Itinerary

Service in the European Theater of Operations
Commanding Officer:
Colonel James H. Turner, US Army Medical Corps

I. INTRODUCTION

This begins a summary of the movements of the 203rd General Hospital unit, from the time of its departure from Fort Lewis, Washington, on December 15, 1943, until the 203rd was officially deactivated on November 28, 1945. Phase Two will follow the 203rd, beginning with their departure from Fort Lewis, up to when their ship anchored off Utah Beach on July 21, 1944, waiting for a calmer sea in which to land them on the shore. Phase Three will take the unit to France, during the Battle of Normandy. Phase Four will cover Paris, where the 203rd staffed and administered the largest General Hospital in the European Theater of Operations, from September, 1944, through July, of 1945.

While the group traveled together for the most part, not everyone with the hospital unit made an identical journey. Some were in advance parties; some were detached temporarily to provide emergency medical care elsewhere; and sometimes the officers, nurses, and enlisted men were separated, and transported by different means and at different times. Also, army medical personnel regularly rotated in and out of various hospitals and medical establishments in the ETO, depending upon current needs of the service.

Nevertheless, based upon official, original US Army reports by historians of the 203rd General Hospital--which are housed at the National Archives, College Park, Maryland--this is the "overseas operations" itinerary of the 203rd General Hospital unit, during the last years of World War II. Those movements are also described in a work privately published in 1991 by unit members, "An Anthology of Memoirs of Service with the 203rd General Hospital, WWII", cited and used as a reference here with the kind permission of writer and reunion organizer of the 203rd par excellence, Dan Leary, X-Ray technician. Other anthology contributors were Elinor Warner Bird, Barbara L. Gier, William L. Dutcher, Harriett McRay Lecours, and Red Cross workers Allaire Stuart, Dorothy Ellis, Marian Kurtz, and Virginia Beggs.

Much of the "gloss" on the official accounts is based upon Dan's recollections, as recounted in his memoir "In the Wake of Conflict", from the above-referenced Anthology. See also "On the Move with the 203rd", by Dan Leary, deposited with the Army Heritage Collection, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, http://www.ahco.army.mil/site/index.jsp Many thanks are due to Dan, for telling his story so vividly and well, and for his generosity, in sharing it.

Beginning in October 8, 1943, and throughout its entire European service, the 203rd was commanded by Colonel James H. Turner, O-17361, MC. His official unit biography states that he was born December 10, 1900, at Adairville, Kentucky, and graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine in June, 1924. He joined the Officer Reserve Corps in November, 1924, and entered the Regular Army on August 13, 1928. The members of the 203rd, who respected him well, referred to him unofficially as "Uncle Jim".

Pictures illustrating the unit's travels overseas are from the personal collection of Captain Robert L. Shiner, US Army Dental Corps, 203rd General Hospital, and his permission is required for copying them.. Please click here to contact us.

II. MOVEMENTS OF THE 203RD GENERAL HOSPITAL,
     December 1943 to JULY 1944

IIA. IN THE USA

12/15/1943:
The 203rd left Camp Murray, Ft Lewis, Washington, by railroad, forbidden to leave the train and destination unknown. The train crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, and headed east. The 203rd traveled steadily for six days, and ended their rail journey in New Jersey. Trip logistics were supervised by Major Edward Vogel, US Army Medical Corps.

12/21/1943:
The 203rd arrived at a Staging Area in Camp Kilmer, NJ, to await departure orders. Ninety nurses joined the group at that point, supervised by Chief Nurse, Captain Nina E. Piatt.

12/25/1943:
The 203rd spent Christmas of 1943 sequestered at Camp Kilmer, with no outside contacts permitted.

12/28/1943:
The 203rd left Camp Kilmer via train and ferry for Staten Island, NY, their Port of Embarkation. They boarded the US Army Troop Ship Brazil--a former Moore-McCormack luxury liner converted into an army transport for the duration of the war--and awaited orders to sail. At departure, personnel of the 203rd consisted of 490 enlisted men, 56 officers, 1 warrant officer, 100 nurses, 3 dieticians, 2 physical therapy aides, and 5 Red Cross workers.

IIB. AT SEA

12/29/1943:
The Brazil left port, rendez-voused with a convoy of 118 other ships, and the Atlantic crossing began, with the Brazil towing a huge barrage balloon as defense against enemy air attacks.

