George Sutherland Low, my paternal grandfather, was born on October 4, 1883 to Alexander Low (1848-1921) and Mary Littlejohn Low (1846 -1934) of Aberdeen, Scotland. His mother was a devout Presbyterian, and in his teen years, George heard many heated discussions about the controversial take over of the Free Church of Scotland by the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a dispute that lasted five years and which was finally settled in the tScottish courts and the House of Lords. By 1905, at the age of twenty-one, George was fed up with the religious squabbling, and was ready to make a life for himself. With most of the prime hunting and fishing land in Scotland owned by the gentry, George saw little opportunity for his future in his homeland. Hoping to make his fortune mining and trapping in the Northwest Territory, George and his buddy Charlie, emigrated to Canada. After arriving in British Columbia, George and Charlie made their way into the rugged North country. Travelling ever farther into the wilderness, they encountered a growing tide of gold miners straggling back into the Fraser River Valley, penniless and broken. Their stories of hardship convinced George to reconsider his plan. Instead of excavating for gold, he decided to stick with the steady work and income of coal mining in Rossland, British Columbia.
During the following three years, George sent part of his earnings back to Scotland with the goal of helping his immediate family emigrate to Canada or the United States. In 1906 his older sister Barbara, and younger sister Elizabeth came over, and in 1907, older sisters Ann (Abbie), and Mary (Polly) arrived. The following year both his parents and his younger brother, Alexander (Johnny) settled with their other family members in Spokane, Washington. Isabella (Tibbie), remained in Scotland another six years and joined the rest of her family in 1914, just as WWI erupted. The last record I found of George’s sixth sister, Agnes, is in the 1891 Scotland census which lists her as twenty-one and single.
George/grandfather moved to Spokane in 1909, where he worked as a painter, and eventually owned his own car painting business, and subsequently acquired other valuable commercial property. He married Edna Birch on June 29, 1915, and had a son by her, George Sutherland Low (1916 -1957). Grandfather’s marriage to Edna was tempestuous. The last official record I found of Edna is in 1917, when she still lived with him at E. 558 Wabash Avenue, in Spokane. Grandfather’s Certificate of Naturalization (August 25, 1918) indicates under wife: Edna – – (now divorced), and under children: George – – age 2 yrs. – – resides unknown.
Grandfather enlisted in the Army in July, 1918, near the end of WWI, and mustered out as a Private First Class Engineers Detachment, 2nd Corps Schools, on August 7, 1919. The 1920 US Census indicates Grandfather was living in Spokane, at the residence of his parents (Alexander and Mary) and that his baby son, George S. lived there too. According to my Dad, (Harvey Low) Edna was insane. She had taken the baby and run away, and when she was found, baby George. was returned to his family and Edna was institutionalized.
In November, a year after arriving home from WWI, Grandfather returned to Scotland to visit relatives. Soon after, on December 21, 1920, he married Jessie Fraser Harvey, in Aberdeen. Jessie arrived in the USA on May 27, 1921, and exactly nine months later on February 28, 1922, Harvey Littlejohn Low was born in Spokane, Washington.
The remainder of this narrative will be told in the voice of my father and is not intended to be a definitive record, but more a collection of memories he shared with me. When I add explanatory comments or research notes, it will be under the heading Author’s Notes or it is [contained within brackets]. My goal is to give you, the reader, a sense of what life was like as my father, Harvey Littlejohn Low, Dad grew up in the 20th Century: a first generation citizen of working class, Scottish heritage, a young man who made his way through the tumult of The Great Depression and WWII, then raised his family and lived to become an elder in the 21st century. Just as Dad’s story must start with his forbears, it is essential to know some of the background on the woman he spent most of his years with; my mother, Agnes Margaret Twitchell. They met when both were in high school, and married when she was 18 and he was 20. Their lives entwined as honeysuckle vines and that love remained constant and true beyond the day when my mother died in 1996, at the age of 72. The strength of their relationship is integral to understanding the family they created and the values they passed along to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
One of my few memories of my mother was the first trip we took to Yellowstone. Mom was – I guess what you would call her – athletic. Well anyway she liked to do things like go on walks and hikes, which was good because that’s what Dad liked too. So Mom and I hiked the trail out to the falls and back. The path was hard packed dirt and followed along just beside and above the river on to the falls. It was quite a long trek for a five year old, maybe three miles or so, and I was very proud when I finished it. I had bragging rights for that when I got back home!
