HENRY & TOM BOWLES SERVED IN THE 18th INFANTRYREGIMENT, 1ST INFNATRY DIVISION IN NORTH AFRICA, SICILY, NORMANDY, BELGIUM, GERMANY AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA.
Date of interview: 24 November 2002
J: Really just to start off with I wondered if you could tell me a bit about your childhood. I remember you said in one of your notes to me that it was a happy childhood and although you were growing up in the depression you still got to the movies on Saturdays and things.
Dee: It was happy but it was during the depression you know and I believe I told you, you know, you don’t miss what you haven’t got. You’ve got enough. No problem. We had love and everything else, that’s the main thing I guess.
Tom: Everybody’s in the same boat so you didn’t feel aggrieved or anything.
Dee: It wasn’t too many people we associated with around us that had anything at all and I can remember of course, right at the beginning of the depression I remember my dad was a farm hand, everything was lovely.
J: Your dad was a farmer was he?
Dee: He evidently lost a lot during the farm and thing and the next thing I remember when we get old enough to remember after that what with the depression you know but evidently he lost a lot there during the depression. Back then people probably had money borrowed and all to do farm work and everything else.
J: And he was doing farm work was he?
Dee: Farm work, right, yes.
J: Driving along here I noticed a lot of cotton but what was the main?
Tom: I think he’d grow vegetables and everything and take them into town. Melons and different stuff. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t a big farm.
J: It wasn’t working on big farms it was just a one man show.
Tom: Used to take produce and things into town I think.
J: Where is Russellville?
Dee: It’s about 25 miles south of here. Before the mountains.
J: Beautiful spot?
Dee: Oh it’s a cotton mill town. When the cotton mill shuts down, about everything does.
J: And the cotton mill shut down in the depression did it?
Dee: Well no, not in the depression, it run through the depression but it shut down some time during the war. I don’t know, it was here running when we left, but when we came back in 1945 it was shut down. Nothing going on up there really.
J: And do you have any brothers and sisters?
Dee: Oh yes. I have one sister who lives in Texacan[?] Arkinsaw now. Of-course I have four half sisters you know over at Craigstone[?] you know.
J: And you went to school in Russellville did you?
Dee: Oh yes. We didn’t finish. We didn’t graduate.
J: When did you leave school you think?
Dee: About eighth grade. We did most of our training within the army you know then of-course when we got out of the army we went to trade school, trade and all.
Tom: We wanted to go to work but there wasn’t no work around.
Dee: During that time, back in 1939 and 1940 were well they didn’t push you to go to school anyway. Most people, if you could earn any money well you did it because you needed it in the family because there wasn’t much to get in the family at that time, there was no work going on. I know my dad worked at the cotton mill up there in Russell and I had my older sisters worked up there. They were already married, two of them married at that time.
J: Must have been tough to lose your mother at such a young age?
Dee: Well, we lost her at 12 years old. I think you can take things at a young age I guess better than you could later on really.
J: And did you always get on, always pretty good friends the two of you, even as kids?
Dee: Oh yes. We had lost a little brother right before mother died and then mother died and of-course we moved to Shipville, from Shipville Alabama to Russellville and then my Daddy passed away in 1941.
Tom: We was already in service then.
Dee: You’ve got most of this already! I sent you more than I’ve ever sent anybody on it really. Some of the stuff my daughter, my oldest daughter, she want to know all this stuff. She dug it out of me so some of it I sent on to you.
J: I appreciate that. So you joined up when you were eighteen I think, five days apart or whatever but what were you doing between eighth grade and joining up?
Tom: Looking for work and running around. We tried to get in the CCCs at that time because if you get in the CCCs that was your work
Tom: Civil Conservation Corps. Planting trees and everything like that.
Dee: But education really we had guys at this time, you know they’d take in the army any [?] at that time. I mean if you want to sign up. I know when we went overseas we only had one guy out of my division of about 15,000 people, one guy on there that didn’t enlist. One guy was drafted. The rest of them enlisted. They enlisted for well home and for whatever you know. We were all enlisting you know. You go back on your English history you find out a lot of them went in the army for different reasons you know.
J: Well of-course Britain had already been in it for quite a long time before Pearl Harbour. One of the things that really interests me is the fact that in 1940, while we are trying to fend off invasion and the Battle of Britain and everything, America has still got a pretty small army and yet 4 years later you’ve got 15 million in uniform.
Dee: Yes, they built up fast. I know when we went in now you were still having horse cavalry when we were in the army. Of-course they changed over to mechanised.
J: So there were still people riding horses?
Dee: We still hard horses at Fort Benning. I’ve got a picture I’m going to show you.
J: And you still had the old fashioned British Tommy-style helmets and puttees?
Dee: Oh yes. That’s what we wore. They had wrap leggings. And you had your old campaign hat. We had all that when we went in.
J: What can you remember about the training?
Dee: My daughter said you had horses?
J: When you went in there, you’re both young guys, you’re only 18, did it seem particularly hard discipline? I think you said there wasn’t much equipment, you didn’t have many guns or rifles.
Dee: Oh yes, we had regular army. You had your gun.
Tom: I think you’re talking about National Guard.
Dee: Oh the National Guard didn’t have but the regular army had, we had regular equipment. But the National Guard of-course they were just you read that training with a stick. That’s true down in Louisiana. Well now we had, as far as they did have pick-up trucks with simulated tanks and things like that. You’d have [?] planes flying over, dropping paper bags full of flour. If they hit you you were knocked out a job.
Tom: That was the beginning of the training. And that was in the Louisiana swamp. I tell you that’s the first time we went to Fort Benning and took our training and all. Then on the Louisiana manoeuvre, which is the biggest manoeuvre they had at that time, I mean that was it.
J: These manoeuvres, this is a huge great forces all going out on exercise together?
Tom: The red and the blue.
Dee: What they were doing down there that was the north and the south. You had a north and a south fighting each other. Of-course it wasn’t real ammunition or anything but we didn’t have ammunition in our guns. We had real rifles but we didn’t have ammunition. But they had a way of you know, people captured
J: That must have stirred up quite a bit of nationalistic pride? You guys are southern boys, against these northern Yankees?
Tom: The outfit were going with, there were only about 125,000 men standing, and the First Division that was organised in Fort Benning, Georgia. Then we made our home in [?] up in New York. And during the beginning of the war of-course [?] by the time we got in, most of the people who were joining the army at that time was from up north: New York and all around. And so when we joined then we went up there it was south and north all over again, you know.
Dee: You know, a lot of young people had joined it in New York and New Jersey were sort of sceptic about coming south.
J: Still a bit of rivalry?
Dee: We never thought about it down here you know.
J: Seriously, when you were going for your meals
Dee: It was history you know. They wondered whether they should come down south.
Tom: You’re from Alabama, you go over there.
Dee: We’d get in arguments but we never really did
J: There was a bit of words back and forth?
Dee: I know one time we were in Florida down there and they had out in the country they had a Yankee Division, the 26th Yankee Division, down here and down the road down there they had the Dixie division which was the 31st Division. And they’d all go in town, and there was always a fight in town: 31st Dixie Division, and the YD Yankee Division. Of-course they don’t have that now. I don’t think they have a Yankee Division and Dixie Division now because it was racist and everything else.
J: In Britain we had the regimental system where you have the Wiltshire Regiment, all the guys come from Wiltshire and the Leicestershire Regiment, everyone comes from Leicestershire and the Scots Guards and Irish Guards. They all come from different parts of the country so there’s a strong regional identity to the different regiments. But presumably in the 16th and 26th there was a real mixture of people?
Tom: We had in the First Division we had people from California, Ohio, New York
J: Can you remember why you you joined a few days earlier but how come you got put in the 16th and you got put in the 26th?
Tom: We’ve never figured out that.
Dee: I think he was going down to check it out. He went three days earlier. We’ve talked about this several times. But I think he maybe just went down to check it out and ended up joining. They just talked him into going on in I guess.
J: Because you said you hitchhiked to Birmingham?
Dee: Oh yes.
Tom: I went down there to see about it. Like I said we’d been trying to get into CCCs, so I went down there to check it out and right there the squaddies roped me in so I was in the army. They put me up in a hotel for the night.
Dee: We hadn’t heard from him or anything and I went down to
J: So you knew what he was going to do and you hadn’t heard from him for a few days
Dee: We had already talked it over you know. They gave us the same talk and everything. I ended up at 26th, he ended up at 18th. It’s only a quarter of a mile. Out at Fort Benning you’ve got the pines and everything.
J: All your training, you were doing pretty much the same things all the way through because you were part of the
Dee: The same division. So you were
J: You got mistaken for him didn’t you.
Tom: And later on he transferred to the 18th and again I transferred into his company.
Dee: I got out of 16th into 18th and then he got out of his company, G company in mortars into my company which I had transferred into the second battalion.
J: So you ended up doing exactly the same thing? You ended up in the same regiment?
Dee: Ended up in the same company. We made D-day invasion in the same company. But we got some blanks there too. I don’t think we went ashore in the same boat.
J: A company is what, 200 people?
Dee: 220 something like that. You’ve got 30 something in a boat you know.
Tom: I had a theory that we did because we were in the same squad also and I think they kept together.
Dee: We landed well within the [?] communication though. You keep a line from battalion if a company goes in, you’ve got to keep a line from the battlion, you’ve got four companies you know, you’ve got the battalion headquarters. And your alignment, you keep a wire from here to each company. And even in attack or anything, we got into full major invasion of France, we turned into second battalion wiremen which was to keep a line to the companies which was in [?]. We was wiremen from there for the rest of the time there. Of-course I didn’t last for one day!
Tom: We’ve compared notes before. We were right together. Afterwards, later when he got back from the hospital about six months later, that we did see the same things going in and so forth but we could have been in the same boat. I mean different boats.
Dee: We just don’t remember the same [?] going in, you know. I remember everything going in. I remember I told you about that destroyer, that pillbox, it took us two and a half hours from the time we got in these boats to get to shore you know.
J: But it was pretty rough water wasn’t it?
Dee: Rough water too. And that destroyer firing at that pillbox and everything. We remember that. I can remember everything, shells hitting in the water and all but that’s because I [?] just as I was leaving the beach.
J: You were the first wave weren’t you?
Dee: Second wave. There’s a guy lying there with his [?] getting out of there, there’s a guy lying there and he stepped on a mine and he was telling everybody be careful there’s a mine and we both remember that same right by us got him killed, same thing.
J: But it could be that you were at one end of the landing craft and you were at the other?
Tom: It was probably best that we weren’t right together. You know, something happened here you’re going to try to help them. They told us when we went in that that first wave had been devastated so they said
J: So you knew about it…?
Tom: Yes, so they said don’t stop to help nobody
Dee: Keep on going or you’ll get shot too you know.
