted’ to the project and two more at Bramdean, garage frontage at West Meon, arable land, pasture and copses were compulsorily purchased. The front gardens, farm hedges and fields were cut back and re-fenced and mature trees were sadly felled to allow the military convoys through without obstruction. The council widened the road to 22 feet (to allow for 2-way traffic), improved junctions and built refuges for broken-down vehicles (which became lay-bys like the one I photographed above). In some places the road had to be reinforced to take the weight of the tanks (a Sherman weighs over 31 tons). It seems that Maurice’s memory served him well.

Who was doing all this hard labour? Most of the young, able-bodied men of Hampshire were serving in the forces, after all. Women joined the road crews, as well as older labourers whose work was now considered to be of national importance. As D-Day approached, convoys from the training camps converged towards the Marshalling Areas, their tracked vehicles scouring the road surfaces as they changed direction, and gangs of road workers were on hand to shovel material back into the holes. After D-Day, security restrictions were relaxed, and Italian prisoners of war joined the teams repairing our roads. And as we know, there were no major delays in getting the vehicles, soldiers and materiel to the embarkation points, either on D-Day or in the months which followed – all credit to the Hampshire County Surveyor and the men and women who worked for him.

This story may explain the trees lost along our highways, but does anyone have memories they can share of other trees felled ‘for the war effort’?

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

Hampshire’s Highways Under Military Occupation, Malcolm Walford

From skateboards to cycles to trailers to Sherman tanks…

I photographed Big Minnow skate-boarding down Pound Hill this afternoon, in front of a terrace of fine brick and flint cottages, which were workshops during the early 20th century. He’s just passed a modern brick garage building with a green door: this was the site of a bicycle repair shop in 1900 (see the photo in Alresford Heritage). By the time Hambone Junior and Company arrived in 1943, the cycle shop belonged to Dudley Grace, and Derry and Stan Warwick were working for him, welding vehicles and trailers in the flint workshop next door.

Hambone’s comrades included teams of GIs who were assembling and waterproofing Sherman tanks in The Dean, then testing them in the river. And when they departed in June 1944, as well as leaving parcels and coins for the children (‘The Cricketers’), they left engineering tools and equipment which benefitted local businesses. The Warwick brothers bought Dudley’s business in 1956 and grew it into Warwick Trailers, the international company based in The Dean today. The present owner, Chris Jones, is Derry Warwick’s son-in-law. He recalls that the original trailer colour was grey, because of the copious amounts of military grey paint available after the war, and that jeeps were still being used to move the trailers around the factory yard in the 1960s!

Sources

Many people have helped me piece together this week’s post: Richard Knasel, Chris Jones, Ann Hone and Godfrey Andrews, thank you!

‘The Cricketers’ always sold out by Tuesday when the soldiers were here

Here’s a photo of a group of American servicemen, stationed at Tichbourne Park, which was taken outside ‘The Cricketers’ pub in Spring 1944. Godfrey Andrews has kindly given me permission to reproduce it from Alresford Heritage and provided a newspaper cutting which explains that these GIs, who played on Alresford golf course, included US professional Tony La Mana (kneeling, third from left).

I showed it to Harold Young when I interviewed him last week, and the photo reminded him of how the soldiers would drink ‘The Cricketers’ dry by Tuesday. Harold’s family were farmers near Tichbourne Park and when Harold saw the servicemen moving in there, he wasted no time in going over to see them. The man on the gate asked him whether he knew anyone who could provide flat irons and coathangers for the soldiers to press their uniforms. 11 year-old Harold took some of his mother’s over, and that was how he became introduced to four gentlemen billeted at Tichbourne House. Earl Rasmussen from Illinois, Johnnie Defreitas, Harold Nelson and Danny Forte became firm friends of his. Earl started going with Harold’s sister Betty, and Danny the military cook would visit Harold’s family bringing steaks for their dinner and upside down cake for afters. The boy spent days in the camp watching the soldiers training and had breakfast, dinner and evening meal in the mess room with them. He also discovered he rather liked Chesterfield cigarettes. He remembers the soldiers going out on rigorous marches and complaining roundly when they got back. Harold’s wife Pat, who also grew up in Alresford, loved hearing them sing as they marched through the town – how their call-and-response marching cadence must have echoed through our Georgian streets.

