The Ground Observer Corps Post 43-B, Swanville, ME

contributed by John Clements

Written by Charles M. Clements, CO in the last entry of the last log book of the post.

In 1941 the war department knew that we were likely to have an air attack by Germany on our Eastern coast and decide some form of defense against this must be had. Already Great Britain had an Air Warning Service system in use against the air blitz that was working out very good. After a study of it was made by members of the American Air Force, the War Dept. decide to try out something over here along the same lines as was being used in England.

The American Legion Posts were asked to try and set up observation posts along the coast from Maine to Florida and to cover the entire area back from the coast for about 400 miles. The posts were to be 6 miles apart or as near as could be due to telephone lines and roads to travel to and from them. Each post was to have a chief observer, two assistant chief observers, and as many observers as he or she needed or could get so the post could be manned on a continuous 24 hour basis if need be.

One day during the last of June or the first of July 1941, Mr. Aubrey Ramsdell, Commander of the Frank Hazeltine Post of Belfast and Past Commander Mr. Lloyd Watson came to me and said, "Charles, we have a job for you." and I said , " Is that so, what kind of job is it?" Well, they told me the best they could about the A.W.S. (and to be frank it was very little) and asked me if I would try to set up an observation post and act as the chief observer. I said I would do the best I could. At that time the War Dept. planned to conduct a test of from 24 to 72 hours duration during the last week of August or the first week of Sept. to determine if civilians could do it if ever we were in need of A.W.S.

A.D. Moody consented to be my 1st Asst. and Margaret Clements my 2nd Asst. and16 men and women from town agreed to act as observers.

A short time later Mr. Ramsdell and Mr. Watson gave a demonstration of the workings of the Comet Grange hall but it was pretty crude and I donít think we came away with much more knowledge but we at least had a good time. As this was to be only a test, I suggested that we use my garage as an observation post and so it was to be.

Well the time came for the test and it didnít take place due to the fact that many of the posts had not been set up due to many unlooked for difficulties. We went along until the next Spring and by that time a lot of us had forgotten all about it or thought maybe it had been given up. I knew better as I was getting mail from the War Dept. and knew some posts went on duty the day after Pearl Harbor.

In the early Spring of 1942, both my assts. resigned due to ill health and R.S. Taylor and Ralph Robertson became my new ones.

On May 12th,1942, I recíd a letter from the War Dept. ordering my post to go into operation on a 24 hour basis beginning at 6a.m. the next morning. I made the rounds and called the two assts. and the observers to meet at my house. The inside furnishings that evening to work out a schedule for manning the post. I took it days from 6a.m. to 6pm. doing it along with my work in the garage. From 6p.m. to 6a.m. we had two observers on duty at a time on four hour watches.

We went on as per order at 6a.m. May 13th 1942 and I took the first watch. Up to this time my post was known as 43-B but from now on the code was "Gimbel-2-3" pronounced "Gimbel - two three ".

We used the garage for a little over a week for a post, but knew we must have a building to be used as a post only. Thomas Nickerson gave us a camp he had left in W. T. Bealís pasture. Russell Littlefield came over June 2nd and a few of us went with him and he hauled the camp to the permanent location near the garage. We then had a bee among the observers and made the needed repairs. The inside furnishings were donated by various observers and townís people. A telephone was installed and we moved in. My original no. of 16 observers didnít prove to be enough so I expanded it to 36. In a short time, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Robertson moved away and my next assts. were W.T.Beal and Herbert L. Small who continued to be such to the end.

We also revised our schedule of watches to 6 to 8 a.m., 8 to 11 a.m.,11a.m. to 1p.m., 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to 7p.m. and 7p.m. to10p.m.,one observer being on duty during these hours. 10p.m. to 6a.m. was done in one shift but two observers were on at one time.

Mr. Lloyd Watson had been appointed district director for this district and he began to make regular inspections of the post. Our filter center was Bangor, Maine. About this time everyone was required to have an identification card. The chief observer filled them out, got the observer to sign his name on them and place a thumb print on the back. The cards were sent first to Boston and later to Bangor for the stamp of the U.S. Air Forces, after which they were returned to the chief observer who gave them out. Next we were all given arm bands to be worn on the left arm while on duty.

