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Finding the soldiers
Our original intention, once we pinpointed the old dormitory barn, was to obtain permission and search it for traces left behind by its soldier occupants in order to discover who they were. Once we'd located the barn and discovered it had been rebuilt, we realised this was impossible. But despite other informative sources becoming available, we still don't know if any Americans lived there. The few 6AD CCB HQ Co. veterans we've asked have no recollection of the barn. And yet there was some kind of presence there at Easter 1944 as one of the photos shows a 6th Armored Division soldier on guard duty and a half-track parked in the background. In the end though, its close proximity to Jeanne's home seems academic, as we now know that one at least of the CCB men, Jack, along with his friend Paul, not only lived in the huts but also became a friend of the Preston family and often visited them.
Jack was very surprised one day, when photos of himself, one in his steel helmet, arrived on his doormat along with a letter from us enquiring if he could identify the young soldier. We were delighted to hear back from him, acknowledging he was the soldier in the photos, but disappointed to learn he knew nothing about the old diary. This was one of the many anti-climaxes we've suffered. The two photos of him had been found in an envelope with Molly's handwritten note on the outside: 'The American who borrowed the diary'. Was this a deliberate deception? It would be natural to wonder. Yet all who knew or met her say Molly was a genuine person. Maybe enclosing the photos and labelling the envelope took place later in her life when she was beginning to suffer from vascular dementia, and quite simply, she got it wrong.
An Armored Division Soldier?
We'd failed to find anyone called Lee or Leigh in the CCB HQ Co. roster except an officer who didn't join until after the stay in Sarsden. What of 'Jerry'? Were he and Lee actually friends as has been suggested? Could they have been there at two separate times? In her letter to Frances, Molly talks about 'the one, and his friend Jerry', not about Lee and Jerry. There was a Jerry in the CCB HQ Co., an officer called Jerry. The Preston family album even includes a photo of him, taken outside the message centre in the old stables at Sarsden House. So at least Molly, who worked in the gardens at Sarsden House, must have known him. Our friend Jack identified Jerry in the photo, and he should know who he was. Together they drove in their jeep into a German zig-zag trench at the Seigfried line and into a fire-fight resulting in their temporary capture. Jerry survived but died some years back and his son hasn't been able to help us. Sometime after CCB's arrival in the ETO, Molly had a letter from a CCB HQ Co. major, a Major Burke, but its subject matter is a mystery as Jeanne doesn't elaborate.
A Possible Breakthrough
So who was 'the one' in Molly's letter? Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, at this point we still couldn't say. Once again, the answer seemed to lie in someone accessing this website and recognising one of the soldiers in the photographs. However, after some complex and protracted research we thought we had a named candidate for 'the one'. His photographs are in our photo gallery. Indeed, although it's difficult to be certain owing to photo quality, we think there are no fewer than five photographs in Jeanne's photo album with him in them. He also occurs in a group photo with other soldiers taken at Sarsden House by a veteran friend, Mel, and was identified by another CCB HQ Co veteran as Al Crosson. Even before this we had noticed a possible likeness between the man in this group photo and the one in Jeanne's photo of 'the guard in the yard'. Sadly Al had already died but, by dint of creating a family tree for him, we were able to discover two of his few surviving relatives who were able to positively identify him. They are a nephew and a step daughter in Utah, and we're most grateful to them for their help. One even emailed us a photo of Al with his young family confirming beyond doubt that the man in our photos was Al. There is also a tie-in with the reference to Alabama. Although Al was born as Albert Bernard Crosson in New York, his father, who came to New York with his brother as a boy, was born and presumably raised for a short while, in Birmingham, Alabama. Al may well have told the Prestons that his family roots were there. These two boys who came to New York from Alabama were Benjamin Francis Crosson and Al's father, James Joseph Crosson. Other relatives may possibly be around in the New York area but have not responded to our attempts to contact them. Most, if not all, of Al's generation have also died. It seems that Al and his wife may have had a son called John, born in Ogden, Utah in 1949, but who died ten years later in New York. Al himself died in 1972 in Albany, NY, after which his family moved back to Utah. No trace of an old diary was found in his wife's possession when she died, but of course it's only conjecture that Al ever had it.
Except, that is, for that photograph of the man, now identified as Al, sitting on the grass with those books on the ground beside him. Could that photo, after all, be the only one we have showing Anne Hughes' actual manuscript diary? If you add this possibility to the statements, in Michael Dover's letter to Dr. Terle, that the soldier who had the diary "figures prominently" in the family photograph albums - (we think there are five photos of Al) that he is seen "sitting with the family" - (actually with Molly and Winnie) or "standing linking arms with Molly and her mother" - (which is uniquely the case in the 'guard in the yard' photo) then, apart from the name given him by Molly as "Lee", you have a strong correlation between Al and Anne Hughes' old diary. (Michael had the photo albums in his possession when writing the Terle letter so we can feel confident what he says about the photos is a completely accurate account of what Molly told him.) There is also Al's connection with a fellow soldier called 'Jerry', which we'll come to in a minute.
This is as far as we've currently been able to go chasing this lead. If Al really did have the old diary, what became of it? Did it make it through the war and return with him to America? Had he already sent it home to the States by mail before returning himself? Had he posted it back to Jeanne from Southampton or some other point en-route to Normandy, or even from Normandy itself, only for it to be destroyed, along with the other post, by enemy action? Had he left it behind for Jeanne to find and it became lost.
