Sutton Veny - 2nd World War
The Second World War saw the rebuilding of camps in Sutton Veny area though not on the scale of the First War. There were two camps built. The first was on the Deverill Road between The Beeches and Long Ivor Farm. A substantial number of buildings and huts remain today, and it is now known as the Longbridge Deverill Trading Estate. The second camp was built in Best Lane in Sutton Veny where a few nissen huts are still present.
During the first part of the war Sutton Veny was used to house evacuees from the cities. Food rationing started and was extremely restrictive - 12 oz of sugar, 8 oz of butter, 12 oz of tea and about 12 oz of fat a month per person ! (Many would have a problem living on that today !)
A contingent of the Home Guard was formed in the village and an observation post was set up in Dymocks Lane which had a good view of the fields between the village and the Deverill Camp. As far as is known Sutton Veny and its military camps were not the target of any bombing raids though occasionally bombs fell in the fields around Sutton Veny when German aircraft jettisoned bombs during their raids on Bath and Bristol.
In late 1943, the 83rd Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion United States Army moved into Deverill Camp which was soon to be part of General Patton's Third Army. Sutton Veny House was used as a major Army headquarters. The 573 AA Arty Automatic Weapons Battalion (Self Propelled) and the 492nd Armoured Field Artillery Battalion were also barracked in Sutton Veny. The Americans stayed until they left for France and the D Day landings in mid 1944. All that is currently known about the Best Lane Camp was that it housed No 443 Company Royal Engineers.
On the morning of December 23rd 1944, we were awakened and informed that we had arrived at our destination. Naturally I looked out the window to get a glimpse of the surroundings. A dreary mist was falling and the country looked anything but inviting. Instead of seeing an Army Camp as I had expected, all I saw were a few scattered houses along the rails and a dirt road leading into the hills. We were told to strap on our gear and get going. With a silent groan and a curse for all the [Germans] who started this war, I again shouldered that seemingly 1000 pound duffle bag, got my rifle, and dismounted. This was Hytesbury, England. The frame of mind I was in was such that I felt sure no more miserable hole was ever created. We continued by truck the four mires to Camp Sutton Veny. Upon arrival there I knew immediately that I wasn't going to like England any too well. The minute we alighted from the truck we began to live in mud. Just mud, and more mud !
The buildings where we were quartered were about the same as the modern ice box. For heat there were tiny stoves which looked as though they had come out of the 14th century. It was always cold in the buildings regardless of how red hot the stoves might be. The beds we slept on had springs made of common fence wire wound together. There were no mattresses - not even straw with which to make one. After sleeping one night under these conditions, we could easily play checkers the next morning by using one of our backs for a checker board.
Our second day in England was Sunday. I went to church with a bunch of the boys. For a chapel we had a hut that had been a Rec. Hall for the 9th Armored Division before they left for the Continent. It was a miserable old hut of stone. We had no benches so we sat on pieces of board or anything handy. Cobwebs swayed in the cold, damp atmosphere of the old building as we sang from memory a few hymns. The Chaplain, a Southern Missionary Baptist, brought the message, "The Birth of Christ." At the conclusion of the service we sang "Just as I Am." It seemed sort of strange, the entire service that morning. It was so entirely different from any I had ever attended.
That night was Christmas Eve. As night drew her curtains, all was still except for the drone of Allied planes winging their way across the Channel toward Germany. I would have hung up my stocking that night but was rather leery of doing so for fear that I might catch a flying bomb in it.
On Christmas Day there was a fog so dense that it hid even the nearest hills. Also, we began to notice what an odd climate this country had. At 0900 hours there was a light frost. By 1500 hours the frost was as deep as a light fall of snow. We had turkey for dinner, but some of the guys swore it was sea gull, or else the gobblers flew all the way from the states. Such tough turkey we had never eaten before. That night we weren't allowed out of camp but for some reason or other the whole camp was deserted. At a certain "pub" in Warminster the 1st Sgt. said he could hold a Battery formation. Once we began to get out of camp we learned a lot about English customs, etc. First we found that there were 12 G.I.s. to every girl in the towns and a man had to be a relative of Clark Gable to find a date for himself. The girls were rather beautiful, in a reserved sort of way. None of them wore hose, Nylons went with the Blitz of '39, and lipstick was hardly ever seen. Britain had been, and was still being, hit hard. It was hard enough to get men, supplies, guns, tanks, and all that goes with a fighting army, without using ships for such trivial matters as those.
