DOWN ON THE RIVIERA – GI’S RELAX IN NICE, FRANCE

Posted on October 6th, 2016 by:

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DOWN ON THE RIVIERA – GI’S RELAX IN NICE, FRANCE

By Sgt. Ralph G. Martin

YANK Staff Correspondent

At headquarters of the U.S. Riviera Recreational Area in Nice is a sign that describes the setup. “GI paradise,” it says, “Off-Limits to Officers.”



THE RIVIERA—The two soldiers had expected the soft beds and hot water and fancy-dressed waiters. Still, it was wonderful to bounce up and down on the beds, to turn on the hot water and eel it and stare at it luxuriously for a few minutes, to sing out, “Hey, garcon, how about another hunk of steak?” Just to make sure they could.

And they had heard something about the beautiful warm sunshine and the beautiful scenery and the beautiful women. They had felt the hot sun seeping through the train long before they ever got to Nice. As for the scenery, they saw it wherever they looked. It reminded them of the best parts of Florida, California, Main and Oregon—and everything in between. And the women: “Oh-la-la, Mama Mia, Let me look at that stuff….”

WWII GI's French Riviera

It used to be the most luxurious gambling casino on the Riviera and now it’s a Red Cross Club where combat men on leave relax in soft, deep chairs and watch the world and the women go by.

Two of the women were with them when they saw the floor show at one of the GI night clubs and drank some cognac and then went walking on the Promenade des Anglais along the seashore. That’s when they spotted this MP coming at them.

All the MP said, though, was, “Beautiful night for love, isn’t it?”

After he walked away, one of the soldiers looked at his buddy and said, “Do you think maybe we’ve been killed and this is Heaven?”

His buddy just looked at him, then looked at the women and shook his head. “Naw,” he said, “It couldn’t be Heaven. If it was we’d never been able to get in.”

It isn’t heaven, but the big sign in the lobby of the United States Riviera Recreational Area headquarters in Nice says, “GI Paradise, Off Limits to Officers.”

That’s just what it is, Paradise. And it’s strictly and completely for the combat soldier. Seven whole days and seven whole nights.

Men come here by the trainload several times a week now, representing every division of every army on the Western Front. They come tired and dirty and excited, each soldier holding onto an envelope which includes his hotel room reservation and a small booklet telling him what the setup us.

The setup is this:

If a soldier wants to sleep for 48 hours, he can sleep for 48 hours; if the weather’s too warm and he doesn’t want to wear a tie, he doesn’t wear a tie; if he wants to go on a seven-day drunk, he’s crazy.

“There’s just no percentage to getting drunk here,” said Pfc. Robert Hall, North Andover, Mass., a machine gunner with D Company of the 407th Regiment of the 102d Division. “There’s just too damn much to do….”

Everything from water bicycles to tea dances, from girlie shows to opera, to tennis to underwater fish-hunting, from yacht-cruising to golf, from surf-riding to roller-skating, from pinball machines to bicycles.



WWII GI's French Riviera

Maybe they’ll start out like this, just three soldiers, but before they come back, the odds are good that the buggy will be much more crowded with three extra French passengers-female.

But most soldiers want to relax, completely. Just stretch out in the sun, snooze a little, stare at the women looking incredibly naked in their scanty bathing suits, just forget all about the goddam war.

“It isn’t too easy to forget everything, all of a sudden, just like that,” said Sgt. Harold Levy, a tank commander in the Second Armored Division, who now has five hashmarks and a Purple Heart.

“And it wasn’t too easy to leave the boys, either,” said Levy’s Buddy, John Pellicci, a platoon sergeant in the same 67th Regiment. The two of them have been together ever since they first came into the Army. Aside from their Purple Heart trips to the hospital, this is the first time that either of them has been away from the outfit since St. Lo.

“But the guys are pretty swell about it,” said Pellicci. “They told us to do everything that they would do so that when we came back, we could tell them all about it.”

So the first night Levy and Pellicci went on a binge, got drunk enough to get all the war tension out of their systems. Levy carried Pellicci up seven flights and put him to bed that night.

After that they didn’t drink any more, except for some beer. They went everywhere, saw everything, didn’t miss a trick. They took the excursion to Grasse to see the perfume factories, went along on a boat ride to Monte Carlo. They swam, rode bicycles, did some shopping and went fishing (Pellicci used to like to go trout fishing near Pelham, N.Y.).

“We did lots of things that I never thought I’d be doing again,” said Levy who was once wounded three times in a single afternoon. “I wish all the guys up front would get a chance to come here.”

WWII GI's French Riviera

They sit down at a table and sing out: “Hey, garcon, how about some ice cream, toot sweet.” And if they want an encore, they get it, just like that.

“You know what this place is,” said Pellicci. “It’s the kind of place I used to see back home on those technicolor travel posters when I used to look at them and say, ‘Geez, I’d like to go there sometime when I scrape together a million bucks.’ That’s what this is,” he said. “It’s a millionaire’s cavation on a GI salary.”

Actually, though, there aren’t many things you can even spend money on. Practically everything this free. About the only places where you can spend money are the GI night clubs (six of them so far, each with a dance floor, orchestra, and floor show). Cognac sets you back 30 francs there; beer costs you five.

These night clubs look like night clubs. Soft lights, smooth orchestras, boucoups good-looking women, fast-moving floor shows and good service.

All six were night clubs before the war. Reynaud’s located on the Quai des Etats-Unis, fronting the sea, was one of the most famous rendezvous of the whole Riviera. Reynaud himself will tell you that he once had three kings in his place in a single evening. Most popular of the six, though, is the Crown Club at the Ruhl Hotel. It looks like one of those big places on Broadway, like the Diamond Horseshoe.



