Burgers at the Base
By Jan Riddling and Mike Faley
From an 8th Air Force Station, "Somewhere In England":
To say that Thorpe Abbotts (Station 139), at this time of year is incredibly beautiful is an understatement… trees, hedgerows and fields all a lovely green as far as the eye can see. As we drive down the winding roads, past thatched roofed houses and perfect manicured yards and gardens, we soon pass where the main runway came across and at a break in the hedgerow there is the concrete taxiway that so long ago held waiting B-17’s as they carried their deadly cargo to points shown on a briefing map. Our imagined memories of those B-17’s fade as we feel the anticipation of seeing the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. After a few twist and turns on the quiet road we turned down a beautiful tree lined drive. The control tower comes into view in the bright English sunlight and everywhere you look the grounds are immaculate. The volunteers and trustees, as always, have done a tremendous job keeping the Museum absolutely prefect. Now, they readied the grounds for another return of 100th Bomb Group Veterans. Nowhere in England is there a better museum dedicated to a Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. Ron Batley and everyone involved deserve a great amount of praise for the job they have done at Thorpe Abbotts.
Thursday 20:00 hours
Ron and Carol Batley, and three of the four 100th Foundation’s Historical Staff, Jan Riddling, Mike Faley and Greg Hatzenbuhler greeted the Veterans and families at Dunsten Hall. (Very much missed was Cindy Goodman, Splasher Six Editor, who was unable to attend this reunion.) At the briefing Dick D’Amato and Ron Batley spoke of the events that would take place over the next 3 days. After the meeting, everyone said their hellos before the people on the tour turned in for the night. Your historical staff and the Batley’s proceeded to the Half Moon (favored watering hole for the 351st and 349th during the war) in Rushall. There we met the Wilson clan, Hong Kong & Connie, Cindy and her husband Dan, Curtis & Eva, and their daughters Carli, Emily & Lexie. Our British friends Richard Gibson and Mike Nice were there along with Maurice Hammond and his family. (You will hear more about this gentleman later.) As was the case 60 years ago, the Yanks closed the place and we all looked forward to a memorable reunion.
Friday 10:00 hours
The Vets and families attended functions at RAF Mildenhall, home of the 100th Refueling Wing, which wears the Square D on the tail of their aircraft. They treated the Vets like conquering heroes and "Stars and Stripes" reporter Ron Jensen was present to do an article on these brave men. As a tribute to all who attended the reunion, a special 60th Anniversary glass stein was given to each attendee, which was etched with the Square D and the 100th Bomb Group patch. Nice to see that the tradition of the 100th lives on at Mildenhall. Keep that Square D flying High and Proud. Friday night was an open evening for the Vets. The Historical Staff, Ron Leigh, Jim Gintner and the Carey family were part of some festivities at the Flying Fortress Pub at Rougham and a joint RAF/USAF retiring of the Colors at Station 468, (home of the 94th Bomb Group, Square A). This event is called "Sunset at the Base" and has become a tradition when we go to England. Peter Woods and his crews have always been kind enough to make this special. Many local 8th Air Force supporters were on hand along with distinguished 8th Air Force writer Martin Bowman (who just published an article in Air Classics on Thorpe Abbotts and the 100th BG).
Saturday 09:00 hours
Irene Carey Penman and her two daughters arrived early before the tour bus in order to view the display of Dick Carey. With mixed emotions and even a bit of trepidation they enter the control tower to view for the first time the display of Captain Richard A. Carey, 350th Operations Officer. The display is exceptional, it is located on the first floor of the museum and contains his uniform, medals, photos, along with a RCAF uniform (on loan from a local collector), Stalag Luft III ID card and to top it off, the actual photo of Irene that Dick had always kept by his bed. To add a final tribute, there was a sign above the display that read "Welcome Home Captain Carey". Irene, Barbara and Jeanne were so very moved by the extraordinary display, in fact we all were affected with tears and our hearts went out to this family. We left them to continue this experience together because they knew, Dick was finally home. (Note: See the last issue of Splasher 6 for more info on Capt. Carey and Family)
Saturday 10:00 hours
The coach, what we call a bus, has arrived and the Veterans and families are coming through the gate and up the shady drive as words of "welcome" were coming from everyone who had lined the drive to greet them. Ron Batley gathered everyone at the Tower and gave a great welcoming speech to all present. There were twenty-four from the tour and another twenty-four who came over on there own (see full list below). All the Museum Trustee’s were in attendance along with about fifteen volunteers and friends of the 100th Memorial Museum. After the welcoming speech, each Vet and family member proceeded to explore the Tower Museum and other exhibits, stopping occasionally to give interviews and autographs to well wishers and "Stars and Stripes Magazine" (which was so overwhelmed at Mildenhall, they returned to Thorpe Abbotts with the Vets). There are many new displays in the Tower and adjoining buildings, among them Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal’s (uniform, medals, photos, dog tags), Maurice Ling’s excellent work on the interior of the tower glass house and a large piece of "The WAAC Hunter" wing to name but a few. These displays just seem to get better every time we return to Thorpe Abbotts.
