"Lucky Limey" by Ray Cole
What started some twenty years ago as an attempt to share a bit of his personal history with his grandchildren has grown over the years into a full-fledged life story – liberally sparkled with amusing anecdotes and recollections of unique experiences. Now that is has reached book length, Ray Cole has titled his story “Lucky Limey”.
A few excerpts from “Lucky Limey” are offered here for your enjoyment.
And if your life interacted with any of these events we would love to hear about your experiences. Eventually your contribution might lead to an expanded version of “Lucky Limey”.
"Lucky Limey” is available on Amazon.com.
I was lucky enough to survive the devastation in England during World War II. When the war was over I was lucky enough to move to America. I found myself again in the new, most powerful and exciting country in the world. I did well in American schools. In almost every professional position I got the most interesting assignments. I enjoyed a wonderful life and a wonderful wife. Whatever the task at hand, there was most often some fun to be had while doing it.
This narrative is my attempt to share these experiences. If this rambling story does little else, perhaps it will encourage my grandchildren, and anyone else who happens along, to always expect the very best will happen.
Living through World War
It sounded very exciting and dramatic and a little magical. Our friends and neighbors speculated about how the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would soon have the Germans out of Poland. Union Jacks were flying everywhere. Many young men were already in the Army and more were being called up every week. Military band music played regularly on the BBC. Pomp and glitter was everywhere and it impressed me a lot. It all seemed like a marvelous game. My friends and I had dozens of toy soldiers, mostly made of lead, and we staged great battles on the living room floor. The British always won. Those rotten Nazis always lost. It was so grand, and so easy.
Soon stories of the horrors of war were all around. Mom and my Grandparents tried to keep me away from the details, but from family conversations and a little eavesdropping, I began to understand what they were all concerned about. Every evening the family listened to the BBC news on the radio.
One particular friend of the family, a young man named David, was sent to France in 1939 as a member of the British Expeditionary Force. He came home from the beaches of Dunkirk with frightening stories. David was only twenty years old but to me he seemed like an old man. News stories were everywhere, but the ones I got from David captured my imagination. After he got home he told of fighting for days just outside a small French village with only a little ammunition and almost no food. For several days the local French citizens denied they had any food or beverages to share with the troops fighting to protect them. Then the Germans began to push closer and the French peasants took to the roads to escape. Only then did the British soldiers find supplies of cheeses, sausages, other meats and bread hidden in the French homes along with plenty of wine to wash it down. The way David described the eating and drinking it is amazing that the British soldiers were able to fight at all.
David told of the panic as the entire British Army ran for the beaches in the hope of getting back to England before the German Army overran their positions. Apparently the Nazis were relentless and extremely powerful with their tanks and dive-bombers forcing the British and others towards the Channel coast. He soon found himself stranded on the beach at Dunkirk. The stories he told of the struggle in the surf to escape the Germans were thrilling and exciting as well as bloody and scary. The British troops got virtually no help or support from the French. He told of thousands of British soldiers leaving everything behind on the sands at Dunkirk so they might have a chance to swim out to one of the hundreds of waiting small private boats sent across the English Channel to rescue them. The soldiers left their packs, rifles, ammunition, vehicles, everything. According to David the German aircraft strafed and bombed the British soldiers as they struggled in the water. Thousands died in the surf as the fleet of small private boats from England tried to bring them out.
In London there were threats of air raids, and we all practiced finding air raid shelters and putting on gas masks. I hated that mask. It smelled of rubber and the black material clung to my face while the mica “window” would fog over so I could scarcely see where I was going. It was frightening to even put it on in practice. To make it fit I had to remove my glasses, so then I couldn’t see where I was going. The cardboard box that I was supposed to keep it in hung from a grubby string around my neck, and the cardboard box it was in bounced against my side when I ran. The authorities made us take our gas masks everywhere we went. On a crowded bus these boxes became a major nuisance to everyone.
We also had to know our National Identification Number, which we were assigned to keep us sorted out from the German spies I suppose. It is strange! There are some things you never forget. As I wrote this I remembered my identification number was AXHW 176/4. How did I know that after almost seventy years?
There was much talk about evacuating all the children from the major English cities. I thought that might be exciting, particularly since some of the children were to go to Canada or even Australia. I enjoyed great visions of life in Canada riding the cattle ranges with Big Bob Campbell and his Rocky Mountain Rhythm Boys, a very popular singing group in England at that time. My luck didn’t help this time – they sent me just a few miles out of London.
