Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

An ‘Eye Opening’ Sight, “Kangaroo Rats” and British Liberators: Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

February 3, 2010 · 1 Comment

On Tuesday I was able to make my third visit to the Norwich Archive Centre.  I listened to two audio recordings which were both about an hour long.  The first was of an American veteran from Alabama.  He enlisted in August 1942 but due to being underweight was sent home for a week to gain weight.  The morning of his physical, he ate a “sack” full of bananas and drank lots of milk (which allowed him to gain the weight required).  Despite being over 6 ft. tall, the veteran was able to enroll in gunnery training after telling a Sergeant he joined to have a gun in his hands and after threatening to go AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave).  He flew 13 missions over Europe before being shot down near Giessen, Germany.  Luckily, he bailed out and when he hit the ground, he encountered a farmer and his wife; the farmer was able to disarm the veteran of his pistol.  Shortly afterward, villagers arrived to see what was happening.  It was decided that he was to be taken to the town’s jail.  However, because his legs were slightly injured, he required help to get to a wagon which would take him to town.  Two young Germans (a boy and a girl) helped him walk about halfway when they stopped to rest.  It must be mentioned that the veteran was also bleeding from the head and because of the temperature while descending, some of the blood froze in and around his eyes so seeing was difficult.  So as the veteran was being helped up again by the young German girl, he was able to see up her dress.  Humorously, the veteran notes that at this exact moment his eyesight fully came back to him.  Jokingly, he said perhaps it was that sight which gave him back his eyesight.  After spending some time in the jail in town, he was eventually transferred to a German army hospital.  While at the hospital, he was able to make friends with a German officer who offered to help him escape.  However, three captured US Army officers soon arrived and joined in the plan.  One of the captured officers was a Colonel who after carefully considering the escape plan, decided not to allow it.  Luckily, that decision saved the men’s lives as the place where the German officer would hide the men (his house) was bombed later in the war.  The men were eventually transferred to a prisoner of war camp, where they were liberated by British troops later in the war.  Interestingly, the British officer who liberated the camp stood atop a jeep and eloquently stated, “Gentlemen, you are officially liberated.”

The second audio recording was of an American veteran who, at first, was not stationed in England, but Africa.  Specifically, he was in Benghazi, Libya.  The veteran mentions some of the conditions of his desert environment.  He notes the water rations, dehydrated food and powdered lemonade (which was actually used to clean out mess tins because it was so strong).  There were no showers at the base but occasionally they could go to the beach and swim in the Mediterranean (which many only did once or twice because of the amount of salt and the desert conditions they had to go back to).  One interesting anecdote he mentions is of a “sport” developed by the men at the base.  This “sport” involved “hunters” who would wear only their boots and either a necktie or a hat (there were “no women within 99 miles”) and chase what they called “kangaroo rats” into trenches where they would bash them to death with a stick.  Later in the recording, the veteran mentions a bombing mission of Ploesti, Romania.  After bombing oil fields there, the veteran’s B-24 came under German attack and due to the extent of the damage they were forced to make an emergency landing in neutral Turkey.  After a forced landing at a Turkish military base and being surrounded by hundreds of Turkish soldiers, the crew was interned.  They were taken to a Turkish military academy where they were given a fair amount of freedom; they could go into town, watch movies, gamble, etc.  However, this did not stop many from escaping.  The veteran took part in a staged fight (thus distracting the guards) and this allowed for 17 men to escape.  Eventually the veteran himself was able to escape and he served the remainder of his duty in Britain.  Ending on a happy note, the veteran was married on 24 March 1945 in the Norwich Cathedral.

Volunteer Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Total Time: 5 hrs. 30 min.

Categories: Andrew F
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Feb 6th 2010 at 05:07

    Your two new posts sound like you are still having fun. Great idea linking to maps for the locations you mention.

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