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Contributed by 
Age Concern North Tyneside
People in story: 
Richard Mathew Fairs
Location of story: 
United States of America
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 November 2004

No 1 Composite H.A.A Battery R.A.

A goodwill tour of America in 1943: It’s a hard job but someone has to do it

This journey to the New World was organised to formulate a more sincere friendship between the people of America and Britain and also to exchange ideas on equipment and methods of defense and attack by air; after 4 years of the war we have a little experience of this!

Our battery comprised 350 officers and men and all our equipment, trucks and ack ack guns sailed from Glasgow via the Firth of Clyde on 1st July 1943 aboard the liner “Isle de France” and our crossing of the Atlantic was smooth and uneventful, but to me very interesting, as we were escorting 300 Africa Corps German prisoners, captured in the Desert campaigns. We met no submarines nor icebergs and the weather was fine and really hot.

On July 10th we entered New York harbour passing the Statue of Liberty after 10 days good sailing, suffering little more than homesickness, and overcome by the sight of this great city with its well known skyline.

Our first night had to be spent on board and the first thing we noted was the strict no smoking policy; our sister ship had lately caught fire. The next day we disembarked and had our first escorted tour of the city by bus, setting out from Pier 54 to the train which would take us on to Camp Davis, Wilmington, North Carolina; the biggest camp we had ever been in and more like a city for soldiers with shops, laundry facilities and a place called the P.X. or Post Exchange, an elaborate canteen with everything we could want in the way of drinks and eating and letter writing.

We stayed there for 7 weeks to organise the equipment and guns and trucks along with another 200 recruits and officers of the American A.A.A. Of course we had drilling and gun practice, but as I was Batman to the C/O of our regiment, Lt Colonel Metcalf I didn’t have so much drilling to do. We had evening shows of stage and cinema and visits from celebrities including the Andrews sisters and Betty Hutton, very popular at the time.

Early in August and we were back in New York to see the sights and to join in parades an exhibitions, including being presented to the City by Mayor La Guadia. We stayed at the Armoury, Feaneck, New Jersey but were out and about much of the time. Among the places an people we saw were Benny Goodman at the Paramount, the Don Cossacks at Radio City, Stars on Ice at the Centre Theatre and a grand finale at Billy Roses Diamond Horse Shot. In my spare time we visited the Empire State Building and St Patrick’s Cathedral. One of the celebrities we saw, Fats Waller, died shortly after we left.

Early the next month we left behind the ticker tape parades and entertainment of the big city for Scortons Gap, Cape Cod not far from Boston. The only show I remember was given by Gertrude Lawrence on the beach – a chilly concert as the sun had gone. It actually turned out to be her last ever concert.

From there we took a long train journey into the mid West to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas via Chicago. We reached there on September 20th. Our time there was quiet mostly taken up with dances an shows and one visit to the town of Kansas, a two hour us journey from the camp.

From here we tracked further West passing through Denver, Colorado, Dakota and over the Rockies to California. I remember Pasadena, a place full of wonderful flowers and such a difference from the ry trackless places we’d passed through on the way. Final stop though was San Francisco and our first port of call was the restaurant fro breakfast … and what a meal! We were told to order just what we wanted and we had everything on the menu … coffee, cereal, eggs, bacon, toast, marmalade, fruit juice … I’m sure there was more!

Our camp was right in the middle of the city and we saw all of it. The Golden Gate Park and Bridge; the Oakland Bridge; Knot Hill and Muir Woods with their gigantic Redwood trees … massive monuments to the power of God.

Here I met my sister Nancy Faires an her family at a dance we had at the Palace Hotel. When I said my name was Fairs she said “Hello Brother … so’s mine!” Here too I met Mr and Mrs Purvis she from Newcastle and he from the Black Bull in Wallsend. Here we first saw tea bags for the first time in the Lipton store.

After that it was Hollywood here we come! We were billeted in the hospital at Santa Monica in Los Angeles where all the famous stars of stage and screen had their illnesses! We were only here 4 days and had to make the most of our stay. We were escorted round the studios and some of the homes of the top stars, notably those of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Burns and Allen and the Marx Brothers. I also met a family who introduce me to the son of Fred Carno and people connected Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

At the Hollywood Stage Door Canteen we ha a great show of stars meeting more famous names from the great films of the thirties and fourties: ob Hope; Cary Grant; Greer Garson; Heddy Lamaar; Basil Rathbone and a personal reception by Charles Laughton for whom we made a song track of “I’ve got sixpence”!

We had such a memorable time here in Culver City but as all good things end so did our Holly song and we came down from the stars to earth, which meant heading south along the Rio Grande to New Mexico.

We ended up in a bit of a wild town with a midnight curfew on. We started with a tea party with some of the local talent and then marched over the International Bridge and into Mexico for a fiesta and bull fight: a very spectacular affair bit a little gory. Of course I met some Mexican senoritas and a girl from Texas.

From there it was back east to Georgia – out in the wilds and the excitement and glamour now long behind us. From there it was back to our starting point having covered 32000 miles and passed through 38 states.

Richard Mathew Fairs

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