Tom: Get off that beach. That’s what they told us.
J: I went to Omaha back in September. It’s a moving place.
Dee: It wouldn’t be the same.
J: When you’re going there you know what happened all those years ago, there’s an atmosphere about the place.
Dee: My daughter asked me, she said Daddy if you went back overseas, where would rather go? I said England I guess. The good times I had.
Tom: We was in between Scotland and England mostly in England, 11 months together so we went over and over and then we went to
J: That was 1942?
Tom: Yes, 1942. Then we went to Africa in November and went to Africa and Sicily and came back and last of all we got leave
Dee: It had been one year from the time we left we came back.
Tom: And then we came back to England and stayed there. And altogether it was but one month that we weren’t in the British Isles, that was July. Three different years.
Dee: We stayed there for D-day.
J: And you were at Tidworth quite a lot. You were at Tidworth Barracks weren’t you, to start off with?
Dee: Tidworth, yes. The first time. We were at Tidworth Garrison.
J: Did you ever go to Salisbury?
Dee: Oh yes.
J: That’s my home town.
Dee: That big cathedral.
Tom: I remember the cornerstone out front that said when it was built, when it was started and when it was 400 and something, tallest.
Dee: It was so long ago you couldn’t believe it you know.
J: I was reading a story of a guy who was in the 16th and he got a day pass into Salisbury form Tidworth and he walked straight into the White Hart Hotel and apparently at that stage it was a British officers only place but he didn’t know this rule and he went in there and all the British officers gave him a drink and fed him up and everything but afterwards he was severely told off for going in to another ranker.
Tom: Where was it over there that the people in the town thought that monkies was invading the town. Where was that at? Someone working here told me that. He was working up here and he was from England. He was this tale about the people in this town, they had some monkies on a boat and the boat stopped or something and they had to come ashore and the people thought they had been invaded by monkies. It was years ago. Real long time ago.
Dee: Do you know where Broadmain is? That was when we came back the second time. The first time it was Dorset and then it was down near You know Weymouth? Bournemouth? I get mixed up with the first and the last time we were there.
Tom: You’ve got that paper. The second time was at that little town called Broadmain. Just a little small village. We were camped all over the place.
Dee: In Dorset. I think it was New Inn.
Tom: We weren’t allowed to go anywhere.
J: But just to go back to the training and everything, when you were training, were you training, were people made non-coms and bain[?] officers and things. Because you were training altogether weren’t you, officers and everything?
Dee: Oh yes.
J: Because that’s another difference between the British and US system.
Dee: In our outfit, of-course our outfit was already formed and everything before the war. So your advancement was very [?] because everything was already set up. Because if a Sergeant was a Sergeant at that time, until someone got killed in combat, you didn’t advance. Your National Guard, they’d go and enlist, the next day they are a Corporal, a Sergeant or whatever. And some people say you didn’t have much advancement? No, you didn’t have much advancement because you know it was all, everything was all there when we went overseas.
J: So you were both PFC Bowles were you?
Dee: Yes, Private First Class. We both ended up Corporals. As far as advancement is to a Sergeant or whatever, like that, somebody had to get killed before you and then they’d set somebody up on a plate. So it wasn’t of-course nobody worried about that anyway. You’re better off as Private than you were as anybody else anyway so it didn’t make any difference.
J: And can you remember anything about the manoeuvres apart from bags of flour being dropped from planes and things?
Dee: You’re talking about in Louisiana?
Tom: I don’t recall too much about that. I mean I know we did it and everything but how it was done, it was just like you know somebodies going down a road, plane would come over
Dee: Or you’d spread out and hid and all that stuff.
Tom: I know there was a big manoeuvre up to that time and we had the army and it was we had to lose [?] one or two people
J: And the rest of that training, it was route marches, shooting?
Tom: Well, we were trained, in 1941, we were trained in assault off a boat and so forth. Somebody must have had some plans because
J: You didn’t know what was going on? You just did what you were told presumably?
Tom: It was in the papers always
Dee: From Louisiana we went up to Fort David then went up state New York up [?] New York and on manoeuvres up there and it was much the same. All it was was really you might say well it wasn’t fighting each other up there, to me what you were doing was moving from one location to another and getting ready to fight.
J: You would always go by train would you?
Dee: Oh yes. You would go up there. New Jersey, train off of boats up there. He was up there, I wasn’t. I went to Fort David at that time. We trained in the snow up there every day at Fort David. From there I went to North Carolina, landing operations to shore and all.
J: That was again preparing jumping out of boats and?
Dee: It was just, all it was was doing what you’re told and getting wet. Most of its just doing what you were told because you were trying to do it in a limited period of time always. That meant a lot and everything. You’d set up your gun and you do what you’re like making an attack. I would say discipline and learning what to do and everything. So we trained under snow and we trained off the water and we trained everywhere else for a couple of years there.
J: Did you do much drill?
Tom: Any time we was in the garrison there were drills, regular drills and stuff.
Dee: You had your hikes, you had about 10 mile hikes a day you know and you had your packs and all that stuff. We were keeping in shape and everything else. We had firing range, we’d go up to the firing range and fire at your target and all that stuff. It was all practical for what we were going to get into later on.
Tom: You would think somebody knew what was going on because there we’d go up there and we’d practice landing operations all that stuff and then we’d go to Florida which is a lot of sand and march 10 to 15 miles a day in sand. Massachusetts, we spent a winter up there which was three foot of snow up there.
J: Can you remember Pearl Harbour and war breaking out and thinking OK this is it?
Dee: Our outfit was in Florida and we’d come home on leave and that’s when Pearl Harbour was attacked.
J: You were back home in Alabama?
Dee: We were at home, right beside the river here.
J: Can you remember thinking when you joined up that it was likely that America would be at war soon or did that not enter your mind?
Dee: Well there was already talk of it. Before we joined there was always talk of it, not on our part but people talking were saying you’re just the right age, the war is coming. You’re it. And of-course there wasn’t that much talk of war. We knew Britain was already fighting and everything. People were saying you’re not physically going to get into it, you’re just the right age. I remember someone telling my dad that your boys are just the right age. But we never gave that too much thought really. Not even when we joined the army, we didn’t join to go I don’t think to war and fight!
J: And your dad was OK about you joining was he?
Tom: He was proud of us but he was proud you might say. I remember when he he had to sign for us to go in at 18 and I remember his hand was pretty shaky when he signed the papers.
J: He was kind of upset?
Tom: Yes. And then of-course we got to come home one more time before he passed away. We had already been home one time and he was proud of us. He would tell everybody.
J: He can’t have been very old when he died?
Dee: He was 54.
Tom: He had had a couple of strokes and I believe that was the third one. He worked hard.
Dee: Then in 1943 my kid sister she went and joined the Airforce.
J: What did she end up doing in there?
Dee: She was a radio operator. Working on radios. She lives in Texecana Arkinsaw. She had to got and join too. She went from here to Mobil with my older sister and they worked at an aeroplane factory or something down there. Then she ended up enlisting in the airforce.
J: So to get this straight, there were four of you altogether, there was you two and an older sister and a younger sister?
Dee: I had four older sisters. My daddy had been married and had four girls and then he married again, married my mother, my brother and I and my younger sister from that marriage.
J: What happened to his first wife?
Dee: She passed away. I think in childbirth I believe. I don’t remember. Before war started I was putting this together although it’s somewhat too late to put it all together really, it was in an article about him and Lay Charles, what year was that?
Dee: That was the first time when he told me send off and get our medals. We hadn’t even applied for our medals or anything. We hadn’t even talked about it.
Tom: That was on D-day plus 50, that’s what it was.
Dee: No, not when you had that article in Lake Charles[?]. In Lake Charles?.
Tom: They put an article in the paper. Anybody that was at D-day they would like to talk to us so later on after two or three days my wife came and asked me so finally I did and went to that reporter and he wrote that article.
Dee: I thought that D-day museum was opened on that 50th year?
Tom?: No no no. No that was
Dee: He passed away the guy that opened the D-day museum but we met him and I talked to him.
J: Stephen Ambrose?
J: Yes he died just a few weeks ago. Sad. He wasn’t old at all.
Tom: Oh he smoked always so cancer.
J: I’ve read his books actually. And then suddenly summer 1942, orders come through and you’re heading off on the Queen Mary. How much warning were you given on that?
Dee: We was in Florida then went to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, and from there we didn’t know where we were going. We knew we were shipping out. We had already been in New York when we were up in Fort David and Fort Jay and all and we went down and we took pictures of the Queen Mary and the Normandy and the Queen Elizabeth, all side by side there. And at that time from Indiantown Gap we went to board the Queen Mary.
J: And at what point did you know you were going to England?
Tom: I guess it was on board ship.
J: And what was it like on the Queen Mary?
Dee: We had a whole Division on that.
J: And how many is in a Division?
Tom: About 14,000 men plus the British crew on that.
Dee: I remember you know you’d go up on the deck, we were there for three and a half days. I remember all the way round the rails they had crates of potatoes packed up about even with the top of the rail and I got up one night and went up there and went to sleep up there, right on the water, about to roll over and fell off I guess. It was carrying supplies at the same time. One day we’d be going south, the next day north, zig-zagging all over the place.
J: I know that Churchill said that if we lend you these ships the problem is that there are not enough liferafts for anyone and I don’t think your generals were too pleased about that.
Dee: You know the next trip that made we went over, the Queen Mary hit another, sunk a destroyer, an American destroyer, collided with an American destroyer and sunk it to the sands on the next trip over.
J: I was just reading today in December 1942 the Queen Mary was again carrying a lot of troops and it got hit by a freak 76 foot high freak wave and it nearly capsized it.
Dee: It was right near England. I think the next trip after we went over. I’ve read it. These destroyers and everything else you know, they went all over the place and one of them got in the path of it and they just couldn’t stop. They hit it and just kept going. It damaged the Queen Mary but didn’t stop it you know. It went right on.
J: Where did you sleep on the Queen Mary?
Tom: Everybody had a bunk. Like the walls come out and there was a hammock in it rigged up for troops, four high.
Dee: I slept in a cabin down there or something, but you had about six people in it.
J: You were both in the Queen Mary at the same time?
Dee: Oh yes.
J: So did you see each other on that trip?
Dee: Oh yes. But we weren’t in the same room.
J: Were you worried about U-boats.
Dee: Well to us it was I guess we looked at it like a vacation. At that time you had four meals a day I think on the Queen Mary. You went and sat down and the British they served you. They brought the food around at the table and everything else. They were out there to take care of all of these people.
Tom: You would eat your dinner, and you got your breakfast you were back down the line it was going to be a long time before you [too much laughter!]
Dee: to me the Queen Mary it wasn’t all that bad. It was a crowded ship but we were up on deck, slept part of one night up on it.
