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Walton Hall

Men handling large wooden crates in an open field

Likely this is unpacking in England at Walton Hall. From the collection of Irving Mayer.

Walton Pall Manor, the former site of a Roman camp is situated between two fine estates: one Compton Verney, also occupied by the militia, and the other Charleot Park on the road to Stratford on Avon. Wellesbourn was a village only a mile from the manor.

The manor house, referred to all as the “Castle,” was erected about 1860 on the foundation of a previous house of which the stable blocks still remained. In the reign of Edward the 7th, many hunts and matches were held at the manor and it assumed a great social significance. Sir Charles Morduant received it as a gift on his twenty-first birthday.

The rich furnishings were in storage except for those in the upper apartment of the dowager Lady Morduant who resided there. The occupancy of British, Belgian, Czech, and American soldiers plus the lack of help and high taxes had left their marks. 23rd Hq’s arrival found the estate well run down. The fine planned landscape and weathered interior alone testified to the vanished magnificence.

Because of its strategic location, 23d Hq. decided that it would occupy the “Castle” and adjacent Neisen huts.  The other units of the organization were tactically placed in pyramidal tents about the estate.

Upon arrival at the Manor, each man was issued an extra blanket and then the company started settling in its new quarters. The business of setting up house occupied the first day on English soil.

On May 20th, army routine had hardly reared its head when the announcement was made that passes would be issued from 1730 to 2200 to Leamington and nearby Wellesbourne. This was a welcome surprise as the men had expected a longer period of quarantine. So now Wellesbourne and Leamington became the objective of the troops and were reconnoitered by large night forces.

Before sallying forth, the pass patrols were checked for the paraphernalia necessary for moonlight sorties. The check was an “open ranks” affair in which each man stood at attention with his right arm bent so that the fore arm was horizontal with the ground, hand open, palm up, fingers extended and joined. Reposing neatly in the palm was a pro-kit with accompanying rubber in juxtaposition. Besides looking at the extended palms, the inspecting officer also noted the uniforms, hair cuts and general appearance of the men. Everything had to pass for a pass.

With the evening hours properly scheduled, the company commenced a daytime training program. The schedule was composed of various classes on subjects pertinent to combat soldiers, blended with the necessary amount of calisthenics, C.O.D. and bikes to keep the men in fighting trim.

These classes stressed in particular security and squad and platoon combat tactics, in line with the policy of the C.O., Capt. Rebh, who held that a soldier can’t know too much about these subjects. As this policy had been in effect since the Capt. first assumed command, the soldiers in the company had a much keener grasp of the subjects than the other men of 23d Hq.

The day and night schedules ran smoothly for one day. It was then decided that the company would provide the security and some labor for an area in which the 603d Engineer Co. was testing and repairing rubber dummies. This decision altered both day and night routines much to the displeasure of the pass patrols.

The area guarded was located in back of the company’s camp site. The land used was mostly wooded, only a small assembling and packing space being open fields. The working sector was bounded on one side by 300 yards of camp plus 300 yards of open fields. A 300 yard stretch of well used civilian highway formed the second side while 600 yards more of open field bordered the rear of the area. Wooded terrain running for 300 yards was on the fourth side.

The posts were located in a manner that provided cross observation. Three men were assigned to each post for a twenty four hour period; the men slept on the post. One half the company manned the posts each twenty four hour shift while the other half worked on the rubber items, attended classes or hit the pass detail.

Before taking over the guard, the men of the company were instructed that all work in the area was secret and that no unauthorized persons would be permitted to enter the working sector. A list of authorized personnel was furnished the entrance guards and the personnel were, in turn, informed to use only this passage for entering or leaving the enclosure.

The first few days these security precautions were frequently violated by the working personnel. To remedy this, the sentries were issued ammunition and told they would be held strictly accountable for even minor infractions of the security orders. Hard labor was the least a guard could expect if he failed to carry out Captain Rebh’s orders. After the delivery of this ultimatum, it was not unusual to hear warning shot whistling over the head of someone who attempted a short cut by climbing a boundary fence. The guard never had to fire more than one shot per infringer.

While one half the company stood the guard, most of the other half assisted the 603d in working on the dummies. An assembly line technique was used in testing and repairing the dummies; 406 men were employed, in the line, to carry the inflated items to the various processors and to pack the approved items in their cases.

The assembly line was composed of six operations or stages. At the start, the procedure was to inflate a dummy and place it in the woods until the carrying crew was ready for it. When the crew came for it, if it still had a reasonable amount of shape, the dummy was carried up to an inflating station. After once more being fully inflated, it was taken to a stenciling team where large encircled white allied stars were painted on. From here, the dummy was toted further up the hill until an open level field was reached. At this field, the item was parked long enough to ascertain the whereabouts of the leaks, if any. If the item leaked, it was deadlined or patched. Deadlining indicated that it could not be repaired by field patching. After the dummy was approved, it was deflated, folded, and packed in a canvass covering which was then labeled as to the type of item it contained.