“I personally like the Copacabana,” said S/Sgt. George Driscoll, a platoon sergeant with the 311th Regiment of the 78th Division. “It reminds me of George’s Dance Hall back home in Buena Vista, Va.” He said, in his slow southern drawl. “Maybe it’s not as fancy as the other places, but it’s just like George’s and I always had a sentimental attachment for George’s Dance Hall.”

Driscoll then told how he came to the Copacabana every night, for a little while anyway.

“And with a different girl each time, of course,” he said winking, patting his petite brunette affectionately on the head.

That’s the number one important thing about Nice—the women.

“They’re absolutely positively the most sensational, the most terrific, the most beautiful, wonderful, glamourous women I’ve ever seen in all my life,” said T/Sgt. Thomas Connally of the 399th Regiment of the 100th Division.

He thought about that a minute.

“Or maybe I’ve just been in the line too long,” he said.

But that’s the consensus: the women are terrific. Soldiers will talk for hours on these women wear their clothes, the way they wear their hair, the way they ride bicycles, the way they look in bathing suits.

“Real Hollywood stuff,” said Cpl. Jerry Shapiro of the 82d Airborne Division, “and the wonderful thing about it is that there’s so many of them.”

Sometimes, late at night, you can hear some of the soldiers walking the streets, loudly singing:

“The girls are fairer

Down on the Riviera

So give a vive la, vive la France.”

The wine is stronger;

The kisses, linger longer.

So give a vive la, vive la France.”

If you ask the Nicois women, they’ll tell you that the feeling is mutual.

“We girls so much like these Americans,” said Simone Randon, who is studying to be a pharmacist. “Oh, the way they jitterbug….I like that, And they know so quickly how to be informal… I like that too.  I hope they stay here a long time,” she said.



WWII GI's French Riviera

This is one of the six GI night clubs at the Riviera Recreational Area. The first sergeant is telling this blonde babe how much he likes blonde babes.

She also said that she thought the Americans had very nice character and that all the boys called her “Shorty” and that everybody, absolutely everybody, told her, “You have a pair of very beautiful eyes, baby.” She has gray eyes.

Some of the other girls told how the soldiers seemed a little stiff and awkward sometimes.

“From the way they talk and joke with us, it seems as if they are trying to get into practice again on how to act with women,” said Josette, a cute little brunette who works in the information booth at the Hotel Negresco.

Then Josette added:

“But they are always very clean and very lively, like children.

Occasionally, especially on their first night in Nice, some of the “children” get a little too lively. When that happens, the MPs step in. But these MPs are like no MPs anywhere. Almost all of them either wear Purple Hearts or Combat Infantryman’s badges. Instead of throwing any slaphappy soldier in the clink for drinking two quarts too much, they take him home to his hotel and put him to bed.

“Every once in a while, some of them will ask how come we don’t bother them,” said Pvt. William Hutchison, New Hampshire, Ohio, who used to be a rifleman with the 26th Division. “I just tell them that we’re here to help them, not screw them up.

“That’s the reason all of us MPs are ex-combat men, I guess,” he continued, “because we know how we’d feel if we were in their shoes.”

Hutchison told how the whole MP outfit expected the “restees” to blow their top when they came here, just tear the town apart.

“But you’d be surprised how few drunks we have,” said Hutchinson. “I mean the real wild, sloppy drunks,” he said. “Most of the guys tell us that they’re here for a rest in the first place and in the second place the whole setup is just too good to be true and they don’t want to flub up the deal for the other guys who haven’t come yet.”

The weekly turnover of combat soldiers being accommodated her in Nice has been doubling every week so far. It started with a trainload of 600 and now the USRRA takes care of 2,500 weekly in 26 different hotels.  But already they’re thinking in terms of a weekly turnover of 62,500 soldiers in more than 450 hotels stretching from San Raphael to Monte Carlo, using at least 30 night clubs, 200 luxury boats of all types, opening more shows, more amusements of every type.



They’re already working on some huge outdoor dance pavilions and beer halls, right on the beaches; four bathhouses underneath the Promenade des Anglais which will accommodate at least 10,000 soldiers; the municipal stadium which will have every conceivable type of sport, except javelin throwing (they’re still hunting for javelins).

CO of this whole business (and it is a business, now employing 2,400 civilians) is Col. Thomas Gunn. His Special Service Officer in charge of all the entertainment is Maj. Benjamin Bosley, who came here from the Pacific, where he set up similar rest areas in Bougainville and Guadalcanal. The major, who is 57 now, enlisted in the Army as a buck private at the age of 52. He has two sons in the Army.

“I keep thinking of all these soldiers in terms of my two sons. For my money, there’s nothing too good for them.”

He told how the basic USRRA policy was a gentleman’s agreement on behavior—an absolute minimum of regulations, providing the soldiers did their part. So far, everybody’s happy.

There is a night-duty officer assigned to each night club but his orders are to stay out of sight, keep off the dance floor, never get near the bar. However, the regulations do say this:

“The duty officer may be served fruit juices.”

“When I was in combat, I used to day dream, like everybody else, about all the things I’d like to do if I ever got out alive,” said Pvt. LaVern Sellard of the 377 Parachute FA Bn.

“But now I can say that during my even days and nights here, I’ve done absolutely everything I ever dreamt about. And then some.”

That was one of the comments on the USRRA questionnaire which soldiers are asked to fill out just before they leave.

The only bitch they every got was from a soldier who said:

“I don’t like this place because the girl at the information desk won’t go out with me.”

Cpl. Joe Jackson of the 95th Division summed up the setup this way:

“I think this is the nicest place in the world, with the exception of Brooklyn.”



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