Tag Archives: WWII

Exploring the role of women in the War effort

By Danielle Prostrollo

Women played an important part of World War II. It is easy to get behind this idea, but it was difficult for me to get a clear image of what that effort really looked like. Everyone knows how important women were as nurses throughout the War effort, but there were many more who worked outside the hospitals, such as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). This group was formed through the 1943 merger of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and trained over 1,000 women.

These civilian women freed male pilots to be ready for combat. The WASPs were trained pilots who were utilised in all manner of non-combat flying. Without these women, combat pilots would not have had aircraft to fly. Women flew eighty percent of all ferrying missions, delivering over 12,000 aircraft in just over two years. They estimate it that this freed up over 900 male pilots for combat missions. When a ferrying mission came in, the WASPs would go to the factory, take the plane on a test mission, and then deliver it to the air base. They flew almost every type of aircraft used by the USAAF, including the notable B-29 Super Fortress.

In 1943, the WASPs also assisted in combat training, towing shooting targets at Camp Davis. This proved to be a dangerous task. On more than one occasion, the women were shot down because the men mistakenly thought they should shoot the airplane rather than the target they were towing. Eleven WASPs lost their lives during training programs across the US, including Mabel Virginia Rawlinson. Rawlinson had been flying with an instructor when her plane malfunctioned and ultimately crashed. The instructor was thrown from the aircraft, but she was stuck inside the pilot’s seat. It was later discovered that her plane, among others used for towing shooting practice, had not been adequately maintained and the Army Air Corps had been using the wrong octane fuel in them.

As civilians, the WASPs were not considered part of the military and therefore did not receive military benefits. Besides not being considered veterans, this had very real financial implications for those who served as WASPs. Each woman had to pay for their own uniform as well as room and board. Additionally, from the group’s inception in 1943 until it was dissolved in late 1944, 38 WASPs lost their lives (and one disappeared). The bodies of these women were shipped home and buried at the expense of their families rather than receiving a military funeral.

It wasn’t until 1977 that they were retroactively granted veteran’s benefits which allowed them to partake in the programs administered by the Veterans Association. In 2009, WASP received the Congressional Gold Medal, which is on display at Boeing in Chantilly, Virginia. These were just some of the women of World War II who answered the call to protect their country, but knowing about their efforts has helped me to paint a better picture of what role women played at that time.

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Filed under American History, World War 2

Saving Samson

samson

Curators at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell are appealing to people with links to the Samson and Hercules to help them secure the future of the statue of Samson who stood guard outside the city centre property for centuries. The oak carved figure has recently been restored, and it’s been revealed he dates back to the 17th century. Now, the museum wants to display him permanently in their galleries, and is crowdfunding to raise the £15,000 needed for a display case.

The ballroom was hugely popular with American GI’s over 50,000 of whom were stationed in Norfolk, and delighted the local girls, many of whom ended up marrying their wartime sweetheart. During the Baedeker Raids in Norwich, in April 1942, Samson and Hercules maintained their guard over the front door of ‘The Samson’ club. Unable to take shelter, the bombs rained down; narrowly missing them on occasion.

By July 1942 there was a friendlier invasion. Samson would have looked on in wonder as the Liberty Trucks from the local airbases pulled up and disgorged their cargo of young American airman keen to play hard while they could. Up to this point ‘The Samson’ had been a club for our ‘Boys in Blue’ but there was about be a change in the colour scheme. The American uniforms, known as pinks and greens, comprised of an olive drab coloured tunic and pink-brown coloured trousers. The novelty of the new uniforms, plus the fact that they seemed smarter, the fabric of better quality than the RAF Blue, quickly drew both looks of envy and admiration from the locals. Many of the Americans also came equipped with money, access to rare, desirable commodities such as chocolate, tins of food, stockings; plus a confident gift of the gab, all of which they quickly put to use on the local girls.

