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

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

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!

eddyand-marjegoldenwedding

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

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

 

 

‘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

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

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

Smart Alec the Spiv

We met Smart Alec on a steam train in War on the Line yesterday. He offered a prize from his cardboard suitcase if either of The Minnows could tell him Mr. Churchill’s job. Big Minnow was inspired and said, ‘He’s the Prime Minister, I think ?’ The case was opened, scattering vintage ladies’ underwear and a crumpled bag of sweets over our table. Alec debated the pros and cons of Kit-Kats and toffee drumsticks with us until we alighted at Alton, both types of sweet clasped in the minnows’ sticky little fists.
Can you see the pink nylon stocking overflowing from Smart Alec’s top pocket ?Perhaps I should have introduced him to Julie who tried on the hat in my post yesterday? But later I saw Alec on the platform, demonstrating a folding mirror attached to the bottom of his walking stick to a passing GI, ‘Specially designed for looking up a lady’s skirt, this is!’ Just as well I didn’t.

Iris Crowfoot

Mid Hants Railway Ltd ‘Watercress Line’

Julie tries on a hat

I met Julie Walsh in the Ladies Waiting Room at Alresford Station today – trying on a 1940s hat. It’s War on the Line at the Watercress Line this weekend and Julie was a most eye-catching passenger in her fitted scarlet dress, high heels and pencilled stocking seams down the backs of her legs. ‘I’d dress up all the time if I could,’ she told me. ‘I just love these do’s.’ She explained that it’s very difficult to accessorize period costumes, so it’s great to come to re-enactment events like like this and trawl through the vintage clothes stalls. ‘I was born in the wrong era,’ she concluded with a sigh.

Iris Crowfoot

Mid Hants Railway Ltd ‘Watercress Line’