Posts Tagged ‘Wales’

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.

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We have located three more 111th family members this July: two sons of Ed Newmeyer, the daughter of Evert “Red” Clauson, and the daughter of Harrison “Mac” Gardner. But before we tell you about them, we have some sad news to report. One of our five surviving 111th veterans, Roger Rickon, passed away on July 7. We will miss talking to Roger; he was a great guy and a wonderful source of information.

Roger Rickon

Roger Rickon

You can read some of Roger’s memories of the war by entering his name in the “Search” feature of this blog; we also told some of his stories in our book about the 111th. He had turned 90 years old on V-E Day this past May. I know you will share in sending our condolences to his sons David, Russell, Glenn, and James. He was very proud of his four boys.

After listening to our favorite 111th company commander, Art Brooks, tell us last winter about the 111th’s terrific “artist-in residence,” we had been hoping to locate family members of Ed Newmeyer, who died in 1967. Then last month, when Pat Macchiarolo, daughter of 111th soldier Robert Raymer, sent us a couple of images of V-mail letters her dad had sent to her mom, we were thrilled to finally see examples of Newmeyer’s talents—Newmeyer had illustrated them! (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

Newmeyer V mail 1 Newmeyer Vmail 2

By the way, V-mail was used to save valuable space on cargo ships during the latter years of the war. Soldiers and families were urged to use this free service, which involved writing letters on specially designed forms, which were then opened, photographed, and put on microfilm. When the film reached its destination, the letters were printed out and delivered. One mail bag of film canisters took the place of 37 bags filled with regular mail, a huge savings in space and weight. You can read more about V-mail here: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2d2a_vmail.html

In early July, we talked with both Mike and Ed Newmeyer and made an interesting discovery: their mother, Patricia, was from Cardiff, Wales. She met their father in the fall of 1943 at a USO dance in Cardiff; the couple was married in February 1944, just as the 111th was leaving the Cardiff area for St. Dogmaels, in West Wales.

Ed Newmeyer Valentine

Ed Newmeyer Valentine

Ed Newmeyer's Christmas V-mail

Ed Newmeyer’s Christmas V-mail

Ed Newmeyer

Ed Newmeyer

Their son Ed was born in Cardiff in 1945, while Newmeyer was still with the unit in Europe, making Ed Jr. a dual citizen of the U.S. and the U.K. So now we know that there was at least one other war bride from the unit in addition to my mother, whom Dad (Bill “Pinky” Johnson) met in March 1944 at a YMCA dance in Cilgerran, Wales, not far from St. Dogmaels.

In mid-July, we heard from Bev Albright, whose father was Evert “Red” Clauson. Ed had tried to find a Clauson family member late last year, since we had a great photo of my dad’s taken in Barry, Wales, in 1943 with Clauson—he titled it “The Three Redheads”, showing Dad, Evert, and Charles Burns.

Evert Clauson, Charles Burns, Bill "Pinky" Johnson

L-R: Evert Clauson, Charles Burns, Bill “Pinky” Johnson

The reason we had no luck was because my father had spelled Clauson’s name wrong on the back of the photo, with a ‘w’ rather than a ‘u.’ Clauson died in 1984.

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Finally, we heard from Nita Cross, whose father was Harrison “Mac” Gardner. We figure Mac must have known my Dad, since they both were from Macomb, Illinois. Sadly, Mac died in 1961, when Nita was only 8 years old. She then told us she lost her son in the Iraq war in 2004; his daughter was only 6 years old. When she saw our photo of the 111th men taken at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1943, she was a bit taken aback: her son was deployed from Fort Dix to Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad. Her father and her son left for war from the same place, 61 years apart.

In other news, by chance we learned a couple of weeks ago that the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, holds what appears to be the entire set of morning reports for the 111th Ordnance Company. We were amazed that these have been kept. So in our effort to leave no stone unturned, Ed and I will travel to St. Louis in early October and spend two days in front of microfilm readers, gleaning whatever details we can about the unit’s day-to-day activities. We will start by focusing on the reports from late 1943 until the end of the war, then go to reports from the time of the unit’s beginnings in late 1940 if we have time. You can be sure we will let you know what we find! Here is an article about the place, in case you are interested: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2011/fall/nprc.html

 

 

 

 

Ed and I have been back home for more than two weeks now, and it is time to play catch-up on the blog. We have some good news—while we were in Wales, we heard from four more 111th family members.

Lillian Brannon called us after receiving Ed’s letter, not long after we left on our trip. She is the widow of Leroy Brannon and is 95 and doing well. I called her last week and had a nice chat. She said Leroy never talked about the war, so she was looking forward to seeing our book and sharing it with her daughter and grandchildren. I asked her to send any photos she has of Leroy so we can post them.

While were were away, Donna Leitzke called, also in response to Ed’s letter. She is the daughter of Gene Karl, who was one of Roland Unangst’s good buddies, as we learned in his memoirs posted on this site. We have not yet connected with Donna, but while we were gone we gave her number to Roland’s daughter, Linda Campbell, and the two had a good phone visit.

