Iris Crowfoot is another local collector of memories and stories about Alresford and the surrounding district. Her interest started as a project to learn more about Hambone Junior, the dog that was adopted by the US Forces based in Alresford in WW2. In doing this Iris has collected many wartime memories from local people, and other people too: these are published for all to read, on her website, www.HamboneJunior.com. There are a lot of interesting accounts on there, well worth reading!
In the February issue of the Alresford Forum, Iris presented a summary of the history pieced together so far about Hambone Junior, which is based on highlights from all her different stories. If the Forum story presented here interests you, you will find the longer accounts on her HamboneJunior.com website really fascinating!
From the Alresford Forum of February 2017:
“I often walk by Hambone Junior’s grave. Situated on a peaceful bank beside a sparkling trout stream in Alresford, sometimes it’s decorated with wildflowers by children on their way home from the park, and other times by a rubber ball dropped by a dog-walker. Poppies are placed there on Remembrance Sunday, to honour the memory of Hambone and his friends in the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division, US Army. It makes me wonder what the American soldiers actually did whilst they were in Alresford in May 1944 and how poor Hambone met his end.
By interviewing local people and researching the archives, I’ve discovered that Hambone was a ‘brown and white scruffy little terrier’ who lived in a World War II army camp in The Dene, Alresford, where Valdean Park is sited today. The 9th Division were the US Army’s experts in amphibious warfare: they had already invaded the beaches of Morocco and Sicily before they reached Alresford in November 1943. They certainly made the most of the town’s watery landscape as they prepared for the biggest amphibious operation ever attempted – the allied invasion of Normandy. The railway station clattered with steam trains delivering tanks and amphibious vehicles with aquatic names like the Water Buffalo (a tracked landing vehicle) and the Duck (a 6×6 wheeled armoured truck). The shop windows rattled in West Street as the GIs drove them down to the camp. And Hambone would have added to the racket by barking as he ran around the busy men servicing and waterproofing the vehicles.
Not all the soldiers were expert mechanics. Sergeant Eddie Knasel’s son told me, ‘It was almost unbelievable, to think of Dad in the Ordnance Corps – he just wasn’t a practical person. He couldn’t even change the oil in the car when we were growing up!’ Nevertheless, Kentucky-born Eddie supervised a team of GIs who maintained Sherman tanks in The Dene. He was 24 at the time, a bit older than most, and had completed more of his education before being called up – perhaps that was why he was given more responsibility.
The soldiers dammed the River Arle where it crosses Drove Lane, to create a pool. Then they drove the Water Buffalo and Ducks up the medieval sheep track to test their waterproofing by splashing through the pool. A landing stage was built and whole platoons practiced getting out of a landing craft and wading through the river to the other side (I hope Hambone liked swimming). Godfrey Andrews remembers that the banks of the river were lined with sandbags when he swam near here as a child, just after the war.
The Americans made friends with local people, and their kindness is still remembered a lifetime later. Les Harness, of Grange Park, Northington, was a regular visitor to the camp, collecting their kitchen leftovers to feed his hogs. A mess meal for a GI looked like almost a week’s worth of rations to the British and I’ve read that people were horrified when they saw the Americans stub out their cigarettes on leftover food on their plates. But Hambone Junior’s comrades were generous, even helping Les with his petrol ration when they spent three weeks away from Alresford training under canvas, so that he could carry on collecting the waste food for his pigs.
Disaster struck as the soldiers mobilised for the invasion. Hambone was accidentally run over by a ‘Deuce-and-a-half’ (two and a half ton) truck. The men were very upset by this, but it gave Les the opportunity to repay their generosity by giving them a puppy which had recently been born at The Grange. They named the pup ‘Spider’ and took him with them when they marched down to Southampton in June 1944. The 47th Infantry Regiment landed on Utah Beach on ‘D-Day + 4’ and fought their way home through northern France, Belgium and Germany.
Hambone’s grave was originally marked by a wooden cross. By 1962, it had rotted away and the Alresford community replaced it with a memorial stone, which was unveiled by the American Vice Consul in Southampton. In 1994, some of the original GIs returned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in an event held in Broad Street, Alresford. They did not forget their faithful friend. Tucked away in a manila folder in the Hampshire Record Office, I found an archive photo of two old comrades placing a wreath on Hambone’s grave. A bunch of flowers was also left with the note, ‘I still remember you, Bill.’
I have not managed to find anyone who still remembers Bill … yet. If you once knew Hambone and Bill, or would like to share other memories of Hampshire during this special time, I’d love to hear from you.”