Norwich, England May 1995
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of VE Day, I attended a reunion in Norwich, England which was the town central to the B-24 bomb groups of the Second Air Division.
Ever since I saw the movie “12 O’clock High”, I dreamt of returning to Horsham St. Faith. So my wife, Hannah, and I signed on for the reunion and headed to England.
It was a dream come true for me when I visited the base and saw the control tower and runway at Horsham St. Faith. Hannah was initially interested but it became an emotional experience for her as she met and spoke with the town people, learned more about what it was like during the war and heard their heartful thanks to the American airmen.
Horsham St. Faith was a permanent RAF base that was taken over by the 2nd Air Division.
Today it is the City of Norwich International Airport. One of the runways is still intact. I just stood there and was transported back to 1944. I heard the whir of the engines as we were ready to run down the main runway. At the foot of this runway was a local pub whose chimney rattled as we barely missed it at takeoff.
I saw some of the original barracks including mine, hangars, the original control tower,and the original building that housed the crash crew vehicles. We walked around the perimeter sites where we taxied and parked our planes at their assigned spots. This is where the ground crews worked on the planes.
The Howling Banshee’s spot is still there.
What a thrill to be marching in this glorious parade celebration of the 50th Anniversary of VE Day!On May 20, 1995 we gathered in the main square of Norwich. The Lord Mayor and other dignitaries spoke so fondly of our contribution and connection to their history. We marched to the cathedral for a memorial service. The march was very emotional, especially for those fellows that had marched in the original parade when the war ended on May 20, 1945. Just like 50 years ago, people lined the streets and cheered and clapped to show their appreciation.
These people had lost loved ones, many of them only civilians, endured all of the rationing and bombings but were here openly expressing their thanks and appreciation to the American airmen. They also invited us into their homes.
After the parade and service, we gathered in a hall at the Abbey for a reception. On the last night, we sat with our own groups, ate dinner and lit candles in memory of those missing and those that have passed away since the war. During the week, the locals put on a show called “We’ll Meet Again”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as they reenacted life during the war such as sending the children out of the city and rationing.
This reunion was fabulous in so many aspects for all of us. For me, it was talking with the fellows, strolling through town and meeting the local people, dining at the pub in town (yes the one with the chimney), visiting the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich which houses a collection of 2nd Air Division memorabilia, City of Norwich Aviation Museum at Horsham St. Faith which houses 458th BG memorabilia, the estates, and the Madingly Cemetery where Vice President Al Gore spoke to the 8th Air Force, and the Duxford Air Museum. In my opinion this is one of the best museums in the world and showcases primarily WWII British and US planes.
I will certainly remember a local young man who engaged me in conversation in our hotel lobby. During the reunion, he was visiting with his uncle by marriage who had been ground crew and had married his aunt after the war. But 50 years ago, he had laid on the perimeter of the field and watched the planes take off on missions and later counted the returning planes.
The memories just go on. More importantly, it brought all of the past to the present and upon returning home I was finally able to fully share my memories with my children, that is, when they have time to listen to my stories. Also since then, I have participated in the 2nd Air Division annual reunions held in the states.
Off into the wild blue yonder flying high
My life is far from the world of aviation but this painting, No Empty Bunks Tonight by William s. Phillips, hangs on my living room wall. I see it every day along with other photos and memorabilia I have on the walls. I smile, fondly remembering my crew and experiences of the “Howling Banshee”.