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:

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