A Request for Information … An Explanation.

November 20, 2013


Recently on Linkedin I put out a request for help and information about an American Battalion formed during the Second World War who found themselves billeted here in the small market town of Tetbury in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire.

For many reasons my request stirred the interest of quite a few people who asked why the curiosity after so many years ? After all, on the surface and in the grand scheme of things it is hardly a remarkable story as there were thousands of American troops stationed all over the country as the Allies readied themselves for the invasion to free mainland Europe from the Nazis.

The simple answer is exactly that, curiosity. I have long been interested in the history of our small town where in a country that can boast thousands of years of history our tiny little corner can claim over thirteen hundred years of recorded history. That, as it says, is only from records following the first documented mention of a settlement called ‘Tettan Monasterium’ or Tetta’s Monastery. There is ample evidence to suggest that a nameless Iron Age settlement was there long before the Roman’s arrived.

As part of my research of the town I came across the old weather beaten sign, whose picture you see above and it begged many questions. You see Tetbury today is no longer the important market town of old nor is it the bustling cross-roads of thundering cross country stage coaches as they stopped to change horses. The town today is a tourist destination, one of the quaint English towns full of antique and tea shops.

For those who bother to wander off the beaten track the town has a quaint Mediaeval feel with loads of narrow alleyways with and it is hard to imagine the icy finger of war ever touching this place. However that sign is not on any tourist route and it gets scant mention in the many tour guides and even when it does no one goes out of their way to make it easy to find.

On occasions I act as a tour guide for the guests of one of the town’s major hotels and in one group two American guests asked specifically what I knew about the time when the American troops were here. To my shame I could tell them very little, turns out the father of one of them had served in the 654th during the war and have often talked affectionately of the town and the people of Tetbury. Apparently he wanted to return for a visit but sadly died before he could.

I vowed there and then to discover a little bit more about the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion and it proved to be quite a story. Not as you might think a story worthy of a movie but like all those pockets of troops dotted around the country they played their part. As I was to find out the part they played was vital to the planning and strategy of Operations Neptune and Overlord, otherwise known as the D Day Landings in Normandy June 6th 1944.
What I found out and thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people I have managed to collect copies of many photographs taken by the soldiers themselves while they were here in the town.

I plan to use these photographs and the ones I have taken to show the town they knew as it is today as I try to piece together the facts about the Top Secret work these guys did while in the town.

The book, if I can find a publisher on my wavelength, will be dedicated to the officers and men of the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion as well as paying tribute to those who gave their lives on OMAHA Beach during the Normandy landings.

The connection between the town of Tetbury, OMAHA Beach and the work of the men of the 654th is the subject of the book.

Finally, if it’s the last thing I ever do I intend that that sign be replaced by one more fitting of their service and one that will endure for all time.

5 Responses to “A Request for Information … An Explanation.”

  1. laurie27wsmith Says:

    What a worthy challenge you’ve taken on Merlin.

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    Thanks Laurie, I knew you would understand.

  3. Garry R. Keane Says:

    We seem to share more interests than just comedy Merlin. Great blog.

    Best regards

    Garry R. Keane

  4. Raani York Says:

    This is quite interesting and I do give you Kudos for this great cause you’re dedicating your time and efforts to! You have my respect, Merlin!

  5. merlinfraser Says:

    Thanks Raani, I find historical history research fun, a bit like a giant jig-saw puzzle with no straight edge bits, corners or real picture.

    Of course it can also be a bit controversial especially when you discover facts that contradict popular and long held local beliefs.
    Such as how a town got it’s name or challenging the belief that it was once the site of an ancient castle.

    Of course you all know what a shrinking violet I am when it comes to controversy !!!

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