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Chelveston Airbase - Memories
Order of Memories
9
Bill Upton
1
Herbert Coleman
10
Joyce Woodward (nee Reade)
2
James C Rodgers
11
Barry Urdang
3
Harry "Wayne" Chandler
12
Ernie Evans
4
Robert C Greene
13
Barry Urdang
5
Ted Barker
14
Ruby Lilley (nee Hazelton)
6
Max Kahn
15
"Betty" Nicholson (nee Parker)
7
"Gabe" Des Roches
16
Stan Soderblom
8
George Longland
17
Ruby J Lilley (nee Hazelton) - newsclip
'Pause to Remember'

These "Memories of Chelveston" were collected by Ian White, by personal contact at BGMA events,
both in England and in America.

An Exhibition at Rushden Heritage Centre

Originated by Ian White of the
305th
Bombardment Group Memorial Association

see also Dennis Pell - memories

Frank Kekes - memories


Chelveston 1956 -1962

The first B47's of the Strategic Air Command arrived in May 1956.

These were jet bombers which carried nuclear weapons, and were maintained on a 24 hours alert status as part of the NATO response to the Warsaw Pact.

In August 1959, Boeing RB 66 reconnaissance jets joined the Chelveston air base.

These were electronic counter measures versions of the B66 bomber, and they stayed at the base until August 1962.

All the crews lived in mobile homes alongside their aircraft.

The 305th Bomb Group (H)

Constituted as a heavy bomb group in January 1942 and activated two months later, the 305th Bomb Group soon moved from the USA to England and adopted after training an operational role at Chelveston.

On 17th November 1942, the new Bomb Group undertook its first mission, and within two months it was upgraded to undertake precision raids on German industrial complexes.

Over the next twelve months the 305th executed missions over Norway, France, Germany, the low countries and Poland all precision attacks on aluminium, magnesium, oil and nitrate works.

As part of the prelude to the D Day aerial offensive, the 305th neutralised "V" weapon sites, airfields and repair facilities whilst during D Day and under the overall command of the RAF's Air Marshall Tedder, they were utilised to attack German infantry positions within the battlefield area, because of the expertise developed in precision bombing.

By July 1944 the group had become the first choice aerial bombing support, and they attacked ground forces to cover the British advance into

Holland. Aerial support was given too, to hard pressed American infantry during the Battle of the Bulge.

In March 1945, the 305th were supporting the American assault on the Rhine, and after this time it was often used to drop propaganda leaflets until, on the 25th April 1945, the last mission of World War II was flown.

After World War II and from stations in Belgium and Germany, the group undertook an aerial photographic survey of Germany and North Africa before being inactivated in 1946 on Christmas Day.

Reactivated in 1947 as part of the Strategic Air Command, the 305th continues to serve the USAF in the air mobility role and has served in this capacity during the Gulf War as well as in the American invasions of Panama and Grenada.

During their stay at Station 105 (Chelveston) the 305th flew 480 missions, lost 174 aircraft to enemy action and 787 airmen gave their lives.

1

Herbert Coleman  422nd Squadron

At Gowan Airfield in Idaho I first met my co-pilot Stan Timore. He was not a happy bear. One minute he was a trainee fighter pilot and the next he was a co­pilot on a B17.

I didn't want to fly with the grump, so I asked our Ops. Officer, First Lt J Stewart (yes, the film star James) if he would transfer him back to fighters.

The tart reply encouraged me to teach Stan how to fly a bomber, and in the end he was better than me.

We sailed to Liverpool on the Cunarder Samaria on 14 October 1943, the day 13 out of 15 US aircraft of the 305th were shot down over Germany.

Before I could take in the realities of war, I was asked to volunteer to fly missions with the RAF.

Having found that I had already volunteered for this duty, my crew worked with Lancasters and Halifaxes led by Pathfinders. This was all new to me.

The RAF always underflew the B17's so giving us the better chance of reaching our targets.

I flew 31 missions from Chelveston with the RAF and my most vivid memory is the sight of Lancasters illuminated against search lights and red tracers as they dropped their bombs on a major rubber plant.

2

James C Rodgers 422nd Squadron

On completion of training our crew was sent to Sabina in Kansas to collect our B17.

My first shock was being told that this was to be the plane we would take into combat so be sure to treat her right!

Our route to England was protracted and via Iceland and Scotland. Can you imagine our second shock when on arrival the US Army confiscated our plane, and sent us on never ending train journey to Bovington for assignment.

We were just replacement bodies for killed air crew!

Eventually, we were assigned to Chelveston, where four of the men I trained with were killed within the week.

My pilot Peyton Sparks fought to bring the rest of the crew back together again, and finally succeeded.

In mid 1943 we began briefings and training for what would be the major raid on the Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factories.

We raided Schweinfort twice and on the second occasion out of 15 planes to leave Chelveston, only 2 returned.

The "buzz" of war was gone.

3

Harry "Wayne" Chandler 364th Squadron

I fell for this English girl from Manchester who was being chaperoned in London by her brother.

We all became firm friends and I couldn't wait to spend my leave with them, though my buddies never appreciated that it was just friendship. After all I had a girlfriend back home.

One night after a mission I was walking to my hut when I found a water stained French leaflet on the ground. As my girlfriend back home spoke fluent French, I thought it would be nice to send it home to her. On boy was that a wrong move!

After prolonged interrogation by Squadron Security Officers, who thought I was an enemy agent, a provocateur or worse, I was finally officially reprimanded.

I can tell you I couldn't move after that without security watching me!

4

Robert C Greene Bombardier 422nd Squadron

We arrived at Chelveston from Iceland in 1943 and our aircraft was called Black Swan after a Tyrone Power movie.

We flew 13 straight missions, all in daylight and shot down 18 enemy aircraft whilst over various targets - an Air Force record.

After 25 missions I was re­assigned to another aircraft. On the next mission Black Swan was shot down over St Nazaire. The poor bombardier who had my seat was on his first operational mission.

All aboard died that day.

My association with My Gal Sal, my next aircraft, was short-lived. I was given leave in London and that day My Gal Sal was shot down too.

After this I flew with the 305th Group Commander Colonel Curtis E Le May, otherwise known as "Old Iron Ass".

5

Ted Barker 379 Squadron ATC

I had just come out of Bible Class at Sunday School and was walking along Station Road, Irthlingborough towards the A6 with other lads, when sitting cross-legged on the grass we met an American serviceman. He spoke to us and we passed on our way.

Every Sunday came the same routine, and eventually we became very friendly.

Soon I was old enough for the ATC and those joyous visits to Sywell Airfield and a trip on the resident De Haviland Rapide.

My memories of staying with other members of the Squadron as guests of the 305th will stay with me forever.

When visiting Chelveston we could fly almost every day. Sometimes the formations of bombers were so tight we could count the rivets on other aircraft!

The Americans treated us as family allowing us to sit in different crew positions and even up in the cockpit to take the controls. At this point the Co-Pilot would often wander off leaving the Pilot and me to cope.

When 17, I was selected for RAF air crew training which entitled me to wear a white flash on my forage cap.

I wore it proudly to Chelveston and couldn't understand the sorrow the airmen expressed.

I guess they felt responsible for encouraging my love of flying and having seen the worst of war, wanted to protect me at all costs.

6

Max Kahn Waist Gunner, 422 Squadron 305th BG

I had just finished basic training in the US when I was instructed to join Lt. Hal Walker who was flying from Syracuse to England. We landed at Chelveston - my first view of England!

Flying with the 422nd from Chelveston, my first 19 missions were in daylight over Paris, and with fighter escorts - so no losses.

Next came the submarine pens at Lorient and St Nazaire where the action was too hot to risk fighters.

I remember the ME 109's were like hornets, never leaving us alone. We were lucky to come home.

Then followed a dozen missions to Hamburg. On the 12th we were attacked by ME's which scored 3 twenty mm hits on the fuselage, injuring our radio operator Ray Malaby.

Next they hit the right inboard engine and finally the right wing, but Hal Walher was just one of those pilots who always got you back.

In 1943 we started to fly with the RAF. The RAF flew under us as a protector, taking the flack. Often we saw a Lancaster destroyed. Those RAF bomber crews were so courageous.

7

"Gabe" Des Roches 620 EAM Company Chelveston 1953-55

At a time when most of my buddies were going to Korea, my first posting was to be in England at some base called Chelveston.

I hated leaving my friends behind, but then I met the girls! It was in Wellingborough at what was called a TA Drill Hall.

My regular haunts were the Wheatsheaf and Feathers in Rushden which offered an insight into local life.

During my stay at Chelveston things were very different from ten years earlier when the World War was still raging. There was now on camp an English snack bar run by the Haversons.

Camp life revolved around the strengthening of the runway so that the USAF could operate jet bombers carrying nuclear weapons.

We extended the runway by 2 miles, making it one of the longest in the world, and the foundations were re-laid to 12 feet thick. When the first B52s arrived we knew why this had to be done!

