Home Archive Index

History File

Americans in Denbury

Below is a shortened account by Darrell Haugh, Laguna Hills, CA, of the time he spent in England and Denbury in particular during WWII. Download full text

November 9, 1998

Relating my experiences in Denbury, as a member of the U.S. Armed forces during World War II, would indeed be a pleasure. Although I only spent a few months there, Denbury provided me with some of the most memorable events in my young life. The people there, like Fred and Queenie, are considered "second family" to my wife and me. Friends there that have passed on will never be forgotten. The love and gratitude they showed to a homesick lad of nineteen, who had left his young wife and baby daughter, plus his mom, dad and other relatives and friends for the first time in his life, almost made him feel at home. (My brother was a U.S. Naval Officer serving in the South Pacific theater of operations). This affair I've had with Denbury and its people is undoubtedly the reason I've returned so many times since the end of that war.

Time has provided the eraser for many of the things I experienced in those trying times. However, some of what's left in one's mind after half a century I will attempt to describe.

The U.S. Army 124th General Hospital arrived in Southampton, England, a few weeks after the great Allied invasion of France - known throughout the world as D-DAY. The seas were quite rough each day and over half of our troops were sick. As a native Southern Californian with lots of time on the ocean (fishing with my dad or friends) I was fortunate not to be bothered by the fore-aft and port-starboard constant rocking of the ship. The sight of England and our anticipation of having our feet on solid land again was a most joyous occasion. We had finally arrived!

The journey to Devon and Camp Denbury was breathtaking. The never-ending sea of rolling green hills; the many farms with cattle grazing; the hedge-rows forming walls of green, seemingly, to give the homes, farms and the cattle, too, a sense of privacy and seclusion; the white covered houses, some with thatched roofs and others with slate ones; the cars driving on the "wrong" sides of the roads; all this new emerging landscape shocked me into realizing I was not in another county or state back home! I was really in England! This was the reality of the many pictures and books I had read about England as a student. Meeting and socializing with the cheerful, friendly people of Denbury was the crown on this adventure of mine.

Upon arriving in camp we found it deserted and suffering from neglect. Rumor had it that some Allied troops had used it as a marshalling area prior to D-DAY. Truth was, it just needed a clean-up and a few alterations to satisfy our needs. After many days and much help from the "locals", Camp Denbury was now the 124th Army General Hospital, ready to accept our first patients.

What a long way we had come from those days in early 1944 at Camp Ellie, located in central Illinois. There we were organized into a working unit. Although we didn't become operational until Denbury, we had filled our personnel roster and were ready to function as a hospital.

In the Army chain of command we provided the most comprehensive treatment. Our hospital was basically a surgical facility, which contained medical and pre and post-surgical wards, X-ray and laboratory services; dental facilities; a plaster-room for administering plaster casts to broken or severely injured body-parts; quarantine rooms and a "P-X" room where toilet articles and candy could be purchased with our ration-cards. ("P-X" means a "Post Exchange"). We also had a gymnasium, an athletic field, mess halls for patients and personnel, a Cinema, a rehabilitation facility for patients returning to duty, and separate quarters for doctors, nurses, and enlisted personnel. (My wife still possesses a small bracelet I made for her from English coins - three-penny bits - in the rehab unit).

Later, an Officers Club and a Non-Commissioned Officers Club was built in one of the barracks, much like the ones we slept in. We even had our own laundry service. Our Administrative Building housed the officers and clerks who took care of all the financial, business and personnel matters associated with our hospital. As you can imagine, it took many clerks, technicians of all types, cooks, bakers, nurses, and doctors manning these facilities to make our hospital function properly. A few locals were hired but most tasks were performed by Army personnel.

Our casualties came directly from the front in France and had had only the necessary medical treatment to prepare them for the journey to our facility. The first-aid stations and field hospitals, located near the combat-zones, served those patients that needed immediate medical services or short-time rehabilitation before being sent back to their units. The more seriously wounded or injured were sent to us as they were to the few other Army General Hospitals in England.

The hours were sometimes long, as most patients were brought to us via crowded trains to Newton Abbott. They were then transported the remaining few miles by ambulances and trucks. Some who drove these were locals who remain friends today.

We had a bus (truck) that went into Torquay and Newton Abbott most weekends. What a time we had on those junkets! Sometimes the ride home after visiting the pubs was hard to remember, depending on how many pints we had consumed. What a beautiful city Torquay is and how charming Newton Abbott was for all of us. However the place that stands in my memory is Denbury, its people, and the Union Inn. When we could afford it (on a corporal's pay that wasn't too often) my friend Kurt Hinshaw and I would buy fish and chips out of the window of a home on the opposite end of town from the Union, and proceed to the Union to spend the evening singing songs with the proprietor, Harry Lark. Here is where I became so close to the locals and learned about your lovely country and people. We also visited the pub in East Ogwell (the Jolly Roger, I think), but the Union was "our home" and folks there treated us like some of their own. Harry had a rich, deep, bass voice and with the help of a few pints we thought we harmonized well with him. We were loud anyway! Those are times I will never forget. Each time I hear "Down By the Old Mill Stream" played or sung, I think of the Union and Harry!

On our first visit back, after World War II, we were sad to hear of Harry Lark's passing, but we became good friends of the new proprietor, Les Spence and his wife Millie, until their retirement.

I can still see my friend, the late Jack Heath, sitting in "his" seat just inside and to the right of the main entrance, playing skittles and discussing the flora and fauna of the Denbury area. Jack's wife, and later his son and daughter, would often join him in a pint. There was also the late Jim Rockett and his wife, Win, with whom we still correspond. And, of course, there are Queenie and Fred Bray, with whom my wife and I have visited many times and have even stayed with them on our visits since World War II.

Fred has taken me "rabbitting" with his dog, Snoopy, an event I'll never forget. We thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality and great food of these good folks' home.

My wife and daughter have also visited England since the war and feel honored to have met and shared a pint with these great friends who made a young soldier (some fifty-five years ago) feel at home. That feeling is still as warm as it was those many years ago.

That's my story - one of admiration, love, and remembrances. The ones not told are mine alone.

Affectionately yours,

Darrell Haugh

Home Archive Index