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Edward R. ELBURN
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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

Edward R. ELBURN

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Oxford, Tidworth Barracks, and Launceston: The 29th Division was moved by lighters from the Queen Elizabeth ashore to Perrinporth. They moved by train to Oxford, where they were housed for two weeks in tin huts and then moved into Cowley Barracks. From Oxford, they were sent to Tidworth Barracks, an old British army cavalry post near Andover and the cathedral city of Salisbury. While there they lived in civilian houses on the post. They were then physically marched to Launceston – a walk that took about one week. Launceston is located near Dartmore Prison. The 29th Division trained at Launceston until the invasion of Normandy. In Launceston, the troops were forced to march 25 milesper day every Monday and Thursday. They were allowed to take only one sandwich and one canteen of water for the day’s march. The marches were intended to strengthen their endurance, but instead resulted in many blisters, fallen arches, and shin splints. The men wore hobnail boots – the soles covered with rows of nails and the heels resembling metal horseshoes. These marches had to be completed; drop-outs were forced to make up the marches on their own time. Ringgold remembers carrying the rifles of others in order to help them complete the march. Ringgold also remembers a soldier named Manning who always asked, “Sgt. Elburn, are we almost there yet?” Ringgold would laugh and say they still had about five more miles to go. After several of these exchanges, Manning finally conceded, “At least we’re holding our own!”

Mr. & Mrs. Stanley F. Ryder: Ringgold went to a small shop in Launceston to purchase a radio, in an effort to keep up with the news from the BBC and to listen to the tunes that reminded him of home and the new bride he had left behind. The shop belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Stanley F. Ryder, who quickly “adopted” a well-mannered, sincere American GI a long way from home and missing his family. They would become Ringgold’s family away from home. He would spend weekends at their house, luxuriating in hot baths and clean sheets on a real bed. He remembers Mrs. Ryder serving him breakfast, including a soft-boiled egg – an English delight, but a nasty horror to Ringgold. He remembers gulping it down as graciously as possible so he would not insult the Ryder’s kindness and hospitality. Ringgold talked to the Ryder’s of his bride waiting at home for him. In 1944, the Ryder’s sent a lovely china figurine to Mabel – “Peggy”, Carlton China, Made In England. They were to send the male figurine to accompany her, but Ringgold shipped out for preparation for the invasion. Neither he nor Mabel ever heard from the Ryder’s again. He does not know what became of them or their lovely home and little shop, but prays they survived the war and the German bombs.

Bill Lommerse: Bill Lommerse from Holland was an Elburn family friend prior to the war. He traveled to the United States every year to sell his Dutch flower bulbs. His sales included Elburn’s Florist and Greenhouses, Ringgold’s family’s business. While in Launceston, Ringgold received a letter from Mabel informing him that Bill Lommerse was stranded in England; the authorities would not let him return to his wife and eight children in Holland, which was under German control. Bill was staying in a boarding house at Perrinporth, working in a machine gun factory to support his English exile. Ringgold would hitch-hike to visit him on weekends, sleeping on a cot in his boarding house room. Immediately after the war, Ringgold and Mabel sent supplies to the Lommerse family in Holland – things unavailable to them so soon after the liberation. After the war, Bill Lommerse resumed his sales trips to the United States. He and Ringgold remained life-long friends. He visited Ringgold and Mabel on each trip and brought them beautiful bulbs for their yard.

Crossing the English Channel: The invasion of Europe was originally scheduled for 5 June 1944 but was postponed a day due to bad weather. The 29th Division crossed the English Channel on the landing craft LCI 553. The vehicles and drivers were loaded onto a separate landing craft and would come ashore later. LCI 553 did not have a bow door that dropped down to allow the troops to disembark. It had ladders down either side. Ringgold was the last man off the LCI, and remembers coming down the ladder on the craft’s starboard side.

Omaha Beach – The Landing: Ringgold Elburn landed on Omaha Beach in the second wave, at approximately 10:00 AM on 6 June 1944. The medics were the last to go ashore. The shoreline was rocky (Ringgold describes it as “cobblestone”) and hard. As Ringgold frantically tried to dig a hole for shelter, his Company Commander and Battalion Surgeon, Capt. G. R. D’Amato, shouted, “Come on, Elburn! Let’s get off this beach before we get killed!” Ringgold was carrying a heavy pack of splints, having drug it ashore from the LCI. He swung it to his back and followed Capt. D’Amato. He fell into a tank trap and found himself up to his chin in water, the heavy pack on his back pulling him under. He grabbed Capt. D’Amato’s pack and was pulled to safety, preventing his drowning. The company climbed the cliff and proceeded through the mine field, marking the mines with bits of gauze bandage as they discovered them. Ringgold remembers that some of the men – most of who were only boys – could not handle the terror and sheer pressure. One man shot himself in the knee with his M1 rifle in an attempt to get sent back to safety. Unfortunately his shot caused so much damage that the medics had to amputate his leg before sending him back. The poor man got his wish, but at what a price to pay! But who can say that the loss of a limb was not better than the possible loss of his life? Ringgold personally remembers one man just taking off running after a mortar hit nearby. He had to chase him down, tackle him, and sit on him in order to tag him to be sent back for a “rest.”

Medic’s Red Crosses Become German Targets: The red crosses on the medic’s armbands were intended as protection – an international sign of humanity helping the fallen and wounded. However the Germans tended to ignore the medic’s immunity and used the red crosses as targets to kill and maim those trying so desperately to save the lives of their comrades. T/5 John Howard “Blimp” Newnam became the second casualty in the company when he knelt on the beach to attend to the first casualty.  The Company Commander of E Company had been machine gunned across the groin. Blimp was shot through the red cross on him arm band, breaking the bone in his arm. He was sent back to England, not to return to the front for six months, on 6 December 1944. The first day back, he again drew fire, remarking, “Now isn’t this a hell of a reception?”

 

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