The other memory I have of that trip was this one night when we were camping at Yellowstone. Dad had a Franklin touring car with a tent that hooked up to the side of it. At night I’d sleep in the front seat of the car, George slept in the back seat, and Mom and Dad slept in the tent. Bears were all over the place, Black Bears and Grizzlies too, and they had no fear of humans. We’d been warned to keep our food locked up at night, so after dinner Dad stored everything in a wooden camp box which he shoved behind the tent and under the car. Well this one night, I awoke to my mother shrieking at the top of her lungs and all this commotion going on in the tent. I reared up and whacked my head on the steering wheel – twice! – while George stared out the back window to see what was going on – and Christ there’s this bear leaning into the tent, trying to reach under the car for the food box. Mom kept up her racket and Dad looked for something to shoo the bear away with. So he grabs the only weapon at hand – a big old iron skillet – and gives that bear a solid whack on the back side – sends it packing! Oh, it is funny to remember now, but it was a hell of a fright back then!
As tight as money was in those days, one thing my dad always did, and I don’t know how, but he always saved away enough for us to take two weeks to go somewhere on an adventure; like Glacier and Yellowstone. Cannon Beach was one of our favorite places. We used to camp out there in view of Haystock rock. When I was seven or eight, Dad drove George and me to the Grand Canyon in his Franklin. We saw other sights too, but mostly I remember the heat waves bending the air as we drove thru the desert, and that the ground was too hot to walk on. But Dad loved the heat; thought Arizona would be a great place to retire!
I was just six years old when my mother died. I was traumatized. The whole affair was handled badly, real badly and it totally messed up my head. I loved my Momma dearly, she was the center of my life at that age and to lose her was devastating. She would spend all day with me; taught me to read and explained about things in nature.
The autumn after Momma died I started school. My first day I couldn’t see any reason why I was there. I already knew how to do everything they were teaching and whenever I tried to talk they shut me up. Come lunch time they let us kids go home, or if we had our lunch we ate it there. I decided I’d had enough of school, and since my Dad’s paint shop was only a few blocks away, I headed over there. Well – I walked in and here’s the old man, paint brush suspended in the air, looking at me. What the hell are you doing here? he asks. So I tell him “I’ve had enough, I don’t need any of that school stuff.” Oh Lord, I don’t remember what he said then, but I did go back to school the next day!
Granny, [Mary Littlejohn Low] lived with us at the time. She must have been around eighty then. She was blind as a bat and was also a rabid Presbyterian. Though she wasn’t what I would call a loving person, nothing like my Mama, Granny was warm and since Momma was gone, Granny considered it her duty to be the disciplinarian when Dad wasn’t in the house. Like most blind people she had exquisite other senses. I swear she must have had vibrator pickups in her goddamn feet! She’d hear my brother George curse from clear out in the back yard and she’d tell me, go get George in here, I’ll wash his mouth out with soap! – and goddamn she did one day! Blind as a bat with no glass eyes to take their place, just empty sockets with what looked like little black buttons at the back. In spite of being the disciplinarian, Granny was a functional part of our house, and she was there for me to tell me what I needed to do when I came home from school; like splitting and bringing in wood, starting a fire in the kitchen stove, doing my homework.
After Momma died, a couple of my aunts helped out as much as they could; Lizzie and Annie. None of them had cars, so they had to get around using the streetcars in Spokane, and they all tried to pitch in for the family. We always had Sunday dinner at one or the other of their homes. My aunt Annie came to our place at least once a week to have lunch with George and me. She’d take the streetcar from clear up on the north hill, even in midwinter, and walk six slippery blocks from the bus stop to bring us a big macaroni and cheese casserole she’d baked. We really looked forward to this tender time with aunt Annie – she was always sweet to us. Then, when I was eleven, she died and a year later Granny died. So within a six year span, the three primary women of my life, Mom, Annie and Granny, were taken away – gone – and I’m just a kid – I’m just reacting, behaving, doing my best. Much later in life I came to understand all the psychological shit that was twisting in my brain, but at the time I was just surviving.
