US FLAG (11 K)




Camp Lucky Strike (Janville, France)
(location also given as 5 miles NE of Cany-Barville)

Remembrances of Josephine Bovill, 77th Field Hospital, Camp Lucky Strike
(added June 2003)

   "In March 1945, my American Red Cross unit of five women was transferred from the 166th Tent General Hospital located in a field outside Le Mans, France to the 77th Field Hospital near San Riquie en Caux, near St. Valery. Our unit had initially arrived in France back in September 1944. To get us across the English Channel and on to Paris, before departing England we had to learn how to shift trucks in order to drive our ambulances up the Red Ball Highway that led from Omaha Beach to Paris. We crossed the Channel in the hold of a Liberty Ship. When we ran into a storm, the captain had us evacuated in a landing craft, but we had to wait for our ambulances. We spent about a week with the staging hospital in Normandy, named Harvard Hospital. It was mighty muddy and our boots were in the ambulances. Our vehicles were finally evacuated onto Omaha Beach from the ship. We drove off sometime after noon one day and found it got dark at about 5 o'clock. We found some MPs on a corner and asked if we could spend the night in our ambulances. They said yes. The next morning we went on to Paris. When we asked for directions in English, the Parisians got into a mighty argument, but finally were able to direct us. We stayed in Paris a few days to get organized. We managed to gather all the toiletries and cigarettes that the Red Cross provided, and then we rode in a box car to Le Mans so that the provisions would not be stolen. Sgt. McGinty from the unit post office picked us up. At this point our tents had no floors and no heat. We ate from our mess kits and washed in our helmets. By Christmas 1944, we had floors and pot-belly stoves for heat. We went through the anxious time of the Battle of the Bulge. When the battle was over, our hospital began receiving German patients and our services were considered superfluous. It was at that point, in March 1945, that we were sent to the 77th Field Hospital."

   "When American prisoners of war (POWs) started to stream out of Germany, the several camps situated on the Normandy coast near Le Havre, and which had originally been used as staging areas, were now used to take care of the American prisoners of war until they could be sent home. The camps were named after popular cigarettes of the day. Our field hospital was called in to set up at Camp Lucky Strike to handle the massive number of liberated POWs coming out of Germany. Our exact location was at San Riquie en Caux."

   "Large trucks would arrive at the camp regularly, full of jubilant GIs dressed in all sorts of motley clothes, half-'Jerry' (German) and half-American. We took those soldiers who were ill to the hospital. There were many emaciated soldiers who had been caught in the Battle of the Bulge the previous December. The Germans did not know what to do with them as they were in full retreat after January 1945, so they marched them back and forth from place to place, and fed them very little as there was little food to be had. Prisoners captured earlier were better off, but all of ours were sad to see. However, their spirits improved once they arrived at Lucky Strike, since they knew they would soon be going home."

   "As Red Cross workers, we visited them and talked to those who had problems. I was an Assistant Field Director and Social Worker in charge of the unit. We would help the men who had concerns about home, assisted in writing letters for those who needed it, and tried to contact the States to find out about newborn children, ill relatives, and such. The latter was not too successful. By the time we received answers, the soldiers were well on their way home. We also had a recreation tent. We had to scrounge for furniture, but when we heard about any warehouses where we could pick up items for our tents, the Army would provide transportation and off we would go to pick up whatever was needed. We also had the services of several German prisoners of war who were efficient carpenters. They built yard furniture for us. All in all, we were reasonably well equipped after a while. The weather was good and it did not get dark until 11 p.m. The women in charge of recreation did a good job of organizing entertainment. The hospital was also given an ice cream machine for the patients' nutrition. Of course, it was a treat for all of us who had been in France for many months."

   "The hospital itself was located on an old German airfield. The tents were aligned on each side of the runways. In addition to caring for the emaciated prisoners of war, we cared for the victims of land-mine accidents and accidental gun-shot patients. Many of the soldiers brought German guns back as souvenirs, which, in their tight quarters, was just asking for trouble."

   "We had a charming volunteer French woman from nearby St. Valery who helped dispense cigarettes, razors, toothbrushes, and other toiletries that were available from the Red Cross. This freed us to spend more time on the wards."

   "I met my husband, Capt. Edwin (Ted) Bovill, at the 77th Field Hospital. Our main recreation was walking the many small side roads that ran through the surrounding countryside. We also were able to walk to the beach, but had to tread very carefully as either side of the path was loaded with mines. We lived in an old broken-down chateau, men on one side and women on the other. Showing some ingenuity, the officers managed to create an officers' club by cleaning out and painting the old coal bin of the chateau."

   "Ted and I were married in the American Red Cross recreation tent. I was able to borrow a wedding dress from the Red Cross office in Paris. I went to my wedding in an ambulance accompanied by my best friend, who was a WAC in Paris. We had our reception in the coal bin. With the cigarettes I did not use, I was able to obtain eggs and the GI cooks baked us a wedding cake. When my husband and I returned to the location in 1980, we could find little trace of the hospital. The chateau had been beautifully renovated, but had a huge fence around it, and the path to the ocean was nonexistent, replaced by a huge power plant. We did stop at the mayor's home in San Riquie en Caux and took a look at our marriage registration, still on file there."

Photos of the Camp Lucky Strike "Booty Line"
(added March 2003)

A long line of GIs carrying war souvenirs to bring back to the United States following the surrender of Germany
waits outside the so-called "Booty Tent" at Lucky Strike (click on the photo to enlarge it).

Inside the booty tent, GIs "register" their booty. By the looks of it, the majority seems
to be daggers and other edged weapons (click on the photo to enlarge it).

The following information was provided by Al D'Ambra in September 2002.

   Camp Lucky Strike was situated in the town of Saint-Sylvian, 5 kilometers from Saint-Valery-en Caux. Its location was not selected by chance, but rather because the occupying German troops had constructed an airfield there in 1940 with a landing strip 1800 meters long and 50 meters wide. This airfield was one of the defensive elements of the Atlantic Wall: surveillance and coastal defenses were also a perfect starting point for attacks on southwest England. V-1 rocket launching ramps were installed at the beginning of 1944 in the woods surrounding the airfield. It was heavily bombed by the British throughout the war, but especially during the fighting which followed the June 1944 landings. In September 1944 American Engineer Corps troops took control of the area, repairing the landing strips and constructing the camp.

   The camp became the most important military camp in Europe. It extended over 600 hectares (1 hectare = approximately 2 ½ acres). It was a mandatory port of entry for practically every American soldier, and 1½ million spent from a couple days up to 18 months there. It was the principal camp used for repatriated soldiers and liberated POWs, but also as a reception station for soldiers on leave. It was also a staging area for the Pacific Theater and — until August 10, 1945 — for the invasion of Japan. There were 100,000 men in the camp each day — 100,000 men to lodge, feed, train, and entertain. (Regarding repatriation, there were 6,000 daily departures by plane or boat from Le Havre, the only port liberated on the western coast that could accommodate large ships.)

   The camp, where the 89th Infantry Division managed the reception of troops, was a veritable American city for 18 months. Life was therefore rhythmical with this enormous hub of military personnel, short stopover for some, several months for others. One could find, like in any American city, a hospital, church, movie theater, post office, police station, barber shop, and a supermarket. There were also concerts and shows with famous celebrities (Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney, among others). And around the camp, there were the usual prostitutes and easy access to the local black market.

   The first American troops arrived around Christmas 1944. They consisted of engineer units composed in large part of black soldiers. The local population discovered with much amazement the equipment used by the Americans (Harley Davidson motorcycles, Jeeps, Dodges, bulldozers, levelers, GMC trucks, etc.). It was impressive to see such machinery that up to this point was unknown in France. A large part of the landscape was covered in a blanket of cobblestone measuring 30 centimeters in thickness. The cobblestone was brought ashore from the beaches of Veulettes by the sea, St. Valery-en-Caux, and also Veules les Roses. GMC trucks assured an uninterrupted shuttle between the beaches and the plateau that was covered by thousands of tents.

   The bomb craters on the German airstrip were repaired with cement. This airstrip became the principal boulevard of a virtual tent city. Sometimes, the traffic on the airstrip was interrupted to allow airplanes to land. One had to worry less about the police than about the trucks, tanks, bulldozers, Chryslers, Cadillacs, or Jeeps! The traffic was as bad as in New York and controlled apparently, like they do there. It was also very dangerous to those pedestrians that would risk crossing the street without paying attention to traffic signals. They would be flattened like a pancake.

   The city was divided into four sections: A, B, C, and D. Each section was made up of 2,900 tents under which were housed 14,500 men. These virtual neighborhoods even had public parks, and in certain places, statues of pretty women. The Red Cross also had offices in the neighborhoods: nurses and girls who would serve hot coffee, cake, and newspapers day and night. A little further down were the bars: one for officers; another for NCOs and soldiers. One could drink everything they used to in pre-war France: the best liqueurs, good champagne, cognacs, and water of life (aqua vita), as well as Coca-Cola, whiskey, gin, and American beer. The bars were only open from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., which was not enough time to satisfy the customers. Each sector aslo had its own auditorium, which served as a theater, cinema, and chapel all in one.

   More permanent structures with ceilings, floors, and direct lighting began to appear. There was a PX and several gift shops. The PX carried everything — one could find handkerchiefs, electric razors, chocolates, condoms, cigarettes, cigars, toothbrushes, lighters, watches, and knives. In the gift shops GIs could find items from Paris which they usually sent to their mothers, wives, and girlfriends such as perfume, scarves, lace, and jewelry. In each section of the camp there was also a hospital, shot clinic, and, just about everywhere, VD clinics. Condoms were available everywhere and the soldiers really needed them, since the camp was assaulted, day and night, by an army of women! They came from everywhere: Paris, Dijon, and Marseilles. The MPs worked hard. In 15 days during the summer of 1945 more than 300 arrests were made.

   As for medical care, aside from the hospital there was a dental clinic in each section. In each clinic there were ten dentists!

   The heart of the post was situated near the Janville Chateau and not far from there was a small factory which produced 200 liters of ice cream per day.

A military tribunal was located in the Chateau and was presided over by a Colonel. And very near that, behind the bars, was a prison composed of a tent without heat and the guard shack. Each sector had a repair shop with thousands of repair parts and a gas station which received fuel from the harbor via tanker trucks carrying millions of liters. The lifeline of the city was assured by an administration housed in the Anglesqueville Chateau in the city of St. Sylvain. Potable water was pumped from the Durdent River, after which it was sterilized and carried by pipeline into the camp.

   The winter of 1944-1945 was very cold, and, at first, the organization of the camp was poor. The quality of the food left a lot to be desired. Soldiers came from faraway America and were greeted as liberators (which they were) by the locals who gave them bread and accepted them in their homes for warmth. The soldiers ate jams and jellies almost exclusively and often demanded onions (which they ate raw) to avoid scurvy. Afterwards, things began to change. Provisions arrived in abundance from the United States and the locals discovered the riches of the U.S. Army (chocolate, tobacco, cigarettes, blankets, shoes, clothing, soap, etc., everything that had become scarce during the German occupation). The American soldiers' uniforms (which were very informal, with rank insignia hardly apparent on the officers) shocked the locals, along with their weapons, notably the M-1 carbine. Relations with the local population were very limited due to the language barrier, but it was very good with the French civilian workers employed in the camp. The living conditions in the camp were very hard for the GIs, especially because of the cold, but it was infinitely more comfortable than for the French civilian population, who lacked everything, particularly food, medicine, and clothing. There was a certain feeling of bitterness on the part of the population due to the wastefulness of certain goods by the GIs.

   U.S. soldiers bound for the camp landed at Le Havre (which was taken on September 12, 1944 by the British after an intense bombardment which destroyed 85% of the city — 12,000 tons of bombs were dropped in 12 days, with a large number of victims in the civilian population) and were carried to Camp Lucky Strike by trucks and trains to the station at St. Valery-en-Caux.ST VALERY EN CAUX STATION A terrible train accident occurred there on the morning of January 17, 1945. The train's brakes failed and the locomotive hit the station (see photo at left). The cars derailed one after another and 53 GIs were killed and over 200 injured. Very few spoke of the accident in 1945, because Army Headquarters did not want this bad news to fall into the hands of the German army, even if the end of the war was near. The incident is still vivid in the memory of the local inhabitants, and a plaque telling of the accident is mounted on the front of the station, which can be viewed today.

   Camp Lucky Strike was a transit camp where troops never stayed very long. After several days of rest, the GIs moved out for the front. Others came back, but not with the same names… German and Italian prisoners of war who were also interned there. Some of these prisoners were used as truck drivers.

