They Will Not Be Forgotten. A Tribute to the Officers and Men of the American 654th Engineer Topographical Battalion from the people of Tetbury.

June 20, 2014

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For many 2014 is a special year, not only because it is the Centenary of the start of World War One but it also marks the 70th Anniversary of the D Day Landings on the Normandy Beaches. To commemorate these two historic milestones the press and media have gone into overdrive and of course a cynical person like me might view their enthusiasm as just another excuse to rerun all the old War movies once more.
Conversely even they realise the importance of such anniversaries and I am please to say that through the media certain schools created projects involving their senior students visiting mainland Europe and going on a tour called “War Walks” as well as visiting the many War graves where they may find a long lost distant relative.

Of course of no less importance the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings was marked this year by the visit of many allied veterans from all over the world which for most may well be their last trip to the beaches where so many of their comrades fell.

For me, on the day itself one thing that stood head and shoulders above everything else was the spirit of one of the veterans,
Bernard Jordan

Bernard Jordan a 90-year-old war veteran turned up in Normandy after being reported missing from his care home in England said he made the journey to see the “first class show” – and plans to do it again next year.

Bernard Jordan was reported ‘AWOL’ by staff at The Pines care home in Hove, Sussex, after they failed to get Bernard booked on an official tour going to the D Day celebrations. Using true blue British spirit with his medals hidden under his coat he managed to talk himself onto another coach and embarked upon his cross-channel mission. Needless to say once he was located safe and well he was deservedly treated as a VIP and returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Not that Bernard was alone in the spirit of determination not to be left out and as long as the body is capable these heroes will return year on year to remember their fallen comrade and the sacrifices they made on behalf of free people everywhere.

Vets

For the American veterans one such Normandy beach at St. Laurent will forever be remembered by its war time code name ‘OMAHA’ where a near first day disaster was averted due mainly to the sheer determination of the forces landing there. These men, in spite of the loss of their tank support and taking tremendously heavy casualties they fought on against overwhelming odds to win the day.

Omaha Beach

A few months ago I wrote a short Blog about the Americans in Tetbury.
https://merlinfraser.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/the-americans-in-tetbury/

It highlighted the fact that during World War Two, in the lead up to the Invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces commencing on June 6th 1944, our tiny town played host to a group of American troops.

The men were from the 654th Engineer Topographical Battalion and what they were working on while in the town was classified as ‘Top Secret.’ So secret in fact that the majority of the troops themselves were kept in the dark as to the nature and purpose of the work they were doing.

Now, of course, the work they did is part of history and no longer secret but having said that a lot of what this special Battalion did is being lost in the fading memories of a War long since over.

During their stay in Tetbury, six months prior to D Day, the Officers and men of the 654th Engineer Topographical Battalion were to play a vital role in the preparation plans for the invasion. Code named ‘OVERLORD’

The plans for the invasion of France was the largest amphibious assault ever conceived my any military mind and would involve 5 army divisions as part of the initial assault, supported by over 7,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft.

In total 75,215 British and Canadian troops and 57,500 US troops were landed by sea on D-Day while another 23,400 were landed from the air by parachute or glider.

For their part the men of the 654th were responsible for preparing and printing the thousands of accurate scale maps that would be required for the assault on OMAHA Beach and in the countryside beyond. These maps would be vital as the American forces established a beachhead and then forced their way inland to join up with forces landing at the other beaches code named; Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.
map_beaches_dday

In complete secrecy a few select men from the 654th had a very special task to perform and that was to create a 3D scale model of the terrain of the OMAHA Beach area.
model3
The model was constructed to a Horizontal scale 1:2,500 and a Vertical scale of 1 inch to 68 feet and represented a ground area 6 miles long by 5 miles deep.

The 654th was an Engineering Battalion and many of their duties were associated with the gathering and interpretation of raw data for the creation of those maps using the basic land survey equipment and techniques of the day. This information was necessary and vital for the coordination of not only the many Artillery Battalions supporting the Infantry but by the Infantry men themselves in calling in both Artillery and Air support.

After D Day the 654th Battalion followed their comrades to France and beyond using their skills to interpret captured enemy maps and quickly transferring the information onto maps used by the advancing allied forces.

