This page is dedicated to my late mother Shirley Ann Ellery who passed away 30th March 2016, mum's final wish was to have her ashes buried with her family in Hamilton, Alabama, my grandfathers hometown, so myself and my father travelled to America in April 2017 to make mum's final wish possible. This short film was made with the help of my American family from Hamilton, Marion County, Alabama.
Special thank you to Karl Byrd for your lovely words and beautiful service.
GURNIE E BYRD
My grandfather Gurnie Eugene Byrd was with the 115th Medical Unit stationed on Dartmoor, England during WWII, This photo of my grandfather holding my mother as a baby in 1945, is the only photograph mum had of her father before he returned to the states and never met her father again, before he passed away on 25th July 1977
Gurnie E Byrd World War II, War Record, is listed on this official website as one of the 392 enlisted men from the 115th Medical Unit.
Once recruitment process was complete, My grandfather Gurnie nicknamed Bill by family and friends, was then introduced into a rigorous training program to shape the 115th into a combat-ready field medical outfit. Classes in nearly every phase of the field were thrown at the recruits. 115th field medics earned the nickname by the U.S. Army as, "Warrior Medics"
Gurnie E Byrd
Preparations were immediately made for the unit’s movement to Camp Shanks, New York (the largest Embarkation Camp in the US), where it would board troop transport for the United Kingdom. 115th was up to its full authorised strength of 120 Officers and Nurses, and 392 Enlisted Men. 115th boarded the USS Santa Elena (a requisitioned and converted passenger cruise ship–ed). The ship finally left the New York Port of Embarkation on 15th July 1943. The ship joined a destroyer-guarded convoy which zig-zagged across the Atlantic, a terrifying voyage lasting 11 days for the young men and women of the 115th Medical Unit under constant threat of a torpedo attack by Nazi U-Boats.
USS Santa Elena
The USS Santa Elena finally arrived into the port of Gourock, Scotland on 26th July 1943, and the debarkation of the unit’s personnel and unloading of equipment took place immediately. The Hospital staff were then split into two large groups, each boarding a separate train which would take them on an overnight journey to Tavistock, Nr Plymouth, England The final leg of the journey was completed the following morning by Army transport, which carried the 115th from the rail station in Tavistock to Plaisterdown Camp, Dartmoor.
NAN & GRANDAD
Shortly after arriving in Tavistock, England my 19-year-old grandfather Bill met my 17-year-old grandmother Edna. Over the summer of 1943, courted and found love, while war raged in Europe, Edna worked on the local newspaper in Tavistock with a real love of music and playing the piano, My grandfather must have worked his southern charm on my English great-grandparents from all accounts they loved Bill, but when their only daughter fell pregnant with my mother this must of caused massive tension within the family after all this was 1944.
My great grandfather Charles Bartlett was a Chief Gunner in the Royal Navy at Devonport, Plymouth on HMS Woolwich during the First World War, and later earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.
Bill & Edna
Great Grandfather Charles
HMS Woolwich 1912
On 27th-28th April 1944, Just a few miles from 115th Station Hospital on Dartmoor, Double tragedy happened during a large-scale rehearsals with 23,000 allied servicemen for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which took place on Slapton Sands in Devon. Coordination and communication problems resulted in friendly fire deaths during the exercise, and on the following day under the cover of darkness an Allied convoy of 8x USS-LST positioning the ships for a beach landing were attacked by 9x E-boats of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine, 2x USS-LST were sunk and 1x severely damaged by the torpedo attacks with around 500 men on each ship fully laden with fuel, weapons, medical trucks and half tracks, resulting in the deaths of at least 749 American servicemen. This disaster was classified as top secret, as this could effect morale and jeopardise the D-Day invasion of Normandy six weeks later, Slapton Sand Disaster for 40 years was not officially recognised.
