Keep Them Rolling: World War II letters from Louis Solberg

COLFAX — Louis Solberg, who passed away in 2008, grew up in Albertville, owned a farm north of Colfax and later on farmed on the Rusk Prairie. He and his wife, Alda, who passed away in 2006, operated the farm in the Town of Otter Creek during the 1940s and 1950s.

Here is Part 6 of Louis Solberg’s book, “Keep Them Rolling” (Company 314) (A World War II Story 1941-1945).

I must remember the bicycle. Not so many cars were used and young and old rode bicycles. Boys so small that they couldn’t reach the pedals used to put one leg under the bar and with the bike leaning at an angle, would drive it like an acrobat.

Men and old women and even old grandmothers would ride to town or to the nearest railroad station, put their bikes in a rack and take the train to the city.

It also rained here a lot, an average of two days out of three, the year around. But in summer, it was usually small showers.

There was a hay field just north of the camp. When they put hay up, they cut it and let it lay a while. Then they took one horse and a dump rake, drove out until it was full and started a stack. They would have two or three men with pitchforks who would start to pile it up. The rake would go out and when it was full, the man or boys who drive the horse would turn and bring it back. Then the men would pile it up until they had about half a ton in a stack. They would then start a new one. When it would rain a little shower, they would all go and stand under a tree until the rain stopped. Then they would go out and stack some more hay until they were done.

The field was dotted with small stacks, which would stay here until they needed them in the winter season.

The cattle pastured all summer. It was green there the year around. The grass just didn’t grow in the winter.

When they needed the hay, a man would drive out with a two-wheeled cart with a flat rack. He would back until it touched the ground. They had a lever operated winch on the front of the rack, and he would pull out a rope and circle the rack at the ground and bring it back. Then hook on one side of the hay in front, and take hold of the lever and proceed to wind the stack on the rack. When it got on far enough, it would tip down. He would hook it and crawl up and sit on one corner and drive in with his little rack of hay, without even using a fork.

Yanks

July 22 — We moved today to a place called Palace Barracks. It was on a hill not far from the lock that comes into Belfast. This was a British camp, and we were on one end of it.

When we were in the states, the southern boys used to call us northerners “Damn Yanks.” Over here they are happy to be included as Yanks.

We were in town one day and saw some men driving some big sows right down the sidewalks through town.

On Sunday, Riley, Drauden and I went into Belfast to church. Riley and I went to a Presbyterian church.

The preacher was an older man with a mane of long white hair. The people were very friendly. Riley and I were the only U.S. soldiers there.

After the service, a man and his wife invited us to their house for tea. We couldn’t go, but they asked us to come when we could.

We picked up Drauden, had dinner in a Cafe, and went riding in a bus in the afternoon.

They had double decker buses and we used to like to ride right in front on the top, so we could get a good view of everything.

Warehouse

August 6 — We have set up a warehouse down by the bay toward Belfast, and they haul us back and forth by truck.

At this time, we each chipped in a dollar a month, and we had steady K.P.’s The men doing steady K.P. divided the money among them.

We have just started to use V-mail to write on now. It is special stationery to write on. Letters were photographed on micro-film and copied and mailed in the states.

We are busy each day supplying the different divisions and armies with spare parts to take along in the field.

Everything that comes in here is marked “nabob.” That is the code name for this department.

One day we had to move a bunch of new bikes from our warehouse to another. As I had never had the chance to ride a bike before, I got on one and got so I could keep it right side up. This came in handy. Many times when we had some time off, we used to go to town and get bikes and ride out into the country.

Holywood

October 12, 1942 — We moved again on Monday, this week, right along side of the little town of Holywood. This was a new Camp built for a prisoner of war camp.

These buildings were Nissen huts with brick ends. These huts held twelve men each. Seven of us were originally from K Company, Bill Heil, Norman Simpson, Lawrence Johnson, Floyd Drauden, Harold Huey, Jim Grigsby and myself.

We had a shower room but no flush toilets. The toilets were out in the open with just a roof over and board fence around, with a row of buckets under the seats.

Each day an Irishman would come with one horse and a wagon of barrels on it. We used to call it the honey dipper. He used to pick up these buckets, carry them on his shoulder to the wagon, dump them in barrels and haul them off.

The camp was completely surrounded with a high barb wire fence. We liked it here real well and used to go to Holywood on Sundays to church.

We used to go on long hikes while we were here, when we didn’t have to go to work. I especially enjoyed seeing the Monkey Tail Tree on one of the front yards.

There was a big hill. We used to call it Heartbreak Hill.

Some places where we stopped for a rest, we could pick blackberries beside the road. I can remember picking blackberries in December.

They used to follow along behind with bikes and pick up some of the guys who couldn’t make it. A few of them seemed to always get sore feet after they had gone a short ways.

October 31, 1941 — We have been changed over from the Quartermaster to the Ordnance Company. We were now officially 314 Ordnance Motor Transport Co. (Q).

Our work is the same. We handle parts and components for all army trucks and from here supplied all armies and Divisions stationed in North Ireland bound for Africa.

It is getting hard to read my letters. They have been cut to ribbons by the censor, so I will have to rely pretty much on memory.

Friends

November 18 — I see Anders Kristenson got out of the guard house the previous Monday. I don’t remember what he was in for, undoubtedly drunk and disorderly conduct. He was a good man, and I needed him. He was from Norway. He and Al Lanners, who was from Alsace Lorraine, used to pal around together and both worked with me.

November 22 — They had a party for the American soldiers down at the Presbyterian Church the previous Friday night. I went but don’t remember much about it except for talking to a lady who had been in America.

People for the most part were very good to us.

December 25 — 1942 — Our first Christmas away from home.

Lt. Welch was promoted to Captain.

We have a Chaplain attached to this depot now, so most of the time we have church in the mess hall, so we don’t have to go to town to church unless we want to.

January was cold and wet, and it seemed like the rain came down by the bucket and the wind blew with fury.

We couldn’t hold all the supplies we had, so we had to set up some big tents in a field near the warehouse to store the excess supplies.

It rained so hard, the ground shook like a bowl of Jell-O when we walked on it. The wind shook the tents so bad the tent stakes pulled out of the water soaked ground and the tents collapsed on top of the contents.

[In Part 7, Louis Solberg and the 314 Ordnance Motor Transport Company move from Ireland to England.]