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May, 2014 Monthly archive

Duxford’s ‘Theatre Hangar’, named ‘Ye Old Barn’ by the men of the 78th Fighter Group.

The men of the 78th Fighter Group relaxed on and off base in the usual fashion in the weeks leading up to D-Day, although security tighthened around the airfield as D-Day drew closer. As 1st Lieutenant Clarence L. Shaddock, Air Corps Special Service Officer, reported in May 1944, a full programme of films, shows and other activities helped them wind down:

Special Service Activities for May

Moving pictures…47…Attendance…15,556. Each showing includes a full Feature, Shorts, News and at times, the “March Of Time”.

Orchestra Activities…Thunderbolt Orchestra played for an Officer’s Club dance, B-24 Bomber Station, Saturday, May 6th, Sgts Club this Station, Saturday, May 13th, Red Cross Aero Club Dance Saturday, 20th May for all enlisted personnel of this Station, Sunday, May 28th for Red Cross Officer’s Dance, Cambridge, Monday May 29th for Dinner and farewell Party for Colonel Stone at Officer’s Club this Station.

U.S.O. Shows…Friday, May 5th the U.S.O. Show, “ON WITH THE SHOW” played to audiences of 1000 at 18.30 and again at 2030 hours. Friday, May 19th “OFFLIMITS” played also to audiences of 1000, same hours. Both shows were held in the Post Theatre.

Memorial Day Service….This Office assisted the Chaplain in the above Service by combining a record player with the public address system to play martial music and then the Star Spangled Banner. The P.A. system was used for the talks, also. Money was furnished from the A. and R. Fund to buy the appropriate wreath in memory of deceased personnel of this Station. The brass section of the orchestra furnished a brass quartet to play Taps at the conclusion of the Ceremony.

Education…Courses in Military Correspondence, Bookkeeping and Accounting, Typing, and Shorthand were held in off-duty hours. Numerous applications were sent in to the U.S. Armed Forces Institute for various courses.

Orientation…Lt. Shaddock, Special Service Officer, attended Orientation Officer’s School in London. The orientation Program was set up on this Station with each organization holding weekly discussions, using Army Talks as material.

Stars & Stripes and Yanks…24,700 Stars and Stripes and 2,800 Yank magazines were sold during the month by Special Service on this Station.

Brainstrust…A Brainstrust Forum was held on Thursday, May 11th in the Snack Bar of the Aero Club. Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, master of Downing College, was discussion leader. Mr Kipson Clark, Doctor Thoulness, and Doctor Callow, all very prominent College Professors of Cambridge, were members of the Trust. This was attended by 200 men of the Station and was a very interesting event.

Hobby Shops…The new Photo Hobby Shop was opened with a Camera Club of about 60 members participating. Special Service is furnishing the necessary materials and equipment the men of the station to print their own film which is censored by the Station S-2. The Carpentry Hobby Shop was used by 350 men during the month. Footlockers and other useful articles were made by the men in their spare time.

Leave and pass reservations…This Office secured Red Cross and hotel reservations, travel information, etc. for personnel of this Station.


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A page from the 'Duxford Diary' showing 'Anglo-American Relations'.

A page from the ‘Duxford Diary’ showing ‘Anglo-American Relations’…

While the 78th Fighter Group planned their part in the liberation of Europe, many of the men were making their own plans for the future. Duxford’s Station Chaplain, Buford B Fordham, in his report for May 1944 explains how marriages were planned between the Americans and local women (‘Officers as well as Enlisted men are falling victims of Dan Cupid’). He also discusses the spiritual side of life ‘on base’, and muses that the bond forged between the Americans and British is ‘one good aspect of the war, which will lead to better understanding between our two peoples.’

‘As Station Chaplain I have seen “history in the making” as service men and British women have come to my office for marriage consultations. Being on the Board which makes investigations and recommendations, I see them all. In the month of May, which was typical, I had 17 such interviews, involving 38 people. A total of 9 marriages were actually consummated. In addition to myself there is the Squadron Commander and the Squadron Medical Officer. It is our function to make recommendations to the Station Commander who has been delegated the responsibility of approving or disapproving marriages involving American military personnel. For the most part our service men are marrying women who will be a credit to them wherever they go, and these marriages will undoubtedly contribute much toward favourable Anglo-American relations in the years ahead. Officers as well as Enlisted men are falling victims of Dan Cupid, and many of these couples- both officers and Enlisted Men have not only wives, but families. The sociological significance of these Anglo-American marriages is certain to be far-reaching. The contacts which we of the Investigating Board make with the parents of the girls involved, are often most interesting; and in a very few cases, rather pathetic.

Quite frequently we American Chaplains are asked to preach at nearby English churches. This month I conducted the evening worship service at the Congregational Chapel in Great Chesterford. There were 50 people present.

A number of men from this Station have been attending various civilian churches on Sunday evenings, as a result of what we call our “Church Run”. Churches visited include: St. Mary’s the Lesser in Cambridge, Congregational Church in Bassingbourn, Wesleyan Chapel in Cambridge, and a Presbyterian Church as well known as the famous King’s College Chapel, also in Cambridge. These experiences have religious, social and cultural value, and are greatly enjoyed by those who have been the “Church Runs”.

