June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allies’ famed invasion of the beaches of Normandy. In honor of this momentous occasion, the Veterans History Project (VHP) is publishing a special series of blog posts revealing hidden facets of D-Day illuminated within VHP’s collections.
This post, a guest post by VHP Archivist Rachel Telford, is the third in a six-part series, exploring the meaning of maps to D-Day veterans and those who served in the European Theater.
Anyone who has ever tried to navigate an unfamiliar city knows the importance of a good map. Prior to the D-Day invasion, tens of thousands of American servicemen passed through England, many experiencing life outside the borders of the United States for the first time. For those who were lucky enough to be granted time off, sight-seeing in London was a popular pastime. American Red Cross maps helped countless soldiers, sailors, and airmen traverse the city, whether they were stationed there, or enjoying a few precious days of leave. Covering much of Central London, these pocket-sized maps noted cinemas, theaters, notable sights, London Underground stations, and of course, Red Cross clubs, which offered meals, recreation activities, and in some cases, overnight accommodations.
For many, the maps served not only as a useful tool, but also as a small souvenir of their travels. John William Boehne, III, who trained at the Naval Advanced Amphibious Training Sub-base in St. Mawes, Cornwall, in preparation for the D-Day Invasion, took five days of leave in London in January 1944, and eventually glued his copy of the American Red Cross map into a scrapbook, alongside postcards depicting the Houses of Parliament, Queen Victoria Memorial, and Westminster Abbey, and a menu from a local restaurant. After spending D-Day in the English Channel aboard LST-375, Boehne spent the next several months sailing between Portland, England, and the beaches of Normandy, carrying troops, trucks, jeeps, and DUKWs.
Clarence Carl Feightner, then a captain with the 3146th Signal Service Group, didn’t land in France on D-Day, but he played a vital role, serving as a combat planning officer stationed in London prior to the invasion. Like Boehne, he picked up an American Red Cross map during his time in London, which remained in his possession for the rest of his life, and was eventually passed down to his daughters, who donated his papers to the Veterans History Project. While his daughters were proud to preserve their father’s story for future generations, young Clarence likely would have been very surprised to learn he would eventually become a permanent part of our nation’s historical record. In a letter home on October 1, 1942, he mentioned visiting the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and several other prominent sights, noting “I don’t like history but it passes away the time.”
Donald Duvick, who served with the 1265th Engineer Combat Battalion, was still stateside at the time of the D-Day Invasion, training at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi. In a memoir written in 1996, he notes,
“We all were of course intensely interested in the progress of the invasion. One of the officers was in charge of a map, posted prominently in the headquarters office room. It showed the area controlled by Allied forces — colored red — and was updated daily. For the first week or two we almost hated to look at the map after updating, for the area under Allied control seemed to enlarge hardly at all; I wondered if we might even be thrown off. Then the area began to grow rapidly, day after day. You could easily sense the relief and gladness in the office.”
By the time Duvick made it to France, the front lines had moved east, and his letters home describe a largely uneventful trip across the country towards Germany. About a month before he shipped out to France, Duvick enjoyed a day of leave in London, guided by the same edition of the American Red Cross map that Boehne had pasted into his scrapbook. Though Duvick’s stay was brief, he managed to see many of the sights noted on the map, including Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace, which he described in a letter home as “not so fancy looking… It’s just a big square stone house.” Though the map was apparently worth holding on to, he also notes utilizing a classic form of London wayfinding: the local police. “The famous bobbies… pointed us on our way more than once when we were in doubt.”
In all, five copies of the American Red Cross map of London have been donated to the Veterans History Project. But John Boehne’s copy, securely adhered to a page in his scrapbook is the only one that remains housed within our archive. The remainder have been transferred, along with many of the maps included in our collections, to the Library of Congress Geography & Maps Division. Nearly 200 maps from the Veterans History Project collections, covering everything from a 1917 map of the Mangelare region of Belgium to US military installations in Iraq in 2007, have been transferred to the Geography & Maps Division, where they can be catalogued by staff with cartographic expertise and made more easily discoverable by researchers.
Stay tuned for a special D-Day Story Map, as well as a new Experiencing War online exhibit.