Remembrances: Gerry Stearns and Raymond Kitchell: The War Ends--Our Experiences at Shrivenham University

Waiting for the Boat--An English Interlude, by Gerry Stearns, 354th Infantry

It was Friday afternoon in late summer or early fall of 1945 and all of us GI's boiled out of our last classes and burst in to our barracks at Shrivenham Army University, a former British Army training school for Artillery officers. As we all cleaned up preparatory to heading for the railroad station and a weekend in London, my new chum, from New York City, predicted at the top of his voice a weekend of romance for each and every one of us. Only he didn't phrase it so elegantly. I wish I could remember this buck sergeant's name; he spoke French much better than I did, and why not--he'd been assigned to liaison with the French Army. He wore with pride the bright red and green shoulder patch of the Armee de la Rhin (maybe it was the Moselle and the Rhine) and served with the Second Battalion of Choc (La Deuxieme Bataillon de Choc)--the toughest outfit in the French Army, he said, from the toughest district in Paris. As I remember his stories now I think of the movie "Irma La Douce" with Jack Lemmon as the chivalrous gendarme who gets fired for protecting the well-being--somewhat violently--of the lady of the night played by Shirley MacLaine. That must have been Choc: where the local equivalent of "Right on, Jack", was "D'acc Maque". (pronounced Dahk Mahk), short for "D'accord, Maquereau" translated roughly as "You bet, pimp". After VE day the Army set up two Universities in Europe where mid-point soldiers could resume interrupted educations. The high-pointers would go home; the low-pointers would go home (and then on into the Pacific), but what could they do with all those GI's who would be in Europe another six to eight months? I don't remember if there was an Army University in the Pacific Theater, but Yank and the Stars and Stripes wrote about the near mutiny of soldiers who weren't going home for a while and had few easily accessible leave facilities. In Europe we had Shrivenham and in the South of France, Biarritz Army University. There were a lot of leaves to Switzerland, if you had a hundred bucks, so as not to become dependent on the Swiss government. I didn't have a hundred bucks, so I applied to Shrivenham. The 354th was running Lucky Strike, and Tom Rees and I were running the Information and Education tent for a block of going-homers with high point-counts, including the RAMPs (Returned Allied Military Prisoners). The latter were taking off daily on transport planes right in front of our office, and although we distributed Stars and Stripes, I don't believe we ever convinced anyone to sign up for Armed Forces Institute correspondence courses. One day I noticed the battalion commander, Lt Col Henry Benson reading our bulletin board. Among the many newspaper clippings I'd thumb tacked my own anonymous account of a German submarine being found in the thick bushes below the camp. Stay Alert! Colonel B turned around and stared at me. There were no repercussions, but pretty soon my request for England went through.

My LA City College ASTP friend, Bob Zang of CN, 354, who later taught at Stanford Law School after graduating from the Columbia Law School, had an equally unchallenging job involving making and distributing doughnuts. I believe he was connected with the Red Cross ladies in this endeavor. Nonetheless he applied for and was accepted to Shrivenham. I have lied for years and told him I was responsible for getting him there. Shucks, I wasn't even responsible for getting me there--I think.

Among my souvenirs was a Yank magazine with stories about The Universities. Also a newspaper published by/at Shrivenham, with accounts of the well rounded program: academics as well as athletics, including a baseball league. I don't remember working up a sweat on campus, but I ran into another ex-LACC engineering student named Jo (short for what?) Saxe, from Germantown PA and Division HQ company. (What did he do for a living in that kind of an outfit?) Jo and I found our way to Oxford, where we borrowed loosely-strung tennis rackets and pre-war (pre-Crimean War) tennis balls, which we chased back and forth in our combat boots on a grassy court. (Just like Wimbledon, last week.) Later we took two charming young ladies to high tea.

Oh yes, I did take classes. Shrivenham's faculty was all academically qualified, but some were like the student body, in the Army but on temporary assignment in an academic venue. My impression is that most were civilians, brought over just for the University, like my professor in Advanced Composition, who was a published author, and taught at Carleton College, Minnesota, and the prof. from Wayne State U. Michigan who taught either the history of education or Ed Psychology. The third teacher taught the "or" class (the other). The standout author in my class wrote a wild story--was it in first person?--about the main character who suspected his parents didn't love him because his school lunch was always wrapped in roadmaps; finally when he came home from school one day he found his family had moved away.

When I returned from England I was almost ready to take the 40-and-8 freight car into southernmost Germany and Austria.

Please also see:

The Beginning of Life Hereafter, by Raymond Kitchell