Don Allen: Well, it’s finally time. The last word you shall hear from me as one of the American Scholars at the Library. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the American Scholars scholarship two years in a row, and it has been a great two years.
I learned more about the history of my countrymen in this area during World War II than I even knew existed, and there is still so much more. I was fortunate enough to meet several heroes of the war, like Mr. Allan Hallett, a gunner in the 389th Bomb Group at Hethel, manning the top gun on a B-24 in 1945.
Meeting with the families of 2nd Air Division veterans, such as Travis Chapin, son of Lt. Robert F. Chapin (389th BG) left, and Charles H. Pool, son of 1st. Lt. Charles K. Pool (458th BG) right, and corresponding with others via email or Facebook in order to help them research their family was a great honor as well.
I was also able to visit the 448th (Seething) museum and the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (where I learned I was much bigger than most of the airmen if the size of their uniform jackets is any indication! I couldn’t even fit one arm into this one! I had to drape it over my shoulder!)
While it was a sombre occasion, attending the Memorial Day ceremony at the Cambridge American Cemetery in Madingley was an experience that I will never forget. Seeing the pictures next to nearly every name on the wall; walking around the graves; seeing the ages and names of these young heroes, seemingly all of them younger than I am now; watching the wreaths being laid. It was overwhelming.
Helping to organize and plan events that expanded on the knowledge and relationship of our two countries was a joy as well, and I hope, if you were able to attend, that you learned a little.
And finally there was the largest part of my journey, the day to day work, where I, along with Danielle, brought a live American presence to the living memorial that is the 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Library. Meeting new people, helping them find the information they were looking for about the USA, was so much fun. Getting the “oh, are you American?” question when they heard my accent (answer: Yup, from Massachusetts). Writing the occasional blog post, Tweeting and Facebooking, responding to email inquiries. It was fun. Far more fun than I expected. A little bit of me is sad to move on, although another part is glad that a new person will be able to experience the same things that I have.
I want to send a quick thank you to all who had a part in allowing me this journey. To Andrew Hawker, Richard Middleton, and the rest of the Governor’s Board for their amazing work in keeping the Library and the memory of these amazing men and women alive. To Libby Morgan and Jenny Christian for their tireless efforts in the running of the day to day library. To the members of the Reading Across the Pond book group, I hope you enjoyed the books I selected. To Danielle, my fellow American Scholar, for answering my messages about when I was supposed to work!
And lastly, but certainly not least, to the people of Norwich and the visitors to the Library. Showing you around the library, answering your questions about the war, attempting to explain the odd American system of government and culture. It was so much fun. I wish you all the best!
Danielle Prostrollo: The last two years have flown by! When I started this journey with the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library I had only the smallest insight into what the American presence meant to East Anglia during the War (and the echoes of that presence that have manifested in the region since then). Since then, I have gotten to know the stories and reminiscences of American servicemen from local people – almost all of them sharing their fondness for my country. The opportunities afforded me by my role as UEA American Scholar will remain with me forever. Memorial Day at Cambridge American Cemetery in Madingley, Evensong in the American Chapel of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the more intimate experience of spending time with the archival collection have offered me the chance to form a deeper connection with the thousands of servicemen who were here throughout the War.
I want to thank the Memorial Trust for offering me the opportunity to have an (almost) unprecedented two years of these experiences, getting to know the library patrons and helping to organise events that will help to spread the message of the library to new folks. The numerous lectures about topics ranging from the use of aircraft in WWI to current American affairs have expanded my own knowledge and allowed me to see the local, non-academic interest in these subjects – something that I think should be important to all of us nestled firmly into academia.
When planning events I tried to bring new topics and event formats to the public, allowing Don and the library staff to concentrate on U.S. politics and WWII lectures. I organised Thanksgiving event that included a brief lecture from Don about the history of the holiday as well as a tasting event after. And I made pumpkin and sweet potato pie, as well as candied pecans and ginger spice cake for the event to allow people to taste some of the traditional flavors of the American holiday. I also organized an event exploring the history of roller derby as an American sport and its presence in Norfolk, bringing members of the local teams, Norfolk Brawds and Smacksons, to give a demonstration of the event. Most recently I organized a music event called The Great American Songbook which brought the singing duo Timescape to the library to sing 1940s-era music. During the event I gave the history of six different WWII songs interspersed by a live performance of each tune. The audience was toe-tapping along with the singers dressed in a 2nd Air Division uniform and War-era dress.
Multiple trips to the 2nd Air Division airfields were a big highlight of my time with the library. The volunteers who devote so much of their time to the maintenance and memory of the airmen and townspeople who helped to take care of the airmen by having them over for dinner or – gasp – fell in love with them are the definition of local heroes doing an often thankless job. And I thank them!
I will miss my time behind the enquiry desk at the library but am looking forward to attending more events and perusing the new cookery books over the next year or so. Thank you to all of the library staff and Trust governors for being so warm and inviting, allowing me the opportunity to expand my horizons and learn a deeper kind of empathy for our two nations shared history.