A winter crossing, first impressions and a problem with laundry

Jack Keller was 18 when he entered the American Air Force cadet program whilst at the University of Chicago. He initially received pilot training but the Air Force needed gunner crew training for B-17 bombers so he was transferred to gunnery training, ‘at the behest of the government.’ He has vivid memories of the 7-day winter Atlantic crossing (‘when the ship would roll in heavy seas, the flood water would rush from one end of the latrine to the other… now if you were sitting meditating you can readily see that this was a problem!’) Eventually he arrived at his final destination, Station 174 Sudbury, and posted to the 833rd Bomb Squadron, one of the four on the base. He became a B-17 ball turret gunner on Sam Vance’s crew.

‘Sudbury was a small old country town situated in a farm community of England, and located about 100 miles northeast of London. The base was about 7 miles out of town over narrow, winding, scenic roads. The countryside was very picturesque and quaint, with thatched roof houses scattered about, and sights that we would not ever see in the States. ….. Ones first impression was that the conditions, and the people, the way they lived and worked, were about 50 years behind the times.

 

Refreshments on the base - R to L Jean St Clair, Kay Brainard, Jack Keller, Alan Neilson and Max LeBlanc

Refreshments on the base - R to L Jean St Clair, Kay Brainard, Jack Keller, Alan Neilson and Max LeBlanc

Our quarters were quonset (Nissen) huts clustered near each squadron’s headquarters. The complex included a central shower and washing building, also a separate smaller building for toilet facilities. About a half mile away was the large mess hall. A couple of blocks further stood the large Red Cross club; we frequented this club almost every day, writing letters, playing snooker (English billiards), or having a late night snack at the snack bar. Periodically dances and other events were held. Upon my first visit to the club in February, 1945, I met Kay Brainard, one of the three Red Cross women who operated the facility. Kay was the perfect lady for such a position because she radiated a refreshing and pleasant personality along with a vitality which made one feel good. Here in one little corner of the world, among thousands of camps and bases during a great war, we at the 486th were blessed with Kay. She could laugh and smile and be fun to be with for one and all….she had a knack for keeping us company and getting our minds off the business of war. 

All of the operations buildings were located at the field; the aircraft were scattered all over the field parked in small areas called hard stands. The officers were also quartered in Quonset huts like ours and fairly close to the enlisted men. They had their meals in a separate dining room, but the food all came out of the same kitchen.

 

Mrs Kay in her garden January 1945

Mrs Day in her garden January 1945

Having been on the base just a few days it occurred to me that I would have to make some kind of arrangements to launder my dirty clothes. Then a bright idea entered my mind – is it possible that there might be a kindly little old English lady out there somewhere, that may want to earn some extra money doing my laundry? So I pedalled my bicycle, that we were issued for local transportation, down the road a mile or so to find one. Stopping at a thatched-roof farm house, Mrs. Day, the owner, came to the door; I made my pitch and she agreed to take the job, even though she was currently doing laundry for several other GI’s. And to think that I thought that I was going to have this unique idea! When I got back to my hut, my buddies could not believe how quickly I had solved my laundry problem. Mrs Day proved to be a great asset to me during our stay in England. 

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