|Chapter 8 - Overseas Shipment and Combat Group
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. Weve 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
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
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
Only a week since we were together but Ive 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 mens 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
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
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, hes 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 weve 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
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)
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
Still no mail or assignment yet. Ive 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 Ill pass with thoughts of you and a detective
Good night darling
15 December 1944 Somewhere in England
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 Im 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.
Ive 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
Ive 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 cant remedy the situation?
Still no orders and none in sight for awhile apparently.
Nothing much else.
17 December 1944 Somewhere in England
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 couldnt 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 Id 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 shouldnt 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
All my love
P.S. : Our air field is adjacent to the town of Chelvaston