My grandfather, Frederick Leighton Durham, served in the 39th Machine Records Unit during World War II. He never spoke much about his time in the war. He only said that he logged soldiers’ deaths. As a young girl I got it into my mind that he was nothing more than a desk clerk, filing papers far behind the lines of any real combat, and I was disappointed. I wanted to hear stories about storming the shores of Normandy, capturing unsuspecting Germans, and deciphering codes. The only person my grandfather ever shot was the mess sergeant who wandered off one night and didn’t answer in time when they called out for the password. My grandfather shot him in the ass.
The fact is, the Machine Records Units were a vital part of the war effort and gave the Allied forces an enormous advantage over the Germans, communicating supply needs and keeping track of soldiers, casualties and missing persons. They went everywhere combat troops went and at times were under enemy fire. They were so valuable, German officers were given orders to hunt them down and take all machines, records, and personnel alive.
Here are a few good articles on M.R.U.s if you find yourself, like me, knowing very little about their role in WWII:
I came across an interview yesterday of a man that served in the 39th Machine Records Unit at the end of the war. He was stationed in Munich, Germany along with my grandfather. From reading the interview, I discovered that they lived and were headquartered out of the Munich City hall, which was still intact though certainly battered. They spent their days interviewing and training civilians, working towards the denazification of Germany, and at times they guarded prisoners and cleaned up debris in the city of Munich.
It seems my grandfather was far more than just a desk clerk.