Adventure Under Way . . .



Adventure Under Way . . .


P. O. E.

THE cold, sharp air of Massachusetts was charged with anticipation. Behind a curtain of secrecy the troops at Camp Myles Standish were being rushed through a final briefing on their new status as combat-zone soldiers. There were lifeboat drills and gas drills. There were talks on censorship. There were inspections of clothing and equipment. And there were religious services for the men--the last on American soil. Embarkation was imminent. When the regiment was alerted to move on Thanksgiving Day, no old-timer in the 304th was surprised. The regiment had acquired a habit of moving on holidays. It was a good omen, and there were few complaints as thousands of men gulped down early turkey dinners, their thoughts racing ahead to the waiting trains--and to the ship lying a few miles away in Boston Harbor.
Straining under equipment which they had not taken the trouble to remove, the men sat tense in their seats. They were taking a long, last look at the U.S.A., as the trains glided slowly past the New England towns, through the suburbs of Boston and down to the dock area. Inside the great, murky dockshed, the troops streamed from the coaches. An Army band blared martial music. Red Cross girls were ready with coffee and doughnuts. But every soldier kept his eye peeled for something vastly more interesting. The gangplank--there it was, reaching out to the gray mass of the ship's side.
With the precision which comes from intricate planning, men filed up the cleared plank, one following on the heels of the other, in a never-ceasing stream. A number was called from the ship's manifest; a man responded with his name, and moved toward the ship. So it continued, through the afternoon and evening of Thanksgiving Day. No time to be lost. Before the ship could sail, more than four thousand must be taken aboard.
Well, this was what the men had been waiting for and expecting. This was IT--even though there was some joking about it being another dry run! There was some nervousness. That was inevitable, natural. These were American human beings, not German automatons. But the thoughts, the musings, the reactions right now, at this last moment, concerned mainly what was being left behind. True enough, there was not much talk about it. But it is safe to say that a good 90% of the men were occupied in their minds with thoughts of home, of loved ones, of what America was and of what it meant to them now. Never had their country appeared more tangible, real, living and breathing to them. And, perhaps, in this moment most of them understood more clearly than they ever had before or probably ever would again what was the real essence and significance of the mission they were on. This was America they were leaving because they were Americans and had to prove to others and to themselves the validity of the American way of life!
Deep in the bowels of the ship, cavernous spaces began to come alive with curious, land-lubbering GIs. As fast as they came, Transportation Corps guides rushed them to their assigned cranny amongst row on row of four-tiered canvas bunks. Train after train poured out troops and the ship continued to swallow them. Following the 304th came elements of the 417th and 385th Infantry Regiments. C Deck filled. B Deck filled. A Deck filled. Promenade Deck filled. At four o'clock, in order of deck assignment, the men began to file down to the mess for their second Thanksgiving dinner. Six hours later, the last man had swallowed his last morsel of turkey, and by midnight, the ship was alive only with the silence of sleeping men.
Then, in the stillness, there was the muffled sound of starting engines, the grating of an anchor cable. The propeller began to turn, and the great craft moved slowly away from the dock, pulled by laboring tugs out into the waters of Boston Harbor. The U.S. Troopship Brazil had begun its voyage--at 0015, 24 November.

"Luxury Liner"



SHIPBOARD

THE Brazil awoke well out to sea. It was morning and troops crowded the decks for their first exciting eyeful of a wartime convoy. Spread out over the dark green water as far as the horizon were ships of many types, each following a prescribed course, with destroyer escorts bobbing about the perimeter, on nervous watch for submarines. Close at hand to explore and enjoy were the intricacies of this erstwhile luxury liner--the naval guns, the complexity of decks, companionways and hatches. Men in khaki were soon correcting one another on the niceties of nautical terms. Yesterday's landlubbers alluded self-confidently to the "stern" and the "bow," "aft" and "for'ard." The ship had no right or left side. It was "port" and "star-board," and to these experienced tars it was "starb-d."


