Joe Horsley's Narrative from Training Camp to After the War

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This is a story about Captain Horsley and the forty-two enlisted men who were in the 1097th Engineers during World War II.

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For the sake of those of my family and friends who might be interested in knowing some of my experiences while "away to the wars", I am undertaking this little chronological narrative covering the period from the time we left training camp in the States until after the war in Europe ended in complete victory. I can promise that there will be no hair-raising or exciting events to relate, and nothing of the story book flavor in it. In fact, its chief virtue, if any, would be that the experiences related are so very routine and typical of those of thousands of service force troops who fight all their battles far from the blood and smoke of the front lines. It is the story of a soldier (if I may call myself one) who, even though he took part in the invasion of France, and was awarded two "Bronze Battle Stars" for participation in the Battles of Normandy and Northern France, was never nearer than 12 miles to the front line and has never fired an army weapon except on the firing range.

The only time I ever heard the sound of actual battle was on the night the Yanks took La Haye du Puis, and the British first entered Caen. That night I was sleeping or trying to sleep, under the stars, only 12 or 15 miles from La Haye du Puis. The ground seemed to tremble continuously from heavy explosions and the sky was alight, as with heat lightning, all night long.

The only time I ever even heard an enemy plane overhead was one night, shortly after we started using the harbor at Cherbourg. That night a lone Kraut reconnaissance plane came over twice. Both times we were awakened by the siren in time to hear him coming. Both times all hell seemed to break loose as every ack ack gun in Normandy (or, at least, so it seemed) opened up on him. But, so far as I ever knew, he went on back home uninjured.

Camp Clairborne

When we left Camp Claiborne on March 10, 1944, for the Port of Embarkation, I never dreamed that exactly four months later, to the day, we should arrive in Cherbourg, France, a part of the invasion force. For at that time, even though the big invasion was still as much talked of as it had been for many months, it still seemed like an event in the dim, distant, unknown future and something which would happen, if it happened a faraway, unreal world, and of which we would only read in the newspapers and hear about on the radio. So the thought that we might actually be a part of it never entered my mind. Neither, also, did I dream, at that time, that thirty three days of that four month interval would be spent on the water. But both of those actually were true.

The troop train trip from Camp Claiborne to Camp Shanks, New York, some thirty miles up the Hudson River from New York City, was uneventful. I was in command of all army personnel on the train, but that did not entail any excessive labors on my part, aside from handling the R.R. and Pullman tickets and other red tape that goes with any such events in the army.

We left Camp Claiborne at about 5:00 PM on Friday the tenth, about two hours behind schedule. Of course they gave us a big send off, with the EUTC band playing, and all the big shots down to shake our hands and tell us they were depending on us to win the war. And I thought, "Brother, I'm glad I'm not depending on us to win the war". Even the Commanding General of EUTC shook hands with me, wished me good luck and told me what a good unit I had. I'm still wondering how he knew, seeing as how he'd never even so much as paid us a visit and probably had never even heard of us except, possibly, as a number on a piece of paper. But of course I beamed and thanked him, at the same time thinking, "Oh yeah! I bet you tell that to all the guys”. [end page 1]

"Stinky" Wincentsen, the commanding officer of a similar unit, and I shared a stateroom in one of the Pullmans on the train, and each of the men had a berth to himself. I flipped a coin each night to decide whether "Stinky" or I would get the lower berth in our stateroom. And each night I won. "Stinky" still thinks I used a trick coin on him, and will never get over it.

Our trip took us from Alexandria, La., through Monroe, La. and Jackson, Miss., to Meridian, Miss., where we hit the mainline of the Southern Ry, and thus to New York via Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, Philadelphia, etc. Being a troop train, we took our own sweet time on the trip, taking about 55 hours to make a trip usually covered in about 36 hours. And still we arrived ahead of schedule.

The men killed time on the trip playing cards, reading, singing, sleeping or just sitting and looking out the windows. Stinky and I spent most of our time at the latter occupation.

When we arrived at Jersey City at about 11 PM on Sunday night a Transportation Corps man from Camp Shanks boarded the train to give each one of us C.C.'s (Commanding Officers) a handful of "poop" (mimeographed instructions), as a preliminary to what to expect in the way of "processing" at Camp Shanks in the next two days. This contained detailed instructions as to just what to do every minute from then until we received our next “poop" somewhere down the processing line the next day.

Camp Shanks in New Jersey

We arrived at Camp shortly after midnight on the morning of Monday, March 13th. It was pouring rain when we left the train. Most of the men had to march the mile to the area assigned to us, but I fortunately, as per the "poop”, boarded a waiting Jeep and was whisked away to our area to draw bedclothes, blankets, etc. for the men and have them ready when they arrived. A detail from the unit left behind at the train to look after our equipment accompanying the unit and my luggage.

At about 2:30 AM when all the men were "bedded down” and I was about ready to turn in, I discovered that my Val-Pac (traveling bag) was missing. Lester Clark had been in charge of our baggage detail, so I rousted him out of bed and sent him out in the downpour, which still continued to hunt up the lost Val-Pac. Clark only recently told me that that was the only time he ever heard me say anything that made him mad. I don't remember it, but he claims I said, "Any man that can't keep up with three pieces of luggage and eleven crates without losing one is too durn dumb to be in the army”. Anyhow, the lost Val-Pac was soon located, and Clark was less unhappy, and I got to bed at about 3:00 AM.

I was up again at 5:30, and that's when the rat race really began. For the next thirty-six hours I hardly stopped a minute, except to grab a bite to eat occasionally and to sleep a few hours Monday night. There was nearly always a meeting, and quite often two or even three at once, at which I was supposed to be in attendance; getting all the dope on our "processing” and "shipping out”. Among other things, our processing included instructions and training in how to abandon ship in case of an emergency, discipline and conduct aboard ship, and pep talks by two army transport troop commanders on what a delightful voyage was in prospect for us - I suppose, on the theory that ignorance is bliss. For Camp Shanks, I will say that it was the smoothest functioning setup I've ever seen in the army. It was the only place I've ever seen in the army where you could pick up a telephone to call for information any time of the day or night, and the person who answered it could immediately give you the information desired. The meals were excellent, and the PX's, theatres, etc. all first rate. All of the men had a good word for Camp Shanks. [end page 2]

At 5:30 PM on Tuesday we had "cleared" (finished all processing) and were ready to board ship on call. In the meantime we were to be allowed twelve hour passes, at night, for up to fifty percent of the unit at a time. I believe every man in the unit, except two who were punished for swapping passes, got three passes into the City. I had passes on Wednesday and Friday nights and on Sunday. The pass on Sunday, March 19, 1944, was the last time I saw my Henrietta.

Henriette Horsley and daughter Joan 5 or 6 years after the war.
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When I returned to Camp from that Sunday pass, I was advised that I had been instructed to attend a meeting of C.O.'s at 8 AM Monday. At that meeting we were told that we were alerted for embarkation, and that we would embark on Wednesday. Final instructions for embarkation procedures were passed out. These instructions included a very elaborate system for marking helmets and equipment of all personnel, exact way of handling all luggage, detailed orders on procedure for loading and unloading train for trip down to the pier and many other details. I still have my little notebook, full of stuff jotted down at that and other meetings. Everything was worked out to a very exact schedule and nothing left to chance.

Our ship was to be number NY-353. We were to ride to the port on train number F-14-S. We were to have our last meal in Camp at 10:00 AM Wednesday, after which we were to "form in our area" at 11:00 AM and be ready to move out to the railroad loading point at 12:20.

When we were ready to "form in the area" on Wednesday, I had so many clothes and so much paraphenalia hanging from me that if I had ever fallen down I'm sure I could never have gotten up. And, although there must have been at least 15 or 20 pockets in all the clothes I had on, I couldn't have gotten a hand into one of them if my life had depended on it. On top of my regular field uniform (O.D. trousers and shirt, and combat jacket) I had my great, full length overcoat. Outside of this I had, first of all, the officer's field bag (containing a complete change of all clothes, plus other accessories) strapped on my back, with all the harness that goes with it, including the cartridge belt from which hung a canteen of water, from which we had been instructed not to drink, under any circumstances, except in an emergency; a first aid packet, and a packet with two ammunition clips. Then over this "layer" went the gas mask; a "dispatch case" (resembling, somewhat, a brief case) hung by a strap from a shoulder; a pair of binoculars (which I had been ordered to take out of one of our crates, where I had packed it away, and carry on my person) in a leather case, also hung by a strap from a shoulder; and my carbine (rifle). [end page 3]

Topping all this off was my steel helmet perched on top of my head. I don't know whether I looked like a soldier or not, but, brother, if I had ever sighted a Kraut, rigged out like that, I could never have gotten that carbine up to my shoulder to take a pot shot at him. Then I knew why we had been given such explicit and emphatic instructions that our packs were not to be removed during the train ride down to the pier. We would never have gotten back into them in time to have caught old NY 353.

Anyhow, we were all ready at the appointed time, and in due time we were loaded aboard the train which was presently to deliver us to the Weehawken station of the Jersey Central, sometime in the early afternoon. There we unloaded from the train and loaded up on a ferry, just as I had been in the habit of doing every morning for years at the Lackawana station three or four miles down the river, on my way to my job in the City. After some delay, we pulled out into the Hudson, rode a couple of miles down the river and then started making for a pier on the New York side at which was berthed a boat, or tub, or scow, or what have you, at which only one glance was necessary to dispell any hopes we might ever have had of a delightful voyage on a luxury liner. It was NY 353, all right, but it most definitely was not in the Queen class, or hardly even in the class with the Eastern Steamship Line's Boston boats. But it looked like it should be a sturdy vessel, and not as bad as some I have seen.

USS Thurston

Pretty soon we had pulled up to the end of the pier, a ramp had been let down to the ferry and we were scrambling up it. In the meantime, there was an army band of some kind there to greet us with a few doleful marches which, judging from the percentage of sour notes issued, had never been practiced by those musicians as a group. Inside the pier, as we were lined up in correct "passenger list order" awaiting our turn to be checked off the list and clamber up the gangplank, we were served coffee (or a fairly reasonable substitute therefor) and doughnuts by some Red Cross girls. I say "girls" only because it seems they are always girls, no matter what their ages. As I remember, the two who issued me my pooy of Java and two doughnuts must have been at least 50 and 60 years old, respectively. But we appreciated their efforts to do all they could for us during our last few minutes on terra firma in the good old U.S.A. I have an idea that the fact that we were all at least slightly nervous over the prospects of our ocean voyage, and very definitely homesick already, had something to do with the fact that the coffee and doughnuts did not taste as good as others have at other times.

Somewhere along the line I had picked up, in addition to my other cargo, my val-pac. So when my name was finally called and I started that long "last mile" up the gangplank, I thought sure I would never make it. After getting stuck a couple of times I finally reached the deck. From here I was ushered through a doorway; down one of those half-stair half-ladder affairs that serve for stairs on such a craft; through another door; down a narrow corridor, and to a door which opened into what I was informed would be my quarters while on board. When I looked through that door, the first thought that popped into my head was of a remark that I had heard Will Rogers use in a picture years ago: "It's a little crowded, but it's cozy." Many are the tales I have heard about the swanky staterooms occupied by officers on troop transports, but not so here. [end page 4]

As I recall it, that room, or compartment, or what not, could not have been much larger than the average bedroom at home. Yet in that room were bunks on tiers three high for twenty-seven people, and here twenty-seven officers, plus all that stuff we had all lugged in there with us, were to live and spend most of their time for the next two weeks.

The advance party had already staked claims, for themselves and their friends, to all the best bunks, so Stinky and I had to take what was left. I had the bottom bunk on the first tier inside the door, with my head right in the door, so to speak, and Stinky had the bottom one which began where the foot of mine ended. But the bunks had springs and mattresses and clean sheets and blankets and looked like they would be comfortable enough. They also had railings, of iron pipe, about 4" above the top of the mattress on three sides. On the other side was the wall. We were to learn soon enough that by bracing ourselves with our knees and backs between the railing on one side and the wall on the other we could keep from being pitched out in the aisle when the going got rough.

We had no more than gotten in and gotten our accessories off and it and our luggage hung from every conceivable place which would hold it, when rumors began to fly thick and fast. It is said that there's no place on earth where rumors travel faster, or grow larger, than on a troop transport, and I'm inclined to believe that it's true. It was only as the days passed by and the voyage progressed that we were able to separate the facts from the fiction to any degree. Among the facts which were to be confirmed though was the fact that our ship, number NY 353, was the USS Thurston. It had been built for coastwise traffic with fruit and other cargoes, between the Americas, but before its completion it had been requisitioned by the Navy and fitted out for its use as a personnel carrier. The good ship Thurston was to be the flag ship of the convoy and we were to have an Admiral aboard during the crossing. Among the things we did not know about her until later was the fact that she was loaded light in the hold and was to have a heavy topside load, including almost a score of landing barges on her deck, making her quite top heavy, which would add greatly to the rolling motion in heavy seas.

As soon as I had gotten myself fairly well oriented in my new quarters I started out to find my men and see how they were fixed up. I soon found them up forward, two flights down in the hold. One look at their quarters was enough to convince me that I was really luxuriously and spaciously quartered, in comparison (or I should say contrast.) They were really packed in like sardines, and some of the bunks looked like nothing less than a monkey could ever get in them. But they all managed to find some place to lie down in, and even that was better than sleeping on the deck.

First Meal in the Ward Room

Our first meal on board was supper on Wednesday. Since it was a naval vessel, we officers were to eat the regular naval officers’ fare, in their "Ward Room". It was necessary, though, to eat in shifts, due to the number to be fed. There were two shifts for army officers and one for naval officers. I drew the first shift, which meant that I had to get up at 6:00 AM and get to breakfast by 6:30. That fact, together with the fact that the ship’s clocks were to be advanced an hour each night for six of the nights we were on board, and the fact that bull sessions were always in full swing until after midnight, meant that it would be necessary for me to do a little daytime napping to catch up. I did. What else was there to do? I got more sleep on that trip than in any similar period since the three weeks I spent in Post Graduate Hospital. [end page 5]

The Ward Room, with the galley on one end, extended completely across the width of the ship, at what I would call "second deck level", except for narrow deck passages outside each end. Inside, the tables were all arranged parallel to the longest walls, across the width of the ship, and securely bolted to the floor. Along the length of these walls were "build in seats", nicely upholstered. The chairs on the opposite sides of the tables were ordinary steel dining chairs, with arms, each secured to the floor only by a coil spring from the center of the chair bottom to an anchor in the floor. These details may seem superfluous, but we were to see the time very soon when everyone would rush to be first at meals in order to get a wall seat, because when that old ship got to doing tricks in a heavy sea you just couldn't keep those chairs from sliding all over the room to save your life.

I do not remember what we had for supper that first night, but I do recall that though it would have looked very tempting under ordinary circumstances, that sinking, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach counteracted any appetite that I might have had for it. I had determined though that I would not get seasick if at all possible, as that had always been my one greatest dread of an ocean crossing, and since I had the idea that a full stomach as much of the time as possible would help out in that respect I ate all that was placed before me, as I was to do at all times on the trip.

For us old soldiers used to army field conditions, the meals were served very much in style. They even had table cloths, which I later found were to serve a very useful purpose, for by wetting them down thoroughly and then placing the dishes on them they served to hold the dishes fast in place and keep them from taking off into mid-air when the old ship started cutting capers. They also had real silverware and silver service, nice dishes, glassware and all that goes with it. There was an acute shortage of glassware on board before our voyage was over, though, due to excess breakage. The meals were served by negro waiters, all done up in fresh white uniforms. Nothing too good for the Navy.

After supper all the officers attended a meeting (you'll never get away from those things in the army) at which we were given instructions and advice as to procedures, routine and requirements while on board ship, by the army officer in charge of troops and by the ship's executive officer, a Lt. Commander. One of the rules which particularly irked us all was that we would be required to dress up in Class "A" uniform (blouse and all) for the evening meal each day. With all the crowded conditions in which we were living and with our luggage and "accessories" packed and piled in every conceivable manner and place, we were to have to change clothes each day just to dress for dinner. But, being good soldiers, we all obeyed. After all, it was either dress for dinner or go hungry.

After we returned to our quarters we found out that life belts were being passed out to all on board so everyone scrambled to get his, and Stinky and I went down in the hold to see that all of our men were provided with them and that all were tested. We did not get the famous "Mae West" kapok life jackets, but pneumatic tubes to be worn, deflated, around the waist, and which could readily be blown up by simply blowing through a handy tube provided for that purpose. These belts were to be worn at all times, day and night, until we were safely anchored on the far shore. [end page 6]

A little later Stinky and I strolled out on the deck to get a little fresh air, see what was going on and get our last look at good old New York at night for who knows how many months or years. On deck was a scene of feverish activity, all in great haste to get the cargo loaded so we could be on our way before the light of another day.

I went to bed pretty early that night hoping to get one more good night's sleep before my bed started rocking and swaying, but it was precious little sleep I got that night. Our compartment was directly beneath the main deck so that the loading activities were immediately over our heads. What with the creaking of winches and booms, the clatter and clangor of many things being dropped on the steel plate deck, it was just about like trying to sleep in a boiler factory. We did not know then, but most of the activity that night consisted of loading on deck the landing barges previously referred to, nicely nested two or three deep and covering every available bit of deck space. Here they were to travel to England, probably to be used later in the Normandy landings.

I was awakened before day from what little sleep I did get, by the motion of the ship's engines and knew from that that we were in the process of getting underway. I got up in time for breakfast at 6:30 and went out on deck immediately afterward. By that time we were just leaving the "North River" and entering the "Upper Bay", heading down toward the "Narrows", between Staten Island and Brooklyn, and then on out into the cold rough North Atlantic and its angry March weather. Dawn was just beginning to break, and it was a cold, murky, dreary dawn. It was raining, a kind of a slow "drizzle", about half soupy mist, and the fog and haze were dense enough so that you could just barely see the outline of the old Statue of Liberty receding out of sight off the starboard stern, and the skyline of downtown Manhattan doing likewise off the port stern. I took one long last look at these before they quickly disappeared from sight, and a lump in my throat the size of a goose egg tried to choke me.

You could see the dark gray shapes of many other ships falling in line, making up another convoy of men and materials of war; men leaving homes and loved ones to go to foreign shores to fight and lick the enemies of civilization before they came to our shores to fight. Suddenly a small cutter came alongside, a ladder was lowered from our ship and a man clambered overboard, down the ladder and into the cutter and stood waving to us as the cutter slowly turned about and headed back up the bay. The pilot had finished his job and was on his way back home. Our last link with home was severed and we were headed out for the open seas. [end page 7]

Open Seas - First Day Out

We did a lot of standing on deck, leaning on the rail and just looking, that first day. The experience was new and exciting, but time on board a troop ship drags out interminably, and you can't spend all your time leaning and looking. The general pattern for the whole trip was more or less set up that day, with the time generally divided between lounging in the Ward Room (for the officers,) playing cards or reading or just chewing the fat; lying in your bunk reading or sleeping, or just chewing the fat; strolling on deck or leaning on the rail, watching the rest of the convoy and wondering if a submarine could sneak through the ring of destroyers all around the convoy, some so far away over the horizon that you couldn't see them, and take a pot shot at you, and feeling happy about the sleek little light cruiser that had taken up its place near us in the convoy, or just chewing the fat. That was about all you could do. We were instructed to prepare and follow out training schedules for each day, but I'm sure the person who issued those instructions knew they could never be carried out under the crowded conditions we had. We did try to get everyone on deck and have a short period of calisthenics at least twice each day. The men were encouraged to spend as much time on deck as possible.

