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

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

The Ninth Division Boys

‘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

Shirley the American Doll

‘Shirley was unlike any British doll,’ Ann remembers, ‘They were all baby dolls. But Shirley had long, slim legs, a beautiful dress and long, red hair. She was like a forebear of Barbie dolls.’ G.I. Wally Weilenbeck sent her the doll when he returned to the USA after the war. Here she is, being hugged by Ann, who is standing between her Mum and Dad. When Dad was called up to fight in the war, Ann and her Mum went to live with her grandparents in Alresford.

As I explained in HQs, billets and campsites, there was a 47th Infantry Regiment  camp in The Dean, where the mobile home site is nowadays. Ann’s grandpa was the landlord of ‘The Dean Arms’, only a few doors down the road, and because it had a piano in the bar ‘with things like Home on the Range‘ it was inevitable that the GIs acquired a taste for warm English beer and spent much of their time there. The garden behind the pub backed onto their campsite and so four-year-old Ann, her Mum and Grandma could visit the cookhouse without setting foot on the road. ‘It was so exciting,’ she said, ‘Going off and eating food you’d never tasted before. They filled me up with chocolate until I was sick.’ Ann also remembers eating ring donuts and having a thing about their butterscotch pudding. Ann put me right about the location of the cookhouse. The present brick building on the mobile home park wasn’t built until after the war, she explained. I was right about Hambone Junior living there though. She remembers seeing Hambone on a number of occasions, but unfortunately can’t visualise him.

Ann remembers riding the short distance into Alresford with the soldiers in their jeep – ‘The Americans never walked if they could drive somewhere!’ and they took her and her Mum on a trip into Winchester on one occasion. That was a wonderful treat, because few civillians owned cars in those days, and no-one could get the fuel to drive them during the war.

Ann’s Mum kept up her correspondence with Wally Weilenbeck and his family until the 1970s. Ann showed me her cherished photos of Wally, his wife, and their three children – and if by chance you are reading this post Dottie, Carl or Joe, your dad’s friend Ann would love to hear from you again.

Iris Crowfoot and Ann Hone (nee Springer)

HQs, billets and campsites

This house was

the headquarters

of

the 47th Infantry Regt.

9th Division

United States Army

1943 to D-Day 6th June 1944

reads the plaque beside the hanging basket of flowers. The officers who lived and worked here must have been delighted to occupy this beautiful Georgian house for a few months. But what about the other ranks  – where did they live?

There was a camp of pre-fabricated huts where the mobile home park in The Dean is today. The GIs would have called them ‘Quonset huts’. The brick-built office is believed to have been the American cook house, and I think Hambone Junior must have known it well. Firstly, he was named after one of the army cooks and secondly, he was run over by a truck in The Dean. Let’s hope he enjoyed plenty of titbits whilst he lived there.

The Old Post House (Broad Street), the Old Perins Building (Shapla Tandoori), the offices over Wessex Pharmacy and parts of The Sun (now a private house in East Street) were also requisitioned.

Further out of town, Titchbourne Park was a major hutted camp, as was The Grange at Northington. A friend has told me that officers from the camp at Northington were billeted in the cottages at Abbotstone. The Grange itself was the headquarters of the 9th Division. On 24th March 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill held a meeting with General Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley in the ballroom at The Grange – only the best Greek Revival architecture for the top brass.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources