December 12 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, September 7, 2013
An American bomber pilot stationed in Suffolk during the second world war has returned to one of his favourite wartime haunts.
Bernard T Nolan, 90, visited the Airmen’s Bar, in Lavenham’s historic Swan Hotel, where his signature appears on a wall alongside the names of dozens of his comrades.
Mr Nolan had travelled from his home just outside Washington DC in the US to revisit Suffolk and promote his recently re-printed book – The Deadly Skies: The Air War in Europe 1940-1945 – which documents the experiences of wartime pilots.
When, as a 21-year-old, he first encountered the Airmen’s Bar and signed the wall in 1944, it was in very different circumstances.
He was stationed at Lavenham Airfield – operational between March 1944 and August 1945 – as part of the US Army Air Force 487th Bombardment Group, which flew 185 missions and more than 6,000 sorties.
Mr Nolan was one of very few pilots to fly both B24 and B17 bombers, completing a total of 33 missions in the two aircraft during his six month posting in Suffolk.
He recalled: “We were flying B24-H aircraft but a decision was made to convert to B17s. So in July 1944 the groups stepped down and flew no missions for a couple of weeks while the pilots and crew were retrained in B17s.”
Mr Nolan remembers The Swan’s bar – which is now full of wartime memorabilia in honour of the American troops – as being one of the few sources of entertainment for servicemen based near Lavenham.
He said: “We weren’t confined to the base perimeters and we had a certain amount of freedom but there was little to do when you weren’t flying.
“Our places of escape were to come into Lavenham or to go to Bury St Edmunds to the Athenaeum, which had great dances where you could meet girls.
“We could get to Lavenham quite easily from where we lived in a Nissen hut just a few fields away.
“I can recall that we used to walk across the muddy fields in our flying boots, and we would take our boots off and leave them on the road and pick them up on the way back from the pub.
“We usually came here to the Swan – it was one of our favourite haunts.”
Mr Nolan first returned to Lavenham in 1988 and thought little had changed in the village.
He added: “I was stunned by the fact that nothing had seemed any different. Everything was as it was in 1944. It was a bit like a homecoming.”
While in Britain, Mr Nolan will visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford to sign copies of his book and prints of his plane.
In the book, which is illustrated by British aeronautical engineer Matt Holness, Mr Nolan describes the history of air combat in Western Europe during the second world war, focusing on the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force and the Luftwaffe.
“It looks at how the air campaign unfolded, how it ended, and its cost in terms of human life – not only for the aircrews but the many innocent people who suffered through the carnage caused by bombing.
Mr Nolan said aircraft had always been his lifelong passion.
After spending 22 years in the USAF as an active pilot, he became a transport pilot and flew north Atlantic routes for a decade, before joining NASA in 1965 as part of an airborne science programme.