Oral History Project – United States Air Force In The East Of England

8th_in_the_east08:26 Monday 16th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: It was nicknamed the “friendly invasion”, the time when American airmen, kitted out with flying googles and leather caps and an air of glamour, landed at air bases in Britain and flew missions over Nazi Germany during World War 2. They flew out of Bassingbourn of course, Kimbolton, Steeple Morden, Bottisham and many many more airfields across Cambridgeshire. Now a heritage project is being given more than half a million pounds, to gather people’s memories of those old bases, and the stories they hold. Nick Patrick is the project leader of the 8th In The East project. Nick, morning.
NICK PATRICK: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Now Cambridgeshire of course is literally carpeted in old airfields. Why is this called the 8th In The East project?
NICK PATRICK: It’s the 8th Air Force. The United States Army Air Force. The 8th Air Force was based in the East of England, from 1942 onwards. But when the Americans joined the War in ’41, early ’42, there was a thought that maybe the 8th would go to Northern Ireland, maybe to Yorkshire. But they landed, forgive the pun, in the eastern counties. And as you rightly say Paul, there are twelve of these American airfields in Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: I mentioned quite a lot in the South of the county. Were they all based in the South? Because there’s places like Wittering of course. There’s another further up from Wittering, just past Stamford. And quite a few more, isn’t there?
NICK PATRICK: Yes. Places like Alconbury as well. So they’re fairly well dotted around the county. The big thing here is Paul I think most of us know the story of these 26,000 brave young Americans who lost their lives flying daylight raids over Europe. But we seem to have forgotten about the social and the landscape history of this friendly invasion. And very very sadly, this is disappearing. Lots of the runways, lots of the buildings, are disappearing through development. And the people who have kept this history alive, in fabulous little museums throughout Cambridgeshire, they’re slowly passing too.So if we don’t grab this moment, and thankfully the Heritage Lottery Fund has seen this, we won’t preserve this for future generations.
PAUL STAINTON: I think we’ve got a museum at Bassingbourn, haven’t we, I think as well.
NICK PATRICK: Bassingbourn yes. There’s a fantastic museum at Bassingbourn. there’s Bottisham. And let’s not forget Duxford too.
PAUL STAINTON: Of course. No. I did a sports awards from there the other year. Some of the planes in there are just absolutely fantastic. What are you looking for then?
NICK PATRICK: Well you mentioned planes. We are about people and places. So we are interested in collecting oral histories from people who remember the Americans here. We’re also interested in volunteers coming forward to help us with the archeology of the 8th Air Force. Now that sounds daft, doesn’t it, archeology from only seventy years ago. But It’s going fast. And I reckon if we were standing here a hundred years after the Fall of the Roman Empire, we’d be doing our darndest to try and record those lovely Roman villas. Well that’s what we’re trying to do, seventy years on after the friendly invasion. Record where the runways were, where the buildings were, all this stuff that is slowly disappearing.
PAUL STAINTON: How can people help? How can they get in touch?
NICK PATRICK: They can contact us through our website, which is www.8theast.org We want to reach out to people of all different ages, because we feel that by doing this work, they might not be interested in history Paul, but they might be interested in recording memories, using audio equipment. They might be interested in helping out at museums. They might be interested in archeological work. They might be interested in making films. There’s lots of opportunities here, and we want to reach out to the people of Cambridgeshire. And just finally, there’s a very very interesting hidden history here, of black Americans . This was a racially segregated air force, and we never hear about the black GIs.
PAUL STAINTON: Interesting. Fascinating stuff, and I hope you get plenty of everything. Nick Patrick, project leader of 8th In The East project.