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

January 18, 1943 — We are in England. We left Holywood two days ago. The Company took our trucks and drove to Larne, loaded on a ferry boat and sailed across to Stranrear, Scotland. We got on our trucks and started out for England.

We stopped overnight at a transit camp in Scotland. It was pretty crude and no heat and this was January.

After we stopped here, Captain Welch gave us a talk and then said, “If you look for the latrine, there it is.” The latrine was a bucket in front of each barracks.

We stayed overnight here and started out the next morning. As we neared the border between Scotland and England, it got quite cold, and there was snow on the ground.

Riding in the back of the trucks, we couldn’t move around and our feet got cold. My toes on one foot swelled so I couldn’t stand the shoe against my little toe. I took a knife and slashed my shoe both ways across my little toe to relieve the pressure.


It must have been late in the afternoon when we arrived at G25 at Ashchurch, England. It was the largest General Depot in the British Isles. The weather was so much nicer than in Ireland. We loved it here. This is what is known as the “Midlands.”

This place was like a small city, and we lived in the corner of a big hangar, about 300 of us. There was a partition made with tarps and another company on the other side of that. I suppose there were about 600 men living in one corner of this building.

I don’t remember what the rest of the building was used for.

This hangar had double deck bunks for us to sleep on. They were made of wood, no springs. We each had a mattress cover. They brought in a load of unthreshed wheat to stuff our mattress covers with. I don’t remember if we got one or two bundles, and we stuffed them in our cover and tried to smooth it down.

After much use and sometimes beating them with a ball bat to break up the straw, that was our bed.

There were two big mess halls on the post. As I recalled, they fed most of the day and night.

We had a certain time when our company would go to eat, and we always had to march down in formation. That was the only thing we didn’t like about the place. Too many high-ranking officers around.

They had a Colonel who used to stand right by the garbage can, so that you cleaned up your meals. Nothing edible was thrown away.

We had another Colonel who used to watch us march to work every day and inspect our barracks every day. You knew you were in the army in that post.

Work days

We got a different day off each week so we only got off Sunday every seven weeks. There was someone working all the time. Also, if more than one man was going any place, they had to walk in formation. We weren’t used to that.

Our work here has been somewhat different. A lot of the stuff came in box lots for different kinds of trucks. Boxes from one on up to a certain box lot. So every box was the same size, and we just piled them in order, one next to the other. Maybe we would get an order for so many box lots for a certain kind of a truck, and all we had to do was pick a box out of each pile and load them on a railroad car.

We worked mostly in big crews when we were first here.

One of the first things I did was when we built a narrow gauge railroad and someone was needed to grade it level. This ran out in a field where they wanted to stack supplies. As no one had ever run a motor grader, and I had run a horse-drawn grader when I was young, Captain Welch sent me over to the engineers to get a grader, and I graded this area smooth.

Then a bunch of us started to lay track. They had metal ties, and we bolted them on the rails and laid out quite a long railroad that ran through the warehouse and out into the stacking yard. They had a small engine and some small flat cars to pull behind to haul the supplies on.

Satterly, one of the Kentucky boys, used to run this, and Colonel Caldwell used to like to ride on the engine with him at times. When they would have to switch the warehouse, Satterly used to stop and say, “Do you want to pull the switch, Colonel? The Colonel would get off and pull the switch for him. He was a good guy. Not many officers would do that.

Warehouse inspection

These warehouses were so big that it seemed like it took forever to go from one place to another. The officers used to ride around inside with a Jeep.

A short time after we started working in the warehouse, we had to get ready for a “General” inspection.

Now the British had left a bunch of engines across one end of one warehouse. They had set there so long, they had gathered a lot of dust. It would never do for a General to see those dusty engines. It was impossible to dust them all off, so we took a bunch of tarps and covered them.

When the General came in a Jeep with his driver and other officers, they stopped at the door, and the Colonel got in with him. They drove up one aisle and down the other. We stayed out of the way between the bins.

This big warehouse had two loading docks along one end where they used to run in rail cars to load.

Our company was on the shipping and receiving part where we unloaded incoming parts and shipped out orders to other places.

Part of the men used to unload big guns and half trucks and things like that. One day they were unloading something with two big cranes, when one turned and caught “something” on the car (I should say “wagon” that is what they are called over there). It tipped off and just grazed John Lemon alongside the head. It sent John to the hospital, but he was soon back. He said the doctor told him, a fraction of an inch closer, and it would have killed him.

These train wagons were different than we have here. They had a spring-loaded bumper on each side of the ends and were hooked together with a short length of chain to pull on.

We had a stick with a hook on it to reach between, catch the chain, and hook it to the next wagon.


February 19, 1943 — Drauden and I got a pass and went to Gloucester for a day. We had a most interesting trip. We visited a couple of farm stores. One man showed us around their farm machinery and visited with us for some time. Machines were very different from ours.

We decided we wanted a picture of a horse, so we ran around until we found one pulling a cart, getting trash and ashes.

We got a picture of the horse with me standing on one side and the old guy on the other.

We saw a man driving a cab, one horse power. It had a high driver’s seat and a closed cab where an old man and an old woman were riding, a real gas saver.

There were many of them in the cities as petrol was about impossible to get.

Toward the end of February, Drauden and I and a few others, got a three-day pass and went to London. Just as we were about to leave, B.T. Davis returned to the company from the hospital in Scotland. They had taken him there when we arrived in Scotland in July. He nearly died from a ruptured appendix. I am happy to say B.T. made a good recovery, although it aged him quite a few years in a short time.

(In Part 8, Louis goes on a three-day pass to London)