The Friendly Invasion – Visit East Anglia

Seventy-five years ago the first of over 300,000 US servicemen arrived in the east of England to fight what was to become America’s longest battle of World War Two.

For the locals, their welcome presence signalled the biggest cultural and landscape impact of any event since the Norman Conquest almost 900 years earlier.

A rural backwater would soon be changed by the United States Army Air Force personnel, who brought to rationed England previously unknown items such as Coca Cola, chewing gum, peanut butter, Swing music and nylons. It was as if, just like in The Wizard of Oz, a monochrome landscape had suddenly gone technicolour.

The Friendly Invasion, as it became known, has left an indelible mark on East Anglia, and the sacrifices and bravery of those men have not been forgotten. The Eighth Air Force, The Mighty Eighth, suffered 26,000 fatalities, 3,000 more than the Marines in the Pacific, with a loss of 4,145 heavy bombers.

They are remembered at the American Air Museum at Imperial War Museum Duxford, at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the Second Air Division Memorial Library at Norwich and at many airfield museums across the region, all staffed by dedicated volunteers determined to honour those from across the Atlantic who fought to preserve democracy, liberty and free speech.

Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker was the first to arrive on February 20, 1942, in civilian clothes, via Portugal. What was to follow became the greatest air armada in history. Their first mission was on July 4, despite their own planes not having arrived. But so determined were they to go on that symbolic date that they borrowed RAF bombers!

Later in the war, at peak strength, The Mighty Eighth could dispatch over 2000 four-engine bombers and more than 1000 fighters on a single mission.

‘This is a story that is unique to East Anglia,’ says Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East Anglia, the region’s tourism organisation which has created a new Friendly Invasion project working with US and UK museums and memorial groups. ‘But it is not as well-known as the road from D-Day to Berlin, or the campaign against the Japanese.’

Visit East Anglia is hoping that the announcement that a new HBO series based on Donald L Miller’s Masters of the Air book is being made by the production companies of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will encourage more Americans to discover the rich heritage their forebears created.

‘Masters of the Air is entirely about the Mighty Eighth in East Anglia. We want Americans to come and see where Grandpa Joe came to serve and where Grandma Mabel maybe came from,’ adds Waters. ‘This is a story as much about social history as military.’

East Anglia’s links with America stretch back to the Founding Fathers – the highest percentage of passengers on The Mayflower came from the region. Abe Lincoln’s family came from the East of England, Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlets that arguably saved the Revolutionary War for George Washington, was born in the East of England, as was John Rolfe, who created The Special Relationship by marrying Pocahontas in the first inter-racial church wedding in north America and whose tobacco crop helped save Jamestown from bankruptcy. Where it not for Rolfe, Americans might now be speaking Spanish, French or even Dutch!

‘In inviting Americans to the region to experience The Friendly Invasion, we also want them to enjoy our contemporary visitor offering,’ says Waters. ‘We have wonderful links golf courses, two whisky distilleries, medieval castles, ‘Downton Abbeys’ in abundance, two cities in medieval Norwich and university Cambridge that are great for shopping, culture and arts, this is the rural home of the Royal Family, and, of course, we have superb spa hotels, fabulous fine dining, afternoon teas and quaint country pubs.’

After Band of Brothers aired on HBO, tourism in Normandy saw a 40% uplift in visitors from the US. Visit East Anglia is hoping that can be replicated with Masters of the Air.

‘In 1942 Americans came to the east of England,’ adds Waters. ‘Now we’d like to invite Americans back. They can be assured of a welcome as warm and friendly as their compatriots received seventy-five years ago.’

For more details visit the website, visiteastofengland.com

First published in The American magazine (www.theamerican.co.uk) June 2017

 

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389th Bomb Group Memorial Exhibition Gala Day 2017

By Danielle Prostrollo

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Yesterday the 389th Bomb Group hosted their Gala Day for the public. The day was filled with restored military vehicles, classic cars, period music blaring from the old radios, stalls with memorabilia reproductions and books about East Anglia and the War, hotdogs, burgers, and lots of reenactors wandering around.

While we were there we managed to get a few pictures that help to sum up the events of the day

IMG_5953.jpgThe vehicles ranged from Jeeps and lorrys all the way down to bicycles

 

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The old and the new

 

IMG_5940.jpgPreparing lunch

 

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It was a fantastic afternoon and I want to thank everyone involved for creating a lovely afternoon to share in East Anglia’s ties to America and the sacrifices made by these men.