Seventy years after the fact it is difficult to focus on any one group or for us, who were not part of those terrible days of total war, to contemplate the horrors these men faced on a daily basis. For those of us who watched the faces of those World War Two veterans as they stood in remembrance on those Normandy Beaches. We saw them moved to tears by the memories that will haunt them till they day they go to join their lost friends and we can only stand in silent support.

I know that the Officers and men of the 654th Engineering topographical Battalion were not frontline troops. I also know they were not physically on those beaches on that day but I would safely bet that they were there in spirit as the events were relayed back to them.

Back then the people of Tetbury had little knowledge of why those troops were here or the work they were doing. Hopefully in my new book I will be able to put that right.
One man who did his part to maintain the memory was a new friend of mine Syd Mosdell, who erected the sign above the door of the old Malt House where the troops worked in secret.
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Although the building still exists and is still in regular use by the local youth groups of the boy scouts and girl guides it lies behind private property and is not easily seen.

I wanted to change that and with the help and support of the local town council and the owners of a grassy knoll close to the Malt House I commissioned a commemorative stone and plaque. This is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of D Day but more especially to the memory of the men of the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion and their time here in Tetbury.

As you can see many of the people of our town agreed with me and turned out in support, including our own veterans

IMG_0015 and some senior ladies of the town who with a wink and a twinkle in their eye still remember those friendly strangers who passed this way on their way to war.

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The Mayor of Tetbury unveils the stone.
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The Plaque dedicated to the the Officers and men of 654th
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On the steps leading to the Malt House.
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Lest We Forget
Aerial View Of Omaha Cemetery

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12 Responses to “They Will Not Be Forgotten. A Tribute to the Officers and Men of the American 654th Engineer Topographical Battalion from the people of Tetbury.”


  1. Reblogged this on The Writers Desk and commented:
    Please read this story, it is a tribute to the armed forces and imperative that we remember all of the effort by all the soldiers. Without the work that these men did D-Day would never have
    been a success. Thank you Mr. Merlin Fraser for honoring the men of the 654th. Engineering Topographical Battalion. You did a wonderful job. :o)

  2. Carlos Duval Says:

    Thank you for the very Interesting piece. I enjoyed It. Perhaps the following may Interest you. I wrote this In response to a project with a local writing group in Horwich. It Is one of many poems and short stories I have published. I hope It may be of Interest to you. It Is set In WW1. Peter McGeehan. (Author: Carlos Duval)

    THE KAISER’S GUN

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    The Germans raise their ugly heads
    All Europe they say is theirs
    We’re taken away from our comfy beds
    To protect our country and heirs
    The call goes out to take up arms
    To crush the curse’d Hun
    Propaganda set off alarms
    The King wants me and my son.

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    We are trained to hate and trained to kill
    Trained to fight for the King
    Trained to charge and not stand still
    And never to fear a thing
    The Sergeant Major shouts and bawls
    And tells us we are shite
    He drills us till each man falls
    He teaches us how to fight.

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    Now we board the trains and ships
    To take us to the fight
    British Anthems pass our lips
    To make it all feel right
    We march away to kill the Hun
    To bury him in the mud
    To charge ahead with loaded gun
    And do whatever we could

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    Now in the trenches wet and cold
    We wait for death to call
    British Tommies in the mould
    We fight for one and all
    The whistle blows and up we go
    The ladders to our fates
    Bullets, shells and shrapnel flow
    And I lose most of my mates

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    The smell of death and taste of blood
    Fills the acrid air
    As men just fall as where they stood
    Does anyone really care ?
    The stinking mess of mud and gas
    Where bodies outnumber plants
    The brown, red land devoid of grass
    Where cowards shit in their pants.

