The American’s in Tetbury.

February 21, 2014

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“This is merely the opening pages of the story, that’s the front Cover above.”

Introduction

Tetbury is a one of those wonderfully old fashioned Market towns you will find all over the Cotswolds beloved by tourists because the very fabric of the town oozes quintessential England of old. Yet I suspect very few of the tourists who visit have any notion of the town’s remarkable history.

Even the most casual of glances is enough to tell the tale that Tetbury is a place of great age and that in its time the town has seen both tremendous prosperity and sad decline.

In point of fact Tetbury has more than thirteen hundred years of recorded history and although nameless at the time there are signs of an Iron Age settlement that suggests that the area was occupied well before the Romans arrived in Britain over two millennia ago.

However, as fascinating as the complete history of the town is, this story is confined to more recent times and goes back a mere 70 years to look at what happened here during a few short months between December 1943 until early June 1944.

Like many places in Britain Tetbury played host to some of the thousands of American troops as they prepared for the D Day landings and the liberation of Europe from the tyranny of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi occupation.

Being that I was brought up in the peace and tranquillity of a Cotswold village I can well imagine the impact upon Tetbury as hundreds of American soldiers of the 654th Engineering Topographic Battalion arrived and virtually took over the town.

Even today many of our country roads are a struggle for heavy vehicles and the ever increasing size of modern day agricultural equipment. So I can imagine it must have been quite a shock for the locals when they saw the large American troop carrying trucks lumbering around the place.

Nor do I suppose the culture shock was all on one side. What did those young American men think of us and our quaint British countryside?
At the end of the war the 654th Battalion prepared a memorial book for themselves, in there I read this comment written by a soldier about the country.
“To most of us England was just like one big museum.”
Unfortunately not many of those privately printed journals exist today and in spite of my best Internet scouring efforts I have not been able to acquire a complete copy for myself.

However thanks to a guy named Larry Regan in the USA who responded to my plea by telling me that his father, Edward, served with 654th and had been stationed here in Tetbury. Imagine my joy to discover that Larry’s father had a copy of the missing journal and in spite of its badly worn condition Larry managed to recover many of the pages and photographs the journal contained.

Since Larry’s contribution and thanks to the present owner of Chavenge House, David Lowsley-Williams and his family, I have at least had the opportunity to hold an original copy of this book in my hands and read firsthand the story of the 654th. It is an incredible journey starting in June 1942 at Fort Custer, Michigan until the end with the surrender of Germany in May 1945.

One of the first things that struck me on looking at the pictures of Tetbury was how little the main town has changed.

I plan to demonstrate this in later pages with pictures of ‘Then and Now’ as I piece together the story of the officers and men of the 654th Engineering Topographic Battalion to whom this book is dedicated.

For the most part this is their story and the vital part they played in the preparations for the D Day landings and how their efforts add an interesting chapter to the proud history of our town.

Additionally it struck me how far technology has developed since those days and how much harder their job was back then with the equipment and resources available to them.

Little did I realise how changed things had become until speaking to a teenage school group, who with a look of bewilderment on their faces asked in all innocence, “why did they not just look at Google Maps?”

Hopefully, this book will answer that question and many more besides.

From all the data and information collected the men then had to construct a detailed scale model of the beach landing area. The model they created, here in Tetbury, was an accurate three dimensional representation of the waterfront and terrain detailing all roads, buildings and other topographic features plotted in their precise location.

Made to a Horizontal scale 1:2,500 and a Vertical scale of 1 inch to 68 feet. The model represented a ground area 6 miles long by 5 miles deep.

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Model

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10 Responses to “The American’s in Tetbury.”


  1. You’re doing a great job there Merlin. It’s not only the fighting troops who are part of the victory, it’s also those who performed tasks like the 654th. I love the Google remark. It shows how we can be limited in our thinking. I know they’re children but they’ll probably grow up thinking the world has always been like it is now.

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi Laurie, Why would the children think any different, like Geography History seems to be a forgotten subject. Although not treating history seriously may tells us why people and politicians continue to repeat the mistakes of the past over and over again.

      Another interesting thread going on is with such a rapid growth in modern technology and our almost complete dependence upon it what is going to happen when someone or something takes it all away ?