The quiet skies of East Anglia were soon shattered when a "Little Friend" (P-51 Mustang) came low over the Varian Center (never seen that room cleared out so fast in my life). Owned and piloted by Maurice Hammond, the Vets were treated to an aerial display the likes of which we have rarely seen this side of the pond. Over the next two days, Maurice Hammond would do special flybys in his T-6 Harvard and the P-51 Mustang (painted in the 353rd Fighter Group colors and named Janie).
Later on Saturday afternoon the unmistakable sound of the 1,510-horse power Merlin engine filled the air. We got a double thrill as we discovered there were two P-51’s flying in tight formation over Thorpe Abbotts. We were graced once again by Maurice Hammond in his P-51 Janie accompanied by Rob Davies in another P-51 Big Beautiful Doll. Both proceeded to "beat up the base" with picture perfect flybys that cause every camera on base to snap as many photo as possible of the fast moving twosome. We would like to deeply thank Mr. Hammond for doing these flybys at his own personal expense, the Vets and all who were present, sincerely appreciated the gesture.
Since this was a quiet day at the base for the Veterans, the public was kept to a minimum so each Vet could get an opportunity to view the base and museum (on Sunday, the 100th Vets would be lucky to get near the Museum with all the well wishers, photographers, autograph seekers, military personnel, etc. that wanted to spend time with "real heroes"). A glorious day of visiting, viewing the museum, renewing friendships and hearing the history of the 100th in most every conversation concluded with a coach tour of the base by Ron Batley before the group headed for the Park Hotel and the dinner and dance that evening.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear as another day of wonderful English weather began. Twenty to thirty people had gathered outside of Thorpe Abbotts Church in the warm sunshine. As the Veterans and families arrived we lined the sidewalk on both sides and gave a honoring round of applause until all had entered. The All Saints Church at Thorpe Abbotts has stood for over 1000 years. The main door is medieval and it looked remarkable considering it tremendous age. There was also a medieval cat flap at the bottom, which allowed the mice to be controlled, still working I assumed.
According to the guide to the church, the name of Thorpe Abbotts is of Danish origin. The first part of Thorpe Abbotts indicates that it was a secondary settlement and the second part reflects on its possession by the Abbots of Bury Abbey. The church is filled as we are seated. We cannot help but glance at every possible inch of the interior as the service begins. We are welcomed by the Rector, William Bestelink, who leads us in a hymn, followed by prayer. 100th Bomb Group Veteran Ray Miller climbs the three steps of the lectern and reads the lesson, Matthew 5, 1-12. The lectern’s dark wood is skillfully carved with a large wooden Eagle that stands on a sphere that represents the world. The Eagle is often used in this manner as it is the symbol of St. John and it might also have been a memorial for World War I. There is also so a small organ on the south side which is graciously played by Georgina King-Fisher, daughter of Ron and Carol Batley.
Jim Gintner reads the act of remembrance:
"Let us remember before God, and command to his sure keeping, all the men of the 100th Bomb Group at Thorpe Abbotts who lost their lives in the defense of freedom; those who have died for their country in war; those whom we knew and whose memory we treasure, and all who have lived and died in the service of mankind. They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
The address was given by Reverend Michael Paddison, long time friend of the 100th, who has officiated over many such ceremonies. Once again he spoke from the heart and the love for the Veterans and their families shown in every word. He then leads us in saying the Lord’s Prayer. As our voices ebbed Jan looked upward and noticed she was sitting under the American flag, pride swelled as did the tears and as she placed that moment of time in her memory forever, Jan could not helped but hold dearly to each and everyone there. After a hymn and the blessing, the service ended. We stood and soft conversations filled the ancient church as we began to file out, yet we felt somewhat hesitant to leave. We were treated to tea or coffee, which is always served in real cups and saucers and English cookies, they tasted a bit like a chocolate covered graham crackers.
