History - Parting words

By: Lyn Johnston

American servicemen stationed in Warkworth during WWII were a long way from home, training for the Pacific theatre and an uncertain future. Initially, the men were not allowed beyond Warkworth, but eventually that changed and they were allowed further afield, including the “City of Wellsford”.

Port Albert couple Gwyn and Bess Farr and their daughter, Joan, befriended several of the servicemen, including PFC Claude W Eissler, 2nd Band Section, US Marine Corps.  Claude wrote to them during 1943 and 1944, describing his activities.

Officers of the USMC on the Okahukura Road, March 17, 1943. Harold Marsh collection.

One typical week for his dance orchestra included playing at Wellsford on Wednesday night, at Warkworth on Thursday night and at Government House in Auckland on Friday night. On Saturday morning, the orchestra gave a concert at the American hospital in Auckland. The orchestra then returned to Warkworth for a dance at the Patriotic Hut. Another similar week ended with a 60-mile hike.

Within a few months, the men were shipped out. A letter from Claude dated July 17, 1943 states: “I hardly know how to begin. There are so many things that I would like to tell you about and of course it’s all taboo. I think I can tell you that we are situated in a very beautiful spot.”

By August, troops had been given permission to write home saying that they were in New Zealand prior to their last move and were now on an island in the South Seas surrounded by coconut palms. Claude said the band had to take long truck rides to provide music for visiting entertainers who were flown in

In December he wrote: “Just got your Dec 4 letter and since I know what you are interested in finding out, I’ll save the suspense and tell you that we participated in the Empress Augusta Bay operations on Bougainville Island.”

The dance orchestra arranger-leader was going to arrange their saxophones à la Glenn Miller and Claude was “awfully anxious to hear how it will sound”. He later remarked, “Incidentally, in case you are wondering, our bands weren’t harmed any by being in combat. They sound much the same as ever.”

His last letter, dated March 21, 1944, began, “I don’t think I will ever be able to thank you enough for everything you have done for me. The fruit cake which you sent for my birthday was gone before I had much more than a taste of it myself.” The letter concludes:

“Both the concert and dance bands had a good reception last night at a new outdoor theatre, which was just recently opened near here. And that is all for now.  I’m hoping to hear from you again soon. Sincerely Claude”

There’s one rear view photo of Claude in a Gwyn and Bess Farr album with the notation, “A very superior nice, lad.  We heard from him for months and then … nothing.”

A Google search result turned up the following: EISSLER, Claude Wallace, 417805, CasCo, MarBks, NATC, Corpus Christi, Tex, April 6, 1945, died of wounds (mc)

He was 23.


Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum
www.albertland.co.nz

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