Beginning in the Fall of 1942, the post began to receive regular inspections by Army men. The first to come was S/Sgt. Fred Schammell, the next was S/Sgt. Wm. Clark, and the last one was S/Sgt. Edward Mantell.

During the first part of 1943 the Army decided we must try and add plane identification in reporting the flights, so I received a request to appoint a recognition officer. Margaret Clements accepted this job. It was planned that recognition schools of one weeks duration be held in Bangor during April and May, all expenses paid by the Army. Margaret planned to go the last week in April but due to a lack of the required number to conduct the school, it wasnít held and the result being that we didnít have a recognition expert at our post. I got a supply of recognition material during the summer and each member who was interested was given a manual to study. The result was that most of the grown-ups didnít get far but the school age kids got so they could tell most of them in a very short time.

The winter of 1942-43 was one of the coldest we ever had. There were very few nights that the thermometer didnít register between zero and twenty below but the post was manned just the same. We burned over four cords of wood that winter.

During the month of June, 1943, it was announced that pins would be given each observer, the chief and his assts. Also a merit badge given to each who had served 500 hours or more. I sent my list of names in the first of July and the pins came the first week of Aug.

Besides a chief observer pin, I recíd a merit medal with a 3000 hr. baron it. My boys, John and Nicholas recíd one each with a 500 hr. bar.

On the evening of Aug. 10th,Capt. Wollenburg and SíSgt Clark came to Comet Grange hall and each gave a talk on the A.W.S. after which they showed motion pictures of the workings of the A.W.S. from the time we sent in the "Army Flash" to the time our fighter planes went out to meet the enemy.

They also showed a captured German film showing the German invasion of France and the low countries. It was a very good show and we all came away with a much better knowledge of the part we were playing, and how it would help if we were ever attacked by the enemy by air.

On July 17th 1943, the code was changed from Gimbel-2-3 to X.R.A.Y.-461 [xray four six one] and so remained until the end.

On Oct. 4th, 1943, the post went off from a 24 hr. basis at 11p.m. and from then until May 29th, 1944 the post was manned each Wed. from 1 to 5p.m.. On May 29th, 1944 the War Dept. ordered all posts discontinued and thus the A.W.S. passed into history.

Our post was never a very busy one and many a night went by without a single plane being reported. The observers spent their time on duty many ways such as making baskets, writing letters, reading, sewing, knitting, doing crossword puzzles, and making model airplanes. One of the most interesting things was the "ĎAlaskan Thermometer" that Duane Whitten , the game warden concocted one night during the winter of 1942-43.It was made from a piece of stove pipe wire, a stick of firewood, some tire tape, and two strips of birch bark, and was without a doubt the last word in workmanship and design. There was the morning that I relieved Carl Blake and Elmer Moore and soon after going on duty I discovered the clock to be missing although I could hear it ticking. The sound seemed to come from every where so I began to hunt for the clock. After a few minutes I found Carl had hung it behind the bulletin board by a string. I removed the clock and found he had set the alarm in half an hour. Another night, Herbert Small and Stanley Webster were on watch together and Herbert took his turn at sleeping first. After he got to sleep, Stanley built a roaring fire in the stove, closed up the door and windows and went out doors and waited. In due time Herbert came out looking like he had fallen into a pond. They both told me they couldnít stay in the post for over an hour as it had gotten so hot inside. After that Stanley never slept even though he could, if he and Herbert were on together. Wouldnít Herbert just loved to have gotten the chance to pay him back.

Another time Margaret Nickerson and Bess the police dog who used to come with her, started out and Bess killed a skunk on the way. She had to do her watch out of doors that night.

There were other incidents too numerous to mention, so there was a little fun in being an observer at times.

In closing, I wish to thank everyone who served on the post, and I am glad we didnít have to report an enemy plane. If they had sent one over , as soon as he had hit the coast, the flash calls of One, Unknown, High, Seen, XRAY-461-,North, 1 Mile West, and so on from other posts would have meant the end of that plane in short order. If our being on the job helped the enemy refrain from sending planes, it was well worth the time and effort spent.