Training for D-Day in Winchester, England

by Kim on July 20, 2013

Austin-Slide-ScanningMy sister Jane visited Winchester England on the first days of our European trip while my husband and I went to Ieper, Belgium to visit our daughter’s fiance’s parents (more on that later).  Jane met with a fellow who was a school boy of 13 when the American soldiers were stationed there. Actually, there were soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, as well as the British soldiers who were stationed there and were training for the D-Day invasion. My sister and her husband arrived 90 minutes late and Mr. Len Burke waited for her because he was so appreciative of how the American soldiers helped his country and also how they treated the citizens of Winchester. They particularly liked that the Americans were kind and were generous with their chewing gum and small change. The American soldiers were able to leave their barracks and training facility to come into town a few days per week. On their free time, the Americans played football (soccer) with the youth after school.

Mr. Burke toured the town with Jane and pointed her to the girl’s school that was an American hospital during the war. It is very likely that this hospital was where my father stayed for two months after his first injury in Sicily. According to Len’s recollections, air raids happened daily and the community had Zeppelin balloons afloat to keep the enemy airplanes from diving down into the town when they attacked. The balloons would entangle the plane and cause it to crash, so the enemy pilots stayed at a certain height during their bombing missions on England. At one point a school was bombed and 100 school children died during the bombing. Jane was able to tour the former barracks which once held 20 men to a room and are now million pound flats where the well-to-do live. A fountain is where the tarmac used to be where the troops would parade for review. Churchill and Eisenhower stood in front of this building and quite possibly our father marched before them. At least Churchill and Eisenhower saw the troops when my father was there. Jane visited the very same soil that my father was on for 10 months of his WWII tour (2 months in the hospital and 8 months of training with the rest of Operation Overlord troops from the US and Britain.).

The next day, Jane and Bill boarded a ferry from Dover to Calais France, where we would meet her. She crossed the English Channel to experience in a simplistic way the voyage my father took 69 years earlier on D-day plus four. It took my sister two hours to cross the channel as she sat in the executive lounge of the ferry. It took my Dad two days to cross in the open bow of a Liberty transport ship (LTS) with 200 other men. Dad was likely carrying a 60-pound Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and wondering what the enemy held for him. As he traveled to the shores of Normandy, he was sailed to secure the shores of liberty for essentially most of the world.

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