Chapter 8 - Overseas Shipment and Combat Group Assignment

I kept a daily journal from the time I left Camp Kilmer, to my assignment to the 422nd Bomb Squadron of the 305 Bomb Group which was part of the 40th Combat Wing, 1st Division of the 8th Air Force Stationed in England. It was to be posted after my arrival and assignment. The 305th was located just outside of Chelvaston a small town 80 miles north of London. This section of England was literally one gigantic landing field with groups based as close as 10 miles apart.

November 30, 1944

Well ` this is it’. I had often heard these words said in jest but `THIS WAS IT’

On the train last night in a moment of quite reflection I was surprised to see how well the Air Corps had prepared us all for this moment. It was just another move, the boys singing, playing cards and kidding as they always did. I felt calm and at ease, just wondering and waiting.

We left the camp last night in the midst of a penetrating rain looking like a bunch of raunchy infantrymen, since we had been issued leggings, helmets and packs for the trip. From the train we were ferried across the Hudson River to a pier on 40th street, Manhattan. We were greeted by the Red Cross and handed coffee, doughnuts and chocolate bars. The ocean liner was the Ile de France, staterooms were assigned to the officers(about 20 to a room) and mess cards.

It took only a couple of hours at sea for the sea sick cases to appear. The boat starting rolling and pitching as soon as we left the harbor. After eight hours during our first life boat drill the sea got so rough that many of the men were stretched out on the deck, their faces various shades of green. I did fairly well but the sack was welcomed and the thought of food grim.

Dec. 1, 1944

Many miles now between us, Doris ! I had breakfast and felt OK but Jackson and Mulvaney are still having their troubles. Rumor has it that we are headed for Glasgow, Scotland.

Visited the enlisted men, deep in the bowels of the ship, bunks stacked four high, the ventilation far from adequate.

Hot water available from 6.00 A.M. to 9.30 A.M. We’ve been sneaking the enlisted men in for the hot water which is not available to them.

Most of the nurses abroad are still sea sick so things are quiet.

All the men aboard are taking the trip like veterans-surprising what you can put up with when necessary.

Funny how your outlook changes once you leave the states. Previously you hang on to your past memories and hopes. When you leave you don't forget them but tuck them away in the deepest recesses of your mind and look ahead more eagerly to the happy days of your return. Another way of looking at it; with the present not too pleasant we turn to the future as something to keep us going until the future becomes the present.


December 2, 1944

Extremely hot with the portholes closed lost night. Daytime with the portholes open the cool ocean breeze is enjoyable.

Was given a `Guide to Great Britain’; explains the monetary system and English customs.

The officers lounge was all noise and confusion so back to the sack with some gabbing with the other inmates.

Trip is getting monotonous at this point.


December 3, 1944

Services were held all over the boat this morning. Lots of the boys are suddenly getting religious.

Only a week since we were together but I’ve been doing a lot of wondering about how you are getting on etc. After supper instead of another dull evening had a loud conversation with our steward; circumstances leading up to the war, the was itself, the attitude of the people toward the Russians (solid support from the working class) and the English weather. Also got some dope from a combat man on battle formations; he was going back for a second tour.

Inevitably the conversations end up with men’s talk, about the ladies.


December 4, 1944

Lifeboat drill once again then a blackjack game after supper; seven dollars ahead after two hours. Not bad for a neophyte. Visited the boys once again. Conditions are worse than ever; hot, dirty, very little light. They sweat out PX lines. However, despite it all they are quite cheerful.

Guard duty for me tonight; twelve to four, down in one of the holds, playing wet nurse to the enlisted men.


December 5, 1944

We passed a large convoy this morning; about 50 ships. However, I missed it as I was busy - asleep. The 3 inch and 6 inch guns were fired for practice today. Make a lot of noise. Reading material is growing short. Ran across a book on 'marriage' brought to mind the thirteen months we spent together. I marvel at how we got to know each other, understand each other and learned to live together. The happiest time of my life.

Discussed the Old and New Testament with a young gunner. Was enjoyable and a learning experience for me.

December 6, 1944

Another dreary, monotonous day. The other officers get pissed at the way we come to chow. Some in flight suits and others without ties. They glare at our interplay with the waiters.

Saw a bird of some sort while at lifeboat drill. Apparently we are getting close to land. A medical inspection was called for all personnel (short arm for the men); women were included somehow.

A USO show, put on for officers only. This is a democracy? We supplied officer insignia to our crew members so they were able to attend.


