Wednesday 3 April 2013, 17:18
General Dwight D Eisenhower was not, generally, regarded as a great soldier. But he was the supreme diplomat, the ideal person to pull together - and keep together - such egotistical and dynamic personalities as generals Montgomery, Bradley and Patton. Such unity was essential if the Allies were to gain a foothold in Europe and, eventually, win World War Two.General Dwight D Eisenhower visiting the Rainbow corner club, London, 1944
The people of Wales had read all about Eisenhower in their newspapers and heard about him on the wireless. But on 1 April 1944 they got the opportunity to see him in person as that was the day he came to Pembrokeshire.
Vernon Scott, in his book An Experience Shared, sums up the situation quite admirably:
"Had residents been told on the first day of the fourth month of 1944 that the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D Eisenhower, was in Pembroke Dock, they would have surely dismissed it as an April Fool leg pull. But America's top soldier in the European Theatre of Operations, really was in the area."
Eisenhower was in west Wales to inspect the men of the 110th Infantry Regiment. The regiment was part of the 28th Division, the oldest infantry division in the US Army, and in the spring of 1944 was stationed in Pembrokeshire, undergoing final training and preparations for the invasion of Europe.
Eisenhower's visit was both sudden and secret. Even the GIs had no idea he was coming. They were expecting a VIP and had, as a consequence, "bulled up" in the best traditions of the American Army. But nobody knew that the visitor was to be Ike, as the general was universally known.
Eisenhower travelled to Tenby by train where he was met by policemen from the Pembrokeshire force and by a group of US Army "brass." After brief introductions he took his place in a typical American Army convoy. Ike's convoy out of Tenby was headed by a police car and was made up of several US Army vehicles - including the ubiquitous jeeps. Motor cycle out riders, sirens screaming, swept along the column, ensuring that the locals did not interfere with the progress of the general.
Eisenhower's driver that day was an English girl, Kay Summersby Morgan. She had been seconded to the US Army and drove a staff car that had miniature stars and stripes attached to each mudguard.
The general's first port of call was Llanion Barracks on the northern fringe of Pembroke Dock. The day was cold and rather damp, rain squalls drifting in off the Haven, and the soldiers had been lined up for some time before Ike finally appeared. Tempers were beginning to rise but the sudden appearance of the Supreme Commander lifted everyone's spirits.
Eisenhower inspected the soldiers, then climbed into the back of a jeep and, through a megaphone, asked everyone to gather round. He spoke to as many men as he could, asking if they were ready for the task that lay ahead. Ike's easy manner worked wonders on the disgruntled GIs, most of whom responded warmly to the man and his words. Most but not all.
In his book Vernon Scott quotes Dick Grulich, a GI who was present at the parade:
"He severely reprimanded this soldier, who was standing next to me, because of his refusal to say he was proud of the 110th Regiment. He really dressed him down."
After the inspection it was back into his car and Kay Summersby Morgan took him, and his convoy, around the other elements of the 110th Regiment who were scattered widely around the county of Pembrokeshire.
Among other places he visited was Crescelly House where the regiment's Cannon Company were stationed. To the Welsh men and women who ran the house, Eisenhower's appearance came as a complete surprise. The GIs were quickly assembled on the lawn of the house and Ike inspected the men as the servants and staff watched from the windows.
When he had spoken to the troops at Llanion Barracks, Eisenhower had promised that he would have a drink with members of the 110th when they crossed the Rhine. He kept his word, sending them truck loads of champagne and other wine the day they breached the mighty river.
Sadly, many of the young men he talked with that day in Pembroke Dock and in the other parts of the county that he visited were not able to enjoy his hospitality as the regiment had suffered badly in the advance through France and Belgium.
Dwight D Eisenhower impressed all of the men and women he met in west Wales as a warm and affable man. Warm and affable but also determined. Small wonder that in the years after World War Two he turned to politics and became the president of the USA.
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