1/1/1944:
New Year's at sea for the 203rd, with many being too seasick to care how or when it was being celebrated.


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1/7/1944:
Land was finally sighted, to the south.

IIC. THE UNITED KINGDOM, PRIOR TO JUNE 6, 1944, D-DAY

1/8/1944:
The USAT Brazil anchored in the Firth of Clyde just off Gourock (Greenock), Scotland. The 203rd was ferried to a train at the wharf, and was on the move again, heading through the major Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and finally arriving in England. Although their presence was supposedly "secret", unit members recall people lining the roadway, standing on rooftops waving American flags, and making hand signs of "V for Victory", as their train passed by.

1/9/1944:
The 203rd's train passed through Newcastle, and then entered the northern suburbs of London, just after the city had suffered a major blitz bombing. A first, sobering view of the destruction of war was seen from the railroad yard: smoking bomb craters, destroyed buildings, Italian Prisoners of War laying new tracks to replace those demolished. The train crawled slowly through the city ruins and then moved into the rural English countryside, finally stopping at the village of Petworth, Sussex.

1/10/1944:
The 203rd was taken to an area called "the Pheasant Copse", Camp #2, (Map coordinates wQ 4242, 1:250,000,Ordnance Survey 10 Mile), on the grounds of a vast estate and park belonging to Lord Lechenfield (Leconfield). Although within view of his Lordship's palatial home, the 203rd's quarters were dirty, damp and dilapidated British Army Nissen huts, previously inhabited by other military groups, and showing all signs of that prior occupation. The condition of these living quarters prompted the comment that the Nissens looked as though they'd been used for target practice in the last war. Sleep on the straw-stuffed mattresses there, was interrupted by flashes of light and ground vibrations from night bombing raids over London. The 203rd made the best of their lodgings, cleaned up their camp, enjoyed the peaceful and beautiful rural English countryside, found the local pubs, and waited for what would come next. Throughout their stay in England, the 203rd, under the watchful eye of their Commanding Officer, "Uncle Jim", continued the training begun in Fort Lewis. There were courses and seminars in medical matters, military issues, drills and marching, as well as combat swimming, infiltration, sanitary system design, and basic combat skills. The unit also practiced setting up large hospital
tents, and the basic construction necessary for setting up field and evacuation hospitals.

Pheasant Copse Map


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Pictures by and of members of the 203rd, while in the peaceful rural English countryside

2/17/1944:
The 203rd left Pheasant Copse and was taken by train to Swindon, Wiltshire (Map Coordinates vP 5905, 1:250,000, Ordnance Survey 10 Mile). Bobbies there drove members of the 203rd to scattered `neighborhoods in the city, where they were billeted in the private homes of people under wartime orders to house allied troops. Many good relationships and friendships were formed with these involuntary landlords. Headquarters was at 25 High Street, Swindon, and a Messing Center in 3 British ward tents was set up on Devisez Road behind the Bradford Dance Hall. Again, the 203rd settled in, explored local attractions--continued training training, training, under the watchful eyes of "Uncle Jim"--and waited for what would come next.


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3/17/1944:
The 203rd left Swindon via ambulances and trucks and traveled 17 miles to the north, to a hospital base under construction at Broadwell Grove, Oxford, two-and-a-half miles south of Burford, Oxfordshire, on the Burford-Lechlade highway (Map Coordinates vP 6932, 1:250,000, Ordnance Survey 10 Mile). Finally, the 203rd had arrived where they could do what they had prepared for: supply medical support and care to members of the armed services. Everyone pitched in to help an English contractor finish the 834 bed hospital plant near Burford, which covered several acres of flat farmland. Patient wards were single-story buildings spaced well apart, and the 203rd were housed in comfortable, sturdy huts housing a dozen or more persons. The hospital plant included recreational fields, and the distances between destinations were often covered by bicycle. These "vehicles" also made visits to nearby cities and pubs an easy possibility, when air raid alerts were not being sounded. Training in medical and combat subjects continued for the 203rd, as it would all the time they remained in England.