Within a few weeks I was transferred to Southampton on detached service. I found the people there to be very nice and helping. I spent a lot of time at the American Red Cross on High Street. It was there that I met some typical British people. The place was operated by English girls who had volunteered their services. I spent several hours at the home of the senior hostess there. She was so very nice. She told me a lot about the strain Britain had been under and of the terrific beating her people had taken from the Luftwaffe. By merely taking a glance down High Street one could see the truth of her words. Hardly a single building was left standing. What used to be one of the most beautiful sea-port cities in the world was now only a bombed out shambles. While I was at Southampton, many other members of this Battalion were on detached service at Pangborn, Tidworth, Salisbury and Weymouth, among other places. The duties involved a wide range of activities from driving trucks to the common garden variety of K.P.! Most of the periods of detached service were for six weeks and proved to be a delightful change from Camp Sutton Veny.
During this period of our absence, driving details were traveling allover England to obtain our vehicles and supplies which landed at widely separated points. As soon as the jeeps, trucks and halftracks arrived in camp, the regular maintenance periods were resumed on guns and vehicles.
The "573rd AAA Bn Band" went into action at Sutton Veny and in a short period of time had playing engagements every night of the week. These engagements took the musicians on an extended tour of England and added pounds where they were needed most.
Diversions at Sutton Veny included movies at the Rec. Hall two nights a week and an occasional dance. The Red Cross Club at Warminster, about 3 miles away, was well patronized. The warm shower room with its abundance of hot water was especially popular. On Friday afternoon of each week the Red Cross Club mobile visited Camp Sutton Veny and set up shop near the mess hall. The fellows came running from all directions with canteen cups in hand for coffee and doughnuts. These weekly visits became anticipated events.
About this time Major C. H. Hewson, Royal Artillery, took up quarters with us as a sort of Liaison Officer. Under his direction the first three "graders" took up training of Occupation of Position. Then the men went out on problems to apply what they had learned. The English Major inspected the positions and made constructive criticism.
The continued waiting period was filled with other schools. One was an Engineering Bridge School where the men observed the construction of a Bailey Bridge. Another school was on Mines and Booby traps. It was here that one of our officers had an experience worth mentioning. Because the instructor had only a few specimens of various types of booby traps and their firing devices, he requested the members of the class to please refrain from misappropriating them. At the first opportunity one of the book type firing devices found its way into this officer's pocket. The safety pin was not firmly in place. It dropped out and permitted the primer to go off. The noise and cloud of smoke rising out of his pocket caused one-red-face and an amused class.
About the middle of February, 1945, the men on detached service returned to Sutton Veny in time to take part in a firing mission in the mud at Kimeridge. Each Battery had a separate schedule and worked these missions in conjunction with a 40 mm outfit whose guns we towed out to the range. The original plan was for each Battery to put in one day of firing. Because of the fog or the presence of too many ships, the firing continued over a period of nearly two weeks. While B Battery was awaiting the opportunity to fire, two Spitfires returning from Germany became lost in the fog and crashed against the headlands in the vicinity of the range. One pilot was killed outright. The other was badly mangled. Our medics were on the spot in short order and Capt. Craig did all that was possible in the way of first aid before sending the victim to the hospital. During one of the periods of firing the order came through for 37 mm guns only to fire on the next course because of boats in the bay within range of the 50's. There was some misunderstanding on the part of the other unit with us and when the target came into view, the gunners on the M-51 (multiple 50 Cal.) mounts cut loose while the range officer frantically called out "Cease Fire". The water all around the boats was splattered with lead. There was a destroyer among the boats and the men took up the cry that we were trying to sink it!!
Shortly after we returned to Sutton Veny, movement orders came through. Guns and equipment were placed in first class condition. On March 3rd we traveled in convoy to the marshalling area where we had our fill of C rations and spent one night. The next morning we proceeded to Portland Harbor. The date was Sunday, March 4th, 1945. It was the beginning of a beautiful day as we boarded the LST's for France. Sunlight lifted the fog and the channel was nothing but long miles of glittering blue. As we floated out of the harbor and into the open channel, I looked back at the Island. It seemed very quiet and serene. As the landscape grew more and more distant, I couldn't help but wonder to myself just how long it might be before I would be seeing England again.