Welcome to the Memories page.

It is my intention to publish diaries and memoirs that veterans and family members have been kind enough to share with me, and also publish any articles from books/magazines, where possible, regarding Nuthampstead.  I am also keen to hear from any local people who would like to share their memories of the airfield.  Please e-mail at shabbyabbey@hotmail.com


(Please note - Author consent granted on all published material.  Please respect copyright and intellectual property rights)

Memories of Sgt. James T Kay, Jnr (343rd FS, 55th FG, D flight ground-crew)
(courtesy of A (Kay) Esberger)

Memories of Lt. Clair E. Buskirk (338th FS, 55th FG Pilot)
(reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield)

'Keeping 'Em Flying' - George Cuda's account of his time as a flight chief for C Flight of the 600th Bomb Squadron, 398th BG
(reproduced with the kind permission of Roger A. Freeman, from his book 'B-17 Fortress at War')

Extracts from Leonard Streitfeld's book  'Hell From Heaven - The Memoirs of a World War II B-17 Bombardier'
(reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Leonard Streitfeld)

Memories of Arthur Webb Jnr of Hay Street


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of  Sgt. James T Kay, Jnr  (343rd FS, 55th FG, D flight ground-crew)
(courtesy of A (Kay) Esberger)

In early August, we left McChord for Camp Kilmer, NJ, the shipping out point for all AAF Units to the ETO or MTO.  The train stopped twice a day for exercise, and I took photos at Boise, Idaho, and of  McKennon Park in Sioux Falls.   After a week at Kilmer, we proceeded to Pier 86 to board “HMS Orion” on 4 Sept 1943 which pulled out on the fifth.  This ship was meant to carry 1500 people, but 300 officers and 6200 enlisted men were loaded aboard.  Our bunks were built three high, and most of the men didn’t like the food prepared by the British cooks.  The ocean got rougher, the farther we went; but we celebrated when we heard that Italy had surrendered!
We arrived at Glasgow, Scotland, on 12 Sept and immediately boarded a train to go
to Nuthampstead,  near Cambridge.  We lived in metal huts with one small potbellied stove in each. I had  never liked chilly, rainy weather, and we had plenty of that in England.  Before our P-38s arrived, we had lectures on security, what could be written in letters, and about our conduct, in general, in the ETO. 
We became lots busier when our  P-38s began arriving on  21  Sept.  I was assigned to D flight, to planes designated CY-Y.  My crew chief was Walter Harris from Vermont, the armorer was Payton Shrum from Missouri, and Fitz from Michigan also worked with us.  One of my early pilots was Capt. Dick Stanton.  He had his picture taken in a kilt and full Scottish regalia, and gave us each a copy.  I also snapped a photo of him standing in front of his P-38.
The MIDLOTHIAN MIRROR, our hometown newspaper, reported in October  that "Cpl. J. T. Kay, Jr. of the Ground Air Corps has recently arrived in England."
We rode English bicycles from our huts to the hardstands where our planes were parked. [We rode them everywhere we went, actually.]  The mud made this a difficult trip on some days.  We referred to the post as “Mudhampstead.”
The P-38s were extremely closely cowled engines with much piping and no space.  We spent long hours fixing coolant leaks, rough engines, and leaky shocks on the landing gear struts.  The leaks got worse as the weather got colder.
We on the ground crews were always concerned about our pilots.  We’d be standing out on the runway watching for them, “sweating them in” as was commonly said.  We’d strap a boy into the cockpit and help a man out of there several hours later.
Several of the ground crew became my good friends, and we made trips together around England when we got leave.  From Nuthampstead, we bicycled into Cambridge several times to visit the  Colleges and go boating on the River “Cam.”  This was a good location for more photos.
Another activity available to us were the church services  conducted on base by the Chaplains.  Sal and I found that our religious convictions were pretty much the same and took comfort from our ability to discuss those topics.  My wife and his fiancée were also frequently mentioned.
At Nuthampstead, as was common on most of the English air fields, we worked around the farmers with their cultivated fields, hay stacks, & thatched roof cottages.
December found flu going around the base and snow on the ground.
By this time, each ground crew had built themselves a “shack” near the line to try to stay somewhat warm when not directly involved in working on the planes.  Most of us built them from the frames that the P-38 auxiliary gas tanks came in. Harris and I had a relatively snug little shack about a mile from the barracks.  Lots of good visiting went on in these shacks to pass the time while waiting for our planes.  Bud Daugherty was the instrument mechanic who serviced our CY-Y, and he really teased me about my rosy cheeks.  Charles Killion visited us often and was one of the buddies on several bicycle tours of the area.  Floyd O. James was another buddy, as was John Wuebbens  who teased me with a comparison to Sammy Kaye.  I got acquainted with J. F. “Dusty” Rhodes from Gladewater, Tx, very near my hometown in East Texas.  When I took an air conditioning  correspondence course, I spent a good bit of time studying and had less time to visit.
On Christmas Eve, 1943, I had seven packages from home to open.  My sister-in-law Bonnie sent a big box of cookies.  On Christmas day, I got to sleep an hour later, went to church and got a real good turkey dinner.  I told the boys that they are good fellows but I hope we are not together next Christmas.  I did have to work late that night, however.
Sal and I visited Stratford-on-Avon.  We found that east England where we were stationed had been more touched by the war than had the west part of the country.  For example, we could get ice cream at Stratford.
Sal received one of the first bronze stars earned by our crews.  His fiancee sent a copy of the nice write-up and his picture in their hometown newspaper.
February saw more action.  During “Big Week,” our fighters flew escort for the bombers to the German aircraft plants.  One night a 500 lb. bomb exploded on our runway, and many incendiary bombs were scattered around.
In April, 1944, we were moved to Wormingford, 5 miles northwest of Colchester.

