***Grace Buckley is a 1st year A Level student, studying at Thorpe St Andrew High School and lives in Norwich. As part of her Duke Of Edinburgh award, she chose to volunteer at the Millennium Library, to gain an insight into historical Norwich, work in a iconic building and to compliment her A Level subjects within Sociology, Geography and Criminology.****
***I have always felt I have had a fairly multicultural education in terms of history, so when I found myself walking around the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, I was surprised to uncover the gravity of American influence on Norfolk during WW2. The reality of it shocked me. This was primarily due to the fact that I had lived a total of 17 years in Norwich and not known anything about it. I hadn’t come across one person up until that point that had mentioned anything even resembling the information displayed here. There were so many records, so many stories; I had no idea where to begin. So I started picking up random books and flicking through the pages. I learnt that 7000 young Americans based in Norfolk and Suffolk, lost their lives in the line of duty and that the average age of these men was 26. The most distressing books I read talked in depth about the harrowing reality of war and how the soldiers coped with their duties while staring death straight in the face. One account recalled that after a while most soldiers started to imagine they were already dead in order to keep moving. This statement in particular really made me reflect on the mentality of soldiers. Many people today, including myself, cannot even begin to quantify the type of resilience these men had to adopt, especially at such a young age.
However, the more I read, the more I found signs of good in the never-ending trail of evil. The arrival of tens of thousands of US servicemen in Norfolk created an unexpected comradery that blossomed between soldiers and the community. At first the locals may have been reluctant and begrudgingly offered their resources and land, but after a while our two communities were interwoven within each other. Our rationed region was introduced to new things like peanut butter, donuts, chewing gum, popcorn and Coca Cola. During a time of hardship and pain, these men were able to find joy and excitement within each others cultural identity. They brought the ‘American Dream’ to Norfolk and we gave them a home.
The battle between good and evil is a story that has been well told. From a young age, fairy tales about heroes and villains are repeated and relived. There was always a protagonist and an antagonist but now I know it’s never that clear. Of course as a child there is a sense of fun and a limited understanding of the true horrors of war, but as I have dived into the specifics I have realized that war teaches us so much more than winning and losing. The main battle many soldiers face is not between nations but within themselves; their inner conflict.
As naive as I am on this topic, I can full-heartedly say that I would never wish this fate on my worst enemy. Being here has taught me the importance of remembering and the invaluable guidance history provides for us. It’s easy to fall into a mindset where everything is just black and white and therefore easily comprehensible. Each account of the war I have read has been just as intricate as the last, but without the books, photographs and artifacts that have been retrieved, I wouldn’t have even known anything beyond the general statistics.
Places like the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library provide people with the opportunity to learn about their identity. They resemble a constant and intimate reminder of what we have lost so we can do better for the future. We must always cherish history, both the good and the bad. From the unspeakable monstrosities that divided some nations and the comradery that binded others together.****
Thank you for all your help, I really enjoyed my time in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library!