I never had an allowance – there was no such thing in my day. I was seven when the Great Depression started, and any money I ever got I earned by doing something like chopping wood or shoveling coal. I learned into my bones the value of money; that’s why I’m so strict with it now. I shoveled coal for ten or twenty cents a load. When I saw the fuel company had dropped a truckload by someone’s house I’d screw up my nerve and go to the door to ask if I could shovel it for them. There was no bargaining – if I wanted the job – I accepted the terms. It would take maybe three hours to shovel and wheelbarrow the coal from the road to the house and dump it down the coal chute. If I was lucky, the lady living there would give me a cookie along with the dime I earned.
And it wasn’t just coal, there was firewood too. The fuel truck would dump four foot long timbers in the street and then a sawyer would come to cut them into stove sized lengths. I’d haul the cut logs over to the chute and toss them down a bit at a time, then I’d climb downstairs and stack it, and come back upstairs to haul and chuck more, and so on until it was done. That was a hell of a lot of work for one thin dime! My older brother George had a paper route back then, which was a good job. I don’t know how much he made, but it was a hell of a lot more than ten cents and with a lot less effort.”
Ten cents doesn’t sound like much now, but it was enough to get me into the Unique Theatre to watch cowboy movies. For fifteen cents I could go to the REX which was a nicer theatre. See the Unique was just a few blocks from Union Station in Spokane – that’s where bums got off the freight trains. If they had a dime, they went over to the Unique to get warm and sleep. Oh, it was a nasty smelling place; the bums hadn’t bathed, their clothes stank and they chewed and spat awful foul tobacco. But for only one dime I could watch the latest cowboy movie!
Dad would send me to get the daily milk. It came in bottles in those days, so I’d take the empty with me. There was a store an easy couple blocks walk away from home where a quart cost 11 cents. Up the hill a few more blocks (and slippery ones in the winter!) was another store that sold a quart for 10 cents. I knew things were really tight when the old man sent me out saying, “looks like you’ll have to climb the hill for our milk today son.”
If he gave me 11 cents and I walked the extra distance anyway, Dad let me keep that penny and I’d spend it on Lucky Bites. They were a candy that the grocer had on display in an open box, and you got to choose the one you wanted for your penny. At first they all looked alike, covered in chocolate with a creamy mint center. But see, some were lucky: if you picked one that had a white center, that was all you got. But, if you chose one with apink center, you got 10 cents more worth of mints, so I started studying the edges of the candies closely and noticed that on some of them I could see a hint of white or pink. I got to be pretty good at picking out the pink ones.
On Saturday mornings I helped my dad out at his paint shop. He painted cars, used cars; got them ready for the auto dealers to resell. The dealers paid Dad ten dollars per car, but his profit was maybe five bucks each – if he was lucky. We’d siphon out any gas that was left in the tank and use it to clean up the wheels and prepare the surfaces for painting. Dismounting the tires and cleaning the wheels was my job, and then finishing up the edges of the doors after they’d been painted. There weren’t many people buying cars then, but just enough to keep us afloat. Dad had paid for the shop before the crash, which was a good thing. He lost all his savings though; had it in a small local bank, the banker was his friend. Hell it wasn’t the banker’s fault, he ended up broke too.
I don’t remember how old I was when I got Fuzz. He was the best dog I’ve ever had – always a gentleman. He’d ride in the basket of my bike and we’d go all over the place; hunting, fishing, exploring. I had this bird egg collection and would climb way up into trees or hang over the edge of bridges to get specimens. I was very proud of my collection and wanted to share it with my high school Biology class when we studied ornithology. But when I asked the teacher about bringing in my display he admonishing me. It was another of those defining moments in my life. If that man had praised and honored my passion for the subject, I might have become a research biologist.
