Posts Tagged ‘St. Dogmaels’

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

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imageIt’s been an exciting two days here in Wales. On Thursday, the daughter of one of the 111th men, Sue Goerges Higginbotham, arrived from the States with her husband, Don. Sue’s father was Harold Goerges, a sergeant and a member of the group that repaired artillery guns. Harold passed away in San Antonio in 1999.

Sue Goerges in front of Albro Castle, June 5, 2014

Sue Goerges in front of Albro Castle, June 5, 2014

If you recall, this whole project got started last June when Ed and I decided to find Albro Castle–where the 111th men lived for four months in 1944 before leaving for Omaha Beach–last year, coincidentally on June 6. There, the co-owner, Tracy Newland, took us upstairs to one of the rooms to show us graffiti she had uncovered. There we saw the names of two of my Dad’s best friends for life: John Andrews and Harold Goerges. They wrote this on the night of June 6, 1944, as they prepared to leave Wales for the war in Europe.

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In a story too long to tell here, Harold’s daughter Sue came with us Thursday evening, June 5, to Albro so she could see her dad’s writing on the wall. In a fun twist, Tracy had never scraped the paint off the final “s”, thinking his last name was George. So that night, Tracy handed Sue an exacto knife, and Sue, in quite an emotional few minutes, carefully scraped away the rest of the paint to reveal the “s” and finish the job Tracy began 10 years ago. Afterwards, Tracy and Pete and their lovely daughters, Brook and Willow, treated us all to a wonderful dinner.

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Dancing and having 1940s fun in St. Dogmaels last night

Then last night, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the heritage group in the village of St. Dogmaels, where Albro Castle is located, threw a great dinner dance in the village hall, with a live band playing 1940s music and with many of the 125 or so guests dressed up in period attire, including WWII military uniforms

The best part was two of our five survivors, who stole the show and made the evening meaningful.

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From left, Peter Newland, Sue Goerges, Tracy Newland, and Glenn Booker, our friend from Barry, Wales

To kick the off the dinner, the guests watched a video interview that Terry Cross made of his father, 111th survivor Ray Cross. Ray, who is 95, talked about his memories of Albro and St Dogmaels, and the local people loved it. After the video, I gave a short talk about the 111th and how they left the village that night exactly 70 years ago in their convoys to Southampton. I also thanked the villagers on behalf of the men for the kind treatment they received here. A few remembered our men, all fondly.

Then near the end of the evening, we Skyped with 111th survivor John Raisler, who is 94 and lives in Florida. It was great and the crowd gave him a big cheer and applause, yelling out thanks to him and his fellow soldiers. (We will have to post a photo later because Ed took only video and we have to figure how to make a still.)

Marjorie Forster, looking at our book for pictures of old friends

Marjorie Forster, looking at our book for pictures of old friends

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Marjorie’s granddaughter, wearing Marjorie’s original wedding dress–dyed red–and her uncle, Hugh Forster in an RAF Uniform his father wore at his wedding to Marjorie.

As we were all leaving around 11pm, one Welsh man stopped me to express his thanks for the American troops coming to Europe. He said Britain would not have survived with them. This same message had been conveyed many times during the evening by other attendees. It was an unforgettable evening.

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Me, center, next to Angharad Stobbs, project manager for the St Dogmaels world wars project, and her daughter in red, her son , and her daughter’s friend. The girls helped us get Skype going that evening.

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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.”

The St. Dogmaels (Wales) Community Council put on a terrific reception for me and Ed Saturday night, welcoming us as the representatives of the 111th Ordnance Company to the village and kicking off a week of activities to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

If you recall, this was the village where the 180 men of the 111th were based for four months before D-Day in 1944. They left from here in two convoys for Southampton, England, at midnight of the night of June 6. They crossed the channel in LCTs and landed on Omaha Beach on D+5. Everyone here has been amazed to learn that some 200,000 American troops were based in Wales in the year or so prior to D-Day, preparing for that historic event.

The evening began with a real treat: the local Welsh men’s choir sang several beautiful old songs for us. The Welsh are fantastic singers, and their performance was amazing.

Then our hosts showed a video that Terry Cross, son of surviving 111th member Ray Cross, made of his dad a couple of months ago. In it, Ray describes the unit’s time in St. Dogmaels. As you can imagine, the local people were very interested in hearing what Ray had to say about their village 70 years ago. (When we get back to the U.S., Ed will figure out how to make Ray’s video available for you all to watch; Terry has been editing several more video interviews with his dad, and we hope to have those available as well.)