Around the D-Day timeframe, we heard from Laura Sass, who found her grandfather, Peter Patrick, Jr., on this blog while googling his name.

Peter Patrick, Jr.

Peter Patrick, Jr.

Bob Nelson, Peter Patrick Jr, James 'Doc' Mason, Everett Auten

Bob Nelson, Peter Patrick Jr, James ‘Doc’ Mason, Everett Auten

He appears in several of the blog photos, the most memorable, perhaps, being the one of him in his foxhole in Normandy. We had been trying to find one of his children or grandchildren since last December, so it was wonderful that she found us. Laura’s grandmother, Peter’s widow, will be 89 years old this year and still lives in the same house she and Peter bought in the 1950s. Laura sent her a copy of our book. Mrs. Patrick said that her husband talked about being in Wales and Holland but not much else. Laura will be visiting her next month.

Finally, in mid-June, we heard from Pat Macchiarolo, the daughter of Robert Raymer. 

Bob Raymer, Maastricht, Holland

Bob Raymer, Maastricht, Holland

She also found us through this blog. She told us she recalls that he told her a story about repairing a tank on a beach somewhere—Normandy? Wales? She says he was a mechanic on cars, jeeps, and trucks. She sent us these photos of her dad and promises to send more. She also sent us some she found in her father’s collection of a few of his 111th friends.

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Herbert Hyde

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Herbert Hyde

Bob Raymer and possibly Floyd Wterrburg

Floyd Wetterburg and Bill Strickland

 

Bob Raymer in front of the 111th building, January 1944, probably Barry, Wales

Bob Raymer in front of the 111th building, January 1944, probably Barry, Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Roush, Basil Dixon, Bob Raymer Jan 1944

Jim Roush, Basil Dixon, Bob Raymer, Jan 1944

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Julius Turner

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Julius Turner

Bob Raymer and others in Paris, August 1944

Bob Raymer and others in Paris, August 1944

Paul Glynn, Roy E. 'Pop' Bower, Joe Kelly

Paul Glynn, Roy E. ‘Pop’ Bower, Joe Kelly

 

 

 

 

So, as of July 1, our 111th “family” now includes five survivors, seven widows, and children or grandchildren of 37 of the men. That means we have “found” (or been found by) nearly 30 percent of the approximately 180 soldiers in the unit since we began this quest last December.

 

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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Ed and I arrived in Wales last week. Our first stop, like that of the men of the 111th, was the town of Barry, not far from the Welsh capital city of Cardiff in South Wales.

Glenn Booker

Glenn Booker

There we met a loyal follower of this blog, Glenn Booker, who has been instrumental in creating the Barry at War Museum here and who publishes magazines about the U.S. military stationed in South Wales during WWII. Glenn told us he would pick up us at our hotel, and when I asked how we would know him, he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll recognize us.”

We certainly did. He arrived in a vintage U.S. army jeep, driven by its proud owner, Wayne. Glenn was wearing the uniform of a WWII U.S. Army infantry colonel. “Hop in,” he said, and we set off on a guided tour of the areas our 111th men lived and worked in for three months during the winter of 1943-44. The ride was, shall we say, quite exhilarating, and resulted in a less-than-best hair day for me.

Wayne and Glenn and the jeep

Wayne and Glenn and the jeep

Our first stop was the Brynhill Golf Club in Barry, which was busy on this lovely warm day. It was here the 111th men were “guests” of the 115th Field Artillery unit for their first two weeks in Wales. They slept in tents here, arriving on November 17, 1943.

Glenn showing us Brynhill Golf Club

Glenn showing us Brynhill Golf Club

Then we drove a few miles to the area where the U.S. Army had built Camp G-40, a major supply depot for Operation Bolero, the code name for the buildup for the invasion of Normandy. Perhaps as many as 200,000 American troops were working in Wales during the year or two before June 6, 1944.image

Many old buildings still stand there today, rusting and falling apart. We arrived at the scene of the officers housing area, only to find bulldozers on the scene tearing down the remaining buildings.

Camp G-40

Camp G-40

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That evening, we attended a talk that Glenn gave at the Barry at War Museum about Operation Bolero. We learned a lot and had the chance to chat with others who have a real interest in the war and the American troops who served in the area.

Thanks, Glenn, for a fun and informative day! You can read more about the Americans in Wales at his website, https://sites.google.com/site/usmilitaryinsouthwales/

Last week we heard from the son and daughter-in-law of 111th Sergeant Frank Sossi: Phyllis and Frank Sossi, Jr. The other day, Frank Jr., opened up an old trunk of his dad’s and unearthed a treasure–a set of copies of the unit’s monthly history reports from January 1944 (when they were in Wales, UK) until the end of the war in May 1945 in Germany, covering almost all of the 111th’s time in Europe. Ed and I had searched but never could find the unit’s monthly reports in military archives, so we are quite excited to have them at last. They are a terrific supplement to the memoirs of Perry Witt and Roland Unangst, which we published on this site earlier. Thanks, Frank and Phyllis!

