Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A “Reluctant Co-Pilot,” British Humour and an “Unassuming Fellow”: Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

February 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

On February 11th and February 18th I was able to make my fourth and fifth visits to the Norwich Archive Centre.  I was able to listen to around six audio recordings from US WWII veterans.  I won’t mention all of them but I will try to touch on a few.  The first audio recording was of a veteran who served primarily as a co-pilot throughout the Second World War.  He mentions basic training and gives a brief overview of some bombing missions he took part in.  For the most part this audio recording was fairly straight forward with few anecdotes.  However, one interesting thing to note is that this veteran published a book about his experience during the War – “The Saga of a Reluctant Co-Pilot” (available at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library). In the audio recording, he expands on his reluctance.  He notes that he was unhappy most of the time with military life.  The training was too regimented in his opinion and as a result he never got to make close friendships; this was only compounded by the fact that groups changed frequently.

The next audio recording was also of a co-pilot of a B-24.  After briefly going over his training he was keen to mention his plane, “Gerocko.”  He noted how its unique nose art made it stand out from all the other aircraft.  Being stationed in Britain, he watched cricket for the first time with a certain fascination.  He then notes all the types of missions he fly while in Britain.  These range from bombing aircraft plants to railroad yards to airfields to V1 rocket sites to oil refineries.  In total he flew 24 missions but he did have a few notable missions.  The one that really stood out was a bombing mission to Evereux, France.  During the course of the mission, his plane took damage to the engines and they were forced to land on French soil.  Interestingly, because of the forced landing his plane was the first four-engine bomber to land on free French soil.

The next veteran was a ball turret gunner for a B-24.  He mentions enlisting at 18, being inducted in 1942 and describes his training.  He has numerous anecdotes including one about the English sense of humor.  Noting the poor weather one day to an Englishman, the veteran asked, “Do you ever have summer?”  The Englishman replied, “Yes, I believe we do and it came on a Saturday last year.”  The next anecdote he mentions is about a train ride back from London.  On the train he noticed a particularly attractive young Englishwoman.  Mustering up courage, he was able to start a conversation with her.  Eventually he managed to ask her if could have her address so they could go on a date.  She agreed and he took out a slip of paper to write on but unfortunately could not find a pen or pencil on him.  However, when he looked up he noticed two Englishmen and two Englishwomen offering pens.  So he got the address after all.

Before I end I have to mention an interesting development at the Norwich Archive Centre.  In my last blog post I ended with a story of WWII veteran who was interned in Turkey.  From his audio recording I had the suspicion that he was involved with some type of covert operation or involved with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  One of the archivists mentioned that this veteran actually came to the Norwich Archive Centre about a week ago.  The archivist was able to speak with him for a bit and it was revealed that this “unassuming fellow” was actually ex-CIA.

Volunteer Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.

Total Time: 10 hrs.

Tags: Andrew F

An ‘Eye Opening’ Sight, “Kangaroo Rats” and British Liberators: Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

February 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

On Tuesday I was able to make my third visit to the Norwich Archive Centre.  I listened to two audio recordings which were both about an hour long.  The first was of an American veteran from Alabama.  He enlisted in August 1942 but due to being underweight was sent home for a week to gain weight.  The morning of his physical, he ate a “sack” full of bananas and drank lots of milk (which allowed him to gain the weight required).  Despite being over 6 ft. tall, the veteran was able to enroll in gunnery training after telling a Sergeant he joined to have a gun in his hands and after threatening to go AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave).  He flew 13 missions over Europe before being shot down near Giessen, Germany.  Luckily, he bailed out and when he hit the ground, he encountered a farmer and his wife; the farmer was able to disarm the veteran of his pistol.  Shortly afterward, villagers arrived to see what was happening.  It was decided that he was to be taken to the town’s jail.  However, because his legs were slightly injured, he required help to get to a wagon which would take him to town.  Two young Germans (a boy and a girl) helped him walk about halfway when they stopped to rest.  It must be mentioned that the veteran was also bleeding from the head and because of the temperature while descending, some of the blood froze in and around his eyes so seeing was difficult.  So as the veteran was being helped up again by the young German girl, he was able to see up her dress.  Humorously, the veteran notes that at this exact moment his eyesight fully came back to him.  Jokingly, he said perhaps it was that sight which gave him back his eyesight.  After spending some time in the jail in town, he was eventually transferred to a German army hospital.  While at the hospital, he was able to make friends with a German officer who offered to help him escape.  However, three captured US Army officers soon arrived and joined in the plan.  One of the captured officers was a Colonel who after carefully considering the escape plan, decided not to allow it.  Luckily, that decision saved the men’s lives as the place where the German officer would hide the men (his house) was bombed later in the war.  The men were eventually transferred to a prisoner of war camp, where they were liberated by British troops later in the war.  Interestingly, the British officer who liberated the camp stood atop a jeep and eloquently stated, “Gentlemen, you are officially liberated.”

