Albion Central Schools Veterans History Project
Robert James Christy
Mr. Christy at Albion Central School
ROBERT JAMES CHRISTY: BIOGRAPHICAL & MILITARY SERVICE INFORMATION
- Birthplace: Medina, New York
- Place of Residence*: Albion, New York
*at time of interview
- Wars of Service: World War II
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit/Division/Regiment/Ship: 29th Division
- Date of Birth: August 3, 1912
- Method of Induction: Drafted
- Service Dates: 5/15/1942 - 10/26/1945
- Place of Service: Ireland, England, US, Iceland
When the Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Mr. Christy was actually playing in a band for a radio station in Batavia. His band had been playing dance music, which was being broadcast live, around 2 p.m. or so, but every few minutes the radio station kept interrupting them to make special announcements. It wasn’t until after they were finished playing that Mr. Christy realized that the United States had been attacked and would probably go to war!
Mr. Christy was drafted for service on May 15, 1942. After training in Wyoming, he was sent to England on the Queen Elizabeth, a famous passenger boat that the government had taken control of to transport soldiers over to Europe. Originally, the ship was built to hold about 5,600 people. During World War II, it was refitted to fit about 15,000 troops. When Mr. Christy was sent across the Atlantic, there were over 18,000 troops on the ship! There were so many men on board that they had to sleep in shifts, taking turns on the hammocks/cots, because there wasn't enough sleeping space for everyone!
Mr. Christy’s first job in the Army was as a motorcycle mechanic…but, since they didn’t have any motorcycles where he was stationed in England(!), he was given more training to learn how to use small arms/weapons...everything from pistols to mortars.
While in England, Mr. Christy was given a short furlough and went to London, England. While he was there, the city was attacked by German planes. To survive these bombing attacks, the people of London had trained to go to places of safety, especially in the subway tunnels deep under the city, where they would wait for the attacks to end. Mr. Christy recalls that on this attack, a group of people must have tripped or been knocked down the long set of stairs that led down into the deep subway…and several people were killed or injured as a result.
Long before he was sent to England, Mr. Christy had applied for OCS (Officer Candidate School). Many months later (so much later that he almost forgot he had applied to the School in the first place!), Mr. Christy's commander told him he had to appear before a selection board to see if he'd be sent to OCS. Mr. Christy didn’t think he had much of a chance of getting in because his uniform was very wrinkled, from being stuffed into a duffle bag. (In many cases, how a person is dressed can make a difference as to whether they’re accepted by a school or for a job.) Despite his wrinkled clothing, the board accepted Mr. Christy into the Officer Candidate School and the Army sent him back to the United States for this additional training.
Mr. Christy left Officer Candidate School before completing that training and was sent back to England and then to Iceland. Several soldiers were stationed in Iceland during the war…at the high point, there were over 150,000 troops in Reykjavik [pronounced “Ray-key-uh-vick”], the capital city of Iceland, which is more than the city’s normal population! In Iceland, Mr. Christy was put in charge of a refrigeration storage area on the docks. He finds it funny that his job was “to make ice in Iceland!”---but actually, what some people he talks to don’t know is that Iceland actually gets pretty warm (even up to 70° in the summer), so they do need ice.
By a remarkable twist of fate, Mr. Christy ran into another man from Albion, New York while in Iceland, more than 2,500 miles from home! The Army had sent mosquito netting to a warehouse in Iceland by mistake (as you might imagine, Iceland doesn’t have mosquitoes). Mr. Christy and a crew of men were sent to this warehouse, quite a distance from where they normally worked, to pack up this mosquito equipment so it could be sent back. While he was there, he talked to a man who was on guard duty at the warehouse. When Mr. Christy said he was from Albion, the guard said that his unit, which was housed across the street, also had a man from Albion. Mr. Christy went over to see this man, who turned out to be Otis Vagg. The two met up later when they were off duty and went to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, to meet a third man, Harold Knapp, who was also from Albion. In all, Mr. Christy learned that there were six men from the town of Albion who were stationed in Iceland.
After serving in Iceland for a time, Mr. Christy earned a furlough to the United States…so he crossed the Atlantic Ocean yet again and spent a month back home in New York before returning to Iceland.
One day, when Mr. Christy was still in Iceland, several boats in the harbor began firing their guns and making a lot of noise. Mr. Christy couldn’t figure out what was happening or why the ships were doing that, although he suspected that it meant that the Japanese had surrendered… It wasn't until a few hours later, after his work shift had ended, that he found out this was true and that the people on the ships had been celebrating the end of the war. After the war was over, Mr. Christy was dismissed from service and allowed to go back home. He was sent back to the United States, crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a sixth and final time!