The Yanks in Mumbles from 1943

by John Sutherland

Under construction and more photos will be added as soon as possible

In 2012, a friend in Newton sent me a copy of a piece in, what must have been, the St Peter’s Parish magazine and I found that there was a group in The Mumbles, sufficiently interested in the history attached to the US Army presence in the Mumbles/ Swansea/Newton area as to be raising funds for a memorial plaque to be unveiled in front of St Peter’s Church Hall in Newton, (then rebuilt as Newton Village Hall) because the troops had messed therein 1943/44.

Terrific idea I thought.

An article in the local newspaper at the time,

The American Forces Memorial was unveiled on 2nd November 2012

Saint Peter's Church and and the Hall, with the new Newton Village Hall on the right, built on the site of the Hall.

Then, like hoards of kids growing up during the war, I thought that I had a little story to tell that might contribute to the store of fact and myth that the Parish Magazine seemed to carry.

My name is John Sutherland (my brother is Peter) and we lived in Mumbles (went to Oystermouth School before going to Swansea Grammar in 1944) from the summer of 1942 when we returned from Llanwyrtdd Wells where we had been able to miss the horrors of the 1941 blitz although father stayed put as an ARP warden at the St Barnabas post in the Uplands. He later became a “Capt. Mainwaring” serving in the Home Guard in a Briton Ferry ack/ack unit before being brought down to earth as Pvt Sutherland when conscripted at 41 and sent to the Brecon Lines. We lived first on Langland Corner and then at Brierwood, 82 Newton Rd.

My tale was:

“I’ve been in NZ since 1956 but the Americans in Mumbles were an important part of childhood. We lived at 82 Newton Rd on the direct route from Newton to the Mumbles and sat on the wall begging (negotiating) for sweets, gum and cigarettes. I collected chewing gum wrappers to swap. Same with cigarette packets, and noticed who bought which brands. Camel and Lucky Strike were predominant. It was always said that the latter were a ‘blacks’ cigarette. But those were racist days, as blacks fought whites on a regular basis on Mumbles Station square and more than once broke Forte’s plate glass windows. The ‘blacks’ used to provide some wonderful solo artists for the Baptist Church on the Newton Rd corner with Langland Rd. Real Gospel singing of an high order. Our gang (all three or four of us) watched training with DUKWs on Caswell Bay and spied on their vehicle parks up the valley, and the lowering of the flag in the early evening. There was an officer’s club on Higher Lane with a big traffic in jeeps and smart young things.

The main camp was up by Twoomeys riding school. Us lads prowled the cliffs looking for illicit goings on and used ‘french letters’, condoms came later.

There was company in the huts in Underhill Park. Some of the huts are still there I think. They spent most evenings wearing baseball gloves and throwing balls at each other. There were formal marches (well, the US Army didn’t march so much as slouch, on its rubber soled boots) up/down Newton Rd on Bond raising parades and ‘Digging for Victory’ parades.

'the Baptist Church on the Langland Rd./ Newton Rd, (earlier named Broadway).

As D-Day approached the phone box opposite the Baptist Church on the Langland Rd./ Newton Rd. corner, near the large water tank which was used by the AFS water sports for public morale purposes, was manned 24/7 for some obviously important call . This required an adjacent pup tent and a ready supply of young ladies from Oystermouth for company.

At my age I only suspected what they were there for.

What I am uncertain about is the date they all arrived and who they were. I can remember Newton Rd filling up, from Limekiln Rd to Brooklyn Tce, with big trucks and many troops gathering in the park one Sunday afternoon. I think some slept in pup tents in the Park that night but all, except the park group, had disappeared by the next day –

I think. The arrival date was either 1942 or 1943. I think 1942. I know they were there in 1943 as I got caught with a packet of Camel in my pocket on the day my father got his calling up papers. He very kindly let me off with a sharp warning.

I know they had at least one winter in the Newton Camp, but it might have been two because the US Army began arriving in UK in 1942. We much admired their smart and warm winter uniforms.”

I asked John Powell if there were any local historical records available which covered this period? [There was a website which didplayed the records collected before and it has deveoped into this site since John's enquiy].]. Would John Pickard have anything on this? [Yes, he has story in the memories items] How could I contact the Oystermouth Historical Association? [Contact made] I referred to an excellent book I had in my library called “Rich Relations” ‘The American Occupation of Britain 1942-1945’ by David Reynolds (Harper Collins which was too general to mention Swansea, let alone Mumbles/Newton.

