Southampton has played a vital and integral role in this country’s many wars over the years, from the Hundred Years’ War when Henry V led his men through the Westgate en route to Agincourt, to the World Wars of the 20th century when millions upon millions of men passed through the town. In the First World War alone, 8,149,685 soldiers from every corner of the globe passed through Southampton.
To sustain the liberation of Europe in the months after D-Day, Southampton was used continously to transport more troops and equipment over to France and beyond. Each American soldier who passed through the port would pass through a counting machine and on the 25th of October 1944 the machine ticked over to 1,000,000.
Private Paul Shimer Jr, from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was the soldier who made history. He was pulled aside and presented with a placard that read ‘The Millionth Yank‘ as he posed for a photo with Southampton’s mayor, Rex Stranger.
To show the large scale in which the Americans passed through the port, the ‘Two Millionth Yank‘ passed through Southampton on the 16th of January 1945, less than three months later.
Paul Shimer Jr was promoted to Sergeant and was wounded in that month, January 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his bravery.
Tragically, Sergeant Paul Shimer Jr was killed in action on the 14th of April 1945, less than a month before the war in Europe ended. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery near Saint-Avold in the north-east of France.
The story doesn’t end there, however. In 1947, Southampton’s war-time mayor Rex Stranger visited Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife, in order to visit the Shimer family and pay his respects to the man he had met back in 1944. Rex Stranger and his wife decided to place £1000 in a trust fund for Paul Shimer’s six year old daughter’s education. In return, the people of Chambersburg raised $3000 for Rex Stranger to give to charities in England, and they also gave him a crate of apples for the schoolchildren of Southampton.