December 7, 1944

We sighted the Irish coast this morning. Nothing much to it; all we could see was the craggy coast off in the distance; probably off land within 24 hours. There were planes overhead and a couple of small destroyers escorting us. I suppose the German subs are a problem close to the coast when our speed is reduced.

Irons went back to the sick bay. He may need a knee operation, it was injured during loading in New York. I would hate to lose him, he’s a good kid and a fine gunner.

Drew K-rations for our train trip tomorrow, 3 boxes so it is unlikely the trip will be longer than 18 hours. Am packed and ready to go.

December 8, 1944

At 6.00 A.M. we were still on the boat, tied up at the pier. The Scottish landscape was a peculiarly awesome and somehow desolate scene. Off in the distance, all around us, the craggy highlands; many of the mountains snow covered. It was given a reddish hue by the rays of a rather chilled looking sun. Nestling at the foot of the mountains were isolated houses and little village groups which resembled scenes from Charles Dickens stories. In the bay itself which is an anchorage for other large vessels such as ours were more transports and naval vessels. To top off the scene sea gulls kept ducking in and out of the boats rigging. All and all the scene does not leave ones memory for awhile.


December 9, 1944

Finally left the transport this afternoon, looking once more like overloaded 'puddle feet' (infantrymen). A ferrylike contraption shuttled us to shore in small groups. Trains were waiting and little time was lost boarding them. We pulled out almost immediately with just enough time to see hikers coming down from the mountains; some of them in kilts. The girls were all husky and carried their packs like men.

The train was a speedy little thing, divided into compartments, just as we’ve seen in the movies. Did not see much of the countryside as night fell rapidly. What was most impressive was the neat, well built houses; they all seem to carry on air of thriftiness about them. We sampled our first English beer during a 10 minute layover at a small English town about seven miles from the Scottish border.

The brakeman became quite friendly after we gave him the sugar and cigarettes from our K-rations. He spoke of the strict rationing of meat, eggs and milk. Also mentioned the horrible bombings of 1940 and 41; some lasting as long as 12 hours. The buzz bombs fell in the vicinity of London only.

December 10, 1944

Well, we are now in a replacement center somewhere in England. The trains pulled in at the dead of night, during a typical English rain. We were loaded on trucks and driven very slowly thru the fog to our present location. Our quarters are cubicles; four men to a compartment, in a concrete building. All sweets, soap, razors and cigarettes are rationed. We will be here only long enough to receive our permanent base assignment.

What a joke blundering around here at night. Complete blackout; you walk into buildings, other people, and in circles and are awfully surprised when you finally arrive at your destination.


December 11, 1944

(At this point the journal kept during the ocean crossing was posted and I continued to write and post daily letters to Doris in Brooklyn, New York)

Dear Doris,

No mail from you yet - but I keep hoping.

Jackson, Mulvaney and I went into a nearby city last night. The ride in was with an English cabby who was quite a hell raiser on the road. Narrow country roads and blackout conditions in addition to driving on the left side made the drive one to be remembered. We  shut our eyes and hung on, arriving unscathed in about 20 minutes. It was necessary to give the cabby a password for the return trip and a meeting time and place since cabs were in short supply because of gas rationing. We were jumped by a group of kids begging for pennies and gum. They knew that Americans were an easy mark. After strolling thru the dark streets for awhile we decided to ask a bobby (policeman) for directions to the nearest pub. In the shadows of a doorway we noticed a fine looking old gent in a blue uniform with a stick in his hand so Mulvaney swaggered over and got the information, then was surprised to see Jackson stiffen up and salute. The bobby turned out to be a Colonel in the British Army.

Afterward a little kid guided us to the local dance hall. The girls were eager for company and kept dancing by. There were the good girls and the others, with high skirts and too much face paint.

Next stop was the best hotel in town for a meal; the menu was calfs tongue and more calfs tongue; no tea or milk in the coffee, then stopped at the adjacent pub. This was most interesting of all. Pubs are not like our beer joints. They are quieter and more like a club house for both men and women of the neighborhood. Initially, we were greeted with a heavy silence for about five minutes. Finally one patron broke the silence and we were overwhelmed with friendly questions; where were we from and so on.

The trip back to camp was another helter-skelter affair but we made it back in one price.

Hopefully, we will get our assignment soon.



