BILLET IN CHERBOURG

Cherbourg Harbor and row houses across it.

Cherbourg Harbor and row houses across it.

France

1944

Having just arrived in Cherbourg, France after our operation at Omaha Beach,my group’s immediate task was to find housing in town.

First, we located the SNCF–the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (French national railways system). There we would set up liaison operations. We wanted housing within walking distance and began the search. Officers took over a large house in the center of town, but we found some undamaged, vacant row houses along the main harbor basin and chose one for our group of ten men.

Our row house had a wood garage/pedestrian door facing the street with one shuttered window next to it. Just inside the door, was a narrow cobblestone floor, which was the garage and entrance to the home. Near the far end of the garage, to the right was a doorway to an open courtyard. In it was a large water basin, a latrine and an open space for household chores like washing clothes and storage.

The front room with the shuttered window was about as big as the garage and served as the main living area. A kitchen was behind it, facing the back. A steep narrow stairway led to the second floor, which consisted of several small bedrooms. On the third floor, were three more sleeping rooms.

Nick Sherry, Ed Carey and I claimed one room near the top of the second floor steps. Its window looked over the back courtyard. Searching town, we found beds and previously rodent-infested mattresses in an abandoned hospital.

For meals, we assigned ourselves to an Army Engineering Battalion. Unfortunately, that excellent food arrangement didn’t last long. Later, we attached to a Port Battalion with two small ships in the harbor.

Next, Nick, Ed and I returned to the railway station and located a

Roommates: Nick  and Ed

Roommates: Nick and Ed

vacant room adjacent to the platform and converted it into an office. The SNCF station superintendent was decidedly pro-German. We had to deal with the man off and on, but mostly ignored him.

A few days later, the 728th Railroad Operating Battalion’s advanced party arrived and began taking over the operation of the railroad and its boxcars, flatcars, and other rolling stock. In time, the 728th’s American railroad engines and similar cars began to arrive. The railroad battalion hired existing SNCF personnel to assist in operating future trains.

In addition to our normal liaison function, throngs of civilians of many nationalities began to arrive. They besieged us for transport to areas inland. Since I spoke only English, I felt very inadequate and tried my best to learn French.

Once the port was cleared of concrete debris and restored to function, American troops and supplies began to arrive by the shipload. Soon, wounded GIs also came. They were loaded onto small ships and taken to England.

 

Le (June ‘14) adds, “I began learning French back in 1944 and still work on improving those language skills today.”

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