For the second time the St. Andrew’s St. Baptist Church in Cambridge has given us the use of its baptistery. This last month a S/Sgt. Of Headquarters, 79th Service Group, was baptized in a private service.

On May 30th a Memorial Day service was conducted on the Parade Ground at this Station.

A pleasant and profitable contact was made when some of us visited the Harvey-Goodwin Orphanage in Cambridge, leaving these children five boxes of candies, gum, etc., which the Officers of this Station contributed out of their personal rations. Earlier Enlisted Men made a similar contribution which was taken to British soldiers who were confined in a British hospital in New Market, England. (The White Lodge Emergency Hospital).

I had the opportunity of addressing a Baptist Minister’s Conference in the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church in Cambridge. This was an annual conference, and my subject was “The American Baptist Scene and World Baptist Future.” This was the third such occasion I have had of this nature in Cambridge.

I was asked to address a Church Women’s Rally in the Congregational Church in Duxford, England. There were representations from some six different churches present, and the attendance was approximately 100.

Further contacts were made with English civilians when I had some English mothers attend our Mother’s Day service held here on the Station; and as I later attended a Tea held in their honor, in the Aero Club at this Base.

With more than a year already spent in England I can say that we Chaplains have almost unlimited opportunities to come to know the country and her citizens better than would be possible under almost any other circumstances. We trust this will be one good aspect of the war, which will lead to better understanding between our two peoples.’

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Pilots of the 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group at Duxford in the summer of 1944, outside what is now Duxford’s Battle of Britain exhibition. From left to right, Troy Eggleston, Roland Wolfe, Winfield Brown and Larry Nelson. Eggleston was killed later that year.

It’s 70 years since the Allies launched Operation ‘Overlord’. The landings on 6 June 1944 were the culmination of many months of meticulous planning, preparation and work, and involved tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Duxford played its part in the build up, execution and aftermath of D-Day, and over the next two months we’ll be looking back to the events of May and June 1944, focusing on the Duxford-based 78th Fighter Group. We’ll be tweeting and blogging to show how the 78th spent their time at Duxford, on and off duty.

The 78th moved to Duxford in the spring of 1943. RAF blue swapped with USAAF ‘pinks and greens’, and the Stars and Stripes replaced the RAF flag on Duxford’s flagstaff.

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Duxford’s new USAAF Commanding Officer, Arman Peterson (right) with the commander of the remaining RAF personnel at Duxford, S L Matthews. Peterson, a very well-respected leader, was shot down and killed only a few months after this photo was taken.

The 78th were equipped with P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. Their job was to escort the fleets of USAAF heavy bombers – based at airfields in East Anglia and elsewhere in the UK – to their targets in occupied Europe. As the war progressed, the role of the 78th expanded to include ground attack missions, as the Allies set to work crippling the German air force in preparation for the liberation of Europe.

D-Day marked a new phase in the war for everyone engaged in the conflict in Europe. The tweets and blog posts that follow will show in ‘real time’ how the 78th contributed to what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called ‘this great and noble undertaking’. They will be a mixture of quoted sections of the 78th’s own records and our summaries of the Group’s activities.

During these two months, the 78th undertook a mixture of missions. They escorted bombers to targets  – some in the invasion area, some further afield:

They also conducted fighter-bomber missions against targets such as bridges and communications centres. And they did a lot of ground-attack work, often on the way home from missions, and particularly against trains and other railway stock. This was ‘the most difficult mission of all’, as Hayden Richards told us in an interview several years ago:

Our information has been taken from a variety of sources. Looking through the 78th’s records has allowed us to pull out some interesting domestic snippets from the ‘Daily Bulletins’, which show how life at Duxford continued through May and June 1944.

An extract from the 78th Fighter Group’s records, signed by Stanley Markusen, PR Officer and Group Historian, recording activities in June 1944.

An extract from the 78th Fighter Group’s records, signed by Stanley Markusen, PR Officer and Group Historian, recording activities in June 1944.

For mission details, which form the backbone of these entries, we’ve drawn extensively on the work of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, and from the intelligence summaries prepared by US VIII Fighter Command. Unfortunately, as the summary of 20 June 1944 reports, ‘this narrative was not issued for the operations concerning the period 5 June to 19 June 1944’, the time when the Group was at its busiest. We’ve therefore used other published sources, such as Garry Fry’s excellent Eagles of Duxford and Roger Freeman’s impressive  Mighty Eighth War Diary to help us fill in the gaps.

There are other great resources out there which have proved very useful. This web page, run by a tireless champion of the 78th Fighter Group, contains many fascinating MACRs (Missing Air Crew Reports) and other information, scanned documents and photographs. It’s possible to spend many hours reading these pages. They paint a vivid picture of the breathless dogfighting that took place over Europe in the summer of 1944. Some contain extra information. This one is particularly poignant, as it contains a letter written by the young airman’s father, as he attempted to discover how his son had died.

Little Friends is another mine of useful data with lots of fascinating photos of the Group and their aircraft.

I hope that the next few weeks of blogging and tweeting will give an insight into the 78th’s war, and show how D-Day unfolded for the ‘Duxford Eagles’.



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