80-year-old takes to sky in WW2 bomber

AS the longest-serving volunteer at a Suffolk airfield museum, 80-year-old Les Elsden has dedicated his life to ensuring we never forget the bravery of American airmen during the Second World War.

Anthony Bond

AS the longest-serving volunteer at a Suffolk airfield museum, 80-year-old Les Elsden has dedicated his life to ensuring we never forget the bravery of American airmen during the Second World War.

And despite watching the 390th Bomb Group's dangerous missions out of Parham Airfield, near Framlingham, during the conflict his fascination never led to him flying in any kind of aircraft before.

But yesterday, the Hacheston resident was richly rewarded for his 32-years loyalty when he and other volunteers from Parham Airfield Museum flew in Liberty Belle - a fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.


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“It was very special and the highlight of my time working at the museum,” admitted Mr Elsden. “I spent a lot of my time during the war watching B-17s taking off and landing from missions and I have lots of good memories of the Americans based in Suffolk.”

And despite it being his very first flight, Mr Elsden thoroughly enjoyed it. “There were no nerves, although one or two others did not like it because it was very shaky. But I did not mind at all - the only problem was that it did not last long enough.”

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Liberty Belle is owned by 58-year-old American Don Brooks whose father was based at Parham Airfield with the 390th Bomb Group and flew 35 combat missions.

Because of this, Mr Brooks, from Georgia, became fascinated as a youngster with B-17s.

“I decided when I was younger that I would start flying and one day my dream was to find a B-17 and try to restore it and fly it back to this part of the world,” he said. “I wanted to do it as a tribute to him [his father] and the rest of his crew as well as all our veterans and countrymen.”

Yesterday the plane landed at RAF Bentwaters where volunteers from the museum were treated to a flight over Parham Airfield which Mr Brooks said was richly-deserved.

“The museum at Parham is just a wonderful tribute to the Americans that were there during the Second World War and it makes all of us in America feel very good that people in the UK are still remembering,” he said.

Peter Kindred, who owns Parham Airfield, said flying in Liberty Belle was a once in a lifetime experience. “It was unbelievable. It really was a day that I will never forget. I just thought about what it must have been like to have German flak fired when there is just a thin shell between you and the ground. It is unbelievable to think how brave people were.”

Liberty Belle will star in the Flying Legends Air Show at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford on Saturday and Sunday.

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