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

Driving alligators along a sheep track

I thought I heard bleating as I walked up Drove Lane last week: it was easy to imagine ghostly sheep filling the lane around me on their way to the Alresford Sheep Fair. And no wonder – shepherds and their dogs have been driving Hampshire sheep along that track since the middle ages. Harder to imagine though, was the use the GIs put the lane to in 1944.

The 9th Infantry Division were the US Army experts in amphibious warfare: they had already invaded the beaches of French Morocco and Sicily before they arrived in Hampshire. Alresford, with its branching streams and lakes, was the perfect location for the 47th Regiment to prepare themselves for the biggest amphibious invasion in history. On the map above, you’ll notice that Drove Lane crosses a branch of the River Arle, and it was here that the American soldiers dammed the trout stream to build a deep vehicle testing pool beside the bridge. (I’ve read they did some grenade fishing there, too.)

I’ve found three amphibious vehicles listed in service with the US Amy in 1944: the famous DUKW (Duck), a 6×6 wheeled armoured truck; the LV-2/LV-4 (Alligator/Water Buffalo), a tracked landing vehicle; and the M29 (Water Weasel), a personnel carrier. Wouldn’t it have been extraordinary to see these creatures being driven along the lanes of Alresford on their way to have their water-proofing tested? I just hope Hambone Junior liked swimming.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

Alresford Heritage, photgraph R003 – sheep being driven along West Street

The Mobile Riverine Force – Army 9th Infantry Division

Military Combat Tanks

Alresford Around D-Day 6th June 1944, Colin Metcalfe

Alresford’s GI Brides

The air-conditioned reading room of the Hampshire Record Office was an inviting place yesterday afternoon. I had a good excuse to go in there out of the boiling sun, too – I could check the Hampshire marriage registers for the 1940s to see whether any of Hambone Junior’s comrades married their sweethearts.

Scrolling through the microfilms of the Alresford parish registers was a moving experience. I could see the dairymen, farm labourers and watercressers who were the grooms of 1939, become the Royal Marines, Commandos and RAF of the early 1940s. The brides’ records changed too – previously empty spinster’s occupation columns  now were filled with ‘WAAF’ or ‘WRNS’. From May 1945, there was a surge in soldiers, sailors and airmen getting wed as peace was celebrated in Europe. I was pleased to find that Captain Walter Olton Kraft (24) of the 47th Regiment married spinster Audrey Elisabeth Tope (27) of ‘The Lawns’ Alresford at St Johns Church on May 5th 1945. Walter had won the Silver Star for gallantary in action against the enemy in Germany in November 1944 – he must have been feted as a hero when he returned. Audrey and Walter settled in California.

On December 22nd 1945, Ambrose Speer (24), Staff Sergeant US Air Force, married Alresford farmer’s daughter Lillian Margaret Thatcher (19) at St Johns Church. Ambrose went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam. The couple settled in California, had three children and I found a record of Lillian’s funeral in Hollywood Hills which showed she lived to be 96.

I scanned the marriage registers of the surrounding villages, too. There seems to have been a shotgun wedding at St. Nicholas Church, Bishops Sutton on 6th May 1944 (D-Day!) Soldier Elvin James Martin (28) married Phyllis Mary Butcher (18). Their son, Brian Martin, was born in October 1944, whilst his Dad would still have been fighting in Germany. After the war, the family settled in Minersville, Pennsylvania and little Brian grew up to be a Lance Corporal in the US Marine Corps.

By 1946, the parish records show that the spinsters of Alresford were marrying bachelor fruit salesmen, butchers and tractor drivers – the American soldiers had left, taking dreams of glamour with them, and the girls were settling for a quiet life in a rural market town again.

Sources:

Hampshire Record Office

Ambrose Speer

Brian Martin

Elvin Martin

Lillian Speer (nee Thatcher) obituary

Walter Kraft Silver Star

Operation Sea Shell

‘What are these lovely shells, Mum?’ Little Minnow held out a hinged pair to me, as we walked along the tide line of Lepe beach on Saturday. ‘Clams – they’re bi-valves,’ I said, not really concentrating. He looked confused. ‘You need two of them, working together, to protect the fragile creature inside.’ That was better. He scuttled off to probe the tide-wrack for some more.

We were walking past the bollards used to tie the ships up as they were loaded for the invasion in 1944. Big Minnow jaywalked along a groyne, pointing out an oil tanker turning into Southampton Water on its way to the Fawley refinery. Fawley was used as a storage depot during WWII: bomb-proof underground pipelines were used to supply airfields throughout the south of England. Little Minnow held out a palm full of shells to show Big and he jumped down to pick up more for the collection.

