Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: A Few Hours in Marseille

Guest Post: A Few Hours in Marseille

By: Mark B. - August 05, 2013

When World War II in Europe ended with the German surrender in May, 1945, the United States and its allies turned their full attention to the continuing war against Japan. The logistical challenges were immense–several million servicemen and -women then in Europe, and all their arms and other equipment and supplies, had to be reorganized and moved to the Pacific in preparation for the invasion of Japan, then planned for November 1945. The military established several camps, designated “staging areas,” near European ports, where men and materiel were gathered, reorganized, and loaded onto ships for transport. Three of those staging areas were located near Marseille, France, and were known as the Arles, St. Victoret and Calas Staging Areas.


The Calas Staging Area

President Hugh B. Brown of the British Mission, who had served throughout the war as LDS servicemen’s coordinator in Europe, recognized the opportunity presented by these large gatherings of soldiers, and traveled to the continent to hold conferences for LDS soldiers. On August 5, 1945, he was at the Calas Staging Area, where three meetings–one for each of the staging areas–were held.

Notices were posted, and LDS men and women from those three areas gathered at Calas for the conference. They seem to have ignored the instructions that separate meetings would be held for each area–they arrived as soon as they could hitch a ride to Calas, and stayed as late as they could. Many of them attended all three meetings.

Staff Sergeant Calvin G. Clyde was appointed secretary for the Arles Staging Area LDS group. He kept minutes of the last of the three meetings held by President Brown on August 5, and included in those minutes a list of every man and woman at the meeting–listing their names, ranks, unit, APO number and priesthood office held. He also kept minutes of the later meetings of the Arles Staging Area LDS group–but those are the subject of another post.

One soldier who attended those meetings later wrote of them: “Highlight of the time spent here was the LDS conference in Marseille. Pres. Hugh B. Brown was the main speaker at each of the three meetings held. It is impossible to describe the good feeling and the spirit which was at these meetings. For many of us it was our first contact with men of our own faith since leaving the States. Stanley Kartchner from home was there, so the two of us had a wonderful time exchanging home news between meetings.”1

Held at the Arles Staging Area
(near Marseille, France)

Minutes of the L.D.S. Conference Session held at the Calas Staging Area on August 5, 1945.

The meeting was called to order at 20:35. Bro. Irvin Nydegger conducted the services with President Hugh B. Brown presiding.

The opening song was “We are all Enlisted”2 after which Bro. Delbert Barney opened the meeting with prayer.

The second song was “Redeemer of Israel.” Bro. Spencer Madsen then addressed the congregation for a few minutes. After a vocal solo–“The Lord’s Prayer”–by Bro. Scott Thorn accompanied by Bro. Bennett, Bro. Alma Whipple spoke a few minutes. The next speaker was Bro. John L. Riley, after which a double quartet from the Arles area sang “Sweet is the Work.”

President Hugh B. Brown occupied the remainder of the time with an inspirational sermon. The closing song was “Oh, Say What is Truth.”

Bro. William McKay closed the meeting (concluding session of conference) with prayer.

Bro. Bennett was organist.

Bro. Calvin Clyde was secretary.

A roll of those attending the conference session (total – 105) is here.

  1. Eliot A. Butler Journal, Entry covering period 18 May 1945 to September 25, 1945. []
  2. I suspect that not all of the soldiers were happy to be enlisted until “the conflict [was] o’er.” They had followed the news of the Japanese resistance at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and many feared that the war might not be over for two or three more years. They of course had no way of knowing that even as they were meeting near Marseille, the Enola Gay was approaching Hiroshima. The atomic bombing of that city and of Nagasaki three days later brought the war to a much speedier end than any of those men in Marseille would have expected. []


  1. Note that this account is posted on August 5 — the anniversary of the meeting itself. How cool is that?

    I can’t begin to understand quite what it must have felt like for Latter-day Saints to be together in such a large group for the first time in many months, or even years in some cases. Maybe we take the “spirit of gathering” for granted when it’s a weekly thing.

    Thanks, Mark.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2013 @ 8:07 am

  2. Sixty-eight years ago today. That’s amazing. The note from your father’s journal is a wonderful addition to the story of this meeting, as is your second footnote.

    As I looked through the list of servicemen and servicewomen, I saw a few familiar names, including a distinctive family name that I didn’t know had any connection to the church. It will be interesting to find out if there is a connection.

