More laundry memories and the vital work of the ground crews

Former Master Sgt Merle Wilson – a summary of memories taken down on a visit to Sudbury in 2007:

Relationships with the local were not only friendly but mutually beneficial. The Americans’ laundry service apparently worked on a slow turnaround basis and many men took their washing to local women.

Master Sgt Merle Wilson met his adopted laundress Mrs Carter through her young son, one of many boys who hung around the base and befriended the men.

He paid her the usual going rate of 25 cents for a pair of trousers and a few cents for socks. With the rate of exchange at that time about four dollars to the pound, doing an American’s washing provided a useful boost to many families’ income and more than the women could earn working in the fields.

The war had plucked Merle Wilson at the age of 24 from a farm in the wide open spaces of Kansas to the Suffolk landscape of pocket hankerchief fields and he watched the harvesting without combines with interest.

Farming was for him a bond with the locals. “Folk treated us real nice, “ he remembered in 2007 on his first return visit to Sudbury at the age of 89. He had felt at home with the Carter family who insisted he had something to eat as well as the usual cup of tea when he collected his washing.

The crew he led was responsible for repairing and servicing the engines of 12 bombers and refuelling them ready for the next sortie, working around the clock if necessary to get them back in the air.

The B-17s, known for their ability to survive severe damage, would return riddled with holes and sometimes having lost a complete engine. “Sometimes I just couldn’t work out how they had gotten back,” he recalls.

The maintenance crews would swarm over the damaged aircraft, each section with their own area of responsibility. “They used to joke and say that farm boys were the best men for the job because they could do almost anything with a few twists of wire,” he jokes.

After the war he went back to the farm growing mainly corn and keeping and riding Quarter Horses the tough American breed used on cattle ranches. Look back in 2007 at his involuntary Army service he said: “ I thought, it was a raw deal at the time but now I feel I was privileged to be part of it.”

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