You will find images of each month’s report at the top of the home page, right next to the little box that says “HOME.”

Frank and Phyllis also sent us more photos. Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge it:

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon's Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon’s Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

 

In late 1942, thousands of American soldiers and sailors began “invading” Great Britain. Perhaps as many as three million had arrived by early 1944, all in preparation for the D-Day invasion of France.

It was a friendly takeover, and most British citizens were grateful to have America’s help in the war. Nevertheless, two groups of British men had mixed feelings about the GIs’ arrival: young British soldiers, who were away fighting the war and feared the loss of their sweethearts to the charming foreign soldiers; and the fathers of those girls, who didn’t trust the intentions of those same charming foreign soldiers.

It was hard to find places to put them all. The GIs were billeted in private homes, in tents on castle grounds and ancient abbey ruins, and—in the case of the 111th—an abandoned “workhouse,” or poorhouse, built in the 1830s. This time-worn place had a grand name: Albro Castle, and it sat on a hill above St. Dogmaels, West Wales. From December 1943 to June 6, 1944, it was home to the 185 men of the 111th Ordnance Company, U.S. Army. (It is still there.)

St. Dogmaels is an attractive Pembrokeshire village located above the Irish Sea, across the Teifi River estuary from the larger town of Cardigan. It traces its beginnings to 1115 when Norman monks built a Benedictine abbey there; the ruins of the abbey stand in the center of the village today.

I have been able to find a few Welsh people who still remember the men of the 111th, 70 years later. They are all in their 80s today and so were children in 1944. Their memories have a common theme:

From Barbara: “As a ten-year-old, I and my school friends would gather in the early evening at the end of a lane from Albro Castle…to see the GIs on their walk into Cardigan and cajole them for chewing gum or a badge, many of who would oblige immediately.”

From Sadie, who knew my mother in Cilgerran: “I can remember the ‘Yanks’ coming, and your mother getting married and leaving for Texas! To us, trading Nesta [my mother] for chocolate and gum was a good deal!”

They all remember the candy and gum and the kindnesses of the men. For children born in the Depression years and then hit by war shortages, such treats were rare.

A woman who grew up in St. Dogmaels wrote to me with these memories of the GIs of the 111th Ordnance Company:

“They sent quite a lot of [Americans] to St. Dogmaels. It caused a lot of excitement for us young ones, as we’d never seen anyone from America before, and we all thought that they were cowboys! They were a grand lot of lads, always polite and cheerful. We helped them with the money, as they didn’t understand our pounds, shillings, and pence.”

She continues, “Mum was never happier than inviting them in for a “cuppa” and we always had some of them popping in. We had a piano, and one of the men was a really good pianist, and he liked to come to play for us, so we had quite a few sing-songs around it. And they always gave us chocolates or chewing gum (YUM).”

She goes on, “All the people in the village got on well with them (especially the girls!). We’d organize concerts and dances, and try to make them feel at home.

“It was a very sad time when they left. It was very unexpected. I woke up early one morning, and I heard quite a lot of noise outside, so I looked out of the window to see a convoy of trucks passing, also motorcycles and jeeps. They seemed never-ending, and the next morning we were told that they’d all left. The village was very quiet and empty afterwards, as we really missed them.” That morning would have been June 7, 1944, as the men convoyed to Southampton, England, to board their LSTs for Normandy.

My cousin in Wales, Viv Thomas, who was about ten or eleven at the time, recalls hitting up the soldiers for cigarettes, which he and his young friends would smoke behind buildings and in the woods around the village of Cilgerran, about four miles from St. Dogmaels. He told me, “There was an American tank corps based at the old Twrch quarry at Mynachlog-ddu [a small village south of Cardigan], and on Thursdays and Fridays they attended dances in Cilgerran’s village hall; they also frequented the three local pubs, the most popular being the Cardiff Arms in Cilgerran.”

Once Viv and his friend found a large cigar, which had been given to his father by one of the GIs based in Mynachlog-ddu in thanks for his “taxi service” to the dances. They ducked behind Cilgerran Castle with it, and after many unsuccessful attempts, finally got it lit. But later they both became so ill that they could not go to school the next day.

He goes on: “One of my favorite stories is about a Captain Stewart, of the tank corps. He used to date a local girl, Eirwen, and his driver used to take him to Cilgerran in a jeep. After parking the vehicle, the driver was sent up to the pub and the captain went over to Eirwen’s home.

“After 30 minutes or so, the couple would go for a walk. Result: jeep unattended for at least 2 hours. Now we knew the coast was clear, so my friend Dilwyn and I used to start up the jeep and take turns driving it about 50 yards back and 50 yards forward. It was great fun for us, but many times since then I’ve often wondered if they ever ran out of gas on their way back to camp. Wicked kids, I’d call us today.”