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Posts Tagged ‘whittington’

Colonel Kurtz in our midst

While browsing around to see if I could find any recollections and general info on connections between Whittington Barracks and Hopwas woods  I came across a shocking revelation.

For added effect, I’ve written the shocking revelation further down the page so you’ll scroll down in anticipation

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Whittington barracks one of the oldest in the country was witness to what time magazine dubbed as ” the most shocking army scandal of World War II. It was all down to Colonel Killian who ran the US  10th Reinforcement Depot at Lichfield including Whittington Barracks. By what I’ve seen so far he sounded like an almost Colonel Kurtz type character.

the horror…the horror, Colonel Kurtz in Apocapypse now. Would he have been at home in Hopwas woods?

It turns out that Whittington Barracks during it’s occupation by the US army depot in WWII was a feared place to be by US troops. Colonel Kilian seemed  to specialize and relish in ‘punishing’ soldiers with the blanket excuse of desertion in the face of the enemy.This included not getting to the barracks before 22:00(from Paul Generuex’s account). So far nothing out of the ordinary, just  another severe army commander. By the looks of it though, those punishment verged on the sadistic side and gave Whittington barracks a notorious reputation among US troops.

The accused: Colonel Kilian with other officials at Whittington barracks, photo taken from Staffordshire pastrack(click on image to go to link)

The base was used to rehabilitate US soldiers after injuries and get them fit for combat duties. Colonel Kilian interpreted this as making the place a worse place alternative to serving in combat. Conditions were so harsh that the US army newspaper Stars and Stripes characterized the barracks “as a concentration camp run by Americans for American soldiers. That may be a bit extreme but it gives an idea of the reputation and fame the barracks must have had.  I’ve pasted an extract from the Times magazine describing some of the punishments, it makes for a grim read.

 “Men had been beaten there with fists and rifle butts till they were unconscious, then revived and ordered to clean up their own blood. Prisoners who complained of hunger were gorged with three meals at a time, then dosed with castor oil. Hours of calisthenics, of standing “nose and toes” to a guardhouse wall were routine punishments. Purple Heart veterans were deliberately jabbed in their old wounds. There was even a ghastly, sardonic slogan among Lichfield guards: “Shoot a prisoner and be made a sergeant.”
From Times magazine


It’s pretty shocking stuff but it appears substantiated by other accounts of US soldiers so it’s on rock solid ground. You’ve got this from US veteran Irvin M Herowitz who was told “to keep your nose clean when you get there” in reference to beatings and then there’s the veteran’s Paul L. Genereux’s personal story of time at the Notorious barracks.

Then there’s the fact that Colonel Kilian was court martialed in Germany for what happened, the court-martial turned out to be little more than a slap on the wrist but it looks like the famous case seared itself onto US wartime memories on the other side of the pond. For example just type in Lichfield Kilian into google and see what turns up. Sorry Lichfield but at least in the annals of US military history the name is synonymous with cruelty and sadistic colonels. Just take a look at the book below:

Bet you’ve never seen the word Lichfield look so threatening! Click on the book cover to go to a description of the book Lichfield: The U.S army on trial.

Then there’s an article  from themagazine series After the Battle on the barracks. I’m going to try and get my hands on this, it’s such an intriguing ‘international’  and unexpected story and right in the midst of the Tamworth/Lichfield area . As this is part of the Pastorm Tamworth project this is an ‘open post’ It’s a post under development and may go onto form part of the final book, depends on what’s found. As part of this I’ll be adding, modifying and subtracting as I hopefully get more information on this story. So the case is still open. ‘Innocent until proven guilty”

An interesting feature of all this is its coverage on the other side of the pond contrasted with the silence on the dark episode back here. At least I haven’t been able to find out anything so far. Is there anything on the story in the Whittington barracks museum?

Despite being on ‘local ‘ soil the whole thing is a very American affair so that  might explain its silence over here to a point. The trouble making side of me though can’t help thinking that the reason might lie in  that it sits a little uncomfortably with the whole official historical discourse of World War II  in the area. However much we want it to be, history is seldom black and white  and I think we owe it to the soldiers who suffered that cruel  regime in the local area to give them more exposure.

What’s missing from the history books is often as revealing what’s in there.

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The first adventure for Abe and Ernst is aptly going to be to do with windmills, Don Quijote´s giants in the landscape. Ernst and Abe are not going to have much luck in finding windmills around Tamworth, as there isn´t any. Tamworth being crisscrossed by rivers was ideally suited for watermills.  There were though at least a couple of windmills nearby in the not too distant past, with one more ‘maybe’ windmill.

Windmill Hill, Whittington

This is the ‘maybe’ windmill. In the fields between the village of Whittington and Hopwas  stands Windmill Hill, at the end of windmill lane( in the above present day ordnance map its marked in orange, notice the firing range nearby…

Abe and Ernst doing the research in the reference part of Tamworth library, there´s wasn´t much out there, basically there´s just the 1899-1903  ordnance map below with windmill hill marked. Thats about it that´s all there they have to go on. It´s a great location for a windmill but its not recorded in any map dating it as far back as 1815, so either  there was a windmill here before that or it was wishful thinking when it came to naming the hill.

I wonder if Whittington History Society know more about it?

Windmill hill is at one of the highest points in the area, and would have been seen for miles around like a smaller version of the present day Lichfield transmitter mast, if it did indeed exist.

The 1899-1903 ordnance map with Windmill Hill clearly marked, is the associated windmill lane some sort of remnant path? did it once lead to the windmill?

Abe and Ernst tried to check these questions and more out on the ground. The bad news is that there´s a firing range nearby used by the military and they were caught in the cross-fire. Will they survive? you´ll have to wait…………………….

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