 

Photos courtesy of Dan Leonard

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From the Digital Archives: “Rackheath Memories”

Don Allen

 

I rather enjoy looking through the Digital Archives for poems and artwork as it is the WWII equivalent of WWI’s “trenchart” in my mind. As I was doing so I came across this piece, “Rackheath Memories”, which is a mixture of both.

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Owned by 1st Lt. Eugene A. Garrett, this book was compiled by Sgt. Jack M. Preston and S/Sgt. Harris L. Conway. It contains about a dozen cartoons, ostensibly depicting life at Rackheath, as well as autograph pages with little poems.

 

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I particularly enjoyed the poem on the opening page. It reads:

When you are old and your hair is grey,
Think of the things of yesteday,
A pretty face and heavenly form,
A harbour snug, with never a storm.
Banquets for Emperors; Feasts for Kings,
Revels for Bacchus, drinks (hic) and things.
See in these pages, your (mis) spent youth,
And say to yourself in veritable truth,
Rackheath, it was beautiful; the days were all swell
Or — egad, a Valhalla, I’d sooner see hell

It shows the authors knowledge of mythology, as Bacchus is the Roman god of winemaking. The mention of Valhalla, one of the Norse Halls where legendary heroes and valiant warriors go upon their deaths, is telling because in Norse mythology Valhalla is a waiting place until the final, very bloody, battle of Ragnarok.

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Poem on opening page.

The final page contains a handwritten poem, “Ballad of the 467th”, that I read outloud at the 2nd Air Division Stories event this past March.

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To see the rest of the book, click here. To search our archives, click here.

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Memorial Day at Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial

Danielle Prostrollo and Don Allen

 

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This past Memorial Day, Danielle and I had the privilege of attending the service at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley. The cemetery itself is beautifully cared for and the service a fitting tribute to those who rest there.

 

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The service included remarks from Suzie Harrison, cemetery superintendent Rich Cobb, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Julie Spence, Chaplain Wright, and Major General Timothy G Fay. They spoke of the relationship between America and Great Britain as one of strength and affection.

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To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Friendly Invasion a plane from RAF Lakenheath completed a flyby, with another plane flying over the cemetery to drop poppy petals. Those in attendance watched silently as the petals fluttered over the grave sites.

 

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Reflecting on Memorial Day:

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2nd Air Division Memorial Trust Governor Andrew Hawker (facing wall, in between the woman in white and the solider) placing a wreath of poppies at the Wall of the Missing during the ceremony

 

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Danielle: Being in East Anglia, it continues to resonate with me just what impact the American airmen had, not just on the War but continuing in the area. It is clear that while the British forces had been fighting long before America joined the war, the locals embraced the ‘friendly invasion’ and that fondness has resonated through the years – so many times I’ve sat waiting for the bus only to strike up a conversation with a local about how their mom used to go to all the dances at the American airfields or how the American’s always had a piece of candy to give the kids. This is the kind of American I hope to be, one that can help create happy and contented memories even in the most uncomfortable or scary of times.

 

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Don: I got particularly emotional with Maj. General Fay’s remarks. He spoke of the bond between America and the United Kingdom that was forged in WWII and the enduring friendship between our two nations. It was when he spoke of the soldiers who had written their names into the ceiling of the Eagle Pub in Cambridge that I was most affected. Both American and British soldiers are represented on that ceiling, not all of who made it home. Sitting next to all those graves of Americans who had made the ultimate sacrifice, it made me think of the 3,812 who were buried there, and the 5,127 names on the Wall of the Missing, and I am unashamed to say I cried. These heroes, the vast majority of whom were a decade younger than I am now, died so that I could live in the world I do today. The event also reminded me of how few of the heroes who lived through the war are still with us. It is now 2017, and even the youngest of them are now in their 90s. So it is more important than ever, when you come across a WWII veteran, to thank them for their service. To let them know that their heroism, their sacrifice and those of their comrades are not, and never will be, forgotten. They, along with their UK counterparts and fellow soldiers from many different countries, made the world a better place. And I thank them with all my heart.

 

 

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Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Col. Leon Vance Jr., 489th Bomb Group out of Halesworth

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Harold W. Leach Jr.,  S. Sgt. 735 Bomb Sq. 453 Bomb Group (Old Buckenham), New Hampshire Feb 6 1944

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For the first time, pictures of the men inscribed on the Wall of the Missing were placed next to their names

 

 

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Shown Here From the 2nd Air Division: Top picture, Robert A. Beltz, 453rd Bomb Group out of Old Buckenham; Second picture, Fred G. Bender, 466th Bomb Group out of Attlebridge

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