J: Because for you it was your first time abroad it must have been quite exciting? And you landed in Scotland, and then what?
Tom: There were girls there and all. Mostly discussed what we’d seen. There wasn’t nothing left in England because there wasn’t nothing left of the girls[?]. Oh we had a ball.
Dee: I met a girl in Scotland and I went back to see her after we came back from North Africa I think. I took one milk train or something one night up there and I don’t think a GI paid anything for a ride and all. And I went all the way up to Glasgow and slept one night. I ended up getting engaged after I come home, got engaged, then we broke off after that.
J: How did you meet her?
Dee: Walking down the street and she was singing â€œI got [?] jingle jingle jingle you know that song was popular at that time and me and a couple of either guys we got talking to her and that’s it. She was a nice girl but we never did have a beer together or anything, just rode a tram up to the park and all that stuff you know. Plenty more where they came from.
J: Well there was this perception that Americans had tonnes of chocolate and chewing gum and money and did you have stuff that you could hand out?
Dee: Oh yes, yes. You could go and get cigarettes or different candy bars and things like that.
Tom: I don’t know how they ever put up with us though. People were always nice.
Dee: I think most Americans were well behaved at that time.
J: For most British people it was exciting having you over there.
Tom: We were over there for a purpose so they
J: You seemed different and you had your cigarettes and chocolate.
Dee: We had more money to spend than British soldiers I guess. A lot of them did have we weren’t making that much money because we were sending some home but we still had a lot more than the British soldiers to spend.
J: Americans are more open and naturally friendly than most British people who tend to be quite reserved and are not so forthcoming so I mean you wouldn’t think twice about going up to girls on the street and start chatting to them whereas a British guy would just never do that, or very rarely.
Dee: Well if he was in a different country he probably would be though. More open. I’ll tell you what, I had a lot of respect for the British soldiers though. They we were fighting in Africa with and everything like that, a lot of respect for them. I had a lot of respect for the German soldiers too but I had a lot of respect for the British soldiers. The Italians, I wouldn’t give you two bits for the whole army. I don’t have a lot of time for the French either as far as that goes. I didn’t think too much of the French.
J: So you got to Scotland and you stayed up there, you did some training up there for a bit and at what stage did you move down south?
Dee: We didn’t stay up there long in Scotland.
Tom: We were at Glasgow. Let’s see we’d come in there in August.
Dee: I guess a month or six weeks. We then went down south to Tidworth. I know we had a couple of air raids down there.
Tom: We got to Scotland in August and in November of-course we were in Africa so it wasn’t a long time.
J: But England must have seemed quite strange for you, again, with no place names anywhere and blackouts. Can you remember thinking that was strange?
Dee: Yes, well it was but we just
J: Did you feel closer to the war being in England?
Dee: Well the night life wasn’t all that bad! If you were going out for a beer you went through a blanket here and another blanket before you got inside with the light.
Tom: Outside when the fog rolls down there you couldn’t tell who you was walking with.
J: Did you do any leave trips up to London?
Tom: Yes, we went to London a couple of times. Didn’t know nothing about it, just looking around. But I remember the London fog it could be thick as pea soup.
Dee: You don’t need no blackout there!
J: And when you went in to see the Cathedral in Salisbury, did you go there to pubs and things? Did you meet any girls down in Salisbury?
Tom: I guess, I remember the cathedral and the parapet and so forth.
Dee: I know that was the main things that people wanted to see: the cathedral.
Tom: I didn’t know at the time of the Stonehenge out there. I read about it later.
J: And you were still doing more training before you went overseas again?
Dee: Well down in Tidworth garrison there’s about the only place we trained there.
J: And when did you find out it was going to be Africa?
Tom: When we got tick worm!
Dee: When you could see the lights on Gibraltar. You could see the lights you say that’s Gibraltar, you know where you’re going then.
J: So you were kept in ignorance?
Tom: I never was that inquisitive.
Dee: At that time you didn’t know for sure where you were going really. As far as North Africa, we didn’t know anything but when we got back to England and everything after Sicily we knew where the invasion would be then. We didn’t know where but we knew it was going to be on the coast. We didn’t worry about that at all. We had a good time.
J: Can either of you recognise yourselves as the guys you were back in 1942? It strikes me that you were pretty laid back easy going carefree guys.
Dee: I know that we had some guys that worried about getting home and their wives and everything but we didn’t have anything to worry about. It was our home. And we knew we wasn’t going to get back until the war was over.
J: You didn’t feel homesick particularly?
Dee: No. No homesick at all. Home was where we was at.
J: Lots of people must have got nervous, worried, homesick for wives and girlfriends.
Dee: In our outfit, most of our men was in the army because they enlisted, that’s where they wanted to be. And the majority of them was not married. They didn’t have homes, and some of them did have but the majority didn’t have so our outfit was really an exception. I guess its part of the worrying about where its at and how long they were going to be there. Like I said I think we had one guy that was drafted. The rest of them enlisted.
J: You didn’t worry about the fact that you were about to go into battle and you could be in danger?
Tom: We were actually the best trained Division in the army and so we had been well trained.
J: So you felt prepared for what you were about to do?
J: By this time you’ve got out of the puttees and the tin you’ve got the traditional GI helmets now?
Tom: See we had the 26th, the 18th and 16th Regiments in the First Division. The 16th went in with two Regiments of the 29th to make the first wave and then we had two waves: the 18th and the 26th and one wave of the 29th in the second wave. So we had two divisions made the first and second waves there on Omaha. So we had one Regiment, the 16th went in, well trained outfit and everything went in with the two Regiments that hadn’t had no invasion training at all. Well they had invasion training but they had no combat, they had been in England over a year and had no combat experience at all and we had one Regiment go in with them, the two of their and in the second wave we had two Regiments of our outfit with one of theirs for the second wave.
J: Do you think that was the right way round or do you think it would have made more sense to have more experienced people in the first round?
Tom: No they probably knew so many people were going to be killed. It’s like the battle of the Budge[?] up there where they pulled us back right before that happened and then as soon as it happened they told us back up there. You can’t tell me somebody’s using their head there. They knew they were going to run over whoever was up there. That’s the way we figured it anyway! Of-course they said they didn’t know it was coming, but we knew something was coming up there and they pulled us back for real and we went back.
Dee: That’s when I come back from hospital and rejoined the outfit. He was already up there.
J: That’s when there was that brilliant photograph you sent me of the two of you with your Errol Flynn moustaches.
Dee: I come back from England, got back the day before they made the breakthrough and they were pulled back. I got a [?] quarter of Scotch here and that night we hadn’t even opened that Scotch and the house got put on fire and we got out of the house but didn’t get our Scotch. That was a night
Tom: D-day when he was wounded that was he was in the hospital for about five and a half months. After he could have stayed back there but because I was up there he was demanding to get back up.
J: When you were separated when you were training and stuff, did you keep in touch, did you write to each other, catch up with each other? Before you went overseas?
Dee: We were still in the same Division. I was upWe were up North. The whole division went up north. You was at Fort Jay.
Tom: I was at Fort Wadsworth and you was across the bay at Fort
Dee: I was at Jay. Canton, yes. Then I went to Fort David and then he came over to Fort David.
J: And to go back to Africa. You were both in the central task force weren’t you. Nearer Oran
Dee: That’s right. Arlou[?] just about 20 miles from Oran I think.
J: Did you land on schedule as far as you know?
Dee: Oh yes.
J: And coming towards the beaches, not much opposition?
Dee: We didn’t It wasn’t much fire in the first day and the next morning, it was later that night.
J: You were saying you were laid up in a cemetery?
Dee: I think we slept there all that night. We lost I don’t know how many guys there. We lost a few men.
Tom: We lost five or six.
J: Presumably this was sniping.
Dee: Yes. There wasn’t much [?] there at all.
J: So that was your first taste of real action?
Tom: I’ll never forget the first American I saw laying down there dead. That made a big impression on me. I thought this is for real now. That was the real thing. It makes a difference.
J: Nothing too scary?
Dee: No we had [?] couple of days, we had some good times there.
Tom: We had Oran and then we ended up in [?] which was the home of the French Foreign Legion.
J: What did you make of those guys?
Tom: It’s a wonder we survived that place! Drinking that wine you were drunk and everything.
Dee: You know, you’re just wandering around in a strange town and all these Arabs there and the French Foreign Legion and everything. Course it’s all friendly enough and that sort of thing. I know I met another guy – Blake C. Owen — he got drunk and he got rowdy and everything. And we went in, we were already drinking that wine and everything and he told someone getting mad at him and he started coming over French Foreign Legion, and it was full of them. One of them kind of places where you go into it and you’ve got people sleeping on the floor and you’ve got a pit in the middle with a fire in it to keep warm at night and you’ve got a burrow kind of place here, rather like you see in a movie, and he got arguing with some French Foreign Legion and that guy lashing at him and he took a swing at that guy and the guy gets up and I finally got him out of that place but you know I guess I hadn’t had as much as he had. He’d been wild as everything but that place was full of them you know and we’re the only two GIs in there!
J: What made you go in there?
Dee: Hunting wine.
J: So even in those days there was time to go off looking for bars and night clubs and stuff?
Dee: You get pretty rowdy I guess. How the hell you survived really!
J: There wasn’t too much: â€œYou’ve got to be back at camp by 10 O’clock, it wasn’t too strict or anything?
Dee: You mean our outfit?
Dee: Our outfit was really it had to have the reputation of what was it? Most undisciplined outfit out of our Division. They relieved our Commander because he was too easy on us. We did get by with murder. We had a lot of privileges that an outfit can have.
J: Do you think that was because of your history because you were a Division before the war?
Tom: Yes. Our Commander said I don’t care what they do as long as they fight.
Dee: I know we had our own MP. I remember one time in Florida I got in a fight down there and the police picked me up and took me to jail I know as soon as they got me to jail the MPs got me out, took me back and told me to stay away from that part of town. And in England we had all around if you get out at 12 O’Clock, they’d come round and pick up all the soldiers take them back to where they’re bivouacked you know. In a truck. But we didn’t have to go back. We had a pass if we weren’t on duty 24 hours a day. We could stay out all night if we wanted to. And the MPs they looked at our shoulder pads and not even say anything going by.
J: And what was your company?
Dee: First Infantry Division, Big Red One.
J: Which Company were you in within your Regiment?
Dee: 2nd Battalion.
J: Which Company: A B or C or whatever?
Dee: Well you had the Battalion and then you had C F G H.
J: Which one were you in?
Dee: I was in Battalion Headquarters. I was in a rifle company but before we made the invasion I got into Headquarters Company there. And he was in C Company and then he transferred into my company before we made the invasion of France. It’s history. [?] said before you hit 50 he wanted First Division SOBs.
