Alderman Michael Moore, keen on the history of the Second World War, remembers the American Third Army amassing on the Downs, and struck up brief friendships with some of the soldiers.
One of the big memories I have is when I was in my mid teens, was the impact of the war on the Downs. The houses around the Downs, the big grey houses, all housed American troops, and they were billeted on people eight or ten for each house.
After Cherbourg fell, the final breakout from Normandy took place when the American Third Army was landed at Cherbourg and the third army group, a lot of it assembled in Bristol, and the Downs became a central point to this because the whole of the Downs, from Stoke Road to Sea Walls, was closed off to the public, and it became a massive tank park. Hundreds of Sherman tanks were there, brought in and prepared for the landings before they were loaded at Avonmouth and taken by sea to Cherbourg. A lot of this stuff had been in this country for a couple of years and stored and therefore it needed mechanical checks and waterproofing of the engines, and this was all done on the Downs in Bristol. It does explain, there’s a bare point of grass that goes from roughly the Ivywell Road to Sea Walls – there’s no growth at all. Before the war that was full of growth but it was routed out when the tanks were there and that was never restored.
The American army was very kind to us in those years and as army cadets we were taken up and given rides on the Sherman tanks. ‘Any gum chum’ you used to say as the Americans used to give us chewing gum and candy and those sort of things. But the real interest, I’m a boy and of course boys have different interests to girls, was all the tanks and the convoys that used to rumble through Bristol morning, noon and night. So, you know to a fifteen year old it made quite an impact on you, and to be sat on the top of a turret of a Sherman tank when it raced round the Downs, was quite exciting to young boys of fifteen. In our army cadet uniforms we were ready to get after the Germans as well as soon as we were eighteen, such is the illusions of youth.