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.