Training, in England
I landed in Liverpool, England, after dark, during September, 1943 after sailing for 18 days over the North Atlantic Ocean as part of a 100 ship convoy that sailed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My ship had an English crew and carried 8,000 troops. It was a converted English tourist ship, "The Empress of South Africa" that sailed between England and South Africa during the days leading up to World War II,
The major conversion of the ship was the installation of tiers of cots went from floor to ceiling on every deck. They were spaced with just enough room to roll-squeeze a body into. We shared our cots with another GI. We had 12 hours each for sleeping. Weather permitting, I slept on deck. For meals, there was a LONG chow line, and we ate from our two-part, lidded mess kits.
We were always in fear of getting hit by a German torpedo. Navy ships patrolled, circling the fringes of the convoy, keeping the submarines at bay.
During the crossing I played the piano every day and there were always plenty of guys gathered around, singing our favorite songs. My long-time 3rd AD friend, Earl Loebig, from St Louis, told me at a reunion how much he enjoyed my playing. NOTE: I didn't see Earl after we landed in Normandy until I was in a Repple Depple (Replacement Depot) in Birmingham, England, waiting for re-assignment, after being discharged from a GI hospital. Earl was there, waiting for re-assignment, too.
The weather was damp and foggy when we disembarked in Liverpool. There were trailers with wide drop-down doors on the dock, and English Red Cross girls were serving hot tea and doughnuts. From there, we boarded a train to our English camp, Codford St. Mary, on the Salisbury Plains, where we would train for the next ten months, getting prepared for D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Our camp consisted of prefabricated half-cylindrical corrugated steel structures called Nissen huts, (I saw no trace of them when Hazel and I visited the area in the 1970s.)
They were nothing fancy. They were just set up on a piece of farmland. One night my friend and tank driver, John Mitchell (from Livonia, Michigan), was on guard duty. In the very early morning, he heard footsteps in the darkness. He shouted, "HALT! Identify yourself. What's tonight's password."
A voice said, "I am Farmer Brown."
John said, "Advance and be recognized."
It was Farmer Brown, off to gather his cows!
The huts we slept in had about 12 double-decker bed frames and a small coal stove. It was very cold during the winter months and the whole bed frame moved every time a sleeper did.
Our mess sergeant had a cool trick. He would place a container of raisins on a shelf and let it set there until it gave him a drink of the hard stuff. I don't know what he did to get it to forment. He was a Greek guy who had a restaurant in Atlanta. I visited him one time after the war, when I was down in Georgia.
During May we were dislodged to make room for a group of new recruits. We were moved to two-man 'pup' tents where we had to sleep and keep all our 'stuff'. Each GI had a brown canvas shelter half and a short pole. We attached them to set up the tent. To sleep, we each crawled in, under our half. The First Sergeant decided who slept in each tent, and I won a guy who snored!
One of the big Nissen huts was set up as a NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute) Recreation Hall, staffed with British girls. They served strong apple cider and chips (french fries) but no hard liquor.
There were about a dozen or so long tables that were always full because there was no town close by and no transportation. There was a piano, though, and I played almost every night for "Sing Alongs." Once in a while, we were trucked to Salisbury, 15 miles away, for weekend passes.
Wartime in England
While at Codford, I got a pass to visit a cousin and her husband in London. I visited during the time the Germans were bombing London and there were many empty holes along the streets where bombs had wiped out houses. My cousin took me to a party. There was a piano there and I played while everyone sang. It went on well into the night - just as if there was no war going on!
The English were living a tough life. Hardly anybody owned a car or had a telephone. In addition to German bombing, they were on extreme rationing. They were were only allowed to buy so many eggs, depending on the family size. If they had hens, as did my future wife Hazel's parents, they were only allowed just so much chicken feed,
One day, while I was riding a bus, a woman passenger looked at me and said, "Wouldn't you like to be home in America? You have so many good things we don't have here." Knowing the privation the English people suffered during the war tells us the real meaning behind her comment!
We didn't have much free time. We were busy getting ready for D-Day and were constantly in training exercises. We ran 2 miles every morning before breakfast.
Our tanks were parked along a narrow country road that we reached walking in a narrow pathway and most days we walked to the tanks to keep them clean. I had to carry a 30 mm machine gun that I mounted in a hole in front of the seat for the assistant driver, called the BOG (Bow Gunner). That was my seat.
We had day and night maneuvers on the Salisbury Plains where Stonehenge was located. One night, I parked our tank right next to Stonehenge. When I awoke, the sight of those huge rocks bewildered me! I had no clue as to what that pile of rocks was. (My English GI Bride, Hazel, and I drove to Stonehenge while in England to visit her parents. It hadn't changed. Now it's not easy to get close, because the area is fenced off.)
On one occasion, I was driving a medium tank on a British road and my tank commander started screaming at me over the intercom. The ear phones were built into our tank helmets. I couldn't understand what he was saying, so I pulled the two brake and steering levers back and stopped the tank. I opened the hatch, stood up, and turned to look up at him in the turret. He said,
"You're driving on the wrong side of the road!"
The Court Martial
During the days leading up to D-Day, all the mail we wrote to our families was censored. I assume they used a razor blade or very sharp knife because any information not approved was sliced out and discarded.