I was always good around animals so my Dad talked with Old Man Welch – Bob Welch. I spent the summers working on his farm when I was 14 to 16. Just for room and board you know, that’s how people got along. I’d take care of milking the cows, clean out the barn, plow with the horse team, and help with haying. Bob had about 150 acres near Colville. That last summer there I had my drivers license and worked at a summer camp a couple weeks before going out to the farm. My cousin Hugh got me the camp job, washing dishes and other general chores .
Hugh was a lifeguard and he also was in charge of the horses at camp. He knew I was good with horses too, and when we had our chores done for the day, we were allowed to groom and ride the horses. That was great fun. Most of the guys at camp were from rich families back East – sent them out here to have a wild West experience I guess. Anyway, they were nice enough, never bothered me anyway.
I was around sixteen when Dad retired from the car painting business and moved to Arizona. He always loved that hot arid climate and thought he could make a better living painting houses for rich folks there. I spent the next two school years living with my Aunt Lizzie. Dad was always good about sending money for my care, but he was no longer part of my daily life after that, and my brother was in college by then. Aunt Lizzie was good to me, and I was able to continue to attend North Central High School with my friends. I enjoyed working with my hands and excelled in wood and metal shop. I liked singing and acting too, and had great fun in school plays and musicals. Your mom went to North Central also, though that’s not where we first met, no, that happened one week-end at the ice skating rink. She was a wonderful skater you know. She happened to be on a date with a friend of mine, Bob Thompson. They got into some sort of a dust up and Bob told me it was OK with him if I wanted to skate with her. Well, I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that go by, so I screwed up my courage and asked her. We had a fun time and soon I realized we shared many interests. She was a lovely girl – we did a little necking on the way home. She was my sweet doll.
Agnes Margaret Twitchell greeted the world on February 29, 1924 (a leap year) in Spokane, Washington. The last born child and only living girl of Charles William Twitchell (Bill/Grandpa) and Fannie Mary McWilliams, (Grandma). Their first girl Clara, died in c.1918 at age three from influenza. Clara’s passing was a heartbreak Grandma would riddle over throughout her life. Agnes had three older brothers: William Albert (1911-1999), Frank Andrew (1913-1982) and Charles H (1917-?). Even with a seven year difference in age, Agnes was close to Charles whom she always referred to as Chi.
After the death of Clara, Grandma – a devout Catholic – prayed for another girl. She promised God she would raise her in the church and bring her up to become a nun. Mom’s name Agnes is testament to Grandma’s sacred pledge. “Agnes is derived from the Greek word meaning chaste. Saint Agnes was a virgin martyred during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Later the name became associated with the Latin word agnus meaning lamb.”(1) True to her vow, Grandma sent Mom to a Catholic elementary school. Fortunately, before she died, Mom told me this story about her experiences in first grade.
I walked to Saint Mary’s Elementary School, came home for lunch, and then walked back. The nuns were very strict. Actually they were just plain mean – I don’t know why. My teacher walked up and down the aisles between the desks while we girls studied our catechism. Sometimes she would swat my hands with a wooden ruler for no reason at all! If I cried or asked why, I had to sit in the corner with my back to the room until she released me. This happened every day. I got so I hated going there.
One morning I told my mom I didn’t want to go to school anymore. She scolded me and sent me off saying I needed to buckle down and tough it out. As I walked along that day I decided my only hope was to tell the nuns a lie; I said my mom was very ill and that I needed to stay home and care for her. The Mother Superior was quite solicitous and excused me for the rest of the week. I hightailed it back home and waited behind the shrubbery until I knew the coast was clear. Then I snuck under the wooden front stairs where it was dry and protected. Around lunchtime I crept back to the bushes and made my entrance into the house as though I’d been at school that morning. After lunch, I left like usual, then hung around in the shrubs until I could sneak back under the stairs. And when it was time for me to come home from school, I did it again – snuck out to the bushes, emerged on the trail, and bounced up the stairs happy as a clam. That afternoon I stowed a blanket and some water in my nest under the porch.