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Memories of Lt. Clair E. Buskirk (338th FS, 55th FG Pilot)
(reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield)

'Buz' Buskirk relates his experiences: 'In October 1943, Tom Knudson, Art Baranick and myself travelled to Fort Hamilton, New York and then cruised to England on the Queen Mary. After Combat Indoctrination and a case of pneumonia I was assigned to the 55th Fighter Group, 338th Fighter Squadron, based at Nuthampstead, fondly called MUDhampstead, located south of Cambridge. Colonel Jack Jenkins was then group commander. Within a few weeks of flying combat in P-38 Lightnings over Europe and into Germany escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers and strafing ground targets, I'd shot down one German Me-109, flown my P-38 back to England on one engine after being hit by flak over Kiel, and made an emergency bail out of my P-38 over England.

During the past months I had promotions from flight officer to 2/Lt. and then to 1st Lieutenant. My last P-38 combat mission, my 79th, was flying with a crew member, bombardier 1 /Lt. William Stroud in our P-38, glass nosed, Droop Snoot, CL-X. (CL designated the plane as belonging to the 55th Ftr. Grp., 338th Ftr. Sqd., and the X designated that particular airplane.) We dropped some bombs on a target in France and that mission completed my first combat tour of 300 hours.

Tom Knudson and Art Baranick were both killed in action early in 1944. The 55th Fighter Group had the second highest loss of fighter aircraft in the 8th Air Force during WW II, 181 lost. After 30 days in the States I returned to my squadron, and was promoted to captain. We were now based at Wormingford, west of Colchester, England. I was to fly my second combat tour of 200 hours in a P-51 Mustang.'

Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield from the author's book Double Nickel - Double Trouble

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'Keeping 'Em Flying' - George Cuda's account of his time as a flight chief for C Flight of the 600th Bomb Squadron, 398th BG
(reproduced with the kind permission of Roger A. Freeman, from his book 'B-17 Fortress at War')

‘There was no such thing as regular hours for a B-17 ground crew; you worked until your plane was fit to fly and often you could only eat and catch a little sleep while it was out on a mission. You knew that a lot of guys' lives might depend on how well you did your job; if the plane never came back you didn't want to feel it might be because of something you hadn't done. I'd say the mechanics in my outfit were a dedicated bunch; they knew the dangers the flyers faced and saw to it that the B-17s were in good shape.

‘The engineering section of a bomber squadron had two officers and around a hundred enlisted men. The officers had a hut on the technical site from which they and the specialist engineers worked. Out on the squadron dispersal the line chief was in charge and he had three flight chiefs, 12 crew chiefs and 48 mechanics. A crew chief with his four mechanics looked after one B-17 when my group, the 398th, was first formed, but later, after we moved to England, they raised the number of aircraft in a squadron from 12 to 18 so six more crew chiefs were needed and the number of mechanics on each B-17 was cut to two or three. The rest of the engineering personnel were electrical, instrument, sheet metal and propeller specialists and they worked as required on all the B-17s of the squadron.

‘I was flight chief for C Flight of the 600th Bomb Squadron and, like the line chief and most crew chiefs, a Master Sergeant, which was as high as an enlisted man could get in squadron engineering. My job was to oversee work on B-17s of my flight and deal with any technical problems the crew chiefs had. Actually I did a lot of work on the planes, standing in for my mechanics. The one thing they hated having to do was kitchen duty down at the -Mess Hall and sometimes, if I wasn't busy, I'd stand in for them during the day. I was back around 6 o'clock to work on any problems they were having on the line.

