Diary kept by Walter “Steve” Stevenson while being shipped to England
Dec. 15 We Departed Camp Kilmore, New Jersey at 9:45 p.m. on the Pennsylvania Railroad Line to the ferry at the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, and then to the New York side, Pier End (45th St.) and from there to the Conard Liner, the Queen Elizabeth, which was 7 blocks from Herb's Place, the Piccadilly Hotel.
Dec. 16 We boarded ship at 2:30 a.m. and went to our cabin-6 men-on B deck, cabin B-18. We embarked from the dock at 0600 and passed the Statue of Liberty at 0800. Breakfast, Life boat Drill-Supper-Raised cain all night.
Dec. 17 Awakened, no breakfast, hasty preparation for inspection, emergency drill forward deck of ship. Returned cabin, read, write, sleep, etc. (Cigs. 50 cents a carton). Breakfast in the cabin: sardines, Pepsi-cola, mustard, cookies, relish, etc. Weather is roughening, ship rolling a bit - returned to quarters at blackout time. No access to Promenade or boat deck at night. Ship divided into 3 divisions: red, white, and blue, forward to aft. Washing and bath, salt water; Fresh water hot (in helmets), cold (canteens) twice daily, 0600-0900 and 1800-2100. We have to wear life jackets at all times. There are Australian and English sailors and marines and French personnel aboard also. Medics, Infantry, Artillery, Armored, Air Force men on board as well as nurses and W.A.C.'s.
Have sighted a B-25, Pb7y and a B-24 (British) on patrol overhead. At nightfall the ship is steaming full speed to stay out of Patrol range for certain areas. Played cards with Rich on the O.D.-sang with Powell. Went into can, talked with Baker who was reading cowboy story in the bath tub.
Dec. 18 Arose 11:00 am, ate piss poor breakfast. No Emergency Drill (raining). Sea very calm but swells soon arise. Slept, arose, rolled dice for packs of cigs (some given by “Thanks to Yanks” from General Motors via the Red Cross). Red Cross Kits given consisting of cigs, cards, book, writing tablet, envelopes, pencil, shoe cloth, sewing kit, candy, soap box.
Ship passed two battleships which evidently patrol convoy lanes. Loose ship’s life-rafts floated by.
Spent time on deck. Easy to distinguish Air Force men from other units for their morale is much higher, not such a ragged looking bunch of men. There are 15,000 men on the Queen Elizabeth, largest passenger ship afloat.
Tried to get to the Engine Rooms of ship, but impossible.
Dancik built a “Roll-Pitchometer” from Pepsi-Cola bottle, string, and rubber to measure the roll of the ship.
Dec. 19 Awoke late for breakfast, just at time of emergency muster. Failed clean stateroom, infantry officer restricted us to quarters for the day. Sneaked out for cigarette, returned to find Major spot checking. I was sent to C/S Colonel who spent five minutes explaining why the Air Force should “get on the ball” and “cooperate” with the Infantry.
Spent rest of the day and evening sleeping, tossing, sneaking out to smoke.
Strange, unidentified noise hit shell of ship late evening. Muffled, but plainly audible. Ship either slowing, losing headway or sea is becoming fairly rough.
During muster caught an ass-chewing from Watch Officer for failing to "hear" Captain of Infantry telling me to hurry. Went to sleep at 4:00 a.m.
Dec. 20 Readied stateroom for inspection, ate breakfast, sleepy during muster. Laid on #1 hatch cover, Danny talking, slept. Got trumpet, guitar at music room. Borrowed accordion. Dancik and I played.
Bought pint of whiskey from Limey boy who steers ship for $6.00 a pint. Had to sleep with clothes on since entering active war zone. Picked up two Corvettes for escort ships to lead us up Irish Sea into Glasgow harbor.
Dec. 21 Didn't eat breakfast. From deck we observed much naval activity: Corvettes loading, two P.T. boats. Tankers, Cargo ships, etc. Probably passed the Isle of Man, according to a Canadian Officer. Channel markers going by, probably mined waters. Noticed increased air activity. B-17s, Mosquitos, fighters, etc.
Our unit confined to quarters because we are nearing port. Richard fined $150 - Infantry Colonel caught him abed at 1400. Slept, argued, rolled dice, read, etc. in quarters. Sneaked out for cigarettes. Ship anchored at 2030. Finally went to sleep at 0430.
