Posts Tagged ‘Albro Castle’

From February 1944 until June 7, 1944, the men of the 111th lived and worked at Albro Castle, in St.Dogmaels, Wales. The name is rather ironic — it wasn’t a castle at all, but a workhouse, or poorhouse, that took in the area’s destitute from 1840 until 1935. In the months preceding the D-Day invasion, the U.S. Army had to work hard to find quarters for more than a million service members in the United Kingdom, and obviously a place like Albro Castle fit the bill.

My father, 111th sergeant Bill Johnson, occasionally talked about living at Albro and meeting my Welsh mother at a local dance in a nearby village. And although I don’t recall him mentioning it, he returned there in 1983, nearly 40 years later, to take a look. I know this because I recently came across a stash of his old photos. Had it not been for our work to learn more about the 111th, I would have not known why he took these three pictures or where this place was:

Albro Castle, 1983, front view

Albro Castle, 1983, front view

Structures in rear

Structures in rear

Albro Castle courtyard, 1983

Albro Castle courtyard, 1983

On June 6, 2013, my husband, Ed, and I decided to find Albro, a story we related in our very first posting on this blog. The discovery we made that day — all because of the preservation efforts of its owners, Peter and Tracy Newland — sparked our entire project. We owe them a lot. Last June, we did a posting on this blog about how we spent two lovely evenings with them commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day and role that Albro Castle played in WWII. (When my dad revisited Albro in 1983, he most probably met Peter Newland’s mother.)

So I am pleased to tell you that if you would like the experience of living in the same place that your father or grandfather did just before the Normandy invasion, you can do that. Check it out here: http://www.albrocastle.co.uk/

Tracy and Peter have worked hard to turn part of Albro’s main building into two charming and comfy two holiday apartments: one has room for 12 to 14 people, while the other is meant for a couple or small family. We can assure you that today Albro Castle is much more attractive and comfortable than it was when the 111th men lived there. The stunning Pembrokeshire Coast Path is close by; this part of West Wales is a gorgeous and fascinating place to visit, especially in the spring and summer.

We have received many new photos in the past month, from former CO Captain Art Brooks; from Gene Karl’s daughter, Donna Leitzke; and from Leroy Brannon’s widow, Lillian. Here are a few–the rest we have posted in the “Photos” pages (at the top of this website) of “The Men” and “The Places.”

The new photos have given us some new information while also leading to new questions. We learned that the 111th had an earlier warrant officer we had not known about, Bill Hall; however, we have not been able to learn where he was from. We also now have photos of the men playing softball on the Poppit Sands near St Dogmaels, Wales, as well as more images of Albro Castle, where they lived for 4 months before Normandy; more photos of the men in Aberdeen, Maryland, in November 1942; and more photos taken in Europe. Sorry about the odd arrangement; WordPress doesn’t give much control over such things, at least as I have been able to learn.