   A large parade, which the local population was invited to, took place on the airstrip on July 14, 1945. The parade was greatly appreciated. After the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, the camp was used for the return of troops to the United States. Before their departure, the soldiers were given new uniforms and their old ones were burned or buried. Likewise, other worn-out equipment was either burned or buried.

   Camp Lucky Strike was also made up of several satellite camps in the neighboring countryside. The civilian buildings housed various army offices (MP, administration, etc.). It was as though the region had become a small part of America. The troop movements were numerous and the contacts with the soldiers remained mostly superficial. The soldiers' units did not concern the locals. They were more concerned with their names and addresses. Sometimes photographs were exchanged, but the relationships, which grew during this period, have faded with time. Towards the end of the demilitarization period little of the camp remained, except for some German prisoner barracks, which housed some 1,500 prisoners and 50 guards. The guards did not actually guard anything and kept busy with other work. The prisoners were free to come and go as they pleased. (There was either no guard or if there was one he was German!)

   Tanker trucks were at their disposition. They came and went in all directions — Lee Havre or Rouen. They also delivered wood, blankets, shirts, shoes, and cigarettes (and pistols!). The headquarters of the black market, open all the time, was situated on the coast of Janville, not far from the small Chapel of the Virgin, designated an historical monument.

   Camp Lucky Strike remained active until the end of 1945, and was officially closed in 1946. After its closure, it was necessary to clear the countryside and remove the cobblestone in order to return the fields to the farmers. This work was done by hand by numerous workers and lasted over a year. The French did not possess the same enormous mechanical means that the United States Army did. The cobblestone that was reclaimed was returned to the beaches and also served to fill in the many holes and trenches made by the German troops during occupation. Thousands of cubic meters were also used to construct the Cany-Barville Stadium (Cany-Barville, with a population of 3,500, is located four kilometers south of the site of Lucky Strike).

   With the completion of the clearing of the camp proper, a section of terrain approximately 150 meters wide, which comprised the old landing strip, was handed over to a French aeronautical association, who put on an air exposition every two or three between 1946 and 1995. This airfield, along with its buildings, was named the St. Valery-Vitte Fleur Airport and covered a little more than 35 hectares. Closed in 1995 due to old age, the only thing that remains of the airfield is the guard shack that was at the entrance of the original camp at the intersection of the roads leading toward St. Valery-en-Coax and Cany-Barville.

   Substantial traces of what was once the most important Allied military camp in Europe during WW II no longer exists, except perhaps in the memories of a few hundred thousand surviving American veterans and as footnotes in a few history books.

The following information was provided by Gregor Dürbaum of Obermaubach, Germany, who provides a short introduction.

   I started my research on Camp Lucky Strike nearly ten years ago. The camp was located on a former WW II German airstrip (the runway that was in the center of the camp still exists in situ; see photo below). During the first years of my research I tried to find out more of the "German time" of this place. From late 1994 on I focused my research more on the "American time," meaning Camp Lucky Strike.

   From the beginning of June 1945 until December the camp stood under the management of the 89th U.S. Infantry Division. Today I have a few contacts to veterans of the 89th Division, and am very interested to get more information from soldiers who went through the camp to keep their experience in my files. I am a civil servant and not professional historian, but sometimes I want to put all the research together to write a little story about these place in Normandy. So our children can see what happened not so long ago. (Gregor can be contacted at the e-mail address above.)
   The history of the airfield began in 1939, when it was a French wartime airdrome. After the Germans took the airfield, they constructed a 1630-meter-long by 50-meter-wide concrete runway and concrete taxiways in a 6 km circle relative to the farms and castles around the airfield. They installed electrical lightning for night flying. Many French workers were required for the construction of this large airfield, which covered more than 500 hectares. Before their departure on 1 September 1944, German troops detonated mines on the main runway and taxitracks to render the base unusable by the Allies.

   It was shortly after this that the busy period on the airfield started, which was well known as Camp Lucky Strike. I think you know that this camp was the biggest in the ETO. It was used as a transit camp, meaning that the troops never stayed for long. Lucky Strike was opened in December 1944 and closed in February 1946. From 1 June 1945, the camp stood under the management of the 89th Division until this division was deactivated and returned to the United States in early December 1945.