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4/15/1944:
The busy, routine life of running and staffing a medical establishment began anew. The 203rd General Hospital officially opened its doors in Broadwell Grove as an 834 bed organization, and began to admit patients. These included some of their own, who proved unaccustomed to the requirements of English biking and suffered enough injuries to cause others to call the bikes "Hitler's Secret Weapon". The hospital also became a refresher field training station for nurses and women employed in other units, as many as 450 at a time. Included were personnel detached from the 22nd, 58th, 127th, 160th and 185th General Hospitals, and the 130th, 250th, and 305th Station Hospitals. Men from the 203rd and other hospitals were also continuing with their basic combat training, as well as instruction in constructing field hospitals, and storage and distribution of medical supplies.


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5/23/1944:
General Hospital operation continued near Burford. The hospital structure operated by the 203rd at Broadwell Grove was designated as "U.S. Army Hospital Plant No. 4147", under an army-ordered numerical scheme for "Fixed United States Army Hospital Plants in the United Kingdom". The newly-titled hospital plant was then placed under administration of the 15th Hospital Center, located at Cirencester, Wiltshire. What everyone "just knew" at the time of this redesignation was later confirmed: final organizational preparations were being made for treating the wounded anticipated in the upcoming invasion of Normandy. The 203rd was among those hospitals in England which would be receiving them.

IID. THE UNITED KINGDOM, AFTER JUNE 6, 1944, D-DAY

6/6/1944:
D-Day, Allied troops invaded the Normandy coast on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, between the Cotentin Peninsula on the west, where Cherbourg is located, and the area south of Le Havre, on the east.

6/7/1944:
The first combat casualties from the Normandy fighting arrived this day at the Admitting Area of Hospital Plant No. 4147 in southern England, staffed by the 203rd General Hospital. The majority of these patients had been forwarded from General Hospitals operating in the English Channel area, and they were the most serious of cases, in need of specialized care. As the patients arrived in jeeps, trucks and ambulances, they were borne on litters to hospital beds, led by Chaplains Cramer and De Jong. There was an initial reaction of shock, anguish, tears and rage on the part of some members of the 203rd, at the extent of carnage and physical damage inflicted on the wounded soldiers who were now their patients. And then they braced themselves and immediately began a period of fast and furious medical caregiving and support. While at Broadwell Grove, the 203rd admitted 1,504 patients, 684 of whom were evacuated to other hospitals or home to the US, or were discharged as fit for duty.

6/25/1944:
The 61st General Hospital group, newly arrived from the US, were camped temporarily at Witney, Oxfordshire, near the Broadwell Grove Hospital. The 203rd received orders to turn their hospital plant over to the 61st, and move themselves and their gear on to a Marshalling Area near the English Channel. This, they knew, meant that they were being staged for transport to Normandy. A detached group of enlisted men remained behind to pack and mark the 203rd's medical supplies, which would be sent on to accompany the unit to their destination in France. Some medical officers from the 203rd were sent out to Normandy immediately, on "detached" service, to assist in caring for the wounded, in field and evacuation hospitals.

7/9/1944:
At close of business on this day, the 203rd officially completed its tenure at Broadwell Grove, and turned the hospital over to the 61st General Hospital group.

7/10/1944:
The 203rd departed by rail from Brize Norton Station, for "Bypass" Camp, Exeter, Devon. Conditions there were found to be unsuitable for quarters, and the unit was moved to Topsham Barracks, a British garrison area in Exeter.

7/13/1944:
The 203rd left Topsham Barracks, and Exeter by train, arriving in Ramsey, Hampshire. From there, they were trucked to a marshalling area near Winchester known as "C-5", where they were just one of many military groups camped near the Channel ports, awaiting departure orders for the fighting front. The roads they had passed through had been lined with military vehicles and apparatus of all sorts, awaiting shipment to the European continent. In preparation for their experience ahead, the 203rd were then issued Red Cross brassards (arm bands), gas masks, delousing powder, French occupation money, and sea sickness and water purification pills. Nearby, while awaiting their own call to board ship for France, the British Black Watch Regiment was marching and drilling to bagpipe music, to the pleasure of many watching members of the 203rd.


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7/20/1944:
The 203rd finally heard the call for "2667 B-1", their code for departure. They were then taken by truck to the port of Southampton, which they noted had been heavily damaged by continuous bombing. There they boarded the ship HMS Duke of Wellington, which proceeded to the Isle of Wight, and then anchored there overnight while waiting for a large convoy of ships to assemble, with which to cross the English Channel to Normandy.

7/21/1944:
The 203rd arrived in convoy off Utah Beach, with disembarkment delayed by rough weather until the following day.

Continue to PHASE THREE