Army Service in Paris and Meeting Lilian Harvey, 1945-1946

From the unpublished autobiograpy of James McNitt, 1992

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James McNitt's text Bill McNitt's annotations
In September I was taken by train to Southampton, where we boarded a ship bound for LeHavre. The weather was pleasant, and we stayed on deck the entire voyage. At LeHavre we were separated and sent to one of the several cigarette camps nearby. These were staging areas named for no good reason after various popular brands of cigarettes - Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Pall Mall, etc. I do not recall one called Camel, nor do I recall the name of the one to which I was sent. It was in the small village of Etretat, on the seafront. There was a cliff here in which had been gouged out a shallow cave where Nazi gun emplacements had stood.

James in uniform on board a ship.

Dad in uniform on board a ship

In a few days we were placed on a train for Paris, not in coaches but in boxcars. There were many delays along the way; we did not appear to have a high priority. At one stop in a rural area, we bought fresh tomatoes from the farmers. It was night before we were unloaded at Paris and placed aboard trucks which took us to Versailles.
Our quarters were in a former stable, presumably used for horses for the royal guard. We were just a few blocks from the castle. Our offices were some distance away in what must have been at one time a luxurious home. As I understood it, we were engaged in the disposal of surplus materials, although I never did have a very clear idea of what was going on.

James McNitt and colleagues on the steps of the building in which they worked 

Dad and friends on the steps of the building at Versailles in which they worked.

In November I began to notice a small, comely girl in the office who helped bring around the mail. She wore a uniform, and I was to learn that she was a British civilian working for the U.S. Army. It developed that her name was Lilian Harvey.  She had formerly been a Land Army girl, but had resigned along with others due to discrimination on clothing ration coupons. She had applied to the Labor Office to be assigned to the R.A.F., for which she had once worked. Much to her indignation, she found she was needed more by the U. S. Army. She was quartered in Paris, and each morning a French driver would bring her in a jeep to Versailles to work.

Lilian Harvey in uniform Lilian Harvey in Land Army outfit Lilian Harvey in Land Army outfit

Mom in military uniform, ca. 1945, and in Land Army oufits, 1941

Lilian Ethel Harvey was born in Andover, Hampshire, England and was the daughter of Frederick William Kernott Harvey and Eva Annie Mary Withers.

The R.A.F. is the Royal Air Force - both her brother and her brother-in-law were serving in the R.A.F.

I asked her to come out and go through the palace with me on Thanksgiving Day, and to eat with me at the Army mess. She agreed, and came out on the train. Much of the palace treasure had been removed, and some of the paintings had been damaged by condensation due to lack of heat, but there was still enough to be impressive. A typical Thanksgiving meal was served at the mess, with German POWs dishing out the food. The turkey was served in great chunks. When she invited me back to eat the evening meal with her at the officers' mess, the turkey was served neatly carved, on regular plates instead of metal trays.

Lilian Harvey and James McNitt on the steps of the building at Versailles in which he worked Lilian Harvey on the steps of the building in Versailles where James McNitt worked. Lilian Harvey on the steps of the building in Versailles where James McNitt worked Lilian Harvey and James McNitt on the steps of the building in Versailles in which he worked Lilian Harvey on the steps of the building at Versailles where James McNitt worked

Photographs of Mom and Dad on the steps of the building at Versailles where he worked.

Things languished for a while after she learned of my marital status. However, having picked up the misconception that I had seen her dash out crying from the office, I went to her quarters after supper to see if I could be of assistance. It developed that I had been mistaken. She was washing out some things. After she sat a while and talked, we became quite comfortable with each other and formed a mutual attraction.
Our office was transferred to a multi-storied building on the Champs Elysees in Paris, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. I was assigned quarters in a formerly elegant dwelling place on the Avenue Kleber. It had 12-foot ceilings and ornately carved woodwork, but it was cold and drafty. After suffering through a bad cold, I moved to a nondescript hotel a block off the Champs. Here for the price of a carton of cigarettes a week I rented a small room, complete with a sink and bidet. Miss Harvey was also moved, to the Hotel Rochester just around the corner from my hotel. It was somewhat more sumptuous than mine, with its own bathroom. She shared it with a girl named Celia. They got along well, as Celia was gone much of the time.

