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

On our pass to London, we went by rail from Cheltenham, which was the nearest big city to our base.

We arrived in London and headed for the Red Cross Club.

Without them, we could never have gone anyplace to see the sights. They served good meals at a very small price. They put us up in rooms in old hotels they had taken over, also very reasonable.

They also arranged tours of the city, so we visited many famous sights: St. Paul’s Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; the Tower of London; the Parliament Building; the Palace and the Changing of the Guards.

We also saw No. 10 Downing Street, Piccadilly Circus, and many other places that I have forgotten.

I turned down a chance to go farming in England.

Every army post was to raise as many vegetables as they could for our own use. I didn’t care to spend my days hoeing in some garden.

Drauden took it and enjoyed it quite well.

March 20, 1943 — A bunch of us went in to Cheltenham and stayed overnight at the Red Cross Club. That was our “home away from home.”

The next morning, Drauden, Johnson, Simpson, Della-Cerra, and I got some bicycles at the Red Cross and went riding out in the country from nine to one. They let us use them without charge, and we enjoyed riding out through the country and seeing the sights.

We met an old doctor along the way. He told us about the country and a few things he had done. He said if we happened by his place about four some afternoon to stop in and have a cup of tea with him.

We have a grand piano in our quarters. I don’t know where they picked it up. Drauden was a very good pianist, and sometimes he would spend quite a little time playing.

Stratford

May 21, 1943 — Drauden and I went with a bunch of the fellows to Stratford. They took a busload to see one of Shakespeare’s plays, “Othello.” I wasn’t too impressed. I guess I never learned to appreciate the finer things in life.

June 6, 1943 — Today was Sunday. Murray and I took a bike ride to a town on the Avon River about ten miles or so from camp. We rented a row boat and went for a ride on the river about ten miles or so from camp. After a while, a small shower came up, so we rowed under a big tree to get out of the rain. There were two girls in another boat sitting the rain out, and we got visiting with them. They asked what we did before we got in the army. Murray said he sold tires. I said that I was a farmer, and they couldn’t believe it. Then one of them said, “You almost look cultured.”

We got a good laugh out of that. It goes to show the opinion they had of farmers.

Another time we were out for a bike ride, we stopped where a farmer was cutting hay for seed with a binder. There were some older men shocking the bundles in the field, and we stopped and talked with them a little. I didn’t recognize the kind of hay it was, so I asked one of them what kind it was. He said, “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s just grass.”

Another time we stopped later in the summer in a field where they were threshing grain. There were mostly women working at it. We got to talking with one woman and asking questions.

They had their fields ridged, not around the hill as we would contour, but up and down the hills. I asked about the reason for doing this, and she said she didn’t know, but thought it was for drainage, and also you get more land that way, too.

Corn and hay

Their threshing machines were out of the 19th century. They fed the bundles in by hand like a corn shredder, and I assume they just went through some rollers to shell the kernels out and over a straw rack to shake the kernels out, then the straw came out the back as straight as it went in, through a binder head. It came out in bundles with two strings on and was then stacked up.

England had a very nice summer climate in the Midlands where we were.

Hay-making was quite different than in Ireland. They dried the hay in bunches, then hauled it together where they stacked it with the aid of an elevator. It took loose hay much like the hay loaders that we used before we started baling.

They would take rather large rectangular stacks and then would thatch the tops with straw to keep the rain out.

Many of the farm buildings had that roof on, as in Ireland.

July 20, 1943 — We saw Bob Hope and his U.S.O. Troupe in person. They put on a show for us. Standing room only.

Scotland

August 1, 1943 — I just returned from Scotland.

One morning when we were in formation, ready to go to work, the Captain called my name to report to the orderly room. When I got there, the First Sergeant told me I was to go with a truckload of parts to Preswich Air Base in Scotland, along with a driver from another company. I changed into my uniform and left that same morning.

It was great getting away from camp for a few days and the country was beautiful.

We went through most of the length of England and through the Highlands of Scotland. They are beautiful to see. Mostly they pasture sheep there.

We saw many nice cattle along the way. I was reminded of the passage in the Bible that says, the cattle on a thousand hills are mine, says the Lord. It was great and beautiful.

We had no idea where Preswich was, except it was near Ayre.

When we got somewhere near, we would stop and ask someone along the road. It seemed no one knew or had ever heard of it. Either they had never been very far from home, or they weren’t telling.

We finally found it, and I have never been any place where there was more commotion and noise.

I had orders to deliver it to no one except Captain Speller. We finally found his office in a hangar. He was gone, so someone in his office signed for him.

Incidentally, this was a load that was to be sent to Africa by air.

We got rid of the load, and the driver started to ask about a load for the return trip going in our direction. We picked up some stuff and dropped it off on the way back.

We stayed overnight at British Army Camps along the way.

August 11, 1943 — I saw Col. Gee today. He is over here somewhere now.

By the way, Al Dobrinsky has picked up a pal here. There was a Captain Ace High who rode a motorcycle around the warehouses a lot, and Al was usually riding around on the back of his motorcycle with him. I don’t know what they were doing, other than riding around. That was a good way to look busy if you didn’t have anything to do, either be going or coming back from somewhere.

At this time, I was on the night crew, so I had time during the day to bike out to the country many times to see the countryside.

(In Part 9, Louis Solberg goes on furlough to Scotland.)