Samson, standing as doorman with his cohort Hercules since 1657, must still have looked on in wonder as the Americans tried their bold chat-up lines on the war-weary girls with the local boys often taking them to task over it and the American Military Police, nicknamed Snowdrops because of their white helmets, being on hand to break up any fights. The local boys were gradually inclined to avoid the place but the girls knew which side their bread was buttered! By the end of 1942 the number of GIs in the city of Norwich had boomed. Through the Samson and Hercules there now followed a sea of green dancing to the popular Gerry Hoey and his Band.

Disaster struck on 18th March 1944. Despite their resilience to the German arsenal, Samson and Hercules’ long lives were nearly cut short when fire took hold of the building. With determination the fire was put out and Samson and Hercules were saved, however, the lack of building material available due to the war meant the new portal they were guarding was far less impressive. They must’ve felt somewhat overdressed for the occasion!

For the past seventy four years rumours have abounded that Glenn Miller and his dance band were welcomed through the doors of ‘The Samson’. We certainly know that he played at Chapelfield Gardens on the afternoon of the 18th August 1944 but did he ever venture into one of the GIs’ favourite haunts to celebrate his promotion to the rank of Major? If only Samson could talk we would have discovered much earlier that the rumours were indeed true! Samson would have regained his sense of purpose of welcoming the great and the good through his, albeit now depleted, doorway and he must have have felt his feet rock on his plinth as the place erupted with roars and shouts of appreciation as the band stayed up most of the night celebrating their leader’s recent success.

Glenn Miller

Picture from: Glenn Miller in Britain then and now by Chris Way, published by After the Battle in 1996.

As 1945 progressed, the war drew to its end and the American airmen, who had become part of the scenery, gradually returned to their homeland, occasionally taking with them their new English brides, whom they would have met as Samson stood watch. They left behind them not only the odd broken heart and bloody nose, but more significantly an enduring connection to Norwich and fond memories of nights out at ‘The Samson’.

Samson, meanwhile, maintained his position as the decades rolled by until the early 1990s when his arm became detached and it was clear that now it was our turn to guard and protect Samson for the future. In 1993 both figures were removed for their protection, as they were in such a bad state of repair, and replaced by fibre glass replicas. And this is when an amazing discovery was made. Unbelievably, tests revealed that whilst Hercules was a Victorian replica, Samson dated from the early seventeenth century. Over the past couple of years conservators have removed countless layers of lead paint to unveil the most intricate of features, including curly long hair and strong arms bulging with popping veins and muscle.

Working in partnership with the Art Fund through their ‘Art Happens’ platform, the museum of Norwich at the Bridewell aims to raise £15,000 by 22nd March to Save Samson and proudly place him on permanent display, protecting this fragile and precious piece of the City’s heritage for the future. Now the conservation work is complete the museum wants to create a breath taking new display featuring a bespoke, state of the art, environmentally controlled case. Within the case, the very fragile figure of Samson will be supported by a new custom made, conservation grade mount. What’s more, specially designed lighting will enable visitors to see every curl and sinew in tantalising detail. Meeting the highest conservation standards, this new display will not only present Samson at his very best, but more importantly, will ensure this city icon remains in peak condition.

But the museum needs your help to make this happen.  By donating to this project, you can ensure Samson’s future will be secure for years to come and the story of this much loved Norwich night club can be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone.

What’s more, as a thank you to donors, the Art Fund offers desirable rewards for set price donations, such as exclusive campaign tote bags, limited edition signed prints by Leanda Jaine Illustrations and a behind the scenes conservator led tour to see Samson up close.

Find out more and join the campaign to Save Samson! www.artfund.org/saving-samson #savingsamson

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Filed under Local Interest, World War 2

Kassel Mission ~ 71st Anniversary

An update from the Kassel Mission Historical Society 

As we reflect upon the 71st anniversary of the Kassel Mission of 27
September 1944, let us all bow our heads and remember the 136 wonderful men
on both sides who gave their lives that day. Let us rejoice that five of our
MIAs of the Hansen Crew are getting the attention they deserve as their
remains have been recovered at the site this summer. If you don’t know about
this, go to the Kassel Mission Historical Society group page on Facebook.
The details and a link to see the archaeological dig are there.

