- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Winifred Joan Pine
- Location of story:
- Dartmouth/Kingswear, S.Devon
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 May 2004
In January 1944 I was a Wren stationed in Kingswear, South Devon, attached to H.M.S."Cicala" a Coastal Forces Station consisting of Motor Torpedo and Motor Gun Boats used for harrying German E.boats in the waters close to the Channel Islands.
Throughout the previous months a contingent of U.S.Army personnel arrived and took up occupation in H.M.S."Britannia", the Naval College, Dartmouth. They were responsible for smoke screening our ships whilst they practised landings in Torbay and were known as "the Smokies". Some of them came from the Mid West of America and had never before been close to the sea.
For many months we had U.S.Navy ships carrying landing craft steaming up the River Dart to anchor, and in the early Spring the River was so crowded that it would have been possible to walk across from Kingswear to Dartmouth without getting your feet wet. Large contingents of U.S.Army followed in trains which ran day and night and boarded the ships.
Our "Wrennery" was on a hill overlooking the River, and each morning we would wake up to the sound of Glen Miller or the Andrews Sisters coming through their loud hailer system. We got to know the words of all the songs and to this day sixty years on I can recall them all.
On frequent occasions the ships would silently leave for exercises in the early hours. Sometimes the weather was rough, and on their return we would see white faces over the ships` rails. Slapton Sands which was nearby had been chosen for these exercises since it was a good replica of the Normandy beaches where the invasion would take place.
We in the Signal Station had notice of when and where the exercises would take place, and for two or three days the river was empty and quiet until the ships returned. On their arrival the Americans would be allowed ashore and would board the trains to Torquay for rest and relaxation. Often on our leave days we would meet them on the train and they were always curious about us as we were probably the first Englishwomen they had met. We found them to be courteous and well mannered towards us.
I mainly remember the Americans for being extremely kind and generous to the children of Dartmouth, as they would often hire a hall in the town to entertain them. The children would always leave the parties with Hershey chocolate bars and other goodies. They also put on parties for us, and were horrified at the size of our rations, so would try and give us a good meal. They of course had all of their rations brought over from the United States, and it was at their parties that I first encountered Spam and Hot Dogs, and was surprised at the amount of good quality meat which they contained, after four years of rationing.
One of the saddest days was when a number of American soldiers were killed whilst taking part in one of the exercises in Tor Bay when German E.boats infiltrated the shipping and wreaked havoc in the darkness. General Eisenhower visited Dartmouth to see his troops on this occasion.
At the end of May all leave for U.S.personnel on the ships was cancelled and for over a week they were confined to their ships. Only a few personnel were allowed ashore to carry out urgent business.
Then suddenly one day all ships disappeared from the River and there was silence. No more Glen Miller woke us up in the morning, and when after a few days they didn`t return we realised that this time they had gone for good. Going on duty on the 6th June we heard that the invasion had started.
What happened to the Dartmouth contingents we never knew, but I understand that some of the survivors of "D" Day returned to Slapton Sands to see once again the sttretch of pebble beach where they had practised so diligently, and where some of their comrades had perished some sixty years ago. I certainly won`t forget the 6th June 1944
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