Category Archives: American History

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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Filed under American History, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Uncategorized, World War 2

Upcoming Events!

We have an exciting summer of events coming up at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library; from the UEA Lecture series focusing on the political climate of American current events to events exploring the historical role of Americans in East Anglia there is a talk for everyone.

A few of the historical talks coming up include:

Americans in East Anglia (6-5-17).JPG

This session will allow you to get up close with American artefacts from WWII – perspex windscreen jewellry for an airman’s sweetheart to silk maps used in the event of emergency landing (or worse!). Come along and have a look at the different items and learn a bit of Norwich history.

 

Americans in East Anglia (12-5-17).JPG Recently we have launched our digital archive – a massive project that allows anyone to access the treasure trove of artefacts and memorabilia of the 2nd Air Division Memorial from any computer. This talk will not only show you how to navigate and search for items within the digital archive but also whet your appetite for the kinds of things that can be found – poetry, letters, diaries, photos, and so much more.

 

HUN Friendly Invasion Film Show (24-5-17).jpgA bit different from the digital archive, this talk at Hunstanton Library will showcase some of the film footage taken by and of the American airmen during their time in East Anglia. The archival footage is a fascinating way to put yourself in their time and will surely get you thinking about how life has changed in the years that followed!

 

We hope to see you at any (or all!) of the above talks this May. Please refer to the appropriate digital flyer for booking, location, and time details. 

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Filed under American History, Archive Items, Current Events, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Public Events, World War 2

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance

By Danielle Prostrollo

mlkToday marks another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: a welcomed day off for many, a few mattress and car sales, and another cursory glance at the I Have a Dream speech.

But King was more than his iconic speech. He was a normal person who believed poor and working people should have equal opportunity to live with dignity and decency – a conversation we are still having today.

In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King made it clear that “the ‘no D’ is as significant as the PhD and the man who has been to ‘No House’ is as significant as the man who has been to Morehouse” (King, p. 246).  In a recent Ted talk, Ken Robinson similarly chided the reality that certain jobs have been put on a pedestal and others disparaged.

To illustrate this point, Robinson recounts the story of a young firefighter:
“When I got to the senior year of school, my teachers didn’t take it seriously. This one teacher didn’t take it seriously. He said I was throwing my life away if that’s all I chose to do with it; that I should go to college, I should become a professional person, that I had great potential and I was wasting my talent to do that.” He said, “It was humiliating. It was in front of the whole class and I felt dreadful. But it’s what I wanted, and as soon as I left school, I applied to the fire service and I was accepted. You know, I was thinking about that guy recently, just a few minutes ago when you were speaking, about [the] teacher, because six months ago, I saved his life.”

The young firefighter pulled his former teacher and wife out of the wreckage of a car crash.

The world needs firefighters, garbage collectors, cleaners.  Every person deserves dignity and the chance to earn a decent wage.  Businessmen, lawyers, and the wealthy do not hold the monopoly on living value.  News stories about the minimum wage economy (e.g. Walmart wages and food stamps) put King’s belief in a current societal context.

We know the “I Have a Dream” speech but today we need to look beyond the myth at the imperfect man who battled the crushing pressures of fighting for what he believed in and can perhaps consider what we believe in and how we, too, might stand up for it.

A couple of books that help dispel the mythology of MLK, Jr.:
  • The Radical King, by Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Cornel West
    This book is a collection of King’s speeches organized and introduced by West to highlight the progression of King’s values over time
  • Death of a King, by Tavis Smiley
    Smiley takes interviews of King’s widow, close friends, and scholars and puts together a realistic look at the last year of King’s life
A link to Ken Robinson’s whole Ted talk (video and transcript)

 

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Politics, Books, Current Events, Uncategorized

The Women Who Propelled Us

“Before Apple, before IBM, and before our modern definition of a central processing unit partnered with memory, the word computer referred simply to a person who computes. Using only paper, a pencil, and their minds, these computers tackled complex mathematical equations” (Holt 13).

 

By: Danielle Prostrollo 

As a woman attempting to make my own contribution to our collective experience I am always keen to learn more about those who have done the impossible, broken ‘glass ceilings’, and changed their field – in little or large ways.  And the human computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory did exactly that.

The forthcoming film Hidden Figures based on the book of the same name, by Margot Lee Shetterly, specifically follows the lives of several female African American human computers who were vital to America’s success in the space race. The film has already garnered a lot of attention from the media, shining a spotlight to the extraordinary contribution of this group of women.

To learn more I picked up Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt and took to the Internet.

My investigation ended up focusing on two women:
1) Barbara “Barby” Canright
2) Macie Roberts

Barby was with the Lab from the beginning, starting out her career as a typist at Caltech (where JPL got its start). She and her husband Richard were friends with the “Suicide Squad” that founded JPL – Jack Parsons, Frank Malina, and Ed Forman.

In school she had always done well in mathematics and science but never imagined a possible career in the field. Despite this, she was ultimately responsible for the thrust-to-weight ratio – an equation that compared performance of the engines under different conditions.

Macie came to JPL having never heard of human computers but quickly rose through the ranks to become the computer supervisor. Before coming to the lab she had a career as an IRS auditor, learning the physics of rocketry at a late age. Because of this, she was a stickler for correct terminology. If you incorrectly called rocket propellant “fuel” she would explain that fuel does not have an oxidizer in it, which is necessary to get the rocket to go anywhere (and if there’s no oxygen in the atmosphere then the rocket will need its own supply of an oxydizer).

As the supervisor Macie was in charge of hiring on new computers. She opted to keep the team women-only in order to promote a cohesive, family-like atmosphere but also because she couldn’t envision a man taking orders from her. We’ve made great strides in all kinds of equality since the ‘60s but there is still far to go!

 

Holt, N. (2016). Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

Worrall, Simon. “The Secret History of the Women Who Got Us Beyond the Moon.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 8 May 2016. Web.

Popova, Maria. “The Rise of Rocket Girls: The Untold Story of the Remarkable Women Who Powered Space Exploration.” Brain Pickings. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web.

Ouellette, Jennifer. “Meet the Forgotten ‘Rocket Girls’ Who Helped NASA Reach the Stars .” Gizmodo. Gawker Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web.

Atkinson, Joe. “From Computers to Leaders: Women at NASA Langley.” NASA. NASA, 24 Aug. 2015. Web.

 

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Filed under American Culture, American History, Books, Uncategorized