When the air raids started to become more severe I was evacuated less than fifty miles away to a small country village called Horsham, which I recall was in the County of Kent. One Sunday morning Grandpa, Grandma and Mom escorted me to the railway station for the trip to the countryside. Two hours later I was in a strange house, with people I didn’t know, in a tiny little village, with my bag of clothes and my ugly gasmask in a little cardboard box on a string around my neck. That night, after the family had gone back home to London, there was a major uproar in this quiet country village. Unexpectedly, high explosive bombs and incendiaries were dropping all around us. Monday was the same, and Tuesday and Wednesday: every night the German bombers came again. Each night was as bad as the one before. The authorities quickly recognized that the excellent defenses around London were working to the disadvantage of this little group of evacuees. The German bombers that tried to fly west up the Thames Estuary towards London ran into the barrage balloons and the anti-aircraft guns, turned south over Kent and simply dropped their bombs where they could without opposition. They plastered the little village of Horsham and the several surrounding towns. My family had me back in London by the next weekend. So much for any permanent evacuation!
Wartime London was a world dominated by nightly bombing and the continuing air war in the daylight hours– the Battle of Britain. The daily routine of my family was driven by the impositions of the battles in the air above us. On a Sunday morning walk with my Grandfather (we often did that when the weather was nice) the route back from Tooting Beck Park to our flat on Streatham High Street took us along the wide sidewalks of Streatham High Street for perhaps two hundred yards. As we walked we heard the sound of aircraft coming from behind us and immediately bullets were chipping the concrete pavement around us. My Grandfather roughly pushed me into a doorway just as a Messerschmitt 109, followed closely by a Spitfire, flew the length of High Street, almost between the buildings. The Spitfire was shooting at the German and the bullets were flying everywhere. Smoke was coming from the German plane, and moments later its engine faltered, and it plunged to the ground a mile or so further along towards Brixton. A huge explosion shook the buildings around us and smoke rose quickly above the scene. In a few minutes, when we got into the flat, we discovered that German plane had fallen into the local coal gas storage tanks. The immediate reaction among our friends was one of disgust – everyone was most upset that the German had cut off the gas just when it was needed to cook Sunday dinner. Grandmother complained that this was another bloody inconvenience caused by the Germans that we would have to put up with.
The Battle of Britain was at its peak during August and September 1940, with sometimes several daylight raids each day reaching London. The biggest air battle of the war took place directly overhead on September 15. For what seemed like several hours the British and German planes zoomed around in gigantic circles in the air overhead, constantly shooting at each other.
Coming To America
The next morning Mom was already feeling the effects of seasickness. At nearly sixteen I was invincible. I went down for breakfast just as soon as I had changed and fed David, my five-month-old half brother. The dining room smelled wonderful and the breakfast buffet was absolutely overwhelming. I had not seen this much food, ever. The choices were mouthwatering and endless. The aromas were fantastic. I can see it even now – bacon, ham, sausages, eggs, toast, all sorts of cereals, fresh oranges, fresh bananas, fresh juices, milk, sweet sticky rolls, hot tea, everything I could wish for. With the appetite of a rapidly growing teen-age boy I ate some of everything. I ate too much of most everything. Happiness abounded.
Unfortunately I never managed to get any of it out of the dining room. I felt a little woozy and as I reached the big potted palms in the doorway up it all came. I probably destroyed one of the palms for I lost every delicious morsel I had eaten. I struggled back to the cabin, fell on the bunk and stayed there, deathly seasick almost until we reached the States, six days later.
Somehow Mom and I managed to take care of David, but we had to have a lot of help from the others in the small cabin. Four attractive adult women, four tiny babies, and me were bunked in a stateroom originally designed for two adults. To make matters even more miserable most everyone was sick for at least part of the trip.
We arrived in New York harbor early Saturday morning on Easter weekend in April, 1946. The Statue of Liberty was a wonderful sight as we arrived, more perhaps because it meant we were past the problem of seasickness than any other reason. On Easter Sunday morning they loaded more than two hundred of us destined for Chicago and west, onto five Army buses. They drove us into Manhattan and parked us outside Penn Station and told us to wait. There we sat on Eighth Avenue in the hot spring sunshine for several depressing hours. Alongside the busses ladies in their Easter bonnets and new dresses paraded up and down the sidewalk. The poorly dressed English women packed in the busses sat and sweltered as their babies screamed for food and milk. No one seemed to care. Disposable diapers were not yet invented so bodily functions of the babies became a major problem in very little time. There was not one representative from the U.S. Army anywhere in sight. Even the bus drivers seemed to have vanished.
