I recently posted a comment or two on the last post of OldAFSarge (“Where do we go from here?”) where I made reference to a new acquaintance I made yesterday, Clive Stevens, a local amateur historian with special knowledge of the acclaimed work of the eminent American author, Dr Stephen E Ambrose.
Clive Stevens grew up in Wiltshire, England. As a senior at college, he embarked upon detailed research into the history of the American military who were based in England during World War 2. He started with the American Parachute Infantry Regiments for no better reason than so many people in his community had first hand knowledge of the `friendly occupation` as it was sometimes known. For Clive grew up near the village of Aldbourne, which Lexicans may recall was where the men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, United Staes Army were based for their advanced tactical training in preparation for the invasion of Normandy on June 6th 1944. Easy Company is now immortalised in the TV mini series, “Band of Brothers”.
I thought it would be interesting to add a little of Clive’s work by posting an extract from a 2004 publication of his entitled `The Gathering of Eagles`
`In June 1991, as a prelude to the publication [of band of Brothers] Dr Ambrose led a trans Atlantic tour made up of three Easy Company veterans and a group of historians from the University of New Orleans; the object of the trip being to trace the path of Easy company from their beginnings in Toccoa, GA, through to their capture of Hitler’s `Eagles Nest` in Berchtesgaden.
Sadly the tour was not scheduled to include Aldbourne, but following a meeting in London between Marlborough amateur historian Neil Stevens [Clive’s brother] and the three veterans of Easy Company, a detour was hastily arranged. Therefore, the following day the tour group made a fleeting visit to the village en route from Aldershot to Portsmouth for the cross channel ferry to Normandy. During the brief visit that followed, the group toured the village on foot, visited the last remaining stable block at High Town [a troops billet] and partook in the church fete on the village green. Neil then gave the three VIP veterans, namely Dick Winters, Don Malarkey and Carwood Lipton, a whistlestop tour of their old haunts in a WW2 Willy’s Jeep, before posing for photographs in the jeep in front of the stable block. The date was Saturday June 29th 1991 and for Dick Winters it was his first return to the village since WW2. Upon his return home Dick wrote the following to Neil:
“It was very nice of you, your parents and friends to go to the trouble of making an extra effort to make our visit to Aldbourne a very special and emotional day. I have never seen Aldbourne in such a festive mood. It was wonderful to see all the children having a good time at the puppet show on the village green, the happy faces at the flea market tables and a regular crowd of people in every direction you turned. The jeep ride you gave us to the surrounding hillsides and the view down onto the village, all bringing back good memories. All of these factors are the same reasons why, as we were returning to Aldbourne after the Normandy campaign, we all felt as if we were returning to our home”
By the end of 1991 Ambrose’s book was finished and upon publication in 1992 it sold extensively throughout the world. Despite this international exposure it would be almost 10 years before Stephen Spielberg, captivated by Ambrose’s work, set about creating the most expensive dramatisation ever made for television.`
Of course, what followed Mr Speilberg’s HBO tv series made the aforementioned veterans something approaching Hollywood- style celebrities. It must have been a massive shock after so many years. So, fellow Lexicans and others, I hope you enjoyed this little peep behind, or perhaps that should be ahead of the `Band of Brothers` at a time before the book was published and when comparatively few people had ever heard of them. It is stories like this that make me passionate about how our history was shaped and the importance of remembrance of those who shaped it.