J: You had to wear ties didn’t you?
Dee: We didn’t have to wear ties, or nothing like that.
J: Once you are in North Africa, because you are in Battalion HQ, what were you doing differently from someone who was say in F Company?
Dee: He was in G company, but I was in wiremen. You had to keep a line from Battalion Headquarters to the Company, whatever Company is in attack, you had to keep it. At that time these radios didn’t work.
J: You were a messenger?
Dee: Yes. Radios didn’t work. You had to have a wire going in, when they went in to attack you had to roll this wire in there with a phone on your shoulder.
J: So that’s what you were doing, you were running along with a big roll of wire on your shoulder?
Dee: We called back for artillery or something they had to use the phone to do it. And then at the same time, there were plenty of nights I remember that line going out, you’d be up there and get the line laid up there with the Company and everything else and they’d say we can’t get back to the Battalion. You’ve got to get that wire and you follow that wire all the way back. You don’t know whether some German’s cut it back there and waiting on you to get there! You’ve got to back there. But of-course you usually had a buddy with you.
J: When you go with your wire, would that be a replacement wire or would you try and fix the wire?
Dee: You could try and fix it. Most of the time you follow it back and find a truck had run over it and tore it up or a shell had hit, and you’d put it back together, tie it in, call in that’s it. And then you’d go back to where you’d been waiting for something else to happen. A load of times I went out, I’ve been out there with the [?].
Tom: That’s what I started to do later on, with him on [?] company. But when everyone else was stationary or something you had to be able to be there night and day. You had to be ready.
J: Typically how far is Battalion HQ from the front line company? Half a mile, a mile?
J: It was just a question of running by foot?
Dee: Usually the Battalion was from the first Company up there probably a half mile and sometimes further than that back. One of the things you had half a mile of wire on a reel and you may put out a reel or a couple of reels, something like that, to [?].
Tom: Usually you moved forward with the Company that was going forward and then of-course all of their wire, any time it went out, you had to go back and repair it, when a tank or truck or something went over it.
J: To mend the wire, was it literally a question of putting the wires together?
Dee: And taping them, yes. You run along your hand, you’ve got to follow it all the way back. I mean you’ve got it in your hand, at night or whatever, you follow the wire. Going back through there you don’t want to encounter a mine. You’ve got to watch. You follow that wire back in your hand and you can tell when you get to a broke place as it comes to an end and then you start making a circle out there trying to find it to tie it back together. I will never forget we used that friction tape. If you’ve ever took friction tape and open it up at night and watch it do an arc when it opens up, tear a piece of it off, trying to cover up that arc. It will make a light you know, the friction tape will. That’s a plastic tape. It’s like a cloth tape and if you tear it at night it’s like an arc when you tear it up. I know I’ve been out in the dark at night trying to keep it I can see a guy looking at me waiting to shoot when he sees that light.
J: So things cleaned up pretty quickly with the French and they signed an armistice?
Dee: Oh yes, three days.
J: When did you start moving up to the Tunisia border?
Dee: Well about a week wasn’t it? About all it was.
J: Can you remember when you saw your first German planes and things like that?
Dee: When they got Tunisia.
Tom: They had the skies. We didn’t.
Dee: We had hundred miles from Oran up to Tunis up there.
J: Did you get there by train or truck?
Tom: By truck.
Dee: We went up there by truck. You drive at night and you find some grove of trees to park in the daytime and then drive on at night. We moved all the way up there, a truck at a time. Make their way one stop, I don’t know.
J: Did you have much to do with the Arabs? Because there were a lot of problems with them stealing stuff?
Dee: No. They’d steal anything they could get their hands on.
J: Tell me because you got the Silver Star out there didn’t you.
Dee: Well we were going to contact E company I believe it was and me and Blake C. Owen.
J: He’s a good friend of yours?
Dee: Well you always have a buddy goes with you, you know.
J: He was the guy you got out of that bar when he was got into trouble.
Dee: Yes. He grew up in North Carolina. I’ve been trying to contact him. I’ve seen him one time since I got out of the army. He may be dead. We went up this waddy you know and I think the line was out, we were laying another line, I don’t know if the line was our or not. But anyway we had a telephone. I don’t think the line was out. I think we was following the line that was up there.
J: Field telephone?
Dee: Field telephone, yes. I think we was following the line that was up there and we were going up this [?] a quarter of a mile after we got out of this waddy down here you know a deep gully and going up through there and all of a sudden I get wind of [?] and they start firing on us. And it’s our Company up there you know! But what I thought: at the time I had a raincoat rolled up, tied on my back belt and you know how the Germans they had canisters on the back. First thing I thought of
J: So you were being shot at by your own men?
Dee: So I wave at them, they stopped. So we went on a little further. [?] two or three charges: one, two three like that. Start to wave at them again you know. They stopped. We started on going on up and then they opened up again from some rocks there. There’s actually one big rock and another rock here and so we dropped behind one rock, and there’s a big rock right behind it.
J: What time of day is this?
Dee: It’s no trees or nothing. Middle of the day I guess as far as I remember. Daylight and everything. And so we jumped over there and this rock in front of us. We couldn’t stand up. They were shooting over that, hitting us right behind. They put bullets right here and here and here. And I got hold of that wire and pulled it in, called Company and told them. I said we’re trying for E Company up here but there’s somebody shooting us from on the hill. He said you’d better get out of there, E Company’s gone.
There’s Germans up there.
J: Oh so it was Germans all the time.
Dee: I said well we can’t move. We’re out in the open here. They said wait just a minute and they got a [?] and he got on the phone and he said can you direct artillery and I said well I can try. And so I told them they were going to get us the first two shells. But then we told him to raise it up and he got one [?] and I said you’re right where you need to be. He said alright I’m going to fire and you get the hell out of there. As soon as we heard them coming over we started back down. They still shot at us coming back down a couple of times. That’s the fast few blocks we made going back down and we zig-zagged and we got back down there. Like I say we got a Silver Star for that. For escaping I guess!
J: Can you remember when that was?
Dee: It was 23rd March. I think that’s in the paper I sent you a brief on that.
J: I’ll double check on that. You had a lucky escape didn’t you?
Dee: He was in the m[?] and they destroyed that m[?].
J: Where was that?
Tom: That was in the same general area that he was.
J: You were up north at that point were you?
Dee: That was the same time. We were in two different Companies.
J: Whereabouts was it in Tunisia. Was it up north or?
Dee: It was pretty close to Kasserine Pass. At that time the 26th got in trouble up by the Kasserine Pass right about the same time.
Tom: That was earlier. That was the first battle they had in Tunisia was the Kasserine Pass.
Dee: It was right after that anyway.
J: Your Company got in real trouble didn’t they? They wanted to surrender and you said no.
Tom: That was just about the same time he got the Silver Star. We were at [?]. It always reminds me of something like the rock of Gibraltar or something. Like a little plateau and you go down and the Germans were round the front there and we stayed for about three days. First when we got up there I remember there was a pool of water down there and we’d go down and wash ourselves and the first day we drank that water because [?] all during that time my Company was losing a lot of men to mortars mostly and so that night or that evening my Sergeant had been wounded and then another guy was going went back called the CO back to the hill [?] back to H station got a stretcher. We got turned around and came back up the front side of the hill with the stretcher, that was probably the only reason the Germans didn’t shoot us. We went back up there, probably saw a way up there. But anyway, we got up there, we just got the Sergeant on a stretcher going to take him back when our outpost — it was getting dark at that time — and our outpost sent back the word that the Germans just about had us surrounded already and about that time all hell broke loose. They had a time over there, the Germans, usually when it got twilight you know, just a short time then it got black very quickly and then about an hour before the moon would come up and boy it was like daylight.
J: You can pretty soon become accustomed in moonlight.
Tom: Anyway, in that window there, when they attacked and they are shooting up flares and it’s just like daylight and I had my mortar and I had already picked out my targets from earlier in the day.
J: So during the day you kind of suss out where you’re going to aim it and then you get your mortar all set up pointing in the direction you wanted it…?
Dee: Yes and there in the dark I was [?] and my first gunner come over and told me, he says the Lieutenant says he’s going to have to surrender. Our Captain had got wounded or something and taken back and the Lieutenant was in charge. He says the Lieutenant says he’s going to have to surrender. Well I said lets get out of here. So he and I, we went back the same way that we had gone to get that stretcher so we got out of there.
J: And the rest all did surrender?
Tom: I never hated anything so much in all my life as leaving the people up there. For instance the guy that we were supposed to get off and everything. I’ve often thought about that. I still don’t know whether he made it or not. I know my Corporal was wounded and he spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. I don’t know about the Sergeant. I never did find out about him.
J: The rest of the company surrendered did they?
Tom: I don’t know how many might have been going back and forth for ammunition or something might have got out of there. But when we got back we had, the next day we had 36 men.
J: Out of 220?
Tom: Yes, just over. This big barrel going on in the desert and the Germans had us cut off with their tanks and everything. We couldn’t get out.
J: Was this all part of Kasserine?
Tom: No this is Longstop Hill. Then our reinforcement come down that valley and run the Germans out and the next day they withdrew. They took our prisoners with them. And that was about the time everything started closing, the British were coming up the coast there.
J: In that one night, the company that you trained with, all that time, all your friends have just gone in one go. That must have been incredibly demoralizing wasn’t it?
Tom: It was.
J: What happens to your Company?
Tom: We grated so much having to leave them up there. They were mad with wanting to go back up there the next day but the Germans withdrew the next morning.
J: Was the company reformed? What happened in the immediate days following that?
Tom: Well it was reformed later. They did more or less two would merge or something or that’s just about all you could do. About a week later we got the situation about the same as that.
J: Still at Longstop Hill?
Tom: Yes. And we had so few people in our Company there. We had a Captain temporarily serving and so he sent for me to come down in his he had a dugout down there. And I was standing there talking to him. And he said now get down here. Get down below. He told us what the situation was. I said put out a listening post or something and see what men you’ve got. I said we’ve got part of an artillery outfit up there and a machine gunner or two and a heavy weapon. But they kind of put me in charge of the deal. I was Private First Class at the time. I went back up. I had three guys in my mortar crew at that time. We were short on ammunition so I sent them back to the rear to get some ammunition and it was getting dark I had nobody to send out except to send out a stranger or something like that. I told the guys up front we’re going down to take the first hill and listening post down there. And so I went down the hill, got down there, couldn’t find nothing to get behind or anything except a pile of rocks or something was about all I could do.
J: Because you couldn’t dig anything.