Time to get to the museum and by the time we arrived the place was in full swing, and we do mean swing…there was music coming up by the control tower and two couples dancing to that great 40’s music. WWII military vehicles filled the area as jeeps, command cars and even a British "meat wagon" made themselves right at home. Joe Crowfoot, local artist, and his wife brought his wonderful collection of art…the B-17’s of the 100th were all in the Museum’s shop, but he also had many other groups as well as trains, tractors and just about anything else you can think of. Extraordinary talent, keep up the good work, Joe!
Stephen Carr and the USAAF Model Display Team brought their B-17 Flying Fortress "Hang The Expense", P-51, P-47 and several other aircraft that they might have been able to get into the air had the wind not been quite so strong. Still it was wonderful to see these miniature aircraft in absolute perfect detail.
There were an estimated crowd of 1,700 (or more) at this "open day" and along with plenty of "Burgers at the Base" there were french fries or chips as the British call them, hot dogs and ice cream. I saw lots of little children with their face fully painted by Audrey Oakley…lots of lions, tigers and bears, oh my!! The PX was bristling as everyone awaited the arrival of the guests of honor. They were not to be disappointed. As the bus unloaded its passengers, a strange thing happened, these distinguished men seemed to move a little faster, stand a lot straighter, retain some of that swagger that gained this Group its notoriety. Was it I, or were they feeling like the 18-20 year olds they were when they left this place so long ago? It sure seemed that way!
The Veterans could not get past the Varian Center before they were mobbed. Everyone wanted to hear the stories and meet the "Mighty Men" of the 100th Bomb Group. They were not disappointed, every member took the time to sit down and answer every question and sign books and paintings. They were giving a history class like no other in the world and no one raised their hand for a recess. It was wonderful to sit back and see these men receive their just due from a thankful and appreciative audience. We wish all of you could have been there to see it, you would have been very proud. We had flyby’s all afternoon, T-6 Harvard, Stearman’s, P-51 Mustang, and even in the far distance, a refueling tanker from Mildenhall. As the day came to an end, the folks tipped their hat one last time to these men that helped save their Island home, this England. They don’t forget over there and they teach their children not to forget. It was a beautiful thing to see the children run up to each Veteran and ask for an autograph…the children will forever remember the day they stood with "eagles" and were touched by greatness.
The forty-eight in attendance are Robert Wolff (President of the Foundation) with his wife Barbara and his son John and daughter-in law Adele (whose dad flew with the 448th BG out of Seething), Ray & Betty Miller, Buzz Fitzroy, Al & Mindy Meiklejohn, Doug, Pam & Alyson Kelsall, Don Bradley, George & Virginia McLeod and their daughter Susan Longman, John Peters, Glenn Rake and his two daughters, Rene & Debbie; Ken Summers and his daughter and son-in-law, Cheryl & Jerry Weber; Richard & Ruth Long, Ed & Sue Settle and their son and daughter-in-law Ed & Kim Settle and their sons Judson, Harrison & Austin; Charles "Hong Kong" & Connie Wilson with daughter and son-in law Cindy and Dan; and son and his wife Curtis & Eva Wilson and their daughters, Carli, Emily & Lexie; Irene Carey Penman and her two daughters, Jeanne & Barbara; Tim Lohof, Clarissa Lippert, Eileen Hill, Lorriane McDaniel.
That night, we ended the reunion with a "until next time" goodbye dinner at Dunsten Hall with our British friends and the Veterans and families. Bob Wolff gave a wonderful toast and we all exchanged stories of the past few days. We always end one of these reunions with a sad feeling in our hearts, not because we did not have an incredible time and a "once in a lifetime" experience, but because the events always happen so quick that you never get to fully comprehend everything you witnessed until later and hope you have not missed anything. We will carry this memory of Thorpe Abbotts for a lifetime and just maybe someday far into the future, someone will come up to us and ask, " What was it like to be associated with the 100th Bomb Group"? At that moment, our step will pick up a bit, we’ll stand a little straighter, and we will imagine your sense of swagger and pride, look that person in the eyes and tell him about the "Best Damn Outfit In the ETO, The Bloody Hundredth"
Signing off now, From Somewhere in England…
(Authors note: On Friday Mike had the opportunity to fly in the P-51 "Janie" courtesy of the efforts of Curtis Wilson and the kindness of Maurice Hammond. Thanks to both of you.)