Well, as you can imagine, I was pleased as punch with my arrangement and pulled it off the next day like clockwork. The following morning, Friday, I was beginning to get a little bored just sitting under the porch, but I had to admit it was better than being knuckle-whipped by warped nuns. After lunch, I was napping on my blanket when I heard voices approaching from the trail. I peeked out between the slats of the porch and to my horror spied Mother Superior and another nun striding forward, each carrying a basket of provisions. That was the first time in my life I truly prayed.
So here I am watching and listening as the rustle of black habits traverse the stairs and the rigid (but well meaning) emissaries of my torment knock on my mother’s door. Of course, she was there, chipper and surprised at their visit.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Twitchell. Your daughter Agnes told us you have been ill, so we came to offer some fruits of the season to restore your health.” Mother Superior said.
“What? Me ill? Why, I’m in fine fettle!”
“So I see. Well…may we come in for a moment?”
My heart and spirits sank. The game was up. After the nuns trundled down the stairs and their voices faded into the distance, I came out and told mom what I had done and where I’d been hiding. Mom was dismayed by my actions but moreover, she was embarrassed that I had lied to the nuns, and they had found me out. She didn’t punish me – other than making sure I felt plenty guilty and contrite. My discipline would come when my dad came home from work and learned what I had done.
Though he had been raised in a Mormon family, dad did not rigidly adhere to any religious doctrine. He asked me to tell him what had happened and why I had decided to lie in order to avoid going to school. After hearing about the random acts of meanness I had suffered at St. Mary’s, dad ended mom’s crusade to turn me into a nun. The following Monday, he took me to enroll in Madison Elementary School. Oh! I was so happy! My friends went there and we walked to and from school together, and I began to enjoy learning. I thanked dad over and over for saving me, though mom continually prayed that I would change my mind. Well – obviously – I didn’t change my mind otherwise you wouldn’t be here to listen to my tale!
[Throughout her school years Mom lived with her parents, brothers, and maternal grandparents (Andrew and Anna McWilliams) at N 5007 Normandy, in Spokane. She told me once that she had always wanted to be a ballet dancer, but her family couldn’t afford dance lessons, so she turned to ice skating. She was a strong, lively young person who loved dogs and the outdoors. She was a competent hunter and fisherwoman; qualities Dad found especially attractive since these were his favorite activities too.]
I met Bill, your grandpa Twitchell, one day when Ag took me to his shop. He was constructing a metal boat to rent at Deer Lake, and he was trying to hold two pieces of metal together and solder them too. It wasn’t going well, so I walked around the boat and asked if I could help. He looked at me and said “take these pliers and hold those two sheets together.” I did and he did a nice soldering job and two mechanical soul mates were joined for a life long respect and association.
During the next two summers, I worked for Bill at Mac’s Landing on Deer Lake. Old Mac (Andrew McWilliams) lived in one of the rental cabins and kept the resort going while Bill worked in town. Back then there was no running water or electricity, so Mac made sure the cabins had fresh buckets of water and kerosene lanterns for guests. I’d cut cordwood and when the rental boats came in from fishing, I’d wash them out. That first summer Bill and I layed the foundation of the lodge, and the next summer I helped him get the roof on. We worked well together; understood one another’s strengths and used them to good advantage. I loved working and being out there. Deer walked right into the meadows and the fishing was plenty good. After I graduated I went to a trade school, and kept learning from Bill, and when Ag finished school we got married; June 11, 1942, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I was on top of the world.