If it was destroyed then that is the end of our search. But it seems strange that he should take it through Europe with him. He could have. CCB HQ Company was a mechanised unit and Al himself was a jeep driver to an officer - at one time even possibly to Jerry Rouse, the Jerry in the Preston's photo album and possibly the 'Jerry' of Molly's recollection. But the testimony of the veterans we've been able to talk to say that they were not allowed to take anything with them beyond their equipment and that their possessions were inspected. These orders came from the top and were obeyed by everyone. Additionally the hurried departure without any notice is also belied by one witness who said they knew a few days in advance that they'd be going, although I have the impression this information was not relayed to the local people in Sarsden. Al would have had time to return the Diary but perhaps he tried to finish reading it, or thought it was a gift rather than a loan. Perhaps he defied orders and hid it in his 'B bag' (barracks bag) or in his vehicle. Perhaps he even returned it by post after the war and it never reached Jeanne because she had moved to Linch. The possibilities are endless, but, if it did go to the USA, is it sitting in an archive over there somewhere? Perhaps in Albany, NY? Or, if he gave it to Jerry, perhaps it's in an archive in Mississippi. Jerry died in Union, Neshoba, Mississippi, but his son knows nothing of it. After the war, Al and Mel saw each other at the local New York 6AD Association meetings but Mel knows nothing of an old diary. Without making a trip to the U.S.A. it's difficult to know where to go from here. For the present we're stuck unless anyone out there is able to help with further information.
An Airman or an Engineer?
We have considered the possibility that the American airman, spoken of by Michael Croucher, was in fact a member of the 38th Engineers who constructed airstrips. But how to find him? Obtaining a list of all Company B members in the 38th records would involve looking in the Morning Reports and Unit Rosters in the Military Personnel Records at the NPRC in St Louis, Missouri and, given the uncertainties involved, might not justify the expense. Additionally, in echoes of the earlier records lost at the Farmer's Weekly, the individual soldiers' personnel records might well have been destroyed in a fire in 1973.
Whoever 'Lee' was, if he was in the 38th, we think it more than possible that he lived, with other 38th men, either in the huts along the road from Jeanne or even in the barn opposite her house. We also know that some of these men took part in mine clearance on Utah Beach, Normandy on D-Day itself. It's tempting to think that Lee was among them. Unfortunately, it's not clear whether the 38th Engineer GS Regiment stayed in the Cotswold area long enough to have suddenly disappeared from there around D-Day. Perhaps some of them did, but the records say that, by then, they were stationed at Mevagissey in Cornwall, with their HQ at Heligan House, in the grounds of the now famous, 'Lost Gardens of Heligan'. If the tall, light-haired Tech4 soldier and his shorter dark-haired friend were in the 38th, it's unlikely they could have disappeared around D-Day if they'd already left the area a month or so before.
So, which is correct? The story that Lee was an airman? If yes, was it true that he left the Sarsden area around D-Day? If so it seems unlikely he was in the 38th Engineers. Was he truly an airman from one of the not so near US airfields? Most nearby ones were British. Was Lee, in fact, an Engineer but not the man who had the diary? There are no later photos, taken in England, of the tall Tech4 and his dark-haired friend. The only ones we have of them seem to have been taken early in the year, before the spring growth. Is the story he disappeared around D-Day misleading us?
In the end we employed a military researcher in the States who was able to locate and mail us a copy of the 38th Engineer Regiment's Company B payroll list, compiled just before they arrived in Sarsden. The ranks are listed and there are just four men of Tech4 rank. Only one is called Lee and is tall enough to be the tall guy in the photo of the two friends. But Sappington Lee Bowman's picture is on Ancestry.com and is definitely of a different man. And the other, shorter, friend in our photo has no rank markings, only a ribbon, so how we could ever identify him was beyond us for the moment, unless someone recognised him in the photo. And, remarkably, that's what has happened.
While carrying out some research, a member of staff at Cornwall's Regimental Museum spotted our photo of the shorter of the two men we suspected were in the 38th Engineers. He was able not only to confirm this but to give us his name and put us in touch with his family. Consequently, we now know a lot more about this soldier. His name was Elbert D Mann. He had worked on airfields and he was from Alabama. However his nickname, as far as we can tell was not Lee, but Al. And, of those asked so far, his surviving family have no recollection of an old 18th Century journal or notebook ever having been in his possession.
Link to Elbert's photo gallery page)
So the hunt for the identity of the tall Tech4 continued. He was now the sole remaining soldier in the Preston family's photos still to be identified. But at least we were now able to make the reasonable assumption that he too was in the 38th Engineers and possibly in the same Company as Elbert. Significantly, Elbert was in Company F before coming to England. It turned out he was transferred to Co B once in England. This explains why he wasn't in the payroll records we looked at which dated to just before the 38th's arrival in England.
There was another group of aviation engineers, the 877th Airborne Engineer Aviation battalion, at Bruern Abbey, but this is some distance from Jeanne's home, three miles in fact, and there is nothing, apart from the 'airman' connection mentioned by Molly, to suggest that any of them ever knew the Preston family.
Something might yet turn up in Alabama, New York State or Mississippi, the homes of our other candidates, but our attention was now centred on finding our elusive Tec4 38th Engineer. It would not be untypical of this project were it to turn out that the very last soldier we identified was 'the one' we're actually looking for. And, hey, that's exactly what happened, as you'll see on the next page.