Interview of Wesley Carl Batten
Transcript Number 090
OCTOBER 9, 2001
We're interviewing Carl Batten of Whiteville who was in the U.S. Army in World War II in Europe.
BATTEN: I'm Carl Batten. I was born May 7, 1925, lived in the White Marsh area between Whiteville and Hallsboro, went to Hallsboro School and graduated in 1943. After I graduated from the school, I got a job with a contractor builder and I was a helper. They paid me 60 cents for an hour in 1943. And then the war started 1941, and my brother, J.C., drafted and he was in ordnance and had another brother, Lloyd, drafted. He was a quartermaster.
In 1944, I was drafted and I was in the infantry. I went to Fort Bragg and they asked me if I was able to go to the Navy or the Army and I was not a good swimmer so I chose the Army. And they sent me to Fort McClellan, Alabama and I was supposed to be trained for 17 weeks, but the weather was so hot and I was sweating and walking and running. I got some pneumonia and they sent me to the hospital.
I had to stay 10 days and after I got out of the hospital, I had to change a company because I was not finished with that other company. Then after 21 weeks, they sent me to Whiteville for a few days and then they took me to the Port Rucker, Alabama, and we joined the 66th infantry, Panther division, 66th infantry.
Then they shipped us to New York and we stayed about a week and I had one day off and we went to New York and I was a southern boy and I went to the restaurant and I was making $21 a month and when I finished the dinner, I gave that girl 10 cents and she was so mad, but I didn't have very much money.
So I went over the river and joined my friends and they wanted me to have a haircut. My hair was so pretty and I didn't want it to be cut and that sergeant sent me three times for a haircut to get my head clean. I didn't like it, but anyway. Then we were shipped from New York to England and the boat was named Washington and there were 6000 soldiers on that ship.
We had 13 days in the Atlantic Ocean to go to Britain and we had to zig, zig and zag. You know, the war was going on. If there were torpedoes you know, we had to zig and zag. It took 13 days to go to Britain. We stayed in Britain for a week or 10 days and that was in December. We were going to have a good dinner in Britain and I was in the KP. All of a sudden, we were going to have a good dinner for Christmas and all of a sudden, we had news about we had to go and we didn't have the dinner.
We were not able to have the dinner and we had to get my clothes and our rifles and everything to go to the pier and there were two ships there. The name of the ships were Leopoldville and the Cheshire and I was so tired, I went to sleep and I was supposed to be on the Leopoldville, but I went on the Cheshire boat. We went in the English Channel.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you end up on the Cheshire rather than the Leopoldville?
BATTEN: We went to sleep and some of those companies were separated or something. They were kind of angry and somebody was displaced and I went on the Cheshire boat. This man at Fort Benning said you should be on the Leopoldville boat instead of the Cheshire. Anyway we went, we were shipped out from England to France to go into Cherbourg, France and that was Christmas Eve 1944.
There was five miles from the French Cherbourg. The Germans torpedoed the Leopoldville and all the lights came on the Leopoldville, on the boat, and I was on the Cheshire boat, the Cheshire ship and I saw that with the lights on on the other boat. They were torpedoed and there were 2100 people or more on that boat and we lost just about 800, well 764 people and later we lost 38 people after we got off in France.
The British ship, they saved a lot of soldiers, but we lost just about 800 people in 1944. It was Christmas Eve and that was the worst Christmas that I have ever...every year, I was 76 years, I'm 76 years now, but that was the worst Christmas that I had in my life. And then we didn't have Christmas dinner. We ate candy, British candy. One reason we lost so much soldiers in France, they were enjoying the Christmas. They were having a party and they were too late to go over here and save those, some of the soldiers.
INTERVIEWER 2: Did your ship stop, Carl, when you saw the Leopoldville torpedoed? Did you keep going?
BATTEN: Well we were close there, but we were not saving those people, but the British ship was saving some of these people and they were jumping from the Leopoldville and sometimes the boat got together and they killed those soldiers.
INTERVIEWER: Just squashed them.
