As of this writing (1/2/15), record of Robert Butcher’s service is not clear in the records until July 1945. We do not know if he returned to the HQ and HQ det 54th Repl BN after finishing with the 80 Det, 12 Repl Depot from September to some unknown date. Until other records emerge, I am assuming that he returned to the unit sometime late in 1944 or early 1945.
In early December the 54th Replacement BN prepared to move from England to France. From 6 December 1944 to 17 December 1944 the Bn moved from Tidworth Barracks, Wilts, to 3 miles west of Septemes, France, T4228. (9 miles north of Marseilles, France). The movement progresses as follows: Rail and motor convoy from Tidworth, Wilts, England to Southampton England; ship to LaHavre, France and rail to Fontainebleau, France. Truck convoy with 4 Officers and 23 EM debarked at Rouen, France and joined the Battalion at Fontainebleau. This was followed by a motor convoy from Fontainebleau, France to Septemes. When the HQ moved from Tidworth Barracks to France there were not enough dock workers in the port to handle the loading of the ships. Frank Baker and others from the Hq Det. had to load their own ships. Dock cranes were used to load equipment onto the ship, but they had to drive them into positions in the ship themselves.Baker
It is assumed that Bob Butcher, if he was still with the unit, would have been one of the drivers on this convoy. Frank Baker was one of the drivers and recalls that the trip was very cold and that they spent one night in the forest near Rouen sleeping in the trucks to try to keep warm. They had been issued 8 K-rations for the trip from LaHavre to Marseille.Baker
In Rouen the men saw the square where Joan of Arc was burned. At Fontainebleau the men were billeted overnight in the hallways of the Palace. They slept on straw pallets and were not allowed into the rooms. The rooms were all roped off. Frank Baker remembers that they stayed in the main building, entering from the south entrance. Baker
Above: The view from the street into the main entrance.
This is the lower hall on the right side of the Chateau (looking from the front). I think this is the hallway that Frank Baker talked about.
Photos taken by the author at Fontainebleau in May 2007.
Calas Staging Area and Marseille
The U.S. Army operated Staging Depots, or port depots, at la Havre and Marseilles, Depot #15 operating at La Havre, and a separate battalion, the 54th Reinforcement Battalion, at Marseilles. These Ground Force Reinforcement Command units, while under the control of Headquarters, Ground Force Reinforcement Command, operated with close liaison and cooperation with appropriate base section, Communications Zone, and Port Headquarters. The 54th handled port shipping and receiving, as part of the Delta Base Section and Headquarters, 6th Port (Eisenhower, pp 16-17).
When the unit arrived at Marseille (Septemes?) the staging area was not complete. The engineers were still clearing and preparing the area. The men of the 54th slept in a cleared vineyard leased by the army until the staging area was ready. Once in the staging area the men slept in pyramidal tents with no floors. After a time, the men went down to the docks and scavenged wood from packing crates to make floors for the tents. It was very cold. The men ate standing around a wooden table outside, standing in the snow. He remembers that as they ate the local hungry French children would come and beg for food. The Calas Staging Area was a large raised flat area that “Had been stripped of every blade of grass”. It was very dusty. Frank said that the thing that bothered them the most was the constant dirt and dust.Baker
Image of Calas Staging area, 1945 found online.
A photo of the entrance to the Calas Staging Area. Courtesy of Larry Lapeer.
Calas Staging Area- Lapeere collection, not the 54th.
A general photo from the Calas Staging Area. Notice the cleared hillside in the background that Frank Baker mentioned.
At the Calas Staging Area there was a natural amphitheater where USO shows were put on. They saw Mickey Rooney’s Jeep Tour, Bob Hope and other shows. Baker
It is impossible to see in this low resolution copy, but in a better copy there is a man in the front row that looks very much like Robert Butcher (front row, 4th from right).
Another image found online of the amphitheater at the CSA.