U.S. FIELD MEDICS
My grandfather's115th Medical Unit were at the epicentre of the Slapton Sands disaster, due to the 115th Station Hospital location on Dartmoor being the closest U.S. Army hospital with 750 beds, 392 combat trained field medics and 120 nurses.
All medical staff at military hospitals who treated the wounded were sworn to secrecy under threat of court martial and prison. In the 1980s the disaster became public for the first time. We may never know the official role the 115th played during Operation Tiger.
2019 "Disaster Before D-Day" book was published that claimed over 1200 American soldiers were killed and not the official 749 - Daily Mail
One day, I hope we know the full truth and maybe for the first time a sitting U.S. President will visit Slapton Sands and honour the young men who made ultimate sacrifice, and will finally have the recognition they deserve for their contribution to the allied cause in World War II, with acts of heroism and courage not being lost and forgotten on the sands of Slapton.
US Navy radio operator Steve Sadlon on LST-507, describes how after the torpedo struck "All hell was breaking loose, fire was everywhere". After weighing up his options, he decided to take his chances in the sea. I found out years later that the captain of LST-515 disobeyed orders, returned to where the ships went down and picked up survivors. If it wasn't for that captain, John Doyle, I wouldn't be here today." only 72 survived out of 496 onboard on LST-507 BBC News
USS LST-507 at anchor just off Brixham Harbour, at Berry Head England, 27th April 1944, This photo was taken the day before LST-507 was sunk in the English Channel by Nazi E-boats.
25th July 2017, While on a solo fishing trip just a few miles from Slapton Sands an incredible moment was captured on my iPhone, a pod of dolphins swam along side my small RIB at Berry Head. This was made even more special as it happened 40 years to the day my grandfather passed away and was the exact location LST-507 was anchored off Brixham harbour in the photo taken the day before being sunk.
115th, D-DAY ORDERS
On 15th May 1944, the 115th unit received additional orders for its function during the forthcoming military invasion of the Normandy coast. It was designated as Hospital Plant No. 4101 and Transit Hospital No. 2 for the evacuation of casualties from mainland Europe. News of the invasion was received via wireless at the facility on the morning of 6th June 1944, and all staff were instructed to prepare the hospital to receive its first trainload of patients, bed capacity was increased from 750 to 1500 within 6 months the 115th Hospital treated over 10,000 patients.
4th June 1944, Two day's before D-Day, Brixham harbour embarking for UTAH beach Normandy, France, loading tanks and trucks with around 500 U.S. troops on each USS - LST (Landing, Ship, Tank)
8 months later, Shirley my mother was born 16th Feb 1945 to proud parents Edna & Bill, my grandfather promised after the war he would take my grandmother and mother to America with him
In August 1945 the unit completed its move to Augsburg, Germany where it occupied the General-Kneußl-Kaserne.
By 31st March 1947, the 115th continued to operate in a limited capacity at the kaserne until the station was officially closed on 20th July 1947. Later the same year, the 115th Station Hospital, which now existed only on paper, was officially deactivated, and re-designated as the 829th Field Hospital.
My grandmother was left heartbroken Bill never wrote after the war, In 1959 when my mother was 14 years old she found out for the first time who her father was when my mother Shirley had a petty argument with her 16 year old cousin shouting out "at least my dad is not a Yank!", confused my mother confronted my grandmother is it true, then told the truth and gave my mother the photo of her father holding her as a baby. This revelation must have been so difficult for my mother to take in at such a young age with so many questions.
Mum could never bring herself to contact her father, many years passed and in 2003 my brother Paul made contact for the first time with our American family in Hamilton, Alabama with a letter he sent with this photo of my grandfather holding my mother as a baby, a few months later my American cousin Teresa phoned my brother leaving a voice mail in her warm southern accent saying that we received the letter and it was her father Gene Byrd who recognised the photo and said that's uncle Bill and knew about my mother. We also learned my grandfather passed away on 25th July 1977.