Dec. 22 Awakened 0800, breakfast. Still restricted to quarters but we all "take-off" for decks for our first glimpse of Scottish soil. There is a remarkable resemblance to landscape of Victoria, Vancouver Island. Shipstead protected by low lying round hills, smooth contours from long harbor. Countless ships. Liberty, Tankers, Packers, Lighters, Patrol boats dot the harbor. One Escort carrier is anchored in the bay. Few docks noticeable, ships gathered at anchorage all about the harbor. The Queen Mary is anchored ahead of the Queen Elizabeth (two sister ships, largest In the harbor-Queen Mary left New York on Friday). The harbor activity and the number of ships is impressive and visual evidence of the huge scale of organization behind the war effort.
No aircraft are visible. Low hanging, rainy mist, fairly warm conditions comprise the weather.
Fields atop hills, green, quite picturesque. Buildings along the water to the northeast typical 3-story quaint stone and brick structures.
Main point of debarkation is off the starboard bow, but exact local of Port, or name as "yet undetermined," but probably is "Girth" in the vicinity of Glasgow.
Unloading of ship began early and continues, Unit by Unit. Large Lighters carrying personnel to docks. ("St Soriel" name of one). They are probably 2-3,000 tons. Original plan for Air Force to disembark first. However the plan changed and we remain aboard for one more day and night.
Issued "K" rations for 3-meals for the trip on the train to our permanent base.
Spending most of the day touring the deck, watching harbor scene, and alternately sleeping, playing around in quarters.
At 1400 sky was clearing well, shafts of sunlight pierced clouds to brighten up the city and the harbor. Two Scottish deck hands explained our locations, which is in the Firth of Clay, just offshore Girk, Scotland, midway in the "river". Next city "upstream" is Gruenich" (spelling?). Girk is about 1 1/2 hrs via train from the City of Glasgow.
The countryside, brightened up by the lifting of the clouds and the sun's appearance takes on a more definite pattern. The buildings, neatly arranged in precise row uphill, are typically English in design and the upland fields contrast with one another in their pale yellow and light green colors; quite a pastoral backdrop setting it provides for the more grim business that is trafficking the waters of the harbor. The city thus far meets my expectations of how a Scottish city would appear. Like a lithograph. One very modernistic building sets itself apart from the others nearby.
The view up and down the harbor is less restricted and ships which this morning were mere indefinable shadows loom out clearly. From the Queen Elizabeth's position in this crowded harbor we can now see at least 5 CUL Aircraft Carriers which evidently patrol convoy lanes or escort convoys in their Atlantic crossings. Many Liberty ships dot the harbor with their squat hulls down deep in the water, heavily laden with fighting materials of various kinds. One, the "Alanson B. Houston" carried a deck-load of small war-born American Locomotives and Tank Cars. It was under way and headed upstream. Another Liberty, the "Sam Louis" was headed downstream flying the Norwegian colors.
One blunt-nose ship is nearby, being either a large LS.T. or an ice-breaker. Converted yachts and speed boats dart back and forth. One small ship, painted white, serves as a hospital ship. (Incidentally, our ship, the Queen Elizabeth, will return with a full load of war casualties to New York.)
The troops continue to disembark and we have increasing freedom of the ship as the crowd aboard lessens. No shipboard routine is being followed, we don‘t have to wear life jackets, no restricted areas, emergency musters, etc. We are debating now whether we will eat aboard tonight or whether we shall subsist on K-Rations.
Girth is located in “Renfrew County.” Across the Firth of Clay from Renfrew County, the land is in the “County of Argyle.” Coming up from the Irish Sea, our ship first crossed the head of the North Channel which separates Northern Ireland from Scotland the New Hebrides Islands. From the North Channel we sailed into the Firth of Clyde (River Clyde from central Scotland empties into this Firth.) From the Firth of Clyde we continued north and entered the Firth of Clay. (This may be inaccurate due to the pronunciation of “Clyde” by Scottish deck-hands). The Firth of Clyde continues northward. This is where Glasgow is located and the point at which the Clyde River empties into the Firth of Clyde¾the site of the famous Scottish ship builders, “on the River Clyde.”
