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Turkey king's painting flies 'home' to USAAF Memorial Library

PUBLISHED: 16:48 22 April 2017

The late Bernard Matthews with the painting the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library Trust presented to him more than ten years ago. It has now been presented to the library.

The late Bernard Matthews with the painting the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library Trust presented to him more than ten years ago. It has now been presented to the library.

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Derek James tells the story of how a nostalgic Second World War painting once owned by turkey baron Bernard Matthews has found a new home.

Artist Mike Bailey with his painting which is now in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library at the Forum.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYArtist Mike Bailey with his painting which is now in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library at the Forum. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A painting by a top Norwich aviation artist which once hung on the wall behind the desk where Bernard Matthew worked has been given to the 2nd Air Division (USAAF) Memorial Library in Norwich.

Mike Bailey was commissioned to paint the picture of Liberators over Attlebridge during the Second World War, which was presented to the late world-famous turkey baron as a gesture of thanks for a £100,000 gift he made to the memorial trust more than 10 years ago.

Artist Mike Bailey, right, with his painting which is now in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library at the Forum. Pictured with Richard Middleton, chairman of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Trust.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYArtist Mike Bailey, right, with his painting which is now in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library at the Forum. Pictured with Richard Middleton, chairman of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Trust. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The picture took pride of place over the mantelpiece behind Bernard’s desk at Great Witchingham Hall. He loved the painting of the B-24s of the 466th Bomb Group flying over Attlebridge airfield which he later bought and used the buildings as offices.

Mr Bootiful, who died in 2010 aged 80, built up a huge multi-million pound company, was one of the best-known characters Norfolk has ever produced and he helped many charities and good causes in Norwich and across the county over the years.

“It was a privilege to have been asked to paint the picture for Bernard,” said Mike, now in his 80s, who has several aircraft illustrations hanging on the walls of the unique Memorial Library at The Forum.

Today he is regarded as a leading aviation artist in this country and in the United States of America where his books featuring his paintings are much sought after.

“When I heard about the company being taken over following Bernard’s death along with the news about job losses I wondered if they still wanted the painting,” explained Mike.

“I was concerned that it would be taken down and then disappear with people not realising its significance. Mandy Lewis who works for Bernard Matthews was a great help,” he said.

Eventually he did get the painting returned and that allowed him to hand it over to the Memorial Library where it now hangs on the wall.

“We are delighted to have it and would like to thank Mike so much for his help,” said Richard Middleton, Chairman of the Trustees.

“This is where it belongs now. It’s good to see it hanging on the wall,” added Mike, who estimates he must have painted around 300 pictures of aircraft.

His books, including Liberators Over Norwich and Second in Line, Second to None, are a wonderful tribute to those who fought for our freedom during the dark days of the Second World War.

Growing up in Norwich during the war changed the course of his life.

“Me and my pal managed to get on the air base at Horsham St Faith. The airmen were so kind to us. We would be allowed to climb all over the Liberators. We would sit on haystacks and count the planes out and count them back... so many never returned,” said Mike.

Today his paintings and the memorial library help to keep their memory alive.

During the war the United States 8th Air Force dispatched 3,000 bomber and fighter aircraft on daily operations involving more than 20,000 airmen flying from airfield in this region... the largest air strike force ever committed to battle.

The idea of a memorial in Norfolk to honour its casualties was thought up by senior officers of the 2nd Air Division at the end of the war. Nearly 7,000 young Americans in the division lost their lives in the line of duty.

It is a wonderful and fascinating tribute to the Americans... who fought, and died, for our freedom. We must never forgot them.

The memorial library is an educational and friendship bridge between our two nations and is well worth a visit.

It is open at The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library between 10am and 5pm Monday to Friday and from 9am to 5pm on Saturday.

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