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RECOLLECTIONS OF NOTTINGHAM RESIDENTS


Radio believed to have been left behind at Wollaton Park when the 508 left for the Holland Drop.


 Radio is said to have been used in the Officers Mess

Memories of the American 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment
ĎTent Cityí, Wollaton Park, Nottingham 1944
by David Cook

The following are my recollections of the situation and events of 66 years ago when 2000+ troops of the American 508th PIR Regiment were camped in Nottingham and were twice parachuted into the European War.

At the time I lived in the centre of Nottingham and I was a 16 years old young cadet member of a local squadron of the Air Training Corps (ATC Ė RAF youth organisation) and part of our ATC activities was to give voluntary service to the community. My community service activity was the result of an ATC Squadron Officer with local council connections who nominated me, being the only cadet living in the city centre, to act as a guide around the city centre to our America guests who were camped in Wollaton Park. The arrangement was I would meet them near the Theatre Royal where they would arrive in their trucks escorted with White Helmeted Military Policemen (nicknamed Snowdrops). I would then take those who were interested on a tour of the city centre in which time I tried to cover as much as possible, giving them site locations and directions from the Market Square which they could use to revisit later in their leisure.

In 1944 the only city centre entertainment venues were a) Public Houses b) Cinemas c) Dance Halls and d) Coffee Bars so the sites of these had to be included together with sites of historic buildings, the history of the city, and our way of life. Near the start point on Wollaton Street was a very popular Fish and Chip Shop (since demolished). This fascinated the G Iís who thought it to be a traditional British habit, a meal wrapped in newspaper and eaten in the streets on your way home. It did not take them long to adopt this habit.

Questions always raised by the GIís were ĎWhy is the ordinary looking large building near the city centre called Nottingham Castle when it looks nothing like a castle yet the beautiful building on Wollaton Park which truly looks like a traditional castle is only called Wollaton Hall?, Where is Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood lived?, We are told Nottingham has the prettiest girls in England, where do we find them?Ē In reply to this I then showed them around the dozens of factories in the Lace Market area employing thousands of girls whom would leave work and make their way to the Market Square to catch their buses home. I then told them where the best place and time to see them was. Apparently the GIís could not believe their eyes when they first saw these hundreds of pretty girls, where did they all come from? I later learned that thereafter some GIís frequently appeared at this junction hoping to make dates for the evening. On no occasion did I experience any disapproval or animosity towards the GIís, most local people were helpful and interested in which American State they came from, their families and what they thought of Britain.

With my work and ATC commitments I only had limited time available when the GIís first arrived, thus I only managed to do the tour a few times with a few GIís. Nevertheless few as they were I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to meet and be of service to them and would have liked the chance to have met many more. Unfortunately after all these years I can only recall one GIís name ĎHankí, because his name was unusual at the time.
Like servicemen everywhere the GIís were obviously aware of the possibilities of future death or wounding in action thus the attitude was to be happy and enjoy life while you could. Thus after spending the evenings in the pub they would be merry but not drunk and in the early weeks of their arrival they had problems with locations and street directions. On several occasions, on my way home late evenings from the Radford ATC/Boyís Club, in Canning Circus I would meet GIís who were lost seeking their way back to Wollaton Park or the Market Square. Those for Wollaton I would point out a 2 mile walk along Ilkeston Road or show them the stop for a 39 or 45 Trolley bus and told them where to ask to get off. Those for the Market Square I would accompany to Chapel Bar and on these occasions learned that many of the GIís appeared to be in their early twenties, only a few years older than I was, but I could relate to them, for within 12 months I too became a member of the RAF. One evening when we came out of the ATC we found a lone GI lost in the middle of the narrow compact streets of Radford. It appeared that he had escorted a young lady home who had given him clear simple instructions to the nearest return bus stop but we worked out he had taken a right turn instead of a left and now expressed his embarrassment in his getting lost We showed him where he had gone wrong and, should he wish to return, an important building to guide him, the Trolley Bus numbers to catch, and then put him on a Market Square bound Trolley bus.

With living and working in the city centre I became quite accustomed and accepted as normal the daily presence of the GIís in the Market Square but two memories still remain quite clear. The first being a US truck with GIís in the square promoting a Baseball Game surrounded by a group of excited young ladies asking ďWhat is a Baseball Game? I had to explain to them it was the American professional version of the game we British call ĎRounders;í and then had to explain to a nearby GIís that ĎRoundersí is a simple British ball game played in the schoolyard or field. On the Sunday afternoon when the [baseball] game was played on a local football ground the large majority of the watching crowd were the pretty young ladies, such was the effect of the GIís. The second memory is the day the GI Officers were invited to the Council House by the city fathers as their special guests, then together with city dignitaries were taken out onto the front viewing balcony overlooking the Market Square. As I passed by and looked up at them I had one disappointment that Ďit is a pity those girls from the Lace Market area could not here now for they surely would have given those GI officers a very warm Nottingham welcomeí. Now, even after all these years, whenever I pass in front of the Council House the memory of that event frequently returns.

I cannot recollect the GIís causing any major problems; to the contrary those I met were always well behaved, respectful to the British way of life, anxious to learn about the city. They were always generous with their thanks and appreciation, always offered me gifts but as it was part of my voluntary community service I could not accept and this they respected. Ok there may have been odd boisterous occasions and the occasional drunk caused by the misunderstanding of the strength of British Beers but they were quickly dealt with by their own Military Police who regularly patrolled the city centre in jeeps and by foot. This action was to ensure their soldiers did not offend the British Public and this consideration was much appreciated by the local citizens.