    Comment by Amy T — August 5, 2013 @ 8:23 am

  3. I think the guy that spoke, Spencer D. Madsen, may have been my great uncle. If it’s not him, I’ll bet it was some kind of relative. This really is a cool glimpse into how important a meeting like that would have been to those so far away from home at such a hard time.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — August 5, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  4. I checked. I think it was him, because he was a chaplain in the army and a WWII and Korean veteran. He went by Duane, though. His dad’s name was Spencer. He died about 7 years ago.
    You know, I feel like I’ve finally arrived, to have a relative mentioned on Keepa.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — August 5, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  5. Welcome, Jeannine–you have definitely arrived!

    The Army was pretty strict about what names people were called. It was First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name. So, whatever your great uncle was called in civilian life, the Army would have called him Spencer D. Madsen.

    I had an uncle who joined the army during the war, then made the air force his career. As a boy, he went by his middle name, Terrance, or Terry. But in the service he was Dan T. Rogers. So I always knew him as Uncle Dan. Old folks who knew him as a child would still call him Terrance, which was very confusing for me when I was a child.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2013 @ 9:27 am

  6. For many of us it was our first contact with men of our own faith since leaving the States. Stanley Kartchner from home was there, so the two of us had a wonderful time exchanging home news between meetings.

    Thanks for this. What a great image of the happy soldiers, talking and laughing.

    Comment by David Y. — August 5, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  7. I have finally arrived, too. A second cousin twice removed, but still a mention on keepa! Thanks for all the really great finds you share on here. I love this site.

    Comment by Rachelle — August 5, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  8. Oh. My. Word. So the closing prayer was given by William M. McKay who is listed as a pilot. I think this guy was a nephew of David O. McKay and the son of William M. McKay Sr.
    The guy who built my house.
    What a post this has been.

    I meant to comment here, but I was so excited that I put the comment on the page with the list. Sheesh.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — August 5, 2013 @ 10:08 am

  9. Jeannine: I found your great uncle’s obituary, and see that his sister was Bertie Jackson, who was my neighbor (and her sons one of my good friends) in Provo. So, the connections will keep on rolling along.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2013 @ 10:44 am

  10. One woman in attendance, Lt. Elizabeth A. Gleason – 140 Evac. Hosp, likely a nurse. Thanks, Mark, very interesting.

    Comment by kevinf — August 5, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  11. No. Way. Did you go to her funeral? Because I was there.

    And which son?

    Too funny.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — August 5, 2013 @ 11:23 am

  12. Jeannine and Rachelle —

    While this is Mark’s party today, I just want to jump in and say how tickled I am that you have found family connections. Thanks for being loyal Keepa’ninnies.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  13. Kevin,

    You’re right–Lt. Gleason was a nurse. See this link, search “Gleason” or scroll down.

    She mentions (in the passage quoted below) an LDS meeting near Marseille, although the date doesn’t quite match her recollection. And the “Roy Olson” whom she mentioned was very likely the Lt. Ernest L. Olson listed next to her in the roll of attendees.

    The war in Europe ended in May. The unit to which I was assigned was disbanded. I was transferred to the 35th Station Hospital, and we were flown to Marseille on the 26th of June for staging for the CBI theater. We were billeted in what had been a French cavalry post outside the city. The first Sunday there, I attended a meeting of Latter-day Saint service personnel. After climbing steep steps to the meeting place, as I was about to take one giant step, I heard a voice saying, “Can I give you a helping hand, Lieutenant Gleason?” as a young man reached down to my hand and helped me up the step. It was Roy Olson, whom I had met when he was in Officers’ Candidate School at Carlisle and attended church services at the Harrisburg Branch. It was great seeing him, for we had a pleasant, friendly relationship. Through him I met other members of the Church, who made very positive impressions on me and influenced my decision to be baptized.

    It seems that the “Lt. Earnest [sic] L. Olson” was Ernest L. Olson, later the head of the BYU University Press and, after retirement, the president of the Sweden Stockholm Mission.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

  14. Jeannine: No, I wasn’t at her funeral, since I live 2,000 miles away. And, Kelly was my classmate.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  15. Such a small world. And in the church world, it’s even smaller.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — August 5, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

  16. Does anybody else find it weird that the only High Priest in the audience was a private? (There were also two civilian high priests, Brown and Nydegger, on the stand presiding over or conducting the meeting.) How often does that happen?