Tomorrow we disembark and board a train for English soil, apparently our CCRTC.
NOTE: From here to Christmas Eve is written considerably later than experienced. No time available to write at the time of events.
Food at suppertime was very poor, so Paul Dancik and I roamed the ship in search for some. We finally sneaked out of bounds, went below to the AB Seamen’s Mess where a big Englishman swiped hard-rolls and roast beef and gave them to us. We went up to our stateroom and got our soup, peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise, mustard and had a "feast." Later Paul returned to same kitchen and got 1/2 pound butter and a couple of pounds of cheese. We made cheese sandwiches, got out our tea-bags and had another "lunch."
Two of us went below and spent a couple of hours "tossing dice" with English and Scottish Stevedores. They are all from London, where "Buzz-Bombs" have been hitting ships. Hence, the convoy and ship route was changed to Girth, Scotland for debarkation. This is the reason for disembarking in Scotland and taking the train down the entire island to London.
The Stevedores told us about rationing: one egg a month, etc. and it is easy to see just how "All Out" they have been fighting. They also explained British money system. We let them smoke our cigarettes and they dutifully awaited bringing out our packs each time, rather than smoking their own. Each one had some article of G.I. clothing.
Since it was so late we decided to pack our equipment preparatory to debarking in the morning. Nearly all remaining Air Force men were up playing cards, playing dice, singing, drinking, arguing, etc.
"Honest-John-The Meticulous Virgin-The Pride of La Porte" slept, but awakened when the rest of us went to sleep. He then succeeded in keeping us awake, to the extent of untying my noisy canvass bunk ropes, letting me fall through to the next one below.
Dec. 24 We got less than one hour's sleep and then had Saturday to hustle our equipment on our backs, masette bags, bed rolls, gas mask and .45's. We carried our bulging B-4 bags, overcoats and each had a box of Rither Flashlights, Pre-kits or Prophylactics that our crew and volunteered to carry throughout the trip across. Thus weighed down we started the first phase of our journey onto Scottish soil.
The Queen Elizabeth was anchored midstream off Girth so we transferred to one of the many small "Lighters", the St. Loirient, for the ride ashore. It was a small 1,000-2,000 ton ship, quaint, high stacker with a proud looking old skipper running it. An old dog sat near the stern and motionlessly watched the harbor activity as we swung into shore.
As we cleared the Elizabeth we could gain a good impression of the massiveness of her structure. From a ship-lover's point of view she was a thing of tremendous beauty and from a design point of view she was a structure to marvel at.
Swinging along upstream the stone, slate-roofed, square Scottish houses of Girth passed by. The town's church spire in the harbor came into view. Cruisers, Destroyers, American-built Carriers, one repair ship, similar to vulcan, one sub, one sub net tender, and a myriad of odd small craft buzzing back and forth, ship to ship, ship to shore. Signal lights continually blinked from ship tower to ship tower for debarking instructions. (One wrecked ship was a ways off, only the mast above water.)
The St. Lorient docked at L.M.S. Pier; we got off and went directly upstairs to our waiting train, the London-Midlands Scottish R.R. We left Greenoch soon and began our trip from the Highlands of Scotland down through central Scotland to England. We had been told that English trains were cold, slow, rough and generally very uncomfortable, but the LMS proved to be quite a surprise. We had a 3rd class compartment car loaded from the ends (some loaded from side doors to each compartment.) Six men to a compartment and they were warm, comfortable and roomy. Even the windows opened easily—in comparison to American trains!
The cars are very low, round topped, short and quite different from ours. The couplings are chains with large circular "bumpers" on each side to hold tension right. Lavatories are in each end of the car.
Chief and most amazing difference is in "freight" cars which are extremely small-really nothing but small wagons. Three of their cars could easily fit on one of our American freight cars, any type. Their engines are extremely small likewise. Wheels are high, brakes are old fashioned, mechanically operated. Advertising covers the sides of all cars. You feel as though you are on a Tom Thumb Railroad. They are not built for high speeds or heavy loads. Evidently the damp climate keeps roadbeds soggy and heavy roadbeds for heavy equipment are impractical. Cleanliness of the roadbed is manifold. In fact it is so clean that it is conspicuously so. Drainage probably has much to do with this.
