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Return to Thorpe Abbotts

By Leonard Rosenfeld
Splasher Six Volume 35, Winter 2004, No. 4
Cindy Goodman, Editor

Last May, while still mourning for my wife, Adele, who died in December, I fulfilled a dream deferred during her illness, by returning to the UK with my daughter, Paula Schram. It didn’t take but one day after arrival in London for us to head for Liverpool Street Station and entrain for Diss and Thorpe Abbotts. It was a Friday, when the Memorial Museum is normally closed to the public, but Carol Batley, by prearrangement, met us at Diss with a warm welcome and drove us to the museum. So began a most wonderful and heartening tour of our old base of operations.

Carol modestly calls herself a Volunteer, but she is, to me, really Mrs. Curator; her husband Ron, who is the Curator, was busy farming for Sir Rupert Mann, owner and leaser of the land on which the museum stands. Ron later managed to get off to see us.

The tour, the new additions to the Museum, and the enthusiasm of Carol, docent Gordon Dickie, and Paul Mean, who also keeps the grounds immaculate, impels me to remind our readers what a treasure our UK associates are keeping for us, our progeny and the public, and what a welcome awaits them when they visit.

With Carol, Gordon, and Paul leading the way, Paula and I ascended the control tower, which looks out over the beautiful fields, now restored to cultivation, which once bore runways, perimeter track, and hardstands. The relief map of the field as it was during the War, with miniature B-17s sitting on the hardstands, is still the centerpiece of the cupola. Down below and in the nearby Engine Shed and Sad Sack Shack are the exhibits, so well done, about equipment of all kinds, personnel, flying, POWs, and exciting, often exhilarating, often tragic, stories of combat. Some random memories of what we saw, in no particular order: a real jeep, a pot-bellied stove, jagged fragments of battle-damaged fuselage that farmers had found when plowing, bend props, a Link trainer, a mock ball turret whose guns rat-a-tat at the push of a button, uniforms galore, including those of our Red Cross gals, a photo of John Williams leading the Century Bombers jazz band, with Irv Waterbury, one of our founders, and 15 other sidemen. As the official booklet of the Museum truly says, “Although most of Base 139 has reverted to agriculture, the spirit of the airfield is still there with some time to ponder a little imagination, the visitor can readily relate to this. ”

There was time for a quick visit to the Varian Center Nissan hut, where Paula bought me a beautiful navy T-shirt emblazoned with the 8th Air Force patch encircled by the legend “100th Bomb Group Thorpe Abbotts Museum. ” It’s a great place to relax and enjoy refreshments when the Museum is open to the public.

Our hosts gave me the honor of hauling down the Stars and Stripes that fly above the stone marker memorializing General Curtis LeMay, who commanded our Third Air Wings, and then we were all off to The Horseshoes in Billingsford, near Diss, for lunch, and for me, and obligatory mild-and-bitter. Then it was off to Diss, and the train to Cambridge for the next leg of our journey.

I can’t say enough about the hospitality of Carol, Ron, Gordon, and Paul. They welcome visitors from “the 100th”, meaning, as well, our children and grandchildren, sisters, cousins, and aunts, at all odd times, as long as you arrange in advance. A day or so before we came, they had played hosts to a wide-eyed group from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Mildenhall, which, as the official Museum booklet says, “carries out a vital strategic role with the KC-135R Stratotankers, some of which proudly bear the 100th Bomb Group wartime identification letter of a ‘Square D’. ” Go, thou, and visit likewise.