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On this day in 1944, Camp Piddlehinton.

December 24, 2015

I don’t know who took this picture of Private First Class Carl R. Bonde, Jr. in front of his house in Kalispell, probably in the winter of 1943 or early 1944.

December 23, 2015

On this day in 1944 the soldiers of the 66th Army Panther Division at Camp Piddlehinton in Southern England got orders to drop everything and report to the port of Southampton for further transportation to France.  The men were to fall out on their street near the barracks.  This came as a shock.  They had expected a Christmas dinner of roasted turkey and all the trimmings, but their officers said all of that had changed.  They were headed for battle.

They did as ordered, scarcely believing it.  Turkeys in the ovens were removed, partially roasted.  The birds, buttered and seasoned, in roasting pans, were tossed out onto the dirt in the back.  Uncooked fruit pies were discarded.  Christmas trees that had been decorated with ornaments made from cigarette pack foil got dragged out the back door of the barracks and heaved into the darkness.  All festivities stopped.  The guys grumbled.  Their hearts raced.

The young soldiers stuffed their all of their belongings:  their military gear, plus whatever treats and personal effects that they could gather, into their canvas duffel bags.  Then they switched off the electric lights in their brick barracks for the last time.

They hoisted their rifles and their gear and stood uneasily, in formation, platoons, companies, regiments.  The order “right face” and “march” came as anticipated.  It was almost more than they could believe.

Snow flurries started to dust the ground.  The soldiers wore wool khaki coats and shouldered their rifles, packs and duffel bags.  Everything they could carry was slung over their shoulders.  Soon they were sweating.

Their eyes betrayed their dismay that the sumptuous turkey dinners that they were in process of fixing would never be eaten.  Cranberries and dressing had been thrown out the back doors with the pies and the bowls of cooking vegetables.  Potatoes, partially cooked, boiled, lay out on the cold ground, steam rising from the cooking water.  Some of the soldiers got a sort of forbidden thrill from the waste.

So often, the soldiers had gotten orders that later turned out to be nothing more than drills or false alarms.  Many thought the throwing away of food criminal.

PFC Carl Bonde and his friends had not been part of these Christmas preparations.  They had arrived back in camp to find everyone packing to leave.  They had been in London seeing the sights, hoping to encounter the legendary British women who were said to engage in casual sex in doorways by hiking their skirts and leaning against walls.  Carl and his friends made no secret that they hoped for such opportunities.

They had met no women like that.  Glumly, well, cheerfully at last, they rode back to their Army camp. The prospect of a Christmas feast cheered them.  At least until they found out that they were to abandon camp and ship to France.

They wondered why?  The war with Germany was all but over!  The Third Reich had been almost entirely defeated by the Allies.  The soldiers of the 66th Division really didn’t know what was going on.  Their senior officers knew that Hitler had started a surprise offensive in the Ardennes in Belgium that they had to repel.  General Eisenhower ordered them to go to France.

The soldiers trudged the miles to the train depot for the long ride to Southampton.  Some of the soldiers, tired of hiking, dragged their duffel bags along the road that grew whiter with snow as they went.  No cadence could be heard.  Each soldier stumbled behind the one ahead in the gloom of night.  Seemed like an eternity, but eventually they reached the railhead.  The men were loaded onto the “forty and eight” cars.  Some were able to catch some sleep on the train in the frosty night on the way to their point of embarkation at the docks.

The railcar jolted to a halt at Southampton in the wee hours of December 24, 1944.  The men marched in formation to  a place on the pier, between a great rusty ship and a Red Cross building where volunteers served coffee and doughnuts.

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  1. Thomas Hall permalink

    I like the suspense you create along with the unknown. God writing! Keep going

  2. Roger K Cheatham permalink

    My name is Roger Cheatham my father James L Cheatham Sr. was part of the 66th . Thank you for sharing this little bit of information of what these men went through.

    • Thanks for your comment, Roger. I hope you didn’t lose your father. Survivors are in their 90s, now, and folks like us, the next generation down the line, are in our 70s and 80s.

      • Roger Cheatham permalink

        Daniel my father passed away at age 48 . The weekend he passed he would have been in the service 30 yrs as he was still CSM of the 100th Division Army Reserves , Hq at Bowman Field here in Louisville Ky. Dad didn’t talk much about the war ,but I do remember him talking about having to jump from the Leopoldville to the HMS Brilliant.

      • My condolences on the loss of your father. Far too young.

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