About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Letter #20 from Wren. Gwendoline R Wilkins June 9 1944

The following text in blue, is taken from the XIX Corps Publication " Normandy to the Elbe,"  a copy of which is in my archives and is reproduced here to provide the reader a sense of what was happening at the time the letter was written in this blog entry.

Finally the morning of the sixth of June, found the air full of news. The Invasion was on! It was going well; it was going badly; the Germans said it was being swept off the beaches, the official news was mixed, but without the extremes. On our beach, Omaha, they were having a rough time. But the plans for XIX Corps would go as scheduled, and everyone got ready to move. Two days later, on the 8th, the headquarters left Knook in two motor convoys for Camp D4, one of the assembly areas near Dorchester. There we spent two days lined up under trees in the rain along what had been country lanes, making final checks of waterproofing and equipment, prepared to move to our ships. The news was good, and then bad. We drew our conclusions when a part of the Second Armored Division was hurriedly pushed through ahead of us and to their ships. 
The Corps Commander, the Chief of Staff, and a few of the Chiefs of Staff Sections went ahead in a motor torpedo boat to size up the situation on the ground and be ready with their plans when the headquarters came ashore. Text: Captain Fredric E. Pamp Jr  (Public Relations Officer XIX Corps 1945)

Text below in black is excerpted from the XIX Corps Newspaper  (from my archives)
Volume 2         Western Front Germany, October 1944        Number 6

The distinction of being the first of XIX Corps to touch down in Normandy is shared by Majors John J. Mikell and George F. Graybill. They accompanied an assault division ---the 29th---when it landed, as advance guards for XIX Corps. They both arrived near Vierville-sur-Mer on D+1, 7 June 1944. They were followed by two other officers the next day; and by General Corlett and certain of his staff on D+4.

Bill was a part of this advance group of staff landing D-Day +1. He recounted to me his first horrible experience of the war. As he was disembarking the boat in rough seas, loaded with gear, climbing down the ropes, to a smaller landing craft, the soldier next to him miss-stepped and the rising waves between the two boats caught him crushing his skull, a sound Bill never forgot. When Bill landed on the beach he recounted to me, the sight he saw of a young soldier sitting on the beach, hands held out in front of him as if holding a turret gun, but burned to death in place. Bill was then charged by his Commanding Officer with finding an appropriate burial location "over the hill." As G-1 personnel he began recording the names of the fallen soldiers and in the days following sending letters back home to their loved ones. The XIX Corps staff moved quickly cleaning up the beach in anticipation of the next group to land on Omaha beach. Bill said they had to move quickly to collect the deceased as the sight of such a tragedy would have presented a moral issue for the next group of troops that landed.
Click here for a link to the gravesite information and the military process of burial in battle.

(Regarding Gwen's "Letter to Mary," my guess is that Bill and Gwen had planned that Gwen would send this "Letter to Mary" when Bill left England so that Mary would know her dear brother had gone into action.)

From: Wren. G.R. Wilkins
8 Tyr-sarn Rd.
Rumney, Cardiff

Mary W. Garner, SK2c
Disbursing Office
U.S. Naval Air Station
Minneapolis, Minnesota
U.S.A. Bath 6. 9. 44

My Dear Mary,
I'm afraid this will only be a hastily scribbled note to enclose with these pictures promised Bill I would send on. I wrote to your Mother and Father last night, also to Bernard but didn't have time to write to you or Souil so I am taking a few minutes off from the office to do so now.

Monday I should have been transferred to Milford Haven, but an outbreak of chicken-pox there canceled my draft at the last minute. I was on Bath Station waiting for the train, and only had five minutes to wait, when the R.T.O.'s office called me over to the phone when second officer informed me to return to Bath for duty. So now I'm stuck here for another 3 weeks until the quarantine period ends. 

I was glad in a way because it meant I could see Bill once more at the A.R.C. Club dance in Warminister on Tuesday night, and we had a wonderful evening although we didn't dance very much, we're just happy to be with one another. 

I do hope it will not take too long before I can be with him in the dear old U.S.A.
Now I must close, hoping you're keeping fine. 

Kindest Regards,

June 1944 calendar

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