The Kingsclere Pub Attacked by American Soldiers
The Liberation of Europe from fascist tyranny was well underway by October 1944. Yet, the North Hampshire village of Kingsclere witnessed a shocking display of bloodshed that same month—but not by the Nazis.
An enraged group of rogue American soldiers turned this sleepy rural village into a scene from the Wild West. This incident is extensively chronicled elsewhere, so the following information is a basic timeline of the events as they transpired, followed by an exploration into the motivations behind the attack and the subsequent coverup by the US Military.
On 5 October 1944, the 3247th Quartermaster Service Corps arrived in Kingsclere from Devonshire. They were stationed at nearby Sydmonton Court, a requisitioned country estate.
Later that evening, 10 US soldiers attached to this company took leave without authorization and wandered the blacked-out streets of Kingsclere in search of a pub. Regimental Police discovered and ordered the men back to their billet. The soldiers returned a little while later, this time armed with semi-automatic carbines and 100 rounds of ammunition stolen from their armoury. They scoured the village in search of the police.
They discovered Privates Brown, Coates and Anderson at The Crown pub. It was last orders at the bar when the soldiers took up their positions behind the tombstones in the churchyard opposite. Inside, a number of locals, Regimental Policemen and GIs (perhaps also out without permission) were finishing their drinks. The soldiers proceeded to open fire on the pub.
Private Brown took cover inside. Private Coates was sitting by the front window inside when a bullet struck the back of his head, killing him instantly. Private Anderson returned fire but was fatally wounded outside, collapsing in a garden on North Street.
Further tragedy followed. Landlord and landlady, Frederick and Rose Napper, had hidden underneath the bar. A piece of ricochet pierced Mrs Napper's throat. She died at Newbury Hospital.
As the smoke cleared, civilian authorities swarmed the scene, tending to the injured and taking witness statements. Meanwhile, the US Military launched a manhunt to apprehend the rogue GIs.
Aftermath and Coverup
All 10 soldiers were captured the following day. They appeared before a court martial five weeks later at Thatcham. Nine of them were convicted on three counts of murder, riotous assembly and absence without leave and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. The last was convicted of absence without leave and sentenced to 10 years' hard labour.
All 10 men received dishonourable discharges. They were taken back to America. What became of them in later years is unknown. Their names were Privates Burn, Crawford, Fleming, Lawton, Moultrie, Oree, Agnew, Lockett, Washington and Lilly.
Local and national media covered the incident, including the Newbury Weekly News and the now-defunct Daily Herald but it received limited attention overall. Allied newspapers censored story details to prevent crucial information from falling into enemy hands. After D-Day, this incident would have been prime material for Joseph Goebbel's propaganda machine. So, for many years, all knowledge of the incident was buried and almost forgotten.
Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and future US President, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, concerned about how this would jeopardise Anglo-American relations and morale, kept details of the incident quiet. He ordered his second-in-command to personally go and convey his apologies to the Kingsclere residents and as far as the military authorities were concerned, that was the end of the matter.
North Hampshire historian and former Kingsclere resident, John Leete, cites the following factors as causes for the violence:
"the build-up of stress the men suffered, triggered by being thousands of miles from home— having ethnic-related issues on base— and war service constantly gnawing away at their thoughts."
There is a possible racial element involved in this crime that should be addressed. The 3247th Quartermaster Service Corps consisted mostly of black troops. All 10 perpetrators were black, as were the two murdered Regimental Policemen. Another reason for the coverup. Allied military leaders feared the incident would worsen British and American sentiments toward black soldiers in the US Military.
In 2003, the Kingsclere Heritage Association commented:
"During the Second World War, approximately 10% of the occupying American forces in Britain were coloured. The British government stated, at the time, that this was an unwelcome intrusion to British shores.
"Until these coloured soldiers arrived on British shores, many people in Britain particularly in rural areas had never seen a coloured person and the coloured population in Britain was negligible. This incident shows the underlying feeling of the suppressed coloured Amercian soldiers."
The entire case raises more questions than it answers. How did a seemingly trivial argument descend into such chaos? Was the violence racially motivated or has this factor been overstated since? Had there been other disagreements prior to this incident?
Most shocking is that this was not a spontaneous heated exchange which spiralled out of control. It was a premeditated attack committed with murderous intent by armed men who willingly and knowingly opened fire on a civil establishment. They stopped at several pubs before locating their targets! Whatever their grievances, these did not justify the human cost endured.
This Allied atrocity occurred on home soil and claimed three lives, including an innocent bystander. Frederick Napper left The Crown in 1951. Rose Napper is buried at Ecchinswell Road Cemetery. A Home Guard detachment was deployed to patrol the village to prevent such a traumatic event from occurring again. The ghost of Private Anderson is still said to haunt The Crown.