RETURN TO RIDGEWELL
After more than fifty-six years, with the
urging of my family and accompanied by my youngest son, I returned to
Ridgewell in Essex. We were met at Witham by Jim Tennet and transported
to the site occupied by the 381st Bomb Group during WWII. When we arrived
at the museum we met Jim's wife Jennie and son Chris. Derek Mayes and
Dave Osborne were there also to welcome us. After a cup of tea we viewed
the beautiful memorial and the museum.
Afterwards, they gave us a tour of what remains of the old air base, stopping
frequently in order that we might take pictures and reminisce.
I am not a man of letters, nor one with the gift of turning a phrase,
but I would like to tell you this:
I stood there and gazed out upon the green fields so lovingly cultivated
by men of peace and felt a great sense of satisfaction. It seemed that
the will of the Almighty had finally been fulfilled, for now, from this
land there comes the gift of sustenance for man and beast. And the silence
is broken only by the song of a bird or the voice of a new found friend.
No longer is the land criss-crossed by strips of oil stained concrete
and encircled by a black ribbon of asphalt. No longer do the hardstands
and grey metal huts dot the land and deny it the ability to flourish and
yield fruit. Gone now, is the tower that launched the mighty birds of
destruction against an evil that sought to enslave our comrades in arms.
Gone now, is the roar of the mighty radial engines and the mournful scream
of the ambulance. And yes, gone is the jocularity of youth. The silence
of fear and the sorrow for lost comrades has passed into the world of
memories but never forgotten. Gone now, the pit where we stored the implements
As I stood there and thought about what was, the sensations of sound,
of sight and smell once again filled my senses The smell of fuel, of burned
gunpowder, of ozone, and even coffee in the debriefing room. I could feel
the intense cold of high altitude and the strain of constantly scanning
the skies. I could recall the muffled thump, the black smudges in the
sky and the sudden appearance of holes in the aircraft.
Turning away and talking to new friends engendered thoughts of the pleasant
times Walks to a pub for a mug of beer and a pickled boiled egg. Learning
to ride a bike with no coaster brake. The faces of the kids when we had
candy or gum to offer. Trips to the great city of London . Poker games
in the barracks. And if you were lucky, a date with a pretty girl.
This mission more than fifty-six years later has given me a rush of emotions
and memories that I did not know was possible to experience. But the most
significant and deepest feelings that I felt was the fact that the people
remember us and to that end have laboured long and hard in erecting the
beautiful monument and museum. Their gracious hospitality is a memory
that I shall always cherish.
To those of us who survive, to those of us who have passed on and especially
to those who were killed or maimed please know that you are loved and
remembered here in this land of peace.
381st BOMB GROUP, 532nd SQDRN
PRICE CREW, WAIST GUNNER, 26 MISSIONS