The first day out we had smooth sailing as we did not get far enough from land to get into rough waters. When night came and I still had no symptoms of seasickness, I was feeling pretty good about the matter. I knew before I ever got out of bed the next morning though, that it was going to be a different story that day. When I awoke, my bed was rocking or rolling or swaying, much as you might imagine your self rocked in a huge cradle, with the speed cut down to slow motion in Hollywood fashion. The ship was rolling, from side to side, and rolling plenty. For many seconds, which seemed to lengthen into minutes, it would roll toward one side, as though it would never stop and right itself, then finally stop, pause briefly, and start its return trip to the other extreme. You had to brace yourself to keep from rolling in bed, and when you got up you had to hang on for dear life to keep from getting tossed all over the place. I didn't have too much trouble getting dressed, as we slept with most of our clothes on anyhow, but when I started for breakfast, it was something else. I had to grope along the passage ways, hanging on to anything I could find, and staggering all over the place.

Breakfast Was a Slapstick Comedy

Some of the scenes at breakfast that morning would have put to shame the producers of the most fantastic and ridiculous slapstick comedies Hollywood ever filmed. It was real life slapstick that made you laugh til you cried even while you acted out your own little part in it. I was fortunate enough to pick out a wall seat and so didn't have to worry about my chair staying put, but those who did get chairs were having their own private little difficulties, what with chairs slipping and sliding back and forth, with every roll, and the occupants hanging onto the tables, trying to keep from taking off. One officer managed to let his chair turn over backwards, with him in it. As it did so the spring fastener came loose, and he slid the full length of the ward room twice before he could ever stop the thing and get up.

The dishes were fairly well anchored to the wet table cloths, but silverware, salt and pepper shakers and many odd and miscellaneous items were taking off and sailing all over the room. If your coffee cup was filled more than half full the coffee would slowly crawl up the side, as the ship rolled, and start spilling over on the table (use of saucers was out of the question) before the roll went into reverse. On one occasion, one of the negro waiters gathered an arm-full of dishes from my end of the room, opposite the galley, managed to balance himself until the floor started tilting in the direction of the galley, and then started downhill in that direction. As he proceeded, and the incline steepened, he gained momentum, until he disappeared into the galley at top speed, his flying feet just able to keep up with his body, to be immediately followed by a deafening crash as he hit the counter and dishes rained all over the place. Everything was in an uproar, and pandemonium reigned. [end page 8]

I learned later that one of the tables in the enlisted men's mess had come loose and chased soldiers all over the room with some barely escaping possible serious injury. Also a 5 gallon bucket of red paint that someone had left in the mess hall got upset and spilled red paint all over everywhere.

As soon as we had finished our breakfast, Stinky and I went out on deck, being very careful to have hold of the rail at all times before proceeding. To my surprise the weather was clear and the sun was beginning to appear. There was a good brisk wind blowing from the port side (or left side to you, land-lubber), and the sea was running in huge swells in such a direction that our ship was running parallel to the crests and troughs. As we stood on the deck, hanging on the rail for all we were worth and peering over the side of the ship, we seemed to be ascending and descending from the trough to the crest, and back again, as though on a huge elevator. One second our ship was turned so that it seemed as if you could reach out and put your hand in the water. At the same time the next swell was approaching so close that you could almost look straight up and see it over your head, as high as a mountain, it seemed, and looking as if it would spill over and engulf our ship. But as it reached us, though part would spill over the deck at times, the good ship would ride it out and we would start our trip up, up, up again as it climbed the swell and went into its roll in the opposite direction. This was probably old stuff for seasoned world travelers, but to me it was new - and awful.

All day long this continued. The only way you could be at all comfortable or at ease was by lying in your bunk. To stand or sit anywhere required too much effort to hold on. I began to wonder if this would last our whole trip, and if I could possibly stand it for two weeks. Right then, I didn't believe I could.

The old fear of seasickness kept coming back, and I tried every method I'd ever heard rumored would prevent it. I tried to force myself not to think about it, as someone had told me that it was mostly mental, anyhow. But how could you keep your mind off it when everywhere you turned someone, including numbers of sailors, was hanging over the rail "feeding the fishes." I tried spending as much time as possible on deck, with the hopes that lots of fresh air would help. What time I was not on deck I was lying in my bunk, as that's the best anti-sea-sickness position - so I'm told. I ate all the food I could hold at meals, and between meals I sucked on old fashioned lemon drops. These I had bought at the PX at Camp Shanks, because I like lemon drops, but had saved them for the occasion when someone had told me they would help prevent sea sickness.

Sometime after noon I began to be conscious of a very tired, weary, "all washed out" feeling, which I'm sure was the first symptom of sea-sickness, though there was still no evidences of nausea. This continued to grow until supper time. I went into supper as usual and what should be the first course, but onion soup. I had eaten about half my bowl of onion soup before I got that call that I couldn't resist. I reached the rail on deck, after a mad rush, just in time to hang over it and let nature take its course. Not ten feet away was a very young looking sailor doing the very same thing, and appearing as though he wished he were dead. [end page 9]

As soon as possible, I forced myself, with what was probably the greatest display of will power and determination I have ever shown, to return to the table and my supper. I ate the rest of my supper with great effort, took a couple of slices of bread with me to eat in the evening and beat it to my bunk. I don’t believe that I left that bunk again until the next morning, but from that hour I have never experienced even one more little symptom of seasickness, even though much rougher sailing was in store for us later on. I believe that at least three persons out of every four on board ship were seasick before that day was over. Things were in pretty much of a mess down in the hold where the men were living. Many of them were lying in their bunks, too sick to get out, using their helmets or what ever else they could find to vomit in. The floors were getting pretty well bespattered and an acid stench from it all made it all the more sickening. After the trouble at breakfast they did not serve the men any more regular meals that day, but gave them sandwiches instead.

Third Day Out - Awful Rolling Almost Ceased

By the next morning, our third day out, that awful rolling had almost ceased, and we were experiencing smooth sailing. It was a beautiful warm sunny day outside, and the sea was only slightly choppy. We were in the Gulf Stream now. What a relief it was, after the hectic day yesterday, and how nice to sprawl, basking in the warm sun, minus overcoat and other wraps we had needed on previous days. I began to get some idea of how nice an ocean voyage might possibly be under more favorable circumstances. For us it was still a troop transport, headed for war, and we were surely not living a life of luxury.

And, though I don't believe anyone really worried a great deal or lost any sleep over it, there was always present, away back in a corner of the minds of us all the consciousness of the possibility of submarine attacks. We had a large convoy (another group, reportedly out of Boston, had joined us on the second day,) and many destroyers and corvettes, plus the light cruiser, for escort. We all felt pretty smug, too, over the fact that we even had air protection in the planes packed on the flight deck of the baby flat top, near our ship in the convoy. That is, we felt smug until someone happened to notice one day, while peering through a pair of glasses, that the planes were without propellers and definitely not prepared for action. Of course rumors multiplied as the days passed - the ships instruments had "picked up" a pack of subs ahead and we had changed our course and were running from them, or a nearby convoy had been attacked and ten ships sunk, and so on. Fortunately, everyone recognized them for exactly what they were and did not get excited. "Abandon ship drills" were held daily, and sometimes twice daily.

Fifth Day Out - Fury Breaks Loose

The beautiful weather and sailing continued on into the fourth and fifth days out. About mid-afternoon on the fifth day I noticed a handful of clouds forming in the distance. A half hour later the storm struck, and all fury seemed to break loose. The wind shrieked and howled and drove the rain against the ship like buckshot. The old seas were truly getting riled, and I could see we were in for a very bad night, and possibly many of them. Once more we were running parallel to the swells, or waves, instead of cutting through them, and as the seas rose in the face of the storm the old rolling began again and gradually increased. No one ventured out on deck unless it was absolutely essential. [end page 10]

Although the storm was to last for several days, it reached its peak that night. I don't think anyone slept more than an hour or two that night, - I didn't. It was impossible to get comfortable enough in your bed to do any sleeping. The rolling gradually increased, until it seemed as though nothing could ever stop the ship from rolling right on over. I don't know how true it was, but one of the rumors abroad after that night was that, although the "critical angle" for the ship (the angle above which it possibly would not right itself) was 43 degrees, we did 45 degree rolls several times that night. That meant a total roll of 90 degrees, or a right angle between the two extremes. One minute the floor was tilted at 45 degrees in one direction, the next minute 45 degrees in the other direction. Thus, lying on your side in bed, with your back braced against the wall and your knees against the railing, your weight would be practically supported on your back one minute and on your knees the next. From somewhere back in the dim dark recesses of my mind there kept popping out a line of a poem I must have learned in my public school days: "It was midnight on the ocean, and a storm was on the deep."

The old ship creaked and groaned. Everything that had not been doubly securely lashed or fastened came loose and began banging around. A large steel drum on deck, used for a trash receptacle, came loose. With each roll of the ship it would clatter- clatter - clatter, with an awful noise all the way across the steel deck right over our heads, and end up with a deafening crash against the rail. Luggage and accessories that had been hung and packed all over our compartment kept coming loose and flying and falling all over the place. Only the fact that the bunks higher up broke the fall kept some of us from being seriously injured.

At sometime during the night a fire line, in the passage way outside our door, sprung a bad leak and showered water all over the place until the floor was covered with several inches of water. Each time the ship would roll the water would rush to one side, end up with a great splash against the wall and deluge everything in the vicinity. What a mess it was. And what a night. I don't believe anyone on board got more than forty winks of sleep that night.

Although the storm seemed to have reached itspeak that night, it was almost as rough the next day, and it continued rough during our entire crossing. It was only after we reached the shelter of the Irish Sea that we had comparatively smooth sailing, and even that gave us pretty much of a roll. We would stand on the deck, hanging onto the rail with all our strength, and watch the other ships in the convoy to see how they were faring. We watched, with envy, the larger passenger ships which appeared to be riding quite comfortably, but we always felt better after looking at the destroyers, their decks awash with every new wave and at our baby flat top which was outdoing all the others with its capers-cutting.

Second Week Out and Going for the UK

As the days wore on and the first week was over and we were well into the second week of our voyage, speculation and rumors began to center more and more on when we would reach port, and where it would be. Of course there was no longer any doubt that we were headed for the U.K. The ports most frequently mentioned were Liverpool and Glasgow. Most of the sailors I talked to were hoping it would be the latter. [end page 11]

By noon on Saturday, April 2nd, the sight of birds and other evidences of the nearness of land made us quite sure that we were nearing port. We had been traveling almost due north for the last day or two and were presumably rounding the western side of Ireland headed for the North Channel and for the Irish Sea. Late in the afternoon the convoy started breaking up with many of the ships "peeling off" and steaming out of sight to our left. Those remaining were re-forming into columns of twos. Our escorts were leaving us high, but not so dry. By dark we were coming around, changing our direction from north toward the east again. For the first time since sailing, navigating lights were lighted on all the ships, and the sailing was smoother than for many days.

The next day we were in the Irish Sea, south again. The day was quite foggy and although all eyes were constantly strained for the first sight of land, it was not forthcoming that day. By now the rumor that we were making for Cardiff, Wales, had been pretty well substantiated, so we knew we had still another night on board. That night we had orders to turn in our life belts, and for the first time I pulled off my clothes and slept in my pajamas, and how good it felt to sleep undressed once more.

Bristol Channel Approaching Cardiff

We were on deck the next morning almost as soon as it was light enough to see your way around, all eager to get our first sight of land which we were sure must be near now. Never have I seen "terra firma" which looked quite so good as that which greeted our gaze as soon as it was light enough to see it. We were just getting well into the Bristol Channel, approaching Cardiff, where we were to debark. One of the very first things we spotted were the barrage balloons held in readiness for sending up on a moment’s notice. Then we began to realize we were really getting close to the war, especially when someone mentioned the fact that we were only a few minutes flying time, for a bomber, from enemy occupied France.

As we steamed slowly along up the Channel, we passed an amusement park, down on the water front, complete with roller coaster and everything necessary to remind one of Coney Island or Palisades Park, on a much smaller scale, except for the people. It was completely deserted. We also passed what looked like a large shipbuilding yard, which was anything but deserted. It was a scene of much activity. My field glasses, which I had so reluctantly carried on board ship on my back came in very handy that day to get my first views of the "British Isles," or more properly, the United Kingdom. The grass and foliage looked the greenest of any I had ever seen, and I still think things grow greener in England than any place I've ever been, but of course I haven't been to Ireland - yet. One of the first things we all noticed was that all of the houses were of brick or stone, and we later found that to be true all over the Island.

About mid-morning we gradually coasted to a halt in mid-channel and chains rattled and the black ball went up which meant that our anchor was overboard. We didn't know it then, but we were waiting on the tide so we could go on into port. They say that the tide in that particular locality is about the third highest in the world, and that only the Bay of Biscay and the Bay of Fundy have a higher tide. I believe they say it averages about 22 ft. at Cardiff. The Cardiff port is a more or less inland basin separated by locks from the channel. The ships are taken in through the locks at high tide and are left "way up on the hill" when the tide goes out. [end page 12]

During our wait a pilot came on board, went on the bridge for a talk with the Captain and then left again. Army transportation corps boats were chasing around, apparently getting everyone lined up on the proper sequence for entering the harbor, docking and unloading. Our Admiral had been taken off by small boat earlier in the morning. A couple of the smaller landing barges were lowered over the side and their crews drove up and down in them for a while, until one of those rains that can come up quicker and get you wetter in England than any place I've ever seen descended and kind of cooled their ardor for pleasure boating.

Very late in the afternoon the pilot came back on board and the activity seemed to indicate that we were about to end our wait. Soon we began to steam toward the city we could see in the distance and make our way to the inlet to the port. Here we were met by tugs which took us in tow and gradually worked us toward the locks as the ships ahead of us in line were passed through. As we were passing through the locks we spied a ship at anchor inside the basin that had a hole in its bow big enough to drive a 2-1/2 ton truck through. A torpedo had connected, but it had made its way to port.

Debarkation at Cardiff

Transportation corps officers came on board at that time, and pretty soon the word was going out over the PA system that all officers were wanted in the Ward Room immediately. There we were welcomed to the U.K., briefed (a good old army term which covers most anything) in such subjects as security, censorship, blackout regulations etc. Each unit was also given papers telling the debarkation time, the destination, the route and schedule, travel orders and instructions as to the proper procedure for debarking. My orders stated that we were to debark at 2:30 AM and "entrain" at Cardiff, for Lichfield, via Tamram, at 4:30 AM. Stinky and his outfit were to debark an hour or so later, and their destination was Thatchem. So that meant the parting of the ways for us - for at least a little while, but not for long.

Our luggage was all unloaded and went ahead. When everything was in readiness for debarkation at the appointed time, I tried to get a little sleep, but didn't do much more than doze off a couple of times. In the first place, I was afraid that I would not wake up in time to make our schedule and then someone was leaving at each half hour and things were pretty much in an uproar generally, what with farewells and other things. You'd be surprised at how well you can get to know people in less than two weeks time, living together in such close quarters.


We tramped, down the gang plank at the appointed time, and I don't believe solid earth under my feet will ever feel better than it did then. For many days afterwards I would occasionally catch myself, while sitting, slowly swaying from side to side as with the rolling motion of the good ship Thurston. After a long, long wait, standing in line under the adjacent sheds, during which we saw our luggage loaded onto trucks and hauled away, we were finally loaded onto busses and driven across town to the railroad station. Everything, including the bus and the exterior of the station was completely blacked out. And when I say blacked out, I mean blacked out. Not one sliver of light was to be seen anywhere. [end page 13]

That was my first experience of traveling through a blacked out city, and it gave me an eerie feeling that I was always to experience under similar conditions. I always had the sensation of walking (or riding) down the streets of a completely deserted city, but one where you could hear voices and footsteps all about, and where you knew that behind those doors and windows, so completely and effectively blacked out, life was going on as usual, just as in any other city in the world.

Train Ride Towards Birmingham

At the entrance to the station we were met by a guide who conducted us to the proper platform and stayed with us to be sure that we got on the right train. We were to travel on a regularly scheduled passenger train, on some extra coaches reserved for us. The train was late, as all trains were in England in those days, but it finally pulled in and we clambered aboard - my first time aboard one of those European compartment trains. I landed in the corner seat in one of the compartments, in which 5 of my men also crowded, and as soon as we could dispose of a few packs and some paraphernalia (we were still lugging all that we had boarded ship with), someone turned out the light and we all dropped off immediately into a sleep of exhaustion.

When I awoke and peeked out from behind the blackouts, I saw that it was beginning to get daylight, so I got up and wandered around the train a little, seeing how the men were making out. Most of them were still asleep, but a few were partaking of their breakfasts of "K" rations. In the corridor I ran across a member of the train crew with whom I struck up a conversation, which turned out to be very one sided - he talked while I listened. And I don't believe I understood more than half of what he was saying in his "cockney English." I was soon to learn that there are as many, or more, dialects or accents of the English language in England as of the American language in America. Some of them I could understand perfectly, and some I could never understand enough to carry on an intelligent conversation with.

Soon we were passing through the outskirts of a fairly large city, which the train man told me was Birmingham. There was everywhere in evidence results of bombing by the enemy and the awful destruction wrought. This was another first for me, my first sight of what aerial bombing can do. We only passed through the outskirts of the city, and so did not see the town itself at that time.

The train man then told me we would soon be reaching our destination, so I passed the word around for everyone to start getting into their trappings again. Before we had gotten all the straps adjusted the train had halted, and we piled out onto the platform. Here we were met by more guides to take us in tow on the last leg of our journey. One beckoned for the officers to follow him and others took care of the men. Another came around collecting all service records, which had been "hand carried" (another good old army term) by unit clerks, but our clerk, Roy Glickenhaus, was not so easily pried loose from those valuable records (the complete and sole personnel records of each individual soldier from the date he first reported to his draft board,) and refused to turn them loose. He had a little difficulty talking himself into keeping them, but his obstinancy on that point saved us an awful lot of trouble later on, I'm sure, in the light of the mix-up that we were soon to find ourselves in. [end page 14]

10th Replacement Depot at Litchfield and sub-station at Pheasey Farms

And right here I might as well digress to explain that the station where we were reporting was the 10th Replacement Depot, with main headquarters at Litchfield and a "sub-station", called Pheasey Farms, about 12 miles from Lichfield and only 6 miles out of Birmingham. This replacement depot (or "repple depple" as such things are affectionately "??" called - why is it that everyone hates a "pool" so?) was the place where casuals (officers and soldiers not assigned to specific units) just arriving from the States or from hospitals or AWOL or other sources were held for replacements wherever needed. A group of casuals arriving from the States would consist of a number of EM’s [Enlisted Men], with an officer, or officers, in charge, grouped together just for the trip over and usually termed a detachment, with a temporary number assigned. Upon arrival at the 10th, the groups were immediately dissolved and the individuals placed in the "pool" with their records carried to the central office from where they were assigned as they were needed.