We proceeded first through a long tunnel from Greenoch station en route to Glasgow. Periodically the train would pass through some snail village. Small children lined the tracks waiting for Gils to throw out some candy, gum, etc. They were quite cute in their knee pants and "sport" coats and wool checked caps. Whenever the train stopped they would run up to us and ask "Any Goom Choom?" They especially wanted playing cards. One little fellow got the best prize in the form of an orange, an almost priceless object to them.
Me gave our jar of orange marmalade away to one old man and it was almost sad to see how eagerly he clutched it. Likewise the small jar of extra relish we hadn't used on the boat. We closely watched these two men while the train waited there in Glasgow, watching them absolutely dash from one of their friends to the other showing off their jars-their precious jars. They told us none of that was available at all! After this scene I quickly searched my pockets for anything of value that I might give them, and I gave them gladly cigarettes, candy, even a small notepaper pad which one little lad grinned over and dashed off with.
The little fellows were used to troop trains, though, since they would quickly hide their "loot" on an inside pocket and ask for more!
When we finally pulled out of the City of Glasgow we promptly found ourselves passing an endless succession of Scottish countryside. The quiet beauty of the rolling green lands was matched only in quality by the striking neatness and cleanliness of the land. The countryside apparently is quite rocky. Surrounding each large or small plot of land were the typical stone fences-tribute to the economy-mindedness of this portion of the British Empire.
First stones were laboriously removed from the tillable soil and from their original place as an obstacle to farming, the rock debris of each glacial era. They have been neatly stacked with arrow-straightness along field borders to provide fencing. These stone fences, unsealed by mortar, formed the borders of individual plots of ground; a sheep range here, a turnip patch there, a freshly plowed field, or perhaps just lining the narrow, winding country roadside or hemming in a cluster of closely knit farm buildings (in themselves largely built of native stone.)
Quaint stone village railway stations and waypoints popped quickly by the windows of our L.M.S. Train. Each station was heralded, ordinarily, by the train's passing under a brick or stone overpass of the village or town roadbed. A notable thing on this R.R. is that all conflicting ways of thoroughfare, whether they be by foot, animal or vehicle, have overpasses to safely cross the railroad tracks. Very few are surface crossings.
We arrived at Stone, England during the night of the 23rd and were given a good dinner and sent to bed. I, with Paul and "Buck weaver," slept in Howard Hall. This Base was strictly an Overseas Replacement Reception Center. Nearby was a huge English Munitions Factory, employing over 4,000 English girls, quartered nearby. Our base was originally a housing project for these girls. Hence we were comfortably greeted in our first overseas home with warm rooms, hot and cold showers, and dressers in our rooms. The beds, however, weren't so wonderful. The mattresses being 3 sections, hard and quite unwieldy, I slept very cold on them as they constantly slipped apart. The weather of Stone was quite bad, being thick and constantly foggy. We processed here, had several United Kingdom and E.T.U Indoctrination lectures, check on shots etc. We spent Christmas Eve there, I, in bed. We remained at Stone until the 27th of December when we boarded a train for our permanent base. It was a typical foggy morning, and as usual everything was bedecked in a thick coat of icy frost. Trees were silvery, etc. Our train was very cold this time. James and ! rode together, frozen most of the way.
We knew by now our destination was to be Sudbury, England, or the 486th Bomb Group but didn't know until arrival that our B-24 crews were to fly B-17's. On arrival we were sent instead to Lavenham Field to the 487th Bomb Group.
Here at Lavenham we arrive at night, loaded our B-4 bags into trucks, crowded into a bus and road out to the base. Coming up we could see the dark shadows of the big-tailed Flying Fortresses. This was combat! If at any time I fully realized the fact that at last I was in a war zone, it was seeing the parked, dispersed Boeing airships, knowing full well that these shadows on the runway that night were the same shadows roaring tomorrow over German walled arsenals. The shadows passed over so much of German territory -their bomb loads maligning, harassing and ripping to shreds the very heart of Hitler's war effort. So there they were! The heralded Fortresses. Parked at night in England. And there I was, coining in, new, ignorant and hopefully prepared to take my position in the huge machine in future death-dealing missions.
Dec. 28, 29, 30 and 31 were spent in orienting ourselves to the ways of living in our combat quarters.