The Yanks are here

Throughout 1942 and up to the Allied landing in Normandy there was an ever increasing build up of soldiers in and around Chandlers Ford, a small detachment of French Canadians set up camp on part of what had been the brick field in Common Road and at about that time a rifle range was built at the bottom of Camels Hump with the butt being built into the rising ground on the edge of Knightwood, I think there was only two or three at most, targets. The range was built by the Home Guard but the Canadians also used it using a tracked Brengun Carrier to reach it, via a track through Ramalley Copse, They gave our gang a ride on the carrier through the copse on a number of occasions.

We got on very well with them in fact they arranged a party in Ritchie Hall for the village kids. Each invited kid was taken by one of the soldiers, I remember being picked up from home by a very good looking Canadian but I quickly decided that he would rather have taken a girl, I can’t remember much about the party nor what the entertainment was but there was almost certainly a conjurer at some point, I don’t think I hardly said a word to my host nor him to me, but I was not a party lover anyhow, so our lack of communication was almost likely down to my reticence. The sad thing was that most of the Canadians camped in Common Road were killed in the first hours of landing on the French coast.

Other indications of military build up was that more and more convoys of army vehicles came down Hursley Road, I never saw one going up, these were empty lorries on training exercise’s, the first vehicle was a Standard car with a red flag and an officer stood up in the passengers seat directing operations and it would be followed by roughly fifty 5 ton Bedford lorries, the first vehicles were going no faster than about ten miles per hour but the last ones were going nearly fifty. Apart from vehicle convoys there was infantry manoeuvres and route marches where fully equipped soldiers passed our house in groups of about twelve soldiers with a sergeant alongside each group, each group was placed alternatively on each side of the road. It took ages for all the troops to pass, they looked absolutely exhausted, their faces grey with fatigue, Pat and I stood outside our gate and offered them apples as they passed but we had very few takers, for the most part they did not seem to even have the energy left to make an effort to eat on the move but I’m quite sure that this very hard training held them in good stead in the long run.

I’m not positive exactly when the Americans came to the village but one day on my way to school there were workmen working in Valley Road placing used bricks from bombed out houses against the kerbs then the full width of the pavement, was cover in depth with cinders, white lines were painted on the road forming bays each bay being numbered, nearly every side road in the northern end of the village was treated in this way leaving only Park Road clear, additionally all the cross roads junctions were dug up and replaced by thick concrete,

At that time we had no idea what was about to happen but shortly after, almost overnight, all of the bays were occupied by a ten wheeled American army lorries, bumper to bumper. One thing that struck me, apart from all the lorries had a white stars painted on the doors, was that each had an impossibly long registration number painted in about 3” letters along the entire length of the bonnet, there was a mix of hard and canvas topped cabins but mostly hard topped and all the backs had canvas covers. Thus the Americans arrived, a cook house, all under canvas and staffed almost entirely by black Americans occupied a site halfway along Valley Road and ablution blocks were built in various places around the area. Each side of Hiltingbury Road on what had been heathland was given over to wooden huts and metal Nissen Huts with a very large Blister Hanger built on the north side of the road as a massive store.

There was a constant going up and down Hursley Road of these ten wheeled lorries and Jeeps often fully loaded with soldiers, on occasions they had a display of white balloons tied to the canvass support bars, well we kids thought they were balloons but we learned later that they were inflated ‘french letters or contraceptives, having got that information, at that time, as to what a ‘french letter’ was, we were none the wiser as to what they were used for.

By that time, our milkman had been replaced by a milk lady who was quite young and not bad looking, the Americans would often wolf whistle at her and throw cigarettes and ‘K’ rations towards her, very often she failed to pick-up all that was thrown, so our gang would pick them up instead, thus I was introduced to smoking and became very familiar with all the most smoked American brands such as ‘Lucky Strike’, ‘Camel’ and ‘Marlbourgh’ in fact we retrieved more cigarettes than we could smoke so had to find a secret hiding place to store them, unfortunately our chosen hiding place for one batch of sixty cigarettes was not water proof and after one particular heavy storm the whole lot was reduced to a soggy mess. ‘K’ rations were whole meals packed in a form of kaki coloured grease proof cardboard, they were well worth having and often contained ‘cookies’ the American name for biscuits and chewing gum.

American gum was much sought after by school children, I think that our own ‘Wriggles’ gum was way behind the Yanks in appeal, G.I’s were often approached by young boys asking if they had ‘got any gum chum’ and more often than not a soldier would toss over a packet. Oranges were practically none existent to the general populace but one day on my way home from school there was a ten wheeler parked in Valley Road piled high with oranges for the American troops, I sure that I would have been given some if I’d asked but there seemed to be plenty of cargo space on the dangerous Atlantic crossing for them to have oranges but not for us.

Rod had become very friendly with the black Americans in the cook house, and spent quite a lot of time with them, he most have said that we Brits were rationed for meat, one day a very big black soldier accompanied by Rod arrived on our door step with a huge chunk of beef over his shoulder but mum politely declined to accept it, I’m sure that most others would have been happy to take it but not mum who was to scared to. Up to this time I don’t think we had ever seen a back person close up so that was a sort of novelty in itself but it must have been strange for them also, because in their own country they suffered segregation from the whites, which did not exist in this country where they treated as equals, with no barriers.

Although we had all these lorries parked along the roads, we did not see that many Americans near them as they were camped further up the village but what we did get was the noise of generators charging up the lorry batteries which often droned on all night. Soldiers being soldiers spent a lot of time in the local pubs and could often be heard staggering their way back to camp, singing out load and generally mucking about, on one occasion one of the drunk soldiers was dumped in our front garden, his mates having got fed up with handling this legless one, allowing him to ‘sleep it off ‘ but mum was very unhappy with the situation, she had no experience with drink or drunkenness and kept a watchful eye on him and every now and again would report ‘he’s still there’, I think he remained in the garden all night and only left at first light but mum got very little sleep by keeping watch, I don’t know just what mum expected might happen nor what she saw as a threat from the totally inebriated man but she was very nervous that night.