BATTEN: They squashed them and the water was so strong. They were trying to jump from the Leopoldville to the other boat, but they were not able, some of them were not able to do that. There was a soldier, Benson, he was listening to the fellow soldiers sing Christmas carols when he heard a noise and felt a jolt. Suddenly he was ordered on the deck and that man said there was 2,235 American soldiers aboard the former Belgium luxury liner, Leopoldville, used to transport troops on Christmas Eve 1944, when they were torpedoed by the U-486 German submarine. The men from the 260th infantry and 264th infantry. I was in the 264th infantry.
The Belgium crew including the captain quickly left the ship using all the lifeboats. U.S. soldiers were left on board to fend for themselves. One of these soldiers was Codianne, but he says, "I'll remember those people and if I'm able, I'll remember those people that died on that ship" and this man, he has a picture right there, and he started the monument. He wanted to remember everything, all the soldiers that died on that ship, but he was able to get out.
We have a lot of stories with the survivors. We have a lot of stories with survivors and one of them was from Charlotte and I talked to him on the telephone and then we had a Wilmington person. Anyway I visited him. I got two people that were in the water and they had the story in the paper in Charlotte and they had a story in the Wilmington paper.
Anyway we were going to the Battle of the Bulge with our troops, 66th infantry, but we lost 800 people so we were not able to go to the Bulge and they shipped us to France. There were 60,000 Germans there. Lorient, I was in Lorient, my company was the 88th mortar, I was in the mortar company and of course we didn't have any bathrooms. We used a ditch for the bathroom.
I was on the observation post looking for the Germans and I had a telephone and I could call that company with the...get those killed, Germans, and all of a sudden, the Germans had 88's and they went there and they stripped all the trees, all the limbs, all the trees and one of those 88's was close, about 3 or 4 yards and I was covered a little bit. The shrapnel went everywhere.
I was not killed and I was on my belly and I was praying and praying and I know that God took care of me and I know that my mother and my sister was praying for me (crying), so I wasn't killed. But I was so glad that man came...I didn't have a telephone and that man came over here and I was so glad to see that man. I went back to the company. We had a rest time. We were there for 140 days and of course we had rest time sometimes.
INTERVIEWER: It was wintertime, wasn't it?
BATTEN: It was winter. In England, it was so foggy you couldn't hardly see anything. In France, it was cold. Sometimes the Army's toes were frozen and we were living in little tents. We had some blankets, but sometimes your feet is out with the frost and some of them was frozen.
INTERVIEWER: So you were sleeping in a pup tent?
BATTEN: Yes, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Two men to a tent?
BATTEN: Yeah, yeah and a couple of blankets. But if you get your toes out of the blanket, you would freeze anyway. Then after...at the end of the war in 1945, I was there and when the war was out in Europe and they were going to ship me to the Pacific, the 66th infantry, but anyway they shipped me to Austria instead of the Pacific Ocean. They stopped the war and we went to feed people in Germany and Austria. In 1946, we went to Marseilles and we shipped back to the United States and we landed in New Jersey.
We came back to New Jersey and then they shipped us back to Fort Bragg. I went back home.
INTERVIEWER: What was your rank?
BATTEN: T5, kind of like a corporal, but I was, one time I was a corporal and I had a German girl. That captain got my stripe out because (laughter) ...
INTERVIEWER 2: Against the law - fraternization.
BATTEN: Yeah, he didn't want me with a German girl.
INTERVIEWER: So they tore off your stripe?
BATTEN: Yeah, so I got back and I was T5 when I got out of the Army. Then after the Army, I went to the reserves for two or three years. That's some of the world history. Now I have one son who lives in Florida, Naples, Florida. I have one daughter who lives in Charlotte.
INTERVIEWER: What are their names please?
BATTEN: My son is Mike and he has four children, his and hers. My daughter has four children, triplets, Samuel, Sarah and Josie and then Danielle, she was 12 years, she'll be 12 years old October.
INTERVIEWER: And what's your daughter's name?