Tom: It was just as dark as midnight. We were all sitting up there. So I heard somebody coming, digging in their heels, rock flying here, breaking a branch and so forth and I thought well this is it. I think this is my last night. And of-course I thought well maybe I should just wind back up the hill here and [?] but I was down there to warn them from down there, not to [?] first time I got up there you know and so I had a couple of grenades and pulled the pins out of both of them and so we had a password and so forth, but anyway, pickup was in about 25 yards I guess down below me and I could still hear him and like I said [?] so I hollered the password but anyway a guy in my squad, we called him Sleepy. Canning was his name. And so he come back with he recognised my voice and he figured I was just about to get wiped out the way I hollered and he said â€œHey, it’s me, Sleepy. And I tell you, my hands were sweating and everything else. And so I told him to come over and I sent them on up the hill and I threw both grenades down the hill down there. But it was just at that time I put myself in the same place as that guy in the other hill that was killed down there and so anyway that one turned out good anyway. Made the night without an attack down there. We just had a partial Company at that time.
J: It must have been pretty hard being in the line like that because you’ve got the Germans firing and then you fire back and then you fire some mortars and then they fire some mortars and stuff and there’s no big confrontation, it’s just people picking each other off. Presumably you’re sitting in little slip trenches most of the time?
Tom: That’s where your training comes in. You automatically do what you’ve done.
Dee: The excitement of it replaces being frightened. You know after something happens you might get shook up but during while it’s happening, no I was there’s too much going on to be afraid, to even think about it.
J: Presumably adreniline is kicking in. But afterwards you think?
Tom: I guess you’re trained, you just automatically react you know and as far as going into something you might be anxious or let’s get done with it rather than being scared. But once you’re in there you just do what you’ve got to do. You’re really not scared. I think I wrote in that article concerned about D-day I was afraid I might get killed and nobody would ever know what happened to me, even my brother. Things like that concern you.
J: The conditions in North Africa when you’re in the front line, there can’t be much chance for sleep, keeping clean, all that sort of stuff?
Dee: You mean like Montgomery wanted to put us in that hotspot out there? Moved in with a [?] and everything. We had our guns and our headgear. He put us right in the middle of that valley and those tanks came round. I can’t remember, he always tried to remember M[?]. We did. We didn’t know he had those 15 pounders or whatever, 9 pound? We didn’t know he was backing us up back there. I never will forget that war.
J: Did you manage to keep clean and stuff or did you get pretty dirty?
Tom: You’d get pretty dusty.
J: What about shaving and stuff like that?
Dee: You didn’t worry about that until you got a chance to do it really.
J: So when you’re in the front line you don’t worry about that.
Dee: You may, if you get any water, wash your face in the morning when you wake up but that’s about it. About the same time I guess he was talking about being left on that hill I don’t know whether it was his Company we were trying to contact or not. I think I told you about going up there and walking in and hearing a German talk and turning around and walking right back out and it was me, a Sergeant and another guy and I don’t know, I think the same thing. They had already lived. And we walked up there and walked right back out of it.
J: And you were involved in Kasserine were you?
Dee: No. The 26th Infantry were involved in Kasserine.
Tom: I remember they got us all riled up and ready to go but we never did go. I don’t know if
Dee: We were spread over a mile at that time. When they first started talking about that Kasserine thing I was thinking about El Guettar you know. It was altogether a different deal there. The 26th Infantry was it?
Tom: It was the first battle in Tunisia, 26th Infantry. We were stretched out over a mile and the Germans [?].
Dee: You asked that question a while ago. That would be 24th March 1943 the Silver Star.
J: Can you remember thinking, did you feel the morale was low in Africa at the beginning of 1943? Did you still feel confident that you were going to beat them and the war was going to be won?
Dee: I never did think the war was going to be lost. No way.
Tom: With the British 18th there. We got new clothing we got British clothing.
J: Yes, you were saying. Did you both do that where you were attached to the British?
Dee: Yes. 18th Infantry was attached to the British.
Tom: They put us in a line where they needed us.
Dee: Eighth Army or what it was they did. They didn’t have enough to fill in so they put us in there you know.
Tom: And we stayed with them. First time we got a change of clothes. We had British clothing.
Dee: 47 days we stayed with them.
J: Both your regiments were both attached at that time.
Dee: The 18th. Just the 18th Infantry. He was in G company. I was in Battalion Headquarters at that time.
J: So when did you get moved across then?
Tom: When did you transfer out of the 26th and it was before Kasserine because you weren’t in Kasserine with the 26th.
J: But you went to Africa in the 26th?
Dee: I was in the 26th but then I transferred into the 18th and then he transferred into my company when we went back to England.
J: OK but you transferred into the 18th some time in North Africa?
Dee: Yes. I don’t know when I transferred into the 18th.
J: Actually if you had been with Blake C. Owens it must have been from the moment you arrived or just after, or maybe even when you were in England was it?
Tom: I don’t remember. I remember you were in the 18th in North Africa but I don’t know when you transferred out of the 26th.
J: But did you just ask to be transferred out of the 26th?
Dee: I may have transferred while we were in England, transferred into the 18th. I must have transferred before North Africa.
J: And you transferred just because you asked to be transferred did you?
Dee: No I wanted to be in the same regiment he was in.
J: So you just said I want to be in the same regiment as my brother and they eventually gave in?
Dee: And then later on he transferred into my Company.
J: So when you were attached you were given British kit and everything?
Tom: The only thing I had was my helmet. Shoes and all were British. We were attached to them so we were eating their rations and we got new clothes.
Dee: We wore our own shoes, we didn’t wear hobnailed shoes.
Tom: Oh I did.
Dee: I never.
Tom: I wore out my others.
J: Were there a lot of differences between the British way of doing things and the US way of doing things?
Tom: I never did have no problem with it. Chow was always [?] we got a load of oxtail soup. You’d get it in the cans in North Africa. Canadian bacon.
Dee: I don’t know about Canadian bacon. That tea they had was beautiful.
J: You liked English tea did you?
Tom: We would even get a rum ration.
Dee: They had the tea, your powdered milk and sugar and all you had to do was put it in water you know.
J: And you didn’t mind as I understood it, GIs weren’t very taken with British coffee.
Dee: The volume it was somewhat less than American rations were you know.
J: So you didn’t get as much food as the GIs got?
Dee: You had to eat a whole group together and rations were for I think about 9 or 12 men.
J: But also the British, I don’t know what it was like out in the field but certainly when you’re training, Sergeants have a Sergeants mess, Officers have an Officers mess, other ranks
Tom: The American army eat the same all the way through.
J: But when you were attached to the British army did you have a different system?
[end of side A]
Dee: We had our own Officers and everything. The whole outfit had moved over and was under Montgomery and probably [?] somewhere was under Montgomery too, you know. We were still controlled by America you know. We more or less filled or replaced where they needed more troops.
J: But you were saying you had a lot of respect for British troops. Is that just because of their experience or just because
Dee: I’ve seen them fight.
Tom: They’re good fighters.
Dee: I’ve seen the British up there on the artillery and I’ve seen a shell come over, one of them gets blown right off the gun and another would be up there before he hit the ground, to take his place. And I’ve never seen that. That was in North Africa.
Tom: One time there, you had your Coldstream Guards and the Black Watch, that’s top of the line I guess. They were out there with us. The Scottish Black Watch.
Dee: I had a lot of respect for the German soldiers. They were good soldiers.
J: Did you have much problem from strafing messerschmitts and [popwolfs?] and that sort of thing?
Dee: In North Africa, yes.
J: And Stukas dive bombing?
Dee: Oh in North Africa they had the air. They strafed when they got raided and they bombed when they god raided. Up until right near the end of it.
Tom: They used the Stukas down there a lot of times.
J: You must have heard about those before you got down there didn’t you?
Dee: A stuka would come in, it would look like it was going 20 miles an hour. You could stand there and shoot at them you know. It’s coming down the valley, bung artillery, he’d shoot right up at them.
J: Did you ever see one hit?
Dee: No! I had [?] I didn’t know where my bullets were going to.
Tom: They sent a bomber down
Dee: They aimed the planes, dropped the bomb and pulled out. I don’t see how in the world that artillery missed them. I mean the aircraft guns missed them. Seemed like they would fly right through it. I know it got a hole made in its wheel and belly, bullet in that hill over there[?]. Planes coming down suddenly they started firing at him. He got hit by a fifty calibre [?].
J: Did either of you lose any good friends out there in North Africa?
Tom: Oh yes. In Africa, yes. I had one of my Corporal that got wounded on the field and the corporal came back after the war. I’m in contact with him. He’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico now. I talked to him the other day. And then two or three guys who got killed on that hill that particular time but
J: But did you just think it would never happen to you?
Tom: I guess that’s what we thought. I guess you figured they wouldn’t get you.
Dee: If you thought you were going to get hit you’d be in trouble to start with I think. You have some close ones sometimes and you’re wondering why you didn’t get hit.
J: Say you’ve had a near miss, afterwards in the cool light of day, do you think?
Dee: That one sort of shaked you up. I remember one time in North Africa, this is El Guettar I guess, that same time, with the p[?], and with the Germans coming up at you, shooting and everything, and we’re trying to get from one place to another and it was a pawn[?] affair so on a pawn going around and get down. And they’re firing artillery up there and they fired two or three rounds and you’re waiting. I didn’t hear a thing in the world but I got it in my bones: get past that point. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I hit the ground. A shell tore up that place right where I had been at. And boy that’s what you’re thinking there, the Lord must be there watching you. But I didn’t hear it coming. I heard it coming after I hit the ground. I didn’t hear until after I hit the ground and then it come in you know. Something like that can shake you up.
J: And winter in North Africa, it was pretty cold wasn’t it.
Tom: And rain.
J: Did you find yourself getting used to the conditions OK? Did it bother you?
Tom: I guess of-course we had rain here. Canada had snow and stuff like that. It didn’t get real cold, even though we got rain, kind of miserable at times.
Dee: It got chilly at night though. The night was chilly.
Tom: At night you would be looking forward to it getting day and when it got day you would be looking forward to it getting night!
J: Presumably when you’re in the front line, you can’t start lighting fires and things?
Tom: Oh no.
J: If you’re in the front line, does someone just bring food up?
Dee: Most times like that wee would have C rations or K rations.
J: Can you explain to me the difference between a C ration and an K ration?
T: C ration was in a can, you’ve got a can of beans. K ration was in a box, it was cheese and crackers and something like that.
J: So when you were on the front line you were on K rations?
Dee: Yes. K rations, in a square box and you had a little can of potted meat, maybe egg in it. Then you’ve got cheese crackers in there, and you’ve got a little coffee, five cigarettes, and
J: And you eat that whenever you can basically?
