Soldier/Tourist: My Grandfather in Europe, 1946-1948

When I was in fifth grade, I was assigned that staple of the American elementary education: the family history project. For my project, I interviewed several older relatives, including my grandfather, Charles Newbury (my mother’s father, and my only living grandparent).

At that time, he gave me several photographs and pieces of memorabilia from his time in the US Army. He served in Germany immediately after World War II, and later in Korea. The project I made from those interviews ended up in a box in the back of a closet at my parents’ house–until recently. As I have been learning German, studying European history, and planning my year abroad as an au pair in Austria, I remembered vaguely that I had some old pictures of my grandfather.

My grandfather (on the right) as a child in the early 1930s.

My grandfather (on the right) as a child in the early 1930s.

I knew that I had some pictures, but I had no idea what a treasure trove had been bestowed on me at age eleven. I was astounded to discover the artifacts that I’m sharing here. Not only because they form snapshots of places and events that I find fascinating and important, but also because they paint a portrait of my grandfather as a young man, through the photos he took and the things he kept.

My grandfather. The back of the picture says, "Me at Joan's, April 1948."

My grandfather, age 21. The back of the picture says, “Me at Joan’s, April 1948.”

According to government archives, my grandfather enlisted on May 4, 1946, age 19, at Ft. McClellan, near Anniston, Alabama. He served as a private in the Signal Corps of the US Army. When I see his pictures depicting army life, from gathering in full dress to marching through a snowy field in Germany, I imagine his curiosity and interest in his rapidly expanding world.

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I am even fortunate enough to have a ration card that he kept from his time in Europe, which provides me with specific details about his service that can lead to further research.

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Finding this card was literally stumbling upon a piece of the past. It was an eerie feeling to hold this browned and fragile piece of paper as an adult, capable of realizing its significance, but knowing that I had been made its casual guardian as a child.

As fascinating as I find these army images, my curiosity was piqued even more by the other items I re-discovered–the evidence of my grandfather as a tourist. He used his army enlistment as a way to explore and discover Europe during a time when such travel, for Americans, was generally restricted to the wealthy and elite.

I have my grandfather’s ticket to the 1948 Olympic Games in Switzerland, apparently issued by the army as part of a tourism scheme for soldiers, and kept by my grandfather all these years. It is fascinating to think that such an office for tourism existed, presumably fulfilling a common desire to explore Europe while abroad.

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I also have four tiny square photos that he took himself–memories of his once-in-a-lifetime experience at this incredible event, the first Olympics after their suspension in 1944.

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Opening Ceremonies

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Skiing

Hockey

Hockey

Hockey

Hockey

One of the only things I remembered from receiving all these things as a child was the size of these photos. They are two-inch squares, with a brief white border, and the quality is amazing for such a small snapshot. Even in these scans, you can see evocative details of people and landscape. More than any of the other images, these snapshots transport me into the past.

My grandfather also traveled north through Germany, into Denmark, a trip that I plan to replicate during my time in Europe. He saved this piece of Danish currency, which is dated 1945, as a souvenir–again showing his presence of mind and understanding of himself as a soldier/tourist.

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I have other pictures, ones from Korea, ones of my mother and her brother and sister as children, but the above scans represent my grandfather’s experiences in Europe as he presented them to me twelve years ago.

I am so inspired and awed by these photos and documents. They give me a personal connection to Europe, and a renewed passion for my travels there, as well as a unique perspective on the American occupation of Germany. But most importantly, they show me my grandfather, my Papaw, as a young man full of wanderlust and looking for adventure.

Even now, at age 86, he’s still adventuring. I hope it runs in the family.

papaw and millonea

41 comments

  1. What a wonderful, beautiful post – and an inspiring way to find out both about your family history and the amazing history of the world around us. And, indeed, it sounds like adventuring runs in your family! Thanks for a great post, it makes me want to delve into my own past for inspiration as well.

  2. Lovely post! It is so wonderful to find old photographs and documents of our relatives. It really reveals to us a side / past of them that we probably aren’t aware of. Thanks for sharing and congrats on getting FP! 🙂

  3. This is way too cool. It’s neat to see old images like these, especially of our own loved ones. The Olympic pics were my favorite. Thanks for sharing.

  4. How did you get these awesome pictures. What a treasure!

  5. it’s so great that you got to keep all of this lovely memorabilia. Hopefully you can pass it down for generations.

  6. jackiehames · · Reply

    Molly, great post! It’s really great to see these kind of personal histories. I work with Soldiers magazine (soldiers.dodlive.mil) and linked to your blog fromTwitter, @HamesJ, to share it with the Army community.

    Many thanks to your grandfather for his service.

  7. I absolutely adore this post!! It’s got all of my favorite things: family, history, travel and passion. Your grandfather sounds like an incredible man and what a wonderful archival photographs and tickets you have. I’m so glad you shared.