The Paris office in which James McNitt worked French women who worked in James McNitt's office

  • The Paris office in which Dad worked was in the building down the street, just beyond the London House.
  • French women who worked in the office in which Dad worked
I mentioned cigarettes. Through some bureaucratic snafu I was issued PX ration cards by both the unit which supplied our living quarters and rations, and the unit handling our work assignment. Then I bought another card from a GI leaving for home. Instead of the allowed one carton of cigarettes per week, bought at 50˘ per carton at the PX, I was buying three. They were eagerly snapped up by the French people working in our office at 600 francs a carton. The same was true of our liquor ration, although this was handled on a slightly different basis. At one time I had built up quite a supply, but it was taken off my hands at 500 francs a bottle by a GI for his wedding reception. As a result I had more money than I had had since joining the Army. Miss Harvey also had a PX card.
She had always gone by her second name, Ethel, but the Army always records personnel by first name and middle initial, so she became Lilian to me. By the same token I was officially William J., but the name never caught on with my friends, and I was usually referred to as Mac.
She established a rule that we were not to date over once a week. Somehow this rule faded into obscurity, as there were so many places to go and things to do. There was a tour to Fontainbleau to see the castle there, with a stopover at a small village for a steak dinner with Camembert cheese on the side. There were trips to the Eiffel Tower and to the Louvre Museum, also to The Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napoleon's Tomb. We saw Maurice Chevalier at the A.B.C. Theater (French theaters weren't heated, and we kept our overcoats on). We spent Christmas together, and in the evening went to the services at Sacre Coeur, the beautiful church which towers over the Montmartre district.

Lilian Harvey at the Arc de Triomphe James McNitt at the Arc de Triomphe James McNitt on one of the bridges over the river Seine Lilian Harvey with the Eiffel Tower in the background James McNitt in front of the Eiffel Tower The Eiffel Tower   La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre (Basilica of the Sacred Heart)

  • Individual photographs of Mom and Dad at the Arc de Triomphe
  • Dad on a bridge over the river Seine
  • Individual photographs of Mom and Dad with the Eiffel Tower in the background
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre (Basilica of the Sacred Heart)
She went home to England for a week, and I took the occasion to make a trip to Switzerland. The first night in Berne I contacted tonsillitis, which had plagued me occasionally through the years. I went to bed early with a cloth-wrapped hot brick and piles of down comforters. I sweated all night, and in the morning the tonsillitis was gone. I have never been troubled since.
High in the Alps, in a little village called Kanderburg, or some such name, I tried my hand, or rather my feet, at skiing and ice skating. I was a flop at both, but enjoyed it immensely. 

Kandersteg and B;umlisalp Texaco sign on one of the Kandersteg shops Hotel Schweizerhof in Kandersteg, SwitzerlandHotel Schweizerhof, where James McNitt and friends stayed in Kanderssteg, Switzerland  Horse-drawn sleigh outisde the Hotel Schweizerhof  Skiing lessons (James McNitt at right) Skiing lessons (James McNitt second from left) Skiing lessons (James McNitt second from left) Skiing lessons (James McNitt third from left) Skiing lessons (James McNitt third from left) James McNitt skiing James McNitt after one of his falls

  • Kandersteg, Switzerland with Blümlisalp (the mountain in the background)
  • Kandersteg shop (note the Texaco sign)
  • Three photos of the Hotel Schweizerhof where Dad and his friends stayed in Kandersteg.  The third shows a horse-drawn sleigh outside the hotel.
  • Five photos of skiing lessons for the group.  In the first, Dad is at the right.  In the next two, he his second from the left.  In the final two, he is third from the left.
  • Dad skiing with the Alps in the background
  • Dad after a fall
The family photo albums make clear that the town was named Kandersteg. Kandersteg is a municipality in the Frutigen-Niedersimmental administrative district in the canton of Bern. It is in the Bernese Alps and is still known for its skiing.