Dee: Oh you eat whenever you can. We tore the boxes up and put that in your pocket. And your C ration is altogether different. You’ve got three cans, only about this high you know. One of them has stew, one of them has beans and another has hash. And that you more or less had to heat. One time he woke up and he’d been eating hash or something and you said you’d just got back from a warm meal or something. Soon after I got back to the outfit, in Belgium. He’s there sitting trying to dig frozen food out of a can. I had just got back from England, got back to the outfit. They pulled him back, let him have a couple of days off, and he was feeling sorry for me, and I’d been five and a half months in England, don’t feel sorry for me!
J: But tell me, do you ever watch any of these war films and things? Did you see Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers and stuff?
Dee: No, they put on too much in one go. They way overdo it. I watched Private Ryan. The first part of that was realistic and everything, but the rest of that, hunting the GI was rubbish. Because you don’t have a squad of men out to hunt for some In the first place they know where that guy is. They don’t have to send a squad out to hunt for some guy!
J: Did you ever see anything of Band of Brothers.
Dee: I have watched that a couple of times. The best ones I have watched have been the older ones they made years ago. They’ve got too much fire power in them now. The way they’re talking to each other and all that stuff on the [?]. [?] played in that movie one time, what was the name of that? Dan Johnson [?] played. It was a pretty good movie.
Tom: Everything seems so real but if you’d been there well of-course it can’t be just like you perceive.
Dee: The movies now, all that firepower they have, it’s just unreal. They get these guns up there and he’s fired 200 rounds and he’s still firing you know!
J: Just to go back to the whole morale issue, it seems to me that you were pretty much OK most of the time but when you lost so many of your Company, it must have made you feel a bit down didn’t it?
Tom: As far as it affected me in any way, it didn’t, but at the same time you knew
Dee: It’s not like the Alamo. You don’t know who is gone for a while. The next day you don’t know how many men escaped, how many is POW
J: All this information trickles back over months and weeks?
J: Because I’m just thinking, you say you had a lot of respect for the Germans and not much for the Italians, when you’re coming up against the Germans, you’re coming up against a lot of real battle-hardened troops and you guys are in action, this is your first few months of action ever. Did you ever worry that you were coming up against better, more experienced and better trained troops than you or did you always have confidence in your own abilities.
Tom: One day I think they had us pumped up enough that we thought that that was it.
Dee: It’s like I talk about in that cactus patch[?] and we saw them coming behind the tanks and we were half the British opened up little guns on them and everything else. They kept coming. And that threw you. You say well good god they’re still coming across there and the British are throwing everything at them, you’ve got to be a good soldier before enough of them got killed and they started withdrawing.
J: Another thing, talking to British guys who were out there at the same time, particularly guys who were in the First Army, they were saying that we looked at our tanks and we looked at the German Mark 4 tanks and then we looked at the Tigers and we just thought we might as well just go home now, we’ve got nothing that’s comparable. The Shermans were not as good as the Tigers but they were a lot better than the British tanks. Do you remember thinking that the German equipment is better than ours or again did that not really?
Dee: It was to start with.
J: But can you remember being worried about that?
Dee: We landed in North Africa with jeeps with a 37mm guns. 37mm is not a big gun. That kind you’ve got sitting in front of you. And we landed in North Africa with them. We even charged German tanks with them. You didn’t think anything about it.
J: I suppose my question is more did you feel that US forces were well equipped and well trained for the fight that you had taken on?
Dee: Not to start with.
J: Did you feel you were being outgunned by the Germans?
Dee: Well we were outgunned to start with. Of-course after Kasserine up there they ended up with what they called TDs up there which is a 105 and they can knock out a German tank and in Africa and they could out-manouevure a German tank and they’ve got more firepower.
J: Did the superiority of German equipment filter down to you guys on the ground and make you feel worried or did you just get on with it?
Dee: They had better equipment. Their 88s they had, they could fire at planes with it, they could fire at tanks with it, they could fire at troops with it.
J: Did you know at the time that it was better?
Tom: We realised the firepower they had and everything. Our Sherman tanks, they were a fireball. Every time one got hit, boom, it’s in flames. The Germans had those rockets too. We didn’t have them.
J: I suppose what I’m getting at, is that you’re saying that you never had any doubt that you were going to win and I suppose I’m thinking if it was me and I was fighting against an opposition which had so many guns, that would worry me a bit and I’m just wondering whether it worried you.
Dee: I guess we figured we had what we had and we better just get on and use it.
Tom: We knew what we had behind us. The Germans were fighting half a dozen different things you know.
J: So that must have given you confidence that you had much better that they may have had good kit but they were cornered in.
Tom: Oh yes. The British down there. They were getting air supplies. The Germans couldn’t get theirs. They were all shot down and sunk and everything.
J: Were you aware of that at the time do you think?
Dee: No, not really, no. I knew they’d been fighting for a year, the British, and we did know I think – of-course we found out later — when we were landing in Africa, same time the British took [?]. We did feel that they’d pushed them too hard, that they’d pushed them right into us! It got rough at the last when they had them bottled up there. But everything was going our way then.
J: How much were you aware of the bigger picture?
Dee: Within your division. I didn’t know the other outfits, like the 3rd Division, I didn’t know they were in [?] at that time. You knew what was going on and what you were doing but that was it.
Tom: Your area was just about all you knew.
J: You didn’t feel that the German superior firepower and experience, you didn’t feel too daunted by that?
Tom: No, not really.
J: You just felt well we’ve got a job to do, let’s get on with it.
Tom: We had enough confidence in ours.
J: Can you remember when Fredendall was sent back and Patten took over and everything?
Dee: No, not really. I mean we found it out, but it didn’t
J: Didn’t make much impact on you?
Tom: Patten? He took charge in Sicily.
Dee: No, he took charge in Africa.
J: Were you aware of the leaders and the generals and stuff and did you talk about them or did you not really care?
Dee: Well he wasn’t that much talked of [?] by the troops.
J: Who Patten?
Dee: He’d act like he was in garrison the same time he was in the field, you know. He’d like his troops to keep their helmets on and clean shave and all that stuff. We wasn’t directly under Patten.
J: You mentioned you saw Montgomery.
J: You didn’t think much of him either?
Dee: That’s the only time I saw Montgomery. He got up on the back of a little truck and
Tom: [?] in World War I I believe. Our [?] most of them hadn’t seen action. He’d never been in action.
J: I wondered how much respect you had for these guys of whether you didn’t really care one way or the other about the leaders?
Dee: I’d say I had respect for them, the leaders, yes. You might not like them but you’ve got to respect them.
Tom: After the battle of Sicily they relieved our Division Commander and his Assistant and things got fairly rough there for a while but the guy that took it over was a guy that had been in the First Division since World War I.
Dee: We got back to England, same old ball game.
Tom: So later on, both of them, the Division Commander in Africa and Sicily was Terry Allen and
J: He was quite liked wasn’t he?
Tom: Yes. And they sent him back to the states when they relieved him and he came back after Normandy with another Division.
J: Did you like Allen? Did you think he was good?
Tom: Oh yes.
J: He seems to be incredibly respected but mistrusted by Eisenhower. Patten didn’t like him either.
Tom: And the Assistant was Rose[?].
J: What did you think of him?
Dee: He was in [?] went in the army. Rose[?] came back with another. He landed on Omaha beach. He died about two weeks later of a heart attack.
J: But you had a lot of respect for those two did you?
Dee: Oh yes.
J: Those were the guys you immediately looked up to.
Dee: Rose[?] I remember one time we were on a march and some sergeant got into an argument with a Private and he pulled off his shirt, now fight it out. He didn’t want stripes on him. One was a private, another was a Sergeant and he just said pull off his shirt and just fight it out and you get through and just put your shirt back on.
J: When was that?
Dee: Fort Benning, Georgia, 1940. Rose[?] was in the army then. He was in the 26th Infantry at that time. He was a Battalion Commander.
J: That would never every happen in the British Army.
Tom: Rose[?] was a heavy drinker.
J: Did you see him much in North Africa?
Dee: I didn’t see him much in North Africa, no. He was in the 26th Infantry in North Africa and then he went into the
Tom: And then he got to be Second in Command of the Division.
Dee: But in North Africa he come up with us, Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel, no General or something wasn’t it. Anyway, they relieved him of his command in Sicily I think it was and then they sent him back. He went in with the 29th Division in the invasion.
Tom: No, not the 29th. Fourth Division. Utah beach. Something just came to mind, I remember reading about Montgomery in Africa one time, he was out inspecting troops and on the way down there was a [?] and the jeep or truck passing there was a soldier in it, but the guy didn’t have a stick of clothes on. He had a top hat on but no clothes on. And the next day Montgomery put out an order that no soldier under his command would wear a top hat! That was a story in the [?] book.
J: So you were both involved in the attack on Bizerta were you?
Tom: Yes, we were nearby. We didn’t go in.
J: And did you get a chance to go into Tunis at all?
Dee: No. Carthage. The lion’s den. I can’t remember the towns there that we went through.
J: Was there much celebrating at the victory?
Tom: No. We didn’t get [?]. You celebrated the troops that moved in as you did. As you drove through a town, you’d go on. Here’s somebody else comes in puts on a parade.
J: And how many men would be looking after a mortar?
Tom: A mortar squad was five men.
J: And what would each man do?
Tom: Well, a squad leader, he carries a barrel, base plate and then the first gunner would carry the [?] and then the other three were ammunition carriers.
J: And when you were actually firing it, would all five of you be around it?
Tom: Yes. Actually they just one man it took to fire it[?].
J: But someone else does the loading do they?
Tom: Yes. Mortar is one of the most dreaded things.
Dee: You don’t hear it. You don’t know where it’s coming from.
Tom: You get a target out there, you re-check your sight and so forth but you can’t do that at night. But you got the gunner and all were trained for the same thing. And these ammunition carriers carried six mortar rounds over his shoulder: three in the front and three in the back.
J: How many would you fire a minute, typically?
Tom: As fast as you could put them in. Over in Terena[?] in Sicily we fired about 300 shots, about 300. We run out of ammunition. Terena of-course that was the biggest battle ever and we set up our mortar. You’ve got three mortars squads, and we set our mortars up there and we had a call back from the lead platoon that had been attached to and they were telling us just where to fire you know: â€œYou’re over 100 yards or â€œunder 100 yards and we just set our guns according to what they wanted. Two or three mortars were killed [?]. Then you’d have to set your gun again because you wouldn’t know what was going on. More you could usually get in a low place somewhere where they couldn’t see you and do your harm and put a couple of stakes up and get to your squadron leader up there where he could see what the target was and aim it straight there and another one, back down you aim it so you get your windage right or left.
J: And you want to be in a place where you’re fairly hidden don’t you?
Tom: Oh yes. You need to find a place where one direct fire. If they couldn’t see where you was there nothing more powerful than a mortar.
J: Presumably often it’s a case of you’re firing mortars and they’re firing mortars, you’re both just firing mortars basically and noone can see each other.
Dee: No side can see where you’re hitting at.