Out on the sidewalk there suddenly appeared a very nice man of perhaps 30 who immediately recognized the problem. He asked a few questions before he ran off without another word. Soon he was back with several others to help him. They were loaded down with trays of milk, big cups of coffee, and dozens of doughnuts and sandwiches – enough for all of us. He and his helpers distributed these welcome refreshments up and down the line of busses. People on the street watched in amazement while the British War Brides wept and applauded and cheered. At that, this kind man and his helpers simply vanished into the throng. This was my first taste of American coffee and I loved the delicious flavor. It was also my first taste of American hospitality and generosity – and I loved that even more.
New York was a surprise. I knew from the movies that there were lots of tall buildings. I knew they all had penthouse apartments. It had not occurred to me that below every penthouse there would be regular apartments, offices and stores. I hadn’t thought about the millions of people and the thousands of cars. The city was extremely hot, humid, smelly, crowded, dirty and noisy beyond belief. The excessive lighting, the neon, the horns, all was unexpected. It was nowhere near as civilized or as livable as my London.
From New York we traveled across country by train, and the conditions were far from satisfactory. The first leg of the trip was to Chicago and that went fairly well. We were all together on a special train and the Army looked after us very nicely. However, once we got to Chicago the Army staff left us to make our own way west on regular rail service. The first step was a thirteen-hour wait for the train to Seattle.
I learned some more about America while we sat in the Chicago station. I thought I knew all I needed to know about Chicago – prohibition, gangsters, and jazz told the whole story? I had picked that all up from the movies and the magazines. As we sat waiting for the train I noticed a man in a black overcoat carrying a violin case. I knew from my reading that he was a gangster. Soon we spotted another and then two more so I knew trouble was brewing. Then came a man with a cello. Then others with trumpet cases and trombones and various other instruments. A symphony orchestra was leaving on another train!
We had only the few baby supplies we could carry, along with a very large five-month old baby and a few diapers. We had almost no money with us so things got difficult rather quickly. The British government regulations prohibited us from taking more than twenty-five pounds out in cash – and that didn’t translate into that many dollars. We couldn’t afford to buy much food and the cloth diapers had to be washed out in the washroom on the train at every opportunity. We soon became a nuisance to the porters and some of the other travellers.
The train to Seattle took five or six days, far longer than even the American passengers had anticipated. There had been a major accident somewhere in Montana or North Dakota or some other desolate place that caused us to travel far out of our way. The delay caused by the accident brought a near-end to our funds. I remember we didn’t eat for the last many hours before we arrived in Seattle. It also caused trouble with the Negro porters because we were unable to tip for their help after the first night or two. As a result they refused to set up our Pullman bunks at night until a traveling white GI Sergeant saw what was happening and had a severe argument with the porters on our behalf. This was my first experience with an America Negro. Unfortunately it was not a happy one.
The trip across the United States seemed endless. I knew America was big, but to travel that long on a train going in one direction was amazing. In England we would have simply fallen over the edge into the sea after a day of two. I remember countless hours of riding across a flat, featureless landscape. Occasionally we would come to a small nameless little town that looked like the towns on model railroad layout. There would be a train depot – they all looked alike – and a water tower to service the steam engine of the train. Usually, there was a main street running alongside the railroad, a few smaller roads running back from the tracks. There was a drug store (whatever that was) across the road from the station, one or two petrol stations, several churches and not much else. On the road there were these enormous cars. They had huge bonnets and boots in which an English sports car could be easily hidden. There were farms scattered here and there over the countryside, with seeming little regard for where the towns were situated. These were interspersed with endless miles of grasslands, sometimes with cattle grazing. Miles of barbed wire fences demarked the grassland.
The Green River, or was it the Snake, somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain stands out in my memory. On trestle after trestle we crossed that river again and again and again. Before we were done, I think we must have crossed it at least two dozen times. The mountains were so impressive, far bigger than I had imagined. Some of the grades we climbed were so steep that two giant engines were needed to pull the train. The weather was fairly good from coast to coast, although it became overcast and gloomy as we came out of the mountains and neared Seattle. Finally, we had reached our new home.
In a frantic effort to use up the funds the next step taken by the Battalion CO was to purchase everything one could possible need to equip a full professional football team. They the bought home uniforms, away uniforms, practice uniforms, balls, water buckets, towels, and even a portable electric scoreboard. Even the trainers, coaches and attendants wore special clothing. In 1951 a little money went a long way. Despite purchasing the goods through Army supply sources there were still many thousands left. In his wisdom the CO moved ahead to purchase similar regalia for a full baseball team and a full basketball team. He added to that everything necessary to publish a weekly Battalion newspaper, including several hundred reams of mimeo paper, and an electric mimeograph machine. As a final touch he also ordered the purchase of all the equipment and instruments necessary for a 32-piece marching band. Since the purchases had all been made in a proper fashion there was a detailed paper record of everything the Battalion had at hand, clearly indicating the existence of all three teams and the band.
