Earls Colne Today

The site of Billy's longest home base in England, Earls Colne, is today a busy, thriving place—Earls Colne Business Park, where more than 20 businesses, employing over a 1000 people, have set up shop where the Marauders and other war planes once filled the skies. We (my sister Joan and I are in the photo above) were fortunate enough to be able to visit the Park, in the fall of 2008, and were given a tour by the energetic gentleman also shown in the photo, Eric Hobbs, who is its visionary founder.

Mr. Hobbs is also very keen on the area's history not being lost, which explains the impressive memorial shown in the photo above, located just inside the Park's main entrance. Its primary decorative feature is the propeller, which Mr. Hobbs' family purchased and had shipped from the U.S. to East Anglia especially to adorn the memorial. (Unfortunately, they were not able to get a B-26 prop, since almost all of the Marauders were destroyed after the war.) The memorial was dedicated in August, 2007, and Billy's friend Bob Mims, shot down on a mission in February, 1944, was a featured speaker at the dedication. You can see a video of the dedication ceremony here.

As you can see from the plaque in the photo at the right (this plaque appears under the center of the propeller on the memorial) the 323rd Bombardment Group, Billy's outfit, was stationed here from June, 1943 until July, 1944, when the base was handed over to the RAF. I found it very interesting to learn that before the Marauders were based here, the aerodrome hosted "heavies," or, "our big brothers, the Forts," as Billy described them.

Below on the left is a photo of the plaque specifically commemorating the 323rd's tenure at the base, and also one highlighting Mr. Mims' part in the memorial's dedication. (These plaques are placed to the right of the propeller on the memorial.) And on the right is a close-up of the propeller, which makes the memorial a very striking object visually—something sure to be noticed by visitors to the Park.

 

Not much of the original base remains; its flat, empty contours have been moulded and landscaped into a much more appealing environment by Mr. Hobbs. Here are some photos of the golf course adjacent to the Park's convention facilities and hotel (left), the air strip currently used for light aircraft (right), and Joan and me in front of what remains of the main airstrip (below).

golf course   air strip

We were very pleased with our visit to Earls Colne, and very grateful toMr. Hobbs for showing us around and for his dedication to keeping the memories of the base's wartime service alive. Far from being disappointed in the area's transformation, we feel it's the best kind of memorial that Billy and his buddies could have—a vibrant, prosperous, important part of the countryside where they spent so much of their time and to which many of their friends did not return from their missions.


Earlier in our visit to England, we toured another former airfield that's being put to good use: the Imperial War Museum annex at Duxford, near Cambridge. It's a fascinating place, similar to the Air and Space Museum annex at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., in that it houses many vintage airplanes in various stages of restoration. One of their planes that's flight-worthy is shown at the left.

There is also a wonderful hanger, shown below, dedicated to American airmen who served in Britain. On the walk leading up to the entrance to this impressive structure, they have panels giving some idea of the scale of the losses suffered by the different England-based squadrons during the war. On the right is a picture of me with the 323rd Bombardment Group's losses memorialized. This was the Group with which Billy was longest associated while in England. The number of planes on this panel is mercifully fewer than on some of the others, especially those representing losses among the heavy bombers.

Among the many interesting displays in the Museum was this light table showing the many different bases located all over England. When you pushed the "B-26" button, the bases used primarily for these planes lit up on the map. You can see three of Billy's bases—Earls Colne, Rivenhall and Matching—named by the red lights in this photo, as well as some other locations mentioned in various Journal entries:

Another of his bases, Beaulieu, is out of the range of this photo. But we did learn something about this base from Mr. Hobbs—it's pronounced "BOO-lee" by the English!

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