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VE Day: The Start of a Waiting Game

American airmen with British civilians after VE Day

US official photograph showing American airmen having a drink with Brits outside the Waggon and Horses pub in Great Yeldham, near their base at Ridgewell, Essex, on 17 May 1945. They are gathered around a now defunct local pastime: ‘Bet! V.E. before July’ (FRE 13699)

The American airmen did not simply pack up their bags and board troop ships as the final notes of the VE Day big band faded away. Instead, the Roger Freeman Collection of photographs shows how they spent the time between the end of war and their return home, up in the air and on the ground.

One of the quirks of researching the impact of American airmen on Britain during the Second World War is that very often airfields across East Anglia remained in American hands until the winter of 1945. By November of that year, the bright days of May had faded somewhat and although the August news relieved airmen of possible duty in the Pacific it must have been a homesick bunch of GIs that kicked about East Anglia, as the trees lost their leaves, waiting for orders to go home.

The Roger Freeman Collection gives a good picture of life at war but I’ve taken the chance of the approaching VE Day Anniversary Air Show coming up at IWM Duxford to find out what it reveals about what life was like for Americans in England after the Nazi surrender.

One of the stories told by Bomb Group veterans is that they used the days after VE Day to give lifts to ground crew, who had spent their days making the bombers airworthy and armed, to show them the effect of Allied bombing raids on Nazi industrial sites.

aerial photograph

Aerial photograph taken by George H Parker, a supply staff officer with the 466th Bomb Group. (© IWM
FRE 10576)

George Parker’s photo could well have been taken on one of these post-VE-Day flights but we need help from the public before we can be sure.  As a supply staff officer he would have served on base during the war. The American Air Museum team currently don’t know which bomb-damaged city is shown in this photograph (FRE 10576).The majority of Roger Freeman’s photographs are available on the American Air Museum website and the information is capable of being edited by anyone who knows more about any photo than is currently in the caption. The hope is that independent researchers will register on the AAM website and share their findings, whether that’s biographical information about George Parker, geographical knowledge of the cities of northern Europe or other information.

VE Day also meant trips to other US Army Air Forces bases around England for parties and to welcome home airmen recently liberated by Allied forces.

Reunited officers after VE Day

Reunion after VE Day of three 353rd Fighter Group Commanding Officers at Raydon air base where the group were stationed. Left to right they are: Colonel Ben Rimerman, Lieutenant Colonel Loren G McCollom and Colonel Glenn E Duncan. McCollom visited the group on 17 May 1945. (© IWM
FRE 376)

A classic scene of reunion. Lieutenant Colonel McCollom had been a Prisoner of War since November 1943. Colonel Duncan had been shot down on 7 July 1944 and had evaded capture with the help of the Dutch underground until April 1945 when he had returned to Raydon and resumed his command of the 353rd Fighter Group. Both of these men went on to have long careers in the US Air Force.

A different fate awaited the third officer, Colonel Ben Rimerman. Rimerman was killed in an aircraft crash on 11 August 1945 when he accepted a lift from another 353rd Fighter Group man, Captain William J Maguire, to attend a party at Raydon. Maguire was also killed. Both men are buried in Cambridge American Cemetery at Madingley. The cause of the crash could not be established; it was just a most unlucky twist of fate.

It is not uncommon to see dates of death on the headstones at Madingley that come after the war’s end. There were many accidents and it was hard for the officers to maintain the same strict discipline that had been in place before. Here are a few more photos from the Freeman Collection that show some of the distractions organised to keep the US airmen occupied and out of trouble until they were able to return home.

Boxted air base visit

Brits from nearby Colchester are given a tour around the sights of Boxted air base by members of the 56th Fighter Group in May 1945. (© IWM
FRE 198)

The Flying Eagles Orchestra Band

The Flying Eagles Orchestra Band of the 4th Fighter Group head off on a 30-day tour of Eighth Air Force bases after VE Day. Photo taken 10 July 1945. (© IWM
FRE 40)

Bullington Church

Many US servicemen used their time waiting for news to travel around England. This photo was taken by an unknown airman of the 48th Fighter Group of Bullington Church on 17 July 1945. Our only clue to his identity is Roger Freeman’s note that the image came via ‘Harold’. (© IWM
FRE 6962).

Landing accident at Baldonnel

Sometimes they still got into trouble. A B-17 Flying Fortress (serial number 44-6883) nicknamed “RAF AFF” of the 381st Bomb Group meets with a high hedge after a landing accident at Baldonnel, near Dublin, on 12 November 1945. (© IWM
FRE 10919)

There’s a lot more to find out about these photographs. Please register on the AAM website to add more information about these images and many others of American airmen and British civilians rubbing shoulders in Britain, not only in wartime but in peacetime too.

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