BATTEN: Lisa and she was working with the school system. After she had those triplets, she had to stop and take care of her children. So she has a big job and her husband has a big job and my son is a contractor in Naples, Florida. His wife was selling houses, real estate. His wife is a real estate...anyway.
INTERVIEWER 2: Your division was sent straight to Cherbourg. You were in the siege around the town there, is that right? After you landed in France.
BATTEN: Cherbourg, yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER 2: Where did you land?
BATTEN: Cherbourg and we left Southhampton in Britain, and went to Cherbourg in France.
INTERVIEWER: And you were being sent as help for the Battle of the Bulge, is that right?
BATTEN: We were supposed to go to the Battle of the Bulge. We lost so many soldiers, we were not able to do that. Another division would go there to the Battle of the Bulge, but we lost 38 people after the, you know, in the war. We have a monument in Fort Benning and my wife and I went to Fort Benning in 1999 and they put some more soldiers on the monument and they were dedicated at memorial.
A lot of people, we had some good songs, but the dedication, a lot of people were crying and I was crying. It was hard, it was hard to see those names. One of the, we lost a North Carolina, about 20 people in North Carolina and one of them was from Bolton.
INTERVIEWER 2: What was his name?
BATTEN: Russ, from Bolton, he died.
INTERVIEWER 2: On the Leopoldville?
BATTEN: Uh huh.
INTERVIEWER 2: Did you know him then?
BATTEN: I didn't know him.
INTERVIEWER: I've got to ask a question. You're in England and you're getting ready for a big Christmas dinner. Then you were ordered to pack up and move quickly.
BATTEN: That's right, quickly.
INTERVIEWER: What did they do? Put you on trucks and take you down to ....
BATTEN: We had to walk.
INTERVIEWER: Then you said you were so tired, you went to sleep.
BATTEN: We had to walk and walk and walk and we had a load on our backs. I was so tired and I, on the pier, I went to sleep.
INTERVIEWER: You were on the pier when you took this nap.
BATTEN: On the pier and some of these, there were, I missed that Leopoldville boat.
INTERVIEWER: And saved your life.
INTERVIEWER 2: But the rest of your company got on the Leopoldville.
BATTEN: Yeah, infantry regiment, 262 and 264 was on that boat, but I was on the Cheshire boat with the 263.
INTERVIEWER: And your boat could not stop when the Leopoldville was hit with the torpedo?
BATTEN: They had stopped. The torpedo was underneath and a lot of people was killed at that thing and the boat went down about two hours. They floated for about two hours and they went down.
INTERVIEWER: But the boat you were on, the Cheshire, continued on.
BATTEN: Continued on to Cherbourg, to France, and then they shipped us to the German, let's see...I visited. "A young World War II Stanley Raider was among the survivors Christmas Eve disaster, the sinking of the Belgium ship that carried hundreds of American troops. The Battle of the Bulge was raging 270 miles away, World War II had reached a critical peak and Mr. Raider at age 22 carried orders to replace some big ____ troops close to the front lines in Belgium.
He had been napping for about an hour when the torpedo crushed the rear of the ship. Thrown from his bunk, he was one of the lucky ones. Scores of men packed into makeshift floors of the ship, left nothing more than the _____ soldiers were killed. Mr. Raider survived, but more than 800 soldiers died including 88 of 92 in his company."
That's from the Wilmington paper.
INTERVIEWER: Well Mr. Batten, I've got a question for you. All the frightening things that you saw in the war, all of the cold nights and the danger and everything else, look right into the camera and tell your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren, what did you learn from being in the war. What did it mean to you? Now you're talking to your grandchildren. What advice would you give?
BATTEN: I don't like the war, but I went to the war for America. I had two brothers and I said if they're going, I'm going. After I left my home, my dad didn't see them, but he was not able to see me going out with the Army. But anyway, I was so pleased that God took care of me and I am so glad that I was able to do something for America. And now I still, I'm thankful and I hope and pray that you won't have to be in the war, but we have to take one day at a time and now, now the war is now in 2001 and I hope and pray that God will take care of us.