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