Posted in My Novels, Research, WWII

French War Brides

Years ago I was researching the idea of writing a novel about a French war bride from World War II. (A war bride is a woman who marries a soldier stationed overseas during a war.) In looking for memoirs I found most were written by English war brides. This made sense since the majority of foreign brides were from Great Britain where American troops were stationed for a number of years. The Americans landed in France in June 1944 so there was less time for the soldiers and the local French women to get to know each other.

I came across a book called “Des Amours de GI’s” by Hilary Kaiser published in 2004. Unfortunately this book was only available in French. I took French in high school and in college so I thought, “How hard could it be to translate this book?” I ordered “Des Amours de GI’s” and, when it came, I got out my French-English dictionary and went to work.

Needless to say, the translation went slowly, very slowly. What kept me going was my fascination with the content. Oral histories of French women who married American men in uniform filled the pages. Some of the stories went back to World War I but most were about relationships from World War II.

Hilary Kaiser did an amazing job interviewing French women who had married American servicemen and immigrated to the United States. Their stories not only involved how the couple met and became romantically involved but also the woman’s journey to the United States and how they settled into American life.

Thankfully, in 2007, Hilary Kaiser’s book was translated into English and made available as “French War Brides in America.” By this time I had translated less than half the French version. I gladly abandoned my translation exercise and read it in English. The same book has since been re-released in English both in paperback and e-book with the title French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier.”

I did write a novel about a French girl and an American soldier who fell in love and married. The book has never been published but I still love the story…so maybe…someday…

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Posted in B-17, Friends, WWII

Tom Brewer – Hometown Hero

For Memorial Day, I am honoring the memory and the service of Maury Thomas Brewer or Tom Brewer as he was known in my hometown. When I was growing up, Tom lived next door to us and he taught Agriculture at the local high school. I didn’t realize until I was grown that he had been in the Army Air Corps during WWII, had been shot down and held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.

Originally from Big Sandy, Tennessee, Tom joined the Army Air Corps on March 3, 1943. After months of training at various places across the U.S., Tom was assigned to the 325th Squadron of the 92nd Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force, at Podington airfield, near Rushdin in Bedforshire, England.

I couldn’t find a record of how many missions Tom flew. Rob Hutchings of the 92nd Bomb Group Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page sent me a document compiled for another airman, Tech Sergeant Walter E. Papunen. On four of the missions recounted in this document, Sgt. Maury T. Brewer was a waist gunner.

On Aug. 1, 1944. Brewer and Papunen flew with Pilot 2nd Lt. William F. Schramm to Orleans and Chateaudun, France. On Aug. 5, 1944, the mission was to bomb the airdrome at Hanover, Germany. On Aug. 6, they bombed an ME-109 plant in Brandenburg, Germany.

B-17 #42-107090 at hard stand at Podington Airfield

The mission on August 9, 1944, was to bomb the marshaling yards at Karlsruhe, Germany, near Munich, with 2nd Lt. William E. Schramm piloting B-17 #42-107090. They were hit by flak and the plane crashed at Echterdingen, Germany. All nine crew members survived the crash and were captured.

I cannot imagine what it was like for Tom’s mother, Mrs. Thelma Penick, when she received the telegram from the War Department telling her that her son was missing in action. It would be months before she was notified that he was a Prisoner of War.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Brewer spent nine to ten months as a Prisoner of War (from Aug. 9, 1944, until his camp was liberated in April or May, 1945). The National Archives Records of Prisoners of War report for Maury T Brewer lists the camp he was held in as “Unknown.” A newspaper article reported that he was home on leave after being released from a Prisoner of War camp near Bitterfield, Germany. That information did not help since I could not find a POW camp listed in that area.

In my research about the German POW camps for my novel, Kitty’s War, I learned of conditions that ranged from poor to deplorable. Red Cross packages, when distributed to the men, supplemented the meager German-provided food. Medical care was provided primarily by other prisoners. The wooden barracks were poorly heated and the thin blankets gave little warmth during the bitter cold winter of 1944-45. Beatings and torture were not uncommon. The camps run by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, were better than those run by the German Army or Navy, yet they were all miserable places. As the war grew closer to its end, conditions in the camps deteriorated since the Germans barely had enough supplies for their own military. When several of the camps were threatened to be taken by the Russians, prisoners were marched to other camps through terrible weather with next to no rations. Many died. This is sometimes called the “other death march” since few know about it.

