Yes, I know: it should be a 48-star flag... The 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, 1943 to 1945

England (Part 5)

STONEHENGE

We vacated Camp Blandford, Dorset, and that afternoon we arrived at our bivouac area, a large field almost in the shadow of Stonehenge -- one of England's "wonders". (We were inclined to wonder at many things, in England, but this is one that is listed in all good guide-books.)

To a globe-trotter, this might seem an intriguing spot in which to spend some time. Perhaps -- but we were more consumed with a zeal for home-making than with curiosity, and we failed to appreciate the ruins immediately. Our primary task was to convert a small part of the barren Salisbury Plain into a thriving pup-tent community.

The first week or so was devoted to development. Tho the development period was favored with balmy weather, we were soon subjected to some of the same weather that inspired the building of Noah's famed Arc. Subsequently, the little techniques of comfort learned while draining our tents aided us greatly when, in later months, fox-holes became the fashion.

As we had never before lived under full-scale "field conditions" we had some amazing misconceptions of what it would be like. For instance, some of us were under the impression that garrison routines would now be disregarded. No sooner had headquarters set up its typewriters than we were hit with a schedule of reveille, calisthenics, close-order drill, and enough formations to wear out the first sergeant's whistle. Surprisingly, we all survived.

It was here that our first super-deluxe "six- and "eight-holers" were engineered. Indeed, the high quality of work turned out by our carpenters, in every country visited by the 115th, can be traced back to these original masterpieces.

There were no losses due to extra-curricular activity, either. Yes, we were given passes. In fact we had ten percent of our personnel scattered throughout England, one time, when all passes in the E.T.O. were cancelled. This was during one of the "invasion feints" familiar to U.K. veterans, and the boys who were out came back with some pretty colorful stories about M.P. dodging, cross-examinations, and languishing in assorted coolers.

Also in the line of recreation, an inter-battery Soft ball league was organized. When "A" Battery came through, undefeated, they entertained hopes of being represented in E.T.O. competition -- but got no further than the next field, where a TD. pitcher had somehow contrived to transfer the muzzle-velocity of his 75 into his right arm.

Aside from our regular A.A. training, the most outstanding highlight on our training schedule occured on May 17th, when one gun from each battery, plus range equipment, went to the Exmoor Artillery Range to undergo F.A. trials. On the 19th, we proved capable of accepting F. A. missions, should the occasion arise, by scoring hit after hit on our targets. There were also a few reports concerning several mangled sheep that filtered, somehow, into the "results" data of our firing.

On our return to Stonehenge, instead of being greeted with anxious inquiries about the firing, we were swamped with excerpts from a speech given by General Timberlake. Other than making some very optimistic forecasts, the garrulous old gent had salted his talk, heavily, with language generally attributed to top-kicks. Everyone agreed that he had imparted much of his confidence of spirit to our invasion-leery bunch, and we were proud that we were to be in his Fourty-ninth Brigade when the big operation commenced.

As D Day approached, the problem of supply became overwhelming. We've often heard that "Necessity is the mother of invention", but it took those trying days to teach us that the supply sergeant is its father! It became so increasingly difficult to obtain our essentials "through channels" that each battery's supply sergeant was turned out to fend for himself. How well they managed to bring home the bacon was aptly illustrated by the thorough way with which all our vehicles and equipment received their vital water-proofing. Another of their great achievments was the substitution of rubber tracks on our "cats'' for the old-style metal cleats. When riding on the latter you pictured your kidneys as a cocktail-shaker in the hands of an over-enthusiastic bartender!

The seriousness of the time was impressed upon us, more strongly than ever before, on June 1st, 1944, when we bid farewell to our advance party. They were placed on detached service, in order to go ashore in advance when the invasion started and prepare our way. Specifically, they were to select battery positions and generally acquaint themselves with the situation.

On the morning of June 6th, 1944, we realized, without official announcement, that D Day had arrived! None of us will ever forget the sight of thousands of B17's and C47's, their heavily laden gliders in tow lumbering across the sky. Others that had preceded them across the channel were winging their way in the opposite direction, with side-doors off and static lines trailing.

On June 8th, we were a sober crew as we loaded up and headed for our Marshalling Area.

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leaves Camp Blandford on the 11th of May, 1944 to bivouac in a field at Stonehenge, their first time to live under full-scale "field conditions". The Battalion qualifies for Field Artillery missions in exercises at Exmoor Artillery Range. Their invasion Advance Party departs on June 1, and the unit leaves Stonehenge on the 8th of June (two days after D-Day) for embarkation.
 
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:10:13 PDT
The original text of The Story of the 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, published by the unit in 1945, is in the public domain. So how, you may ask, can I claim that the contents of these web pages are protected by copyright?

The answer is that it is my own transcription of the text and images into electronic format, and compilation into these web pages that is copyrighted. In addition, the web design, art, and annotations, plus all material from my father's personal albums are copyrighted original works. I reserve all rights to how all these materials are used. You may not copy them or store them in any retrieval system without permission.