Now, it so happened that our unit was named "Detachment", and also that they had no advance notice that a unit such as ours was assigned to the post and was arriving on that date. In fact, the super secrecy that was to enshroud us until we were again loaded on a boat headed for France and the invasion - was to prove embarrassing and make things unnecessarily difficult in many respects in the weeks to come. So they, naturally, thought we were just another group of casuals to be added to their "pool", which explains why they had asked for our service records and had separated the officers from the EM’s, etc.

Soon we were loaded into vehicles for our ride from the railroad station at Tamram to Pheasey Farms, a ride of about 15 or 20 miles. Another first on this leg of the journey was riding on the lefthand side of the road. Of course that seemed very strange, after having ridden on the right side of the road all my life - except when riding with Pop, and he drives all over the road. The drive was through very lovely English countryside, and the early morning sun was lending its beauty and warmth to the occasion.

Pheasey Farms

Pheasey Farms turned out to be a government slum clearance housing project taken over from the civilians for use by our army. The billets, or quarters were all small two story apartments, or flats as they are called in England, all made of brick, of course. Included in the community was a large community center building which the army was using for headquarters building, theater, gymnasium and recreation hall, and an officers mess. Civilians still lived in the parts of the community not taken over by the army and there was a constant stream of civilian foot traffic up and down the "main drag" on which the officers' quarters, headquarters, etc., were located. Also busses to Birmingham came right by our door, and ran about every two or three minutes during rush hours. To us, accustomed to army camps in the States, where we were completely isolated from civil life, this being set down right in the center of everyday civilian life was something very strange.

We officers were unloaded, taken by the billeting office and assigned rooms and issued sheets and cover, told that we would have late breakfast at the mess hall, instructed to report back at headquarters within an hour, and then sent off in charge of another guide to our quarters. My room turned out to be just that - four walls, with two small steel beds with strawfilled mattresses - and that's all. I was to share the room with one other officer. Luckily, and for a thousand wonders, my luggage had all arrived on the same train with me, so I at least had all my personal possessions with me. [end page 15]

Something Was Wrong

I returned to the office at the appointed time and immediately began to have my fast growing suspicions that there was something wrong somewhere confirmed. We were given all kinds of personnel qualification papers to fill out, questioned about our immunization records, told we would be scheduled for physical examinations right away, and told to turn over our own personal records cards for their records. So I began to blow up and want to know what in the thunder it was all about. I had had all that stuff and such settled long before I left dear old Camp Claiborne. I had a job and wasn't looking for any more. My record card was in our unit field desk somewhere back around Cardiff about then, and even if it wasn't they couldn't have it, as it belonged in our unit files. And besides all that, it was about time I got away from all that poppy cock and looked up my men to see how they were faring.

Then they tried to tell me that I didn't have any men - that those who had come over with me were being well taken care of up in one of the casual companies and would soon be assigned to nice new homes on this side of the ocean. And, brother, did I brew up a storm about that time. In the meantime Glickenhaus had come in all out of breath, having found me after much searching, wanting to know what it was all about.

The argument was still going full blast when we decided to adjourn for lunch. Just as we were convening for our next session after lunch the phone rang and it was an officer in the Adjutant General section at the main headquarters at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, inquiring about whether our outfit had arrived and asking that they send me right over as they had some secret correspondence in their safe addressed to me. This correspondence proved to be orders from Western Base Section, attaching us to the 10th Repl.Depot for duty. So that clarified our status there and a telephone call by them, back to Pheasey, served to straighten out that tangle. But it didn't eliminate a lot of difficulties that were to be ours while stationed there. They didn't want us there, as they had their own utilities section they had patched together and built up, and they made no bones about it. We were never "accepted into the family', and everywhere I turned I met passive resistance to my efforts to get oriented and installed in our new home. No one appeared willing to offer a helping hand or information or suggestions of any kind.

The Colonel at Whittington Barracks

On that first visit to Whittington Barracks I was told that the Post Commander would want to see me, now that we were to be under his command. So I sweated it out for about three hours before he finally let it be known that he now had a couple of minutes of his valuable time that he could spare me. I was ushered into his spacious office with much the same pomp as if I had been going for an audience with the King of England himself, and I must have made a sorry looking spectacle for such an audience. I had on the same clothes I had slept in for the best part of two weeks, and had not shaved since the morning before, as I had not had time to shave or change clothes that morning. I had only had about three hours sleep since completing that hectic voyage across the Atlantic, and that sitting up in a train. So I can well understand the note of contempt in the Colonel's voice as he spoke to me and told me that he hadn't asked for such a unit and he wished they would stop sending him things like that without consulting him, and now that we were there what was he going to do with us. To which my only reply was we had orders to come, and here we were. That made me very popular with the Colonel, right off. [end page 16]

I went on back to dear old Pheasey Farms feeling very unwelcome in the U.K. The next few days I spent trying to make some start at getting settled down, but they didn't want us and just gave me the cold shoulder at every turn. However, I finally managed to get a little section off in one corner for my men to live kind of segregated from the casuals. By crowding them up a little I managed to use one of the rooms for an orderly room and another for a supply room. I also managed to get my own quarters changed down to the main drag, where the station complement lived, with a room to myself, but still with no more furniture.

Western Base Section headquarters at Chester

On Friday of that week I had a call from a Captain in the troops division, engineer section at Western Base Section headquarters at Chester, telling me he'd like me to come up there the next day for an interview. So I made all arrangements for rail travel, got orders and had a jeep dispatched to take me to the train in Litchfield in the morning. Although it was only about 85 miles to Chester, I had to change trains twice, and ride three different trains to get there, and the trains were all packed til they bulged, seeing as how it was Easter week-end, and those Englishmen always took their holidays (three days for Easter), war or no war. So it was about noon by the time I arrived at Chester and got transportation out to headquarters, located in a requisitioned "chateau" a couple of miles out of town.

One of the first things I learned there was that my unit was one of the service units scheduled to sail for the shores of France in the first days of the invasion. Of course everything was highly secret, and of course no one there had the slightest idea of what the exact invasion date would be, and they wouldn't tell me how soon after D-Day we would go over. Everyone did know, though, that all plans for the invasion were in an extremely advanced stage and that it could come most anytime soon.

I spent the afternoon getting acquainted with "the boys" in headquarters and getting lined up on drawing our equipment. We had top priority on all equipment so that we could be completely equipped in the shortest time possible, and releases on much of our equipment were already there waiting for me. That meant that all I had to do was take the releases to the depots designated and get the stuff. They asked, though, that we notify them a couple of days in advance when we would be there. The depots were scattered all over central and southern England, and that meant we had lots of traveling to do in the next few weeks. Releases for our unit vehicles were among those ready, and so that as soon as we could get them we would be independent as far as transportation was concerned.

When I finally got away and back into town I found that I had a couple of hours to loaf before the next train back, so I spent it wandering around the city, sightseeing and window shopping. I found the variety of wares displayed very limited, and what was available appeared to be very plain and of inferior quality. Also, you could not help noticing the clothing worn by everyone. Everything was very plain and most of it had an almost shoddy appearance, showing the effects of long hard wear, necessitated by the most stringent rationing of all fabrics. You could tell that clothing was bought with a thought to serviceability and lasting qualities first of all and that appearance was secondary. Most of the women wore coatsuits, of hard material, making the English women appear quite drab, compared with the colors and frills our own women were wearing. Most of the women's legs were bare, and where you did see hose, they were of a very coarse and inferior grade of cotton or rayon. You could see that they knew that there had been a war going on for almost five years. [end page 17]

I spent most of next day, Easter Sunday, telephoning depots all over England, checking on the availability of equipment on our releases and advising them when it would be called for. I did take time out, though, to attend Easter services at the headquarters chapel. It was well, too, that I picked Easter Sunday to do my telephoning, as I had fairly good success getting the calls through, and that was certainly not true on any ordinary business day in England at that time.

During the next week we got our vehicles and much of our other equipment, including tools of various kinds. Most of our time, though, was spent just killing time and trying to adjust ourselves to our new surroundings. Such things as laundry and dry cleaning arrangements, arrangements for drawing March pay, obtaining PX ration cards (required everywhere in the ETO) had to be handled, and as no one seemed inclined to lend us a helping hand we had to feel our own way along and find out how the best way we could. But we managed somehow and got some good experience in "scratching for ourselves" This experience was to come in handy in the months ahead. We turned out to be just about the best "scroungers" in the ETO, and if it could be had the "futilities boys" would have it - whatever it happened to be.

Alert Orders for Movement to the Continent

On the next Sunday morning I got a telephone call from the A.G. section at Western Base Headquarters advising me that there were some secret orders there for us, that an officer courier would have to come for them, and would I please dispatch "one of my officers" (that always gave me a laugh) immediately on that errand. So I sent out word to Untermier, my driver, to get our weapons carrier (in which I was doing all my riding those days) in shape for the trip, and we shoved off immediately after lunch. The orders turned out to be alert orders, alerting us for "movement to the Continent." All the "poop" and detailed instructions on how to prepare for our little jaunt, down to the last detail on what we were to wear on the boat ride and what we were to carry with us, were all included with the orders. I believe that was one of the biggest thrills I ever got in my life when I opened and read that "stuff”. Here in the midst of a world in which a thousand speculations on the supposed forthcoming invasion were born every minute, we received our orders alerting us to move to France, still safe in Nazi hands behind that "Atlantic Wall," and thereby officially took up our insignificant little nitche in the train of events rushing on to the most heralded military undertaking in history. We were on the inside now, and some of the answers to many of the questions the world was asking those days could be learned from the "poop" I now had. But the very fact that I now knew as much as I did meant that I must completely seal my lips as far as any talk or speculation on the big event goes. It was even forbidden to mention the fact to anyone that we were alerted or to make any moves that might suggest such.

Although my unit was a very small one, it was a separate and independent unit, and I got all the poop and information that was passed out to commanders of all other units, regardless of size. The alert orders stated that my unit was assigned to Advanced Section Communication Zone (ADSEC, as it was to be known,) which would in turn be attached to the First Army for initial operations. So the dope we got was that published by First Army Headquarters. I later got orders which had assigned us to ADSEC the day we arrived in England.

Preparations for Movement

The alert orders required that all preparations for movement be completed not later than May 15th, so we knew it could not be long now. There was much work to be done and very little time in which to get it done. [end page 18]

The next morning I called my "staff" of key non-coms [non-commissioned officers] in and, after warning them as to strictest secrecy, told them as much of what I knew as I dared, so that they would all carry out their own parts in preparation. There were clothes to be turned in (we had to travel so light that even neck-ties and overseas caps were turned in), much special stuff to be drawn and issued, and many details to be handled. A three days' supply of drinking water and K-rations, a three hundred mile supply of fuel for all vehicles, combat ammunition - in fact, everything required to live and operate and fight for three days after landing - must be carried with us.

One item specified in our alert orders was concerning information on packing and loading of unit equipment and vehicles which must be furnished the Transportation Corps so that they could prepare loading schedules for vessels that were to haul the armies. Numerous forms must be filled out, giving weight and cubic contents of everything, overall dimensions of vehicles, and weights of same, and much other dope. This must be delivered to the Transportation Corps office in London by officer courier (which meant me) not later than April 25th, eight days after I received our orders. If all other such information turned in by other units was as subject to error as mine was (and I believe it was), the vessels were all loaded based on information which was very much of an estimate. We only had a small percentage of our equipment as yet, and I defy anyone, no more familiar with such things than the average engineer officer, to make a reasonably accurate estimate of the weights and space required for such varied items of equipment as axes and mauls, crosscut saws, wheelbarrows, blocks and tackles and shovels - to name only a few items. But I got my data in on time, and the ship turned out not to be particularly overloaded or underloaded, so I guess all the errors by everyone kind of "averaged up".

Trip to London - Saw Whole Blocks Destroyed

I enjoyed my trip to London very much and was glad that I was required to go there on official business, because I would never have gotten there otherwise. I completed my business about eight PM on the day of my arrival so I took that evening and the next day and evening to see the sights of the City before journeying "back home" on Wednesday. London, even at that time, before the advent of the buzz-bomb and V-2 appeared very much the worse for enemy bombs. Whole blocks seemed to be almost completely destroyed. The thing that impressed me most at that time was that, although nearly everything for blocks on all sides of it had been destroyed or damaged, St. Paul’s Cathedral bore no outward evidences of having been touched, though it is true that one bomb had hit it. It looked to me like the Krauts had been aiming at it and had hit everything else but it.

A few days after I received our alert orders I also received a big batch of poop from the ADSEC Engineer, to whom I was directly responsible. Included in the poop was a lengthy treatise on training for the forthcoming event and many instructions about how it should be carried out and training tests that should be given. As we had just come from a training period in the States which was supposed to have completely prepared us for our mission in the field, I did not worry too much about the training requirements or pay too much attention to them, and, fortunately, no inspectors ever came along checking up. That was one advantage of being comparatively isolated and on our own. I did prepare training schedules, though, and we had classes - of a sort - as far as possible and practical. [end page 19]

About the same time, the powers that be around Pheasey Farms and Whittington Barracks (who knew none of the inside dope on us) began to wake up and decide that maybe we did have something they could use, after all. That was about the time that our equipment started coming in and they saw us with things they had tried every way to get but to no avail - things like trucks, motorized road graders, bulldozers, and complete sets of tools for carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other trades. So they began to be a little more friendly and a little more helpful - kind of "hi-ya-pal?" like, when we met. And then they started coming around to see me - maybe they did have a place there for us, after all. How about them turning over a few jobs to me for us to do - jobs that required the kind of equipment I mentioned. So in that way we got busy, and before we left there we had all the work we could do and all "the boys" were very palsy-walsy with me.

There was a fire fighting platoon stationed at Pheasey Farms at the same time that was also assigned to ADSEC and alerted for movement, and they were sweating out the same deal that we were. There was only one officer in it also, so he (Lt. Waters) and I at least had someone we could confide in and discuss matters and gripe with. Each of us would pass on to the other what little information we could get from here and there, and between the two of us we managed to make out all right. He had also been pretty well kicked around, there at Pheasey, and so did not feel much more kindly toward the place than I.

Training in Water Proofing the Vehicles

One of the items in preparation for our movement to France was training in water proofing of vehicles. It was required that all vehicles be waterproofed so that they could be driven off landing barges into the surf and onto the beach without drowning out the motors or injuring any part of the vehicles with the salt water. This required application of water proof sealing on all wiring, ignition, bearings, etc., up to a height of 4 or 5 feet off the ground, so that the vehicles could actually be driven in water that deep. For a Jeep, that meant it must be so waterproofed that it could be driven with the whole vehicle submerged, and for larger vehicles it meant that the greater part of the vehicle would be submerged. This proved to be quite a sizeable Job. Special materials, which came in "kits" ready prepared for the various vehicles, were required, and there were training manuals published for waterproofing of all types of vehicles.

A certain number of men were chosen, including vehicle drivers and mechanics, and they were sent to a special school for 6 days to learn how to do the Job. Then they came back to the unit where they actually waterproofed one of the vehicles for practice. This vehicle, a 2-1/2 ton truck, was then driven to the beach near Liverpool for a test run to see how good the Job was. The driver told me that they took him so far out in the water that it was up to his armpits as he sat in the driver's seat and that one swell lifted him completely off the seat. I believe that our vehicle was the only one that made a perfect score on the test. Most of the others had to be "fished out" with wreckers, as the water had gotten through to some vital spot and conked the engine. Then after they returned home the vehicle had to be de-waterproofed and completely inspected and lubricated.

It was during that period that we had the first casualty in the unit. The boys were playing a little friendly game of softball one evening after chow when James Schulz broke a tendon in his leg while sliding into second (or maybe it was third) base. He was taken to the station hospital and later moved to a general hospital where the leg was operated on, so he had to be transferred out and a replacement obtained. To date, (4 September 1945) he is the only person lost to the unit because of injury of any kind. I saw Schulz again after we arrived in France, and his knee was still very much on the lame side. Which, all goes to prove ( - or does it? - ) that playing baseball is more dangerous than fighting the war - in the Engineers. Yes, I realize what a storm that statement would raise if read in some circles. [end page 20]

Although none of the headquarters boys from Western Base or ADSEC, ever got around to visit us, we kept in fairly close touch by telephone, through occasional visits that I made to Chester, and through the ever-present-in-the-army reports that I made regularly. They were always questioning me about our training and the status of same, and I kept stalling them off by telling them that we were ready to carry out any operations assigned to us. Our operational mission, as stated in our alert orders was to be "The repair and operation of utilities in a major port area," and I felt confident that we could handle that little job without any trouble. They finally decided, though, that we should get a little experience in actual construction in the army manner and started fishing around for a place where that could be done.

Burtonwood Airdrome

So on the morning of Monday, May 15th, I got a telephone call telling me that we were to move to Burtonwood Airdrome where we would be attached for operations to the 2nd Battalion of the 368 Engr. G. S. Regt., which was working on the construction of some additional housing facilities there. We were to move as soon as possible, and travel orders would be issued later. I have never yet seen those travel orders.

They could not tell me on the telephone where the place was located, as such information was very secret in those days and could not be given over the phone. The only thing they could tell me was the map coordinates, and since I did not have that kind of map of that particular area, that was not much help to me. But after straining at a gnat for about a half hour of quibbling they finally swallowed a camel by telling me the telephone number of the 368th so I could let them know when we would arrive. And there it was, just as plain as the nose on your face, er sumpin - Warrington 1234. And where else would they have such a telephone number besides in Warrington or the vicinity of same? I'm sure if any spy had been listening in he had been completely baffled - or had he? Or maybe he had gotten disgusted and given up before now.

The rest of that day and the next were spent closing out our affairs at Pheasey and packing our personal effects and unit equipment for what was to be the first of many moves within the next few weeks. We pulled out at about 5:30 AM on Wednesday, May 17th, my birthday. A half dozen men were left behind to take care of a little unfinished business and to pick up some more equipment that was due in by rail that day. Otherwise, all the personnel and property of the unit were loaded on our own vehicles, and they looked like moving day on the farm. The maximum allowable loads were certainly exceeded that day.

Although it was the middle of May it was very cold, and frost was on the ground when we started. I believe that ride, in the open cab of a weapons carrier, was the coldest I ever took, in spite of the fact I was bundled up in my big overcoat with "long handles" underneath. I thought then, and I still think, that was an awful way to spend a birthday, freezing to death riding in an army truck. [end page 21]

Since the trip was only slightly more than a hundred miles, we arrived well before noon. I looked up Capt. Allen, then in command of the 2nd Battalion, and got lined up on our quarters, office and supply room space, messing accommodations, and the work we were to do. This particular section of Burtonwood Airdrome, which they told me at that time was the largest airport in the world, was composed of Niessen huts of corrugated sheet asbestos material, so we were given huts for billets and other requirements. Our job was to help complete the erection of a number of new huts. My own quarters was to be in a Niessen hut occupied by Battalion Headquarters officers. In addition to Capt. Allen and myself, the Chaplain, the medical officer and the Adjutant also slept there. We had a tent stove and plenty of coal, so the place was quite cozy.