As a result John responded by email and I was in the loop of many other stories and much history. My inbox next contained pictures of the remaining Underhill Park huts from him. My next comment was:

The huts built by the Yanks, in Underhill Park and the pavilion

I think the pictures (above) they confirm that they were built of precast concrete panels with windows in. They would have been jointed behind the projecting verticals which may have been concrete trusses (less sure of that). Precast concrete was a very economical way of building standard sheds at the time and post-war. The sheds must have been there ready for when the troops arrived. They would not have had the means of pre-casting. Americans were more used to building in timber (as we do in NZ). The present hut has a metal profile roof (modern stuff) the original would more likely have been a membrane of tar paper or bitumen. Nissen huts were UK military issue and there were a couple just opposite where the park path steps emerge onto Langland Rd. They were used by a British bomb disposal unit at some time.

I can’t remember what was up at the main camp near the riding school.

[At the beginning of the Second World War, Summmerland House and two fields, overlooking Caswell, were requisitioned by the War Department and the 9th battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment arrived on 25 September 1940. They used Summerland House as an Officers' mess, with the other ranks living (under canvas) in the two fields nearby. Four months later, on 11 February 1941, The Battalion left Newton, marching down through Mumbles with their band playing 'Sussex by the Sea,' on their way to serve in North Africa.

From around 1943 to 1946, Summerland House was used as an Officers' Mess by the American Army. Valerie McKay remembers her father telling her how these solders threw rations over the wall to her family (which were very welcome) and of a visit by G.I. Rocky Marciano to Summerland House for a boxing display.

Barbara Brimfield remembers when the Yanks arrived, they used Saint Peter's Church Hall as a dining hall and were housed in tents in Caswell Valley below. Betty Sivertsen recalled the years when the American flag flew from the top of the cliff overlooking Caswell Bay when 'the GIs lived and trained in the area. Caswell Valley was full of Yanks training for D Day, with amphibious trucks called ‘Ducks’ (DUKW), vital for the Normandy Landings

Other manoeuvres took place at Caswell. One very naive 16 year old girl, worked at the accounts department of Weavers Flour Mill, on Swansea’s North Dock. The Department was evacuated to a large house at Caswell. She remembers looking out of the window and observing an American soldier walking up the road, with a girl on one arm and a blanket on the other. She thought at the time that it was bit cold for a picnic.

The officers club in Higher Lane? A big and modern (1930s) house called ‘Fansala”. There was also of course officers clubs or billets at Summerlands and I believe Clifflands (Gilberts Cliff) above Underhill Park.

In 1946 the house was put up for sale and the sales brochure noted that Enclosures no. 63 and 67 (within Lot 4) ‘are in occupation of the War Department under the terms of a Requisition Order, for which a compensation rental of £12.10.00 per annum is paid.’ These were different times and the war had only just ended.

I will be interested in what you find in the article you mention. The accommodation provided for the US Army in UK was usually very different to its own accommodation ‘stateside’! Usually old British Army Victorian barracks esp in Northern Island. Very cold and bleak!”asked by return

“Any more clarity on arrival dates?”

As a result of our emails and a bit of focussed reading some things have clarified:

When did they arrive? Probably October 1943.

Who were they? The 28th Inf Div NOT the 2nd Inf Div [Here for a few weeks from May 1944] or the 29th Inf Div. The 28th came straight from the USA as above and stayed in West Wales centred on Tenby until April 1944. The 29th had been in Britain since 1942 and ended up training up near Tavistock, Devon before going to the Omaha beachhead. I still don’t know who (and of what unit) was occupying the telephone box (and pup tents) until first week of June. Who were the guys who played baseball in the park? A transportation unit? Who were the guys driving and maintaining the DUKWs at Caswell?

Main camp? I reckon that there was the ‘main camp’ up by Twoomey’s riding school on the cliff. I can recall going up there and there was a gate and guards with guns. There were huts and some kind of a, probably fairly porous, perimeter fence. There were some hutments down in the main DUKW park where the holiday huts are now. There was a flagpole down there too. We watched the lowering of the flag many times. It is believed there was a tented encampment next to the Church Hall. There were the Underhill park huts.

Top Secret ‘swimming’ tanks in Caswell Valley? Unlikely that the DD Shermans were there, [Reports say they trained at Port Talbot] although more training might have prevented the disaster when they were dropped off into rough sea and too far off the Overlord beaches. They tipped and sank.The US Army didn’t like them it was reported and that were not used again by them after D Day. The Shermans were US built, the modifications designed by Gen. Percy Hobart of the British Army and installed in British workshops.

What I saw down there were more DUKWs- large and small.

[The Amphibious truck companies were sent for training at Caswell Bay valley, where the 'Transportation Marine Operations Division, Caswell Bay,' instructed the GIs in all aspects of loading, unloading, daily maintenance and driving the six wheel amphibious trucks DUKW, over land and water]

A Duck (DUKW) on the road

Ducks being loaded from ships offshore