Ray Cross remembers St. Dogmaels in a video last night in Wales

111th survivor Ray Cross remembers St. Dogmaels in a video last night in Wales

Last night in St. Dogmaels, community council members and guests watching Ray Cross on video

Last night in St. Dogmaels, community council members and guests watching Ray Cross on video

Then I gave a short talk about the men and conveyed our thanks to the village for the many kindnesses shown to our fathers while they were here. I also thanked Tracy and Peter Newland, the current owners of Albro Castle, for uncovering and preserving graffiti left by two of the 111th men on a wall there, which we first saw a year ago on June 6 and which sparked this incredible year of discovery. See our very first blog post for more about that day. (Go to the Archives for September 2013 and scroll all the way down to the bottom.)

A delicious dinner followed, and we got to talk to many people who were quite interested in learning more about the Americans here. Several told us how their parents had often talked about how polite, kind, and generous the men were. Our fathers were invited into local homes for tea and for Saturday suppers; these kind people tried to make the “boys” feel at home. We also heard some good stories, which we are trying to recall this morning. We wish all of you could have been there.

More events are coming up this week. On Monday, June 2, one of the town councillors will show us places around the village where the men worked. Then he will take us to lunch at the Ferry Inn, a pub that was quite popular with some of the men.

On Tuesday, June 3, we will again be in St. Dogmaels for a tea, where we will get to meet village residents who were youngsters during the war years and who have memories of our men. We are really looking forward to hearing their stories and hope to record them on video.

On Thursday, June 5, Sue Goerges Higginbotham and her husband, Don, will arrive from Texas. We will pick them up at their B&B in Cardigan and take them directly to Albro Castle, so that Sue can see the writings her father left on a wall there almost exactly 70 years earlier. The owners of Albro, Tracy and Peter Newland, have invited the four of us to stay for dinner.

Sign in St Dogmaels for the June 6 Dinner dance

Sign in St Dogmaels for the June 6 Dinner dance

Finally, the big 1940s dinner/dance is Friday night, June 6, in the St. Dogmaels  Village Hall, a big affair with the public invited. I will give a short talk, and they organizers will again show the Ray Cross video. Prints of some of the photos of the 111th in Wales that some of you have sent to us will be on display. We will report on these events and more in future postings.

 

A couple of weeks ago–when it was still too cold to play golf here in Virginia–my husband and devoted partner in this project, Ed, decided to try to locate more family members of the men of the 111th. He sent out letters to about thirty children of the men, their names and locations obtained largely through their parents’ online obituaries. We have started to hear back from some of them.

Constantino Navarra, Jr.–known as Tino–is the youngest of his father’s eight children. He called us one evening and we had a great chat. He recalled that his dad had done some photography work–such as photographing a bullet coming out of a rifle and a bullet hitting a target, probably while they were in Canada. He said his father talked about being part of the group that left Heerlen, Holland, for a few weeks in 1945 to support the Battle of the Bulge. We told him that 111th survivor Roger Rickon was also with that group, so Tino called Roger; he also phoned another survivor who knew his dad, John Raisler. Raisler told us he will never forget that before the unit shipped off to Europe from New York City,  Navarra took several of the men to an Italian restaurant, where they were treated to a 12-course meal. That was the last time those men had good (or any) Italian food for at least two years.

Constantino Navarra in Wales, 1944

Constantino Navarra in Wales, 1944

Then we heard from Ian Creswell, grandson of 111th member Patrick Creswell. He told us that his grandfather had been sent to do ordnance inspection work for the U.S. Army at the Westinghouse plant in Springfield, MA, in the months before the unit left for Europe. He met a girl while working at the plant and later married her. Patrick was from Texas and was with the 111th while they were at Camp Bowie. Ian said that his grandfather did not talk much about his war years but recalled that he worked as a jeep mechanic.

Patrick Creswell and his accordion at Camp Bowie, Texas, 1942

Patrick Creswell and his accordion at Camp Bowie, Texas, 1942

Patrick Creswell in Cardigan, Wales, 1944

Patrick Creswell in Cardigan, Wales, 1944

The other night we had a call from Phyllis Sossi, wife of Frank Sossi, Jr, whose father was 111th member Frank Sossi. Frank Jr. was away on a business trip, so we talked to Phyllis for a while and learned that her husband has an old trunk full of his father’s wartime memorabilia, including letters, photos, patches, etc. When he returns from his trip, he will go through the contents and scan in items for this blog. Frank Sr. talked very little about his wartime experiences with his children. Phyllis said that her husband remembers that his father was an assistant to Lt. Fred Kent.