By 3:00 PM all arrangements had been sufficiently completed so that I felt safe in leaving Sergeant Davis in charge of things and taking off on the return trip to Pheasey Farms to complete closing out there and to bring back the rest of our crew. We were back at Burtonwood, ready to go to work by noon the next day.

We worked hard and long hours at Burtonwood and got a lot done in the time we were there, but we were fed good and had good living conditions and recreational facilities. The men went on pass to both Manchester and Liverpool (we were about half way between the two places), quite a bit, but I never left the camp, except on business, the whole time we were there. The most popular recreation was strolling over to the landing fields in the evenings and watching the planes go in and out. There was a constant parade of Liberators and Fortresses and fighter planes going in both directions. It was here that many of the trans-oceanic planes began or ended their voyages. The story was told around, and sworn to as the truth, that a soldier there had asked his C.O. for a three days' pass to go to Birmingham, which he promptly received. When he finally returned from his pass, he was five days overdue, but he had been to Birmingham, Alabama, USA, instead of Birmingham, England. Quite a far cry from hitchhiking as I knew it back in my college days.

General Lee

On the evening of Friday, May 10th, I received a telephone call from Western Base Section. I had already gone to bed when it came through, which was not so late at that, but they told them to wake me up as the call was very urgent. When I got to the phone and got them on the line, a conversation somewhat as follows took place:

"Hello - This is Capt. Horsley".

"This is Capt. Blank. I've been asked to advise you that General Lee wishes to see you at Depot G-16 at 3:00 PM tomorrow."

"General Lee wants to see me? What in the world does he want to see me about?"

"I don't know. All I know is that I was told to call a group of officers and tell them that General Lee wished to see them. You will contact the Adjutant at G-16 upon arrival for further details."

Well, you can bet I was really excited. What on earth could General Lee, a three star General in Command of all Communication Zone Forces in the ETO, as well as General Eisenhower's Deputy ETO Commander, want to see such small fry as me about, I wondered. But then I got to thinking, and the more I thought the more it sounded like typical army tripe of trying to make everything sound so big and important, and decided I was all excited about nothing. So I went on back and went to sleep again without too much difficulty. [end page 22]

Although it was only about fifty miles down to the town where G-16 was located (I don't remember the name of the place now,) or about an hour and a half's ride in my weapons carrier, I left in plenty of time the next day to arrive on time, allowing for most any kind of emergency. After another frosty ride, wrapped up in all the clothes I could get on, at the same time wearing my dressiest dress uniform, I arrived there at about 1:45 PM. Upon inquiring at the Adjutant's office, I was told that General Lee would see me at the Red Cross Club on the post when he arrived. At the Red Cross Club I was directed to the lounge where I found several officers already waiting to see the General. Through questioning and exchange of information between all concerned, it was finally decided that the Commanding Officers of all units in the Base Section assigned to ADSEC had been invited to see General Lee and that he would no doubt address us all as a group.

And so we cooled our heels. And when I say cooled, I really mean cooled. There was no heat in the place, and that raw damp English cold penetrated the bone and made your spine ache. We had already been told that the General would not arrive before 4:00 PM, instead of three, so we knew we had a long wait. I ran across some old acquaintances from earlier army days back in the States and killed time chewing the fat with them. Altogether I believe there were representatives from almost eighty units there that day.

As the hour neared four o'clock, those responsible for the reception began to arrange things for the affair, and the nearer it got to four o'clock, the more they shifted and changed things around and the more nervous they got. The chairs must have been re-arranged at least three or four times to assure the proper seating arrangement, and to be sure that we would all be directly facing the speaker's stand and that we would have standing room to jump to attention when his foot first hit the door. To me it all appeared extremely comical, something like a farce in which the ridiculousness of such stuff was emphasized for the amusement of the spectators.

About four o'clock the report arrived that the General's plane had landed at the airport, and he was on his way to the post. Awhile later it was reported that he was now making a tour of the post, and that is when the "arrangers" really got excited. Someone would come dashing in all out of breath and say that he would be here in a few minutes, and would come in the backdoor. That led to a mad and frantic scramble to rearrange all the chairs to provide an aisle, big enough to drive a truck through from the rear to the front, so there would be no possibility of anything obstructing his passage. No sooner had that been completed and everyone started catching his breath again, than someone else came tearing in and said they had altered their course and were coming in the side door on the other side. This precipitated another wild rearrangement. After the third such alert the General finally arrived at about 5:00 PM via the front door. Someone shouted "attention" before he entered and everyone stood rigid, without batting an eyelash, while he made his entrance and proceeded to the speaker's stand and until his chief of staff gave the "Be Seated, Gentlemen" signal that permitted us to relax a little.

After a brief introduction, General Lee spoke to us for approximately five minutes. We had been called there as commanding officers of units scheduled to leave for the shores of France in the early stages of the invasion, units particularly chosen for such a job and therefore the best units of their kinds (the same old army hokum.) His chief concern at that time was to ascertain the state of readiness of the units for that date and to offer the assistance of his staff in overcoming any difficulties in completing all arrangements, particularly for supplies. That date was nearer than anyone had dared to guess and final arrangements must be made at once. Any difficulties should be called to the attention of his staff now so that it could be handled without delay. And so saying, the General turned us over to his staff and departed. [end page 23]

My unit was about the third on the list as they called them off for consultation with staff members, and it did not take me long to tell them that we were all ready to go and chafing at the bit. The Red Cross then served us coffee and sandwiches to help warm us up after the ordeal, after which I climbed in the old jalopy and headed back for Burtonwood.

At sometime after arriving in France, I was talking to an officer who told me he had been stationed at G-16 in England, and I mentioned that occasion to him. He told me that at that time, less than three weeks before the invasion began, and when all supply facilities were taxed to the very utmost trying to get everyone properly outfitted for the occasion, that very important general supply depot there had all but ceased operations for several days prior to the General's visit, in order to get the place properly policed and polished and shined and painted up to put on a good appearance for the General. That did not surprise me one bit, though, as I've seen the same thing, only under different conditions, happen more than once before and since.

The work at Burtonwood progressed so rapidly that less than two weeks after our arrival the 368th was completing its work there and getting ready to move out. That brought up the question of what was to happen to us. The 368th was to join the rest of their outfit back in Wales for a few weeks of intensive training, and I very definitely did not want to be sent there with them. So I hunted up the Post Engineer on the post and sold him on the idea of requesting that we stay there to help take care of the utilities at Burtonwood. Then I jumped in the jalopy and journeyed to Chester once more to sell the boys at Western Base on the same idea. That did not prove too hard to do, and within a couple of hours after my arrival at Chester I was on my way once more, with arrangements all completed for us to stay at Burtonwood until time for us to move to the port. And how short that time was I was soon to find out.

Secret TWX

I arrived back at Burtonwood at about noon on that day, Tuesday, May 30th, where I found some mail which had been sent to the old address at Pheasey and forwarded from there. Included in this was a Secret TWX (telegram), also sent to the old station, dated the 22nd, and so eight days overdue in reaching me. In substance this TWX said, "This is a Movement Warning Order, You will be prepared to move to the Marshalling area on or after May 29th, at the call of the Transportation Corps. Further instructions will be received from your R.T.O. (Regional Transportation Officer)."

Well, there it was. We had been warned eight days ago to be ready by the day before to move out to the port upon call. Prior instructions had stated that you must be ready to move with six hours notice after your Movement Warning Order alert date. For all I knew maybe we should have moved out yesterday or today. In all the information which I had given to the TC at London our "shipping out address" had been given as Pheasey Farms. As I was afraid that any attempt to send in a change in that information might result in a mix-up, and as I thought that any Movement Warning Order would reach us in plenty of time for us to return to Pheasey before moving out, I had not reported any change of status. So any further instructions to us were to come through the R.T.O. at Lichfield, and now he did not even know where we were. [end page 24]

Once again I crawled in the old weapons carrier and headed out for Western Base Section to request authority to return to Pheasey Farms immediately and to ask for any further advice I could get. Four hours after I left there with arrangements completed to stay at Burtonwood, I was back again trying to get us moved out immediately.

The first thing they did was call the T.C in London to see if we were "under movement orders yet". It took a little double talk and code talk to meet the telephone secrecy requirements, but the information was that it would be two or three days before our movement orders came through and that we would have plenty of time after getting them. I did not have any idea, though, what they meant by "plenty of time". . .maybe one day, or maybe two, three or four.

It was decided, nevertheless, that we should move back to Pheasey the next day, and there await further orders. A telephone call to headquarters there was sufficient to complete necessary arrangements for billets and messing facilities.

While at Western Base they told me, after consulting their "Top Secret" files, that our unit was well upon the list of the early Service Force units to sail for France. They would not tell me the exact day, but did say that we were scheduled to land in France less than two weeks after D-Day.

Upon my return to Burtonwood I immediately began the mad scramble to get ready to depart in the early morning hours the next day. There was much to be done; breaking up housekeeping, packing, loading, etc. I made arrangements with Capt. Allen to lend us an additional truck for the move and a trailer to haul our bulldozer. I could not tell the men what had happened, but they could tell there was something big in the air, and everyone was properly excited.

General Patton

Our borrowed truck had motor trouble the next day, and we finally had to leave it behind and proceed without it, promising to send back for them as soon as we could get one of the others unloaded. It was on this trip that I got my first view of General Patton. Someone in the back of the vehicle shouted that there was a big shot coming behind us; we had better pull over and let them pass. I looked around just in time to see a shiny Packard sedan, bearing a red plate with three silver stars on the front, passing us. I recognized "General Gerogie" the minute I laid eyes on him. I had known that his headquarters was only a short distance away and had passed there several times before, but had yet seen him. I had also known for sometime that he had the command which was not to be announced publicly until after the big break through in France in which it was to play such a big part.

As soon as we arrived at Pheasey and were shown to our new living quarters I had one of the trucks unloaded and dispatched back up the road to find our truck in distress. Then I went to Lichfield to look up the R.T.O. I finally found him, after searching the better part of the afternoon, and told him I was expecting movement orders, through him, most anytime now and told him how he could reach me by telephone. I had to give the number at headquarters as we had no phone at our new location. [end page 25]

Although we had been well prepared, as far as we could go, for those orders to come through, there was still much last minute work necessary to complete the preparation. The biggest job was waterproofing the vehicles, as all of them were to be completely waterproofed, except for the final phases to be completed at the port, before leaving for the marshalling area. We also had much equipment to pack and crate and mark and load. All equipment, including vehicles and every individual box and piece, was to be marked with our code number and our color scheme code (three colored stripes) painted on. This had all been handled except for the new crates made for the final packing. Other work including making up of complete packing lists of each crate and in turn each vehicle, the final turn in of items of clothing and equipment not to be carried on the trip, and the packing of personal luggage.

Instructions were that officers could carry one piece of hand luggage and the bedding roll on the move. Winter clothes were all to be packed in foot lockers and the lockers taken to a Quartermaster Depot for storage and future shipment to the Continent before winter. I acted on a hunch that time, and as a result I feel that I've done at least one smart thing since I've been in the army. Since we were moving in our own unit vehicles I packed my authorized luggage as full as I could get it and then sneaked a duffle bag and a barracks bag full of stuff in on the sly. This took care of all my personal possessions, so I gave my foot looker away to another officer at Pheasey. By so doing, when winter time overtook us in France, I had all my winter clothes along. It is now beginning the second winter since that time and many of the officers who stored their winter clothes and foot lookers in England are still waiting for them to catch up with them.

Thursday, June 1st, the morning after our return to Pheasey, I got my sergeants together and told them that we were alerted to move very soon and had much work to complete preparations. It was absolutely essential that those preparations be completed without delay. The urgency could not be over-emphasized. With that everyone set to work in earnest and by dark that evening we could have moved on two hours notice, except for completion of waterproofing. That was also completed the next day.

With that done, we sat down to twiddle our thumbs and wait for big things to happen. I left word at headquarters to hunt up someone from our unit if a call should come through for us, no matter what time of day it should come. And I instructed our own CQs to come and roust me out of bed if a message came through at night, or leave a message on my bed if I happened to be out for a couple of hours.

In the meantime I visited Lt. Waters to exchange notes with him and see what he knew that I didn't know. By that time our mail situation was completely balled up, so much so that we received no more mail, official or otherwise, for the next six weeks. Much official mail, in the mail for me at that time, reached me in France weeks later, much too late to be of any good to me. Lt. Water's unit was also alerted and awaiting orders. He told me that he had received a secret letter from ADSEC headquarters advising that as soon as the beginning of the invasion was officially announced on the radio, he was to leave for ADSEC headquarters in Bristol immediately for final instructions and briefing.

Headquarters at Pheasey

The back of the photo states - My going at Attention -- Awaiting Inspection - no place or date given
Click on picture to enlarge

All the boys at headquarters at Pheasey were very curious and inquisitive as to what this sudden return and activity on our part meant. All I could tell them was that we were only there temporarily and would probably be moving on elsewhere in a few days. I am sure they smelled a mouse, but equally as sure that they never guessed the real story. To most of the world D-Day was still a future pipe dream, but I knew that it must be coming at any moment now. [end page 26]

We waited Friday and Friday night, and no word. Then Saturday and Saturday night, and still no word. On Sunday morning I got a note to call a major in the engineer office at ADSEC in Bristol. When I finally got him on the phone, he wanted to know if I had received the communication about briefing, the one that Lt. Waters had told me about. I told him I had not but that I thought I had an idea what it contained, hoping all the time that no one would ever check to see how I came about this secret information. He seemed satisfied and asked no questions, but told me as soon as we got news to call there by telephone for further instructions.

On Monday the radio and newspapers were full of the story of the wild excitement created in the States the day before because of the slip made by the Teletype Operator in the SHAEF [General Records of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force] office in London which had flashed a premature false message over the wires announcing the invasion was underway.

When I sat down at the supper table in the headquarters officers' mess that night an officer there greeted me with the word that he had heard we had orders to move out again. "Sure enough?," says I. "Well, that's news to me." A few minutes later the sergeant-major came into the mess hall and delivered a message he had taken on the phone for me. There it was, copied in black and white on the typewriter, just as he had taken it on the phone — our orders to move to the marshalling area. After all the double and triple checking and precautions they had taken to keep everything secret our final orders were given over the telephone to the clerk who answered the phone, and there was no telling how many people knew about it even before I did. It did not matter too much, though, as the destination was given in map coordinates and the routing in military road code numbers so still no one knew where we were heading. The main thing was that the orders said we would move out at 8:00 AM on the seventh, which was Wednesday. So we were to be leaving for the marshalling area within 36 hours, and still no news of the invasion being on. It was beginning to look as if we really would be among the first.

I might as well stop now long enough to say that, since that time so many eye witness accounts have been written covering almost every phase of the incidents immediately preceding, during, and following H-Hour and D-Day, playing up every detail of the initial assaults, that there is a tendency to regard anyone who did not participate in that particular phase as completely out of the picture. Now, I will admit that all the glory and praise and bally-ho rightly belong to those H-Hour and D-Day boys --they surely deserved it and I for one was perfectly willing for them to have it. And as it turned out our own eventual landing in France was so tame and uneventful in comparison that I really feel a little ashamed to claim any little part in the big affair, but at the time of which I am speaking now no one knew that the famed Luftwaf was already so completely done for that it would never be effectively used again -- the story then was that it was being hoarded to repel the invasion and to sink those ships before they got to France, and everyone thought that there would be at least a little submarine activity to add to the dangers. In fact, no one had any idea how things would come out or that ships would be crossing with follow up and build-up forces and disgorging them on the beaches practically unmolested.

So even though we were not to be among the first, and had known all along that we would not be, I maintain that we were also justified in sharing some of the excitement and tenseness of the occasion, although our final crossing and landing in France was to be very anti-climatic. [end page 27]

It was on Monday night that I received the instructions to move. When I got to the orderly room the next morning at about 7:30 everyone was wild with excitement. A flash had just come over the radio that the Germans had announced the invasion was underway. Since I had known that it must come at any minute now I could not share the excitement to the fullest, but it was really something to remember. We had our orders to move off to it, and now it was underway. I could not help but wonder what it would be like by the time we got there.

All Ears Were Glued to the Radio

All ears were glued to the radio that morning, what time we could spare from our own work getting ready. And there was nothing on the air but news concerning the invasion, at first mostly from enemy sources. Finally General Eisenhower's official announcement was made, and we all knew that the long anticipated and breathlessly awaited event was in full swing. All thoughts were focused on those little strips of beach, where so much history was being written in blood and sweat and suffering and death. And, once again, that was rightly so, but I could not help think of the thousands, and millions, who were also playing their own little parts somewhere else at that very minute but about whom the world would never know or care. And I am sure that the great majority of the behind-the-scenes participants would prefer to remain anonymous and unheralded.

But to get back to my own story -- As soon as I heard the official announcement that the invasion was on I hunted up a telephone and put in a call to ADSEC Headquarters. I had expected it to be very difficult to get my call through, in view of prior notices restricting telephone calls on D-Day to the most urgent military operational needs. But the result was that, as soon as I made it clear that my call was one of those authorized, it was put through without any delay. When I got the engineer office at ALSEC and told them who I was the voice on the other end replied, "Oh yes, Captain Horsley. I was just trying to call you. You are to report to Major Blank in this office on Thursday, the eighth, for further instructions. You will come in person and alone, and will be prepared to safeguard important secret documents on your return trip.

I now had all the information and instructions I needed for the present and had only to attend to last minute minor details, complete packing and loading, set up a schedule that would insure our departure at the appointed time the next morning and make the few usual clearance and farewell calls. I also arranged for the loan of an additional truck from the post motor pool to help haul our personnel the next day.

We left at exactly 8:00 o'clock Thursday morning, as scheduled. And, what seemed very strange to me at the time, in view of the fact that we were on our way to France, we were going to Liverpool. Our trip was necessarily very slow as the convoy including our motor grader, running under its own power, and it could only do twelve or fifteen miles per hour. So it was near three in the afternoon when we finally arrived and located our "staging camp" and checked in. It was a tent camp, which had been hastily thrown up on a golf course grown up with weeds since the war, and was about six miles out of Liverpool and about a mile off the main highway into Liverpool. It was known as Bromboro Golf Course.

Bromboro Golf Course

As usual on such occasions I was given a batch of poop when I checked in, with instructions on every phase of our camp existence, such as air raid protection - foxholes were to be dug immediately for all personnel, - camouflage procedure, additional training and the usual run of stuff. We were assigned an area for the men, and I was to share a small wall tent with one more officer. Then the officer in charge called a colored soldier, showed him on the map the areas assigned to us and told him to conduct me to the area. After we had walked about a half mile, down to the far end of the camp, my guide turned to me and asked, "Where did he say you all wuz to go to?" I replied, "I don't know. He told you the area and that's what he sent you along for, to point it out to me. "Well, sah," he said, "I don't 'zactly recollect where he did say fo you all to go, but they ain't nobody in these tents, and I 'spects they's just as good as any." [end page 28]

Well ! Far be it from me to quibble over a little matter like tents to live in, so I told the men to move into the first vacant section, and I grabbed the first vacant tent in officers row. As a result, no one at headquarters was ever able to find us when they wanted us. And that was just as well too as it saved me a lot of running around and answering calls to headquarters. And it saved at least one interrupted night's sleep for me. It was two or three nights later that I was awakened, at about one AM, by footsteps and voices nearby, to hear another one of those colored soldier orderlies inquiring of my neighbor in the tent next door: "Does yo happen to know whar I kin find Capn Horsley, in the 97th Engineers?" "No, I haven't the slightest idea where he lives," was the reply. "Well, they wants him up to headquarters right away on important business." And so saying he went shuffling off in the dark in search of Capt. Horsley while Capt. Horsley turned over, pulled the covers up over his head and went on back to sleep, blissfully ignorant, for all practical purposes, of the fact that he was wanted at headquarters immediately.

That time spent at Bromboro was the only time in my whole army career, to date, that I have ever lived in a tent. My furniture there consisted of one canvas cot, and I had three blankets, drawn from camp supply, to go with it. Although it was then the middle of June, those three blankets were not enough and I "slept cold" every night we were there, even though I slept in my "long johns" and wool socks. I made good use of a trick an old army man had shown me about how to fold your blankets together to make what amounted to a sleeping bag to keep you warm on both bottom and top sides and to keep the cover from getting all kicked around. This was the only thing that kept me from actually suffering from the cold. I had my own bed roll and cover with me when we arrived at Bromboro but since they were to be loaded in our vehicles which were in turn to be loaded on the boat immediately, I got no use of them then.

The food was very good at Bromboro, in keeping with what appears to be standard procedure in the army of feeding you extra good and giving you the best they can of everything just before you shove off on any big adventure. Training schedules were in order, to keep everyone occupied while we waited, but there again I goofed off, as did most everyone else there, since we all figured there wasn't much benefit in outfits like ours brushing up on close order drill and similar subjects at this late hour. I did insist, though, on a period of calisthenics each day, and all the study and training we could possibly get in on handling mines and booby traps, as I thought our greatest need for training would probably lie with the latter. Aside from that there wasn't much to keep us occupied and the time certainly drug by as we listened to and read the news and awaited our embarkation orders.

After we got settled down in our new quarters in tent city, on the day of our arrival at Bromboro, I gave out orders on the work required for the next day and made ready to set out for Bristol at daybreak. Additional processing still to be done included a final check of all our vehicles by ordinance for approval of waterproofing and final adjustment of loads for loading on the boat. Also we had to try to get some items of supplies and equipment that we were still short, among which I was most concerned about camouflage nets and fire fighting equipment, and other items that were scheduled to be issued at the marshalling area. Included among the latter were anti-seasickness pills, called by the army motion sickness preventative capsules, emergency D-Rations, sulfa-diazene packets for the first aid kits, and shoe impregnite for application to shoes to proof them against vesicant gases. Also, ammunition had to be broken down and issued to the individuals to hold in readiness for immediate use. [end page 29]


I left for Bristol at about 6:00 AM on Thursday, June 8th, riding in the weapons carrier and wearing all the clothes I could get into again. But the uniform this time included the steel helmet and the gas mask and a carbine fully loaded, as per the order of the day. It is approximately one hundred seventy miles from Bromboro to Bristol and most of that is narrow, winding road. On that day I believe that there were convoys of army vehicles and equipment, headed for the port and France, on almost every mile of the route so that it was almost impossible to make any time. We got off on the wrong road at Gloucester and had to back track, but in spite of it all we arrived at Bristol at about noon, and I immediately hunted up ADSEC Headquarters.

Things there were in an uproar, with everyone getting ready to move out soon but I finally found the major whom I had been ordered to see. He was very much put out because I had not been there at 9:00 AM for the regular briefing session, but when I explained that I had never received the letter on the briefing session and no mention of the hour had been made in our telephone conversation, and, besides that, I could not have been there at 9:00 AM anyhow as I had spent all day yesterday moving my outfit and had been driving all that morning in order to get there from Liverpool, he seemed somewhat pacified.

I was then given several large envelops filled with batches of papers all marked "TOP SECRET", and for which I had to sign all kinds of receipts. I was instructed to guard those papers very carefully, with an armed guard over them 24 hours per day. They were all marked "To be opened when alerted for embarkation or on June 15th, whichever is first." Now that I had all the information on our future activities, I still did not know what it was all about. I did manage to fish out enough information to determine that we were scheduled to land at a port, instead of on a beach, and that we would be stationed at the port. And that was not hard to narrow down to Cherbourg the only port of any proportions that appeared likely to be in our hands anytime soon.

I got away from there at about 2:00 PM, and my driver and I opened up some K-rations for our lunch and then set out on the long trek back. On the way out of town I stopped by First Army Headquarters and tried to find Phil Morrison, the C.O. of another utilities outfit that had been with us at Claiborne and which was then assigned to First Army. I found his shops and headquarters and talked to some of the boys, but never did locate Phil. In the meantime I ran across Lt. Waters who was on his way, with his outfit, to one of the southern ports.

Back at Bromboro the next day, I learned that we had had a call from the port to bring our vehicles in for loading on the boat and to send a crew along to help with the work. I had been trying to find out just how much personal luggage, if any, we were to keep with us and how much was to go on the vehicles ahead of us. As usual no one seemed to know, so I had to use my own judgment. I did not know when, if ever, we would see our vehicles again, or whether they would be loaded on the same boat with us. On the other hand, I had no idea how we were to travel, now that our vehicles would be gone, and did not want to take any chance of doing lots of marching loaded down with luggage. So I finally ordered everyone to keep out toilet articles, a change of underwear and socks, and such minor items, plus one blanket each, for their pack and put everything else in the duffle bag and load them all on the trucks. I, in turn, packed practically everything I owned away and loaded it on too. And the trucks took off for the docks with all our belongings, which we were not to see again for over a month.[end page 30]

Port of Cherbourg Battle of Cherbourg Cherbourg Ruins

We had one piece of equipment in those days that gave me more trouble than all the rest of our stuff put together, when moving time came around. In fact, a good story writer could no doubt weave a pretty good yarn around that one piece of equipment alone, - and that was a bulldozer, or to use Army nomenclature, a tractor, crawler type, diesel engine covered, with angle dozer attachment. To equipment men it was a plain old D-7 bull dozer, weighing in the neighborhood of 21 tons, and a pretty bulky piece of machinery to cart around, specially if you had no trailer for hauling it, which we did not.

White Elephant

That dozer had been a white elephant ever since I first got the piece of paper telling me it was ready for delivery at an army depot in southern England, shortly after our arrival. It had taken me about 3 or 4 weeks to ever get it moved from the depot to Pheasey Farms in the first place, and it had been a definite headache with each move. The railroads would not touch it, as they had much higher priority shipping to handle, and it was impossible to run it under its own power. So the only way it could be moved was by truck and trailer, and there weren't too many trailers that could handle it. Each time we moved I would call Transportation and they would pass the buck by saying it was engineer equipment and therefore a responsibility of the engineer section to handle. The engineer section would, in turn, say that Transportation was in the moving business, and not they, and so leave me holding the sack.

I had gone through all that wrangle, for the umpteenth time, when we left Pheasey for the port, but had no promise from anyone to haul the affair. So when we moved out I left it behind, with Larry Hilton, its' operator, in charge, and with instructions to stick with it until it was moved, somehow. I had then stopped by Western Base a few minutes on the way that day and finally managed to impress someone with the urgent need for action of some kind. This brought a promise from the Chief of Transportation to see that it got hauled in time to make the boat.

Well, come Friday afternoon, and still no sign of or word from Hilton or the dozer. About the middle of the afternoon I was called to the phone at headquarters (that was one time they managed to find me.) It was an officer at the pier where they were loading our equipment stating they were ready to load our dozer and inquiring as to its whereabouts. I assured him that I was just as anxious to know where it was as he, and possibly more so, but anyhow, I'd try to find out something by phone and let him know. I had to get permission from the Camp Commander to make an outside call, but finally managed to get in touch with the motor pool at Pheasey where they informed me that Hilton and the dozer had left there at about 7:00 AM the day before. So now I really was in a quandary.

I hunted up the camp commander again, got permission to make another phone call and put in a call for Transportation Section at Western Base to see if they knew where the dozer and Hilton were.

While I was sweating out that call, I looked out the front door and who should I see walking up the walk toward me but Hilton, himself. The first thing he told me was that the old white elephant was resting calmly on the dock, all ready to be hoisted aboard ship. So my worries concerning it were over for awhile and I was ready to listen to Hilton's story. [end page 31]

He had quite a story to tell, but I could never do justice to it here. It involved a trip by an English civilian "lorry" which Transportation had "engaged "for the deal; a trip of less than a hundred miles, but which had taken over a day and a half to make, including an overnight stay in Liverpool, even though the main route into Liverpool passed right by our camp. It seems that every time they got the thing rolling good the crew either had to stop for "a spot of tea" or to chew the fat with the crew of another "lorry" that they met or overtook. While they were traveling they made such good time that all adjacent life and property was in danger, so much so, in fact, that they did manage to tear out a good portion of a brick wall with the overhanging dozer blade, in one tight spot. But their traveling was too spotty. Toward the close of the first day's travel, one of the crew mentioned the fact that he'd like to spend the night with relatives in Liverpool, and so they took the long way round, so they would have to go through Liverpool to get to Bromboro. They got out of town the next day in time to be intercepted by someone who told them that machine was wanted at the port right away, so they delivered it there about the time I got my first call.

An Adventure for Hilton

It was quite an adventure for Hilton, and he got a big kick out of relating all the details, with a very good imitation of the "Limey" accent in his dialogues.

I was called to camp headquarters before I was up and dressed, on Saturday morning, the morning after I had heard the orderly inquiring outside my tent as to my whereabouts. They had some of my requisitions for equipment we were still short and the time was running too short to depend on normal channels any more, so they wanted me to take them to the Office of Chief Engineer, at Communications Zone Headquarters, at Cheltenham, by whom they must be approved, and hand process them through, then come back by the depot and draw the stuff on my way back. I thought for a while that they were taking a great personal interest in seeing that we got all our equipment, but I soon discovered the problem.

Would I mind, while I was down that way, they asked, also going to the office of the Chief Quartermaster and getting a release on several thousand feet of rope, urgently needed at once for lashing cargo on boats now being loaded, and which they had suddenly discovered they did not have. This I could also pick up on the way back. But I fooled them. I took care of my own things first and by the time I had them it was too late to get the rope.

Anyhow, I crawled into a command car, which was furnished by headquarters, with a colored soldier chauffeur, and set out for Cheltenham, about a hundred and sixty miles away - almost back to Bristol.

I got the run around that day in typical Army fashion, but at about 9:30 that night, after having done more fast talking and crying on shoulders than any other day in my life, I had my things all loaded on the command car and was ready to hit the road again, from an Engineer depot about 25 miles past Cheltenham. I also had a release from the CQM for the rope, which was at Thatchem, another 75 or 100 miles away. But I had telephoned Bromboro that I could not possibly get it that night and was heading back without it. They were to have another vehicle meet me on the way, get the release and proceed on to Thatchem for the rope.

I had not eaten anything that day, except a few bites of breakfast that I had gulped down just before we started out from Bromboro. I had grabbed several boxes of K-rations and thrown them in the back of the car before we left, but it happened that the driver was hungry too. When I first got out of the car at Cheltenham, shortly after noon, I told the driver to park it and make himself a meal off the K-rations in the back. When I returned some time later and started looking for my dinner, all I could find were empty boxes and all the wrappings. [end page 32]

"Did you all want some of them rations too?", he asked me. "Well, suh, I just figgered you wuz eatin at a mess somewhere. And I wuz kinder hongry, so I guess I must of et em all."

Oh, well, what's a few K-rations between friends? I didn't have time to hunt up a mess anywhere, so the candy bar I ate when I got "home," just before daylight the next morning, tided me over until breakfast.

The long evenings in that part of the world at that time, abetted by double daylight saving time, stood us in good stead that night. All driving was strictly blackout, which was not too bad if you knew the way, but blackout driving in a strange country where you don't know the roads, and where there are crossroads and forks and road junctions and traffic circles (or "round-abouts" to the English) every few miles, was something else. It was bad enough in daylight when you could see the road signs and markers. And to make matters worse we neither one had a flashlight.

We gave the old command car all the speed she could stand, what with road and traffic conditions as they were, but darkness began to overtake us between 10:30 and 11:00, and we were still a long way from "home". However, it was a clear evening, but with no moon, and the twilight was long, so it was almost midnight before it was completely dark. By that time we were back in what was by that time to me familiar country, so we did not have too much trouble. We finally pulled into camp at around three AM, and by the time I crawled in bed a few minutes later the light of another day was beginning to come to life in the east.

That little Jaunt wrote "finis" to my travels in England, with the exception of one more little run down to Chester, only a few miles away, a day or so later. From then on it was mostly just waiting - and listening to the news --and the rumors — and speculating as to when we'd begin our boat ride.

My Secret Papers

I opened my secret papers bright and early on the morning of the 15th. There was a colossal amount of information and dope and poop and stuff in it — pre-invasion intelligence information on what to expect in the way of engineer material and supplies, local utilities and manufacturing facilities, water supplies, housing and hospital facilities and every such thing imaginable - about all the major cities on the Cotentin peninsular. Then there were schedules for all engineer units, based of course on pre-invasion estimates of the progress of our ground (fighting) forces -what was to be constructed, and where and when. Once again I got the same poop that was given to every other unit CO, regardless of the size of the unit.

As for our own little part - we were to land at the port of Cherbourg on D plus 13 (June 19th), where we would be met by a guide from the 346th Engineer General Service Regiment, to whom we were to be attached, who would conduct us to our area in a woods about three miles southwest of town. We were to begin work on D plus 14, on the repair, rehabilitation and operation of utilities in Cherbourg. And who should we be teamed with for this little adventure but Stinky Wincentsen and his outfit.

Well, here we were, according to the schedule, due in Cherbourg in four days. But the place was still very much in enemy hands, with the Yanks still a long way from it and making no spectacular progress in the direction. And we were sweating it out in the marshalling area in England. [end page 33]

So we sweated it out, for days that seemed age long, with one eye and ear on the news of the war and the other open for news of our departure. To say that we were extremely happy to hear the news that our ships were crossing the Channel with practically no trouble from the highly touted Luftwaffe -- or from anyone else as far as that goes -- would be putting it mild. We had been eager to get going all along, but we could now look forward to that little water voyage without too much fear and trembling.

Finally, after what seemed like months of waiting at Bromboro, but actually only ten days after our arrival there, things begun to hum on the afternoon of Saturday, June 17th. We had been alerted for movement to the port, and all gates to the place were locked, telephone communication with the outside world severed, and for all practical purposes we were isolated. One of my men, Ishmael Jackson, had been in the hospital with pneumonia, but had recovered sufficiently for discharge and I had managed to wade through all the red tape and get promises to have him returned to the unit before we shipped. When he finally arrived, at the eleventh hour, on Saturday afternoon, it took next to an act of Congress to get him through the gate and into the camp, so tight were the controls - but he finally made it.

We had a meeting of CO's, outlining last minute details to be handled. Chief among these were turning in all of our monies of the personnel, for exchange for French francs ("invasion money,") which was not to be issued to individuals until we had cleared the port; and physical inspections of all personnel, for communicable diseases. All camp equipment (blankets, cots, etc.) was to be turned in before 6 AM Sunday and everyone cleared with the camp supply officer by that time. There was to be another meeting of CO's at 5 AM Sunday at which time the embarkation schedule would be made known.

I finally got through the line at the Finance Section and got the Francs for my outfit at about 12:30 AM Sunday. The Transportation Corps officers were late arriving, as usual, and we stood around and waiting, cursing this loss of good sleeping time. When the schedule was finally passed out, we were near the tail end of the list for moving out. We were scheduled to load on the trucks, in the area, at somewhere around 2 PM. So we had most of the day to loaf in.

Our orders for uniform for the crossing were the same as for the combat troops in the initial assault. I doubt if very many of them followed those orders literally, but we did, - at least we started out that way. It had often been believed that if the Krauts had ever intended using poison gas this would be the time. So the uniform included a complete set of gas protective clothing, from head to foot, even the shoes having to be treated with "impregnite", a special compound that protected them against vesicants such as mustard gas. The prescribed uniform consisted of four layers -wool underwear, ordinary O.D. field uniform, field jacket, and on top of all this the impregnated gas proof suit. Then, of course there were all the accessories - steel helmet, gas mask, rifle, cartridge belt with ammunition, canteen and first aid packet, and the field pack, or field bag for officers, with mess gear, and what have you. Yes, we were no doubt the best equipped army in the world, but I still don't see how anyone ever managed to fight with all that gear to fuss with. In fact, I'm sure they did not. I've been told by those who were there, that most of this stuff was thrown away, at the very beginning of the trail, by the combat men. Anyhow, it was nice to have had it if they had needed it. [end page 34]

Embarkation Schedule

By the time they got around to us on the embarkation schedule, they were away behind schedule. Instead of loading on the trucks at 2 PM, it was nearer 5 PM. There had been almost one continuous convoy out of Bromboro, through Liverpool and down to the waterfront since early morning hours. Yet when we passed along that route the streets were still lined with people, many of them waving and cheering us on our way. That was the nearest I ever came to experiencing anything like that. Our previous moves had all been secret and unheralded, with no one to cheer us along, and our subsequent moves have always been in the wake of the fighting boys who got the ovations - and, deserved it. By the time we arrive the liberated peoples are already fed up with the liberators and are already beginning to mutter in their beards about they wonder if they wouldn't have been just as well off if the Krauts had stayed. The service forces never know any of those kinds of awards for the work they do. It's all done without fanfare or recognition - day and night, week in and week out, good weather and bad, whether the fighting is fierce or there is a lull for rest and relaxation, whether the news is good or bad. They just plug ahead, ever knowing that their buddies at the front sneer and jeer at them, as swivel chair soldiers, and sing the old song about "Mama Take Down Your Service Flag, Your Son's in the SOS."

But this time we were getting a little attention. Everyone knew we were going to France to the war, and also that we were no doubt leaving England for good. And I think they were sorry to see us go, and I know we were sorry to be leaving England. The English people had treated us all magnificently, they were lovely people, and theirs was a lovely country, and I, for one, like it all very much. I will never forget the sight of one beautiful English girl of about 18 years, standing on the street corner that afternoon, with tears streaming down her cheeks, but smiling through it all and waving us on our way. I take it that she, like many others, had a sweetheart in the crowd, leaving her for France and the war.

There was the usual "queuing up" and waiting in line at the pier, but not for long. Things moved along fairly rapidly after we unloaded from the trucks, and it wasn't long before we were lined up on the quay (another good old English term) alongside the ship ready to march up the gangplank. I felt very much relieved when we arrived and discovered definitely what boat we were to ride on, and my men who had helped load our equipment told me it was on the same boat. Those men had spent several days on the ship helping to load not only our own equipment but all the other that went on board, and so they had become pretty friendly with the crew members, which was to stand them in good stead on the voyage.

The William H. Prescott, a Liberty Ship

Our boat was a Liberty Ship, the William H. Prescott, operated by the Merchant Marine, under the direction of the Army, and with a navy gun crew on board to man the anti-aircraft guns and the five inch gun on the stern.

I reported to the officer in charge of troops for the voyage, Lt. Jay, before boarding and gave him our roster and asked for any instructions. I found that he was as much in the dark as to "what the score was," as I. I don't understand yet why he was placed in command of troops and I don't believe he does either, since he was not the senior officer on board. But I was very happy for him to have the assignment, since I was the senior officer on board. And I very definitely did not want the job. It simply meant many more headaches and much more responsibility. As it was, I enjoyed the peculiar advantage of being the senior officer, with whatever privileges that might be good for, and with no responsibilities except the care and conduct of my own men. [end page 35]

The time finally came for us to make the trip up the gangplank. When I reached the deck, the TC officer "directing traffic" pointed out a spot on the deck, a companion-way hatch just aft the superstructure amid ship, and told me that was the space assigned to my unit for the trip. I'm afraid it took quite some minutes for it to soak in, but I finally grasped the fact that he meant just what he had said, and that was it. Our "quarters" was a space on the deck, with a steel floor to sleep on and the stars above, when and if they were out, for shelter. And here we were without any protection from the weather except one blanket per man. True, our luggage was all aboard the same vessel, but it was all loaded on our vehicles, locked up down in the hold, and it might as well have been on the other side of the channel.

Those Liberty Ships were designed for carrying cargo, and not troops, and there were absolutely no accommodations for troops. The holds were filled with cargo and equipment, and there was much of the heavy equipment, including cranes and our road grader, among others, parked on the deck. There was one small hold fitted up for troops, but this was to be occupied by a colored port company. It would have been discrimination if the whites had been quartered inside and the colored outside under the stars. On the other hand, there was another colored company that was parked right out on the deck, the same as we.

Wash racks and latrines had been hastily improvised and set up on deck. No provisions had been made for preparing or serving meals, so we were to live on prepared army field rations - 10 in 1 rations, a kind of glorified K-ration -- for the voyage. The ship's crew proved very cooperative, though, and after the first meal or two we were able to work out an arrangement whereby we could use their facilities for warming up and serving our meals, and other things such as making hot coffee. They were very helpful and did much to make the trip more bearable. We even finally got around to where the army officers were allowed to eat their meals in the ships officers dining hall, after they had finished their meals, instead of lining up in the chow line and then sitting on the floor on deck and eating out of mess kits, as we did for most of the trip.

We had not been on board ship long, on that Sunday afternoon, before Lt. Jay hunted me up and said he would like a word with me. He then took me in and showed me a stateroom that the ship's roaster had told him was surplus at least for the present, and had offered it to him as long as it was still surplus. So, seeing as how I was senior officer on board, he was inviting me to share it with him. Well, that is one time in my army career when my rank really stood me in good stead. I had taken a very dim view of sleeping on a steel deck, under the stars, in the kind of weather England is capable of, and here was comparative luxury of which I had never even dreamed. To say that I was gratified and happy would be putting it mildly. Of course, it might make a better story to say that I refused and insisted on sharing the life of my men, but it just ain't so.

But the men, themselves, did not fare too badly. Those who had been on the loading detail had enough friends among the crew to work out some pretty good arrangements for sharing crew quarters, and before it was all over most of my gang was pretty well fixed up - that is, until the colored soldiers started complaining about the fact that the whites had the run of the crew's quarters while they were strictly forbidden in them; - that old ever-present discrimination squawk - then our men were also banned. Jackson, just out of the hospital with pneumonia, was in no condition to rough it on deck, so I finally made arrangements for him to sleep in the ships hospital. He got tired of being in there all alone, though, and joined his buddies on deck after the first couple of nights. [end page 36]

A large quantity of blankets had been put on board ship for use by the troop so we got an issue of three more blankets per man. Later on, when the rains set in the men dug up from somewhere a large tarpaulin. By draping this over wires and ropes strung overhead, they managed to improvise a roof that kept them fairly dry. So, aside from the soreness caused from sleeping for many nights on a flat steel floor, no one suffered too much.

The other 15 or 20 officers on board managed to dig up canvas cots from somewhere. These they set at night in any sheltered spot they could find, on the deck or in the corridors, but mostly in the "wheel room," from where the ship was guided on its' voyage.

We were the last troops to come aboard the old tub, so it was not long after our arrival before they were ready to weigh anchors and cast off. In the interval that passed, cargo nets full of crates of 10 in 1 rations were hoisted aboard and these piled in huge stacks on deck. Although it was only supposed to be a two days' run from there to France, we were told that they were putting on rations for 15 days - just in case.

By the time the sun went down we were out in the channel, headed for the open sea - and for what else, no one on board knew. We were headed for Cherbourg and it was still very much in enemy hands. It just did not make sense to me. As on our previous boat ride, we were part of a large convoy, but as yet had no escort vessels. I passed out the "invasion money" to my men, and then turned in before too late, for some much needed sleep and rest.

Old Black Ball Went Up

But we did not go far on that lap. The next morning we were headed up another inlet, from the open waters, and before long we drifted to a halt a few hundred yards off shore and the old black ball went up and the anchor down. (For the benefit of land-lubbers who don't know any better - from an old, seasoned salt - when the anchor is lowered, a large black ball is hoisted up on the mast, and it stays there until the anchor is weighed again.) Word soon got around that we were back at the entrance to the Bristol Channel again from where we had first viewed the U. K. from the decks of the U.S. S. Thurston, less than eleven weeks before. This time, however, we were anchored in a cove, or inlet, shown on the map as Milford Haven, and just off the village by the same name. All of which was quite some distance below Cardiff.

It was a beautiful day - summer there, but the kind of weather I remembered in the spring back in Alabama. The sky was cloudless, and it was just warm enough to feel good sprawled on deck in the full glare of the sun. The view from our ship with the changing shades and tones and colors, as the sun rose to its zenith and gradually dropped until it had passed over the horizon to end another day, was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. These were the kind of scenes - dozens of them, as the shades and tones changed - that artists spend life times trying to capture and imprison on canvas before their fleeting beauty passes on to be replaced by others even more beautiful. But the ultimate in artistic achievement by mere humans has fallen miserably short of this goal.

Likewise, any verbal description of this scene that I might attempt would fail even more miserably in doing justice to the subject. I can only say that the blue of the water and sky, the gently curved shore line, backed by a narrow beach of white sand, from which rose sharply and at various angles and in various shapes, cliffs of brown and red, topped by pastures so green that they almost were not green, added up to a combination of colors lovely to behold. Add to this the black and white cattle grazing on the hills, the neat white cottages and colored barns scattered over the landscape and an occasional farmer silhouetted against the sky, as he went about his day's activities, and you barely begin to grasp the picture. I wished many times for a camera to record some of the scene, realizing all the time that it would be sacrilege to try to record such a scene with a camera. [end page 37]

Anchored at Milford Haven

We spent four days anchored at Milford Haven, only slightly more than 200 miles from Cherbourg and from bloody "Utah" and "Omaha" beaches where some of the fiercest fighting in history was in progress. Yet, under different circumstances and with our wives and families along to share it with us, I can think of no more ideal time of rest and vacation than could have been enjoyed here. The weather continued ideal, even though at that very time one of the worst channel storms in history was playing havoc on the invasion beaches. We sprawled and loafed in the sun and drunk in the beauties of nature - that is, during those periods when we could divert our minds sufficiently from the war and the reason we were here to actually appreciate it. And I began to understand something which had come to be almost inconceivable to me during our hectic crossing of the Atlantic - why anyone would deliberately choose an ocean cruise for recreation and enjoyment.

But at the same time we were not unmindful of the fact that we were on a much more serious mission now. As I have said before, our living conditions were enough to expel any pipe dreams of comparison to a vacation trip on a luxury liner. We had absolutely nothing to do but loaf and relax, but I don't believe that I ever spent a more nerve wracking period than that of which this was the beginning. The suspense and uncertainty were terrific, and this hanging around waiting was enough to drive one mad. We hung on every news announcement that came over the radio, in spite of the fact that 95% of them were repeats, and of course speculated on when we would move, and where.

After noon on the first day at Milford Haven small boats began to put out from shore, towing barrage balloons. They did a lively business with these, like the balloon vendor at the circus, and soon each ship in the convoy had one flying aloft over it, giving the impression of a gang of children coming home from the circus. The purpose of these was of course to discourage enemy planes who might be tempted a little low flying and strafing.

On the afternoon of June 22nd, our fourth day at Milford Haven, a small motor launch came alongside. After the ladder had been lowered, up comes a messenger making for our skipper's quarters. Before long the skipper came out with his little brief case, climbed down the ladder and departed in the launch. He returned a couple of hours later, and before night word had gotten around that the engineer had orders to have steam up and be ready to set sail by 4 AM. So again the incessant rumors and speculations. Cherbourg was still not liberated, so we definitely could not go there yet.

We set sail on our next lap sometime the next morning. We crossed the mouth of the Bristol Channel, rounded Land's End and headed east along the south shore of England. The next morning we were riding at anchor again. This time we were at Weymouth, anchored in the outer roadstead, a few hundred yards directly off the town of Weymouth and about the same distance from the shipyards at the naval base.

The view from here was much less peaceful and pastoral, and there were many evidences of the nearness of war. It was not hard to realize that we were only 75 miles from Cherbourg. The beaches were bristling with barbed wire and barriers of all descriptions. With the aid of glasses (binoculars) you could spot the anti-aircraft batteries dotting the surrounding hills. And, also with the aid of glasses, one could get a pretty good exterior view of the fort buried deep in the solid stone of the cliff overlooking the town and harbor. On the other hand, and once again with glasses, you could see the constant movement of vehicles and pedestrians on the city streets, testifying to the normal daily activities there. We could see all this from a distance, but were completely isolated in other respects. It gave one the detached, unreal impression of sitting in an auditorium and watching the make-believe life depicted on the silver screen. [end page 38]

There were airfields nearby, and it was here that we were to lie sprawled on the deck in the days to come and count the bombers in the formations as they came over, headed south in the early evenings, then count them again as they returned as dusk was gathering, and thus determine for our own morbid curiosity, how many failed to come back. It was here also that we watched the P-38 fighters, so aptly termed "forked tailed devils" by the Krauts, take off from and land on the fields just out of sight over the hills giving one the impression of flying ants swarming up out of the ground.

Here, also, we watched the constant procession of seagoing vessels, shuttling between here and the invasion beaches. LST's came in by the dozens, pausing only long enough to take on a new cargo, then off to the war once more. Men of war - destroyers, cruisers and battle wagons - put in long enough to service and make ready for another tour of duty in dangerous enemy waters. Every day there were convoys coming and going, each ship with its barrage balloons riding high over its head.

Here we rode at anchor, while the days came and went, until it began to look like - to paraphrase - "others may come and others may go, but we stay on forever".


We arrived at Weymouth on June 23rd. Two days later on the 25th, it was announced that our troops were fighting in the streets of Cherbourg and that organized resistance in the city had ceased. The next day the fall of Cherbourg was officially announced. But still the forts guarding the entrance to the harbor and the two peninsulas that project out into the channel for several miles beyond the port, on each side, had not fallen. And so it was quite certain that no ships could enter the harbor yet. So we stayed on at Weymouth - and fretted and fumed, as our nerves and tempers got more on edge with every passing day.

This should have been a good time for me to catch up on my sleep, especially since I had such comfortable quarters and there was absolutely no other more profitable way to pass the time, but I did not average over six or eight hours a day, even at the most. Our little stateroom soon became the lounge for all the officers on board, and there was almost a perpetual bull session in swing. It was only well after midnight that one ever had a chance of getting any sleep, and as strange as it may seem, in view of the inactivity and the nervous tension, and in view of the diet we were on, I was continually possessed of an almost insatiable appetite, so I always came tumbling out of bed before final call for breakfast at 8 AM.

Most of my shipmates killed time playing poker, until the new invasion money we had been issued the first night out of Liverpool was literally worn to shreds and tatters before we ever even got to France. Not being a poker player I latched on to everything I could find in the way of reading matter and soaked it all up, even though it was practically all trash that I would normally not have given a second glance. The fact that the "ship's library" consisted almost wholly of books donated to the Merchant Marine by generous people after their periodic house cleanings when they culled out all the unwanted literature, should speak adequately for the type of reading matter to which I had access. But I read almost everything the library contained, often reading three or four books a day. [end page 39]

We spent our time swapping yarns, and our life histories, and our plans for the future, and our views on the war and life in general, until I soon felt that I was better acquainted with my fellow passengers than I have been with other people after years of associations. There was, of course, the usual number of "characters" among those present, who helped to relieve the monotony to some extent. There was, for example, the young Jewish second lieutenant who was the typical BTO (Big Time Operator) - the extravert, who knew all the answers, who had a wonderful collection of tales of his own personal conquests, especially in the realm of female associations, and who was the self-appointed, unofficial "taker-charge-of" when any matter required attention. And, as one would suspect, practical joking came as natural to him as breathing does to me. Then, there was his counterpart in the "Mr. Milquetoast" of the gang - the quiet, retiring introvert who apparently lived up to the letter of the theory that it is better to keep one's mouth shut and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. And, once again, it was as natural that he should be the goat for all our BTO's jokes as it is that night should follow day, or vice versa. As was to be expected, a natural antipathy grew up between the two, blossoming into bad blood and finally almost ending in violence when the worm finally turned and Mr. Milquetoast, goaded out of his reserve by being summarily dumped off his cot onto the steel floor by our BTO who espied him asleep there in one of his more playful moments, "crawled" the culprit and only let go when two other officers drug him off.

Lt. Cobb, The Typical Tall, Lanky Gentleman With The Drawl That Unmistakably Branded Him As A Texan

But the real "character" of the lot, in my opinion was Lt. Cobb, the typical tall, lanky gentleman with the drawl that unmistakably branded him as a Texan. Cobb was as full of Bob Burns tall tales and "Arkansas Traveler" anecdotes as the proverbial Christmas turkey is full of peas. And, though their vintage is testified to by the fact that my memory doesn't go back far enough to recollect when, as a kid, I first heard my Dad tell those selfsame tales, Cobb told them with such enthusiasm, all the time laughing at them so heartily himself, that you could not help but join in the spirit of the occasion and laugh like the studio audience at a Charlie McCarthy broadcast. And, as strange as it may seem, there was always some uncouth, uneducated individual in the crowd who had never heard them before, to bite at the riddles and jokes.

Cobb was very much in love with a girl back home named Charlsie, or something that sounded like that, so in the moments when he was not busy spinning his yarns he was showing her pictures - and a beautiful girl she was too - and telling us about her charms and dreaming of the time when he'd go back home and take her to be his bride.

The last time I saw Cobb, several months later in France, he was just as full of talk about a Red Cross girl that he had met in Cherbourg and fallen head over heels in love with immediately. All of which shows how fickle that guy Cupid - yes, and men also - can be. Cobb was all for marrying the Red Cross girl and was wondering how he was going to write and break the news to Charlsie. Even though I was a disinterested bystander and had no business butting in, I put in a word for Charlsie and tried to sell him on the idea of waiting for the girl who was waiting for him back home. I would like to know how the story ended, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the girl back home won out in the end. [end page 40]

So we whiled away the idle hours and days which finally began to run into weeks. As I mentioned before, we all ate like gluttons, in spite of the inactivity and the absence of tempting menus. After eating three meals a day of our cheese and crackers and potted meats and all these little delicacies which go to make up the army emergency field rations, we all had our regular midnight snack, made up of more of the same stuff, plus what we managed to snitch or finagle out of the ship's store of rations for the crew. And, sure enough, every night there would be something new from the latter source -- sardines, which I would never even look at before, but which I now pounced on like a starved man on a raft, pickles, olives, bread and real butter, and jellies and jams. We ate it all, and scrounged for more.

And this conduct was not limited to the officers, as the enlisted men were also managing to eat more than their share somehow or other. One day someone made a trip down into the hold to check on the vehicles and their cargoes and discovered that the men of one company had broken into their vehicles and stolen and devoured the operational reserve of K-rations carried there for use after we got to France. My men did not go to that extreme, because I had warned them long ago that if they ate their rations in advance they could just go hungry when the time rolled around. But I'm sure they did not go hungry then, or at any other time, as they always had a habit of taking care of themselves and getting what was coming to them.

June passed, and July found us still riding at anchor at Weymouth. More rations were taken aboard, and the water tender came alongside and pumped on a few more thousand gallons of water. Fortunately there was no sickness of any note among our passengers as the only medical officer we had was a dentist. He could pass out aspirin and take temperatures, but aside from that I doubt his ability to cope with any real sickness.

On Friday night, June 30th, word was passed around that mail would be taken ashore the next day and any mail passed by the unit censor would be dispatched on its way. Naturally a wild spree of writing broke out, even though you could say absolutely nothing except that you were well and alive, and the censors got to work. Everyone took advantage of the opportunity to write a few lines and get them off to the folks back home. I think we all entertained a little secret hope that when they came out to take up our mail they would also bring us some; but it was not so, even as I had known it could not be. We had received no mail since we left Burtonwood, and we still had a long wait ahead of us.

Fourth of July - The "old man's wash" was every bit displayed that day

The fourth of July came and went and the only way we knew any difference from any other day was by the calendar and the radio and the fact that all the ships broke out all the flags and bunting and banners they had and flew them all over the ship. The "old man's wash" was every bit displayed that day.

By now the whole Cotentin peninsular had been cleared of organized resistance and we would not understand why we were still delayed. We kept getting word that the harbor was being cleared of mines and obstructions and repaired to receive ships but that none could enter it yet. This seemed incredible, in view of the fact that never before had it taken so long to prepare a captured port to receive ships and cargo. [end page 41]

Finally, on July 5th, when it was beginning to appear as if we could bear the inactivity and suspense no longer, things began to hum on board and in the convoy and waters around us. Another messenger came aboard, looking for "the old man", and again he left with his brief case under his arm. When he returned he was all smiles - that is, as near that as the old sour puss could be - and the word got around that our waiting was almost at an end. Shortly before dark that day a small boat came alongside with a passenger and his luggage. He was a Lt. Commander in the British Navy and was going to Cherbourg to act as liaison officer with our navy, and was going along as a passenger with us. We got him in a bull session and pumped him for all the information we could get out of him, but I don't think he knew much more than we did. According to his information no ship had yet entered the harbor at Cherbourg and they were still busy lifting the mines there, where every kind of mines known to man had been encountered in great profusion. He thought perhaps they would have a channel open through which we could enter by the next day or two.

There appeared to have been some hitch in the plans, as we showed no signs of moving the next day. But along toward night the old smoke started pouring out of the funnel and the ship began coming to life. Tenders had visited all the ships within the last few days and re-gassed the balloons, some of which were beginning to sag and flap very badly by that time. Orders were passed around to be dressed in our "battle garb" the next day and to have our stuff packed and ready to debark without any further ado.

It was not long after daybreak the next day, Friday, July 7th, when the vibrations of the ship's engines told us we were moving again. We all sought out a vantage point from where we could see what was going on and where we were going. We circled around inside the roadstead and then stopped again, to await our place in line. Finally, at long last, we took up our place in the procession and sailed out of the harbor and into the open sea, on our way to France and the war at last. When we got outside where we could see, a sight met our eyes that must have brought cold fear to the hearts of the Nazis if they could have only seen it. As far as the eye could see, in both directions, there were four columns of ships - two going toward France and two returning from there. It was now thirty-one days since D-Day, and one could imagine such a picture continuously, twenty four hours a day, during that period. This was "the build-up", and truly they were building up for big things to come. The LST's were predominant in the procession, but there were also ships of every other imaginable type and description. I even saw one ship, loaded with soldiers, that I could have sworn was one of the Hudson River Day Line excursion boats converted over to troop shuttle service. And every ship with its own barrage balloon floating lazily high overhead made quite a picture.

St. Alban's Head and Durlston Head and White Cliffs

We headed east, along the southern shores of England once more, past St. Alban's Head and Durlston Head and white cliffs that made one think of the famous chalk cliffs of Dover. Before long land began to appear dead ahead and soon our course was changed to southeast parallel to the shore of the Isle of Wight at that point. Shortly after this island had disappeared from sight behind us, we changed our course again. I was in the "wheel room", where I could watch the ship's compass and see the charts and maps. We were now headed due south, to the degree, and it began to dawn on me that we were not heading for Cherbourg at all, as I had thought we were. We were too far to the east and were steering straight for the invasion beaches instead.

I have heard and read about how tempestuous the English Cannel can be when it gets on a rampage and had been prepared for the worst on this crossing, - and that is literal, as well as figurative. In addition to the anti-seasick pills, each person had been issued two small bags made of heavy brown waxed paper, referred to as "puke bags". You can use your own imagination as to what they were for. A wild dash for the rail might not always be practical. [end page 42]

But if God and His nature ever favored man with a perfect day and perfect sailing conditions this was it. Although we did run into a spring shower or two, for the most -part the sun was shining from skies of bluest blue. There was an almost dead calm, and channel waters were as still and quiet as Long Island Sound on a nice summer day - a very low, gentle swell and a few little choppy white caps - that was all. I think I still have icy "motion sickness prevention capsules" and ray "puke bags" stuck away somewhere in the bottom of my "belongings. And just as we were favored with perfect weather, we were also blest with freedom from any molestation by enemy action. Never did we sight even one enemy plane, or see the slightest indication that there was an enemy near.

Sighted Land - The Contentin Peninsular

By late afternoon we had sighted land, first off to our right - the Contentin Peninsular of which Cherbourg harbor occupied the tip. Then a little later we spied land dead ahead. No sooner had we sighted land ahead than barrage balloons began to take shape out of the haze over and around the beachhead. First it looked like hundreds, and then thousands. As we came nearer we could see some of the ships and shore installations from which the balloons were flying. The whole waters in the vicinity of the beaches were dotted with ships, quite a few of which were "dead soldiers" - battle casualties that had been struck by enemy bombs or shells, or had run afoul of a mine, and only had a mast, or a keel or a bow or stern in sight above the water.

We were guided into place by a Transportation Corps small boat and dropped anchor a, mile or so off shore, between one of the other ships of our convoy on one side and what was left of a "dead soldier" on the other side. No one seemed to know what the next move was. The latest rumor was that we were to lay over night here and go on into Cherbourg the next day. Anyhow, there were no signs of us debarking, so we settled down to spend another night on the good ship Gillian H. Prescott, which was, incidentally, to be our twentieth night on board.

Along toward dusk the ack-ack batteries on shore began opening up occasionally with a little sporadic firing. I don't know whether there were actually planes overhead or not, but I doubt it. We could certainly not see them with the naked eye or hear them. The only things we could hear and see where the heavy explosions as the guns were fired and the small puffs of smoke, high in the air, followed a few seconds later by a sharp retort --the shells bursting high over our heads. We could also hear the heavy explosions of artillery fire in the distance, and as darkness descended we could see the lightning like flicker of the shell fire far away.

There were stories already current, and which have undoubtedly grown much since, about how the Krauts visited the beaches and dropped their eggs every night, but I am dead certain that no enemy bombs fell on or Utah Beach that night. I got a very good night's sleep, undisturbed by enemy action or excitement of any kind, and was up early the next morning ready for whatever the day might bring. [end page 43]

It became apparent, while the day was yet young, that we had reached the end of our voyage, as far as the Prescott was concerned, and that did not break anyone's heart. We had spent twenty days and nights on it - seven more than it had taken us to cross the Atlantic - living under very adverse conditions and we were all ready for a change, be it for better or worse. Pretty soon barges came alongside and began tying up, getting ready to receive our cargo. The hatches to the holds were stripped for action, the hoists started up and the booms swung into position, and our colored port company went into action, hoisting the cargo out of the holds and lowering it over the side and into the barges.

Just before noon word was passed around that all personnel, except one driver for each vehicle, would go ashore immediately. The drivers would stay with their vehicles and join the rest of the unit us soon as the vehicles were unloaded, which it now appeared would probably be several days later. One officer from each unit was to stay behind with the vehicles and drivers. The other officers were to go ashore with the men. I, being alone, could naturally be at only one place at a time, so I elected to go ahead with the men.

Personnel Landing Barge

Our personnel landing barge came alongside after noon, a ladder was let down to it, and men began clambering over the side of the ship while rosters were checked to see that all were present. I passed out road maps of this part of France, which I had been given back at Bromboro, to all my drivers, told them where we were scheduled to be stationed, in case they did not join us nearby on shore, gave last minute instructions and took my place in line at the ladder. We were all "decked out" as per instructions, with our four layers of clothing topped by the gas proof outer layer, and all our rigging and paraphernalia in tow. In addition to what I started off with, I now had a barracks bag pretty well full of odds and ends that I had picked up along the way, - mostly clothes that I had bought at the last moment at Liverpool to replace some I had left behind at the laundry and cleaners at Warrington.

The water now was as smooth as glass, without a sign of a ripple anywhere, so our trip ashore was without excitement or incident. A kind of breakwater had been formed, along near the shore, by scuttling numerous old tubs that had been towed there for that purpose. So we had to pick our way around the sunken ships and into the entrance to the "harbor", a way which I'm sure our pilot could find by now with his eyes closed. LST's and other barges were lined up along the beach, disgorging their cargos of men and supplies. Bull dozers were at work along the beach repairing the damage to the sand by the heavy traffic, and streams of men and vehicles were disappearing ever the rise in the background, headed inland for the assembly area.

Our barge ran up near the shore line and ground to a stop in the sand underneath. I was beginning to fear that we were all going to be dunked on our way ashore as the water appeared at least waist deep where we were when the ramp on front was lowered. But we were instructed to sit tight, and in less time than one would have thought possible the fast ebbing tide had left us sitting high and dry. We marched off the barge and onto the shore of France without even getting a foot wet.

The ever present MP's were there to direct and prod us along on our way. No stopping or straggling on the beach. We must be on our way over the hill and out of sight immediately. I hesitated just long enough to report the name of the unit to the beach control station so they could record our arrival in France, and we were on our way. Just follow the MP's and the signs to Transit Area "B", they told us. It's just a couple of miles back, Well, that was the longest two miles I ever walked. In fact, I clocked it at a much later date with a truck and a speedometer, and it was actually about six miles. To me, that day, it seemed more like sixty. [end page 44]


I have made much longer marches than that, but I will always remember that one as the worst I ever made - not because of any untoward incidents along the way, but because were just not prepared for it. We had been confined to such crammed quarters that we had hardly had room to even stretch our legs for the last three weeks. We now had on four layers of clothing, the outer one of which would not allow any air circulation, plus many pounds of equipment. This was the hottest day I have ever seen on the European Continent, and the sun was now at its zenith, showering its blistering rays on our group of bedraggled looking, boat weary soldiers.

As we crossed the beach and headed back away from the sea, we could see on every hand the wreckage and debris that testified to the savage battle with which our assault forces had won this stretch of beach, and when I looked at the pill boxes and fortifications and obstacles, I wondered how it was ever won. I still wonder. Engineer troops were working on the roads trying to keep them in condition to handle the enormous amount of traffic in men and material. All along the edges of the fields were warning signs -"DANGER - MINES,, or "ACHTUNG - MINEN," - with the sign of the skull and crossbones. And all along the roads were the signs soon to become so familiar in Normandy that even the Krauts started making them and posting them as they retreated to confuse and booby trap our soldiers - "Mines cleared to Hedges", they read.

I had started out carrying my barracks bag, trying to sling it over a shoulder, but due to all the other impediments with which I was encumbered, it just would not stay slung over a shoulder. So I had to hug it with both arms, in front of me, or carry it in any other such awkward fashion possible. After about the first half mile, I saw that I wasn't going to be able to make it without help, so I passed it on back to the next man in line and asked if he would give me a hand with it. None of the other men had any such luggage, so I think my bag was eventually handled by everyone in the crowd before we finally reached our destination.

As I thought we only had two miles to march, I started off setting a pretty good pace at the head of the column, feeling sure we could make that without even getting our wind up. But it was not long before I realized that we actually had more than two miles to march and that we could not keep that pace up for long. The sweat was running down our faces in rivulets, getting in our eyes and noses and mouths. My muscles and bones were beginning to remind me of the fact that I had spent the last three weeks lying around on a ship. We had long since passed the two mile mark, and I was looking for our camping spot over every hill now. We came upon a group ahead of us who had stopped along the road for a "break," but I thought we must be almost there, and kept going. But when I looked back a little later to see the column stretching out and the men beginning to straggle and show that the going was getting hard, I signaled for a halt and we fell out for a ten minute rest.

We all felt better after the rest, but it was not long before we started to "bog down" again. My muscles were weary, and my knee and hip joints were beginning to ache with every step. One of the colored outfits off our convoy was somewhere up the road ahead of us, and we kept passing more and more of their men who had fallen out or were straggling farther and farther behind, We labored on now, with every mile seeming like ten and every hour like a day. But still no staging area in sight. I was fast reaching the point where I was extremely doubtful if I could "finish the course" on my own legs, and from the looks of the men, they were not faring much better than I. The heat was becoming unbearable and adding to our distress. I finally signalled for another halt and everyone practically collapsed in his tracks. [end page 45]

We were now on one of the main highways, paralleling the beach, and there was a constant stream of vehicular traffic in both directions. Someone came along and told us that it was now actually less than a mile to the "camp ground," so I gritted my teeth and steeled myself for a last final effort.

When we started off the next time, I was weaving like a drunk man and hobbling like a man with two wooden legs. All the feeling had gone from my legs except for that awful aching of the joints with each step. I had all but lost control of the muscles and they were playing funny tricks on me. When I picked a foot up I could not tell in what direction it might take off the next time, and when I put it down, I did not know whether I would ever be able to pick it up again. I was beginning to fear that I would be compelled to drop out of the march, for the first time in my life. It was not so much aches and pain now, although they were becoming almost unbearable, - I could still stand them though and force myself on; but I was just reaching a point where I had no control over my muscles. This was truly a case of "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak".

Six Mile March

It seems ridiculous that a six mile march could do a man in like that, and if it were not for the fact that all the others were showing the name effects to a greater or lesser degree, I would be ashamed to even mention it. But this was no ordinary march under ordinary conditions.

I managed though to stay on my feet and stagger into the camp area. After the usual checking in at "headquarters," which in this case was a tent fly out in the middle of a large field, we were directed to the area assigned to our unit - field number eight, I believe it was - another quarter of a mile down a back road. We were now in typical Norman hedgerow country, of which so much was written in those days. The roads were lined with hedgerows and on either side the flat fields, now grown up in weeds and grass, or the apple orchards, were broken up into small fields of one or two acres, each surrounded on all sides by hedgerows. It was such a field that we were assigned is our bivouac area, and that was all - just an open field, but it was the end of the road for today, and it sure looked good to me. In fact, I am sure that if it had been a mile, or even a half-mile farther, I would not have made it.

Since our shelter halves (pup tents) and luggage were still on the boat in our trucks, there was not much to do to "make camp" for the night. After sending a couple of the men off in search of some rations, I simply sprawled, flat on the ground, and laid there without moving for at least an hour.

Along toward sundown one of the men came up to tell me that Capt. Wincentsen ("Stinky") and his gang had just arrived and were bivouacked just across the road from us. When I started to get up to go over and see my old pal, I found that my legs were getting so stiff that I could hardly move them. I managed somehow, though, to get up and hobble across the road where I found him and his men very comfortably set up in a nice little apple orchard. It was the first time I had seen Stinky since that morning, just before day, when I had tried unsuccessfully to wake him to tell him goodbye before we debarked from the good ship Thurston at Cardiff. That was only three months ago, "but so much had happened since that it seemed like years, and I was mighty glad to see him again. He told me that they had embarked at Southampton only the morning before, and had crossed in comparative style on a British troop carrier. [end page 46]

My bed that night consisted of some cardboard, from some old discarded 10 in 1 ration cartons, spread out on the ground to keep none of the dampness out. For my cover I had one blanket, that I had smuggled off the ship in my barracks bag, and my raincoat on top of that. That was set up out in the wide open spaces at one side of the field, near the hedgerow. Someone who had been there ahead of us had left foxholes nearby that we could dive into in case of an air raid, but it was not necessary that night, Once again there was the sporadic ack-ack firing, but still no enemy planes in sight.

St. Germain -de- Varreville,

I went to bed, if you can call it that, before dark and slept the sleep of the exhausted, but I was awake many times during the night, turning and twisting on my hard bed. And each time I was awake I could see the constant lightning like flicker and hear the distant rumble and roar of explosions, frequently making the ground tremble, which bespoke of the terrific battles in progress at that time. The next day it was announced that our own forces had taken La Haye du Puits and the British had entered the fiercely defended city of Caen. We were bivouacked at the little village of St. Germain -de- Varreville, about 10 or 12 miles from the front lines.

When I eventually came around to deciding to get up the next morning, I found that my rain coat had gotten knocked off during the night and my blanket was soaking wet with dew. No wonder I had felt so cold and damp all night. If my bones and muscles had been sore and stiff the day before they were many times more so now. It was only with the greatest effort that I could get up on my feet at all, and it took even more effort for me to walk. I shuffled along like a veteran in a Confederate Soldiers' Reunion Parade. It was about a quarter of a mile up to "headquarters" and I had to go up there two or three times during that day. On each occasion, I found that I could not possibly return to camp under my own power until I had sprawled on the ground and rested my bones for awhile. When I got back to camp I sprawled again, until I had to move for some reason or other.

So far the weather had been good, but early in the morning clouds began to blow in off the channel, and soon a driving rain was adding to our woes. The men improvised shelters as best they could with raincoats and scraps of this and that picked up around the area, but I just put my raincoat on and got back as far up under the hedge as I could, for what shelter it would offer. Someone gathered up some scraps of wood and got a fire started and everyone kept in fairly good spirits and comfort.

On one of my trips to "headquarters," I had been told that they were trying to arrange for transportation to Cherbourg for me and my men. They had some large movements of troops coming up right away and had to clear out all the area possible to handle them. I did not know it then, but I found out only a few days later that the large movement involved troops of the Third Army, arriving from England and deploying into positions from which they were very soon to exploit the great break-through at St. Lo and start out on the historic drive across the Brest Peninsular and then eastward to the Moselle River at Metz and Nancy before slackening their pace. In fact, one of my truck drivers told me, when he caught up with us at Cherbourg several days later, that he had seen General Patton at the staging area when he came through and had heard part of a speech that he had made to one of the units under his command. During this speech he had said something to this effect: "After we get started on our big drive I don't want to see a single man in my command 'dig' in anywhere. There will be no digging in, under pain of immediate and severe punishment for anyone caught trying same. We are not going to stop long enough to dig in. We are going to keep moving, Within a week after we start our drive we will be in Paris." Well, how near to the truth that prediction was to prove to be no one had any idea at that time. I guess "the old man" knew something that we did not know after all. [end page 47]

Later in the afternoon my weapons carrier arrived, after having had considerable trouble finding us because we were listed at headquarters as being in another area, about a mile down another road. The driver said that his vehicle was among the first to be unloaded, and that it would probably still be several days before the others were off . With him were the operators for our bull dozer and road grader. They said they had been told that their equipment would be kept on the ship until it eventually proceeded to Cherbourg, and that they were to leave it and join us now.

I was truly glad to see the weapons carrier. Now I knew I had a way to ride and would not have to torture my weary bones to get places. Also a few of the men's duffle bags, with their shelter halves and blankets, were in it, and there was a tarpaulin with which we could make a small tent to give some protection from the weather.

I made another trip to headquarters to try to get the listings straight on where we were bivouacked, so that if anyone else tried to find us they would not have the same difficulty as the weapons carrier driver. When they found out where we really were, they said we'd have to clear out of there immediately as that whole area was assigned to a division that would be arriving right away. And they assigned us to another area a couple of miles off in another direction.

It was between 8 and 9 PM when I returned to our area to tell the men to pull up and get ready to move, I found that they had just about gotten set for the night. Those who now had pup tents had them set up, a tent had been rigged with the tarpaulin, and each one by now had an improvised shelter of some description. So they had to turn right around and break camp, for what was to be the first of four moves for us within the next twelve or fourteen hours.

By the time we arrived at our new area and pitched camp, again, for the night it was dark and time to turn in. I had the driver move out and switch around enough of the equipment in the weapons carrier to make room for me to sleep in the back end of it. Just as I was getting ready to hit the sack I heard someone off across the field, in the dark, asking for Capt. Horsley. When he found me, it was an officer from an Engineer Regiment who said he had orders to come down and pick us up. His outfit was bivouacked near Valognes and he was to take us there and put us up for the night. The 346th was to send transportation the next morning to take us on the rest of the way.

We broke camp again and loaded up, I in the weapons carrier and the men in the trucks sent for us. Capt. Wincentsen's outfit was going along with us too, so we lined up in convoy column for our first trip in France. It was by now pitch dark, although the rain had stopped earlier in the day and a few stars were now peeping out. The strictest blackout must be observed at all times, especially this near the front lines, and it was quite apparent that we were going to just have to feel our way along.


The lieutenant acting as our guide told me our route and destination - to St. Mere Eglise and then on Route N-13 thru Valognes to the camp a couple of miles past town - in case we got separated from the convoy, and we started out. The going was necessarily extremely slow, and the column halted many times while the guide checked with the MP's to be sure we were on the right road. My driver once tried driving with his blackout lights on, but the first MP who saw us told him in no uncertain terms that even they were not permitted, a fact that we knew as well as he. [end page 48]

We moved a little faster after we hit the black top road at St.Mere Eglise, but still had to take it easy. Until now we had seen many single houses or small groups of houses smashed and destroyed, but no complete towns razed. However, when we got to Montebourg we began to realize what war was really like and at Valognes we saw destruction at its worst. By that time the skies were fairly light from the moon and we could see what remained of the walls and hulks of buildings in that ghost city, silhouetted against the sky. It was not light enough to see the vast sea of rubble to which most of the town had been reduced, and which after many subsequent daylight trips to Valognes convinced me that it was one of the worst damaged of all the towns hit by the war. But we could see enough to get a completely new conception of the tragic awfulness of war and to cause us to offer up prayer that our own country and loved ones would be forever spared such horrors.

We arrived at the bivouac area sometime after midnight and promptly made camp, in the dark, and turned in without further ado. It was hardly light the next morning when the chow call sounded out, and I did not feel like moving or eating, so I turned over for a few more minutes rest - in my improvised bunk on the floor of the weapons carrier. But I was up and around before long supervising breaking camp and packing once more.

The vehicles from the 346th arrived before we had finished, so we loaded up as soon as we were ready and shoved off again. Our original pre -invasion orders had said that we were to bivouac in a woods about 3 miles southwest of the heart of Cherbourg, but the Warrant Officer in charge of the convoy said they had never been, to that place but were located, rather, at Tourlaville, a "suburb" adjacent to Cherbourg and about three miles east of the heart of town.


Cherbourg before the Allied invasion
Click on picture to enlarge

As we drove through Cherbourg, which was to be our home for the next ten and a half months, we could see the scars of battle every where, but after Montebourg and Valognes, and even some of the English city victims of the Battle of Britain, it looked comparatively well preserved. It is true that the Krauts had performed here one of the most thorough and complete jobs of demolition of military and vital installations in history, in addition to by far the most thorough harbor mining jobs of all times, but the main business sections of town were not leveled to the ground as in other places.

At the area occupied by the 346th at Tourlaville, we were conducted to a nice little apple orchard back about a half mile off the main road out of town, and told that this was to be our home. Vehicles could be parked along the edges beside the hedgerows for camouflage purposes, and our pup tents, which were to be our living quarters, could be pitched in the shade of the old apple trees.

I got the men lined up on making camp and then set off with our guide and Stinky, in an automobile recently belonging to some Kraut officer, to be presented to our new CO, Col. Loveland, commanding the 346th. He was using for his headquarters a large fairly modern school building. The regimental offices and the HQ officers' mess were on the ground floor and the HQ officers quarters on the second floor. Col. Loveland was not in when we arrived, but we were introduced to the regimental executive officer, Lt. Col. Ingram, who welcomed us to our new home. [end page 49]

One of the first things I asked Col. Ingram was about shelter halves and blankets for my men whose duffle bags were still on the ship - whether it was possible to beg or borrow at least a few to tide us over "until our ship came in." Improvising for one or two nights, while in transit, was one thing but to establish a camp for an indefinite period without tents or enough blankets was something else. After quite a lengthy lecture on the general theme that we should never have let our luggage out of our sight under any circumstances, which was now a little late to be of any practical benefit, and after much deliberating, he hit on a happy solution to our difficulties. Across the street from headquarters was another large building, apparently part of the school, or a dormitory or something similar. It was vacant at present and, subject to Col. Loveland's veto, he saw no reason why we could not move in there, at least until the rest of our equipment arrived.

Our New Apartment

After we had finished our little "visit" with the Colonel, Stinky and I went over and looked over our new "apartment". We decided that it would house both the units and also give us orderly room and supply room space, and, compared to the apple orchard, make an ideal place to live. So we divided up and allocated the space and then went back to get our gangs. When we arrived at the apple orchard they had just about finished making camp and had to start tearing down and packing up again - for the lst of the four moves. The men really looked disgusted when I told them to get ready to move again, but when they found out we were to move into a building I think they felt a little better.

We were located well up on a hill overlooking the city, and from the room Stinky and I took we had a perfect view of the harbor and the port spread out before our eyes. It must have been a beautiful view in more peaceful days. We had no furniture but made our beds on the floor for the night. By that time it was time for lunch, and we went over and got acquainted at the HQ officers mess, where we actually had dishes and silverware. The men had to walk about a half mile up the road for theirs and queue up out in the open, then sit on the ground to eat it.

Location of Orderly room - near gas works and power station
Click on picture to enlarge

And so we were finally in Cherbourg - bedded down and well fed and ready to go to work. It was Monday, July 10th - just four months to the day since we left Capt Claiborne. That was the fullest four months of my life, and it already seems almost like a dream. All of these experiences to date, and we were still unscratched and unscarred by any actual experiences with hostilities. How near we might have been at any one time to actual danger and death no one will ever know. It is entirely possible that only a hair's breadth might have separated the living from the dead at some times during our travels. Surely we had been in some potentially dangerous places, and right now, at Cherbourg, we were in a place that should be one of the hottest spots in the world - the one port through which supplies to our armies must be funnelled, and thus the most vital link in all the lengthy supply line. Surely if the enemy had any air force at all left they would use it here to prevent maximum use of the harbor and its facilities.

The first thing I did when I had a chance to relax and a few minutes to myself after lunch, was to sit down in the middle of the floor in my room and write a few words to my Henrietta. "At last it can be told", I said, or words to that effect. "'We are somewhere in France, all ready to do great things for our country." But it was a long time after that before we received any mail. Someone had neglected to advise the postal department that we were shipping to France, and our mail was all still being tied up in England for quite sometime to come. [end page 50]

Since our tools and equipment had not arrived from the boat there was not much that we could do in the way of work. Col. Loveland said that it had been found that the utilities in the city, necessary for military operations, had not been damaged near as badly as had been anticipated and so there was not too much left to be done to get the vital points operating. So we spent the next day or two getting our quarters and headquarters set up. There were many former German military installations around, such as garrisons, forts, and such, and from these the men salvaged enough furniture and equipment for everyone to have beds, lockers, chairs and tables and to get us quite comfortably established. We fixed up toilets and showers, and stoves for heating water. I managed to pick up a German diesel engine driven generator which we rigged up for lights, and in short order we had all the comforts of home - or, at least, all the basic needs of home.

The Army and Navy Were Both Working Furiously to Clear the Harbor of Mines

The army and navy were both working furiously to clear the harbor of mines and obstacles, remove enough debris to get ships in and cargo unloaded and to get all the port facilities possible in operation. There were thunderous explosions shaking the ground and breaking windows for miles around, day and night, around the clock, as mines pulled from the harbor and land mines were exploded and tons of explosives were used to clear away the obstacles and debris.

One night a couple of weeks after our arrival, we had two visits from lone Kraut planes, probably reconnaissance planes looking for a little information. Those were the only enemy planes ever to come over Cherbourg after our arrival there. It still seems unbelievable that they did not try to bomb the place, Everyone constantly expected at least a sneak attack or two. I, personally, expected them to start using buzz-bombs against us, like they subsequently did against Antwerp. In fact, when one day, much later, after things had quieted down quite a bit in Cherbourg, there were some earth rattling explosions from nearby captured ammunition dumps accidentally set off, my first thought was that they had finally found our range with those infernal machines. But they never used a buzz-bomb against us either.

Jerry Did Come Over

On the particular night when Jerry did come over, I was first awakened around midnight by ack-ack fire in the distance. I immediately jumped up and grabbed some clothes and my steel helmet, to be ready to get the men out of the building in case it was a raid. By that time the firing was coming closer. I stood by my window looking out over the harbor and could see the distant flashes of the guns. Soon there was the distant sound of an aeroplane motor and about that time what seemed like thousands of guns opened up, There were, by that time, a number of ships in the harbor, and the fire from the ships' guns, plus that from the shore installations, combined to give one terrific concentration of fire. The light from tracer bullets and gunfire and shell bursts gave a fireworks show that made the highly touted New York World's Fair fireworks exhibit look tame and small time. Through it all, Jerry winged his way slowly, high above the city, circled and headed back east from whence he had come, untouched and apparently unimpressed.

I had no more than gotten to sleep when the sirens were wailing again and the whole scene was acted through once more, almost to the detail. That was the first and last time I ever heard an enemy plane overhead.

Late one afternoon, about three days after our arrival, our trucks came rolling in with all our equipment. We now had the tools and necessary equipment to start on our job of the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of such facilities in Cherbourg and vicinity as were required for military operations. And we were all soon hard at work, ten hours a day, seven days a week trying to do our little bit for the war effort. We got word a few days later that our grader and bull dozer had been unloaded at the beach after all, and hauled back into one of the fields behind the beach and left there. I made a trip down to hunt them up and found them just as I had been told that I would. It was on this trip that I met and passed great, long columns of vehicles of the Fourth Armored Division, that were so familiar to me from training days at Pine Camp, arriving on the Continent and moving up to take their place from where they were to spearhead the Third Army's great drive after the St. Lo break-through. [end page 51]

There were medium and heavy bombers over Cherbourg day and night, their way to and fro between the bases in Southern England and the battlefields a few miles south of us. But on the day of the great battle that resulted in the famous break-through at St. Lo the skies were literally darkened. Various men in my outfit told me that they counted anywhere from 600 to 900 of the four-motored heavies as they passed in one continual train. The next day the news was full of the terrific aerial bombardment that started the big drive at St. Lo.

On Monday, July 17th, one week after our arrival in Cherbourg, the first allied ship entered the harbor and started disgorging her load of war supplies. From that day on the harbor was a scene of an ever increasing number of ships and feverish activity around the clock to unload and ship out supplies to the armies. We had a grandstand seat from which to watch the results of the great battle of production back home, as the implements and materials of war poured ashore and immediately started those last few miles to the armies to be used to bring the tyrants to their knees. I don't suppose that many men in all the world ever conceived, even in their wildest dreams, of all the great quantity and variety, and also quality, of materials that were being furnished our troops - from, the smallest and most minutely detailed parts to medium heavy tanks, which rambled by for hours at a time, by the hundreds, and tank destroyers and Big Tom artillery pieces, and no one knows what all else. It was enough to bring cheer to even the most complacent, on our side, and I often remarked that if Hitler could only see what we were seeing he would give up at once.

A couple of weeks after our arrival, Capt. Wincentsen and his outfit were moved out and assigned to Communications Zone Headquarters, to handle utilities for that headquarters. After the break-through and the movement forward of the armies, ADSEC moved forward with them and we were dropped off and left behind. "Cherbourg Command" took over the Cherbourg area, later to be taken over by Base Section No. Ill and Normandy Base Section in turn.

Construction Chief, Engineer Section of the new Base Section

On August 2nd I was ordered to report to the Construction Chief, Engineer Section of the new Base Section in town. There Major Goves told me that I was to pick out a place in town for our headquarters, shops and billets and move in as soon as possible, prepared to handle minor construction and repairs of buildings and all facilities for that headquarters and for all other military organizations and installations in Cherbourg and vicinity, as needed. Our services were later "advertised" by a notice in the official bulletin reading in part, as follows: "All requests for minor repairs of building, installations of lights, repairs of plumbing and heating, etc. in buildings occupied by military personnel in Cherbourg;, Tourlaville and Octeville Areas will be submitted to the 1097 Engineer Utilities Detachment, 3 Hue Sebastopol, Cherbourg, Phone ARSENIC 671. "No requests will be submitted that can be accomplished by the unit concerned except in emergencies. " [end page 52]

That was the official announcement of our duties and responsibilities, but I can assure you that our actual activities took in a much broader field than ever envisaged by the guy who wrote that notice. Our activities ranged all the way from delivering babies to building elevators - (we actually did both) - and were too numerous and varied to ever mention here. Our slogan was "If you can't fix it, we will," and they took us at our word. We lived up to the letter of our slogan and never once had to back down. Each man in the outfit had to be a specialist in a half dozen different lines, and I was many times amazed at the intelligence and initiative shown by the men at jobs they never had tried before.

World's Champion Scavengers And Improvisors

Men and jeep outside orderly room
Click on picture to enlarge

It was a hard struggle, with lack of materials our biggest obstacle. But we soon became the world's champion scavengers and improvisors. We combed the junk heaps and abandoned enemy installations and made many a workable gadget and contrivance with the junk salvaged from them. As time went on and the boys at headquarters who controlled the supplies learned about our work and had occasion to call on us more frequently for their own needs, we began to get more and more of the limited supply of equipment and material, until before we left Cherbourg, I believe that we had more equipment per man than any other engineer outfit in France. They found that by giving it to us they could be assured that it would be put to good use. One of the most helpful and cooperative of all those we had to deal with was the Base Section Signal Supply Officer, Major (now Lt. Col.) Tallman. He had taken a liking to us when we worked half the night one night, back in the early days at Cherbourg to help him get emergency power into the central telephone switchboard there. After that he could never say enough good things about me and the outfit, and backed his words up with action by giving us anything he had in the way of tools and material that we could use - many things that we could not get through our own engineer supply sources. On the other hand, Maj. Tallman knew that if his section needed any services we could perform all he had to do was to call me, and help would be on the way soon.

And thus it went at Cherbourg. In one way or another practically everyone in the area at one time or another came to know us and called on us for our services. And most of them always had a good word to say about us and our work. And the best thing about it was that they knew there was no red tape involved - just a phone call, and that was all. To most of them at first, accustomed to the ordinary army procedures, it seemed too simple to be true.

There have been in the past, and there always will be, many arguments among the larger engineer units working there at that time as to who was due all the credit for repairing and rehabilitating the port at Cherbourg. The "Steenth" PC&R Group put out a pamphlet tending to prove that they did most of the work, and the "Umpty-Third" Engr. Regt., as well as others, all claim that the credit belongs to them. None of the big shots ever mentioned us in those accounts, but to the one officer and forty-two enlisted men of my outfit - we know who deserves the credit - the 1097th Engineers. (But don't take me too seriously.) I have no statistics to prove it, but I know it as well as I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that man for man we did more actual constructive work than any other outfit in Normandy. In fact, there were many people around who always thought we were a regiment, and when they found out the actual size of the unit their mouths flew open in amazement.

Our task was made much easier by the fact that for the one time in my whole army experience we were not hampered and hamstrung by army restrictions and channels and red tape. We were operating entirely independently, under the direct control of the Base Section Engineer, and most of our work was through actual direct contacts between my office and the people who wanted the work done. The fellows in headquarters knew us and what we could do, and trusted us to do a good job without a lot of meddling on their part - something almost unheard of before or since in this man's army. It is surprising what a huge difference it can make to a unit to be allowed to do its work without being forever hounded to death by someone without a day's training or experience in your type of work trying to tell you how to do it, and without that continual nagging and bickering from the boys in the front office who more often than not don't know what the score is. [end page 53]

City Air Raid Alarm System

Captain Joe Horsley at Orderly room
Click on picture to enlarge

Much could be written about our experiences in carrying out our mission at Cherbourg - such as the job of rebuilding the city air raid alarm system and installing remote controls so that every siren in the City and environs could be sounded from one central control station, which was dumped in our laps with a "do it or else" order after several other outfits, including- the Umpty-Third, had tried it and failed. The job was completed by us.

Another one I will long remember is the furore caused by an order for 880 traffic signs that I was handed one Saturday morning with the order that they be completed and ready for delivery before 8:00 AM the next day - that in spite of the fact that lumber for signs was almost impossible to get, and after it was obtained and cut and nailed together at least one coat of white paint must be applied and dried before you could start lettering, and in spite of the fact that I only had one sign painter in the outfit. The signs were completed before midnight Saturday, but not quite according to original specifications. I was later told that the real reason for all the furore was the fact that the area commander had told General Lee that he had a new traffic circulation plan in effect in Cherbourg, to cut down on the terrible traffic bottleneck existing there at that time, and then he found out that General Lee was to arrive in town at about noon Sunday. So that traffic circulation plan had to be in operation by noon Sunday - or else.

And last, because I have purposely saved it for last, but not least is the one activity which, although it was only a side line and an extra curricula activity for us, was the biggest headache of all to me and which those who knew me and our work at Cherbourg will probably remember and laugh about long after they have forgotten all the other heroic deeds of the 1097th. It was a service which affected - and intimately - the daily routine of practically every individual in the armed forces in that area. It was a service which would normally have been handled by civilian agencies who made it a business, but which had been turned over to me to run because those agencies were so hopelessly bogged down in difficulties of their own and because the demand for such service so far exceeded the capacity to handle that no normal methods could ever succeed. It was a service for which I exercised a complete monopoly. I was at various times begged, cajoled, threatened, offered bribes, threatened dire consequences, and many other various devices, by everyone to have their jobs done first. But my policy was: - we put your name on the list when we get your order and your job will be done after all those ahead of you have been completed. And I stuck to my guns. The only exceptions ever made were the hospital, the nurses home and the Commanding General's own quarters.

Honey Dipping Business

This service we referred to as our "Honey Dipping Business," but contrary to what one would expect from the name, it stunk.

Of the sewage disposal system at Cherbourg, the twenty-one page pre-invasion intelligence bulletin on Cherbourg and its facilities said, in one of the greatest understatements in history, simply this: "Sewarage consists of numerous cess-pools. There are only a few sewers which discharge into the sea or river." Merely that, and nothing more. [end page 54]

The same bulletin that announced the availability of our services for lights, heat, etc., also said: "All requests for the emptying of cesspools in buildings occupied by military personnel in Cherbourg, Tourlaville, and Octeville areas will be submitted to the 1097th Engineer Utilities Detachment."

I had never imagined that any one business or department could be beset by as many, and as varied, mishaps and difficulties as the "Honey Dipping Business" was in Cherbourg in those days. From the civilian angle it had political and legal aspects, it figured in the black market, in squabbles between collaborators (with the Krauts) and non-collaborators - and every other thing imaginable. From any aspect, the available equipment was from twenty to thirty years old and had had no repairs since the Krauts moved in, over four years ago, and there were now many times as many people to service with this old junk - up to thirty or forty soldiers living in houses normally occupied by a family of three or four people.

At one time during our Honey Dipping Business career we were twelve days behind with our orders. The phone would ring and the voice on the other end would say, "I just found out that our cesspool is full and beginning to run over and I'd like to get the equipment sent over to empty it." "OK,", says the clerk, "'We'll put you down on the list," "And can I expect them around today?" he would ask. "No, I'm afraid not today. We're running a little behind these days." "And when do you think we can look for them?" "Oh, in about twelve days - if we don't get any further behind." "TWELVE DAYS!!!" he would shout, and you could hear it from the receiver all the way across the room. "'What in the blankety - blank - blank - blank are we going to do for a toilet in the meantime?" "I don't know,", was the reply, "unless you build yourself a Chick Sales [ An outhouse. A kybo. A privy. An outside toilet.] out in the backyard. All I can tell you is that we're running twelve days behind now. Good bye."

Christmas Eve

But on my diary for Sunday, December 24th (Christmas Eve, of course) I find the following brief entry: "Caught completely up with 'honey dipper.' No jobs outstanding." Now we could relax completely over the holiday knowing that no one was having to resort to a Chick Sales on Christmas Day.

Yes, the story of our Honey Dipping Business would be a volume in itself, and if it could only be acted out on the stage as it actually happened I am convinced that it would prove to be one of the most hilarious comedies of all times, even though it did have its pathetic moments.

But those stories, and all the others concerning our activities in France are part of another tale.

On August 3rd I found a place for us to live, at No.3 Rue Sebastopol and we moved from Tourlaville into town. The place was a very nice city home, as homes in France go, and we were as comfortable there as anyone could ever hope to be in the army, separated from home and loved ones by thousands of miles of ocean.

Our wanderings and travels and moves were ended for quite sometime to come, and we gradually settled down to a comparatively quiet and complacent life, in spite of the fact that in our business there is never a dull moment and there's always something new.

Oh yes - about the baby, That was unofficial - kind of over and above the line of duty, as the citation would read - and I only know about it from hearsay. But it seems that a nearby French family in distress appealed to our guard during the wee small hours one morning for help to get a young matron of the household to the hospital in an emergency. Being the gentleman and soldier that he was he promptly rousted a driver and a couple of our men out of bed. They in turn as promptly loaded the distressed and a member or two of her family into one of our vehicles and started on a mad dash for the hospital. When they reached the hospital, or at least so I'm told, they had one more passenger than they had started out with. [end page 55]


Joe Horsley and daughter Joan on July 27, 1947
Click on picture to enlarge

© 2013 by J. Horsley