Friday, September 14, 2012

Club Chipper, Antwerp, 1945

519th Port Battalion men at Club Chipper, 1945 (left to right): Lee Harringer, Dave Weaver,
Bob Lipke (in front), Don Woods, Bernie Beals, and Bruce Kramlich 

In talking to the GIs who had served in Antwerp I learned that port company soldiers frequented a particular club after hours—Club Chipper. Bruce Kramlich, a veteran of the 519th Port Battalion HQ, shared a photo of himself and friends having a drink at this enlisted men's club.

A GI by the name of Mansfield served in Antwerp in the 267th Port Company. His son found my blog, read my book, and noticed the photo of the guys at Club Chipper. Mansfield had saved a bunch of records from the war, and among them was the club charter and an excellent photo of a band on stage. The bands playing at Club Chipper may have been Army bands. My grandfather's 519th Port Battalion, for instance, had a swing band as well as a marching band.

Mansfield's photo. Notice the European Theater of Operations insignia, which also appears as a shoulder patch on the men's uniforms.
The charter documents provide an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the running of a club like this. The club served enlisted men of the 519th Port Battalion (my grandfather's unit), the 267th Port Company, the 268th Port Company, 22nd Postal Unit, "with a honorary membership given to the 776th Field Artillery Battalion and 6801 Claims Team for duration of their stay in Antwerp, Belgium."

On November 30, 1945 the first board members of the club were appointed to the position by their respective commanding officers. After the first sixty days these board positions were filled by election. The first board officers and members are named in the document:

Board Officers
Edward D. Benore, President
Edward Ryan, Vice-President
Thomas J. Jur, Secretary and Treasurer

Board Members
Robert J. Fialkowski
Marvin Newman, HQ, 519th Port Bn.
Frank Moran, 267th Port Co.
William Haskins
Clifford Lidskin, 303rd Port Co., 519th Port Bn
William C. Knox
Donald Gropp
Raymond McAloney, 22nd Postal Unit

1st Lt. Ross J. Novelli (of the 155th Port Company) was in charge if safeguarding club funds.

This photo was provided by the daughter of Tom Kroening who served in the 305th Port Company, 519th Port Battalion. It's probably a shot from Club Chipper.

Club Chipper was open from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm daily, except Sundays when doors opened from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Club members had an "initiation fee" of 100 Belgian Francs, with monthly dues of 50 Belgian francs. An advisory board could suspend the membership of anyone causing trouble or breaking the club rules. Soldiers could bring guests to the club, but female guests were required to be 18 years or older.

Three GIs served as cashiers and another handled supplies, and a NCO (a sergeant or corporal) guarded the club after hours, and was replaced by a civilian guard during the day. I expect the civilians were there to act as club bouncers, while the sergeant was there to protect the Army's property. Belgian civilians were hired to tend bar and wait tables. The club served beer, Coca-cola, coffee, and other refreshments. Unfortunately, the charter doesn't mention where the club was located. It would have been fun to see what the present-day building looks like.

A club like this would not have been possible in Antwerp during the war. Large gatherings in the city were especially vulnerable to the daily bombardments by German V-1 and V-2 rockets. Yet, after Germany's surrender crowds were once again allowed and soldiers' duties were relaxed. Bored GIs could too easily find ways to get in trouble with the locals and each other. To keep the peace and keep high morale the Army found it useful to entertain its troops with controlled activities such as Club Chipper.

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