Frank Sossi, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Frank Sossi, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Today we got a call from Judith Vale, whose father was 111th member Russell Willman. When she has a chance, she will go through the many photos he had of the war and send some to us.

 

We are beginning to get details of the planning going on right now for a week-long (May 31-June 6) celebration of WWII and the 111th Ordnance Company in St. Dogmaels, Wales (next to the town of Cardigan), the village where the men of the 111th were billeted in the months preceding D-Day, 1944. They tell us that they would love to have family members of the men attend; they understand that the five surviving members who were there in 1944 are all in their 90s now and don’t travel that far any more, unfortunately. Ed and I will be there for sure. Please contact me via the comments section of this blog if you are thinking of coming, and I can give you more information about getting there, etc.

Here is the latest word I have from the organizer of the events there:

“Heather and I aren’t in a position to completely confirm everything we have planned as we are awaiting confirmation on one or two ideas and I wouldn’t want to give you any misinformation at this stage.

“What I can confirm however is that the community of St Dogmaels are planning a series of events during the week [May 31-June 6] commemorating the anniversary of the D-day landings including a special evening (dinner/dance supper) in one of our village halls to welcome the friends and families of the GI’s and if the GI’s themselves cannot make the long journey, we intend to video conference on that evening if this is something they would like.

“During the week we will programme in tours by minibus of certain sites of interest including: Some of the beaches that were re-created to be similar to the Normandy beaches that were used for practice prior to the invasion, e.g. Freshwater Beach; Carew airfield; Henllan Prisoner of War camp.

“When possible (no immediate rush) could you give us an indication of numbers that are interested in coming over.
It would be fantastic to have you here.

“As I say there a couple of other ideas in the pipeline, but we are awaiting confirmation on these. As soon as we know more, one of us will keep you in the loop.”

In the past couple of weeks, Ed has found two more men of the 111th alive and well, and we have also located several children of some of the men. It’s been a good month, with many hours of research finally paying off.

In early December, we spoke by phone to Roger Rickon, who lives near Cleveland. He is 89 and happy to have three of his four sons nearby. Roger was one of the youngest men in the unit—he was only 19 when he accepted Uncle Sam’s invitation in 1943.  He spent three months training in San Antonio before joining the 111th at Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia, in the summer of 1943. His memories of the war, especially of the Normandy landing and the frigid and scary winter of 1944-45 in Heerlen, Holland, gave us new insights. He and several other mechanics from the 111th were sent from Heerlen that winter to be closer to the Battle of Bulge to repair trucks and tanks. He said they were attached to the 155th Field Artillery and returned to the 111th after the battle.

A few days after to talking with Roger, Ed found and phoned Raymond Cross, who is 94 and lives with his wife of 67 years in northern Michigan. He joined up with the 111th just as they arrived in Wales in late 1943, coming directly from a 39-month-long stint with the Army in Iceland. He was probably the only man in Wales that winter who thought the weather was warm. He also shared with us his memories of tough times in Normandy and Heerlen.

These two men, along with John Raisler and Arthur Brooks (the 111th’s company commander in Germany), make up the four “survivors” of WWII we have found to date. Ed has just completed his search of all 183 names on the 1948 roster we have. He has combed through military and death records on Ancestry.com, an amazing website called Findagrave.com, online newspaper obituaries, and online phone directories to obtain names, addresses and phone numbers. We have called and mailed letters to more than two dozen people, mostly children of the men, and we are still waiting to hear back from most of them.

In the past week or so we have talked to or heard from the children of Roland Unangst, Perry Witt, Leroy Faehling, William Kirkmeyer, and Joseph Sedlacek. We have talked to the widow of Fallis “Tex” Carson. We will be sharing their stories in future posts. In January, Ed and I will travel to Florida to meet John Raisler and Arthur Brooks, visits we are really looking forward to.

And in other exciting news, we have recently learned that the history and heritage group in St. Dogmaels, Wales, has received a grant to carry out a celebration of remembrance of the 111th Ordnance Company’s six months in their village in the months before D-Day. Ed and I have offered to help, and we plan to be there on June 6, 2014, to participate.