Out of the Hürtgen Forest in Germany, site of a series of World War II battles, has emerged a relic which is not simply a military artifact but also a symbol of Winchester’s devotion to its country’s war effort. And that relic has now come home.
The Hürtgenwald has yielded many finds to relic hunters. Earlier this year a resident of Frankfurt purchased one at a flea market, found by someone searching for WW II relics with a metal detector.
The finder was especially interested in German artifacts, but this was American. Embossed on a rectangular metal plaque measuring about 4.5 x 8 inches, the inscription states: “[S]COUT CAR, PRESENTED TO THE UNITED STATES ARMY BY THE EN KA SOCIETY, WINCHESTER, MASS. THROUGH PURCHASE OF WAR BONDS.”
The purchaser, Thomas Gey of Frankfurt, curious to know more, e-mailed the Winchester Archival Center, which contacted the En Ka Society. Then began another search, this one for an explanation of the plaque, which had become a forgotten part of En Ka history.
During the war years, Americans across the country were engaging in home-front support of the Allied cause and its local service men and women. Winchester was no different, and the En Ka Society pitched in.
Prior to December 1941, Americans were providing aid to war victims and preparing for war. All organizations in Winchester were asked to sell defense stamps and bonds, later war bonds. En Ka took its turn at the railroad stations doing so. It also purchased war bonds, and in 1943 it sponsored a war bond auction at the Winchester Theater.
On Dec. 7, 1942, the U.S. Army’s aircraft observation post (part of a network of posts) in the area of High and Ridge streets went into operation. In February, 1942, the American Legion, which was in charge of keeping the post manned 24/7, called upon all the women’s organizations in town to help transport people to the post and to do daytime observation duty while the men were at work. En Ka did its bit and also purchased a new heater and fuel tank for the original drafty shack, reinstalled in a new tower.
The Society donated various sums through the war years to the Winchester Chapter of the American Red Cross to equip emergency ambulances and mobile canteens and to equip men going to foreign service with Red Cross fitted bags. It also donated to the Greater Boston United War Fund, British War Relief, Russian War Relief, and the National War Fund. The women organized dances and other entertainments for the servicemen.
One special gift was the donation of a service flag to the Town, which was dedicated when the Roll of Honor was unveiled. (The flag was later lost.)
In 1944, the board of the En Ka Society planned a major gift. Their Jan. 18, 1944, minutes state, “In connection with the Fourth War Loan Drive, the society voted to secure pledges amounting to $30,000 in bonds for a clearing station that takes care of the wounded directly behind the fighting front. A plaque inscribed ‘En Ka Winchester, Mass.’ will be on the station. It was voted that Winnifrede Meyer would be in charge of the work.”
Within a month, they had decided to purchase four scout cars in place of the clearing station. (No explanation was given in the minutes). The board appropriated $12 from its street fair proceeds for four plaques inscribed “En Ka Society, Winchester, Mass.” to be placed on them.
In March, Meyer reported on the bond sale and thanked “all the En Ka Girls who helped to make it possible.” The four plaques were on display at that meeting but apparently no photograph was taken.
A small article appeared in the Winchester Star revealing that En Ka’s war bond drive went over the top of its goal by selling $49,525 in war bonds to finance the purchase of the four cars. Noting the plaques to be affixed to each car, the article stated, “It is hoped this will bring warm thoughts of home to Winchester servicemen who may chance to see one.”
Following the June annual meeting minutes, En Ka’s records are silent on the matter. The women would have had no idea about the fate of the cars they funded. In fact, the fate of three is still unknown. One, it is now known, ended up in the Hürtgen Forest.
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest was the longest battle (actually a series of battles) on German ground during World War II, taking place from September 1944 to the next February.
After landing at Normandy in June 1944, the Allied forces advanced east to liberate France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. They reached the German border and the defenses of the Siegfried Line in September 1944. The Americans’ equipment included at least one of the En Ka scout cars.
The Allies successfully took Aachen in October, but their efforts to pass through the Hürtgen Forest (east of Aachen) were disastrous. The forest was densely wooded and heavily fortified. The Germans fiercely defended it to protect the Rur River dams and their preparations for the Ardennes Offensive (the Battle of the Bulge). American troops repeatedly attacked but were defeated. The battle was costly to both sides. Reportedly, American casualties exceeded 30,000 in killed, wounded, missing in action, combat exhaustion, and various disease and non-battle injuries.
In December, when the Germans launched their Ardennes Offensive, the Allies concentrated on blocking the German advance. In early February, American forces attacked through the Hürtgen Forest for the final time and reached the Rur River. The Allies were able to continue their push east. Germany surrendered in May
Return of the plaque
After Herr Gey contacted Winchester about the plaque, En Ka’s historians were amazed, as they had known nothing about the scout cars.
Gey expressed himself “astonished and surprised that the En Ka Society had German roots” (its name being derived from a motto that the original members devised in the German language). He sent photos and offered to send the plaque back to En Ka to be shown in a local museum or showroom.
“Although I knew En Ka had worked hard to support the US troops I had no knowledge about raising money to purchase specific equipment,” En Ka Historian Joyce Cummings wrote to him. “On behalf of En Ka, I would very much like to accept your offer of sending the shield to Winchester. We have numerous items that reflect En Ka’s history, mission, and member’s participation throughout the years and the shield would be a wonderful addition to the collection.”
Refusing the Society’s offer to pay his expenses, Gey returned the plaque, saying “I think the shield belongs to Winchester and it’s a part of the town and the En Ka history. Of course, I will send you the item to Winchester, because it has his roots there.
“I think that is a question of honour.”
The plaque arrived in July. When the En Ka board resumes meeting this fall, it is expected to plan how best to exhibit this relic which now represents not only the efforts of Winchester’s women to support its servicemen but also the friendly relations that happily now exist between citizens of former enemy countries.
“Danke schön, Herr Gey!”