Search This Blog

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Post War Trip to Switzerland

In honor of Veterans Day, I thought I'd share bits from a letter my grandfather, Harold Barber, wrote to his mother, Helen Ecklund on August 26, 1945 from the 34th Infantry Headquarters in Cividale, Italy.  I'm just sharing bits because the letter is 10 pages, single spaced typed.  *whew!*

Harold was part of the 34th Infantry Division (Red Bull Division) and was involved in the campaigns in Naples, Foggia, North Apennines, Po Valley, Rome, and Arno.

This letter was written in August after the war ended.  Mussolini was executed in April of 1945 with the German forces in Italy surrendering soon after.  Hitler was dead by the end of April as well and V-E day was declared on May 8, 1945.
Davos, Switzerland
(Not a family photo, I couldn't find any of his photos but this is from a 1940s postcard)
This letter mainly details his 8 day trip to Switzerland for a short holiday.  Excerpts from his letter will be in italics.   It amused me some of the details he included in his letter.  But, I suppose it was to his mother and he was answering the age old question that he did have clean underwear.
The night of 14th August...I and two others from Division Headquarters (Joe De Voss and Charlie Bishop) went to Casual Company.  We stayed there overnight, sleeping on the floor (and I only had one blanket with me), getting up the morning of the 15th at five o’clock and eating breakfast (I had coffee and bread and peanut butter) and after breakfast getting a copy of our orders (I’m sending a copy of them for scrap book), loading on the trucks (twenty-five men to a truck and fifty men all told or two trucks) and we were crowded beyond adequate description for such a long trip.  We left Casual company at six o’clock, going back through Cividale, to Treviso, to Venice, to Padova, to Verona (we stopped outside of Verona to eat cold “C” Rations for lunch), to Brescia, to Bergamo, and finally to Milan – arriving in Milan at the Swiss Leave Hotel, 13 Via Bonaparte at four-thirty that afternoon – or a ride of almost three hundred miles totaling ten hours (a half hour off for lunch at noon). (Try riding for ten hours sitting up on wooden seats in a crowded truck)....
[We] went to the hotel and up to the fifth floor to our room where we left our bags (I had an extra suit of OD’s, underwear, socks, etc, toilet articles, smokes, film, camera, and raincoat).  
It was also interesting to read about his love of things from back home, especially Coca-cola:
[W]e (the three of us) went out to the Red Cross Club and between the three of us we drank seventeen cokes, Joe and I drinking most of them.  
And again later in the trip, when in Einsiedeln:
That night we sent down the street a little ways and went in where there was dancing, etc, and we found that they had Cokes, so we had two apiece – boy, Cokes in Switzerland after all this time, was quite a surprise – but good.  
 He took quite a bit of time explaining the trains and had sent a map with his route marked out back to his mother as well.  But some of the train talk is quite interesting:
Note between Airolo and Blasca there are four dotted loops in the rail line – they are tunnels that are made just as the loops  show – built through solid rock inside the mountains and curving around in a circle, and as the loop of each tunnel curves it winds up inside the rock mountain so that when you come out of the tunnel you are higher up than when you entered the tunnel – the tunnel actually crossing itself farther up in the mountain.  It was about the only way the rail line could get from the lower level to a higher one because of the mountains.  It seemed strange when you would be riding inside the mountain in the tunnel, only slightly sensing that you were turning either to the right or left depending on which way each tunnel turned and the same time going up or down grade depending on which way you were going then emerging at the other end of the tunnel and if you were going up in the tunnel then looking down when you came out and seeing where you went into the tunnel just almost below you or vice versa if you were going down.
He described some of the food they had (that wasn't cold "C" rations):
After a brisk walk we arrived at the hotel in the center of town [Davos-Platz] and at the desk was given Room #4, and took our things up to our room, washed and shaved, put on ties, and at seven o’clock went down to dinner (or supper), which it being a meatless day, consisted of soup, a sizable bit of fish prepared with French dressing, beer if you wished, vegetables, salad, and dessert (the food here was all delicious, and in all the while the tour lasted we didn’t have two kinds of soup that were the same – however, for breakfast we only had bread, butter, and coffee at all places – but the other meals made up for the breakfasts – they were all very good and appetizing at every meal except one at Braunwald on a meatless day, however it was the exception to the trip).
They went shopping for souvenirs (I actually think I remember the music box he describes)(edit 11/12/15 - I posted this story and my Mom forwarded me the picture of the music box!):
The Music Box 
