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A page from the Duxford Diary showing the aftermath of the 19 July 1944 crash.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of one of Duxford’s most tragic events – the crash of a visiting B-17 of the 95th Bomb Group, which killed 14 men. We’ve been back through the 78th Fighter Group’s records to add some different perspectives to this well-recorded incident.

19 July 1944 began much as any other for the 78th Fighter Group. After breakfast in the Officers’ Club and a briefing in their room on the south side of what is now Hangar 4, the pilots strapped themselves into their P-47s. By 0709, 49 were airborne, led by Major Ben I Mayo. Two hours later they were in action, strafing airfields. Several enemy aircraft were destroyed by the Group’s pilots, but not without loss: at approximately 0930, Major Norman D Munson, was killed. His wing man, 1st Lieutenant Kinsolving, later described what happened:

‘Major Munson came around again for a second pass. This time he set another twin engine aircraft on fire, but just as he did so, his plane was evidently hit by flak for his ship nosed down, hit the aerodrome at a slight angle and burst into flame. The flaming wreckage slid 100 yards off the aerodrome.’

Norman ‘Doug’ Munson, son of Warren and Sarah Munson of Plattsburgh, New York, was 24 years old.

The 78th arrived back at Duxford a few minutes after noon. As the Duxford Diary reported, ‘as usual after a big day, nearly everyone on the base was feeling pretty good.’ Around 1400, a B-17 landed. Its captain, Lieutenant Sasser, a friend of one of the 78th’s pilots, offered to take some of Duxford’s men for a ride in the aircraft – ‘Ready Freddie’. Several jumped at the chance, and by around 1430 were airborne.

What happened next caused the largest loss of life in a single incident in Duxford’s four decades as an operational airfield.

Captain John E. Lingenfelter’s 1042nd Signal Company submitted a report which described the tragedy:

‘Men from the base…climbed aboard a visiting bomber for a ride around the field. The bomber careered off the neon beacon on top of one of the hangars; lost its wing which crashed in front of the officers’ club; dropped one of its rubber auxiliary tanks through an empty Nissen hut and then crashed into the barrack of the 83rd where it burned, killing all on board and one man in the barrack. The barrack was completely demolished and all aboard the plane were burned beyond recognition.’

As well as the bomber’s crew – Sasser, Victor L Mintz, James A Heil Sr. and Francis J Bradburn – there were eight of Duxford’s men inside the B-17: Martin H Smith Jr., John B. Putnam Jr., Donald M. French, Ellsworth J Seesz, John F. Hamilton, John D. Gorman, Anthony C. Loguidice, Frank L Wojcicki, and Wilbur K. Edwards.  Ernest Taylor was in the barracks when the aircraft hit.

Identifying the dead proved to be a harrowing task, as the 1042nd report describes:

‘The accident…had caused considerable confusion in identification of the bodies whose dog-tags were melted with the heat or were lost in the crash. To eliminate any further difficulties along that line a check on dog-tags was made in the mess hall on the twenty-first by Colonel Williams and Major Floyd. Anyone unable to show his tags was ordered from the mess hall to get his dog tags.’

The deaths affected everyone on the station. This was reflected in the reports submitted by each section at the end of the month. Staff Sergeant William H Roberts wrote:

‘It is with the deepest regret that I am closing this month’s contribution on a note of sadness. The tragic accident that happened on our field… affected us very deeply, inasmuch as two of the three men lost from our squadron worked in our department. As a eulogist I am sadly lacking, however I would like at this time to express the department’s felicitations and high esteem for S/Sgt Donald French and Pfc. Wilbur K Edwards. Both men were of the highest moral character and as such accorded our respect. Their ability and willingness to work was exemplified by the proficient manner they performed their duties. They have departed in body but their ethereal presence will always remain.’