The love and support shown by my American family over the years has just been amazing, words can't express how much this meant to my family and mother, that finally help put all the missing pieces together and complete our families
DELMER L BYRD
Delmer & Shirley
In 1943 my grandfather enlisted into the U.S. Army with his brothers Jay and Delmer, I was lucky enough to meet and stay with Delmer Byrd when visiting America in May 2007, who lived in Tupelo, Mississippi with his lovely wife Irene. I remember one evening we stayed up and talked for hours about his little brother Bill, Delmer spoke about his own experiences during WWII and the horrors he witnessed, Delmer's unit 11th Army 3rd Armored Division was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and on 11th April 1945, the 3rd Armored discovered the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp a subcamp of Buchenwald in the heart of Germany, reporting back to headquarters, requested support from the 104th Infantry Division. Nazis used slave labour at Dora-Mittelbau an underground camp with a maze of tunnels to produce V-2 ballistic missiles, that was responsible for killing thousands of civilians in and around London during World War II.
V-2 was invented by Wernher Von Braun a SS major and scientist, who was captured by American troops, after the war he was a leading figure at NASA who developed and pioneered the Saturn V rocket that put the first man on the moon. Von Braun was accused of war crimes, around 20,000 concentration camp prisoners died, publicly hang the slowest workers to speed up production of the V-2 rockets. Mirror Newspaper Unbelievably Von Braun would later live and work less than 50 miles from Delmer in Huntsville, Alabama.
I asked Delmer if my grandfather ever spoke about my mother or grandmother, Delmer said Bill wrote multiple times after the war but never received a reply from Edna and was left heart broken that my grandmother no longer wanted to move to America, My grandfather moved to Los Angeles with his brother Jay to start a new life, before he left Hamilton he gave Delmer all the photos he had of my mother and grandmother to look after and keep safe. We may never know what happened to the letters my grandfather sent.
I have always believed everything happens for a reason, choices we make, choices that aren't our own, life struggles and success's will test and define us.
Delmer Byrd, May 2007
D-Day June 1944, 3rd Armored & 101st Airbourne Division
Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp Liberation
WILLIAM & CORA
William & Cora Byrd
Jay, Cora and Gurnie
My great grandparents William & Cora (Carter) Byrd lived in Hamilton, Alabama, my grandfather Gurnie was born in 1924, the youngest of ten and can be seen with his mother Cora and brother Jay in the photo.
Also learned my grandfather's nephew Euple Byrd married country music legend Tammy Wynette, together they three children Gwen, Jackie & Tina.
Tammy & Euple 1966
1818 "TOLLGATE" HAMILTON, ALABAMA
History of our American family, settlers with Scots-Irish ancestry, and learning that my mum's American family are related to "Morning Dove White" a Native American who lived in Hamilton Alabama from 1818 - 1835
Morning Dove's husband William Mansell fought in the Indian Wars with General Andrew Jackson, later president Jackson, Mansell was compensated for his services with land and settled in Hamilton, Alabama in 1818, Hamilton was then known as "Toll Gate" a wild and hostile place to live, once served as “hunting grounds” for the Chickasaw Indians.
Morning Dove & William Mansell had three children a daughter called Morning Dizenia and two sons James and John. Morning Dizenia married Dr Russell Palmer together they had twelve children and lived in Hamilton, Alabama for the rest of their lives.
James had six children and was killed during the civil war and Dizenia's older brother John squandered the legacy of the family farm in Hamilton. 1880 he abdicated to Oxford, just outside of Tupelo, Mississippi.
My mother Shirley Ellery, final resting place family cemetery in Hamilton, Alabama.
FINAL RESTING PLACE
My American family has lived in Hamilton, Alabama for over 200 years, with family members still today living all over Hamilton.
Special Thank you! to all my American family, especially cousins Grace, Teresa, Carol, Dennis and Judy for all your love and support without you none of this would be possible. Delmer Byrd for all the photos & stories you shared of my grandfather, your little brother, we will cherish forever!