Monday, December 19, 2011

Cortland's Christmas, Antwerp 1944

517th Port Battalion guards posing on the snowy top of Tampico Flats apartment building, December, 1944. Photo courtesy of Jack Haren. His father John Haren is pictured on the left.

Around this time in 2010 my grandfather Cortland gave my sister a short account of his Christmas in 1944. This was after I published the book, so I'm happy to post the story here.

"Every night I was in Antwerp we slept on straw... like Jesus," Cortland chuckled. "On Christmas Eve we had a service led by the chaplain in a building with no windows [Tampico Flats]. It was happy until we were getting bombed. The bombs were dropping and the chaplain would get quiet and would hold his breath, but then he kept going. I was too scared to remember the message. I was so scared I didn't know my own name. Some people were sad. They'd rather be home—me included. We didn't get bombed on Christmas, and we had turkey. Roosevelt said everyone should get turkey if they could. The turkey was better than what we'd been eating."

As a member of the 519th Port Battalion, Cortland had been serving in Antwerp, Belgium since departing Normandy in mid-November. He was there to unload and guard supplies for the US Army. For most of this time the Germans were launching V1 and V2 rockets into the port city. During the Battle of the Bulge (December 16th to January 25th) there was a surge in the number of rocket attacks. The 519th and another port battalion were stationed in an apartment building by the docks. After months in the field they were thankful to be sheltered indoors, yet there were still discomforts. The window glass had all been shattered by explosions, the rooms lacked mattresses, and there was the ever-present anxiety of a direct hit by a v-bomb.

In 2010 and 2009 I wrote two other posts about Christmas for the port battalion men in WWII Belgium: A GI's Christmas in WWII Belgium, 1944 and GI Christmas Party in Antwerp, 1945

P.S. I looked through my National Archives records and found this quote in the 494th Port Battalion's historic report. It refers to Christmas, 1943 in Liverpool, England:
"The 494th Port Battalion in conjunction with the 490th Port Battalion were hosts to the British children in a pre-Christmas party which was enjoyed by the children as well as both battalions. The gala occasion took place a few days before Christmas."

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