Rackheath hosts wartime reunion

Sarah BrealeyMany years have passed since American bombers last flew out of Rackheath, but the memories are as clear as yesterday.Sarah Brealey

Many years have passed since American bombers last flew out of Rackheath, but the memories are as clear as yesterday.

Rackheath airfield was home to 467 Bomb Group from March 1944 to July 1945. Some of the young Americans who served there were killed in action, and more have died in the 65 years since.

But this weekend a few returned, along with widows and family members, to see the places where they once risked their lives. They met local people from Rackheath and Kirby Bedon, many of whom have childhood memories of watching the planes take off and befriending some of the airmen.

The trip was organised by Perry Watts, 81, from Salhouse, associate historian of 467 bomb group. He and his wife spent more than six months organising the visit. He said: 'I am an ex-military man, and I respect and appreciate what the servicemen did. As a 16-year-old living in Coltishall I used to go to Rackheath and watch the B24s taking off, and I got to know some of the crew members. Bob McEwen, a tail gunner, was as good a friend as I ever had.'

On Friday the group visited Rackheath and met local people who remembered meeting the airmen in their childhood days. They went on to the old airfield, including the control tower and the former accommodation blocks, and attended a special service at Salhouse church.

Also in the group was Charlotte Shower, widow of the Rackheath base commander Albert Shower, and Jack Thompson, a veteran pilot who flew two missions in Witchcraft as well as two D-Day missions.

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Rackheath was home to one of the USAF's most famous wartime bombers - the B24 Witchcraft, which flew 130 missions without ever aborting one, or having any crew members killed or injured on its missions.

Jim Gamble, 91, a great-grandfather from San Antonio, Texas, was stationed at Rackheath from June 1944 until he was shot down in August. He parachuted out and landed in the centre of Hamburg, where he was taken prisoner and sent to a prison camp in Poland. As the Russian army approached at the end of January 11,000 prisoners were marched to Germany.

He said: 'It was 20 below zero, there was a blizzard, it was cold. It took three days, then they put us in little box cars and took us to Nuremberg. We were finally liberated in Moosberg at the end of April, 1929.'

Mr Gamble had been back to Rackheath once before, in 2006. On that occasion he was alone and could not find anyone with links to the 467 bomb group - but he bumped into a postman who showed him around. This weekend he was surprised and pleased to find a picture of his plane, Wallowing Wilbert, in the Second Air Division Memorial Library in the Forum.

t Are you planning a wartime reunion? Contact Evening News reporter Sarah Brealey on 01603 772485 or email sarah.brealey@archant.co.uk.