Oliver James T.
World War Two Correspondence of Pfc. James T. Oliver, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to his parents Henry and Margaret Oliver, 1943-1946

192 letters, 551 pp., (179 retained mailing envelopes), plus 38 pieces of ephemera including greeting cards, used envelopes, postcards, etc., plus 1 small photograph of James T. Oliver.

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Of the 192 letters, 181 are written by James T. Oliver to his mother Margaret Oliver, some of these are addressed to both Margaret and James’ father Henry (Harry), at their home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 181 letters written by James T. Oliver were all written while he was serving in the armed forces during World War Two (1943-1946).

The other 11 letters not written by James T. Oliver were written by either family or friends, ten of them were written to Mr. and Mrs. Oliver (mostly Mrs. Oliver). Of these 10 letters, 3 of them were written by Pfc. Edward Conlin while serving in the military; 1 letter was written by Pvt. Wm. M. Madgey while serving in the military; 2 letters by Lois F. Lewis of Whiteville, North Carolina; 1 letter by Mrs. Oliver’s niece Eleanor of Philadelphia; 1 letter from Edith, of Island of Oahu; 1 letter by Leonora A. Wilkie of Syracuse, New York, and there is 1 letter written by Margaret Oliver to Mrs. Lewis. There is also 1 letter written to James T. Oliver from a Pfc. Hinton while Hinton was serving in the armed forces in 1973.

James T. Oliver (1923-2013)

James T. Oliver was born 30 July 1923 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of eight children born to Henry Oliver (1901-1957) and his wife Margaret S. MacLardy. James’ paternal grand-parents, Thomas Henry Oliver and Anna Homer. were English immigrants. Thomas Henry Oliver was born on 5 November 1870 in the textile center of Kidderminster, England, and arrived in Philadelphia on 19 October 1885. He eventually became a weaver in a textile factory in the mill district of Kensington, Philadelphia, a place that attracted many Kidderminster immigrants. Thomas Oliver died in 1929. At the time of his death he lived at 102 East Tioga Street, the same block that James T. Oliver grew up on and would later write to his own parents at (112 E. Tioga Street) later on when he served in the military during World War Two.

The 1930 Census shows Harry Oliver, James’ father, following his own father into the textile business. He was listed as a rug printer at a carpet mill. In the 1940 Census the Oliver family (Harry, his wife Margaret, son James, and Margaret’s mother Bertha MacLardy) were found living at 112 E. Tioga Street in Philadelphia’s Harrowgate neighborhood, near Front and Tioga Streets. Harrowgate bordered Philadelphia’s Kensington section, the major textile mill neighborhood of Philadelphia. The 112 E. Tioga Street address is where James T. Oliver wrote to his parents during World War Two. The Oliver family rented this home. Mr. and Mrs. Oliver were both born in Pennsylvania, as was Margaret’s mother Bertha. They had been living at the Tioga Street address since at least 1935.

James’ parents later moved to 4231 Lawndale Street in Philadelphia, where James’ father Harry Oliver died in 1957 of heart disease. He was only 56 years old. He was buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Harry was listed as working in the finishing department of a carpet company when he died.

James T. Oliver entered military service in 1943, attending basic training at Camp Davis, North Carolina. He was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery unit, joining Battery D, 556th, Automatic Weapons Battalion under the 55th A.A.A. Brigade and attached the XIII Corps, under the 9th Army. The 9th Army fought its way from the Netherlands to the Elbe River, getting 50 miles from Berlin; the closest American forces came to the enemy capital before V-E Day.

Oliver writes his letters from Camp Davis and Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and from England, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

James T. Oliver passed away on 30 January 2013, in his home in North Wales, Pennsylvania. He was 89 years old. He was buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Feasterville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the same burial ground as his father. James T. Oliver married Mary Ann Morrison. His obituary states he worked as a carpenter for a number of years at the Keystone Concrete Company.

Description of Correspondence

The correspondence begins on 30 March 1943, James T. Oliver is already in the military stationed at Camp Davis, North Carolina. He is attached to a U.S. Army anti-aircraft artillery battalion, “Battery D, 556th, Coast Artillery Battalion. (Anti-Aircraft)” He is listed as a private. The 556th was activated on March 20th.