Liberation by American, British or Russian armies brought joy to the Allied prisoners. After much needed medical treatment, the American ex-prisoners were transported back to the United States. Here is the newspaper article reporting Tom’s leave home to visit his family. He was discharged on November 15, 1945.


After the war, Tom returned to Big Sandy where he married Beatrice Price on December 2, 1945.

Tom passed away August 22, 2009, at age 86. He is buried in Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. Here is a link to his obituary. Thanks to Tom and all the others who have served our country.

Also, thanks to the members of the 92nd Bomb Group (H) Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page for their help in compiling this information, especially Robert McHugh, John Davidson and Rob Hutchins.

Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

Two Books About The M7

I am always on the lookout for information related to the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in which my father-in-law served during WWII. Recently I purchased two books about the M7 “Priest,” the mobile 105 mm Howitzer artillery piece utilized by the 276th AFA as well as by numerous other similar U.S. and British units. The British first called it “Priest” because the rounded machine gun mount resembled a pulpit.

“Images of War M7 Priest” contains over 200 photos of the M7, most in black & white and some in color. Descriptions accompany each picture and, in the combat photos, identify the unit in which the M7 served. On page 96 there is a photo of  soldiers of Battery C of the 276th AFA replacing the track on their M7. Although my father-in-law served in Battery A, it is exciting to see Battery C of the 276th represented in this book.

The book also provides various types of information about the M7. Discussions include its original concept at the beginning of WWII to the companies who designed and manufactured it.  Data on the different models and the number of each produced by which company is included as well as details on what was changed on each model. Technical data on the M7, on the Howitzer and on the organization of a typical battery is included in the appendix.

Photos show the M7 in different settings. There are training photos and pictures from North Africa where the British were the first to use it. The gun proved so effective it was used in Italy, in the invasion of France and the push across Europe to Germany. It was also used in the Philippines. Later the M7 saw service in Korea.

 

I also purchased a second book by David Doyle, “M7 Priest Walk Around.” This book provides detailed photos and explanations of many aspects of three different models of the M7. There are pictures of things like the tail lights, sprockets, idler brackets and ammo storage. Closeups of the driver’s position, various views of the Howitzer from the gunner’s viewpoint, the panoramic telescope for sighting the targets and numerous views from inside the fighting compartment fuel the imagination as to what it would have been like to the men who manned this mobile artillery piece.

For you technical nuts there’s lots to see and read about in this compact volume. Most of the pictures are of M7’s in museums rather than in combat, but some photos were taken before and during WWII.

These books were written by David Doyle and are available on his website David Doyle Books as well as other online outlets. David Doyle’s website features books on all kinds of military equipment, from armor to airplanes to vehicles to ships. He also has books about British and German military equipment.  I am getting nothing for recommending David Doyle’s books, just pointing them out anyone who may be interested.

 

Posted in Family, Old Movies, WWII

Communications With Loved Ones During WWII

In today’s age of technology we have a variety of ways to instantly communicate with our loved ones, even those who are serving overseas in the military. We have cell phones that allow us to communicate by phone call, by text, by social media apps like Instant Messenger, Snap Chat or Instagram. We can even communicate face to face using programs like Skype.

Not so during World War II. In the 1940’s the most used form of communication was the letter. Yes. Actual hand-written, paper letters. Many a romance blossomed through letters written over the long months and years of separation.

The telephone did exist, but long-distance telephone calls were expensive. You couldn’t dial the number and have your loved one answer, not if you were calling someone out of town. You had to get a long-distance operator and have her place your call. Yes, I said “her” because all the telephone operators were women. This wasn’t a wartime thing. Women were always used for telephone operators.

It would have been rare and extremely expensive to place an overseas telephone call during the war, although these were possible due to the undersea cables. But they were very limited. Roosevelt may have called Churchill in England but the average person could not call up their son stationed over there.

Another mode of communication used in the 1940’s was the telegram. Western Union operated telegraph offices in practically every town in America. If someone wanted to send an urgent message to a loved one far away, say a son stationed at a military base in another state, then they would go to the Western Union office and send a telegram. Western Union employed delivery boys or girls or older men to deliver telegrams from the telegraph office to the addressee’s home or office. Mickey Rooney earned an Academy Award Nomination for his role as a telegraph delivery boy in The Human Comedy. It is a little known film well worth watching.