After I left the USAF I returned in the late 1950's to Chelveston in a civilian role to drive a test rig up and down the runway.

This was designed to weigh as much as a B52 and in simulating this aircraft at slow speed it showed up surface cracks in the concrete.

8

George Longland

I was a member of 390 Squadron ATC, and as such I had many opportunities to witness our new American neighbours at Chelveston at first hand.

From odd jobs, I saved enough to by myself on my 16th birthday a BSA motorcycle for £40, and I immediately made use of it to go to Chelveston (in ATC uniform for added effect!).

The uniform acted as a passport and gave me base access at any time I chose. The MP's on duty would just wave to me, and I never slowed down for them.

Petrol was scarce and on one early visit I asked for some free petrol. When I returned to my bike, someone had filled the tank! Thereafter I always parked in the same place, and after every visit the tank was duly filled. This began to cause me embarrassment as with my coupons I had more petrol than I could use!

On most visits I made for the Officer's Mess and if I asked "any chance of a flight?" the response was always "yeah kid, the Lieutenant's on practice - hop aboard".

That’s how it was, and I was assured of a ride almost at anytime. The hours aloft are my most vivid memories and often the flight would be 6 hours or more.

Once I was flown to Newcastle on a plane with a VIP Colonel though I can't remember his name.

Often we were on practice bombing runs on Olney and Huntingdon, and I vividly recall the large white triangles on the ground. Each of the three bombardiers would drop a series of bombs. I often wondered if there was anyone below in the fields.

9

Bill Upton

The first Americans I remember came to Rushden in 1942. They were Army Engineers who were building the air base at Chelveston for B17 Flying Fortresses. Billetts were at the Co-op in the High Street. Early on the first day an air raid siren sounded, and like rabbits they disappeared from the streets.

Us locals had learned the hard way that danger in those days didn't need an air raid siren for announcement so most locals stayed on the streets. The same thing happened in the cinema, when the warning message appeared on the screen. We learned later that the penalty for an American serviceman failing to respond to a warning was severe.

By December I remember the 8th Air Force arriving at Chelveston, and as an Army Cadet I began to visit the base regularly, often to raid the dustbins!

One day a Cook NCO said to me "hey kid, give us a hand" and he pointed to a handcart which was loaded with military things. He told me he had acquired the cart from Rushden Station, but it was now in Shade 42 (Army Green) and that it as perfect as a canteen trolley. I pushed it all day around the camp serving coffee and donuts to the airmen.

At the end of the day the NCO gave me some "Baby Ruth" candy and cigarettes for Dad.

10

Joyce Woodward (nee Reade)

I worked at the John Spencer Shoe Factory near Crow Hill, Irthlingborough.

My best friend, then and now, was Florence Goosey, and we did everything together, including, in 1943, our first sight of American servicemen.

We were peddling down towards the A6 when we were confronted by dozens of Yanks on bicycles pointing in every direction. Avoiding action was impossible and we ploughed into them shouting some less than complementary remarks, but luckily no-one was hurt.

From that moment life was not going to be the same, and soon Irthlingborough filled with southern drawls, New England accents, and a host of other trans-Atlantic voices.

Mother just could not believe it!

I remember that southerners preferred to be Rebs to Yanks, and that they didn't live on a ranch but a plantation!

11

Barry Urdang Chelveston

On the first day I moved to Chelveston from Grafton Underwood, a few of us waited n the Officer's Mess for dinner.

At 5.00 pm we turned on the radio to listed to Lord Haw Haw, the Englishman on Germany Calling, which was broadcast every day from Berlin.

I listened to his words and froze: "Today I welcome the Officers and men of the 305th Bomb Group who have moved from Grafton Underwood to Chelveston. Gentlemen, look at the clock in the Officer's Mess, its ten minutes slow".

I looked - the others looked at the clock the clock was ten minutes slow. God it made us freeze. We never did find the spy at Chelveston.

12

Ernie Evans 620th Engineers - Chelveston 1952-55

Soon after I arrived at Chelveston I brought a pre-war Humber Saloon, which to say the least was a challenge to keep on the road.

One Saturday morning six of us decided to see Fotheringhay Castle and set off in the general direction. On the way we passed this Castle which we duly explored after driving up the nice driveway. Across the way was this beautiful house. I went up to the door and pulled down on the bell. Eventually this Englishman in riding clothes appeared from behind us. He explained that this was private property and directed us to Fotheringhay.

At Fotheringhay we were told we had met the Duke of Gloucester!

13

Barry Urdang Chelveston

Whenever I had a couple of days leave, I made for London and the Studio Club in Kensington.