By early June 1943, and after finishing basic training at Camp Davis, Oliver moves to Fort Fisher, North Carolina, about fifty miles south of Camp Davis, for further training in advanced military subjects and firing of primary weapons. He is now taken out of Coast Artillery and put in the Anti-Aircraft Artillery School (A.A.A.S.). He is now listed in Battery D, 556th, A.A.A. Automatic Weapons Battalion. By the end of August 1943, Oliver is finished at the A.A.A.S. and returns to Camp Davis to start his first detail at the AA School in Camp Davis, where he participated in the schooling of officers in the advanced officer's courses and the training of enlisted specialists.

In March of 1944, Oliver is transferred back to Fort Fisher, North Carolina. He is still with Battery D, 556th, A.A.A. AutoWpns Bn. In May the 556th his unit is attached to the 2nd Army and Oliver moves to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to participate in combined training activities with other arms of the service and prepare for eventual overseas movement. By the end of the summer Oliver is ready to ship out overseas to Europe.

Beginning in September 1944, Oliver’s letters have an APO address out of New York City, and his letters are subject to military censorship. By the end of September he is in England, writing as much about his trip and what he sees as he is allowed by the censors. At this point some of his overseas letters are V-mail, a hybrid mail process used by America during the Second World War as the primary and secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad. To reduce the cost of transferring an original letter through the military postal system, a V-mail letter would be censored, copied to film, and printed back to paper upon arrival at its destination.

In Oct 1944, Oliver reports he is “somewhere in France.” In November, Oliver is “somewhere in Holland,” where he remains into 1945. In late January 1945, Oliver is back in France, at Le Havre, before showing up “somewhere in Germany” by mid-February 1945. He remains in Germany until May of 1945, where, while still in Germany, he mentions he is “somewhere in Holtzminden, Germany.” Oliver remains in Holtzminden through May of 1945, and then writes that he is in Antwerp, Belgium in June. He remains in Antwerp, at Camp Top Hat until the end of the year and into January of 1946 when the correspondence ends on 16 January 1946. Camp Top Hat was a “Cigarette Camp,” one of a number of temporary U.S. Army "tent cities" situated principally around the French ports of Le Havre and Marseilles following their respective captures in the wake of the Allied D-Day invasion in June, 1944, and Operation Dragoon in July, 1944.

Le Havre camps were located in what the Army designated the "Red Horse" staging area and named after popular brands, including Camps Lucky Strike, Old Gold, and Pall Mall. Another series of temporary camps set up at the same time in France was named after United States cities, referred to as "City Camps". A single Cigarette Camp, Top Hat, was located in Antwerp, Belgium. Top Hat is where Oliver was stationed for a number of months in 1945. The Cigarette Camps were administered by the 89th Infantry Division, headquartered at Bois-Guillaume, near Rouen

In his last letter of January 16th, Oliver writes to his mother that he is likely to be released from military service by March or April of 1946.

Sample Quotations:    

“Jan 1, 1945, Somewhere in Holland


     The passes to town. Here is one for the books. After all the fighting here in Holland, someone put posters say that they would shave the heads of any Dutch girls dating the army over here. I would have told you this before, but I was trying to find out more but can’t.

You keep asking about what army. I would like to tell you. If I did tell you there would only be a hole in this paper….So Long, Jim”

“Somewhere in Holland, Jan 20, 1944,


I am very sorry but last week I wrote you a letter and they gave it back to me. I gave too much information in it. I know you want to know what I said. Well it was about a German plane, the Me 262. It is the German jet job. That is all I can tell you. I believe that will get to you alright.

We have seen action on Xmas and New Year’s; there was a lot of German planes in the sky. There was a lot of them never got back to Germany. I told you I am in the 9th Army, but if you still didn’t get my letter there it is again.

I received two letters from you today (Jan 6) both of them the same date. This is the first letter I received from you in three or four weeks. There is very little mail coming in. I received packages from Aunt Hal. and Floss so be sure to thank them for me. I also got one from you. They really go good only they don’t last so long. You know it don’t take long for 15 of us to kill a box.

