Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Bombing Missions, “My Aching Ass” and Swiss Internment Camps: Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

January 26th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Last Wednesday I made my way to the Norwich Archive Centre where I took a tour of their facility.  I decided that since I was doing my Humanities 310 research paper on the 2nd Air Division, I could possibly assist in my research by volunteering at the Archive Centre.  Getting to the Archive Centre was fairly easy; I took the 25 bus into town and then got on to the 100 bus; luckily I was able to use my bus pass.  What I first noticed about the Archive Centre was that there was a replica Jaguar aircraft outside.  Inside, I had to put my schoolbag and jacket in a locker for “security reasons.”  I then met my contact, Hannah (an archivist), and proceeded with a tour of their facility.  She mentioned that there was over 7km of archival material (if lined up properly of course).  The building itself is very modern and high-tech; most rooms require key card access.  Though the Archive Centre is quite large, the amount of staff did surprise me.

After the tour I met up with Jonathan, who deals with audio recordings.  He instructed me that as part of my volunteer work I would be listening to sound recording of American WWII veterans who served in the 2nd Air Division.  It would be my job to note anything of interest basically.  I would be doing this because in a few months Jonathan is giving a lecture and he would like to use a few audio clips in it.  Interestingly, Jonathan mentioned that I would undoubtedly come across some fascinating, odd and humorous accounts.  One account he told me was of a roughly thirty second clip of an American veteran basically saying: “I was shot down on my 2nd combat mission and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp…you don’t want to hear about that.”  That was it.  I figured not only would this be perfect to help with my essay, but it would be an amazing learning experience as well.

Today (26 Tuesday 2010) I was able to make it to the Archive Centre and listen to some audio clips.  Jonathan made sure to tell me that because of the size of the facility, it would be best to look over what audio clips interested me the day before and then e-mail Hannah so she could obtain them for me and have them ready the next day.  I did just that and today I was able to listen to two American veterans.  The first clip was pretty much a half hour on the dot.  The veteran recording it mentioned that he was drafted in 1942 but did not arrive in the United Kingdom until 1944 (mostly due to training and washing out of certain programs).   He was a tail gunner for a B-24 and had a few interesting anecdotes, especially one involving a pub (“Labour in Vain”) which he found striking due to the name and the circumstances the world was in at the time.  Interestingly, he mentions that he did not serve on one single B-24, but 14!  One humorous name of an aircraft he flew on was “My Aching Ass.”

The second audio clip I found particularly interesting.  The veteran in it was another tail gunner for a B-24.  He notes that his first impression of English people was of them trying to get into the chow line because the GIs had the best food in the area (due to rationing).  More seriously, he mentions a mission to Kjeller, Oslo, Norway in which on the way back his aircraft was shot at by German fighters but managed to make it back to the coast of England, where he was forced to parachute out.  Not knowing where he was, the first thing he asked to the first person he found was “Is this England?”  However, the most fascinating part of this recording was the end in which he describes the before and after aspects of a bombing mission against Lechfeld, South Augsburg, Germany.  The veteran notes that this a was a deep penetration mission and that on the way back, due to low oil pressure and not enemy fire, the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in Switzerland.  However, since Switzerland was neutral at the time and because an unknown bomber was entering its airspace, the Swiss fired upon it.  Fortunately, the aircraft was able to land and the crew was interned.  Despite being shot at by the Swiss, the veteran makes note to mention how hospitable the Swiss were.  They offered limited travel and even gave the opportunity to take courses in French and German.  The veteran ends the recording by stating how the Swiss internment camps were a “microcosm of the world at war” due to the camps holding internees from almost every country (including Germany, US, UK, Italy, and even South Africa).

From these two audio clips I was able to obtain about six fragments that could be of use to Jonathan.

Volunteer Time: 2 hrs.

Total Time: 2 hrs.

Tags: Andrew F