By Danielle Prostrollo
Recently, Mancroft And More magazine ran an article about the Second Air Division Memorial Library. We were certainly privileged to have such a lovely article in the magazine and we are honored that Freddie has shared these war-era memories in response to that article. Armed with permission to reprint the article, we wanted to share Freddie’s memories with our 2nd Air Division community. I hope you enjoy the piece as much as we have!
A Chance Encounter
(The article on the Memorial Library in the September issue prompted this personal reminiscence:)
On a recent trip to Norwich, my wife and I visited the church of St Peter Mancroft. As we quietly wandered around inside, I was reminded of another visit to the church back in the early 1960s with another lady by my side. This elderly lady had travelled alone from Oakland, California to participate in a service of commemoration at St Peter Mancroft honouring all the American servicemen, namely members of the United States 8th Air Force, who had died whilst flying bombing missions from East Anglian air bases in World War 2.
By meeting this lady, I was now to be connected to those past events, as I shall explain.
On a warm summer’s evening, after sightseeing in London, we dashed for a train before it left Liverpool Street station. Thankfully, we were just in time. After pausing for breath in a crowded corridor, we then went in search of somewhere to sit down. No easy task, but we persevered and eventually found a compartment with two spare spaces, which we managed to squeeze into.
After settling down, I casually glanced at my fellow passengers, my eyes finally settling on a small lady tucked in a corner, knitting. Suddenly conscious she was being watched, she looked up and saw me thoughtfully watching her. She nodded and smiled, but there was no further contact between us until the journey to Norwich was practically over and our compartment had almost cleared.
We learned that her name was Kendall, that she came from California and that she had come to England to attend a memorial service for American servicemen at St Peter Mancroft church. “It’s in the city of Norwich”, she added sweetly, in case we didn’t know.
Mrs Kendall went on to tell us that her son, Augusto, had been a ball-turret air gunner ion B24s, Liberator bombers. Augusto had died after returning from a mission over Germany. There was a long moment’s silence between us after that. But by now, our train was slowing down and cases were being lifted from luggage racks before we pulled into Norwich Thorpe railway station.
Outside the station, the sky was darkening and we asked Mrs Kendall where she was staying before saying our goodbyes. To our dismay, she said she hadn’t booked into any hotel and wasn’t sure where to go.
We promptly decided to help out, to find some reasonably priced accommodation. We eventually found a hotel nearby and helped her upstairs with her bags. She thankfully settled on the bed, but looked so forlorn that we decided to take her home with us. Naturally uncertain whether this was the right thing to do, she finally accepted our offer when I told her I was also an airman in the RAF, stationed close to Norwich.
“Ma” Kendall, as she insisted we call her, soon settled down in our house in Mill Hill Rd. When the day of the memorial service arrived, I escorted her to St Peter Mancroft church. A much bigger event than I’d realised. There were ranks of smartly dressed American airmen flanking both sides of the pathway leading into the church. Bells rang, a bugle sounded. banners waved. A moving service followed, all this including the voice of President John F Kennedy relayed from America.
Once the service was over, we mingled with others inspecting the books of remembrance. We found the name of Ma Kendall’s son and she was deeply moved.
A few days later, before leaving us to return to America, our guest revealed that she had a nephew serving at Mildenhall in the United States Air Force. She added that he did not know she was over in England and “wouldn’t he be surprised”.
So we decided to surprise him and our meeting with this young captain and his charming wife was a wonderful experience. A party was going on at the Mildenhall base and we were all invited to join in the fun. Alas, all too soon the party was over and we had to say our farewells. A few days later, another farewell. Ma Kendall finally left us and we, including “Mimi” our cat, who often sat on her lap, were sorry to see her go.
Written by Freddie Jones
As appearing in Mancroft and More December 2016 – February 2017