Warrant Officer Hall, 1944

Warrant Officer Hall, 1944

Gen Karl in truck

Gen Karl in truck

Leroy Brannon

Leroy Brannon

Curt Vosz, Aberdeen, MD, Nov. 1942

Curt Vosz, Aberdeen, MD, Nov. 1942

CPT Malsbury

CPT Malsbury

Charles Burns, Bill Campbell, and Robert Mauer

Charles Burns, Bill Campbell, and Robert Mauer

Playing ball on Poppit Sands, near St Dogmaels, Wales, 1944

Playing ball on Poppit Sands, near St Dogmaels, Wales, 1944

Playing ball on the beach, Poppit

Playing ball on the beach, Poppit

George Legg and his D-Day beard

George Legg and his D-Day beard

Major Dante Vezzoli, May 1945; he had been a Lt. with the 111th in 1942-3

Major Dante Vezzoli, May 1945; he had been a Lt. with the 111th in 1942-3

Waiting for the train, Aberdeen, MD, 1942

Waiting for the train, Aberdeen, MD, 1942

Albro Castle, Wales, 1944

Albro Castle, Wales, 1944

Possibly the lane up to Albro Castle, St Dogmaels, Wales, 1944

Possibly the lane up to Albro Castle, St Dogmaels, Wales, 1944

Gene Karl in train, buddies below

Gene Karl in train, buddies below

Men working at Albro Castle, Wales, 1944

Men working at Albro Castle, Wales, 1944

MSG Frank Gomez

MSG Frank Gomez

Gene Karl in jeep

Gene Karl in jeep

St Dogmaels, Wales

St Dogmaels, Wales

Army tanks in Neath, Wales, 1943

Army tanks in Neath, Wales, 1943

Albro Castle courtyard

Albro Castle courtyard

Gene Karl at Albro Castle with gun

Gene Karl at Albro Castle with gun

CPT James Goode

CPT James Goode

Cherbourg, France, 1944

Cherbourg, France, 1944

Destroyed US tanks near Bastogne, Ardennes, July 1944

Destroyed US tanks near Bastogne, Ardennes, July 1944

Troop ship heading home, fall 1945

Troop ship heading home, fall 1945

Dortmund, Germany, May 1945

Dortmund, Germany, May 1945

Last month, while visiting Albro Castle in St. Dogmaels, Wales—where the 111th men were billeted during the four months preceding D-Day—the gracious current owners, Tracy and Pete Newland, showed us a dusty old box containing automotive parts, which the men apparently left behind, perhaps in their rush to leave for Normandy at midnight on June 6-7, 1944. We thought they had forgotten to pack the items. But maybe not.

Box of left behind parts at Albro Castle

Box of left behind parts at Albro Castle

One of the parts

One of the parts

A master switch, encased in wax

A master switch, encased in wax

Pete gave us one of the parts to take home as a souvenir. It says “Master Switch, T-17-E-1 Armored Car G-103, Chevrolet.” Inside the box, the part is encased in a thick coating of wax, to protect it from rust and dirt. It is no doubt still good as new.

A quick Internet search turned up this Wikipedia entry: “The T17 and the T17E1 were two American armored car designs produced during the Second World War. Neither saw service with frontline US forces but the latter was supplied, via the United Kingdom, to British and Commonwealth forces during the war and received the service name Staghound. A number of countries used the Staghound after the war, with some of the vehicles continuing to serve into the 1980s.” You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T17_Armored_Car.

T17E1 Staghound Armored Car

T17E1 Staghound Armored Car

So it looks like the 111th mechanics didn’t need these parts for their vehicles and so left them behind, creating a bit of a mystery for 70 years.

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Angharad Stobbs, left, manager for the Hanes Llandoch world wars project, welcomes guests to tea at the Coach House, St Dogmaels, yesterday

Hanes Llandoch, the heritage group in St Dogmaels, hosted a special tea yesterday so Ed and I could meet the village residents who have memories of our GIs at Albro Castle. All but one, who is 94, were children or teenagers in the spring of 1944. Everyone had a great time, talking with us and with each other, remembering that important era in history. The event caught the attention of BBC Wales television, which sent a reporter and cameraman to interview me and the guests. The story was aired throughout Wales at the end of its news show last night. Here are snippets of what we were told yesterday, along with the usual memories of cadging chocolates and gum from the soldiers: “I always remember seeing the men come down from Albro to go into the village. They saluted us kids, and we always returned the salute!”

A few of the ladies who remember our "lads."

A few of the ladies who remember our “lads.”

“My friend and I–we were only five years old–once went to the old quarry near Albro where some of the Army trucks were parked. We started one up and it began moving, but it soon got stuck in the mud. The American lads heard the noise and came running down from Albro, and we two boys made a quick disappearance into the woods!” “I remember going up to Albro to try to get more chewing gum. We never had gum before the GIs came. One of soldiers, his name was Joe, always made sure I got my gum. I will never forget him.” (The 111th had several Joes; wish we knew which one this was.)

More of the ladies

More of the ladies

“The older girls who lived along the Poppit road [toward Albro Castle] had a better chance of meeting the soldiers. They would sit on the bridge and wait for them to pass by.”