A few of the men found sailoring somewhat less than enjoyable. In the roll of the ship, they also were gaining a new experience, one which all of the motion-preventative pills they could swallow didn't seem to affect. No one, during those first days of the voyage, looked forward to mealtime with unreserved pleasure. Standing in line, moving slowly down one companionway, around the corner and down another, then edging into the crowded, steaming dining hall, only the hardiest soldier could truthfully deny a tinge of uneasiness as he stepped up to have his meal ticket punched. Weaker souls felt desperately like being far away in a hurry.
Two days of rolling waves were followed by the Gulf Stream, smoother sailing and happier days. Adjustment to life on this floating hotel wasn't difficult, the men found. Their biggest job was to amuse themselves, and they were snowed under with entertainment. Thousands of pocket editions of best-seller books were circulated through the ship. A game room offered anything from checkers to Parcheesi, but poker was the enlisted men's choice. There were movies everyday. "Onaway," the ship's newspaper, became "must" reading for the men. Boxing and wrestling matches filled the afternoon hours. There was a ship's P-X.

Life in a Life-Belt

IN the evenings, the ship's dining hall took the spot-light. There, nightly radio shows' played to "live" audiences while those who could not crowd into the room "tuned in" via the ship's public address system. The 304th Dance Band became a star attraction. Professional-level variety shows, staged with the aid of the ship's three dramatically inclined--and pretty--nurses, fed laughs to the GI passengers. Despite this galaxy of entertainment, probably the most popular activities were letter-writing and the simple pleasures of lounging on deck, watching the progress of the convoy. There were serious moments, too. Every day religious services for all faiths helped the men to prepare spiritually for what lay ahead.
But this was no moonlight lake cruise. There were stern military necessities for ships passing through these waters. Here submarines had sent millions of tons of ship
ping to the bottom.



SEAWEED ROOM

Boat-drill was everyday routine. Every man knew his life-raft station and the exact route from quarters to station. Blackout restrictions were rigid from sundown until sunrise. Life jackets became part of the uniform night and day, to be worn wherever the soldier went on the ship.
It was the regiment's good fortune that no mishap occurred. Days passed slowly and uneventfully. A week slid by. There were rumors and conjectures in every corner of the ship about the Brazil's destination. Eight, nine, ten days passed and still only a vast expanse of water. On the eleventh day, December 4th, there was an early flurry of excitement. The destroyers closed in and planes circled overhead. Someone cried, "Land!" And that was it. The white cliffs became clearly visible and the convoy went steaming through the English Channel.

British McCoy



LINDEN HALL HYDRO

IN the soft glow of an afternoon sun the Brazil hove into single file with other ships of the convoy, her rails crowded with men drinking in every detail of the unfolding scene. Another convoy passing to port . . . . a British heavy cruiser at anchor with her crew in formation on deck . . . a Sutherland dipping low over the ship a flak tower rising out of the Channel waters. The convoy steered around the Isle of Wight, which guards Southampton's great channel and divides it into twin tributaries, the Spithead and the Solent. Passing the ancient marine city of Portsmouth, the vessels swung into the Spithead and steamed slowly up the twenty-seven mile run to the docks of Southampton.
To the men of the Brazil, England was the forest of chimneys rising from Southampton rooftops. It was the derbied Englishman with his black umbrella aboard the Southampton ferry. It was the "Limeys", scrambling for American cigarettes along the quayside. It was the tollhouse countryside along the harbor banks. These first impressions soon were to be amplified by a closer look at "the tight little isle."
As the ship maneuvered into Southampton's new docks, the announcement came over the speaker, "All military personnel off decks--prepare to go ashore."
The regiment was paying its second visit to England in twenty-six years.