 Jock got himself a 135 Franc watch (Omega I believe) for 95 Francs and a Parker 51 Fountain pen – and Joe finally decided to get one for his wife (it makes a rather large hole in ones Francs to buy a watch, so one hesitates to buy one on that account) – I didn’t get any, mainly as I already had a good one from the PX (the $50 one).  Then we sopped around some more and I got a wood-carved music box in the shape of a house (looking at it from the front, on top of the roof, on the right side in front, on the roof is a little knob which moves from one side to the right to open the top of the house) – I’m sending it in a day or two, along with some other things (handkerchiefs, folders, etc). 
There was also some partying going on in Davos-Platz (but no dancing, naturally)...
 We spent the day being in the hotel room, looking around the town, and that night after dinner we (Jock too) got together in the ballroom again and made the most of enjoying ourselves with Johnny Walkers Scotch and soda at 4 ½ Francs, which is rather expensive, but it was well appreciated nevertheless.  I didn’t do any dancing, naturally, but Jock and Joe had a few dances, with Charlie sitting them out with me – we ended up the evening with myself going to bed first about one o’clock and the others staying until the last dog was hung....
The next day, our last day there...we didn’t do very much, mainly as the day was Sunday, but rather just more or less loafed around taking it easy until that night after dinner when Joe, Charlie and I went into the ballroom again and proceeded to have a good time by starting out with Scotch and soda (Charlie didn’t drink), having two in the beginning of the evening, and then I went and inquired of the guide if they had champagne, light or dark, and the price per bottle, and was informed that light (forget the name) was 16 Francs a bottle so ordered a bottle.  The waitress brought a nice sized bottle to our table in an urn (Sterling Silver I think) on ice and after about five minutes, giving it time to chill, she came back and opened it and Joe and I proceeded to try it out to the point of having a little over four glasses each when the bottle ran dry, so I ordered another which we eventually exhausted that also, and by the time we arrived at the end of the second bottle both of us were in a slightly (mind you I say slightly) intoxicated state, but well under control, but having a very enormous good time ( the champagne was the best I’ve ever had).  When the second bottle of champagne was void of liquid content it was nearly two o’clock so as a last item on the alcoholic program for the evening we each had another Scotch and soda, during which time we became slightly better acquainted with a very good looking girl sitting at a table next to us with four or five other girls and one fellow and finally got her address – Joe her home address – I her address where she works in Zurich.  We finally got to bed that evening about three-thirty with a fine feeling and the end of our stay at Davos (we were leaving the next morning) – so be it.
 His reassurances to his mother of his still-under-control-insobriety after two bottles of champagne and 3 scotch and sodas did give me a giggle.  This evening was also a bit much because this is his description of the next night:
We didn’t do much that day because of the rain, and after dinner that evening we went down to where the bar was and had a bottle of lemon soda each (we hadn’t been feeling too good that morning – sleepy as all get out) and then each a dish of ice cream, and after that I went to bed – don’t know what time the other fellows came to bed as I was sleeping whenever they came in.
 He describes cable car rides up mountains and window shopping in Zurich.  The Cathedral in Einsideln and a steamer ship ride on Lake Luzern.
To sum up the tour – it was one of, and the best, most enjoyable trips I’ve ever taken, with a continual change of scenery, mountains continually all around, lakes, snow, and excellent meals and accommodations.  The people were very friendly and helped to make our trip just that much more a good time.  The country is healthy, clean, and not effected too much by the war, with rationing the only thing that is predominate to note.  It was, in one word – IT – and well worth any one’s time and pleasure, not to mention the very reasonable charge for the tour.  I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to go on the trip and would gladly go back again given the opportunity.
And his concerns about when he will be coming home:
 I’ll not say yes or no about sending Christmas gifts just yet until things are thrashed out a little more on this point system, though I don’t hardly expect to get home this year.  Will let you know in plenty of time.... 
If I can find the clipping I’m enclosing it with this letter – its about the 34th going to Austria for occupation duty – or refers to it in a way.  Don’t know actually if it is true or not, but wouldn’t doubt it – damn!
Well, the war is over, and I’ve still got 68 points, so I’m hoping they will lower the points for going home and also set a new date for counting up the total number of points – if they lower it to 75 and set a new date at least to 15th of September I’ll have 76 – I hope – hope.  Wait – that is all we can do.
I couldn't find the information on if he ended up going to Austria but he was happily back home before Christmas that year!  His enlistment ended in November 1945 and, as he was hoping in his letter, the Army did change the policy of the Advanced Service Rating points that enlisted men to have 50 points + 4 years of military service were eligible to be discharged from military service.
So it was a very merry Christmas that year!

No comments:

Post a Comment