The assembly line started at the bottom of a hill in the working section and ended at the top. Hauling the dummies up the hill was a tiresome and hot job, so it was quite apropos of the 406th men when they sang such songs as the “Volga Boat Man” or “Ole Man River” as they plodded up the hill with the dummies on their broad shoulders.

During these activities, the oral reports of the “pass patrols” and the opinions of the camp’s recluses were banded about. Those who had concentrated on the near by village of Wellesbourne told of the numerous Waaf girls, from the nearby airfield, who frequented the town. These girls were very friendly and many of the men had down-to-earth “chats” with them.

Other soldiers had struck up friendships with the local civilian belles and rang them. Wellesbourne also had four taverns to offer, where “bitters” and an occasional whiskey was dispensed until nine o’clock or until the stocks were exhausted, which ever was sooner. Twice a week, dances were held in the local canteen. These were heavily attended by the “Yanks”, Waafs, and R.A.F. men. From these chaps, the men learned that the Wellington bombers which constantly roared over the camp were flown by training crews.

The devotees of Leamington boasted of bigger pubs, larger but more crowed dance floors, and all the other attributes of a sleepy spa in which a deluge of troops of both sexes had been turned loose.

However, the more esthetic found delight in the fine band concerts and the pretty parks. The profusion of English soldiers of the opposite sex aided the men immensely in acquiring a knowledge of British open field tactics.

Mingled in the conversation concerning Wellesbourne and Leamington Spa were various comments on England and English life. The long days were a constant source of wonder and, of course, the weather received a going over. Before the company’s arrival, the land had been subject to a long draught. When told of this, the men had commented, “There’ll be rain now that we’re here.” Sure ‘nough, the gods of rain, who had followed the company since “basic,” upheld the men in their statement and the walks around the tents turned into slippery mud which proved many a man’s downfall when falling out on the “double.”

The English monetary system and the left hand drive were mulled over for a brief period, but the crap shooters and drivers soon mastered both. All agreed that the country side came up to the raves of the pre-war travelogues. The absence of the “line” associated with color produced much discussion. “Any gum, chum?” was immediately adopted.

As for camp life, the system of preparing mess was a constant topic, especially in the chow line. One large Niesen type hut kitchen was provided for the use of the 406th and 603d Engineers. The 406th kitchen staff took turns with the various kitchen companies of the 603d in preparing meals for the combined companies. After one complete go round of the various kitchen staffs, the men grudgingly agreed that cantankerous S/Sgt. George Terry had the best cuisine.

The camp latrines were subjects of “capacity conversations” which resulted in some of them being declared “Off Limits.” Someone suggested that cutting the food rations in half would solve the problem, but before the idea got beyond the suggestion stage, auxiliary straddle trenches were dug. Arrangements were made to have the civilian latrine contractors dip-in more often. This enabled the regular latrines to be opened to their public and resulted in the closing of the straddle trench smoking rooms.

Much ado was made over the quality of the camp’s sod and it was put forth that the billowing surface of the land was intended to stop the landing of hostile aircraft. The richness of the lawn lent a measure of authenticity to the rumor that no digging would be permitted. This, of course, meant that the sedative, hard labor, would not be administered to those suffering with A.R. breakdowns.

The rumor had no sooner started when a fatigue clad figure appeared on the turf and carefully started removing the sod from a plot measuring 6’x6’. The figure in question had, somehow, forgot about something the A.Rs. After a heart-to-heart talk with the Captain, someone mentioned that magic number, “104,” and a specific number of days not exceeding seven.

In a day or two, the first figure was joined by another and, after that, there always seemed to be one or more assigned to carry on when the others finished their punishment. The “banjos,” as the pick and shovel were fondly referred to in the company, were well strummed at Walton Hall. All players agreed that the softness of the English soil was only skin deep; after that, it was tough going.

For those interested in the licentious side of army life the morning report of May 25 states that in an order dated May 16, the company was released from attachment to 3d U.S. Army for Supply and Administration and attached to the 8th Corp for S.& A.

The schedule of alternating guarding “the hill” and working on it ran from May 21 until June 10th. This routine was operating but a few days when classes were resumed for the men whenever they were free of either duty.

A refresher course was given in demolitions. In its classes, the men became acquainted with some of the various British explosives, and through actual demonstration learned the characteristics of gun cotton, British primer cord, and Nobel 808.

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