As a private I had 12-hour KP (Kitchen Police) duties and had to stand guard about every two weeks. On one occasion, I was given the job of "Prisoner Chaser", armed with my M16 rifle. I had to escort a prisoner from the stockade to the building where he was being court-martialed for trying to tell his mother that, when we were leaving for D-Day he would 'Double Date' that letter. I sat through the entire session. As I listened to it, it sounded to me like the guy was being railroaded!.
I don't know why his Captain arrested him instead of just calling him in and raising hell with him.
"Ours not to reason why, ours is but to do and die"
My guard duty ended before the verdict, so I don't know if the guy was found guilty, or not.
Afterward, I wrote a letter to my mother and told her what I thought about the proceedings. The next thing I knew my Captain, Captain Anderson, had me brought in. He told me he had reported me to our Battalion Commander, Colonel Richardson (He was from Texas), for writing that letter, and sent me to see him.
The 3rd Battalion headquarters of the 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, in Codford, St. Mary, England, was housed in a Nissen hut. The Battalion Commander was Colonel Walter B. Richardson. He came from Texas.
In April, 1944, I stood at attention in front of Colonel Richardson, who was seated behind his desk. He said, "At Ease.", and asked, "Why are you here?"
I told him, "My Company G Commander, Captain Anderson, sent me because of a letter I sent to my mother. I told her about the trial of a GI I was guarding. He had written to his mother that he'd double-date his letter when we left Codford to go to Weymouth for D-Day. He was being court-martialed for that and I told my mother I thought he was being 'railroaded'. Captain Anderson who censored my letter felt what I wrote was dangerous.
The Colonel said. "That's not illegal. You are entitled to express your opinion."
I saluted, turned, and left.
Preparing The Equipment
Moving a highly mechanized army across the English Channel is a complex problem. For example, there is no guarantee the LCT's will be able to reach the beach so the tanks can move directly onto dry land. This caused us to spend a lot of time prepping our gas-fueled, spark-plug driven 13 cylinder Wright Whirlwind engines with snorkels so, if they drove off the LCT into deep water, they would not conk out. We worked with the maintenance crew as they equipped the tanks with snorkels. We covered all the electrical connections with a soft substance that looked like grey clay. It was messy to handle, but it stopped water from shorting out the engine or our communications gear.
Transfer from Tanks to Gasoline Trucks
Everyone was assigned an MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) number based on their civilian job (if they had one) when they enlisted in the army. This gave the army a way to find a GI with the skills they needed, no matter where they were in the world. I had been driving a Household Goods moving van, interstate, before I enlisted, so I was assigned an MOS of 345, which identified me as a truck driver.
A few weeks before D-Day, after 2 years of driving tank in the Mojave desert, tank training at multiple stateside camps, and 10 months tank training with G Company at Codford St Mary in England, I was suddenly transferred to our 32nd Regimental Service Company to drive a truck.
The Regimental Service Company supplies fuel, ammunition, and rations to the Regiment's tanks in combat. When the 32nd Regimental Service Company realized they had no spare drivers to replace wounded drivers, they got frantic and transferred me and a few other assistant tank drivers to the Service Company. We were made second truck drivers, to fill the seat of any driver who was wounded.
I was not told why I was transferred. I'd had no problems at G Company, so I assume it was because of my MOS. I can't think of any other reason. As Lord Tennyson wrote in The Charge of the Light Brigade, "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die." As it turned out, my MOS saved my life!
The guy that replaced me as bow gunner when I was transferred was a new replacement to G Company. His name was Benny and he was from New York. Within a few days of D-Day, my tank was hit with an 88mm armor-piercing shell and he was killed. That is one of the many things that happened to me, that led me to use LUCKYWW2VET as a title.
During the first days in Normandy, a driver was wounded in the leg and I was chosen to drive his truck. I drove that truck for six months, from Normandy to Stolberg, Germany. My service company truck was assigned to fueling G Company tanks, so at every fueling at the front I was able to talk to different buddies and learn which of my friends had been killed or wounded and who had survived the battle that day. That's how I learned of Benny's death.
I wonder if that was the reason I was transferred?
Makes sense to me!
Preparing to Embark
On June 6 in Codford St.Mary, we listened to a radio broadcast on the Armed Forces Network that the Normandy invasion had begun. In mid-June, we broke camp at Codford St. Mary and I joined a convoy that ended in a field near the Port of Weymouth, England where I waited to be called to drive my truck onto an LST/T (Landing Ship, Tank/Truck). It was a long wait, but what I remember most was that big, hot and dusty field was where I was parked.
There was a lot of activity in the port. As I waited, I watched an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), returning from a trip to Normandy. When it docked, I saw my first German soldiers. They were POWs (Prisoners of War) jumping onto the dock from the ship. During the next six months of combat I would see, converse with, and transport prisoners on their first ride en route from the front to POW camps in the USA. Their war was over. We had a POW camp near Easton, Mass. It's now a Business Center.
When it was finally our turn to load, the LST dropped a ramp into the sand and we backed our vehicles up the ramp into the ship. I was alone, without a spare driver. My truck was loaded with 250 jerry cans of gasoline, to be ready as soon as the tanks needed it. It turned out my first gas delivery didn't come until after the July 26th St. Lko breakout. After loading. my truck was located where the top faced the sky.