Hampshire’s New Forest was a hive of activity during the Second World War. As well as many airfields and a large bombing range, it was also a temporary home to thousands of Allied troops including American, British, and Canadians. The lead up to D-Day and beyond was particularly busy.
The village of Brockenhurst was witness to a lot of activity. Local villagers would have seen training taking place in nearby woods, as well as vehicles and troops of all nationalities passing through.
One of those Brockenhurst villagers was a man named Stan Orchard. In the 1930s he founded Orchard’s bicycle and electrical shop in Burford Lane. As well as serving the local community from his store, he was also a keen and talented photographer.
During the 1940s, Stan would stop passers-by outside his workshop and offer to take their photo. Hundreds of people would oblige, and days later would return to get their photo after Stan had processed his latest batch.
For reasons only known to them, some people never returned to get their photos. Many people did though, as Stan had built a reputation as the man to go to if you wanted a photo that could truly capture a moment in time.
He had a real knack for capturing the personality of his subjects.
Recently I was lucky enough to be shown some of the photos taken by Stan Orchard during this period.
One set of photos immediately jumped out at me. It was a collection featuring 3 American GIs taken on an English summer’s day in July 1944.
They were likely passing through Brockenhurst. It was the month following D-Day, so perhaps they were on their way to France to support the advance through Europe? I don’t know… yet.
But they never did return to collect their photos from Stan.
Thankfully Stan Orchard, as was his methodical approach, had noted the date and names of the GIs, just as he did with any photos of passers-by that he took.
And because of Stan’s note-taking, we know the names of the American soldiers as well as the villagers they are posing with on the 6th of July 1944 in Brockenhurst.
The names of the US Army solders are:
- Robert Watkins
- Albert Williams
- Buck Northington
Unfortunately, there’s no way of know which man is which, as Stan listed the names in no order.
However, I do now know who one of the men is.
A few months ago, I managed to track down the grandson of Buck Northington in Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly, Buck passed away in 2018, so it was too late for him to see the photo of himself taken in 1944.
His grandson was amazed to see the photo. He now has treasured images of his beloved grandfather from a period in Buck’s life he’d not seen before.
Buck Northington is the GI with the lighter shade of shirt, sat in the middle of the group photos shown higher up the page.
I’d now like your help to try track down the other two American GIs; Robert Watkins and Albert Williams. Whilst it’s likely they have passed away, if their family can see the photos, it would be incredible.
Those two gentlemen are shown below.
So, what do we know so far?
We know it’s the 4th of July in Brockenhurst on the south coast of England in the county of Hampshire.
We also have a possible clue from local historian Richard Reeves. He said the following:
“The 611 Quartermaster Battalion was based in Brockenhurst by August 1944 and was the only black unit based in the village from the lists I have, though there were many more in the locality and many others may have passed through on their way to embark.”
It’s possible the men were in this battalion, but there’s no guarantee. It’s is a clue though which can be followed up.
It’s unbelievable to think it now, but this was a time when there was racial segregation in the US Army.
When the U.S. entered WW2, The US Army was racially segregated. Despite the service of African American soldiers in every previous American conflict, exclusion and discrimination from the War Department made it difficult for black soldiers to serve. In 1939, only 3,640 black soldiers were enlisted under white leadership. Led by Rayford W. Logan, the push for greater black participation and non-discrimination in the military was reflected in the Selective Service Act of 1940. Members of the NAACP also met with Roosevelt to outline demands for the betterment of black soldiers’ conditions in the military. Because of this resistance to the Army’s treatment of its black soldiers, military leadership began to attempt to address the issue beginning in 1943, but segregation in the armed forces remained official policy until 1948.Racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces, https://en.wikipedia.org
Knowing this gives those photos of the local New Forest villagers and American GIs far more perspective. Could the men have been in a segregated unit?
The villagers that the GIs are posing with are Trainer Burdon, Evit Gulliver, and Roy Read, all from local families.
Can you help?
Can you help get these photos to the families of Robert Watkins and Albert Williams?
If you feel you can help identify the men better so we can tell their story better and possibly get the photos to their surviving families, please do comment on the thread on Facebook see below. You can also contact the NFHWA with any clues or ideas you have.
Whilst it’s unlikely any of these men will still be alive today, it would be fantastic if they have any surviving family who can get to see these photos.
- Thanks to Tony Johnson for letting me publish these photos from his original Stan Orchard album.
- Thanks to the family of Buck Northington.