I described how the 47th Infantry Regiment built a pool across Drove Lane for testing their amphibious vehicles in Driving Alligators Along a Sheep Track. Harold and Pat told me more about the preparation that went on in the River Arle where it crosses Drove Lane: the soldiers built a landing stage there so that every platoon could practice getting out of a landing craft and wading through the river to the other side.

Historical records tell that the 47th Regiment left Alresford on 3rd June for Hursley Camp, and moved down through Southampton to Utah Beach by the 10th. Harold and Pat’s memories add that quite a few ladies were crying at the camp gate and that the soldiers were throwing their money down for the local kids to pick up as they marched through along Broad Street for the last time. Harold didn’t accept their money, for he was crying too. The soldiers’ kindnesses carried on after they left: one hid his bike for Harold to find and another told him there was a parcel waiting for him in the back room with the water storage at Tichborne Park. When Harold retrived it, he found all sorts of useful gifts, including a pair of brown American boots which his father wore for years.

After the war, families went to live in the huts in Titchbourne Park. Betty continued writing to Earl Rasmussen’s family and they sent over a Christmas parcel in 1944. But the correspondence fizzled out and Harold told me that he has been wondering for more than 70 years whether Earl, Johnnie, Harold and Danny survived the European campaign.

I logged onto Ancestry.com when I got home. I checked the list of the 390 soldiers of the 47th Infantry Regiment who died between 1943 and 1945, and thankfully, none of Harold’s friends names were on it. If I’ve traced them correctly, all four lived on to a ripe old age back home in America.

Iris Crowfoot, Harold and Pat Young

Over-paid, over-sexed and over here

The only thing I remember about the Yanks in Alresford was that they were ‘over paid, over sexed and over here’
Len Strong’s comment on Shirley the American Doll reminded me that the Alresford men who had been fighting for four years by the time the GIs arrived probably had a very different point of view from the women and children.
John Keegan described the arrival of the GIs in the West Country in 1943 like this – ‘How different they looked from our own jumble-sale champions, beautifully clothed in smooth khaki as fine in cut and quality as a British officer’s – an American private, we confided to each other at school, was paid as much as a British captain, major, colonel – and armed with glistening, modern, automatic weapons.’
Keegan’s book also brings to mind the 47th Infantry Regiment’s vehicles ‘buzzing nimbly about the lanes on independent errands like the beach buggies of an era still thirty years ahead, tiny and entrancing jeeps, caparisoned with whiplash aerials and sketchy canvas hoods’ and decked with optional extras like deep-treaded spare tyres, winches, towing cables and fire extinguishers. (Pike took the photograph above of this jeep, bristling with accessories, at Alresford Station during War on the Line in June.)
There was clearly plenty of scope for friction between the Americans and British. As they crossed the Atlantic, American servicemen were issued a pamphlet which warned them that ‘the first and major duty Hitler has given his propaganda chiefs is to separate Britain and America and spread distrust between them.’ They were told the British dislike bragging and showing off. ‘They won’t think any better of you for throwing your money around and the British “Tommy” is apt to be specially touchy about the difference between his wages and yours.’ The pamphlet told them that ‘Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you… the houses haven’t been painted because factories are not making paint – they’re making planes … The British people are anxious for you to know that in normal times Britain looks much prettier, cleaner, neater.’ The GIs were explicitly told not to rub a Britisher up the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.”
But many people who were slow to welcome the GIs missed them when they left. In 1944 A. P. Herbert wrote this poem:

Goodbye GI. Bud, now you know the way,
Come back and see us on a brighter day.
When England’s free and ‘Scotch’ is cheap but strong
And you can bring your pretty wives along.

Goodbye GI. Don’t leave us quite alone.
Somewhere in England we must write in stone
How Britain was invaded by the Yanks,
And under that, a big and hearty ‘Thanks.’

Iris Crowfoot

Sources
Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris June 6th-August 25th 1944, John Keegan
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, War Department, Washington

‘Over Here’ The GIs in wartime Britain, Juliet Gardiner