Memories of black American soldiers in Torfaen

5:12pm Wednesday 8th January 2014

A PENSIONER has shared fond memories of black American soldiers in Torfaen following a plea from an American journalist.

Linda Hervieux, a journalist based in Paris, is writing a book about a forgotten unit of black American soldiers.

This unit spent a several months in Pontypool and the surrounding area in late 1943 and early 1944.

After reading about her search in the Pontypool Free Press, Bruce Watkins, 73, came forward to share his memories.

Originally from Griffithtown, but now living in Builth Wells, Mr Watkins said: “I remember uncle Jim and uncle Bob, both American soldiers. They were billeted with us in 1944-45 at the Methodist Church Schoolroom in Griffithstown.”

He recalls that their platoon was made up of between ten and 20 men.

He said: “My brother was five and I was four, and we played with them having a wonderful time.

“Mum and dad were the caretakers and we lived next door in the Chapel House.

“Jim and Bob were wonderful to us.”

He has a distant memory of his dad burning some of their rubbish in the church furnace, when there was a small explosion as one of the boys had left a petrol can to fill cigarette lighters in there.

The men were quick to react to help clean up the mess, and luckily no damage was done.

He said: “Then one day they were gone and we were lost without them, I was told later that both Jim and Bob died in France. I remember them both with love and affection.”

Cwmbran resident Paul Williams found through his own research that troops were stationed in a field near to Llantarnam Abbey, and would have been transported between there and Newport docks.

He said: “Many spend time there before going on to the D-Day landings. It’s important to record these memories so that they are not lost.”

He hopes to organise a poetry and performance event to portray different points of the war to mark the centenary.

Both will be speaking to Ms Hervieux to aid her with her research, which began after a member of the unit received the Legion d’Honneur medal in France in 2009. After this, she began trying to find survivors and tracking their journey from the United States to Britain and then on to France.

She explained that these men were heavily involved in the D-Day landings, raising the barrage balloons in a protective curtain over Omaha and Utah beaches, while their medics saved scores of dying men.

To contact her, email linda

hervieux@yahoo.com

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