There was an English piano player there with whom I became friendly, and I even gave him my American address so that he could write to my family.

One day I noted that he kept all the information I gave him in a little book, and thinking this strange I mentioned it to my Intelligence Officer. He ordered me to stay away from London for a month, but to report to him after 30 days and before I next visited the Club. When the 30 days were up, the Officer greeted me with a handshake:

"That guy was a German spy who was broadcasting to Berlin from a mobile unit that never remained in one place for more than a minute so we could never trace his location till you gave us the vital clue that he worked in the Studio Club. We caught him and had him executed."

14

Ruby Lilley (nee Hazelton)

Dad was landlord at The Crown Inn at Lower Dean near the airfield during the war.

I was in my teens, and to have all these men around was absolute heaven.

My older sister Peggy was in her late teens, and she fell for an American airman called Charles Althiser who used to drive to the pub in a horse-pulled cart he borrowed from Mr Ball of Yielden.

Later they were to marry, and their first of ten children was born here in England. They settled after the war on a farm in New York State in Richmondville.

I will always remember the US airmen as gentlemen who missed their homes, tried desperately to "fit in" and were really very normal young men doing a particularly nasty job.

They will never be forgotten.

15

"Betty" Nicholson (nee Parker)

In 1942 I had just left school to start work in the Glassbrook Road Condenser Unit factory (the old Sergeant’s shoe factory). The factory was now called "Du Billiers".

All the staff were young girls or old men, though there were a few men who weren't considered fit enough for military service. These men had to dip the condensers into vats, and I remember they had the smoothest arms and hands I had ever seen! I walked to the factory every day which took thirty minutes. Often I was late and Mr Gardiner, the Shift Foreman, who, after the war ran a coffee bar, would tell me off.

I remember the Americans coming to Rushden Hall and erecting dozens of Nissen huts.

Security was very tight. One day I rode my bicycle into the park, and leaned it against the wall of Rushden Hall so that I could peer into the kitchen. The cooks were black soldiers.

Once the US Army had taken over Chelveston, the airmen would hang around the factory gates whenever they had any free time.

Most girls were never short of a date!

"The Feathers Pub" was the best place to meet a Yank though. It was full every night with US servicemen.

16

Stan Soderblom

The 413th Service Group completed 3 years at Chelveston maintaining aircraft and other kit for the 305th.

Our first day at Chelveston was 17th August 1942. I remember it because that day was the first US raid over Europe during the war.

At Chelveston our only facilities were tents. As we arrived a lone German bomber flew low over the airfield, and then flew onto Wellingborough to conclude its mission.

Before we arrived the base was a joint RAF/USAAF facility for testing the gliders that would one day be used in the invasion of France. At this time they were very "hush hush" and they soon disappeared after we turned up.

We weren't used to war shortages until we came to Great Britain or the strange food.

Baa-Baa meat was served most days in different guises. This wasn't lamb by any stretch of the imagination and was certainly mutton dressed as something else!

Always accompanying the mutton was enormous piles of Brussels sprouts which we called something quite unprintable!

Still, I'm proud that I and the group did what was required of us. There were, of course, all the negative memories and the loss of many friends and aircraft. The aircraft (ships) were friends too and the loss of the ship was mourned.


17
From an unidentified, undated newsclip

Tex came by horse and cart — and married my sister!
At the time the Americans were stationed at Chelveston my father Stanley Hazelton (now deceased) was landlord of the Crown Inn at Lower Dean, Huntingdon.

I was in my early "teens", but can still remember the "lads" making frequent visits to my father's public house, by various forms of transport, i.e. Jeeps and bicycles, and one by means of horse and cart borrowed from a Mr Ball of Yelden.

The member of the US Forces named Charles Althiser (who arrived by horse and cart) was later to become my brother-in-law, as my elder sister Peggy Hazelton married him in Upper Dean Church, at the age of 18, and with God's will should be celebrating their golden wedding in about two years' time.

When Tex (as he is affectionately known to family and friends) was posted back to America my GI bride sister followed him (as soon as was possible) with a small baby daughter, her first born child, and started a new life with her husband on a small farm, where they still live in West Richmondville, New York.

During their married life together they have become parents of another nine children and now have many grandchildren (I have lost count) and possibly great grandchildren.

Unfortunately Tex has never been able to return to England; could never spare the time or the money to do so. He also had to remain at the farm, to look after the family on the three occasions my sister came "home" to visit her family, her last visit in 1983, before our mother's death.

Mrs Ruby J Lilley (nee Hazelton) of Colchester, Essex



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