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‘We will remember them’: a story of World War II

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Featured, Features


Samuel Edward “Eddie” Hatch—my grandfather—has lived a long time, 86 years. None was as pivotal in the story of his life as the year 1944.

It is a story my family knows well. Teddy Booras, his best friend and army “buddy,” switched tasks with my grandfather and offered to clean their barracks at Sloane Court in Chelsea, London, for an inspection. It was a Monday morning, July 3, almost one month since D-Day.

My grandfather exited to the street and attempted to board the company truck that was waiting to bring the soldiers to their workstations but, by chance, the truck was full. That’s when he heard someone yell, “buzz bomb.” My grandfather’s reaction was immediate: “I ran to my left, and I saw my mother’s face in my mind. I ran, and I hit the ground. I was thrown up against something. That was it. I lived and he died, that’s the story.” The bomb decimated my grandfather’s chemical processing company, killing all the men on the truck, the commander of the company and Teddy Booras in the basement of the billet.

My grandfather was spared.

It has been a year now since I visited Sloane Court and stood at the spot of the blast.

What a visit. Forget quiet reflection—I was startled to hear a fire alarm roar to life. Within minutes, the students of the Garden House School lined the street, talking, giggling and waiting for the all clear. Had these students ever read the memorial plaque so close to their classrooms? “In memory of the 74 American military personnel of the United States Army and three civilians who were killed on the 3rd July 1944 by a ‘V-1’ Flying Bomb in Sloane Court East. We will remember them.”

These students are not the only ones likely unaware of that bombing. Wartime censorship prevented the attack from reaching the press. My grandfather was not even allowed to tell his parents what had happened until he returned home.

As a result, historians have nearly ignored what was the greatest loss of life for American servicemen due to a V-1 bomb. Today, there’s almost no mention of the bombing on the Internet or in the Army’s official history.

Fragments remain, though. Among the mess of government files at the National Archives, one folder is titled, “CWCO-130-0.1, History, 24 Apr 1943 – 25 Jan 1946.” Inside, my grandfather’s story comes to life as part of the official history of his army unit, the 130th Chemical Processing Company.

“This was the greatest single disaster of United States Army and Personnel in the London area,” the history states. It is all there: Sloane Court, the truck, the decimated company and the destroyed billet. But nothing compares to the logbook. There, in bold typewriter font are lists of every day in 1943 that my grandfather took a furlough, as well as the names of his army buddies of whom he always spoke so fondly.

Then there are fragments at the Local Studies Department in Chelsea, London. For instance, aside from the 63 members of my grandfather’s company, I learned that eight neighbors died when their apartments imploded from the blast. Today, those apartment buildings clearly look different, their architecture more modern and out of place.

One other mention of the event at Sloane Court appears in the biography of the famed bandleader Glenn Miller, who was actually stationed at Sloane Court. What luck—the man had requested a transfer out of the city due to his fear of buzz bombs and the transfer took place July 2.

But that’s pretty much it. Almost no one else remembers what happened at Sloane Court.

Except for one man, Bill Figg, a longtime resident of Chelsea who died about a decade ago. I wish I had met Figg. Leaders at the Chelsea Historical Society tell me he was passionate about finding out more about the blast. In fact, he wrote to the White House and U.S. government for years but was unable to find out who had actually died in the blast. He also paid for and installed the plaque now hanging at Sloane Court. My grandfather had all the answers and this man wanted to know more, but the two were never able to connect.

That’s why I’m so fascinated by the story, and why it means so much to me. Because it meant something to Figg who witnessed the attack, and it means something to my grandfather who lost his friend Teddy Booras on that day.

For 18 years prior, my grandfather had lived a quiet life in a small town in Western Massachusetts, in the home of first-generation immigrants of modest means, until the Army of the United States of America changed the course of his life. On Nov. 3, 1943, my grandfather became Samuel E. Hatch, Technician Fourth Grade of the 130th Chemical Processing Company, and was sent south to Alabama for basic training. Within months, my grandfather had toured the world, moving through one of the suburbs of London known as Chelsea, the volatile countryside of Alsace-Lorraine, and the small island of Luzon in the South Pacific. Twenty-seven months and 12 days later, on Jan. 25, 1946, my grandfather returned to Western Massachusetts, where he resides to this day.

Of all the moments and memories my grandfather carries with him, the images of 1944 are the most real and deserve the greatest attention. Instead of going to college, my grandfather and his buddies shipped off to Europe, where, within a month, half the company would be dead. My grandfather was a part of the other half—the lucky half. The half that never really left Sloane Court.

When he discusses the bombing of July 3, my grandfather inevitably talks of chance. “What were the odds?” he asks. “We could have been billeted anywhere else in London, but we were billeted right there, right there where a V-1 flying bomb stopped right there on our street. … It could have stopped anywhere; it could have stopped over Buckingham Palace.”

The odds were unseemly. My grandfather had been in London less than two months when devastation struck, but those two months and the many that had laid ahead pale in comparison to the one morning my grandfather faced true active combat. Indeed, while the year 1944 was, without any doubt, a critical time filled with new experiences and travels for my grandfather, the year truly began and ended for him on July 3.

In the spirit of the army barracks tune, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” my grandfather says, “Old soldiers never die, they just keep telling war stories.” I see nothing wrong with continuing to tell that story. Few moments are as central to my grandfather’s life and to my family’s history. I will not let his story fade away.

Alex Schneider ’12 runs http://londonmemorial.org, a website dedicated to remembering the bombing at Sloane Court on July 3, 1944.