The Hotel Schweizerhof, where they stayed in Kandersteg, is still open.

At Geneva we were in a huge hotel overlooking the lake. I recall being served trout with the head on, my only such experience. Also impressive were the well-stocked stores. There were bananas on sale, which I hadn't seen since I had been overseas. Racks of lovely baked goods appeared in the windows. I took some back with me, but they arrived somewhat crushed.

Geneva, Switzerland Basel market pkace and town hall in Switzerland Basel town hall

  • Geneva, Switzerland

  • Basel, Switzerland marekt place and town hall

  • Basel, Switzerland town hall

I also bought a Tissot watch to take back for Lilian. She was to wear it for many years, until it was no longer possible to obtain parts for it.
In the meantime she was enjoying herself in England. She dated a boy she knew back there. She was fond of him, but he was somewhat younger than she. I have heard that after her return to Paris he wrote her a letter which might have had a bearing on her ultimate decision, but it never arrived.
When we returned to Paris, there was a reluctance on her part to get involved again, but proximity worked against her good intentions. We went row-boating on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne. We watched demonstrations by groups of GIs around the Eiffel Tower who were campaigning to get sent home early. I was in no hurry myself, and when my departure date was set back thirty days, I was quite pleased.

Lilian Harvey rowing on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne Lilian Harvey rowing on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne James McNitt with a snowball in the Bois de Boulogne Soldiers in a redeploymnet rally at the Jardins du Trocadéro Soldiers at a redeployment rally at the Jardins du Trocadéro

  • Two photographs of Mom rowing on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne
  • Dad preparing to throw a snowball in the Bois de Boulogne (dated Feb. 1946)
  • Two photographs of soldiers at the redeployment rally in the Jardins du Trocadéro
In the meantime the French decided to devalue the franc. To protect the GIs, we were asked to turn in all old francs by a certain date. The next day we would be issued twice as many new francs. This privilege didn't extend to Lilian, but I included hers with mine. For a day we were without money.
A few months before I had been promoted to T/3 (Staff Sergeant). It was made possible by the departure for home of some non-coms, leaving openings in the T/O (Table of Organization). I had felt that I deserved it back in the post office in New York and didn't get it; now I received it through no particular merit on my part.
Finally it became my turn to return to the States. We said our goodbyes and I was taken back to LeHavre, to embark on the Mormac Dove, a merchant ship scarcely in the class of my transportation coming over. I was sick just once, which I laid more to the vomit smells coming from the lavatories than to the ship's motion. It took about twice as long as on the Queen Elizabeth.

S.S. Mormadove

S.S. Mormacdove

He departed Europe on March 13 and arrived in the U.S. om March 26, 1946. 

The S.S. Mormacdove was launched on June 1, 1942 at the Consolidated Steel Corporation's Wilmington, California yard as a Type C1-B small cargo ship, but completed as a troop transport.

Once disembarked, we were taken to Fort Kilmer in New Jersey. I recall that they made a special effort to make our first meal a good one, with steak and ice cream. A little later I was transferred to Fort Atterbury, Indiana to be mustered out. I had a couple cavities, and took advantage of the free dental service, thus delaying my discharge by a couple days. On March 30, 1946, I was given sufficient funds to cover the trip home and my military service was over.

army discharge Army discharge Army separation Army separation

Army discharge and separation certificates

Sources, including Dad's discharge papers, identify these two "Forts" as Camps.  

Camp Kilmer was in Edison New Jersey anmd was a major transportation hub for the military during World War II.  It later fell into disuse and was eventuually deactivated.  

Camp Atterbury is near Edinburgh, Indiana and is still used as a National Guard training facility.  

Dad's total army service was 3 years, 7 months, and 9 days.