|Letter to Unidentified Recipient [7/30/1944]
G2 Sec. Hqt. 12 Army Group
APO 655 c/o Postmaster
Somewhere in France, Jul. 30, 1944
Now I have a moment in which I can write a letter. We are moving again from "hence to thither". The trucks are loaded and we are all sitting or lying around in a field on the inevitable wait which may be a few minutes or a few hours before we move out. I have managed to find a chair, however, and perhaps I can write this legibly on my knee. I want to record as much as is allowable of the trip over.
We were "alerted" at our old station about a week before departure but for obvious reasons the contemplated move was cloaked in the deepest secrecy. It was one of those annoying weeks that always precede an important move whether it be an army or a family. Innumerable errands, buying this and that which you believe you will need in the field, arranging to dispose of old magazines to hospitals, packing surplus clothing for "indefinite" storage (probably get it back five years after the war), seeing people for the last time without being able to say good bye to them, packing, paying out-standing bills plus all the complications of packing up and moving the headquarters itself --- just one of those weeks.
The job of moving the HQ is in itself amazing. Imagine taking an organization about the size of John Hancock Life Insurance and moving it under special rules. The rules would be that you had to provide food and living facilities for all the employees, you did all the physical moving yourself and provided your own trucks, you equipped everyone so they could live in fields, you had no A.T. and T. Co. or electric light companies so you had to provide your own light, telephone and radio service; there are no plumbers or restaurants so you provide your own sanitary facilities; you take a "short ocean voyage" en route which requires shipping and as an enemy is trying to stop you it is necessary to provide protection to the shipping. There are a hundred other complications yet somehow this army, with all its inefficiency, gets it done.
For want of a better name as dates are not allowed, the move really started on "X" day when all our baggage was loaded and we knew that we had to live for an indefinite period on what we could jam into our musette bags on our backs. Our good uniforms were gone and we wandered around the city in field uniforms feeling very conspicuous in heavy boots, GI pants, flannel shirts and no neckties. We were free to do as we chose but were on the alert to leave on very short notice. Actually at 5 PM on "X plus one" we finally loaded into trucks --- a strange looking crew; field uniforms, field coats, tin hats, musette bags, pistols, canteens, first aid packs, two days of K rations, gas masks; --- we were really loaded down. But finally we were loaded and the long motor convoy, liberally escorted by screaming motor cycle military police, disrupted all traffic as we worked our way out of the city.
A long tiring ride at 25 m.p.h. to arrive in [the] marshalling area near midnight tired and hungry. But finally we arrived at the embarkation port and were lead through the dark to draw three blankets each and then piled into tents --- five men each. The mess runs there 24 hours a day as men are constantly arriving and leaving so we did have a little very poor food before taking off some clothes and tumbling into the canvas cots for our first uncomfortable night in the field. X plus 2, X plus 3, and X plus 4 were in many ways delightful. The embarkation camp was delightfully situated in pleasant country and the weather was perfect. As we were on a "30 minute alert" to move out at all times. One could not stray far from the tent so there was nothing to do except sleep, lie in the sun and rest. The delay was a bit annoying but entirely understandable. We were one small unit in an area containing thousands and thousands of men, tanks and vehicles all waiting to go aboard ship. I imagine that as soon as schedules are established they have to be changed --- an emergency call for ammunition or medical facilities or fighting troops from the other side changes all priorities and shipping arrangements up and down the line.
Finally, late on X plus 4 is the order that we will move out early the next day.
36 hours after starting this letter
So, early in the morning --- after the usual delays --- we are piled into trucks and driven to the dock. There again a wait of a couple of hours before, heavily laden with all equipment, we go aboard ship. In this we are very lucky. Rather than an LST as rumored we are on a very decent sized ship --- bigger than many you and I have traveled on and we find, believe it or not, we even have staterooms! To be sure there are four officers assigned to a three bunk stateroom so one has to sleep on the floor but otherwise it is luxury.
Orders are definite. We must not undress at any time. We must have life preservers with us at all times. Finally, we leave but just for a short move to the area in which the convoy is assembling and it is actually nearly 18 hours --- in the wee sma' hours --- that we sail. In the afternoon of X plus 6 we sight the coast of France and gradually reach the anchorage. All day we have moved with many ships and destroyers darting here and there with air planes nearly constantly over head. But here in the anchorage we are just one of many hundreds of ships! I have never seen so many in New York harbor; a new port but merely a Normandy beach.
There are many rumors of immediate landing, orders, orders countermanded, etc. etc. But finally we are told to go to bed since we will not disembark until the following day --- X plus 7. The next morning we are aroused at 5 AM, breakfasted and instructed on disembarking. It seems we go over the side and jump for a landing boat bobbing up and down some ten feet in a strong swell And we go over the side fully clad, --- tin helmets, musette bags, overcoats, pistols, gas masks, first aid kits, canteens, ammunition pouch, heavy boots and all. As you know I don't like heights, and I never felt more clumsy. In my ears I kept hearing all the instructions about not buckling any of the equipment tight so we could wriggle out of it quickly if we fell into the water. Actually anticipation was much worse than the fact and I had no difficulty at all once over the rail and started down the side. Nor did any of the hundreds of men who were on the boat.
Finally the landing craft drew away loaded literally to the gunwales with standing men and at last ground ashore and let down it's bow. Unfortunately not really on the beach, so off we wade up to our knees in water and at last stand on the ground of France. If I can find it, I enclose a clipping from Time of the exact road up from the beach which we came and so have hundreds of thousands of other men. [The following sentence is a note from Elizabeth.] "(Alex did enclose the picture and it proved to be the same one we here have seen many times of the long serpentine line of men wending their way across the beach and the fields behind it with the blasted gun emplacements all around. By this I take it that he went in just about where our main assault was on D Day.)"
More waiting --- in fact we waited in an open field in the rain until 5 PM --- until finally trucks came slopping through the sticky clay mud of Normandy to take us to our camp --- on the afternoon of X plus 7. Not very good time for a journey actually of only a couple of hundred miles!
At camp we find tents set up with cots but where are our bedding rolls? No one knows! They have gone astray and there are no blankets. Finally one per man is produced, but for the following three nights we were pretty uncomfortable, sleeping fully clothed and wearing our overcoats. At last however our baggage arrived and we could get out of clothes for the first time since we left England a full week earlier. It was heaven!
It is now well past midnight so I must stop. There is much to write of which I have seen but this is the chronicle of the trip itself. Neither have I mentioned your many letters that I have received since arriving in France (wonderful mail service) --- I will write again as soon as I can but I am really busy now.
Love to all,