I got a job as a machinist at Boeing in Seattle, a position that provided a draft deferral. Machinists were evaluated each month and at some point I became number three out of several hundred. We were building the B 17, and subcontracted parts for the Douglas Attack Bombers. They had me doing the precision machining. There was one problem at Boeing though, I was faster than most of the other men, and my supervisor didn’t like that. Not sure exactly why, but I think he was high up in the Union, and he thought I made the others look bad. Anyway, this guy kept threatening me. I should have complained – he would have been fired, but I didn’t, then one day he flashed his Mason’s ring at me. I’d had enough of his shit and so I quit. Wrong decision. I could have gone to other plants but ended up at Continental Can, a dirty dark place. Before I knew it Uncle Sam had me by the short hairs, and I was drafted into the Army and on my way to Camp Clairborne. Ag and I had to sell the nice house we’d bought overlooking Lake Washington – too bad – It would be worth a pretty penny now. After driving with me down to Louisiana, Ag and Fuzz went back to Spokane, where she stayed with her folks while I was away.
WORLD WAR II
The GI’s who came home after WWII seemed to fall into two camps; those who gloried in retelling their war adventures, gathering at the VFW halls to drink and swap lies, and those who returned to young families, moved on with getting their lives back together, and did their utmost to put the stunning cruelty of war behind them. Dad was of the latter persuasion. Once in a while as I was growing up he told us ‘war stories’. Something would remind him of a friend or a situation and he’d weave a hilarious tale, punctuated with laughter and sips of whiskey, about some escapade he’d been part of.
“I was stationed in Porthcawl Wales, a coastal resort town, when I got the telegram that your sister, Diana, had been born. For the previous six months I’d been squirreling away some booze to celebrate this event. Whiskey was not available, but I’d been able to procure a fifth of Hennesey, some African Brandy, and a fifth of Creme-de-Menthe. That night my buddies, Swede and Moose took me out for salted chips and then we came back to our barracks to finish off my stash. It was a fine party – but oh God – what a hangover!”
In 1996, when my husband Creighton’s French relatives, Uncle Guy and Aunt Maryvonne, visited, a window into Dad’s war experiences opened. With a large map of France spread before them on a coffee table, history teacher Guy asked Dad where he had seen action during the war. Diana and I listened in amazement as Dad revealed in detail the places he had been and his role as a soldier in an Army Corps of Engineers attachment.
“Our unit followed behind General Patton’s forces as they surged up the Rhine. We engineers cleared the river of mines and made the ports safe for our ships to enter.”
The exchange between Guy and Dad was convivial as they explored a shared understanding about WWII. More than once Guy expressed sincere appreciation to Dad for the sacrifice American GI’s had made to free France and all of occupied Europe.
It was midsummer in humid Louisiana; Camp Claiborne. One morning the officers sent us out on a practice forced march. We carried our forty pound back packs, our arms, and due to my specialty, I lugged another twenty pounds of machine gun carriage. Over twenty miles of rough terrain through the muggy back country the commanders pushed us to maintain a fast paced jog. Christ, men were falling away left and right. Of our 126 man unit, just 12 of us were from the North, and of the 10 who finished that forced march four of us were Northeners. Asshole officers didn’t like us. They were malicious Southern aristocrats who acted as though this was still the Civil War, not WWII we were fighting. To insure we remained subordinate they refused to acknowledge any Norther’s achievements; flat out discriminated against us. I mean, here I was the number two marksman in our entire unit, and I was not given insignia to acknowledge it. Neither was the number one marksman. He was an Iroquois Indian who had never shot a gun before in his life but he had nerves of steel – an amazing man. Now if we’d been good little Suhthun boys you can bet we’d have been smothered in awards and praise. Bastards. Well you see, I had trouble with that bullshit. Furthermore, I would not kowtow. When commanding officers expected me to play along with their taunting and teasing of any man who appeared to be different, particularly Negro soldiers. I didn’t play along. This is part of why I never received awards or gained rank. I would not KOWTOW.
“These are my buddies, my brothers. To survive this war we will need to stick together, side by side, to look out for and take care of each other. We will give our everything to stay alive, to keep each other safe so that we can come back home to our wives and families. Get off our backs you SOB’s.”
[Whether he said it aloud, this is how Dad felt and consequently how he behaved. It is part of his legacy as an early civil rights advocate.]
