Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECS to 80360, or email »
How did the Yanks change Essex after wartime invasion?
10:56am Wednesday 18th September 2013 in News
IN 1940, the Royal Air Force engaged in the Battle of Britain - a desperate struggle for air supremacy to prevent an expected German invasion of our mainland.
The following year, with the entry of the USA into the war, an invasion of a more benign nature began in the east of England.
Nearly 70 airfields, with between 3,000 and 4,000 people living in each, were built in a matter of months.
From there, air crews launched major bombing raids on occupied Europe, playing a key role in the eventual Allied victory in the Second World War.
Now New Heritage Solutions, a social enterprise based in Suffolk, has been given £575,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to tell the story of what became known as World War II’s “friendly invasion”.
One of the key focuses of research, partly thanks to the work already carried out by historians in north Essex, will be Boxted Airfield, in Langham.
Robert Liddiard, from the University of East Anglia’s School of History, said the work carried out at museums like the one at Boxted Airfield would be crucial for the project.
He said: “We have got a legacy of absolutely brilliant volunteer-led and managed museums and they’re the custodians of this stuff.
“What we really want to do, 70 years on, is try to take this to another level by linking all these places up.”
Over three years “Eighth in the East” will aim to record the impact the arrival of the USAAF 8th Air Force had on those already living in the region.
But the focus will be not on the airmen in the sky, but those left behind on the ground.
Mr Liddiard said: “We all know about the fliers.
“There are lots of books about the operations - what they bombed and why.
“What has not really been done to the same extent is what did this actually do to East Anglia?
“The landscape was transformed with nearly 70 airfields being built, but also what did it do to the local economy and society?
“What happens when all of a sudden an airfield gets built next to your village of 3,000 people?
“It’s our last chance to capture the memories of the people who saw these men fly.”
The project will look at whether villagers found American sweethearts and followed them back to the USA, and how many GIs stayed behind.
It will try to find out what East Anglians made of the racially segregated air force, and whether they benefited from the improved rations brought in with the air force.
Initially, Eight In The East will focus on a cluster of airfields in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Towards the end of next year, a call will go out for volunteers in Essex to help collate memories, upload photographs and carry out archaeological exercises in the county.
Maggie Appleton, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “We are delighted to see this project get off the ground.
“The heritage of the airfields in the East of England and the way they have shaped the landscape and people’s identities is so important.
“The scale of the operation during the Second World War was enormous, with over 200,000 serving men and women occupying more than 60 airfields across the east of England.
“Their story will now be told, giving people of all ages a fantastic opportunity to get involved and learn new skills in the process.
Comments are closed on this article.