Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When the US Army came to Ditton Priors

Newsnight has been talking about relations between the French and US military in Afghanistan. In the past these have been frosty, particularly when De Gaulle withdrew France from the NATO integrated military command and threw the Americans out of the country.

The other day the Daily Mail reported a well-known tale from this episode:

In 1966, upon being told that Charles de Gaulle had taken France out of NATO and that all U.S. troops must be evacuated from French soil, President Lyndon Johnson told Secretary of State Dean Rusk: 'Ask him about the cemeteries, Dean!'

So, at end of the meeting, Dean asked de Gaulle if his order to remove all U.S. troops from French soil also included the 60,000 plus soldiers buried in France from World War I and World War II. De Gaulle never answered.

The effects of the expulsion were felt in rural Shropshire.

In 1939, as war loomed, the Admiralty had constructed a vast armaments depot at Ditton Priors in the remote country behind Brown Clee. It lasted until 1965, and the following year it was reopened to house American forces who had left France. They stayed only until 1968.

Today the site of the depot is partly occupied by an industrial estate, but there are remains to explore. And if you approach the area from the country end - along the trackbed of the Cleobury Mortimer & Ditton Priors Light Railway - you are still met by a forest of minatory signs.

Ditton Priors, incidentally, is a strange place. My theory when walking is the more remote the place, the more certain you are of finding accommodation. In town a B&B proprietor will simply turn you away. In the country they feel more responsible and do not want you frightening the animals, so they volunteer to phone someone down the road who takes in walkers sometimes.

My theory did not work in Ditton Priors - this is some years ago now. The pub said it had accommodation, but no one answered when I knocked. Eventually, as it came on to rain, a pretty red-haired girl opened an upstairs window and told me they did not do it any more.

So I tried the only bed and breakfast place in the village. They said they were full and made no effort to find me a bed somewhere else in Ditton Priors. Instead, they suggested I should walk to Burwarton. "It's only a mile," they said, when I could see from the map that it was three.

Eventually I arrived at the Boyne Arms. The landlady said they did not do bed and breakfast, but eventually she took pity on me and gave me a bed for the night. In any case, a couple I met in the bar were all for driving me to Bridgnorth, where there is plenty of accommodation. (West Midlanders are the friendliest people I know.)

I once read that they were still persecuting witches in this part of Shropshire until relatively recently.

About 1978, I should imagine.

Photo borrowed from Subterranea Britannica.


Anonymous said...

Jonathan, if you have nevber been to the Burwarton Show, you have missed a real piece of Unmitigated England. Highly recommended.


Unknown said...

Hi Jonathan, I live in Ditton Priors and I would have gladly put you up for the night. We have a lovely comfy wicker man in the field the back of our house and strangers are always welcome to stay in it.

Unknown said...

I was one of those exiled yanks from France who were stationed at Ditton Priors in 1967. Basically a 22 year old kid fresh from Orleans by way of Paris. It was a real culture shock for sure but was only there for about 4 months till my draft 2 years service ended. I was 1 of only 3 non comms. I do not know much about anything in Ditton Priors out side of the camp. I was daily in Bridgnorth a wonderful little village. I frequently wore my uniform in town. It was hard to buy a drink. Everyone had a yank story to tell, a daughter they wanted me to meet, or just loved to chat with an American. I also spent much time in Wolverhampton and even more in Walsall. I even made it to Birmingham once. I became well versed in the local bus services. The local young men were not too happy with us. Of course we were over paid, over sexed, and over there.
I have been back to England a few times in recent years. However, I have not been back to Shropshire. Hopefully I will be back for a visit with in the next year along with Cornwall. I like looking at the Liberal England blog. In the US I am a Liberal Democrat and a former elected offical Not fan of Herr Trump

Unknown said...

Sorry new to bogging
Terry Ditton Prior yank

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for your comment and kind words, Terry.

Waltd said...

My brother in law was showing me his photo album of his time in the US Army back in 1965-66. He was in France and then at Ditton Priors which prompted my search and found your blog. Thanks for the history you shared. How do I share a photo?

Waltd said...

My brother in law Ralph McVey was there in 1967.

Jonathan Calder said...


Please email me the photo at jonathancalder@gmail.com and I shall use it on the blog.