‘Our hardstands were around two miles from the 'Mess Hall and I had to go even further to my billet, which wasted a lot of time. Finally, I built myself a shack out of old wood bomb boxes, just off the dispersal among some trees, so that I could live and sleep near my work. Eventually two other guys who had had enough of tracking back and forth to the camp moved in with me. We collected our own store of food from the mess and cooked it in our shack.

'The boys put in a lot of hours and to keep them happy I used to take a couple of jerry cans and go off across the fields to the nearest pub and bring back nine gallons of beer. Major Weibel, the CO, knew about this and didn't mind as he never had much cause to complain about our work.

‘The weather could be rough out there on dispersal and you were pretty exposed. 1 think fog was the worst but we did get a lot of snow and ice during the winter of '44-'45. If you were working on the plane the weather didn't really trouble you; the clothing was good and warm and we could rig a canopy over a stand if it was raining. We also had portable generators and good lights for working at night. Once we had a German plane strafe the field and shoot out our lights, damaging the plane my mechanics were working on. No one knew there was a raid on because although Operations would telephone a raid warning to the clerk's but on dispersal; if we had an engine running and no-one in the hut, the 'phone wasn't heard. We tried to get a Tannoy fixed after that.

‘When the planes returned from a mission a crew chief would get the pilot to make out the Form 1A on any troubles or damage to his plane. If there was a major defect to rectify then the crew chief would put a red cross in the status column on this form. If the plane was flyable but not perfect then a red diagonal would be marked; a red dash meant that an inspection had not been carried out yet. Then the crew chief and his men would set to work. If they were lucky there were only normal maintenance checks to carry out and they could be through in a few- hours. If the plane had any mechanical trouble or battle damage they might have to work all night to get the plane in shape for the next mission. Most nights some crew was out on the line.

‘The engines and their accessories had to be in peak condition and the turbos, magnetos and plugs were carefully checked. Tyres were another item that had to be closely inspected after every - landing to see there were no cracks or bad burns. With heavy battle damage it wasn't alwavs possible to get the plane ready for the next mission. Holes in the skin could be fairly easily patched by the sheet metal men but if we had damaged flaps or control surfaces these usually had to be replaced.

'When a mission was planned Group Operations would Call us and say how many planes they wanted us to put Up. This was usually around the early hours Of the morning and from then on we had to be pre-flighting the aircraft to warm Lip engines. Ordnance people would truck in bombs and ammunition and load up while we worked on the plane. The gas wagons would come round to top up the tanks to the required number of gallons. On long trips the full 2 800 was put in and that kept the fuel boys busy around the base filling every B-17 going on the mission.

'When the flyers arrived at the plane the ground crew had to be there. The crew chief would get the Pilot to see the Form 1A and sign it if all was okay. He would walk round on the pilot's pre-flight check of the plane pointing out any problems they had. Some crew chiefs were a bit protective and would caution pilots who they thought were heavy-handed. Even after the planes had gone it was necessary to hang around in case any aborted and came back. We'd try and fix it if it was something simple so they could take off again and catch up with the formation. I'd say very few aborts were due to sloppy work by the mechanics. The Group was very hot on the reason for aborts and required full details. I suppose there were a very few pilots who knowing the target was a tough flak spot would use the slightest pretext to abort. We had a few cases of co-pilots over-priming the engines when they started them so they caught fire. As they had been cautioned about this often it looked deliberate to us.

'We would get a good many Tech Orders giving modifications that were required. There had been a lot of trouble with engines burning up in flight because pilots couldn't feather the props. The tech people found out this was due to lack of oil reaching the mechanism, so a standpipe modification had to be installed and this made a hell of a lot of work. We also had to remove all the rubber de-icing boots along the leading edges of wings and tail. It was found that if these were damaged in combat they would flap about, break away and probably wrap around part of another plane in the formation.

'We did engine changes on the line with the help of a crane and I'd say we changed 150 in our squadron during a year of combat. Engine life varied quite a bit and we'd run regular compression tests on them, although once a Wright started to push an excessive amount of oil out of the breathers it was generally a sign of wear. The heavy overloads that the engines had to meet took many hours off engine life. One of the worst jobs was removing the fuel tanks if they were damaged. They were collapsible but to get them out we had to get the smallest guy around up inside the wing to wriggle along to disconnect them. The tanks were of a jelly rubber material and the job was always a real struggle. One of the other squadrons had a B-17 backfire and blow the wingtip out while taxiing. They found that when a fuel tank had been replaced it hadn't been secured properly and had leaked fuel into the wing. The sub-depot on the technical site near the hangars did must of the heavy work like changing wing panels. They also did the engine rebuilds and instrument work we couldn't handle out on the field.