The BBC interviewing one of the guests yesterday

The BBC interviewing one of the guests yesterday

“Me and my friends were only about 10 years old, and we would see the soldiers go by every day. They were so handsome and friendly. We wished we weren’t so young, we really envied the older girls.” “I attended the Baptist chapel in the village, and I can remember seeing some of the soldiers there in their uniforms on Sundays. My father asked one of the officers to come to our house for tea or supper once, maybe more than once. He had been in the military himself and knew what it felt like to be so far away from home.” (We have heard other stories of the men being invited into homes for tea and supper.) “My father was a baker in town. Since his drivers had to leave for the war, I had to take over driving the delivery truck. I made deliveries to shops all over the area. The soldiers called me the girl driving the cracker box! I was about 22 at the time. Sometimes I would give the GIs [from other Army units in the vicinity as well as Albro, presumably] rides in the back of the van. Since gas was rationed, the police would often stop vehicles to make sure their trips were essential. I always carried five loaves of bread on the front seat so it looked like I was making deliveries. The police never checked for the men in the back of the van. The Albro GIs loved my father’s cakes.” The same woman also told us, “My friends and I went to all the dances for the soldiers in the area–here, in Cilgerran, in Cardigan. But we were told to be careful. We would meet up and ride our bikes to the dance together. It was always a fun time. The bands were from the military units, Army and RAF. When the dance was over, we all rode home together in a group. The soldiers were driven to the dances in their trucks.”

Andrea talks to Trevor Griffiths, who remembers the GIs

Andrea talks to Trevor Griffiths, who remembers the GIs

“We were always so happy to be given chocolates by the GIs. We had been under severe rationing for several years by then, and sweets were really rare. But the American chocolate bars were dark and very hard. You couldn’t bite into it easily. I had to go home and grate it in order to eat it.”

We are in Wales now, near the place where my father was billeted from early December 1943 to June 7, 1944, at a former 1800s workhouse with the undeservedly fancy name of Albro Castle, in the village of St. Dogmaels, near the market town of Cardigan, Wales.

This in fact was not quite the first stop on our trip to follow my father’s WWII route. The day before we left the U.S., we paid a visit to the U.S. Army 29th Infantry Division Museum in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. There, Sergeant Sayson helped us look through their archives for any information about the 111th Ordnance Company in Europe. The results were disappointing; the only mention found was after the war had ended, when the unit was in Bremen, Germany. They were part of Task Force Bremen, the group managing the post-war occupation of that area.

So, today in Wales (October 14, 2013), we met with Tracy and Peter Newland at the Coach House Cafe, St. Dogmaels. They are the current owners of Albro Castle and the couple who sparked our efforts just last June, as related in the first posting of this blog. Tracy, when removing wallpaper from one of the bedrooms, discovered graffiti left behind on June 6, 1944: the signatures of my father’s two best friends throughout the war and for the rest of their lives after. This coincidence is all the more remarkable because there were 185 men in the company at that time, and we think all of them could have been accommodated at Albro.

Not long after Ed and I arrived at the cafe, which is next to the ancient ruins of St. Dogmaels Abbey, another remarkable coincidence happened. Tracy, on entering the Coach House, ran into Nia Siggins and Melrose Thomas, members of Hanes Llandoch, the heritage group for St. Dogmaels, who were just leaving. They hadn’t seen each other in ages, and Tracy explained why she and Peter were there. Nia then told her that she and Melrose were busy working on a WWII memorial project, part of which aimed to find the American GIs who had been based in the St. Dogmaels area and somehow bring them, or their children, back to St. Dogmaels for the 70th anniversary of D-Day next year. The photo below shows me, Peter Newland, Tracy Newland, and Nia Siggins.

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Needless to say, we all sat down together and talked excitedly for more than an hour about our common interest. I was able to tell them that just before we left on this trip, I had discovered a listing in my father’s papers of all 183 men in his unit who survived the war, their full names, and hometown addresses as of 1948. We parted with promises to help out and keep in touch. And try to locate as many of the men and their families as we could.