Seventy years ago this month, a convoy of U.S. Army tanks, trucks and tanks left Albro Castle and rumbled down the narrow streets of St Dogmaels at midnight, waking the villagers. They ran to their windows to wave good-bye to the young men they had befriended over the past four months. The 180 men of the 111th Ordnance Company and their 90 vehicles were headed to Normandy, France. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944.
"All the people in the village got on well with them. We'd organize concerts and dances and try to make them feel at home. It was a very sad time when they left," one woman, who was a young girl at the time, has recalled.
During the week of June 6, 2014, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Hanes Llandoch, as part of their current Heritage Lottery Fund project to remember the two world wars, put on several activities and events. At a tea at the Coach House on June 3, several other village residents, who were children in 1944, shared their memories of the friendly soldiers, particularly the joy of receiving gum and chocolates from them.
Andrea Johnson Sutcliffe and Sue Goerges Higginbotham, daughters of two of the American GIs, came to the village to see their fathers' one-time "home" here. The visit held special meaning for both women. For Andrea, Albro is special because her father met her mother, a Cilgerran girl, while billeted here. For Sue, it was a touching and emotional experience to see her father's wartime writing on a wall at Albro, exactly 70 years after he wrote it. Both fathers have died, Andrea's in 2001 and Sue's in 1999.
While on holiday in the area last spring, Andrea and her husband, Ed, visited Albro Castle, on June 6, coincidentally. They dropped in and and found Tracy Newland, who with her husband Peter own Albro Castle, which was not a castle but an historic 1800s workhouse. Tracy immediately took them inside to one of the rooms to show them something. On one of the walls was graffiti. A closer look showed the names of two men, their Army serial numbers, their hometown--San Antonio, Texas--and the date: June 6, 1944. When Andrea read these, she could hardly believe what she saw. The two men were her father's life-long best friends, and she had grown up with their children in Texas.
This story really began ten years ago, when Tracy was stripping wallpaper in one of the rooms. She noticed a pencil mark behind the paint on the wall. Curious, she took a small scalpel and carefully scraped away the paint, revealing the writings. Then she waited for the Americans to show up.
Since their meeting last year, Andrea has shared many photos and information about the GIs at Albro with the Newlands. When Andrea and Ed returned to the States last summer, they began a months-long project to try to locate survivors of her father's unit and children of the men. They first contacted the children of John Andrews and Harold Goerges, the two GIs who wrote their names on the wall, who of course were astounded to hear about it.
To date, the Sutcliffes have found five survivors, all in their 90s, along with six widows and the children or grandchildren of 40 other men. This search has resulted in a blog about the men's WWII service (www.wwiitracings.wordpress.com) as well as a book. The survivors recall their time in St. Dogmaels fondly, and have asked Andrea and Ed to express their gratitude to the people of the village for the wonderful treatment that they received while so far from home.