My Wild Mustang Ride
By Mike Faley
Now that I have had a chance to fully digest this event, I gotta share this with you. While in England in June for 100th Bomb Group reunion, I was with Curtis Wilson, Hong Kong Wilson (Pilot, 100th BG), His family, a friend of the family named Maurice Hammond, his family, Ron and Carol Batley, Jan Riddling and Greg Hatzenbuhler.
Turns out Maurice has a T-6 Harvard that he keeps in a hangar at Hardwick (8th Air Force base for the 93rd Bomb Group, Teds Traveling Circus). The hangar is an old Spitfire Hangar from Biggin Hill (the Eagle Squadrons flew mission from there in WW2).
We are all at Half Moon Inn (watering hole for the 351st Bomb Squadron and 349th Bomb Squadron of the 100th BG during WW2), and Curtis turns to me and asks if I want to take his place flying the next day with Maurice. Not in the T-6 but in Maurice's other plane, a restored P-51 Mustang named "Janie", in the colors of the 353rd Fighter Group. Took about a millisecond to say yes. Rain was forecast for the day so I did not get my hopes up and figured I would keep with my previous plans to visit 493rd base at Debach and the 486th base at Sudbury.
Well, on Friday the flying weather was beautiful, so at noon, after visiting Debach for an hour that morning, we high tailed it back too Hardwick airfield. Maurice and Curtis were just returning to base in the T-6 when we arrived. Outside the hangar was the most beautiful P-51 against the English countryside I had ever seen. It could easily of been Summer 1944. After about 30 minutes of sitting around the hangar and talking ,Maurice Hammond turned to me and said 'are you ready'? You kidding, I was born ready.
Maurice strapped me into a parachute and safety harness and went through procedures for bailout in case of trouble. Once both of us settled in, he started that Rolls Royce Merlin Engine and I just sat there taking it all in. We taxied out (grass runway, straight out of Battle of Britain) and Maurice turned us into the wind. A few minutes later, he pushed the engine full throttle and away we went.
Sixty years after the 8th Air Force started operations in England, I was airborne over an old 8th Air Force base in a "Little Friend." I better pinch myself and wake up, this is not really happening! I figured we would just do a few turns of the circuit and land but no, we started going by every 8th AF base we could find. Tibenham, Thrope Abbotts, Eye, Mendlesham, Horham, Debach, Framlingham, to name just a few. I had always wanted to do this since I had seen Roger Freeman's book "Airfields of the Eighth, Then and Now." Once in the air, you realize just how close these airbase's really were to each other. It put into perspective how midair collisions happened due to someone straying out of the flight pattern on takeoff. Once we completed our tour of the bases we returned over Thorpe Abbotts and Maurice asked me if I wanted to BUZZ the Tower? That was a real hard decision, LET'S GO!!!!
One wing-over later, down we went, lower, lower, lower, faster, faster, faster. According to friends on the ground at Thorpe Abbotts, we went by so fast, we had the signature P-51 scream and were pulling contrails off the wing tips. Turns out, the pass was at 400mph and I picked a few weeds out my teeth. We repeated this with another wing over and another pass of the tower followed by a victory roll and another flyby before heading back to Hardwick for a perfect landing. We taxied back to the hangar and I swear that my adrenaline was sky high when I exited that cockpit. I will always be a B-17 man, nothing tops the "Queen of the Skies" but I have a new found appreciation for the P-51 Mustang. Only problem is, I am still picking weeds from between my teeth!
A HUGE Thanks to Maurice Hammond, Curtis Wilson, the 100th Bomb Group Veterans and Families, Jan Riddling, Greg Hatzenbuhler, Ron and Carol Batley and the whole Tower Museum staff and Volunteers, for making this the BEST trip to England yet.!
Talk to you soon my friends,
100th Bomb Group Photo Archives
100th Bomb Group Historian