Although telegrams could deliver joyful news, like the birth of a baby or a loved-one’s pending arrival, telegrams often conveyed bad news, like a death, so many people dreaded receiving one. The U. S. Government used telegrams to notify families when a soldier was killed, wounded or missing in action.

Telegrams and telephone calls weren’t instantaneous but, for the time, they were quick forms of communication. On the other hand, letters could take anywhere from days to weeks to reach their destination. Mail sent to soldiers or sailors overseas might take two weeks each way. And they might not arrive in the order they were sent. Pretty hard to carry on a conversation at that rate. And if the mail bag was blown up or sunk the letter never got to its intended recipient.

The military devised a method to both speed up the mail and to cut down on the bulky shipments. They called it V-mail or Victory Mail. The person at either end would write their letter on a special, V-mail form. After mailing the V-mail form would be photographed and put on microfilm. The microfilm would be transported overseas, to Europe or Australia or wherever, and at the other end the microfilm would be printed. This printed “V-mail letter” would then be delivered to the addressee.

So be glad you live in this modern age of instant communication. Or maybe not. Back during World War II when you wrote a letter you had to think about what you were going to say, weigh the words your loved on would read far away on some battlefield or home worrying about you. The letters were often saved and cherished for years, especially love letters from someone special far away.

My mother saved a box of letters my father wrote to her during World War II. Reading them not only told me about the events of the time but also gave me insight into who my parents were as young people, their thoughts and feelings. It’s the kind of thing this current generation won’t have thanks to our various technological modes of communication.

Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

4th Armored Division Memoir – Battle Rattle

While researching the history of the 4th Armored Division during WWII, I came across a fascinating memoir “Battle Rattle” by Roger Boas. The memoir was written when Boas was older as an effort to convey to his family what he had been through during the war and how those experiences influenced the rest of his life.

The deeply moving account begins in the author’s early years and provides an insightful background as to his physical and emotional state at the beginning of the war. Although a practicing Christian Scientist, Boas was acutely aware of his family’s Jewish heritage. This gave him a perspective that was different from many American soldiers. A graduate of Stanford and its Artillery ROTC, Boas entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant in early 1942. The newly minted officer went through training in several locations around the country and was eventually assigned to the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Armored Division.

The title of the book, “Battle Rattle,” is a term Boas says was used to refer to the ailment soldiers suffered as a result of combat similar to the term “Shell Shock” used during World War I.  The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which defined the psychological and physical disorder that results from experiencing various types of trauma, did not come into use until Boas was much older. As he says in the book, after World War II soldiers were given no assistance in returning to civilian life. No one acknowledged that military personnel who had been in combat might have problems that prevented them from settling down, from making sound decisions, from dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Many of these combat veterans had trouble holding down jobs. Some developed drinking problems. Some suffered from bouts of depression or raging tempers. Boas realized late in his life that he suffered from PTSD, as did many others, including my father-in-law.

The book is well written and provides many personal accounts of events during the war. One event in particular that affected Boas deeply was when he and another officer, Bob Parker, came upon the Ohrdruf Camp which they would later learn was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Images of emaciated bodies piled up after being executed and partially burned bodies would stay with him the remainder of his life.

If anyone is wondering why I am interested in the 4th Armored Division, my father-in-law’s unit, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, was attached to the Fourth Armored Division in March and April 1945. I wanted to learn more about the 4th Armored Division’s activities during this time. It was an added bonus to find a memoir of a soldier who had served in an Armored Field Artillery Battalion and whose experiences might be similar to those of my father-in-law.

There were differences between the two which affected each’s view of the war. My father-in-law was a sergeant assigned to one of the M-7 track-mounted artillery guns where Roger Boas was a lieutenant who served as a Forward Observer for the 94th AFA. Nevertheless, the memoir provided insight into the thinking of a soldier and how he dealt with his experiences. The account also provided vivid accounts of the action that the 4th Armored Division saw during the time the 276th AFA was attached.

Dad’s Gun

Another reason for my research is for my current work-in-progress. I strive to make the information about the war as accurate as possible. Roger Boas has provided me with insight into not only the mind of a soldier but also into his emotional responses to very stressful events. This will be invaluable in creating a realistic hero in my novel.