As the BN was on the move from England to Marseille the battle of the Bulge started. No sooner had the 54th Replacement BN gotten set up then they had to start processing replacements to be sent forward to combat.
During the Battle of the bulge the 54th worked very hard re-equipping men and getting them to the front quickly. Baker said that when men arrived at the depot they needed all of their equipment, weapons, clothing etc., filled out. The men in the Depot issued these items to the replacements, got their paper work in order and sent them to battle. He said that men were moving to and from the battle on a daily basis and kept them well informed of what was going on at the front. With the reality of combat looming over the replacements caused many to request church services before shipping out. The Chaplain Adams and Baker had access to a large hospital tent and converted it to a chapel for these services. Baker
According to Frank, the BN received the Meritorious Unit Citation for doing such a good job of supplying the replacement during the Battle of the Bulge. (Baker) There is a Meritorious Unit Award on Bob’s uniform, but we do not know which unit it represents.
On 31 December the monthly report stated that the Battalion was functioning as a separate Replacement Battalion processing the following types of troops:
Casuals returning to their units from hospitals.
Reinforcements arriving in this theater.
Rotation and return of troops to the Zone of the Interior.
The first three months of 1945 were spent in this location carrying on the same type of duty. During this time there was some reorganization of T/O & E and personnel, which can be seen in the appendix.
On 3 March 1945 the Battalion moved by motor convoy from Septemes, 3 miles West, T4228, France to Calas Staging Area, 2.5 miles West, T40.2 – 32.5, France with sixteen (16) officers (including attached) and 109 enlisted men (including attached). The mission of the Battalion remained the same.
Lt. Colonel Gustav M. Bacharach, Infantry, assumed command of the BN on 8 March 1945.
At the end of April the Battalion mission was listed as processing Casuals returning to their units from hospitals and reinforcements arriving in theater. By the end of May the Battalion was also returning Age Limitation Troops to the Zone of Interior.
Bob Butcher in jeep at the docks in Marseille France April 1945. Note the MP markings.
Frank J Baker has provided a possible explanation for this photograph. He related that late in the war the Germans were surrendering by the thousands. Many of these POWs were shipped to a train depot in boxcars to be held in the Calas Staging Area. The depot was out in the middle of nowhere. There were not enough MPs to bring all the prisoners back the 6 miles or so from the depot to the staging area. Drivers, including Baker and possibly Bob Butcher, were pulled from the Hq Det of the 54th to drive jeeps and escort the POWs. The Germans were marched in columns 4 wide from the train depot to a holding area in Calas. Mr. Baker believes that this photo likely was taken during this time. The photo is marked Marseille, April 1945. When the prisoners arrived at the staging area the Mp’s stripped them of their filthy clothing, washed and deloused the men, then gave them US GI clothing to wear. The prisoners were well behaved. Some were used to clean the trash around the area. It was discovered that a few of the German prisoners had been cooks in the German army. They were put to work cooking what Frank called “quite excellent food”. He said that most of the prisoners were just happy to be out of the war. Baker
As of this writing (1-2-15) we do not know exactly when Bob Butcher was first assigned to an MP unit. We have record of him joining the 388th MP BN on 22 July 1945, but no listing of what unit he came from at that time. However, we can place him in Marseille in April in an MP jeep, and in Besancon, France in January 1945 wearing MP insignia on his cap.
At some point in France Frank Baker was reassigned as Education NCO. He kept a battle map and used the Stars and Stripes to get information about what was going on. He also gave lectures to replacements on conduct with the local French girls (VD was a problem). Baker
In December 2013 I was contacted by Phillippe Baulard from Marseille France. In 1973 Mr. Baulard found the ID tag for “Scampy, I belong to Jack M Rutt 54th Reinf BN” on the site of the 54th Reinf BN in the Marseille Area.
Jack Rutt was part of the HQ Det and is pictured here with Scampy.Baker photos
It is quite amazing that both the tag and the photo of man and dog together would be gathered together after almost 70 years.