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    Time after time they send us in
    To face the onslaught fire
    Our ears are bursting with the din
    The King he was a liar
    A land for heroes promised us
    For most we’ll never see
    Bullet holes just full of puss
    Will be the death of me

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    My Son and I will fall today
    This day when we must die
    Lying in the mud we pray
    Beneath a foreign sky
    Our graves in rows so freshly made
    With stones so white aglow
    Even now we’re on parade
    Placed there just for show

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    When all is done and England’s free
    For our people back at home
    The poor are still on bended knee
    Taxed right to the bone
    The rich keep taking all they can
    From people working hard
    They take their rents and interest rates
    They play the winning card

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

    So why did we die in this bloody war?
    And why is my wife on her knees?
    And why does she cower behind the door
    When the Landlord calls for the keys?
    The land fit for heroes has let us down
    A land for toffs, so it is
    We fought to save the man with the crown
    For my poor wife, not even a kiss.

    With the Kaiser’s gun aimed at my front
    And King George’s gun at my back
    We set off boys for the hell of a stunt
    To a future blacker than black.

  3. merlinfraser Says:

    A brilliant poem Carlos and thank you for sharing it with us. It may well be set in World War One, what was it they called it, ” The War to End All Wars.”

    Yet here we are a hundred years into their future still at each others throats guns blazing destroying the young of yet another generation.

    We are truly a Stupid Race !

  4. Paul Beech Says:

    Merlin, what an interesting post (found via Patricia Salamone’s reblog). It’s sad that after two world wars, dreadful armed conflicts continue. But it is right and proper that we should venerate those who have served just causes with valour, never forgetting those who played a vital role behind the scenes such as the men of the American 654th Engineer Battalion stationed at Tetbury during the run-up to D-Day seventy years ago.

    A heartening development touched on in your piece is the upsurge of interest amongst young people these days. My 15-year old granddaughter is one of the many who’ll be visiting WWI battlefield-cemeteries this summer, eager to learn more about those they owe their freedom to and pay respect.

    Just down the road from me is The Bells of Peover, a 13th century, wisteria-grown country inn. The Stars and Stripes fly alongside the Union Jack to commemorate the meetings that took place here, early in 1944, between General Patton of the US Third Army, billeted at Peover Hall, and General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander.

    Over lunch in the Snug they would plan Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Downing a half in the Snug today, I seem to feel something of that time still hovering in the air, a sense of momentous enterprise, grave responsibility and comradeship.

    Well done in helping preserve the memory of the officers and men of the 654th.

    Regards,

    Paul

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi Paul, Thanks for a great comment, Patricia is a good Linkedin friend and was instrumental in helping me piece together some living connections with the relatives of the men of the 654th.

      Have to admit I was unaware of the Bells of Peover story but that meeting was important as part of maintaining the deception that Patton was in Command of the huge Army being assembled all over the eastern counties ready for the invasion of France in Calais. The German’s truly believed that Patton was a superior General to both Eisenhower and our own Montgomery and whether or not they knew of Patton’s disgrace, even if they did I honestly don’t believe they would have accepted Patton was being punished by keeping him back from the main invasion force.

      It is these little memories, of themselves insignificant, that I don’t want lost, otherwise these Wars becomes just things that happened in the past of little importance to the young.

  5. Raani York Says:

    This is a very interesting and very special tribute, Merlin. I had to read it twice before fully understand it – but I appreciate your time to write this article. It touched me! Thank you for sharing.

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi Raani, thanks for stopping by, it’s not an easy story to write, not that what these men did was that hard but the challenge for them was the methods of photography and printing all those years ago and the short time they had to do the job all in complete secrecy.


  6. Dear Merlin,

    Glad to hear that your book is almost ready for market. Please let me know when it is available to purchase. Even now as I think back to my school days there was never anything mentioned about the 654th Battalion in our history lessons. It is something that every one should know about especially the younger generation. I look forward to your book and will make sure my children and grand children are made aware of this wonderful tribute to the freedom they enjoy today.

    It amazes me to see what one person can do to change the way people think.
    Thank you Merlin.

  7. Debi Shandling Crawford Says:

    Hello Merlin Fraser,
    I read about the plaque dedicated to the 654th Topographical Battalion.
    My father, Barney Shandling was stationed there with the 654th. He was in charge of the layout and printing of the maps. He worked in one of the large vans that held the printing equipment at Chavenage House. He is in the photo in this article, in the layout van, photo on the right, he is standing on the right.

    http://m.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/11248969.Mapping_out_a_vital_part_of_D_Day_history_in_Tetbury/

    I have photo albums from his time in Tetbury, and beyond in France, Belgium and Germany. He did some watercor paintings from Tetbury, as well. When we were children, he used to tell us the story of the ghost at Chavenage House, headless carriage driver. I was born on D-Day, June 6, several years later.

