December 6 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Horham is a sleepy place.
The traffic is light, the ancient church open to occasional visitors, a red telephone box still stands not far from the village sign and the gently rolling countryside is calm.
But today’s peaceful North Suffolk farmland wasn’t always like this.
For two years at the height of hostilities, Horham was home to an American airbase.
Ray Howlett is archivist and curator of the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association’s museum just outside the village.
He said: “The aim of the museum is to keep the legacy and memory alive of the 95th Bomb Group who flew and served at Horham airfield from May 1943 to May 1945.
“There were 2,800 American servicemen at the site at any one time. They were part of the 8th Air Force Bomb Group which provided heavy bombardment from around 70 airfields across Norfolk and Suffolk. It was part of the strategic bombing campaign of German occupied Europe and Germany itself.”
The 95th flew 334 missions between May 14, 1943 and May 25, 1945 and was the first bomb group to perform a daylight raid on Berlin. It claimed 425 enemy aircraft destroyed, the highest number by any USAAF bomb group in the Second World War.
Once there were 800 buildings on the 500-acre site, today just 15 remain including the NCO club used by the ground crew. Today what was once an area for relaxing and eating is a museum – known as The Red Feather Club – operated and managed by the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association.
Ray said: “The former kitchen, which is now the entrance, houses a massive diorama of the airfield as it was during WW2 and the roll of honour listing all those lost.
“The mural room houses original artwork painted by US servicemen and preserved in place by the association. The bar is a faithful recreation of the bar as it was used by NCOs during WW2. The museum itself used to be the Beer Hall. The most recently opened part of the complex is the former Dry Lounge – which is now called the Blue Lounge and is used extensively for 40s style dances and events of all types.”
The museum contains a host of artefacts telling many personal stories of the men and women who served at the airfield.
Ray added: “We welcome school visits and we are trying to hand on this part of local history to the next generation. We are telling the story of what went on here during those two years.
“A total of 620 airmen were killed in action flying from this airfield alone and 900 became prisoners of war. It is their memory and experiences we are preserving. Today there are 130 servicemen from the US 95th Bomb Group still alive in America. We still get visits from people and families of people who served here during those years.”
Open on Sundays to the public from April to October, the museum hosts a programme of re-enactment events.
The Red Feather Club is also the home to the 1285th Military Police Company re-enactors.
Brian Chapman, now in his 70s, was a small boy when the Americans came to Horham.
He said: “I lived on the edge of the perimeter track. I remember the night Glen Miller performed. I was taken by an American serviceman who was a friend of my brothers. He took me on my shoulders so I could see Glen Miller, it was very crowded.”
Brian said Suffolk had been very quiet until the Americans came.
He said: “It was scary too as it turned the area into a military target. I remember our house being damaged when a Dornier dropped its bombs.”
He added: “The airfields were an important part of Suffolk’s history. We had never seen anything like it when they came. They built so much in such a short space of time. It changed life in Suffolk.”