There is only one mention of a motorcycle in this story.
On Wednesday night I went to this small museum. My wife had bought us tickets to see one of
their occasional film shows. This particular evening they showed 3
films, the last being about “Operation Titanic” , when American bombers were based in Russia, which was the only `officially produced` film shown.
The first two films were recently discovered and were special for a
couple of reasons, the first being that they were shot in colour, most
unusual for that time and the second and most special reason was that
they were shot by aircrew. They were home movies, a personal record of
life on a USAAF/RAF air base in the East of England. East Anglia (us English were once known as “Angles” in
ancient times) was turned into one huge American airfield, predominantly
bomber bases. Col. Jimmy Stewart aka George Bailey (only a couple of months before "Its a Wonderful Life" can be shown on TV once again) flew from an airfiled 10 miles to the
north of where I type this and within a 5 mile radius were numerous
other airfields that were the home to B24 Liberators which were gradually
replaced, as action intensified, by B17 Flying Fortresses. Other bases were gradually
equipped with P51 Mustangs and P47 Thunderbolts, the “Little Friends” who at last had the range to escort them all the way. Memorabilia is
everywhere, if one chooses to seek it out.
The footage was as fascinating as it was poignant, with the happy
faces of young Americans larking about wrestling each other and playing
up to the camera, just as kids do on beaches and playing fields. Other
images showed nervous but determined aircrews posing beneath their giant
machines, some smiling bravely for the camera but all of them showing
more than a trace of apprehension. The footage taken from the aircraft
as they lifted off from the base near the small Suffolk town of Eye
showed a landscape that is still recognisable today, albeit that the
airfield is now an industrial estate.
What really delighted me
was that the visitors centre, a typical WW2 `Nissan` hut that I was
sitting in, was packed to its parabolic steel rafters. It was a `sell
out`. On this chilly autumn night local people from young teens to folks
in their 80′s had come along to watch the films. The couple I was
sitting next to were near neighbours of mine. They were in their early
teens when the Americans came. The man is now 82 and his wife a little
younger. They are both fit and active. He bought himself a Harley
Davidson Sportster a few years ago, encouraged by his wife – my kind of
As the last film came to a close, it showed the base closing down for
good and the American airmen locking up shop and flying home. The base
commander had opened it up to local people and laid on refreshments so
that they could bid their farewells and wave off their American
neighbours for the last time, in beautiful peacetime. Local farmers,
children and pretty young women in their best dresses could be seen
waving off the last aircraft and then turning to each other in the
strange silence that they knew, this time, would remain. It was not
entirely a party atmosphere because losses at the base had been heavy,
hence the nickname given to the group, “The Bloody Hundredth”. We were
told by the museum curator of one particular raid where fourteen B17′s
left Thorpe Abbotts to `deliver iron and steel to Germany` and only one
aircraft returned. A shattering statistic for one base to bear, after
one raid. 130 men, gone, from just one base, in a single mission.
As the lights came up I turned to my neighbours to ask a question and
noticed that tissues were out dabbing moist eyes. I said, “I bet it
was strange once they’d gone”. The man replied, “Oh yes, it really was,
but lovely and quiet, we knew they weren’t going to get hurt anymore”.
His wife said, “We really missed them” and her husband agreed.
May we continue to remember.