Parham: When the Americans came to Suffolk

Posted on 14/11/2021 By

Parham

Parham Airfield Museum.

Parham Airfield Museum.

Bertie: “You OK, Bobby? You look a bit Uncle Dick!”

Bobby: “Cream crackered Bertie. The buses and Sutton United yesterday were brilliant, but I’m knackered.”

Bertie: “Let’s stop at Lakeside services. Have a rest and a large Americano… with milk. I know it’s a ghastly dump, but you need a rest.”

I was right and soon we were cruising into beautiful Suffolk. Leaving the A12, as directed by June, and heading towards Parham Airfield.

And there we were. Suddenly the countryside opened out into one of those East Anglian vistas. Big fields and even bigger skies. Peaceful. Imagine a skylark singing. Only a squat building with a Stars and Stripes flag flying giving away a very different scene over seventy years ago.

The bedlam of heavy bombers taking off day after day. The anxious wait to see how many came back. And then it was all over. The Americans went home. The airfield was restored to its former landowners. The runways dug up. And farming resumed. Just the squat building, a bit of concrete and some large hangers that became home to pigs.

Many years later that squat building, the control tower, now dilapidated, was taken over by volunteers. They restored the building and created a museum in memory of those young American airman who came to a foreign land to fight a ruthless enemy. 743 were killed or missing in action. 740 shot down and captured in enemy prison camps. And eventually the liberty we all enjoy today was restored.

In 1940, the Royal Air Force was our last defence against Nazi Germany. We were on our own. We fought and won the Battle of Britain and prevented the planned invasion. Pearl Harbour dragged America into the conflict. Giving Hitler the excuse he had sought to immediately declare war on the United States.

The only way to fight and defeat a determined enemy was to try to stop their aggression. Basically to bomb and destroy the infrastructure that supported their war machine.

The RAF tried bombing in daylight and got shot to pieces. From fighters and ground attack. And then the Americans came. East Anglia was suddenly invaded by young American airmen. Aerodromes were hastily built and the bombers came. Mostly B17 Flying Fortresses. They bombed by day. The RAF by night. Both suffering horrific losses of life. But what was the alternative?

And here is the museum sign. Only open on Sundays. And it was Sunday. Simpers Drift was just round the corner. Hello to June and Nic . “We are off to the museum.”

Parham Airfield Museum

Bertie by the sign for Parham Airfield Museum.

Station 153, Framingham, was built in 1942, using land requisitioned from local farms. The runways were constructed from hardcore brought in from bomb sites in London and the Midlands. Living accommodation was provided for 3,000 personnel.

The history of the next few years as an operational base is fully encapsulated in this marvellous museum. And then it was all over. The Americans went home. The runways mostly broken up and the land restored to its previous owners.

We loved this museum, but need to spend more time there. Particularly as it has an extra small museum adjacent to the control tower. We had never heard of The British Resistance Organisation, which was set up to meet the threat of armed invasion. Saving that for next time too.

Here is the website for the museum.

An interesting article of reminiscences.

And the museum:

Checkpoint at the entrance to the museum.

Checkpoint.

Tea towel map. Just see how many Airforce bases there were in East Anglia during war.

Tea towel map. Just see how many Airforce bases there were in East Anglia during war. Note especially the index showing how many were American.

US uniforms.

US uniforms.

Bertie looking at the drawing of a B17 Flying Fortress.

B17 Flying Fortress.

Air gunner, wearing mask and with bullets over his shoulder.

Air gunner.

Painting of a B17 landing at Parham.

B17 landing at Parham.

Bertie on one of the 3,000 camp beds.

Accommodation for 3,000.

Bertie in the accommodation.

Bertie looking at the pin ups on the wall - including a cartoon of Betty Boop.

Pin ups. Even Betty Boop!

Memorial to those who didn’t come back.

Memorial to those who didn’t come back.

Salvaged bomber parts from crashed aircraft.

Salvaged bomber parts from crashed aircraft.

