Orange Ship at Agatha Christie House
Last updated 12/19/2023 at 7:51pm
Huw and Martha Howells of Orangefield were surprised to see a touch of Orange, Texas, when they visited crime writer Agatha Christie's home in Devon, England, this summer. In the home's library is a mural painted by Lt. Marshall Lee of the United States Navy showing the route his landing craft infantry (LCI) ship took out of the Orange shipyard in February 1943 on the way to North Africa, Sicily and on to England to participate in the DDay events.
"The mural began in the left corner of the library as you entered, so the first thing I saw was the words Orange, Houston and Galveston," Martha said. "I could not believe what I was seeing, because the last thing I expected to see was Orange, Texas, commemorated in a mural on a wall in a room of Agatha Christie's house in Devon, England."
Martha said the docent working in the library was excited to talk with
somebody from one of the American cities included in the mural and said the story of their meeting would enhance her tours in the future.
The docent tried to find a photo of the mural showing the Orange, Houston and Galveston site but could not, and the Howells were not allowed to take their own photo because of the house rules.
Martha and Huw were in England visiting his parents' home at Lands End when they toured the Agatha Christie house which was about 100 miles away.
Huw was born in Wales and grew up in Crowborough 35 miles south of London. He came to Texas in the mid-1980s because his parents lived in Beaumont at that time. This is where he met Martha, who is an English and language arts teacher at Orangefield Junior High School and a fan of Agatha Christie's writings.
Lt. Marshall Lee was the second commanding officer of LCI 96, which was part of a flotilla made up of 24 landing craft infantry ships built by Consolidated Steel Corp. in Orange. After the units were commissioned, they assembled in Galveston where they were formed into Flotilla 10. In February 1943 the flotilla departed from Galveston and sailed on to Key West, Fla., and eventually across the Atlantic.
During the fall of 1943, Agatha Chris-tie's home, known as the Greenway House, was requisitioned for the use of the U.S. Navy. The home became the headquarters ashore and officers' mess for Flotilla 10 based in the Dart River.
Lee painted the mural while billeted at the house from late 1943 to June 1944 prior to the Normandy Landings of World War II. The mural depicts the journey of LCI 96 from Orange to Key West, Norfolk, Va.; Morocco, Salerno, Sicily, Falmouth and Dartmouth to name a few.
After the war was over, the commander of the flotilla wrote and asked Agatha Christie if she wanted the mural painted over and the wall restored as it was before.
"I hurriedly replied it would be an historic memorial, and that I was delighted to have it," Christie wrote in her 1977 autobiography.
Lt. Marshall Lee was born in 1921 in Brooklyn, NY. His father, Jack Lee, was born in 1887 in Russia and came to America in 1895. His mother, Ruth Lee, was born in 1897 in New York City of Polish ancestry. His parents were married in 1916 and also had a daughter, Doris Lee, born in 1918.
Marshall's father died in 1929 at age 43, and his mother supported the family by working as a stenographer at a newspaper.
Marshall became interested in a career as a commercial artist while working in the newspaper pressroom during summer vacations. He studied art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from the school in 1939. He then moved to lower Manhattan and began to work as a free-lance commercial artist.
During World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Coastal Guard and served until his honorable discharge in 1946. He then became the U.S. director of Inter-Allied Cultural Relations in Europe.
He returned to New York City in 1948 and resumed his career in publishing and became an award-winning book designer. By 1952 he was teaching book design at New York University. In the 1970s he became vice president of an art book company.
He died in 2010 at the age of 89 in Schuylerville, New York.
Lee's Orange-built USS LCI-96 won six battle stars for its World War II service. Following the invasion of Normandy, the ship performed occupation duty in the Far East from September to November 1945.
It was decommissioned on April 2, 1946, at San Pedro, Calif. On March 3, 1948, it was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal.
The 158-foot long ship had a troop capacity of six officers and 182 enlisted men and a cargo capacity of 75 tons. The ship could land troops on a beach in less than 3 feet of water. Also, it could travel 4,000 miles without refueling, weighed 380 tons when loaded and had a top speed of 16 knots.