Looking over the fence running behind the beach, we saw gas pipeline signs snaking through the nature reserve. These give a clue to Fawley’s other great contribution to the war effort – preventing the invasion from being stalled by fuel shortages. Petroleum tankers would have been bombed by the Luftwaffe if they tried to dock in French ports and so the Pipe Line Under The Ocean (PLUTO) was developed. US tankers could unload their fuel at Fawley instead. PLUTO took it from Lepe across the Solent (15 minutes by windsurfer in the stiff breeze last Saturday), on to a pumping station on the Isle of Wight, and 70 miles across the Channel to Cherbourg. ‘Our pockets are full,’ whinged the minnows. ‘Can we put some shells in yours?’

Meanwhile, Pike was having a wonderful time photographing concrete tetrahedrons – winching gear bases for the Mulberry Harbour components constructed at Lepe – casting their geometric shadows along the shingle. Hardening mats, used to strengthen the beach to take the weight of the tanks and other vehicles being driven onto the landing craft, created photogenic square patterns in the sand. ‘No you can’t put those shells in my camera case. They’ll scratch my lenses,’ Pike said, when the minnows asked.

The family walked back towards the car park, pockets rattling. Whatever were we going to do with all those clam shells? Then we read the plaque on a war memorial

4th/7th ROYAL DRAGOON GUARDS

On 3rd June 1944 the Regiment left from here to land on D-Day 5 minutes before the main assault on GOLD BEACH in Sherman amphibious Duplex Drive tanks for the campaign in NW Europe

In proud memory of our comrades and the 124 who did not return to these shores

-and used them to write T H A N K  Y O U on the beach.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

D-Day at Lepe

Combined Operations Command – Mulberry Harbours

 

Echoes of the Winchester bypass from 70 years ago

I walked over the Highcliffe Footbridge across the M3 during the rush hour last Friday. The South Downs looked gorgeous in the evening sunshine, but I’m sure the motorway drivers didn’t appreciate them. As usual, the southbound traffic was crawling – the tired commuters, a lorry driver returning to the docks and a weekender with a jet ski on a trailer must have been longing to reach the coast.

The scene can’t have been so very different in 1944, when the Winchester bypass was ‘repurposed’ as a tank park. One of the first dual carriageways in the country, the bypass was perfect for the job: the US Army lined up their tanks on one carriageway and set up camp on the other. More tanks were parked up along The Avenue, a staging post from Alresford Station, where they were off-loaded from the railway by the 47th Regiment (with Hambone Junior’s assistance, of course!) I doubt the tank drivers were as eager to push onwards as a motorist in a modern traffic jam, but as tension built up to D-Day, they must have been keen to get moving again.

There’s another memory from WWII days preserved in the name of the ‘Spitfire Link’, a road leading up to the modern M3. The boring concrete bridge spanning the motorway near here used to be an elegant parabolic arch – until a Curtiss Tomahawk fighter plane flew under it in 1941. The pilot clipped the bridge and left three feet of his plane behind, but walked away unscathed. Local folk assumed that only a Spitfire pilot would dare to do such a thing and so the name has stuck.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

D-Day The Winchester Connection, Bill Yates & George Fothergill

Roader’s Digest – Spitfire Bridge

Run Forrest, run!

Did you know Forrest Gump served in the same regiment as Hambone Junior?

In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, the main character was portrayed as a member of the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division US Army on active service in Vietnam. Forrest, Bubba and 2nd Lt. Dan all wore the same unit insignia in the film as the GIs did when they trained with Hambone Junior in Hampshire.

After serving in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, the Rhineland (and Alresford) during WWII, the 47th Infantry Regiment went on to fight in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam from 1968-1969.

Iris Crowfoot

Photo: Alresford Rotary 10k, Albury Park, 19th June, 2016

Sources:

Forrest Gump – training

47th Infantry Regiment

 

Meeting a Screaming Eagle

The Screaming Eagles (101st Airborne Division) Living History Group put on a ‘static display’ at Alresford ‘s War on the Line event last weekend. Sadly this meant no marching or unarmed combat demos in the station car park, but on the plus side, Mark Richards (on the right) was standing still long enough for me to interview him.

For Mark, the highlight of Living History shows is meeting the veterans, although there are many fewer of them now than when he started ten years ago. Still, a person might tell him their granddad was billeted here, or a serving officer of the Airborne Division will come up to say hi.  ‘It’s great to meet them and hear their stories.’

Can you see the gleaming brass whistle pinned to Mark’s lapel? He found it using a metal detector into the grounds of stately home in Berkshire where the Screaming Eagles had their HQ in 1944. There are many other traces of the GIs still to be found there – he’s seen their initials carved on the trees, and those of their sweethearts.

The Screaming Eagles made airborne landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944 (D-Day). I asked Mark whether he would have wanted to go with them. ‘Nope. The ideal life for me would be Gary Sparrow’s [in Goodnight Sweetheart]. I could go through that alley into the 40s and come back again.’

Hambone Junior’s 47th Infantry Regiment landed at Utah Beach four days later, fighting hard to secure the bridgehead in Normandy. Their HQ in the build up to the invasion was The Grange in Northington. I wonder whether they left any treasures behind for us to find ?

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

Screaming Eagles LHG