Profile Photo

  • 397 articles
  • 35,154 karma
  • 244 friends

Seventy Years On

About six miles from where I live in Norfolk, is the village of Old Buckenham. It’s much the same as many Norfolk villages – old houses, a few lanes, a large meadow-like green at the centre of the village that’s looked the same for 600 years. I’m a governor at the local school.

There are two pubs. One, the Gamekeeper, is a traditional country pub, while across the green is another pub, the Ox and Plough. It’s a little more unusual.

Along the walls in the bar area (mind the sleeping dog by the fire), are framed photos of US airmen and B-24 Liberators. Which leads me to the subject at hand: the 453rd Bomb Group (Heavy), once stationed at Old Buckenham airfield, about two miles down a back lane from the village.

RAF Old Buckenham was built during 1942-43 for the USAAF (Eighth Air Force). It was given designation USAAF Air Station 144. The airfield was opened in late 1943 and was used by the 453rd, arriving from March Field, California on 23 December, 1943. The group tail code was a “Circle-J”. The group flew Consolidated B-24 Liberators as part of the Eighth Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign.

The 453rd BG entered combat on 5 February 1944 with an attack against an airfield at Tours. Throughout combat, the unit served chiefly as a strategic bombardment organisation. Targets included a fuel depot at Dulmen, marshalling yards at Paderborn, aircraft assembly plants at Gotha, railway centres at Hamm, an ordnance depot at Glinde, oil refineries at Gelsenkirchen, chemical works at Leverkusen, and these but a few of the mission targets.

James “Jimmy” Stewart, the Hollywood movie star, was Group Operations Officer at Old Buckenham during the spring of 1944 (You may be aware, that one of Jimmy Stewart’s favourite pastimes in later life was to visit fellow-actor Henry Fonda’s house, where the two of them would sit for hours making model airplanes). The 453rd’s last mission was in April 1945.

Today several original buildings and concrete pads remain at the site, the majority of which form part of Old Buckenham Airport, an active 126 acre airfield site with one hard runway and two grass strips. The field accommodates mostly light civilian Cessna-type private aircraft.

Each year, they organise a small airshow. The last time I went, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made an appearance – a Lancaster, a Spitfire, a Hurricane, all vintage – throttle-up at 500 feet above these country fields.

In May 1983, during the 2nd Air Division reunion, the 453rd Bomb Group dedicated an extension to the Village Hall as a memorial to the 366 members of the Group who lost their lives serving here. The room contains various wartime artefacts and memorabilia and a large bronze plaque listing those who are remembered.

A large black granite memorial to the servicemen is at the entrance to the buildings of the modern day airfield. It’s in the form of a tailplane from a B-24. In October 2012 the stone was moved from its previous location into a specially created memorial garden.

This week, in the local paper, there’s a story about some photographs. Cinematographer and photographer Stefan Tarzan (what a great name) had bought a box of photographic supplies and equipment, cannisters labelled US Army Air Corps, at an auction in Montana USA. In these were undeveloped film and more than 90 images, depicting life at Old Buckenham airfield. After researching the images, he contacted the airfield to let them know of the find.

In a couple of days, it’s the 70th anniversary of the airfield, and its a great and remarkable coincidence that these images have been found. I’ve scanned the photos from the paper to give you an idea of the background.

There are also some images of me. When I was 60, I flew a 1941 Stearman biplane from the field. It’s a bright yellow and green aircraft that in WW2 was flown by trainee US pilots, prior to their ‘stepping up’ to mono-wing airframes.

Somewhere, there’s a video of my wife, watching me from the ground as the Stearman loops over in a 360. She’s shouting, “My God, he’s upside-down!”


8 additional images. Click to enlarge.

14 responses to Seventy Years On

  1. Thanks for posting the images. My Father flew B-24’s out of Italy so any pictures I see of the are appreciated. Hope you have more. I have a picture of the crew in front of his aircraft loke the one you posted but unfortunately they are numbered & not named.
    Is a school govrnor like a principle here in the States.

    • No, a school governor oversees the management team of the school. Every school has several governors, depending on area of expertise – mine is educational finance. The US school principal equivalent here is titled Headteacher.

      The B-24 photos here are all the paper printed. I think the airfield Trust may be doing a DVD with the newly found films and photos, for sale in the near future. Should be interesting.

  2. The town (or area) where you live sound exactly like the place(s) my wife and I would would like to see and visit – i.e., the “real” Britain and not the “touristy” places. I’ve never been there and the only concession I ask of SWMBO is that we travel to Duxford.

  3. Thanks Rob for posting the photos and your narrative, they’re great.
    One of my favorite movie scenes is when Dean Jagger rides his bicycle out to an abandoned post war airfield in the English country side, and pauses to look at the field’s remains. Suddenly the wind picks up and blows the un cut grass along the tarmac and the camera work segues into a B-17 preparing to take off on a mission. That powerful scene still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, “12 O’clock High” is a great movie.

  4. Thanks very much Rob for the history and the posted photos. I am sure it is a very different experience of life when all those sites and remembrances are so close at hand. I live in Courtice, just east of Toronto and there are some sites here related to WWII that have long disappeared. Oshawa airport was developed as part of the British Commowealth Air Training Plan and was quite large at the time, but there are only a few huts left that don’t even have historical status assigned to them, so they could be bought and torn down any time. Camp X was at the Whitby/Oshawa border and was part of SOE training, but there are no buildings left and there is only an historical plaque to mark the spot. Bowmanville was the site of POW Camp 30 and is just a group of rotting, vandalized buildings that were going to be torn down to build new houses. It at least was saved as a National Historic Site but there is no money for repair yet. It is nice to see that the anniversary is still being celebrated and that the past is remembered in that pub you described. Nice as well, that those photos were found and passed on. Please post the other pictures you have and I am sure that they will be appreciated here.

  5. Rob,
    What a wonderful story. It must be great to live in the midst of all that history. That pub must be an amazing place to go to. Thanks for posting this!

  6. Have you ever heard about RAF 23 Squadron stationed at Little Snoring?

    I wrote this in 2010.

    • Yes Little Snoring is in north Norfolk. As well as Mosquitos, they also had Lancs and Beaufighters there at different times. Other squadrons were based there in their time.

      Norfolk was covered with RAF bases in the war, most now ploughed under, but still a few sites recognisable.

  7. nice stuff…mel torme was also a modeller as is dennis quaid…what is that in the first picture a ball washer

  8. Thanks for the post, the B-24 is my favorite American bomber of WWII. I always enjoy seeing new pictures. Thanks.

Leave a Reply