The weather over here is very bad. It has been snowing for the last two weeks. It hasn’t been so bad, but the last week it is very cold. The other night it got a little warm and it rained. Well the C.P. got 3 foot of water in it and we had to get out. It stopped raining, but the water kept coming in, so at two o’clock in the morning we had to move out. Later it started to snow again, but our relief came so we got some time off. It has been snowing again for the last two days.

We moved not very far, but it made a lot of work for us, well if it is all done and maybe I will get some time to write, so I won’t be too tired. There is still a lot of work to do like getting snow out of the gun pit. It always fills up when it snows and getting the ice off of the gun.

Well don’t forget to keep sending the packages I still have a lot coming but don’t let that stop you. I can always use one or two. By the way send some paper to write and some 6 cent air mail stamps. So Long, Jim”

“Somewhere in Germany, Feb 12, 1945


We’ll we moved up and in another country. Things up here is not like in Holland. They are very bad. We do not live in a house like in other places. We are living in the ground. The way things are it is better this way. The country around here is flat not many [hills] and if there is any hills they are very low. It has rained for three days and everything is wet, and the mud is deep.

Writing up here is hard we get very little time. I am writing this and it is the first time I have had off and it is only a few min. You should see us. We haven’t washed or shaved in over a week and I don’t know how soon we will be able I could sure use a bath.

…Well I got you a German helmet. I still can’t see what you want it for. I have to get another box. It won’t fit in an overseas shipping box. I got a good one, but I will try to get a better one there is a lot of them laying around here.

There isn’t much left of the towns around here. They all look like St. Lo or worse. They tell us they will fine us $65 if they catch us talking to any German, well the time I have been here I still have [yet] to see any German. These towns are like ghost towns you see in the movies, so you see I am still saving money up here. We still get payed in Dutch money. There isn’t anything to buy here anyhow….So Long, Jim”

“Somewhere in Germany, Feb 26, 1945


Today is a bad day, it is raining and cold. I have a little time in which I am writing this letter. We are not doing much only since the big push has started we are or have seen some more of the German air force. They don’t have very much and they fly mostly at night. It is really nice to watch, all these balls of red going up and all over the sky. It looks like the 4th of July.

I am well and feel fine we are eating good sometimes and sometimes not, but we are doing alright.

…I am sitting in my hut and have a fire. It is really going strong. The sleeping we have is very good. Sometimes the fire goes out and the sack keeps us plenty warm.

Where we are you can see the way this battle is going from the way the shells burst in the distance. The way they are going they are still taking the land off these Germans so maybe I will be home in less than the 2 years at least…Yours truly Jim”

“March 28, 1945


Well you keep saying in your letter to tell you more well I can’t tell you much... I can’t tell you where I am or what I’m with or what we are doing. The only thing I can say is I am with the ninth army so look in the papers and you will know where we are. In fact I don’t know the name of the town we just came on (if we are near one) the name of it the one were near so watch the newspapers.

I just got a board to write on I guess you can see by the writing I am in a hurry. I am trying to get this off before I go on the gun.

I can see the road they are bringing the Germans back from the front. They come in a line by the 100 and several times a day. A boy in the Inf. Told us that the 3rd Army is only 45 miles from Berlin. He said it came over B.B.C. (England). I didn’t hear it but I hope it is true because I don’t like being away from home this long and a lot of the boys have been over a lot longer than I have & they feel the same way. I just hope I get those 3 weeks before going to the S.P. although most of the boys are over there…

When I said we live in the ground I don’t know what give you [the] idea we live in a coal mine. Look! Another boy and I (Bud Miller) have a hole it is 6’ x 6’ and 5’ deep. We get a foot of straw on the bottom and all we do is sleep or get in it when they shell us. It has a roof of one large and five small doors and about six inches of dirt on top. If this was a coal mine I would not make much of a living out of it…..So Long, Jim”

“Somewhere in Germany, May 8, 1945


Well today is VE Day and it is all over in the E.T.O. but we still don’t know what we are going to do. It don’t make much difference because I couldn’t tell you any way. They are still the same way I cannot tell you where I am.