The Orderly Room’s Bill Brennan paid a moving tribute:

‘Death took one of the finest members of the squadron this month. A soldier whose quiet manner and devotion to duty will never be forgotten by any of us. Cpl Anthony C  Loguidice was an average G.I. He came from Albany, New York. He had been with the outfit ever since it was activated down at Esler Field. His duties were with the Transportation Section, where he worked diligently for a year and a half. Two days before he was killed he was promoted to the grade of Cpl.  A promotion which he sweated out for nearly a year. His death was one of those strange unexpected events that no-one but the Almighty can explain…To us it seems strange that “Tony” should die in this way because he always wanted to be a gunner so he could get a crack at the enemy. He had excellent grades and was an expert with a gun. A new regulation put out by Fighter Command stating that no one would be taken for gunnery duty if he wasn’t trained in the States prevented his being a gunner. Many things we will forget about “Tony” but never his quiet efficient manner, his hearty smile, and his always ready to lend a hand attitude.’

Sergeant Jacobs of the Transportation Section also remembered Tony Loguidice:

‘This month of July 1944 will  always live in the memories of Sgt Jacobs and the men under his supervision for it was Wednesday…of this month that Tony Loguidice, one of the original gang in this section lost his life in the tragic crash of the Flying Fortress. With the loss of Tony we also lost Johnny Gorman of the Transportation Section of the 1671st Ordnance Co., along with eight other enlisted men, the co-pilot of the B-17, Lt Putnam and one other pilot of the 84th Fighter Squadron. Loguidice will always be remembered by the Transportation Section as a man who was not only a perfect soldier but also a shining credit to his family and his home town Albany, New York.’

A page from the Duxford Diary: ‘Memorial service was held in Chapel following Sunday’

The funerals on 22 July were moving experiences for the men who attended, as Captain Lingenfelter’s company’s report recalled:

‘The usual Saturday morning inspection of the twenty-second was eliminated so that members of the field might attend a funeral mass at 0730 hours in honour of the men who died in the disaster of the nineteenth. That afternoon all men who desired to attend the funeral were relieved from duty and a convoy of ten or twelve trucks left the field for the Cambridge Military Cemetery at 1500 hours.

The members of the field who attended the funeral will long remember the scene with its…flag-covered coffins; its volleys and taps and many a man thanked God, as he left the cemetery overlooking Cambridge in the distance, for protecting him who might even then be slowly sliding from beneath the flags to rest in the soil of England.’

Duxford today, showing the site of the destroyed barrack block.

With thanks to Anne Hughes for archive research. To read more about the tragedy on 19 July, please also see this website, run by 78th Fighter Group historian Curt Shepard. It contains several pages of the original accident reports, and photographs of some of the men who lost their lives.

 

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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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John Milne

We were saddened to hear that John Milne, one of 19 Squadron’s ground crew fitters, died recently.

John arrived at RAF Duxford on 11 March 1940 and served here during the build-up to the Battle of Britain. He was allocated to ‘A’ Flight, which was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Brian Lane, who was later promoted to Squadron Leader and Officer Commanding 19 Squadron. John was serving with ‘A’ Flight when Douglas Bader joined its ranks.

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On the Saturday of The Duxford Air Show, IWM Duxford was treated to a visit from a very special guest. Nancy Stannard, nee Bateman was a WAAF who served at RAF Duxford between 1939 and 1941. She worked in the Operations Room as a teleprinter operator.

I had been in touch with Nancy and her family for a while and we had arranged for her to come back to IWM Duxford, selecting September in the hope that the weather would not be too bad. As it was we were treated to glorious sunshine.

It was a great to be able to host Nancy on a return visit to Duxford. The place looked very different, particularly due to all the air show hustle and bustle, but there were some areas, such as the Operations Room that were still very familiar to Nancy.

Over a well-deserved cup of tea, Nancy told me some of her memories of RAF Duxford, the place she says she remembers best out of all the places she served as a WAAF. Nancy was one of the very first WAAFs to arrive at RAF Duxford and she remembers the station not being quite ready for them. So much so that she and the other women, who had arrived with her, were given airmen’s greatcoats to wear as they didn’t have any made for women!

Nancy also said she vividly remembers going to dances in the hangar, dancing to tunes like In the Mood.

Having had a lovely chat with Nancy and really getting to know what RAF Duxford was like for her during the early years of the Second World War, I asked her if she was happy to be interviewed in the commentary box at the air show. Although slightly nervous, Nancy rose to the challenge and gave a wonderful interview. It was so good in fact, it was replayed on Sunday making Nancy’s audience over 33,000 people.

