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

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!

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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

‘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

Ike and Monty came to Alresford

‘General Eisenhower and Montgomery inspected the troops along The Avenue,’ Sybil casually mentioned whilst I was inteviewing her a couple of weeks ago. I nearly dropped my pen in suprise – I’d read about General Eisenhower’s (Ike’s) famous address to the massed allied troops at Cheesefoot Head, but had no idea that he’d come into Alresford with Field Marshall Montgomery (Monty) as well. ‘Did you see them?’ I asked.

‘I can remember them standing in the back of a jeep, driving along. Us kids went and stood in Perins to watch,’ she replied. ‘Tanks were parked all along The Avenue about June 4th, June 5th 1944, just before they moved off.’

I asked Pike to take the peaceful photo above of The Avenue, Alresford last night. Can you imagine what Sybil saw – Ike’s ‘well-formed head and jaw showing great will’ and ‘the keen, clenched face of Montgomery, the British field commander, who is now engaged in one of the most detailed inspections of the invasion troops ever undertaken by a modern general’ as they were driven along this road, surveying the tanks and soldiers lined up between the trees?

Iris Crowfoot and Sybil Philpot

Source

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)

Bursting through Utah Beach

We couldn’t resist visiting the Utah Beach D-Day Museum on our way home from our holiday in France this summer, to see where Hambone Junior’s comrades  landed after they crossed The Channel on D-Day+4.

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Little Minnow had a go at controlling a LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), which would have deposited an entire platoon of soldiers onto the beach in 1944

 

 

IMG_7545_LRI spotted an Alligator (Landing Vehicle Tracked)

 

 

 

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and a DUCKW which I recently blogged about in my post on Driving Alligators along a Sheep Track

 

 

 

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and Big Minnow contemplated this ‘Deuce-and-a-Half’ (2 and half ton) truck. 5,958 of these vehicles supplied about 12,500 tons of materiel per day in ‘The Red Ball Express’ to the Allied Divisions as they swept through Northern France.

 

 

Sadly, a ‘Deuce-and-a half’ ran poor Hambone Junior over just before the 47th Regiment left Alresford.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

You Tube World War II – Red Ball Express

The Utah Beach D-Day Museum

Staging a spectacle at Cheesefoot Head

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Pike took this photograph on Monday evening, as we walked by Cheesefoot Head. This natural ampitheatre is being prepared to welcome tens of thousands of people to the Boomtown Festival 2016, which starts tomorrow. And if we had walked the same way in April 1944 we probably would have witnessed a similar scene, for Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber”, heavyweight champion of the world, was fighting an exhibition bout to entertain the GIs here. Tens of thousands of American servicemen were trucked into watch, and one lucky boy from Cheriton named Jim Butler got to go along with them.

Jim Butler remembered that kids were everywhere in the American camps around Alresford, scrounging food, watching open-air film shows and learning how to play baseball. He must have jumped at his chance to see the big fight. Sgt. Joe Louis and his boxing troupe were touring the British Isles from March to June 1944, helping soldiers develop their boxing skills, refereeing countless boxing contests between the troops and fighting exhibition bouts. The records of exactly where Joe Louis fought, and when, are sketchy. The most likely items in his 1944 exhibition list are:

  • Apr 19 – [fought] George Nicholson [in] “A Western town”, Eng Exh
  • Apr 22 – [fought] George Nicholson [in] A Southwest town”, Eng Exh 2 — Freddie Mills referee’

No wonder these records are ambiguous – if the enemy had got wind of these huge gatherings of soldiers there would have been hell to pay. By taking the risk and allowing these mass gatherings to go ahead, General Eisenhower made the soldiers aware of the sheer scale of the operation that lay ahead, as well as entertaining them.

Life Magazine announced that the tour was “also a quiet parable in racial good will, for hard-working Joe makes a good impression and hundreds of white soldiers, officers and men, are proud to shake his hand”. In fact, the armed forces of the United States were segregated throughout World War II. Joe Louis recalled that black American soldiers couldn’t “sleep in the same barracks as the white guys or go to the movies or hardly get in officer’s training.” Initially, the army planned to segregate boxing exhibitions by having the Joe Louis troupe fight before only one race at a time or else having the black troops sit at the rear. “Hell, whites and blacks were all fighting the same war” Joe Louis wrote, “why couldn’t their morale be lifted at the same theatre?” He refused to go along with segregated exhibitions and won the argument: young Jim Butler would have sat on the sloping grass banks at Cheesefoot Head as part of a racially integrated audience. As Joe Louis put it, they had a “common enemy – Nazi Germany. All those guys there could relate to that.”

Iris Crowfoot

 

Sources: