Archive for the ‘1944’ Category

Harold Goerges and John Andrews left their mark, as they left for Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944

Seventy-seven years ago today, two 111h Ordnance Company soldiers left a good-bye note on the wall of their room in Albro Castle, St. Dogmaels, Wales. They and my dad and 160 other GIs who were billeted there packed up and left the next day for Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Harold Goerges and John Andrews, lifelong friends of my dad, could have never imagined that their graffiti would be revealed decades later, thanks to Tracy and Peter Newland, current owners of Albro Castle, which was originally a 19th-century workhouse. Tracy noticed some pencil marks on the wall as she was removing wallpaper in the early 2000s and spent several years trying to find out more about the American men who had lived there for five months in 1944.

Then, as fate would have it, eight years ago today, Ed and I showed up uninvited to Albro Castle and met Tracy, who excitedly showed us the wall. This blog was the direct result. Over the next few years, we found five survivors and nearly 60 families of the 111th men, letting us knit together a fairly complete picture of their time in the war. And the search continues.

We will always be grateful to Tracy Newland for preserving this piece of history.

The strange coincidences we’ve encountered while doing this blog continue.

Earlier this month, a man by the name of Henny in Maastricht, Netherlands, found us and sent an email. He was trying to find the family of an American WWII soldier who was the father of his older half-sister. Uh-oh, I thought—this hasn’t come up so far!

Henny explained that the soldier and his mother had a relationship in Heerlen, Netherlands, in the winter of 1944-45 (the same period when the 111th was there), and that although his sister knew her father was a GI, her mother would never reveal his name—until she was on her deathbed: it was Charles Fargo, from Texas.

I had to tell Henny that we didn’t have a soldier by that name in the 111th, and although Ed and I tried various ways to find more about the man, we were unsuccessful. But that wasn’t the end of this story.

Henny mentioned in passing that he had retired after 44 years as a manager in a tile factory in Maastricht. Aha, I thought. I wonder if he would know anything about the beautiful ceramic tiles of Dutch girls in local costumes that my father and at least three other men of the 111th sent home while billeted in the Societe Ceramique tile factory in Maastricht in the fall of 1944. (See the blog post from March 2014, https://wwiitracings.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/a-french-orphan-and-the-tiles-of-war/)

The inscription on the back of each tile is “Societe Ceramique, Maestricht”

Henny replied that he would send my photos of the tiles to a colleague who knows a lot about the history of tile industry in Maastricht. It turns out they are rather rare. They were designed by well-known artist Henri Verstijnen in the 1930s but never put into full production.

I told Henny that I would like to donate my tiles to a museum or archives in Maastricht. He contacted the senior curator of the museum at the Centre Ceramique, a modern cultural complex built on the grounds of the factory where the tiles were made, to see if he would like them for his collection. He said yes, and I carefully packed them up and sent them off today.

Thank you, Henny!

Update May 21, 2021: You may recall that a few other men of the 111th had sent home these tiles. One of them was Ray Goodhart (see the previous post). We just learned that Kimberley, Ray’s loving granddaughter, has mailed off to the museum the two remaining tiles in the set created by artist Henri Verstijnen in Maastricht in the 1930s (see below). Mr. Wim Dijkman, Senior Curator, wrote in his thanks to Kimberley, “I can promise as the senior curator responsible for the ceramic collections made in Maastricht that these objects will be kept permanently in Centre Céramique and that I will write an article about all six tiles for the Bulletin of the Vereniging Maastrichts Aardewerk recognizing the background information you and Andrea Sutcliffe gave me about the fascinating story behind these tiles!”

Ray and my father, Edward Johnson, were good friends during the war; below is a photo of the two of them taken in Maastricht in 1944. We don’t know the circumstances of how the men obtained these tiles, but I’m guessing that when the 111th arrived in Maastricht shortly after the liberation of the city by the American troops, they may have been presented as gifts of appreciation by the managers of the tile factory.

Edward Johnson and Ray Goodhart, Maastricht, fall 1944

Last week we were excited to hear from yet another Frenchman. Nicolas used to live in Cherbourg and is quite familiar with the city. He wrote to say that he knows the location of one of our photos, taken on July 17, 1944, during the Normandy Campaign.

One of the 111th men took several pictures of Cherbourg that day, and one in particular caught Nicolas’s eye.

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“The location of this picture was easy to find, as there is only one mountain around Cherbourg: La Montagne du Roule,” he wrote. “Plus, my former high school was located a bit further from the house (which I circled in red). I used to walk this very street every morning, and every evening … the sight looked familiar.” Merci beaucoup, Nicolas!

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The day that photo was taken in 1944, some of the unit had left their camp in the Cerisy Forest, Normandy, for a trip that took them through Isigny-sur-Mer, Carentan, St. Mere Eglise, Monteburg and Cherbourg. The Allies had taken Cherbourg, an important port, in late June. Twelve days after their trip, Operation Cobra was launched—the Allied operation to break out of Normandy.

Paris—then and now

Posted: May 18, 2019 in 1944, Liberation of Paris

Our last stop on this “tracings” trip was Paris, but the 111th men saw it early in their tour, the last week of August 1944. By chance, they arrived in Saint Remy de Chevreuse, near Versailles, just a day after the Liberation of Paris. All the men were given passes to go into the the city, and they had a ball!

My father, Bill Johnson, and Percy Ackert on the Eiffel Tower. Dad never mentioned to me that he had been to Paris. We didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower.

John Andrews, Ray Buggert, and Peter Patrick at the Arc de Triomphe, having a rest.

Ed Sutcliffe last week at the Arc de Triomphe, having a rest.

The 28th Infantry Division—which the 111th had belonged to in Wales—marched down the Champs Elysees as part of the liberation celebration, and Lt. Perry Witt was there: “I will not attempt to explain to you the feelings that the Parisians had for us or any American soldier who had arrived after the liberation. We were fortunate in seeing the American 28th Division parade down the Champs Elysees. The people cheered, cried, and swarmed around me as I stood watching our boys go by.” Cpt. Art Brooks recalled, “It was unbelievable, the Parisians were in a frenzy!”

We spent the night in Saint Remy de Chevreuse, a very pretty village, but since our men had camped in tents there, we could only look at open fields in and around the town and guess where they might have been:

The men of the 111th suffered through a bitterly cold, busy, and often frightening winter in Heerlen, near the German border. They arrived in late October and left in early February, crossing the border into Alsdorf, Germany, as the Germans were being pushed east. The town suffered periodic shelling by the Germans from across the Roer River in November and December 1944.

The unit was under the Ninth Army here, supporting the XIX Corps and the 29th Division. In late December, with the Battle of the Bulge in full swing, they were given the added duty of supporting the 102nd Infantry Division.

On New Year’s Eve, the Luftwaffe strafed and dropped bombs over Heerlen from midnight to 4 am. It was not a great way to start the new year. The company clerk, Frank Sossi, wrote in his monthly history report, “This month [January] was a difficult one in every respect.” They were worried about a possible German breakthrough from the north and developed three evacuation plans. German paratroopers were landing in the area dressed in U.S. Army uniforms, hoping to infiltrate the lines. There was a severe shortage of parts with so many damaged vehicles and equipment coming from the front lines. And snow began to fall.

Today we are in Heerlen with our blog friend Peter Pauwels, who is showing us places around the town where the 111th worked and lived.

Heerlen Holland 1944

Same place, 75 years later. This was the entrance to the 111th’s work area, where they repaired vehicles and artillery. It was a former brickyard.The street name is Grasbroekerweg.
img172 Shop area at Heerlen, Holland

Shop area, Heerlen, winter 1944-45, and today, from the other side with Peter and Andrea. It’s a parking lot!

The Baggen meat market, near the 111th work area. Soldier Roland Unangst made life-long friends of the Baggen family, even naming a daughter after one of the Baggen daughters.

This vacant lot near the 111th work area was the location of the large house that was used by the 111th’s officers as their home and offices.

Thank you, Peter, for all your help! We couldn’t have learned all of this without you.