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Back when a piece of the US came to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 13:52 24 January 2011

Norwich aviation artist Mike Bailey. Photo: Andy Darnell

Norwich aviation artist Mike Bailey. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2010

Derek James takes a look at the fascinating new book, Liberators Over Norwich.

This is the extraordinary story of a community which came and went in less than two years, during which time around 300 of the 3,000 strong population were killed...and life for one young man was never the same again.

This was the 458th Bomb group of the mighty 8th USAAF based at Horsham St Faith and now its exploits in Norwich, America and Europe are told in a big brute of a book - Liberators Over Norwich.

The brains behind this massive project is the former unofficial mascot on the air base, now Norwich Airport, Mike Bailey, who grew up to be a highly regarded aviation artist, historian and author.

“This is something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. It has been a very long journey,” said Mike, of Waterworks Road, Norwich.

“Even after all these years I still think about the station most days. The noise, the smell. It is something which never goes away.”

Turn the clock back to 1944 and Mike was a trespasser on the former RAF bomber station which became part of Little America during the Friendly Invasion.

“I was 10 and me and my pal had found our secret way on to the airfield. We had expected to be told to clear off, but no-one seemed that bothered about us.

“We could climb all over the Liberators. Just watching what was going on was extraordinary for us. It really was another world,” said Mike.

He and his mate would sit on haystacks, chatting to some of the young airmen men with their strange accents, and watching those mighty liberators coming in and out.

And all too often more left than arrived home.

The human dramas and tragedies of war were played out right in front of them. There were crashes. So many were lost.

Mike, a retired print worker, went on to devote more than 40 years chronicling the work of the 2nd US Division in books and paintings, but always wanted to come up with the history of the bomb group which had almost become part of his family.

Then, out of the blue, came a phone call from a man in Kansas who had come across one of Mike’s books called Liberator Album, which featured his dad’s plane on the cover.

The man on the other end of the phone was Darin Scorza and this call led to the pair of them getting together with Scottish writer Ron Mackay to piece together this monster of a book.

So the man from Norwich, the man from Kansas and the Scot joined forces to tell the story of Liberators Over Norwich and they can be very proud of this astonishing piece of work.

It is certainly a case of mission accomplished.

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