We have a nice set up here. We are living in a row of twin houses and one section to a house. The guns are at the end of the street the same with the trucks so we don’t have so much guard to pull. We are going to give them one good cleaning, but then we don’t know…So long Jim”

“Somewhere in Germany, May 17, 1945


I received a letter today postmarked May 7 saying you still don’t receive any mail you should have received one I will say I didn’t write any too often but you should have heard something.

Tonight I am on guard at a Displaced person camp and they are all Russians, they are the slaves the Germans had come and do all the work. It is not too bad only they are so many and they live so close the place isn’t too clean. We don’t live here. The only thing goes wrong is they get out and steal the German’s food. We have to stop this and give it back. You can’t feel too bad towards them. We got a boy about 17 years old the other day he told us the Germans killed his Mother and Dad. He was with two others and they stole a sheep. The reason we have to give it back is we are trying to make the Germans support themselves this winter (so we don’t have to feed them). However this is not the Russians way of doing it. When we was up on the Elb River it was like in the movies you seen the French fleeing from the Germans only this was the Germans. They carried everything there was also a lot of soldiers. Some of these had an idea they were going to get in the U.S. Army to start a line to fight the Russians. I don’t know where that started but we got one of them that had that idea.

I haven’t seen many S.S. but they don’t have the big head they used to have but they still think they are plenty good. They are the boys that give us most of the trouble.

Well they lifted the law a little and we can tell a little of what we been doing. I said we was on the Elb River. Well do you remember the pocket where the German 26th Panzer Div. was well there was one cold night that I done plenty of sweating. No more paper, So long, Jim”

      In a letter of 18 May 1945, Oliver writes his mother telling the censors have now told them they can be more open in their letters home about their positions and the work they are doing.  Oliver informs his mother on what he has been doing. We find Oliver is pulling a lot of guard duty at a Displaced Persons Camp at Holtzminden, Germany. In this 18th of May letter Oliver recaps some adventures he had been in previously, when he was not allowed to write about them. Another letter recounts his landing at Utah Beach in France and other incidents. For the rest of 1945 Oliver is in Antwerp, Belgium, where he’ll stay until he is released from military service in 1946. When we last hear from Oliver he is working on a baggage team in Antwerp and helping to process soldiers out of military service and send them back home to the United States.



History of the 556th AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion

The 556 AAA Auto Wpns Bn was activated at Camp Davis N.C. 20 March 1943 under command of Lt. Col. John T. Effort, then Major, and received its basic training at that station, with training in advanced military subjects and firing of primary weapons being continued at Fort Fisher, N.C.

The battalion was then assigned to the AA School in Camp Davis where it participated in the schooling of officers in the advanced officer's courses and the training of enlisted specialists in the enlisted specialist school.

A further course of refresher training and additional firing was carried out at the end of the AA School assignment, at Fort Fisher, from which station the battalion moved by motor convoy to Fort Jackson, S.C. to participate in combined training activities with other arms of the service and prepare for eventual overseas movement.

The battalion moved by rail transportation to a final staging area, Camp Myles Standish, near Boston. On 7 September 1944, this unit embarked for overseas duty, sailing on the US Army transport West Point from Boston Harbor. After an uneventful voyage of six days, the West Point docked at Liverpool England on 14 September 1944. The battalion disembarked on 16 September 1944 and entrained for Southampton, England, and boarded a ship for trans-shipment to the mainland of Europe. Landing was made on Utah Beach on 18 September 1944 and motor transportation was provided to a staging area in the vicinity of Monteburg, France. From the 18 September to 17 November 1944 this battalion remained in area "D", Valognes Staging Area, near Monteburg, for the purpose of receiving necessary ordnance and organizational equipment preparatory to movement to a forward area. On 23 September 1944 the battalion was assigned to Ninth U.S. Army and remained an integral part of that Army for the period of' the European War .

On 17 November 1944 the battalion moved by motor convey to its newly assigned station in the vicinity of Valkenburg, Netherlands where it set up positions in defense of gasoline and supply dumps in the vicinity of' Gulpen and Margraten as well as Valkenburg. The convoy movement from France consumed three days and nights, the night stops were made at L'Aigle and Soissons in France, and Dinant in Belgium.