We are grateful to the DPAA for finally digging on this site, to our friends
in Germany who brought attention to it, to our military liaison, Rob Rumsby,
for contacting us in 2012 on our Facebook page and making it happen, and to
Eb Haelbig for taking the team there an showing them the hot spots that
resulted in a successful dig. We are still working on identifying two more
MIAs and hoping to locate the remains of the final MIA, Raymond Ische, who
was the lead 445th navigator.

Bless the hearts of all of you veterans of the mission who read this today.
You are true survivors and have stuck with this organization through thick
and thin. Congratulations to each of you on a very full, long life. And
bless all of you members, friends and family of our dear departed, and for
those of you who gather in support of our Cause–being sure the Kassel
Mission is remembered.

We still have work to do. The DPAA recovered much in the way of plane parts,
both from the Hansen plan and the nearby Bruce plane. They originally agreed
to give KMHS the pieces to display at the Kassel Mission museum in Eisenach,
but have now agreed to give them all to the German state of Hesse’s
archaeologists. We are protesting this and hope to resolve it in our favor.
We will let you know how it goes.

You will notice in the DPAA video from the Armed Forces Network news, if you
go to the Facebook Page, that the video says nothing about the Kassel
Mission. The focus is on the good work that the DPAA is doing; it mentions
the location of the dig-Richelsdorf; and that these are WWII bombers. We
intend to add the Kassel Mission and B-24s to that in the news in a press
conference we are organizing that will be hopefully in the next few weeks
where we will tell the story. Stay tuned.

To the men who died and the men who lived to tell about it, we salute you
all today.

Linda Alice Dewey
President, Kassel Mission Historical Society
www.kasselmission.com 

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Filed under World War 2

WWII Film – CREW 713

We have had the son of an American airman contact us about a film he’s been making. Here are the details about this exciting film Alejandro Mena is directing in memory of his father and those who served during WW2:

CREW 713: THE MEN WHO FLEW “THE IRISHMAN’S SHANTY” is a WWII documentary film produced by Fiona Hall and directed by local Dallas filmmaker, Alejandro Mena.  Currently in production, the film is the story of Mena’s father’s B24 liberator bomber crew who flew bombing missions over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany from their base in England in 1944.

Crew 713 Pic 3

CREW 713 was the first crew to complete a 30-mission combat tour with the bloody, violent and short-lived 492nd Bomb Group (H). The 492nd would go on to become the most devastated American heavy bomb group in WWII and was subsequently disbanded after only 89 days of combat service.  CREW 713 is Mena’s homage to his late father’s military service, a salute to the men who served in the 492nd and a glimpse into a brief window in time when the mighty 4-engine heavy bombers rained destruction down upon the Third Reich in their massive air armadas.  The producer’s goal is to educate and expand the knowledge about the Bomber Air War of WWII, specifically the contributions of the B24 Liberator bomber and the men who flew them.

Crew 713 Pic 2

The film provides a new twist on the WWII documentary genre.  CREW 713 will feature animation, re-enactments, archival footage, modern music, and interviews with 492nd veterans to tell the story of these venerable B24 liberator bomber boys.  Copies of the veteran interviews will be donated to The National Archives and to the WWII Museum in New Orleans, so that future scholars may study these men.

Crew713 Pic 1

Shanty Films LLC is still seeking sponsors to help fund the film. For more information and to contribute to their general production fund, please go to their website, www.crew713.com.

About the filmmakers:

Producer Fiona Hall served as the production manager on the 2011 Academy Award nominated film, THE ILLUSIONIST, produced by Pathe Films and directed by Sylvain Chomet.  Director Alejandro “Alex” Mena is a 20-year veteran of the Texas film and video production industry. Most recently, Mena served as director of operations for the 2014 Lone Star Film Festival & line producer on the independent film, The Last Possession.

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