      You notice I said WHEN not IF ?


      • Well this is true Merlin, I think the system is designed to keep students dumb I’m sure. It’s always amazed me how little notice is taken of past mistakes, seems that the ego believes that it won’t happen again. It will be a sad day indeed if/when something happens to destroy the internet. There would still be the vast amount of phone cable connections around the world, bit slow though. If Wi-Fi were knocked out then there would be millions of ipads being used as table mats. 🙂

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    This is the IT age, everybody has a computer and a smart phone.
    With Google Maps and a Post Code I can find your house and assuming I have access to smart weapons I could remotely send something nasty down your chimney from a great distance.

    Therefore, my logical conclusion is this, in the event of yet another Global War the first casualty has to be the entire IT network.

    Take out the orbital satellites and the whole High tech world will be blind and deaf and since practically everything in the Western world from aeroplanes to cars has some sort of computer chip in it the whole system is destined to crash.

    Then what will happen to the younger generation ? You and I of the old school know how to do things without technology, what happens when we and people like us are gone ?

  3. Raani York Says:

    I find this blog post highly interesting.
    Even I, who got introduced to the computer world by the age of 14 and still remembers how it was growing up without a computer – can imagine how different certain things must have been completely without the support of computers. Not only calculations, tables, tablets, distances… but research, rebuilding, modeling (and I’m not talking about the catwalk-thing)…
    This is a reminder to me – thank you, Merlin, for taking me there!!

  4. merlinfraser Says:

    Hi Raani, Thanks for stopping by.
    Although my story is about a small group of American troops as they passed through England on their way to War it has also grown into a historical lesson of how things were in a pre digital world.

    I would like to encourage everybody who lived in that era to write their memories, if only for their own families. I believe History is being lost and forgotten in the super accelerated world of technological in which we live.

  5. HL Cork Says:

    Very interesting. My father was also in the 654th at Tetbury before they crossed the Channel. I am still amazed at the volumes of maps and materials (and the accuracy thereof) they produced absent any of today’s technology using nothing but good old fashioned cartography and surveyor skills. I have much of his war memorabilia, to probably include some photos of the town…would be glad to help if you need info or materials.

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi HL, thank you for stopping by. I too am amazed at all the talents that had to come together to make D Day even possible. Everything way back then was in its relative infancy including powered flight, photography and radio communications yet all three had to come together improve before the men of the 654th Battalion, and many others doing similar work, could even begin their work.

      Map making the old way was hard long and labourious work, hard enough in peace time yet those men did their work in hostile territory.

      In my forthcoming book The Americans in Tetbury I hope not only to tell the story of the 654th and the job they did but also attempt to explain how they did it and what tools they used.

      Something else you may like to know, tomorrow June 6th marks the 70th Anniversary of the D Day landings, Here in Tetbury we will be unveiling a Commemorative Stone to mark the occasion and on that stone will be a special plaque honouring the Officers and men of the 654th and the vital work they did while they were here in the town.

      Please watch my Blogs because soon I will be updating it with pictures and possibly a video from the ceremony tomorrow.

      I would love to hear what special material you have from your father’s memorabilia, I am specifically interested to learn who were the winners of the Bronze Star medals in the Battalion.
      I would also like to acquire/purchase, for myself, a good copy of the 654th’s own Battalion Book, the one they made and had printed in Germany. I have had the opportunity to see and read the book and I have most of the pictures of Tetbury that the book contains but I am always interested to gather more information.

      Also if you are in touch with any other family members of the men of the 654th please make them aware of me and my Blogs and pass on my contact details I am always open to hearing from them and hearing their memories.

      Best regards

      Merlin

  6. HL Cork Says:

    Hello Merlin,
    Yes, tomorrow is a big commemorative day. It’s nice to hear that the town will honor the service and memory of the 654th to include my father. I look forward to your postings. The battalion actually crossed the Channel and landed on Omaha Beach on July 3rd, nearly 4 weeks after the invasion.
    You should have my email address…if you’d like, please email me and we can correspond directly regarding your questions and the information you seek. I’ll also provide some personal insight.
    Best wishes tomorrow, Herb


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