Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Made the Headlines Possible, by George Havens

519th Port Bn guys working outside of Tampico Flats, Antwerp, c.1945

Early on in my research Dave Weaver and Bruce Kramlich recommended this book. To my knowledge We Made The Headlines Possible is the only published book on Port Company work in WWII Europe. The author, George Havens, served in the 105th Port Marine Maintenance Company. Although his unit took no part in the Normandy invasion or its subsequent supply work, the book has been useful to me in presenting a picture of Port Co. life in England and Antwerp.

In November, 1944 the 105th came over from England, landing in La Havre France. They rode 40 and 8s to Antwerp on the same railway the 519th Port Bn. used a few weeks earlier. Undoubtedly, this description could apply to my grandfather's own trip:

Our cars moved slowly, stopped frequently and unpredictably, and started up with no notice other than several high-pitched wistels. When we did stop, guys bailed out of the cramped cars to stretch, scavenge for apples in nearby trees, or run to any close-by house to negotiate for a bottle of calvados or wine. When the wistle sounded, guys came running helter-skelter across fields to cath our car and dive aboard. Several who would not make it simply went to the adjacent highway and hitchhiked to the next village, often beating us there. The car had no toilet, of course, so we had to wait until the train stopped and then take care of business before the train started again. Some guys really got caught with their pants down. (p 59)

The port of Antwerp was controlled by the British army, with a sector set aside for the work of American Port Companies. The 105th came under the command of the American's 13th Major Port Group, likewise with my grandfather's 304th Port Co.. The 105th men stayed in the Luchtbal Barracks. The 304th men moved to the same housing in December of 1945 (they had been living in Tampico Flats). So, there are quite a few experiences shared by the two units. I had hoped that this book would offer more detail about the actual work done by Havens' company, but I suppose there is only so much that can be said about engine repair and maintenance. However, I am very grateful for it's depiction of the general atmosphere, as well as it's collection of facts and figures germane to the service of my grandfather's unit.

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