J: So end of Africa, and then Sicily, you’re right through to the end of Sicily, and it’s at the end of Sicily that you go back to England is that right?
Dee: Yes. We only spent about two or three weeks in Sicily after the war was over there. Just a couple of weeks and went back to England.
J: Did you feel by the time you got to Sicily, did you feel much more confident? More experienced?
Dee: Gives you more confidence. No doubt about that. Of course the first day in Sicily the Germans got back on the beach behind us! And the next morning they had an artillery gun up there. I remember laying asleep and all at once that ground just jumped up under me and they had put up a gun up there and fired back down on the beach. It was on the hill. And I had to go right ahead and hold the thing down because every time they would fire it would jump up and it was actually firing down hill at the tanks on the beach. I didn’t know they had tanks up behind us that night but they’d got behind us on the beach and the next morning.
Tom: I don’t think they quite made it to the beach.
Dee: Well, it was pretty close down on the beach. They were close enough because the Navy was firing on them too. I won’t say down on the beach but down on the plains before we landed there. And that night, paratroopers came over and our own Navy shot down 42 transport planes, 410 troopers I think. And we watched that from the hills. We were looking up at it. They had landing lights on and everything like that and the Navy just kept firing. But the Germans came and bombed the Navy and just pulled them off and then here comes this paratrooper at the end.
Tom: They were supposed to land on that airport. We were on the outskirts of it. But they got shot up so bad they landed wherever they were getting out of that plane any way they could I guess. They shown that equipment up but we had a big gun, I guess it was 75 yards from where we were at, maybe shoved out of the plane to lighten the load I guess.
J: And when you weren’t in the front line all the time, when you had moments of rest, obviously you guys liked to go out and have a drink and stuff [interrupted by arrival of Joanne] how did you pass the time of day when you weren’t in action?
Tom: Mostly playing cards and stuff like that.
J: Can you remember feeling quite bored or?
Dee: In the field you mean?
Tom: I remember [?] most of the time back then. Of-course we used to gamble some too. Of-course if your card game was interrupted you just took the cards.
J: And there must have been periods where it was quite boring wasn’t it?
Tom: At times. You welcomed the boredom!
J: When you got back to England, that would have been towards the end of 1943.
Tom: August 1943.
J: Then you did a stint in Scotland? Where were you training?
Dee: They said you’re going home, you’re going back to England. In England we were training out on the coast where we were doing amphibian training. It wasn’t too far from Weymouth I don’t guess. I don’t remember. I know we done one landing operation down there and about two or three days later if I remember right the Germans sunk some of the craft in that operation. The submarine sunk someone out there or something. So we were told but I don’t know.
J: You were saying that you didn’t have time to feel frightened or anything but you must have been a bit apprehensive going across the channel that night on 5th June weren’t you? Did you feel that you’d done two invasions already and?
Dee: I didn’t give it any thought until we were restricted to quarters. We had I think the night before or something we had been to Bournemouth. Come back and we were restricted. We weren’t restricted but about a week before the invasion. Just a few days.
Tom: The first I remember we loaded on that ship it was so crowded I found me a cubby hole somewhere and curled up and went to sleep. I don’t remember the trip across.
Dee: I know they restricted us and they had their [?] down there and they had a room full of cigarettes of all kinds laid out down there and you could take what you want to take with you, they had candy, cigarettes. I didn’t even smoke but I took some anyway.
Tom: I’ll guarantee there were more cigarettes floating around out on that beach than
Dee: Everybody took a couple of cartons anyway just to tie â€˜em on somewhere. They figured you could trade with them I guess.
J: You got wounded but you were OK, you were never wounded at all?
Tom: No, I got [?] a time or two but no. The most I had was a wound and later on in Germany. One night shells coming in and I kind of squatted down to get as low as it could and it hit nearby and knocked my helmet off my head, got my nose. That was about the worst. I didn’t demand a purple heart or nothing for that. I could have probably end up with one if I’d have wanted to but I didn’t. Actually when that shell hit it wounded a guy right nearby me, pretty bad. I don’t know whether he made it or not. But anyway I picked him up and took him to the 8th Station. By the time I got there I had so much blood on me and everything. I laid him down over there against the wall and the nurse come up looking at me and said how bad are you hurt? I said well I’m OK, get that guy over there. I just washed up and went home. I never did get wounded.
J: In the course of a war like that you must have seen some pretty horrible things. Were you ever squeamish?
Tom: I guess you get hardened to it. I remember during the he wasn’t hurt that time, that was before he got back. Battle of [?], [?] Forest, and when I came in we were all tired. Well the first thing I saw was a body laying on top of the car with no legs, no head, nor arms and no head. I thought this is going to be rough. That made an impression on me. It turned out to be true. That was the real deal there. It bothers you the first time. Like I say the thing that most bothered me about the first American I saw laying there. And then you knew this was for real. Then, going into it like we did, you just think about those guys that landed with us at Omaha, that they’d never heard a shot fired. That must have been terrific for them you know.
J: By the time you got to Omaha, there must have been a lot of dead GIs around.
Tom: That was our third invasion.
J: You were an old hand at this!
Tom: You get hardened to it. I don’t like to go to a funeral home now and see somebody. It bothers me. But you don’t realise in war, war is war.
J: Also, you’re so young, and when you’re young you adapt.
Tom: That’s probably it. On D-day we were 22.
J: Where did you get to by the end of 6th June on the first day of D-day?
Tom: Our objective was [?]ville. We got there about 9. I’ve got to say that that first wave really took a beating but they done a lot of good too. They had actually broke through in that second wave and got already took some withdrawals up on the top where the Germans were. But they were still where they were in placements, when you landed the first thing you saw was all over the beach, shells hitting and sand blinders and men scattered all over there too, but that first wave had done a good job. I was glad I was in the second!
J: Do you think when you were fighting the Germans, did you have a really big dislike for Germans and Nazis or do you not think of it in those terms?
Tom: You didn’t hate them or nothing. They fired at you so you fired at them.
J: It wasn’t personal or anything?
Tom: No, nothing personal about it.
J: Did you have much contact with German prisoners in North Africa? I know there was one Desert Rat I spoke to who said collected two bags of loot on the way, watches and pistols and things he picked up.
Tom: We’d give them cigarettes and stuff and maybe a chocolate bar or something.
J: Because you see them as a fellow soldier rather than?
Tom: I remember one time a twelve year old in a government uniform
J: In Germany?
Tom: In Germany, yes. He wasn’t a big twelve year old. I’ve got a picture of this twelve years old, just a kid you know. But the uniform was made for him you know. But I guess he was in training or something, I don’t know. But it was the youngest one I ever saw. But no, we didn’t have anything personal against the Germans.
J: You didn’t take watches and things like that?
Tom: No. I know that was done but I never did. I would take a gun but of-course you would. I brought a couple of guns home.
J: Lugers were quite prized weren’t they?
Tom: Yes I got a Luger, a P38. I gave them to my boys. I gave one of them the Luger and the other the P38. My brother brought home two also and he gave his to I don’t know, his nephew he gave one of them to and his daughter got the other one. I went to after the battle of Azores[?] during the battle of Arken[?] 26th took Arken but they put us on the ground on the one side there where the Germans was trying to get in reinforcements, and after the battle was over I went down there and went in the German barracks you know and outside they had a flagpole and I went in there and I found up on top of one of the lockers a large Nazi flag. When the battle had started they took it down off the pole cause that would be a good target you know. They had it inside there and after the battle was over I found this flag, I took it home. I’ve still got it.
J: That was from when?
Tom: That was Arken[?]. That was the first city we took in Germany was Arken. I took it and put it on the jeep there and carried it with me on the jeep. I thought about sending it to the First Division museum but
J: Were you writing back home to your sisters during the war?
Tom: One of my half sisters I mostly wrote to her. My other sisters, we might have wrote occasionally to one of them but we didn’t write maybe once a month or something.
J: Did she keep your letters?
Tom: That was, what do they call them then?
J: Sort of little photograph thing?
Tom: Yes. That we did.
J: Did she keep those?
Tom: No. She didn’t keep none of it. I thought about that afterwards but I don’t know what happened to them. I know of one guy that served with me used to write his son. After his daddy died well he had all the letters that his daddy had saved all the letters that he’d got overseas. And so his son made a book out of it. He asked me to read it and tell exactly where it was. He lived down on a farm and told him about the cattle he sold and the pastures and told him about the place they were swimming and of-course I was with him all the time so I recognised where the he sent me this booklet he made, they sent me a copy of it. I wrote back and told his son different places where we were and so forth. Fill it right in you know, an awful lot of places I knew where he was and so forth. In those letters you couldn’t say way where you were: â€œsomewhere in France or â€œsomewhere in Germany or something or the other. I’ve got that down in Louisiana.
J: So you are up here at the moment but most of the time you are in Louisiana?
Tom: Yes. 50 years down in Louisiana. Actually I moved there in 1952. Right after I got married. And my wife was also from here so we would come here about two weeks every year, about 18 months ago I lost my wife and so I spend about half time up here. It’s two homes. This is my wife’s family home up here and the two boys living in Louisiana.
Dee: He’s got five boys, I’ve got two girls.
J: Tell me, were you ever confused? You must have had quite a name for yourselves as the Bowles twins in the war?
Dee: There’s been more told about that after the war. During the war we didn’t think anything about it. We knew the some of them brothers, you know after they got killed you know they served together like that and if they couldn’t get in the same outfit, brothers couldn’t you know. And we had other brothers in the First Division but they weren’t in the same company. We were what they call your Grandfathers clothes or something like that you know, you’re already there, they can’t do anything about it.
Tom: I guess we enlisted they figured well you asked for it!
J: So what happened to you guys after the war? When did you come out? When did you leave the army?
Tom: When the war ended. We had discharge so we came right home. June we left France in June and we got home
J: You immediately came back to Alabama?
Tom: Yup. I had a sister lived here on the farm. We came back.
Dee: That’s all the family we had just around here. She was the one, if we needed something she mailed it to us you know. Reading: June 1945, discharge at Fort [?] Georgia. It hasn’t got the date on there.
J: What happened to the Scottish girl you were engaged to?
Dee: Oh we just called it off after a while. I hadn’t been home too long. We got engaged after I got home and after that we just called it off. We wrote about four times.
J: But she never came over to America or anything?
Dee: No. We wrote back and forth for a while and then finally. I think the last letter I got from her was in 1977 I got a letter. You know, you’d get a letter about once every year or something like that. Of-course I’d been married and everything else. It was June 1945 when we got discharged.
We took a lot of pictures during the war. He had an old camera took the whole thing with him.
J: Am I able to have a look at those?
Dee: Oh yes. That’s Fort Benning, Georgia. That’s that horse cavalry. This is a theatre down there. With all them tents down there. That was a tent theatre down there.