   The camp was like a U.S. town with theaters, hospitals, a PX, and gift shops, and it mainly consisted of more than 12,000 tents. (At times, more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers stayed there.) Most of the liberated American POW’s went through Lucky Strike on their way home to the United States. After the unconditional surrender of Germany, the camp was used to return troops to the USA via Le Havre.

The following information describing aspects of the camp comes to us courtesy of the 488th Engineer Company Web Site.

   In the early afternoon of 15 January 1945, as the liner edged by sunken ships in the inner harbor, the ruins of LeHavre came into view and gave the impression that the city had been the victim of some gigantic bulldozer which had ruthlessly leveled everything within sight. The scene emphasizing the stark reality of the awful man made project of death and destruction in which they were soon to be participants, is one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. After hours of delay the 488th evacuated its compartment at 11 p.m. on a bitterly cold night, climbed down the netting and were loaded into LCI.s which carried the troops to the beach, where trucks were waiting to carry them on a tortuous 37-mile trip up the coast to Cany Barville. In the first light of dawn, the company, suffering from the intense cold and lack of sleep, had its first view of the vast and sprawling tent city that was Camp Lucky Strike.

   The area to which the 488th was assigned at the camp, designated B-19, was at first nothing but a snow-covered stretch of ground on which squad tents had been erected. The men were cold, tired, and hungry but cots had to be assembled, stoves set up, and fuel procured before they could rest. The heat from the stoves served to thaw the dirt floors and transform them into ankle-deep mud. To remedy this, gravel was hauled in pails, steel helmets, and any other container that could be found. The paths leading through the rows of tents were also graveled and the situation was beginning to improve. By the time the company departed for the front, most of the tents had wooden floors and doors, shelves, and cabinets; a softball diamond and volleyball and basketball courts had been constructed; day room and theater tents had been set up; a company newspaper, The Panel, was being published weekly under the editorship of Alvin Davis; and electricity had been provided, all of which is living proof of the ability of the G.I. to adapt himself even in the most adverse conditions and to strive constantly for improvement. Twenty-four hour passes were available to LeHavre, Rouen, Fecamp, and Yvetot. Since bathing facilities at camp were nonexistent, one of the first places visited by men on pass was the Red Cross shower room. Perhaps the next most popular spot was the Hotel Metropole in Rouen, where for a price just about anything could be obtained. It was also while on pass that most of the men had their first experiences with French wines, cognac, calvados, and benedictine.

   At war's end, the 488th returned to the camp for redeployment. The hope of redeployment via the States to which some of the men had clung, was voided shortly after the 488th reestablished its headquarters at Camp Lucky Strike, when they learned they were headed to Burma. From 2 July to 23 July 1945, the drivers were busily engaged in hauling construction supplies in and around the installation. Living conditions had improved only slightly since the company's previous stay at he camp, and the lack of facilities remained acute. Camp Twenty Grand located at Duclair was the next home of the 488th. The new company area was ideal, a hard-surfaced lot on which new tents were erected and the company found recreational facilities here a vast improvement over Lucky Strike. Rouen, a scant ten miles distant, soon developed quite an attraction for many men in the company.

The Camp Then

Typical Tent City

Storm Damage, 1945

The Red Cross "Java Junction"

There's No Avoidin' the Chow Line at the Repo Depot!

The Camp Today
[ Click on a photo to enlarge it; a new window will open ]


Overview of former Camp grounds looking from north to south. The aircraft depicted is a Fouga Magister and was a popular French Air Force Trainer. Behind the plane is the concrete runway which was in the center of the camp. Photo taken by Gregor Dürbaum, July 1999, contributed to Skylighters by Frank Dowell.


The Castle of Janville, site of Camp Lucky Strike Headquarters. Photo taken by Gregor Dürbaum, July 1999, contributed to Skylighters by Frank Dowell.


Tent city at Lucky Strike, 1945 (reprinted courtesy Frédéric Brière).


An aerial photograph of Lucky Strike taken August 27, 1945 by the 540th
Photorecon Squadron. (Contributed by Wesley Johnson;
reprinted courtesy John Kline, CUB Magazine.)


Undated photo of "company street" at Camp Lucky Strike.
(Photo from Webmaster's collection.)


A hospital tent and medical contingent of the 110th Medical Battalion at Camp Lucky Strike in 1945.
(Photo courtesy Nancy Pyrtek; reprinted from 110th Medical Battalion.)

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