During the period of' the assignment in Valkenburg the battalion was attached to the 55th AAA Brigade, and further attached to the 2d AAA Group. The batteries of' this battalion remained in their assigned positions throughout the whole of the stay in The Netherlands except for the two brief changes. In the first change, Btry C was assigned the defense of a marshalling area in the vicinity of Vise, Belgium for the period from 28 November 1944 to 7 December 1944. The other change was made when one platoon of Btry D moved to set up defense of a rail siding in the vicinity of Maastricht, Netherlands, for a period of about 12 hours. The defense was set up for overnight layover of high staff officers of the AEF, enroute to forward areas.

News Years Day, 1945, gave the members of this battalion their real initiation into the inner circle of combat units. Fifty-four separate raids were experienced by the batteries starting at approximately midnight and continuing thru the early hours of the morning.  This was part of the German Air Force mass raids of that day and the beginning of the end of any show of strength from the enemy. Action was brisk and almost continuous, and resulted in three air craft shot down and two more that were so badly damaged that they fell after leaving the area. The battalion also suffered its first personnel casualty during these engagements when 1st Sgt Joe Scalf of Btry A was hit by a bomb fragment.

During the first part of February 1945, the preliminary arrangements for the crossings of the Roer River were in progress. This battalion was still in positions in the vicinity of Valkenburg, at that time. On the 9 February 1945, Hq., B and D Batteries were relieved of attached to 2d AAA Group, 55th AAA Brigade and were attached to the XIII Corps to be deployed in defense of the Corps Artillery positions along the lines of offense at the Roer River. An advanced Headquarters was set up at Teveren, Germany, a forward area, and Btrys B and D moved to take positions in the vicinity of Geilenkirchen, Germany.  Due to a change in plans, the attempt to cross the Roer was not made early in February and on the 21 February 1945, Btrys A and C were attached to the XIII Corps and moved to join the battalion in the forward area. The battalion Hq. was moved to the town of Scherpenseel, Germany and the whole battalion was then under the command of the 9th AAA Group which had assumed command of the forward detachment on the earlier date. The Roer crossings were made during the latter part of this month and the battalion participated in them, conducting itself in a manner that brought credit to every member of' the command. After crossing the Roer all elements of the battalion joined the general advance toward the Rhine River, reaching there, as part of the Ninth Army and part of the first US troops to arrive at the last natural barrier before the heart of Germany and the last great battle of the war.

On March 1st, the battalion Hq. was moved to the town of Venrath, Germany, and on 5 March 1945 it moved again to the town of Huls, Germany.  The batteries continued their advance, finally stopping near the banks of the Rhine.

On 15 March 1945, the battalion was attached to the XVI Corps, 26 AAA Group, to be deployed as defense of Engineer activities in the Rhine crossings. Batteries A and C were attached to the 30th Division and Hq., B and D were attached to the 1148th Eng Group and located in the area of the 79th Division. Their assigned mission was the guarding of Eng supplies and bridging operations, also ferrying sites used in the crossing of the river .Their work was performed creditably and with dispatch thru the whole operation. Three enemy aircraft were destroyed in the defense or these bridges. When the crossing was made, Btry A moved to the East bank of the river to take up defense of the area surrounding that bridge, and Btry D moved to the East bank of the river defending a ferrying site, and eventually a bridgehead on that side.

A forward Hq. was established for this operation on the West bank of the Rhine.  All operations of the batteries were efficiently controlled from this point.

The month of March 1945 was the period of highest personnel casualties suffered by this battalion. Twenty nine casualties were inflicted by enemy fire, of which fourteen were serious enough to be evacuated.  Two men, 1st Lt Horace St. Johns and Pfc Paul W. Baker, both of Btry B, were killed. With the exception of five of these casualties, all were the result of enemy ground fire. The five mentioned occurred when an enemy plane dropped several fragmentation bombs near a mess truck of Btry B, early in the month, injuring four men, and the fifth was wounded by a strafing enemy plane.

On 1 April 1945, the forward Hq and the Rear Hq were combined at a location near Budberg, Germany and the Btrys assumed positions in defense of the Rhine River Bridges and ferrying sites. The battalion was then attached to the 55th AAA Brigade, still under the 26th AAA Group.