J: What would they be showing, movies?
Dee: Oh yeh, movies.
J: I love these pictures of the horses. This is absolutely extraordinary. There’s some trucks up above just to show that they’re still So here’s you all lying on you’ve got your rifles stacked up and you’re just lying on the grass somewhere.
Dee: Just taking a break, probably on a hike or something taking a break.
J: These are tents in the middle of a wood. Where would that be?
Dee: Fort Benning. Down the pines.
J: And you had little camp beds and you’re putting on your puttees. So your uniform is looking a little bit more modern. You’ve got rid of the puttees going up to your knees and things?
Dee: At that time, right when we left Fort Benning, that’s when they give us those webbing, they give us those canvas leggings. Up till then we had those wrap leggings.
J: When did you start getting the traditional coal scuttle helmets as opposed to the old?
Dee: It was about 1941.
Tom: I first got one of those [?] wasn’t long after that.
Dee: We had little hats too they gave us and then they would come out like little hats you know.
J: Little scout hats?
Dee: Little hats you know. The first hats they gave us were like that.
J: And again there’s these rows of they’re kind of would these have been olive, khaki coloured, this canvas?
Dee: Yes. I think it’s six men to a tent wasn’t it. You had a heater in the middle of each tent.
J: There’s a chimney coming out of the top. They’re kind of square aren’t they. You slept perfectly OK?
Dee: That’s in the 26th Infantry there some of those are I think.
J: Your gas mask. â€œ18th US Infantry. So who’s that?
Dee: I don’t know who that is. There’s the tent we would sleep in in the field you know. Two men to a tent. On manoeuvres. It’s pretty good but if it’s raining you better not touch it because if you touch the inside it starts dripping.
J: You see this six wheel truck here, a friend of mine has just bought one of those and I was driving around in it last week. So where is this?
Dee: In the pits. That’s on the firing range you know they pull the targets up and you shoot at it and drop them down and mark them. These are soldiers somewhere up here shooting you know.
J: It kind of looks like you’re peeling potatoes here or something?
Tom: Probably. We had a little [?] in that outfit somewhere.
J: This is the firing range? These old-fashioned boy scout hats these felt hats?
Dee: This is in the pits now.
J: I remember these from when I used to do army corps when I was a schoolboy and we used to go on these military ranges and they were really just the same. There’s your old tin hat. You never had to do parachute jumps or anything? [don’t answer]. Look at those barrels, they’re just tiny aren’t they.
Tom: World War I tank.
J: So Fort Benning was quite a major place?
J: They’re just tiny these barrels aren’t they. So this is boarding the train on the way to somewhere?
Dee: I think we’re going away to Florida on that one. There’s my tin hat!
J: Good crease on your trousers though! You’ve got the changeover.
Dee: There’s the kitchen in the field.
J: My trash can at home is exactly like that! Is this a kind of little field kitchen or something?
Dee: It’s a mess hall I guess, see with the cook out here. You called it a fly didn’t you Tom where you took the sides of the tent like that.
J: This is all your kit laid out?
Dee: Yes, inspection. You got everything out of your pack laid out for
J: It looks like you were having good fun. Were there a lot of inspections?
Dee: About once a month, yeh.
J: When did you stop wearing these felt hats like that?
Dee: About 1941 I guess. We didn’t wear them for about a year.
Tom: They were called â€œcampaign hats.
Dee: There’s a guy laying wire. He’s running that wire through his hands.
J: This is a big convoy.
Dee: Well it was on I think Louisiana manoeuvres, at least I think it was.
J: Cornflakes! So basically you just walk along and get your stuff and have a mess can. Whose are these trunks?
Dee: That’s Fort Benning. Each man had a trunk you know at the foot of his bed.
J: That’s just like the one I used to have at boarding school.
Dee: When we left for overseas they put them in storage and when we come back they sent them back to us. Still had the stuff in them we put in there.
J: What did you put in them?
Dee: Clothes and stuff. Stuff we accumulated during the time we went in the army. We had more than just clothes in there. They put them in storage then time we got discharged, you’re talking about almost six years later, well three years later after we went overseas I guess and
Dee: You know these are took 1940 and 1941. And the negatives stayed in that old trunk for 45, 50 years. I took them out and they come out better than they did the first time. You see how good a job they did on that? We had pictures made before but they’re smaller, you know, about half this size when they develop them. They’re better than the first pictures I sent off.
J: Who are these two?
Dee: I don’t know.
Dee: You know if you got a chance to take a picture of somebody with a girl you took it! In the army you didn’t keep track of who it was.
J: Lots of girls suddenly in these pictures!
Dee: He’s got cancer now. We went to see him year before last. Tonkinville, Kentucky. And he was in G Company a rifle company the whole time from beginning to end. Didn’t even get wounded. Ended up being a Staff Sergeant when he got discharged.
J: Pretending to bayonet somebody. You’re just larking about. Anyone would at your age.
J: Did you ever have time to do other sports? Were you keen on baseball, football?
Dee: No. It was a big thing back in the peacetime army though. Each Company played another Company.
J: You didn’t do that?
J: Are you both sports fans?
Dee: I did last night. I watched football last night. I don’t usually watch sport. I never did take part in it so I don’t usually watch it.
J: What’s this, it’s a starfish. Take the boat out for the day or something?
Tom: Massachusetts, landing operations up there.
J: When did you get trained for mortars?
J: You got singled out?
J: How does it come about that someone goes to mortars and you end up in?
Dee: I ended up as a rifleman. He ended up as mortars. They put him in a mortar Company so that’s what he
J: But you don’t have any choice about that?
Dee: It’s what happens.
Tom: I stayed in it until after Sicily then that’s when I got in his Company.
Dee: That was the Queen Mary and Normandy and Queen Elizabeth all parked side by side.
J: What are these overalls?
Tom: Just overalls.
J: These were the sort of boats you would get out of? You’d get put in those would you and then dropped?
Dee: They just [?] kind of go ashore and all. What did we go ashore in for landing operations? It wasn’t a higgin boat.
Tom: I don’t know.
J: Another route march. What did you do with your uniforms?
Dee: Mine’s in a museum in Iowa[?]. Medals and all, not medals but ribbons. He’s got stuff out there too.
J: Do you go to many reunions?
Dee: I’ve been to about three I guess. If they’re close enough we go you know. We’ve been to New Orleans about two times you know.
J: Do you talk to your children and grandchildren much about what happened?
Dee: Well, not really.
Tom: My daughter, yes, but not my grandchildren.
J: Who are these two?
Dee: Her name is Margaret. I can’t remember her last name. And Denise or something. That’s English girls now.
J: â€œIrving Berlin’s â€˜This is the Army’.
You had a girlfriend out there too did you?
Tom: Oh yes. She was a Welsh girl.
J: She was from Wales was she?
J: How did you meet her?
Tom: She was a nurse or something at the hospital in Glasgow.
J: So was that second time round or first time?
Tom: That was first time.
J: What was her name?
Tom: Jane Llewellyn.
J: Do you know what happened to her?
Tom: No, I lost track of her.
J: That’s pretty dirty isn’t it. What did you call these jackets?
Dee: That was a [bill/dill?] jacket.
J: Were you wearing this stuff in Africa as well?
[break in tape: onto tape 2]
Dee: We were still holding a town in [?]. Of-course the Germans we’d already run him out of. So a big old two and a half tonne army truck we had to load all that stuff in there at the end of the war. We celebrated. Because we knew [?] you know. Load all that stuff in and you know when the war was over we pulled back. The first day we pulled back there they backed that truck up and said here it is! They had put that in store somewhere until the last few months of the war and then told us to celebrate. And we’ve got pictures in there of some of those guys more drunk, I tell you what!
Tom: We gave that up!
J: You must have had mixed feelings about an uncertain future?
Dee: At the time we didn’t think anything. Not until later on, people started talking about two brothers in the same outfit and all. Chap that’s got this museum out here he said boy it’s unheard of to serve together like that, brothers in the same Division but not together like that. As far as I know we was the only
Tom: There was one pair of twins in that 29th Division, one of them killed.
Dee: But they weren’t in the same Company were they? Were they together?
Tom: No, I don’t think so.
J: You are both saying that you had a laid back attitude but did you worry about each other?
Dee: You do. I know we worried about each other. I worried about the other and prayed about him and everything else, but somehow you had that feeling we’ll make it through. I just knew it was going to turn at alright. I always felt like that.
J: Would you agree with that?
Tom: That’s it.
Dee: I guess I told you one story, they gave us two canteens to put our water in, we landed we had Scotch in one and water in the other.
J: Do you still enjoy a tipple of whisky?
Dee: Once in a while.
Tom: When he got wounded, that’s the first thing he did, handed that canteen to me.
Dee: I wanted him to get it before somebody else got it.
J: How far away were you from your brother when you got wounded?
Tom: I don’t know, but not very far.
J: You didn’t see it happen?
Tom: No. The Lieutenant came and told me he’d been wounded. I went down there and they had him on the tractor waiting for me to get there before they took him back. He argued there wasn’t nothing to it, he was in more pain and he was â€œI’m not hurting and he was shot in the back and arm and side. Six months in the hospital.
J: Three bullets?
Dee: No, let me see, one two in the right arm and I think it caught the back of the ankle. I think at one time they said it was three.
J: You must have been a bit worried then?
Tom: Yes. I didn’t know how bad it was. So he just said I’m going back to England.
J: Was your life ever in danger because of that?
Dee: From the wound? No? I woke up on the hospital boat going back, I wanted water and they wouldn’t give me water. Give me a wet rag to put in my mouth, I told them my mouth was dry. But I got back to England, they operated on my back and on my arm. My arm healed up but they left the bullet in there. One come through and one stopped in my arm and so my arm was stiff and so I couldn’t bring up my arm and then they operated on my back and they cut them muscles out and told me they would grow back up. They showed me on my back it was going to grow back up, they were going to cut it off and graft it you know, but then some doctor come in there and another doctor took over and he said no we’re going to sew it up. So they [?] and sewed it up and got infected and that took a while to get over that. And I got over that and I said OK my arm’s stiff so went back and found another bullet in there and it took a while to get it working right.
J: You eventually got it out? It’s not still there is it?
Dee: Oh no they got it out.
J: Were you writing to each other during that time?
Dee: Yes, but it’s [?] you just have to write you know. By the time you get one over it may be a month later you get a reply back. With each other it was more or less I was writing home and he was writing home and my sister was writing him back and me back more than anything else I guess.
J: Are you still in contact with many people from North Africa?
Tom: Not too many. Just one guy in Tompkinville Kentucky and he talked to some guy who was in North Africa.
Dee: Albuquerque New Mexico, I talked to him the other day and one down in Florida we located.