By Danielle Prostrollo and Don Allen, 2nd Air Division Memorial Library UEA Scholarship recipients for 2016/2017
Earlier this month Don and I took a short field trip to the former United States Armed Air Force (USAAF) airfield at Seething. Our tour guide for the morning was Pat Everson, who was a child when Seething bustled with American airmen. Aside from being a gracious host and seamlessly explaining every relic housed in the old control tower, Pat struck me as an example of exactly why it is important to gather records and memories of our shared history. Memorials such as the one at Seething have the ability to contextualize the spirit of banding together, of standing up for what is right, and protecting those who are unable to protect themselves. The airfield is a beautiful example of that effect and I thank Pat and her small team for their dedication to the history.
Below are a few pictures we took on items and objects that stood out as we wandered through the control tower and our thoughts on how they struck us.
Danielle: This bottle of gin gave me pause. It’s, of course, a given that not all who go off to war will return home but the bottle of Old Mr. Boston felt less like an acknowledgement of death and more a realization of life stopped. The fill line is too close to the top, like a book that ends after the opening sentence. The remaining contents of the bottle allow me to imagine the rest of their story – drinks, laughs amongst friends, and stories with the bartender. But instead of buying rounds and clinking glasses the rest of the pages are blank. This bottle of gin was on my mind this Remembrance weekend.
Don: Being from Massachusetts, where as the brand name suggests is where this gin came from, this bottle was at first a bit of nostalgia for me. Old Mr. Boston brand bottles are relatively collectible from the era of the original incarnation of the company (1933-1986) and I’ve seen many of them before. Almost all of them are empty, so at first I was surprised to see this one essentially full. After reading the plaque, and finding out why it was so full, my mood changed to one of hopeful sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of the young men who gave their lives for the world, and left this bottle as a striking symbol of that loss. But hopeful that the lessons learned from WWII, as taught so starkly by this simple exhibit, may mean that, eventually, no more bottles of gin will go undrunk.
Don: This is a view from the door of the Nissen hut that is a part of the museum. As I left I tried to imagine the scene during WWII: walking out of the hut, a mission being run that morning, seeing a large airfield filled with B-24’s and crewmen scuttling about on their jobs, bombs being loaded, men sending what could be their final letters home. But then it struck me that, 73 years ago, a solider may have had a different vision. Might a gunner or navigator have just stopped, taken a breath, looked at the flag waving and imagined a time when all the planes and bombs were gone, the men home with their families, and a peaceful morning field lit by the sun with a flag waving was all that could be seen? Well, thanks to all those soldiers, both American and non-American, that fought and gave their lives for such a vision, I was able to witness it.
Danielle: The whole experience at the airfield really helped me to place myself in the mind frame of the fight (as much as one can at 29 years old). The goal was clear and the cause was Good. Walking around the airfield put into perspective the lengths that so many were willing to go to protect and to fight. While my own path may feel miles away from theirs it is encouraging and inspiring to remember that when the cause is Good then it is worth the fight.
Don: There were numerous marriages made between American GI’s and British women, and to be sure not all of them lasted. But many of them did, shining a spotlight of happiness in a desperate time.The world is far from perfect, but looking at this picture reminded me that even during the most stressful and darkest of times, good things will always create light. In the current climate of politics in the US, this is a message, regardless of your political leanings, that should be heralded.
Danielle: In one of the control tower rooms Pat has organised a massive collection of personal histories and written stories from those who remember Seething as a bustling airfield. A binder of G.I. bride memories opened with a typed copy of the wartime wedding vows. The usual “in sickness and in health” replaced by vows to support their husband wherever their post may take them and all of the sacrifices required to keep chaos beyond the threshold of home. The wartime effort required the service of everyone.
This trip to Seething airfield was special. Items donated to the museum and the historic buildings are a beautiful reminder of a time when we banded together in service and gave everything to the cause. The trip itself and the conversations we had will stay with me for a long time to come.