Peter Heard remembers:
I was 8 years old when the Americans arrived. We lived in the village stores, next door to the present Post Office, and very close to the main gate of the airbase in Ten Trees Road.
I became in a sense the mascot of the Radar Section. (They worked on the basis that just one boy was quite enough, more than one could cause problems!) I would spend time in the workshop where the radar equipment was repaired; I would also quite frequently go out onto the airfield in a jeep with two or three of the men to work on the B-17G Flying Fortresses – the ‘G’ s had a radar dome in place of the belly gun turret. As I remember it the dome was held in place by quite a lot of nuts on studs that I was encouraged to undo: I expect I would also screw the nuts on again when the dome had been repaired. The dome was turned upside down and placed on the bonnet of the jeep to be taken back to the Section.
I was also allowed to go up into the planes and collect up the partly-emptied, square waxed boxes of ‘candy’ – some I kept for myself, others I gave to my friends. I also remember being given at least one box full of cigarettes and tobacco – about the size of a small ammunition box – which I think I distributed to local men. Certainly I gave some to a poor old man who had fought in the Boer War and suffered from shell shock. He lived with his sister in a thatched cottage set back from the main road behind a high hedge and used to jump out from behind the hedge and call out, “Jones of Waldingfield, Jones of Waldingfield, make my name known, make my name known – the Germans are coming, the Germans are coming.”
As my parents ran the village shop my father was able to get a bit more petrol for the car with which he towed a small box trailer. One job he did quite regularly was to collect a 40 gallon barrel full of bread rolls from the Yanks ‘mess’ in Folly Road (their excess!) and take them to a man who kept pigs. We boys use to nick a few for ourselves as they were quite fresh and better than our ordinary bread! Another treat for us youngsters was to catch up with the ‘doughnut bus’ (on-base mobile canteen) and be given ring doughnuts covered in caster sugar.
There were then some water-meadows in the middle of the village, always nice and green, and there we used to find E.T. tins – providing evidence that GIs had taken girls there. That’s Early Treatment not Extra Terrestrial, though some may have thought it was! The badly damaged aircraft used to be ‘parked’ on the edge of the airfield at the bottom of a friend’s garden and we used to go through the hedge to climb in and on the fuselages and wings.
My father was in the National Fire Service which involved him going to most crashes. He went to the one at Woodhall Farm where he saw a parachute laying on the ground. He asked an American officer what would happen to it. He must have responded that it would not be reused so Dad asked it he could have it and he said, “Yes”. So he picked it up and started to walk away but an English policemen told him he could not take it. Dad told him that the American officer had told him he could but the policemen insisted he could not so Dad handed the ‘chute to him and pulled the rip-cord at the same time so that it just spilled out, leaving the policemen with a problem!
On another occasion I was at the Fire Station (where the entrance to Delphi is now) with Dad when ‘the bells went down’ and he took me in his sidecar up to a rubbish dump at the far end of Cornard where there was a fire – the Yanks were careless and had dumped ammunition with their waste which resulted in live bullets flying about!
I can also remember the sound of the ambulance racing from the airfield to the 486th hospital site in Valley Road; on one occasion a gun in an aircraft had gone off while being worked on and a fellow was shot. There were also parties and dances to which the villagers were invited, also I seem to remember films and stage shows in a large ‘blister’ hangar at which we were welcome.
What should we call the airbase? I believe Waldingfield is the correct name as all the personal living sites were in the village, as well as the HQ, mess and hospital sites, the control tower and most workshops. The actual airfield was in the parishes of Great Waldingfield, Acton and Chilton.