14 December 1944 Somewhere in England

Dearest Doris,

Still no mail or assignment yet. I’ve never mentioned the English toilet paper; its a cross between wax paper and wrapping paper; and let me tell you it falls far short of doing its job. Today we finally discovered that the officers club has some of the good old American kind so I guess we shall be frequenting the club more often.

Am writing at the officers club. The usual hanger flying going on, somebody playing the piano cigarette smoke clouding everything, checker and card games with pound notes being thrown about like dollar bills.

Another USO show tonight but I think I’ll pass with thoughts of you and a detective novel.

Good night darling


15 December 1944 Somewhere in England

Hi sweetheart,

Still hanging around and not liking it a bit. Nothing to do here but gamble, read, sleep and think. The thinking conjures up thoughts of Central Park, Prospect Park, Arcadia, Albany Sebring, Tampa and being together. I think of the walks, the talks, the planning. Enough I’m writing myself into a case of the dumps.

Sure as shooting theres a chicken---t major in every camp. This one had restricted everybody in the camp for some obscure reason. The laugh was on him as nobody wanted to go into town anyway. Nothing but ` bitches and old sluts; a statement made by the town bobby.

Finally found a piece of wood for carving, managed to take a piece from a shanty being built. Will be carving a 3/4 size model of the 45 caliber automatics issued to us. This activity should save my fingernails.

Lots of lucky boys coming thru, homeward bound after finishing their missions over Germany. Thats my next goal !

All my love



16 December 1944

My congratulations on our 14th anniversity (months that is). Lots of memories packed into a short time.

I’ve been trying to get a haircut for days. Only one barber makes it quite a problem; only fifteen ahead of me. So back to the barrack to finish the plans for the gun model I’ve been working on.

At the officers club after eating evening chow. Picked up some bread to keep me going to tomorrow noon. Get hungry as hell without an icebox to raid. Perhaps I ought to shop around these English gals to see if I can’t remedy the situation?

Still no orders and none in sight for awhile apparently.

Nothing much else.




17 December 1944 Somewhere in England

Hello Babe,

Hopped out of bed this morning, wrapped a towel around my middle and ran out into the cold to check a large shipping order that had been posted; no soap again. This hanging around can be nerve wracking.

Seems strange but its only 3 weeks since we were together. This interval has been a whirl. Got my candy and cigarette ration today. The candy will be eaten with gusto. They tell me cigarettes and soap are the way to a womans heart over here. Is that so?

Good new, Irons is back with us, in good shape.

Still your Ray


18 December 1944 Somewhere in England

Finally got that haircut after a two hour wait, real close. Found the carpentry shop and was able to rough cut my gun model. It felt good to feel those tools in my hands again; been a long time since having the opportunity. As I worked I felt that familiar ache in my stomach; breathed a sign and then remembered I had not eaten breakfast.

By the way, the boys taught me the game of seven card stud; it cost them 16 dollars. I never did tell them that doing card manipulations was an early hobby of mine. Thought it best to be discreet although the game was strictly legitimate.

Its funny how all the sentimental songs that couldn’t penetrate my thick hide in the states take on new significance now that so many miles separate us. Pleasant dreams.

All my love



19 December 1944 Somewhere in England

Good morning sweetheart,

Wal, they did it this morning. Roused us out of bed, gave us three hours to get dressed eat, pack and clear the post. We were eagerly ready after little more than an hour.

Its mighty close to Christmas. I know where I’d like to be at that time. However, in view of the situation I may be sitting over Berlin.

I wrote the above about 15 hours ago, to bring you up to date. Left the replacement depot about noon and were driven to the railroad station and received our travel orders. The air field was only a short distance but since it was directly east and the major lines run north and south it required four changes, loading and unloading each time. There where interesting characters all around us. On the first, a sergeant headed for the states having completed his missions. In the second, an English WAC bound for London. We got into an interesting discussion about the Negro GIs in England. They are treated as equals and she was amazed at their position in the States. At a two hour layover in Northampton we had some warm beer and watched the pub patrons play darts. The flossies are all around, ignored by us except for Norris and Miller. However, time was short and nothing took place that shouldn’t have.

A truck brought us out to the base, thru the fog and blackout and we were settled in temporary quarters; dirty, damp and cold. Got out our long Johns and socks to sleep in. After some sleep, we will report to headquarters to get permanent quarters and be apprised of what is ahead in the final culmination of almost two years of training. Keep rooting for us.

All my love

P.S. : Our air field is adjacent to the town of Chelvaston

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