Assignment to Toul Rosieres Air Base in 1955 - The Experiences of Richard and Helen Burton
Liverdun
Chapter 2

They were called "caravans", and for many American servicemen sent to France in the early 1950s, they became the solution to the acute housing shortage. Very little information was available about the new bases in France, but we were advised that there was no base housing and that housing on the French economy was very hard to find and not up to American standards. Luckily, I arrived at Toul Rosieres right in the middle of a major transition, and I discovered that one of these caravans was for sale if I acted quickly, which I did. The owner, a S/Sgt like myself with a wife and small child, was returning to the States. I learned later that he had owned it for less than a year. It was located in a small trailer park in Liverdun.

I didn't know it at the time, but I soon learned that these little English made house trailers were ubiquitous in and around Toul Rosieres, and probably in and around all of the new American Air Force and Army installations in France. Some entrepreneur had begun selling these Willerby house trailers to American servicemen in 1954 or possibly earlier. Other French entrepreneurs had created small trailer parks near the bases, and suddenly many Americans had found a solution to the housing shortage in France. Then later in 1954 and in 1955, the Air Force had the Army Engineer Aviation Battalions lay out and construct trailer parks on the bases, and eventually the Air Force procured larger trailers to place in these new trailer parks. There was already a trailer park full of these small trailers at Toul Rosieres when I arrived in February of 1955, but the one I had bought was in the Liverdun trailer park.

Liverdun is about seven miles southeast of the base. The road from the base to Liverdun goes past Rosieres en Haye, through some rich farm country, down a hill next to the hilltop town of Liverdun, and then crosses the Moselle River. Right next to the bridge before the road crosses the river on the east side was a restaurant with a long balcony overlooking a grassy area and the river. This establishment was called Sport Nautique de Liverdun. The owner's name was Paul, and many Americans knew him because he also sold bottled propane to all the trailers. Behind his restaurant/bar was his small trailer park which may have held ten or twelve house trailers at one time. When we moved into our trailer toward the end of May 1955, there were only five or six trailers left in the lot. We later learned that many airmen From Toul Rosieres were being transferred to Evreux that spring, and some who had been in Paul's trailer park had taken their caravans to Evreux.

The evening that we drove in from Orly Field I took Helen and Cynthia directly to our little caravan in Liverdun. I had already stocked up some groceries, and Capt. Zitzler had given me a few days off to get my family settled in our new living quarters. Neither of us spoke any French, and we didn't have a car. The first couple of weeks were difficult, but we were together again, so it became an adventure. We met the other couples living there, and I hitched rides to work with a couple of them those first weeks. Friends that I worked with came out and took us to the BX and Commissary. We walked into the town of Liverdun a few times and learned how to order drinks at a sidewalk cafe. One day we started walking toward the base and someone came by and gave us a ride. On sunny afternoons, we went to Paul's restaurant and sat in chairs on the grass near the river drinking beer. We liked to watch the barges on the canal cross the river on the old, stone bridge with the Roman arches. One evening we had a bonfire in the middle of our trailer court and we roasted hot dogs with the others who still lived there. Another evening we found a miniature golf course in Liverdun and spent an hour playing golf.

By the first of June, I had arranged to purchase a new Renault 4CV for $850.00. I financed it for one year and we picked it up at the Renault dealer in Nancy on 2 June 1955. Having a car solved our major problem, but there were other problems we had to deal with. There were less and less people in our trailer park, and Helen was feeling lonely all day when I was at work. We had no way to wash clothes except by hand in our small kitchen sink. There were no showers, and we had to sponge bathe to stay clean. It was like camping out - fun for a while, but not the way we wanted to live.

Those English made, Willerby caravans were all the same. They were only 21 feet long, painted green and light yellow, and they had tires so they could be pulled to a new location. At the front was a tiny living room that could be converted to a child's bedroom at night. The main door was in the middle and facing the door were two small closets with a small, mirrored vanity between them. Inside the door to the right was an area that could be an L shaped couch, or a dining table with cushioned seats on two sides, or a bedroom for two adults. The table folded away when the double bed was lowered from the front wall, then the bed had to be folded back into the wall before the table could be set up. In the rear was a tiny kitchen with one small sink, a small refrigerator and a small gas stove. Above the sink was a small hot water heater. To the right of the kitchen was a toilet. Bottled propane fueled the stove and the hot water heater. There was no heater, so we had to buy an English made Aladdin kerosene stove that sat in the middle of the floor. Without heat, it was cold and humid, especially at night. Helen's suede shoes became covered with green mold in the damp closets. My new Renault wouldn't start in the morning until I wiped the moisture off the electrical contacts in the engine compartment.

For about a month, it was fun and frustrating. Then I learned that there were several vacancies in the on base trailer park that had been built the year before. Apparently several families had been transferred to Evreux, and they had taken their caravans with them. I applied to move our trailer on base, and about the middle of June my application was approved. We had our trailer pulled to the base and Paul was the one who hooked up the water, sewer, and electricity that very afternoon. Our sojourn by the Moselle in Liverdun was over, and we began a new phase of our lives in France.


Helen and Cynthia on the porch of our caravan - close up

Helen and Cynthia on the porch of our caravan - broad view

Cynthia sitting by the pull down bed

Cynthia bathing in the kitchen sink

Cynthia after her bath

Helen drying Cynthia on kitchen counter

Barge on bridge over Moselle in Liverdun

End of Chapter Two

Chapter One - Getting to France

Chapter Three - The Old Trailer Park


Return to Menu

Return to Around the Area

Return to Main Site