  8. What a great story. No doubt, you have become the keeper of the family history.

  9. Great post! My grandfather too traveled in Europe as a soldier post-WWII, but I don’t have any memorabilia like this. What a treasure!

  10. Loved this post … touches the heart in more ways than one

  11. Reblogged this on Homie Williams. and commented:
    — J.W.

  12. Thanks for sharing! I have made the same experience with those little but high quality pictures of my grandparents and parents. It is such a nice thing to discover what they did when they were our age.

  13. Awesome! I’ve traveled all over Europe, multiple times, and each time I find something new about WWII to learn about. What an amazing piece of history to have!

  14. I hope you take time to record your time in Europe in ‘hard copy’, like a scrapbook, to pass on. Have fun!

  15. My wife and I adored you post. Treasure your heritage. The pictures remind us of a past gone but not forgotten. My wife has some material from her uncle from World War Two. Because of your post I might blog about her uncle. He was in a B52 shot down over Italy. He won a couple of medals. He is buried in Italy because the United States did not have the time or manpower to bring the bodies of some many home.

  16. Nice post and also congratulation on beign freshly pressed 🙂
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  17. I enjoyed reading your story. It is wonderful that you are able to get personal accounts of your grandfather in the war years. My father passed when I was a small child, so I am currently writing his WWII story but it is based on documents, pictures and naval history. To be able to get the personal stories is precious. You are very lucky.

  18. Nothing more enchanting than a musty old box of photos. Ignites the imagination and inspires curiosity. Nice piece.

  19. Hi Agnes, What a great story! My mom passed away at the age of 83 in March and she left me with a small notebook that belonged to her mother. In that notebook I found the name of a relative, whom I had never heard of, with an address in New York, so one day I will go from Germany/Denmark to the US and look for him and see if I have any living relatives over there.

  20. Family history is amazing. Finding ways to share with other relatives, and get them to fill in the gaps is as important for them as it is for you, and especially for your kids and grand kids some day in the near or distant future!

  21. Australians, like New Worlders or other colonials go in search of a past. When my mother’s mother joined us in 1947 there was little encouragement for us to show too much interest, of course there was still much to be revealed about that period. Then I discovered Saffran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated and his adventure of tracking a person from a photograph was a revelation. It’s 18 years since I first tried to identify a photograph of a WW1 army platoon that I retrieved from my late grandmother’s papers. It had a single name written on the back. The other day I typed the name into facebook and within a couple of days I had a reply from a person of that name claiming to recognize one of the soldiers as her grandfather. That’s the internet for you!

  22. beautiful! being a retired soldier, i can relate to your story. now, i have to start piecing together those difficult, yet memorable days.

  23. Great post. I love little glimpses into the past via old photographs!! My parents are traveling to Austria next week to go apartment-hunting. Pretty excited for them. I might direct them to your blog for any interesting info 🙂

  24. Such a well written and moving story! It is amazing what you were able to discover about your grandfather’s past. As I am starting two years in Germany just this week, it is exciting to think about all the history over here.

  25. Loved your post! My grandfather was also in the army, though he served in the 50s. But I wish he had taken pictures like these. I’m lucky that I get to hear all of his stories, but you’re right – the pictures really help you understand what it was like back then. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Reblogged this on Fontis Water and commented:
    Loved the post and pictures!

  27. Nice! Thank you for sharing!

  28. Great story, reminds me of my grandfather who served in Germany in WWII, thanks for sharing and good luck with your research!

  29. Good Story and nice post. I love old photos too.

  30. Thank you for sharing this.

  31. Such a lovely post – thanks for sharing 🙂

  32. You have items that are unique. It must really bond you to your ancestry – considering your planned year in Europe. I hope you will be sharing the adventure with us, when time permits, because you write well and I’d love to hear about it.

  33. Interesting topic, great blog. Amazing job here! Kudos!

  34. What wonderful treasures!

  35. […] Soldier/Tourist: My Grandfather in Europe, 1946-1948 | Adventuring … […]

  36. beautiful post. as a former soldier, i could not help but reminisce those ….. well, they say those were ‘good old days’…… but they were difficult as hell really. Which made them so much easier to remember.
    and the pics! treasure them.

  37. Great War Nurses from Newcastle & the Hunter Region · · Reply

    You have inspired me to do something similar with the documents and old photos recently retrieved from my late mother’s house. I even found my own identity card from when I was born in 1948, when the UK was still under wartime restrictions. Cheers, Christine

  38. I love those stories and those pictures!
    Please check out my blog and Instagram (@juliecrombe) and let’s follow each other!
    http://prettylittletreasures.wordpress.com
    Xo

  39. Gary Bonkowski · · Reply

    Great post with wonderful pictorial memories, thanks for sharing.

  40. […] my grandfather about his experiences in Europe after World War II (see my previous entry on this here). I’ve spent invaluable time with my wise and wonderful mother, whom I will miss so much, and […]

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