Salvaged bomber parts from crashed aircraft.

Painting of “Sally B” (see below) over Parham in 2007.

“Sally B” (see below) over Parham in 2007.

Gun turret.

Gun turret.

Information board witht he history of the control tower.

Bertie on the control tower.

We went up on top of the control tower and tried to imagine how it must have been.

View from the control tower of where the runway would have been.

Where bombers queued up for another mission. Would they come back?

Nice model of a B17 being serviced.

Nice model of a B17 being serviced.

This is a very special picture of Liberty Belle over Parham in 2008. A B17 that actually flew from Parham during the war.

This is a very special picture of Liberty Belle over Parham in 2008. A B17 that actually flew from Parham during the war. (See below).

Poem about the airfield.

Poem about the airfield.

Poem from an airman "for if I didn't make it".

St Mary’s, Parham

We went to the village church to see the memorial to one particular B17 that crashed close by. It’s hard to imagine a more rural scene nowadays compared with when the Americans were there in force.

St Mary's Church, Parham.

Lytchgate to St Mary's, with the Church Tower in the background.

Interior of St Mary's, Parham.

Memorial to one crew who crashed close to the church.

Memorial to one crew who crashed close to the church.

One of the plain, but tall, windows, that make the church light and airy.

Beautiful tall windows that make the church very light and airy.

Sunset over Parham Airfield.

Sunset over Parham Airfield.

East Anglia is famous for its village signs. Note Parham’s has a B17 within it.

East Anglia is famous for its village signs. Note Parham’s has a B17 within it.

B17 Flying Fortress

Bobby couldn’t let the moment pass without remembering how much he has missed air shows since 2019. Particularly the famous Flying Legends Air Show at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Cancelled for two years, it is transferring to Sywell in Northamptonshire.

Duxford is the Imperial War Museum’s jewel in the crown. Many historic aircraft are restored, maintained and flown from there. None more famous than Sally B. The last flying B17 Flying Fortress in Europe. Privately funded, and run by volunteers, Sally B is an amazing tribute to the dedication of its supporters.

All the pictures that follow were taken at Flying Legends Air Shows over the last fifteen years. Most are of Sally B, either as herself or masquerading as ‘Memphis Belle’ for the film of the same name. Two other B17s came to Flying Legends in 2008. Pink Lady from France. Liberty Belle from the US.

Memphis Belle.

Memphis Belle.

Memphis Belle.

Memphis Belle.

Pink Lady.

Pink Lady.

Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle.

Memphis Belle.

Memphis Belle.

Sally B.

Sally B.

Sally B.

Sally B.

Sally B.

Sally B.

Sally B trailing mock smoke.

Sally B trailing mock smoke.

Duxford line-up, including Sally B.

Duxford line-up, including Sally B.

Sally B with Mustangs.

Sally B with Mustangs.

Sally B.

Sally B.

And finally this superb YouTube video was filmed at Flying Legends 2008. It’s a sobering thought that of the three B17s we have featured, only Sally B still flies. Pink Lady is retired. Liberty Belle caught fire and was crash landed in a field and destroyed. Nobody was hurt.

Lighting a Candle to Diddley and to Private Evan Davies

Today is Remembrance Sunday and once again we remember Private Evan Davies on behalf of Diddley.

Remembrance Day: Lighting a Candle for Diddley - This is her only photograph of Private Evan Davies' grave.

Private Evan Davies. Killed in battle. 21 September 1916. Aged 20. The blog tells you all about him and his sharing a grave with a New Zealander.

Bertie with a candle lit for Diddley in front of him.

Lighting a Candle for Diddley

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MemoriesMindfulMuseum    


  1. Phil Barnett says:

    I was amazed at the number of air bases in East Anglia. Staggering. Loved the video of the B52s.

    • Bertie says:

      Definitely going back next year. Reincarnating my plane spotting days from 1959. Peter S was also a plane spotter. Long time ago

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