Greenway Library frieze

Alan Forster, Room Guide, Greenway Alan Forster Room Guide, Greenway

During the Second World War Greenway was requisitioned by the U.S. Coast Guard. One of the men stationed here, Lt Marshall Lee, left a unique memento in the Library.

A historic memorial

In the library the frieze encircles all four walls. It's made up of 13 murals which were painted during the Second World War, when the house was occupied by Flotilla 10 of the U.S. Coast Guard in the preparations for D-Day. They were sailing a new type of landing craft called a Landing Craft Infantry (Large) or LCI(L ) that was capable of landing 200 troops directly onto an enemy beach. Because of its flat bottom and no keel it was unpleasant to sail in and the crew maintained that LCI really stood for ‘Lousy Civilian Idea’. 


Preparing for D-Day

In January 1944 a flotilla of twenty four landing crafts together, with their commanders and support staff, arrived in the River Dart from the USA. 51 captains and members of the planning team stayed in the house, and they remained at Greenway until just before D-Day. Many rooms in the house were used as bedrooms for three to four men, and the Flotilla Commander and his two deputies using Agatha’s bedroom itself.

Segregation and the United States military

The United States military forces, like the US civilian population, were racially segregated during the Second World War. 130,000 African American troops were in Britain prior to D-Day. In 'Black and British' David Olusoga argues that although racial prejudice was rife in Britain in the 1940s, the British public were welcoming to African American troops. Many British people protested the violent and racist behaviour of some of the white American troops towards their black counterparts in Britain, and the racial segregation imposed on the American troops.

5,000 African American men were part of the US Coastguard. African American troops were stationed in Exeter, Devon, prior to D-Day but we are still researching to find out if any African American troops were stationed at Greenway. Our research is ongoing and we are accelerating plans to reinterpret the stories of the painful and challenging histories attached to National Trust places. This will take time as we want to ensure that changes we make are sustained and underpinned by high quality research.

Painting the murals

The Library was kept as their recreation and ‘mess room’ with a bar set up in the alcove. During their six-month stay Lt Marshall Lee, one of the landing craft captains who was a graphic artist, painted the twelve coloured murals that make up the major part of the frieze. The murals were painted using just four colours; blue, khaki, black and white, and depict incidents that occurred during their eleven months’ journey to Greenway.
The frieze shows Orange and Houston where the U.S. Coast Guard's landing craft were built, and Galveston where their journey to Greenway began
A close up of the frieze in the Library at Greenway, Devon
The frieze shows Orange and Houston where the U.S. Coast Guard's landing craft were built, and Galveston where their journey to Greenway began
It starts to the left of the fireplace with the building and commissioning of the LCI(L) at Orange and Houston in America, and then progresses in a clockwise direction around the room. The murals show many of the places they visited including Key West, Norfolk, Bermuda, Port Lyautey, Arzu, Beni Saf, Bizerte. It also shows the enemy actions that they were involved in at Licata and Salerno. It ends over the doorway with their arrival in the River Dart, with Greenway shown perched high above the river and their craft below.  


Mystery nude

There is a monochrome mural of a nude lady reclining, which  is still something of an enigma as it doesn't fit with the style or story of the rest of the frieze. It is thought that it may have been painted by the Command Staff that remained at Greenway until they returned to the USA in October 1944. 
The nude in the frieze seems very different in style from the rest of the paintings
A close up of the nude as part of the frieze in the Library at Greenway
The nude in the frieze seems very different in style from the rest of the paintings

Reuniting Greenway and Agatha

When the house was unexpectedly decommissioned and returned to Agatha on Christmas Day 1945, she was pleased to see that little damage had been done but was somewhat surprised to find the graffiti left in the library. The commander wrote to Agatha offering to have ‘the fresco’ painted out and, as her autobiography records, she hurriedly wrote back that ‘it would be an historic memorial and I was delighted to have it’. 

Agatha Christie's Greenway