The second audio recording was of an American veteran who, at first, was not stationed in England, but Africa.  Specifically, he was in Benghazi, Libya.  The veteran mentions some of the conditions of his desert environment.  He notes the water rations, dehydrated food and powdered lemonade (which was actually used to clean out mess tins because it was so strong).  There were no showers at the base but occasionally they could go to the beach and swim in the Mediterranean (which many only did once or twice because of the amount of salt and the desert conditions they had to go back to).  One interesting anecdote he mentions is of a “sport” developed by the men at the base.  This “sport” involved “hunters” who would wear only their boots and either a necktie or a hat (there were “no women within 99 miles”) and chase what they called “kangaroo rats” into trenches where they would bash them to death with a stick.  Later in the recording, the veteran mentions a bombing mission of Ploesti, Romania.  After bombing oil fields there, the veteran’s B-24 came under German attack and due to the extent of the damage they were forced to make an emergency landing in neutral Turkey.  After a forced landing at a Turkish military base and being surrounded by hundreds of Turkish soldiers, the crew was interned.  They were taken to a Turkish military academy where they were given a fair amount of freedom; they could go into town, watch movies, gamble, etc.  However, this did not stop many from escaping.  The veteran took part in a staged fight (thus distracting the guards) and this allowed for 17 men to escape.  Eventually the veteran himself was able to escape and he served the remainder of his duty in Britain.  Ending on a happy note, the veteran was married on 24 March 1945 in the Norwich Cathedral.

Volunteer Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Total Time: 5 hrs. 30 min.

Tags: Andrew F

Frenchman: “Schnapps?”, US Soldier: “Hell yes.” – Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

February 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

On Thursday (January 28th) I was able to spend an hour and fifteen minutes volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre.  While there, I was able to listen to two audio recordings of two American WWII veterans.  The first audio recording was of a former 2nd Lieutenant who served as a pilot in the 44th Bomb Group.  The 2nd Lt. joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in September 1942 and was put on active duty March 1943.  He flew 35 missions over Nazi occupied Europe.  The 2nd Lt. mentioned a few humorous anecdotes, making sure to note that the pubs in Norwich were always crowded with drunken GIs.  Fond of associating with Brits, the 2nd Lt. enjoyed London very much and made sure to mention the “wall-to-wall women” there.  However, the most interesting and funny anecdote involved a bombing mission of Dresden.  Due to enemy fire, the crew was forced to bail out over Alsace-Lorraine, France.  On board were a Colonel and a Captain, both of whom argued (while the bomber was going down) about who was to be the last out of the aircraft (the Colonel won out).  When the 2nd Lt. hit the ground, he was met by two men of the Free French Forces.  After a few minutes of trying to communicate, one of the Frenchmen asked, “Schnapps?” to which the 2nd Lt. responded “Hell yes.”  Sadly, the 2nd Lt. was not able to drink up with the Frenchmen as he had to look after an injured comrade.

The second audio recording was an American veteran who was an engineer/gunner on a B-24.  Much of the recording is about describing his training and various missions, but there are a few funny stories.  The first is when this veteran decided to go to Norwich with two buddies for a night of drinking.  Of course, in order to get to Norwich they had to ride their bikes from base to there and back.  The night of drinking was undoubtedly fun but on the way back the veteran’s chain snapped.  In a moment of drunken genius, the men decided to tow the man and his broke bike back to base with their three belts.  After landing in a few ditches and acquiring some minor cuts, the men eventually made it back to base.  The second anecdote involves the veteran meeting the farther of a girl he was dating while in Britain.  The father was a retired British officer (who served 37 years) and quite the serious man.  After explaining the medals the veteran had acquired and ending with the Good Conduct Medal, the father burst out, “You blooming Yanks get a medal for chewing gum, taking out the girls and drinking beer!”  He then proceeded to retrieve his old uniform and pointed to his Good Conduct Medal, which he said took 25 years to earn.

Volunteer Time: 1 hr. 15 min.

Total Time: 3 hrs. 15 min.

Tags: Andrew F

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