My second, but indirect, association with the GIís was through my motherís sister Ella who was staying with us for a few months and whose occupation was that of Laundry Steam Pressure Operator and Ironer, with a reputation for both quality and speed of her work. In Nottingham at that time there was a Laundry/Dry Cleaning shop on Goldsmith Street (now demolished) situated where the Stage Door Entrance of the Royal Concert Hall is now. My aunt soon found employment there and became popular with the customers. When the GIís arrived this facility was a blessing to them and the Officers became regular customers. One day an officer enquired who was doing the pressing, ironing and folding of their clothes and asked if could be arranged for that person to be solely responsible for future pressing/ironing of the officers garments, This was agreed to, but on frequent busy days my aunt would bring the officers clothes to mumís house, iron and fold them in the evening and take them back the following morning and this soon became a regular daily practice. A repeated habit with the officers was to leave articles in their pockets, including wallets and rolls of US Dollars or British Pound notes, all of which my aunt would remove, place in identifying envelopes, and return to the owner. Her reputation for her honesty and quality of work was much appreciated by the officers who would always ask for and thanked Ella when collecting their garments. As a result she became very popular with the officers and on several occasions she was asked for a date but had to point out she was a married woman.

In late May 1944 officers, by way of showing their appreciation, took my aunt and mum out for an evening meal in top city Blackboy Hotel restaurant, a place beyond their wildest dreams. At the end of the evening they were presented with the gift from the officers of a heavy sealed large cardboard box which later turned out to contain a variety of food stuffs, chocolates, sweets, and cigarettes. Some days later a single officer arrived to collect all his fellow officerís garments saying they were being moved. That evening no GIís were seen in the city but large convoys of covered US Military Trucks were seen heading out of the city. On June 6th 1944, the BBC Radio announced that ďOperation Overlord had commenced. (Years later we learned that 2,050 members of the 508th Parachute regiment had been parachuted into France as part of that operation).

Thereafter for several weeks, only an occasional sight of GIís were seen in the city, but eventually in July their numbers began to increase again. However this time they appeared to be mainly a new group who only occasionally visited the city in smaller groups. The officerís garments for cleaning and ironing were still brought in and collected by the officers but my aunt sensed a much more subdued atmosphere among the new group of GIís. Then during mid September large convoys of covered US Trucks were again seen leaving the city but on this occasion we had an idea where they were going, Thus again it appeared the 508th Parachute Regiment were about to be parachuted into European Battle Zones and on September 17th 2,000 were parachuted into Holland. After this only a few GIís were seen in Nottingham and the last few had left by December 1944

In 1944 we knew the 508th must have experienced casualties, deaths and missing members, when twice parachuted into Europe but after five years of war British citizens were somewhat battle hardened at the every day news of disasters, deaths, wounded and missing members of the armed forces, this regretfully was an accepted part of war. However, years later when many detailed facts of incidents in the war became public knowledge peopleís attitudes changed. In Nottingham this was particularly so when details of the 508th participation, casualties and deaths on D Day Operation Overlord and with British Paratroops in the Operation Garden City in Holland became available.

Whist resident in Nottingham for only months in 1944 the 508th had become part of its history, suffered casualties and deaths on our behalf, thus a long term relationship with the 508th became established. In the late 1940ís the hospitality the citizens of Nottingham had given to the 508th was recognised in the city being granted an annual Roosevelt Scholarship to award to a Nottingham Citizen to visit the USA for one year in furtherance of his/her chosen career.

In the years since there have been a great many stories and expressions of gratitude about the courtesy and generosity of the GIís during their time in Nottingham, particularly over our wartime shortages for which my generation in Nottingham will never forget the generosity of the 508th GIís. There is a small tribute display about them in the Wollaton Park Industrial Museum. On every November Armistice Remembrance days, Veterans (now Armed Forces) memorial days, together with our own military casualties those GIís are remembered, often supported by a display by a local 508th re-enactment group. Veterans of the 508th have in the years since visited the city and their íTent Cityí base at Wollaton Park were they have left a memorial tribute to their fallen comrades.

In Britain after the 1914/1918 First World War statues and memorials in honour of the fallen were erected in hundreds around the country. But at the end of the 1939/1945 Second World War an apathy to war existed and few new memorials were erected, the old ones being updated to include dates of both world war years. However, with the advent of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars where our soldiers are again ĎBrothers in Armsí the media now regularly give frequent updates of the war situation and casualties. This has created a rise in public concern that they should not be forgotten and a nationwide move began to erect memorials to their lasting memory and also acknowledgement to those who fell in WW2. This year I am happy to say such a lasting memorial has been erected in Wollaton Park facing the site of ĎTent Cityí to honour the 508th, their presence here, their participation and casualties in the European War This memorial will now permanently educate current and forthcoming generations, of the sacrifices made and the part played in 1944 by the U.S. 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the survival of Britain, Europe, and their forebears..

David Cooke, Nottingham, England - November 2010


 


[l-r] John Savage, Kathy Price and David Cook all had interactions with the 508th in 1944.

Kathy was a 15-year old waitress in a cafť next to Victoria station.  she has fond memories from that era and attended the 2008 reunion in Fayetteville, NC.

John Savage was a 12-year old boy who got fish and chips for some of the troopers when they were confined to camp.
   The troopers gave him a special signal so that no other troopers would steal their food.  John whistled "Sing Baby Sing" at the Tent City Fence surrounding the Camp.
   "The troopers", he recalled, "always told him to keep the change.

 

 

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