As a result it became necessary for the teams to participate in local Army leagues, and that in turn required practice, preparation and travel. The band was ordered to play at several upcoming occasions so it was urgent that people be recruited to play the instruments. That meant practice session for band members. I volunteered to play the cymbals. I figured there was just one note to hit and the timing couldn’t be all that hard. I also volunteered to work on the newspaper, and soon became the producer and the resident artist.
Each morning the Battalion work call became a joke. After breakfast over 730 able bodied young men would assemble in the cold winter morning while roll was taken. When everyone was present or accounted for, the nearly 40 football team members would fall out to go to practice. Then the 10 or 15 basketball players would depart. Then the 20 or 30 baseball team members had to be released. Then the 18 members of the band needed to rehearse. Sometimes even the newspaper staff had to be relieved to get their paper out. Fully twenty percent of the enlisted men would drift away. The ones left standing were marched away to clean the equipment, prepare the guns and service the vehicles. They did all the real work. I polished my cymbals.
About that time we were moved eastward to a brand new post: Camp Roeder near Salzburg, right at the foot of the Tyrol Mountains. The buidings we were to live in were so new that the advance team had to sleep outdoors the first night. About midnight there was a terrible crash and when the dust settled they could see that the ceiling in the new A Battery building had fallen in. Somehow they got it repaired by the time the Battalion arrived a day or two later. The post had lots of buildings and no landscaping. Just dirt! Lots of dirt and sometimes snow!
We were only 150 kilometers east of Munich and 300 west of Vienna so ideally situated to travel. But the nearby city of Salzburg offered so many new opportunities we seldom traveled away. Satzburg is built on and around several hills, set apart by the Salzach River. The Hohensalzburg Castle dominated the scene on one hill, with the Salzburg Cathedral on another and Schloss Klesssheim, a major restaurant and casino on a third.
By the time the unit was relocated into the Salzburg area in April 1952 we had teams playing in all the sport leagues, and a band on paper that was struggling to play at all. Happily we had a fine band leader and professional trumpeter, Dick Norton from A Battery who wanted to play in a military band and he was assigned to whip us into shape. How he kept his sanity is beyond comprehension. We also had the help of an experienced musician and would-be orchestra arranger named Bill Hannah.
Once we got to Salzburg the Battalion CO decided we would all look better if he used some of the funds to enhance our uniforms. He had me design an enameled lapel pin featuring the 11th AA Battalion crest. These were soon duplicated in the hundreds in cloisonné and issued to all 730 men. These were affixed to our epaulets and backed with new, bright green felt. He also purchased 1,000 white lanyards, 1,000 bright red nylon neck scarves and white bootlaces for everyone. All this he topped off with chromed helmet liners for all. When we got all this stuff on we looked like over-dressed Military Police specially decked out for Christmas.
Through some typical screw-up the Battalion came into possession of a field lighting unit consisting of a one-ton trailer carrying a portable electric generator and another trailer filled with several miles of wire, lots of electrical supplies and thousands of clear glass light bulbs. Because of some paperwork mistake, two sets of field lighting gear had been delivered to a neighboring Signals company and they shared the wealth with us. On several occasions this equipment was used to dress up the 11th Battalion HQ bivouac area during field maneuvers. In a real battle situation I am sure the enemy would have welcomed the extra lights.
As Christmas approached the CO decided we should use these items to decorate the barracks, but he wanted colored lights. He ordered gallons of paint in various colors. Several platoons of men were ordered out in the yard area, and for several days these men stood around tying strings to the threads of the light bulbs, dipping the bulbs in the paint and tying them onto the clothes lines to dry. We soon had the CO’s colored lights spread over all the six two-story residential buildings.
The CO was a great one for looking good. Every time we went into the field on maneuvers he wanted signs on everything. “Officers’ Mess” – and “Men’s Latrine” – “Communication Shack” – and many more. Back in Fort Lewis I had made the mistake of letting the Officers know I could letter signs. That skill had kept me from some more odious tasks like KP. Now sign painting was one additional permanent assignment.