Having worked her very hard, I finally let her and her family relax and watch the air show. It was a great pleasure to meet Nancy and to hear her tales of RAF Duxford. Every time I interview a veteran, the historic site where I work every day takes on a new little detail. I doubt I shall walk through the Operations Room now without thinking about Nancy and the number of times she would have walked down that very same corridor.

A great day spent with one of Duxford’s people.

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John and Hilda met at RAF Duxford during the 1950s. They had their first ‘date’ at the cinema here on the domestic site. They have now been married for 54 years.

Over the last month or so Carl, Steve and I have been travelling the East of England and interviewing some of Duxford’s Cold War veterans.

We have been really lucky to have had the help of the Old Dux Association. They spread the word and helped us find our interviewees.

I have particularly enjoyed interviewing our Duxford couples. Everyone loves a good “so…how did you meet?” story but the fact that people got together at Duxford, the place I work every day, is even better!

One of the interesting things that really came out in the interviews concerned the fact that when a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force got married, she had to leave the services. Some of our interviewees evidently found this hard to take as they loved their jobs and the life that went with it. Life as a military wife took some getting used to.

Another thing that became clear during this interview process was that lasting friendships were made at Duxford. Indeed many of our Cold War veterans are still in touch with the friends they made here. This is particularly evident at meetings of the Old Dux Association when the veterans get together. The friendly rivalry between two of Duxford’s Cold War squadrons – No. 64 and 65 – is as strong as ever!

We still have a lot of people we want to interview and if you, or anyone you know, served at Duxford between 1945 and 1961 then please get in touch with us – and the Old Dux Association too. It is so important for us to capture the memories and stories of the people who lived and worked at Duxford. Their interviews will help bring our Historic Duxford exhibition to life.

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Scarab beetle etching.IWM Duxford has been visited by a wide range of people from a diverse set of countries over its 90-year history. It has recently come to our attention, however, that the first foreign visit to our little piece of South Cambridgeshire countryside may have been much earlier than we previously suspected.

Archaeological work undertaken on site in the last few weeks has revealed a remarkable man-made carving, only 64 feet from the entrance to Hangar 2: Flying Aircraft. As shown in the photograph, the carving depicts a scarab beetle, or scarabee. It is etched into what appears to be some form of conglomerate rock or breccia.

We know how important the scarab beetle was in ancient Egypt. It represented rebirth, and as a symbol is found in many places throughout the ancient world. The striking resemblance to similar carvings in North Africa allows us to date this piece to circa 1300 BCE.

Whoever completed this carving must have been extraordinarily firm of purpose, and very skilful. It has survived for what could be as much as 3,000 years – many of these surely in its present location.

If you have any information that could help us find out how this incredible artefact came to be here, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve already had some rather outlandish explanations as to how it arrived – including via a meteor!

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Tune: My Bonnie lies over the ocean

A poor aviator lay dying
At the end of a bright summer’s day
His comrades had gathered about him
To carry his fragments away

The airplane was piled on his wishbone
His Hotchkiss was wrapped round his head
He wore a spark-plug on each elbow
‘Twas plain he would shortly be dead

He spit out a valve and a gasket
And stirred in the sump where he lay
And then to his wondering comrades
These brave parting words he did say

“Take the magneto out of my stomach,
And the butterfly valve off my neck
Extract from my liver the crankshaft,
There are lots of good parts in this wreck”

“Take the manifold out of my larynx,
And the cylinders out of my brain,
 Take the piston rods out of my kidneys,
And assemble the engine again.”

Pull the longeron out of my backbone,
The turnbuckle out of my ear (my ear).
From the small of my back take the rudder-
There’s all of your aeroplane here.

I’ll be riding a cloud in the morning,
With no rotary before me to cuss (to cuss).
Take the lead from your feet and get busy,
Here’s another lad needing the bus!

There are various versions of this folk song, some with additional verses to the ones here. As in many communities, singing songs was a way people came together, particularly at a time before television and even radio. It was also a way of commenting on the experiences they shared, as is the case with this song.

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