In Great Britain I helped construct the Mulberry Pontoons. By then the Germans had captured all the functioning Ports in France. As part of the plan for D-Day, machinists like me were needed to construct the two floating harbors that would allow allied forces to land their tanks and armaments on the beaches at Normandy. I was very proud to be part of that, but once again I butted heads with bigoted commanders. It got so bad I petitioned for (and thank God received) a transfer to a different Engineers Unit. I’m sure if I hadn’t been transferred, that commander would have cooked up a reason to court-martial me. I ended up in the Army Special Services Marine Maintenance Corps doing Port reconstruction. I remember one time in bitter winter, our unit was sent to join another in France. We were out in the boonies and the Germans had moved all the signposts around when they went through so that they pointed in wrong directions. We ended up totally disoriented in the countryside, and didn’t have enough rations to be lost for long. The poor French farmers had little to spare, but they helped us and got us headed in the right direction.
Bremerhaven, Germany, May, 1945
Dad remembered the name of the warship he helped dismantle as the Scharnhorst. In my research I learned that the Sharnhorst was a battleship and the destroyer X-29 had escorted the Scharnhorst in many WWII naval battles. X-29 and its crew had an unsullied war record, and had been ordered to surrender. In his diary From Arctic Snow to Dust of Normandy, Royal Marine Commander Patrick Dalzel-Job, tells about his five man party boarding the X-29 destroyer with it’s crew of 320 men and officers:
“The crew was in a very dangerous mood, ranging from aggressive anger through sullen insolence to weeping hysteria. It was, as I have said, a fighting ship with an undefeated ship’s company, and almost every man of them loathed this capitulation which had been imposed on them by the German authorities on the shore. Everywhere they went in the ship, (my) men were met with boos and hisses, threatening gestures, attempts to trip them in gangways, and the ominous bunching of German seamen behind their backs. (2)
After securing X 29, the British Royal Marines conveyed it to US forces.
The Allied Forces had captured Bremerhaven and our unit came in to clean up the Port. Part of our detail included completely disarming and dismantling a captured German warship which a German sailor told me was named Scharnhorst and meant roughly ‘Shark Fish’. It wasn’t a battleship though, more like what the US Navy would class as a destroyer based on speed, size, number of armaments and all. Battleships and Aircraft Carriers were the big haven boats and the destroyers got out in front of them to sweep for mines and drop depth charges on submarines to protect the big boys.
The German’s had been told to pack a small bag of personal belongings and vacate the ship, and our machine guns backed up the order. They had to leave everything valuable behind and that’s where I got those naval binoculars, the ones you could see through without making any adjustments. And then there was the scope. Mounted next to the artillery on the sides of the destroyer were these huge scopes. The Germans used them to calibrate the distance to their target and aim their guns during battle. I got me one. Oh it was a beauty. At least five feet long, like this, and I couldn’t even get my fingers to touch when I wrapped my hands around it. That scope was so powerful, you could have seen a man lighting a cigarette from a mile away. I had in mind to mount it in Dad Twitchell’s lodge at Deer Lake, so we could see what game was feeding on the opposite shore. I took my welding torch to the fittings and it was mine. I wanted to ship it home, but I had other things to send and not enough money to mail everything — especially something that big and heavy. Well I hung onto it thinking I’d send it another day, but before I could, our unit was notified to prepare to ship out. Hell, we didn’t know where we were headed until a man loading provisions onto our transport told someone it was going through the Suez Canal. That meant we were destined to join the forces fighting Japan in the Pacific. Word spread fast. We weren’t allowed to take anything but our battle kit, and bare necessities on board the transport ship; a toothbrush, razor and a change of underwear. Everything else we packed into trunks to be shipped by steamer. Well, I knew my jeep would be delivered to me from that steamer when it arrived wherever we were going, so I welded the scope securely to it under the dashboard! The steamer with my jeep and scope had already left, but before our transport departed they dropped the bombs on Japan. They deserved that first bomb, but the second one was plain revenge – should never have happened. But, the war was over. My buddies and I got our return to the states, and my jeep with that big beautiful scope ended up somewhere in the Pacific – probably in the Philippines. Ah well…sure would have liked to have it though!
END OF CHAPTER ONE –