Some weeks before we were to go on one more of our maneuvers, the CO once more asked for several dozen new signs. Jeeps and half-tracks running into and over them in the field regularly destroyed most of the signs I painted. I had scrounged up and used every single piece of signboard the last time we went out. I really didn’t know where to look for more. So our CO ordered me to requisition what I needed from the Supply Officer. With the help of the Supply officer I filled out the endless requisition forms to order what we needed from the Signal Corps; they have control of signboards. We ordered a dozen or more of several different sizes of board, all with no lettering. In the appropriate place for the “wording” we specified, “no lettering required”. A couple of weeks later the Supply Officer called to say my signs had arrived. I went over to inspect the boards. There stood a two-and-a-half ton truck loaded to the canvas top with hundreds and hundreds of signs, the order had been multiplied several times over. We had six-inch by six-inch, twelve-inch by twelve-inch, twelve-inch by thirty-six- inch, and many other sizes in quantities into the hundreds. On each white board had been carefully lettered, silk-screened or printed the bold black words “NO LETTERING”. It took a platoon of men three days to repaint all these signs blank white. The story of the signs traveled quickly and the following week it was reported in full in Stars & Stripes.
The Advertising Business
As current dress codes were changing and suits and ties were becoming less the standard, the Creative Director was asked how he felt about the relaxed atmosphere this was encouraging. He commented that he really didn’t care as long as the work was the best, He added, “They can come to work in their pajamas for all I care.” The next morning all 35 of the writers, art directors and others in the creative department showed up in their PJ’s.
It was about this time I learned that positive thinking could be a very powerful force. In November 1970 the retail-advertising manager for United California Bank asked me if I could get her a Fortune Desk Diary for 1971. These things were fairly easy to get, you just called the sales manager for Fortune magazine and if you were one of his customers he sent you one. Why Doyle Dane Bernbach – the agency handling the UCB retail business didn’t do that I don’t know. Nevertheless, we had this request and decided to have fun with it. First I wrote a lengthy letter to the Fortune people pleading at great length for a desk diary. The letter never went to Fortune (I had an extra diary already) but I did send a copy to the advertising manager who seemed very pleased with my effort. After a couple of weeks we arranged a luncheon at which we presented the diary with great fanfare.
As we waited for our entrees to arrive the advertising manager made a joke about finally getting her “yearbook” and she insisted we each write something in it for her. As the book went around the table Holli Pfau – an account executive who worked for me on the bank’s corporate business – wrote something, turned a few pages, wrote again, and repeated that several times. When the book finally came around the table to me I went back through the pages to see just what Holli had written. On January 1 she had penned, “April 29 is coming”. On February 1 and again on March 1 and April 1 it read, “April 29 is coming”. On the page for April 29 the period from 11:30 through 2:00 PM was blocked off with the notation, “Lunch, California Club, Appoint of FCB to handle UCB retail business”. I was chagrinned. Telling a client “I’m going to get your business” just isn’t accepted business practice. But here it was, written on the page. Holli later explained just to me her presumption by saying she wanted to test the significance of positive thinking. Others around the table made fun of the matter, but from that moment on whenever anything went wrong for the competing agency someone in the advertising department would say, “April 29 is coming.” Nobody was bold enough to report any of this to the other agency staff, but they must have wondered why their client would accept any mistakes with such aplomb. At FCB we had great sport with the April 29 idea. We developed a colorful poster using the Chinese characters for April 29 as the design and hung it in the retail-advertising manager’s office at the bank. Whenever she was frustrated with something the other guys had done she simply looked up at the poster and smiled. Despite all the talk and the banter nothing really changed during the next three months. As April 29 drew closer Holli and I discussed what we should do if we didn’t get the retail business after all this big talk. Well, I discussed. Holli was always certain we would get the assignment. The account was billing several millions of dollars each year, and it would mean a lot for our agency and our careers. If we missed it could have similar negative effects.
On April 8, ironically, I went to a refresher course on positive thinking. While I was out our most senior officer, Lou Scott walked into Holli’s office and asked if she could join him at a luncheon. Holli went along and as they were driving to the luncheon Lou showed Holli a letter from DDB, the other agency for UCB, in which they had resigned the account. There was no explanation, although scuttlebutt later reported they thought they might be able to capture an even bigger bank client. While we still hadn’t secured the business at least the competition had folded. For several days the bank management discussed what to do. finally on April 23 their senior management met and agreed to appoint FCB to handle their several-million dollar retail account. Their Vice President (who did not know a thing about the April 29 caper) called Lou Scott and asked if we could join bank management for lunch the next Thursday to celebrate our appointment. That was April 29, and we met at 11:30 for lunch at the California Club.