‘The Ninth Division Boys – that’s what we called them. They were the older, more battle-hardened troops in the Alresford area. They all congregated in one of the houses in Broad Street.’ Sybil Philpot was telling me about the soldiers stationed at the 47th Infantry Regiment HQ, photographed in HQs, billets and campsites. She befriended one of them when he sat in the pew in front of her at St. John’s Church one Sunday. 14 year-old Sybil opened a prayer book for him and showed him the way through the service. He came to church regularly after that and Sybil and her family got to know ‘Buck’ the American soldier very well.
Buck used to stay with Sybil’s family, in their home at her father’s clockmaker and jeweller’s shop in East Street, whenever he was on leave. For a treat, he would take Sybil to the tiny Civic Cinema on Station Road (there are some photos of the cinema on the Alresford Memories website). At first, the cinema manager got the wrong idea and said he wanted a word with her. ‘I understand you are here with an American soldier,’ he said. ‘You are too young.’
‘My parents are quite aware of it,’ Sybil replied. ‘This soldier is a family friend and he’s coming to tea with us after.’ The manager checked up with Sybil’s Dad afterwards to make quite sure all was above board. As Ann Hone explained to me when I was writing Shirley the American Doll last week, older people really looked out for the young ones in those days.
One day, Buck took several letters from his wife, Ruth, out of his pocket. Sybil could see that he hadn’t even read them, let alone replied – he was a terrible correspondent – and so she offered to write to Ruth on his behalf. Sybil and Ruth went on to exchange letters regularly until the end of the war, and the last letter was the good news that he was all right and had returned home safely.
I suggested to Sybil that we could try to trace Buck’s family through the internet, if she wanted. We could find out what happened after he went home. After a moment’s reflection, she said no. Wisely, she has decided to keep her memories of that special time just as they are.
Iris Crowfoot and Sybil Philpot
Photograph – St. John the Baptist Church, New Alresford