Enduring friendships

Ted Filer (interview May 2009).Ted was a young lad of 13, living on The Mount in North Street, when the American Liberators arrived in April 1944:

“We had just finished Sunday lunch and there was this huge roar over Sudbury – the whole squadron coming in then peeling off. We realised that they had arrived! I went up to the airfield on the Monday. I was sitting on my bicycle near one of the dispersal points – on the left of the Waldingfield Road just before the bend. As the fellows got out of one of the planes they saw me watching and said, “Come on over and we’ll show you the ship.” From then on we got very friendly with two crews of gunners, and one or two of the pilots and one of the bombardiers from the same group (the 834th Squadron).

 

13-year old Ted Filer on the base

13-year old Ted Filer on the base

I used to visit them regularly and do little errands for them. You know, take their boots for repair to Mr Dormer, the boot repairer, next to Watson’s in Gainsborough Street – I used to bring him a lot of trade! I also used to work after school for Mr Oakley, the baker on the corner of New Street and North Street. I used to clean the shop windows – that sort of thing. I stayed on when Tom Brinkley, the master baker from Bury took over. There were often buns left over and I used to get them cheaply and take a bag up to the airfield. They were well fed normally but they didn’t have the little incidentals. They would ask me in. Sometimes they would go down to the PX and get a water bottle full of Coke. That was the first time I had Coke, the very first time. 

I also used to get them bicycles because when they arrived a lot of the local people were ripping them off by charging them exorbitant prices for bicycles and things. I said, “ Well now, don’t you pay those sort of prices: I’ll see what I can do downtown to get you some bicycles.” I got one or two bicycles for them.

The 834 Squadron Nissen huts were in the big field on the right as you go down Folly Road. When winter came the huts were very cold and coke for the one small stove was sometimes in short supply. They were freezing – remember they had arrived from Arizona – and I remember seeing one of them, probably an engineer, cutting up cans. He was trying to convert the stove to burn oil. I don’t think it worked very well!

They had a portable gramophone in the hut and they got me interested in Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Coleman Hawkins and jazz: listening to Gene Krupa got me into drumming after the war. They gave me the gramophone and records when they went back to the States and I’ve still got some today.

One day one of the fellows I knew, John Mroz, was interested in model aircraft and was making a Spitfire fighter. I used to make a lot of model aircraft at that time, and I used to draw quite a bit and I was quite a good artist. Frank Farrell was one of the pilots – he saw me drawing planes one day and said, “Say kid – do you think that you could paint those on the back of our A2’s?” (A2 – a leather flying jacket.) I said, “Yes, I’ll have a go but I haven’t any paint.” So they went to London one furlough and came back with these pots of silver and grey and black paint and brushes and I got to work on them. I don’t remember exactly how many but it was probably most of two crews. They tell me they are collectors’ items now in the States.

I painted a silver Fortress on the back of Ray Garrett’s A2 – he presented it to the town when he came back. You can still see it in the museum. I also used to paint a yellow bomb on their jackets for every mission they flew. Ray Garrett went back to the States earlier than the others. He was a married man (Bud Huggins had been his best man) and their losses were so high they decide to send any married men back home.

 

Left John Mroz (who gave Ted the watch) with Captain Owen Sowers

Left John Mroz (who gave Ted the watch) with Captain Owen Sowers

It was just before Sgt. John Mroz was due to finish his tour of duty (August 1944). Things were tight in England and you could not get watches for anything. I asked him if I gave him some money would he send me a watch from the States when he got back. He said, “Well, try my watch on and see how it looks.” He then said, “You want one something like that?” and I said, “Yes, one like that would be fine.” He said, “Look, you keep that on and remember me by that watch. It’s your birthday coming up in a week or two.” And I still have that watch. It did 35 missions over Germany; it’s Swiss and keeps perfect time and I have treasured it all these years. I have lost touch with him over the years. He was a gunner on Capt. Owen Sowers crew – 834 Squadron Fortress 2SF 337998. 

 

 

 

 

Charles 'Bud' Huggins, top turret gunner in Lt Farrell's crew

Charles 'Bud' Huggins, top turret gunner in Lt Farrell's crew

Another time it was a Saturday afternoon and they had just got back from a mission; Bud Huggins was the top mid-turret gunner and they had shot down a German fighter. They were all jubilant and Bud was claiming the kill.
 

When they moved over to B-17s from B-24s and they went back to the States, I didn’t go up any more. I had just started work and I didn’t know any of the new crews there. When they finished their tour of duty that was it.
There was lots of stuff left in the huts when the Americans left. I had a baseball bat and a ball. It did seem very quiet when the Americans moved out because they really livened up the town – it really doubled the population. They got a little rowdy at times and one or two of them were laying about the street drunk at times, but that was war wasn’t it?
When the Veterans came back for the dedication of the 486th memorial outside St Gregory’s (in 1985) I realized that they were staying at the Mill Hotel in Sudbury and I went down and asked to see the roster of who had come back. Two names were on there that I knew, Bud Huggins and Ray Garrett and the people that organised it went and looked them up and they came down and we had a very tearful reunion. It was great to see them again after all those years: they came up to my house and we had a great time. 

Now the base has reverted back to farmland and all the living accommodation that was spread out in the countryside around the base, it’s all been swallowed up by farmland. You wouldn’t know there was ever a base there today: a few of the farmers if there were huts on their property they kept them and used them for little barns and that sort of thing, storage.

They were exciting times; no doubt about it!”

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