Throughout the night the troops waited their turn to disembark. As the last elements trickled down the gangplank at Southampton, the first elements had already been installed in quarters--the marshaling area at Boscombe, a suburb of Bournemouth, County of Hants. Here they were to learn a new way of Army life. Instead of the tent city their imaginations had conjured, they were housed in "billets," an English term for civilian residences commandeered as troop quarters.
There was a tendency to rub eyes unbelievingly when the 6 x 6's pulled up to large hotels along the beaches of a city famous around the world as England's great summer playground. Here, amid beautiful gardens, with civilians as next-door neighbors, the men of the regiment were destined to spend a pleasant month.
The disciplinary training program which was immediately inaugurated did substantially nothing to detract from this "good deal." Calisthenics, a crying necessity after the long trip, were stressed; short hikes not only served to tone the men's feet and legs into shape again, but to acquaint them as well with the historic richness of a surrounding countryside.

Boscombe Christmas



BOURNEMOUTH SKY-LINE

WHILE the regiment waited in this semi-luxurious marshaling area, there was ample opportunity to learn about England and the English. GIs were surprised with the discovery that English girls knew--and liked--the American way of dancing. There was the tea-time habit and the pounds-to-halfpenny headache. There were the pastry shops and the "3 and 6" stores; there were pubs and the English "cinemas."
Ice-breaker-in-chief was the 304th Special Service Office, which was busier in Boscombe than the proverbial bee. A whirl of social activity was planned for Christmas and the New Year. Company parties, battalion parties and regimental parties crowded the schedule. Returning soldier hospitality, the people of Boscombe opened their homes to the troops, entertaining hundreds of men
throughout the holidays.


The result was that an expected let-down over Christmas away from home was substantially mitigated and failed to materialize.
Christmas in Boscombe was memorable in another way also--in a manner, perhaps, which will last in the memories of the Boscombe natives longer than the purely festive features of the season. The Catholic Chaplain, Father Herman S. Kolenda; had already celebrated Midnight Mass for the Catholic men of the regiment in the ball-room of Burlington Hall, one of the many resort hotels which had been transformed by the British into billets for their "American cousins." But at 1030 hours the following morning (Christmas Day) Boscombe was treated for the first time in its life to the sight of a military formation moving down its main thoroughfare, Christchurch Road, to an exclusively Roman Catholic ceremony. The 1st battalion, led by Lt. Col. Lawlor, was the color battalion and each of the other battalions was led by its respective commander, Lt. Col. Richardson and Lt. Col. Barber, following in that order with the Special Units bringing up the rear. The entire line of march was led by the Drum and Bugle Corps.




CHRISTCHURCH ROAD

What was probably known to very few of the many people watching this unusual sight was that each man who marched at attention down that street and through the doors of Corpus Christi Church was there of his own free will, in a completely voluntary attendance, a perfect example of a working democracy even in wartime. In fact, a majority of the men in that parade had already been in attendance at earlier Masses on that day. Inside the church Lts. William McDaniels and Richard Keefe served Mass, a military choir of officers and EM sang during the Solemn High Mass and the Color Guard flanked the altar at attention throughout the entire service. Lt. Robert Priaulx was the Master of Ceremonies. The sermon, preached by the pastor of the church (an English Jesuit), expressed to all of these men a full sense of the high edification to which they had given rise.

Visits to London were high on the priority list. Special trains carried hundreds of 304th men daily to the wartime capital to discover for themselves Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, Selfridge's, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and all the sights of London which could be crowded into a two-day visit. There the men saw their first blitzed city. There they experienced the Nazi's eleventh-hour torture of English civilians, the buzz-bomb.
The regiment, meanwhile, had received its warning order and first alert. Quiet preparations had been going on through the holidays. Delivery was taken on new vehicles for the entire regiment, and shortages of equipment were filled. Weapons were test-fired. Early in the New Year came the final alert. That departure from Boscombe will not soon be forgotten. Since no transportation was available, the men were forced to hand-carry their duffel bags a mile and a half to the railway station in Bournemouth. Many, who had stuffed every available cubic inch with "extras." were literally left holding the bag. No accurate account of the regiment's travels can afford to ignore that uphill, downhill hike to the station, dubbed by a dry GI wit, "The Bournemouth Walk."


next page: Adventure Under Way . . . (continued)

previous page -- contents