Monday, February 13, 2012

World War II Instructional Document Acquired

An interesting document has made its way in to the museum library titled “Orientation Talk for Incoming Replacements” and gives a glimpse of the life of American Soldiers on their way to fight in Europe during World War II. Although there is no date on the document it appears to have been used in the winter 1945. The statement was read to soldiers on board transport ships before docking at Le Havre, France which was one of the larger ports used by the Allies. In the document, it gives the incoming soldiers an idea of what the conditions of the railroads are and how to stay out of trouble.

 First, an understanding of the replacement system the Army used in World War II is helpful to understand the men that are in these ships. At the beginning of the war, the Generals thought it would be better to replace casualties with individual soldiers and they could learn from the veterans in the units they were sent. Replacement Depots were set up in Europe and when a unit needed replacements, a group was sent to that unit. The problem was the replacements were not liked by the older men and were shunned and some never really belonged to the unit. The replacements also had no sense of camaraderie or history of that unit. It was not a good system. Many thought it would be better to replace whole units at a time since they would have trained together and become a cohesive unit. Unfortunately, the Generals stuck with the replacement system and most units suffered from low morale and bad performance because of it.

40 and 8
The announcement starts with a welcome to the European Theater and letting them know where they were headed. They then described the trains and railroads they’d be traveling on. Soldiers would be housed in wooden boxcars called “40 and 8’s which were French rail cars that could hold 40 men or 8 horses. These had been around since before World War I. You can see an example of a 40 and 8 in the Museum’s Roundhouse. They were told there would only be 18 to 25 men in a car and would be provided a stove for heat and cooking and also extra blankets. There would be rations in the cars and they would get fresh hot meals at wayside stops.

 Next was a paragraph on the dangers of the black marketers in Europe. All American money was being collected from them and would be given back later. All kinds of goods from food to cigarettes were being stolen and resold at higher prices. They were warned that “Every MP in Europe is watching for black marketers. Don’t take a chance.”

          And the last was a health warning. The men were encouraged to take care of their feet in the cold European winter. They were asked to take off their boots at night and to massage there feet to keep blood flowing to the feet. Many men got frostbite by not paying attention to their feet.
It is amazing that this document has survived 60+ years in such a great condition. I’d love to know its story too. Did the radio operator on board save it? Did someone grab it before the shop was decommissioned? That is what makes history so enjoyable. You never know what is around the corner or in your library.

Travis Harry
Director of Operations and Volunteers

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