`In my opinion the best mechanics were those who picked the Job up as they went along. A lot of those who passed through maintenance school never showed the same ability. They automatically got three stripes and extra pay but when it came to knowing the job they were always having to be helped out.

`Some flight and crew- chiefs could pretty well fly a B-17. We had to taxi them to and from the hangar and, when a new engine was installed and had to undergo the hour and a half slow time flight before the plane was allowed to fly missions, the pilot would often take a chief along and let him fly it.

`Some B-17s would give little mechanical trouble while others always seemed to have things go wrong; you just couldn't account for it. Crew chiefs became very attached to their B-17s and there was quite a lot of competition as to who would knock up the most missions without an abort for mechanical reasons. Some wouldn't take any leave because they didn't trust others looking after their plane. The boys took it pretty hard if they lost a B-17 they had nursed for a good number of missions. When you almost lived night and day with your plane it was more than just a machine to you. I remember one of my crew chiefs, Joe Goeller, had a Fort that went 54 missions before being lost after a raid on Merseburg. He nearly cried when that '17 crashed. The next plane he had was also lost. Bob Phelps, on the other hand, had the same Fort all through the war. This was Was It Well and she put on 112 missions, more than any other B-17 in the 600th, but was also the only one in my flight to have aborted. Of the eight B-17s that were in C Flight, two were lost in combat, two in landing accidents and the rest survived. The whole squadron used 40 different B-17s during our stay in England, 15 were Missing in Action, eight crashed and five were left on the Continent because of heavy damage.
 

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Extracts from Leonard Streitfeld's book 'Hell From Heaven - Memoirs of a World War II B-17 Bombardier'
(reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Leonard Streitfeld)

To order a copy of this fine book, visit http://www.artwindows.com/B17/index.html

Mr Streitfeld was a Bombardier in the 600th Bomb Squadron, 398th Bomb Group at Nuthampstead during WWII.
 

Chapter 11

On December 15, 1944 we received our orders to be transferred to a base in Nuthampstead, about thirty or forty miles North of London. We were going to be in the 398th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force where all of my combat experiences began.

 Chapter 12

We left Stone by train and were on our way to Nuthampstead and the 398th Bomb Group. We arrived in the Town of Royston, which was about ten miles away and boarded an army truck. The weather was cold, gloomy and drizzly which made it a very uncomfortable and depressing ride. The only humorous thing that occurred was when we left the station; a dog started to follow the truck and ran after us the entire trip to the base.

We arrived at the base and were driven to Headquarters where we were assigned to a Quonset hut with officers from other crews. The enlisted men in our crew were in another hut located nearby.

The entire Base seemed like it was in mud and I found out later that it was like that most of the time and was renamed Mudhampstead by those stationed there.
In order to go from our hut to other parts of the base we had to walk on wooden paths. If you stepped off, your shoes got full of mud so we had to be careful.
Our hut housed about twelve people and we slept on upper and lower bunks. There was a potbelly stove in the middle of the room when we arrived with a fire going which gave off a golden glow and lots of heat. I picked an upper bunk that was near the stove and, consequently, was always comfortable when the stove was lit.

We did not know when we would fly our first mission but we were always on alert.
Since Christmas was not far off, a Christmas tree was being set up in the officers club that I helped decorate. When the crews returned from their mission it was finished and the tree was a welcome sight when they walked into the club.

It was just about this time that we heard that Glenn Miller was missing on his way to France in a small plane. We hoped that he would be found but it was not to be.

On Christmas Day we had a special dinner and I still have the menu of that Day in 1944. It was a wonderful affair with lots of good food and cheer. My friend Herman Balaban spent Christmas at our base and it was nice being with someone from home.

Chapter 16

Sometimes we would get a pass and go into Royston. There was not a lot to do there except go into a pub, have a little ale, play darts and go somewhere for fish and chips (Chips are French fried potatoes).
The general public was very nice to us and we had many conversations with them. We were always careful not to speak about anything military since we never knew who might get information that could be used by the enemy.
In our huts, if we were lucky, we would have coal for our potbelly stove but there was not much of that around. As a result we would use something else that would burn fiercely enough to make the stove glow red-hot. We found out that bomb wrappers were great for the stove when we didn't have coal.

Every bomb was wrapped in a hard casing that was round and about two or two and a half feet in diameter. The thickness was about four by four inches. We would carry these into our huts, when they were available, and break them up in small pieces about six inches in length. The heat generated by this was much more intense than coal.