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 6, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  17. Last Lemming, I wonder if the lack of high priests can be explained by most high priests being older men who were not likely to have been drafted/of the age to volunteer? Yeah, there are occasional young high priests (maybe this private), and there might have been a few older men who were both military officers and high priests, but most of the troops would have been rather young to be high priests.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  18. Actually, Bro. Nydegger was not a civilian, as the next installment in this series will show. He was a “Warrant Officer, junior grade” in the 721st Field Artillery. At the time of this conference in Marseille, he was just a few days shy of his 31st birthday, was a returned missionary (having served beginning in fall 1934 in the Texas Mission), and had served, if my memory serves, in a bishopric.

    I think Ardis is right about the relative lack of high priests–most of the men were young, so young that there were few high priests. In fact, I was surprised at the high number of elders.

    But I suspect that my dad’s experience was similar to many of the others’–he joined the army shortly after he finished high school (although he was just a few months past his 17th birthday); in the spring of 1944 he received orders to the 66th Infantry Division, and traveled from Southern California to Texas for training, and had either leave or a delay-in-route and visited his parents in Snowflake, Arizona. While there he was ordained an elder. At the time of the conference in Marseille, he was about 19 years and six months old–and about six months from promotion to Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank in the Army.

    But why was an older man, a high priest, only a private? The romantic in me wants to think that, being a high priest, he fell asleep on guard duty and instead of being court martialed and shot he was just busted from sergeant back down to private. I suspect, though, that the real explanation was that as the Army’s appetite for men increased, and the age of draftees rose (and deferments or exemptions were eliminated) that some older men came into the army relatively late.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 6, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  19. Hey, I knew Calvin Clyde! He became an engineering prof at Utah State, which I attended my freshman year, and I dated his granddaughter in Mn in high school!

    Comment by Ben s — August 6, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  20. Yes, Ben. That was going to come out in the next installment, but thanks for the sneak preview!

    Comment by Mark B. — August 6, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

  21. All of that, including Ben’s dating history??

    And there’s going to be more? That’s great news! I’ll be looking forward to the next post. This gives some idea about my grandfathers’ experiences in the war.

    Comment by Amy T — August 6, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

  22. Thank you for posting this. My grandfather was Irvin Nydegger, who was conducting the meeting. We have read many accounts of his time in the 66th Infantry Division (Black Panthers) but this added a personal touch. Thank you!

    Comment by Corinne Nydegger — July 5, 2014 @ 11:36 pm

  23. In addition, Grandpa Irvin was not in the 721 Field Artillery at this time. He was still in the 66th Infantry. I will check my dates, but I am pretty sure of this. With that said, you are correct that he was not civilian. He had served a mission in Texas and had been in 2 bishoprics by the age of 30.

    Comment by Corinne Nydegger — July 6, 2014 @ 12:05 am

  24. Just checked and the 721 Field Artillery was part of the 66th infantry. So you’re correct. 😉

    Comment by Corinne Nydegger — July 6, 2014 @ 12:27 am

  25. Corinne, it’s always fun to hear from readers who have found a family connection to something in Keepa. You clearly know a lot about your grandfather’s service, and it’s a pleasure to be able to give you one more bit to add to what you already know. Cheers!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 6, 2014 @ 6:52 am

  26. Corinne, I appreciate your coming by and commenting. Reading through the comments reminds me that I had promised a follow-up post. I’ll get to work on that.

    Just a note on U.S. Army organization during World War II. Most of the ground campaigns in the European Theater were carried out by Infantry Divisions, which in the case of the 66th division consisted of three infantry regiments (the 262nd, 263rd, and 264th Infantry Regiments), four field artillery battalions (including the 721st), a mechanized reconaissance troop, a medical battalion, a combat engineer battalion and several other small groups of auxiliary troops (including a band!). The infantry divisions were designated by number and name–the 1st Division was the Big Red One, and the 66th was the Black Panther division.

    The regiments were commonly referred to as the “(ordinal number) Infantry”–for example, my father was in the “262nd Infantry.” The same pattern was followed for the field artillery battalions–Bro. Nydegger was in the “721st Field Artillery” and for the airborne divisions–most of the men in those divisions were in either Parachute Infantry Regiments or Glider Infantry Regiments, and the word “regiment” would be dropped from the common designation.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 6, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

  27. Thanks for the response and clarification. Army organization is not my forte. 😉 So your explanation helps me make more sense of the terms I see in my histories.

    Thank you again for your post. It has been fascinating to read and I’ll be anxiously awaiting your follow-up post.

    Comment by Corinne Nydegger — July 6, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

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