    My daughter now has three commemorative maps my Dad printed from D-Day and the front lines.

    I would love to visit Tetbury with my daughters, and maybe my brother, to see the plaque.
    Is your book finished yet?
    Thank you for remembering the 654th Topographical Engineering Battalion. My Dad would be pleased, as am I.
    Warm regards,
    Debi Shandling Crawford

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi Debi,

      Thank you for getting in touch and giving me another piece of the jig-saw puzzle. I suspect one of the photo albums you mention is the book the Battalion had printed in Germany before returning home. A few years back, when I was doing my original research I put a general request out on the internet for information about the 654th and was contacted by the son of a former Battalion member. He had a copy of this book but it was in a very poor condition, due to damp. Luckily the centre pages of his copy, where the pictures of Tetbury were was relatively undamaged and he scanned them and sent them to me.

      I scoured the internet trying to locate a complete copy, without success, but I do have a scanned copy of most of the pictures, the ones I use in my book, The Americans in Tetbury.
      However if you have other pictures, especially of his time in and around Tetbury and you would like to share them I would love to see them. Equally the watercolour paintings and maps would be of great interest not only to myself but the town as well, is it possible for them to be professionally copied in a full sized print ?

      Now to your father, if he was stationed at Chavenage House then that tells me he was part of Company ‘B’ of the 654th Battalion and you maybe interested to know that Chavenage House and the area around there is still very much the way it was when your father was there. Also at certain times of the year Chavenage House is open to the public and the Lowsley-Williams family, who own the house, still live there and some members have memories of the soldiers who served there.

      If as you suggest you and your family do plan to visit Tetbury, although I no longer live in the town, I would be delighted to meet up with you and I would be happy to act as your tour guide and take you to Chavenage House for a tour and possibly tea with the family members.

      Finally, yes my book is finished and in print available via Amazon under the title The Americans in Tetbury.

      Again, thank you for getting in touch, and I hope someday we will have the chance to meet, Tetbury is a beautiful, quaint old English market town surrounded by the beautiful rolling Cotswold Hills. It is a wonderful central location within easy reach of London, Oxford, Stratford on Avon and many other places. ( Here endeth the advertisement on behalf of the English tourist board).

      If you wish to contact me further please use my E mail address merlinfraser123@aol.com it is more direct and I will respond.

      Kind regards

      Merlin


      • Hi Merlin,

        What a pleasant surprise for me to see your book on Amazon. I have ordered it and am looking forward to reading about a part of history that was omitted from my history lesson’s long ago.

        I also want to thank you for all of your effort’s and wonderful work that you have done on this book.

        I am sure once the word get out that many people from the U.S. will want to read the important part of our history that was forgotten. How V-Day was born.

        Hope all is well with you and yours.

        Fond Regards,

        Patricia

      • merlinfraser Says:

        Hi Patricia, Long time no chat…. My fault I know since I wandered away from Linkedin, present company excluded. But a lot of people on there were beginning to get on my nerves, specifically the PC Goons, the Luvvies and the members of the various God Squads going around praying for everybody and everything.

        You know me, sooner or later I was going to say something or threaten to chase them up a tree or worse, so I left them to it.

        I cannot even follow my real Linkedin friends on Facebook purely because of their followers include those I am trying to escape so my daily emails was inundated with prayers and pictures of angles and whatnot …. Way too much before breakfast !

        However, as you can see I am still around and still trying to mould the world in my image, I could become a Guru if I had enough followers (Readers).

        I am obviously doing something wrong, the only followers I seem to attract are other authors and writers….maybe they are the only ones who see the profile ‘Writer’ and don’t skip to the next page.

        Anyway thank for the opportunity for a rant…. Now you can tell me how fairs the world for you ???

        Best regards

        Merlin

        merlinfraser123@aol.com


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