Chapter 21

....some of our crew decided to purchase bicycles as many others were starting to do. It worked out great because we were able to get around the base a little easier. We would also be able to take rides in the countryside when the weather got warmer in the spring.

Chapter 23

I was interested in photography and took many pictures around the base. I also did some bike riding with a few from our crew that kept us in shape. Occasionally we would play touch football on a field near by.
I can't leave out our visits to a pub located just on the edge of the field. We spent many hours there mingling with the town people who always enjoyed our joining them for a drink or two and telling them about our latest combat experiences. (Since so many of our memories were centered around this pub, many years later this was the site our Bomb Group selected to put our Memorial. It is beautiful and I was there for the dedication in 1982.)

Chapter 25

When we finished eating, we went back to our hut where we sat around the potbelly stove and talked. This was always a relaxing time, especially when I brought out the goodies and cookies that my mother had been sending me. Everyone loved her cookies.
During the evening a siren started to wail when several German planes flew over the field and strafed it, probably hitting some of the B-17's. It only lasted about fifteen minutes and then they left. There was never a dull moment.

Chapter 26

When we arrived at the base and came back to our hut, a small, black Scottish terrier greeted us. One of the fellows from another crew was either given the animal or bought it but nevertheless, we now had a mascot.
I love dogs so I took to it immediately. It would follow us around the base wherever we went and I have many movies of it running around the field while we played soccer with some English lads.

Chapter 28

The weather was starting to get mild so we decided to take our last day and ride in the countryside with our bikes. The beauty of the rolling hills and winding roads lined with trees always impressed me. It was peaceful and quiet as we cycled down the road and about the only buildings we saw were farmhouses in the distance across the fields.

Chapter 36

We left Nuthampstead in our plane and on the take off I waved to a farmer who was watching and he waved back. I truly believe that all the people in Nuthampstead were sorry to see us leave since we had made so many friends.

Extracts from Leonard Streitfeld's book 'Hell From Heaven - Memoirs of a World War II B-17 Bombardier'
(reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Leonard Streitfeld)

To order a copy of this fine book, visit http://www.artwindows.com/B17/index.html

 

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Memories of Arthur Webb Jnr of Hay Street

In 1943 Arthur was a seven year old boy, living in Quinbury Cottages, Hay Street.

Suddenly we realised there were a large amount of lorries going up and down, and I always remember they were yellow and brown these lorries. If you could envisage the back of a lorry, they had a corner that would be yellow and one that would be brown. Where they came from I don’t know, didn’t have a name, didn’t seem to name anybody then, ‘cos of the war..
They were taking the ballast up to Nuthampstead to build the airfield.

The peculiar thing was, we were a little country village and suddenly we were invaded by loads and loads of Americans, and of course we cottoned on very quickly, that ‘got any gum chum’ was sometimes worth trying… 

The Americans that used the local pubs were mainly ground crew, who worked on the planes.  Usual dress was olive coloured boiler suits, boots and a type of hat that resembled a wool-knitted baseball hat.  I cannot recall seeing too many officers, although they usually used jeeps for transport.

We could hear the planes when we were kids, laying in bed.  You could actually hear the engines starting up, and them shunting around in the morning…. couldn’t avoid it because, with Nuthampstead being higher and where we lived in Hay Street, we were basically dead in line with it.  The strange thing about it was, you couldn’t actually hear the planes go away, so whether they always took off towards the north and assembled that way, I don’t know. 

Later in the day, the first thing we’d usually get  would be Mustangs, or something like that, coming back, and they’d come back low. Then you’d get the bombers that hadn’t really been touched. It always seemed like they shone through the clouds, I’ll always remember it… they’d be everywhere and you’d think, how the hell are they all going to form up to get into an airfield, which they seemed to do.  Then probably 10 mins, half hour, or an hour later, would come the injured.  I couldn’t describe to you some of the things… where the stabilisers were off, and you could actually see the holes through the wings… honestly I don’t exaggerate. They would come in so slowly because they had an engine out or something like that, they were the damaged ones. They were the crews that were firing out red flares.  You could see them from Hay Street, basically from the back of where we lived and they would start firing them out.  As a youngster you didn’t realised the implications of the red flares coming out of these planes, just that those planes were the ones that went straight in. 

My father used to use the pub in Hay Street, the Adam and Eve. Dad used to get to know the crews and I heard him saying to mum sometimes, they’ve lost a few , or they lost quite a lot.  I think the older you get, the more aware you are of the sacrifices that were made, that people didn’t fully understand at the time.

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