On 12 April 1945. the battalion was relieved or attached to the 55th AAA Brigade, 26th AAA Group and was attached to the XIII Corps under the 19th AAA Group. On 14 April, a move by motor convoy was made to a forward area. The battalion Hq was established at Lehrte, Germany and the batteries were deployed in defense or various Corps installations. Btrys B and D were set up in defense of bridges on the Main Supply Route, Btry B defending a bridge over the Weser River near Minden, Germany and Btry D defending bridges on the Autobahn near Dedensken, Germany. Btry C was deployed near Klotz, Germany defending Corps Hq, and Btry A provided defense of Engineer supplies near Osterburg, Germany, in the vicinity or the Elbe River

During the move to positions near Klotz, Btry C was attacked and strafed in convoy. This attack caused twelve personnel casualties and the loss of a 2-1/2 ton truck. Despite the attack, the battery dispersed promptly and returned the fire of the attacking plane, bringing it down in flames.

The battalion Hq was moved from Lehrte to Lockstedt, Germany on 17 April 1945 and the batteries moved to new defense positions. Btrys B and D provided defense of the Main Supply Route from Brome to Giffhorn, Germany. Btry C was moved to positions in defense of Field Artillery installations near Iden, Germany and a few days later Btry D was moved to positions in defense of roads in the vicinity of Salzwedel, Germany.  Btry B then moved to positions near Arendsee, Germany to set up defense of an Engineer Training and supply center there. On the 23 April the battalion Hq was moved to Salzwedel, Germany.

From the 18 April 1945 to the 24 April 1945 the battalion was located in an area concealing heavy concentrations of by-passed enemy armor and infantry. During part of that period, some elements, including battalion Hq., were completely cut off from any supporting elements of our own troops. On several occasions Btrys engaged elements of these enemy troops, later identified as the larger part of the Von Clausewitz Division. In one or these engagements Btry D destroyed several enemy vehicles and killed at least two of the attacking party with small arms fire, manned by Btry Hq personnel.

During the last half of the month of April the primary mission of this battalion was defense of roads, bridges and Corps installations in the vicinity of the Elbe River, supporting the advance ofour troops to that objective. In this period there were thirty-three engagements with enemy aircraft resulting in the submission of ten claims for aircraft destroyed. There were seventeen personnel casualties as the result of enemy fire, and three men or the AAAIS Section reported missing in action. One of these men, Pvt Marvin Renner was afterwards determined to have been killed by the enemy, the other two are known to have been released from enemy prison camps at the end of the war, and returned to the U.S.

From 1 May to 9 May 1945, when hostilities officially ceased, there was a marked decrease in all kinds of enemy activity in the areas occupied by this battalion. During this time several planes were known to have landed in the area and surrendered. There were several engagements with enemy aircraft, one resulting in the plane in question being shot down. The last engagement with enemy aircraft by any element of this battalion was experienced by Btry B. This engagement resulted in damaging the plane engaged so badly that it could not reach its home field.

On 15 May 1945 the battalion moved to a location in the vicinity of Holzminden, Germany and set up as the active head of the military government for the Kreis of Holzminden. The battalion Hq was located in a former German Army Engineering School in Holzminden, and the batteries were located, Btry A in Neuhaus, Btry B in Deensen, Btry C in Meinbrexen and Btry D with the battalion Hq in Holzminden.

The battalion received a new assignment on 1 June 1945 and moved to take up its new duties on that same day. On 2 June 1945 a new Hq was opened at a staging area near Antwerp, Belgium. This unit, together with the 559 AAA Auto Wpns Bn., under the command of the 19th AAA Group was assigned the duties incident to the operation and maintenance of a staging area, for the processing of troops bound for the U.S. to be further redeployed as the Army may direct. These duties included the erection of the camp, in conjunction with several Engineer Units under the 1147th Engineer Group, and the provision of administrative and recreational facilities for the handling of the troops that will pass through.

On the 2 June 1945, the 556th AAA Auto Wpns Bn was relieved of its attachment to the Ninth U.S. Army and was attached to Port Area 3 of the Channel Base Section, ETOUSA, for the accomplishment of its future mission in this theater.