WW II, a British focus  



Memories of Mr H. Booth

My Wartime recollection.

In 1943 whilst serving on an operational Royal Artillery Anti - Aircraft site I received very severe multiple injuries from which I was told I had been extremely lucky to survive. I was initially taken to Lincoln Hospital - which had a Military wing - as my site was in Lincolnshire. Eventually I was transferred to a specialist Military wing at a Hospital in Oxford I should add that the injuries were all severe Head injuries and were arriving from all Theatres of war including Burma indirectly. After several weeks I was taken to a large house called Ashton Wold in the Village of Ashton Northhamptonshire Ashton Wold A very fine house indeed belonged to the Rothschilds and had been given over for War use to become a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital. I went there for further follow up treatment and convalescence.

I was there for some time and during my stay I witnessed a most remarkable sight. It was July 4 1943 which is of course American Independence day. The weather was perfect - a beautiful summers day in fact. The sky was clear blue with a very high ceiling - as it were. I should add at this stage that there were numerous 8th United States Army Air Force bases around the area flying B17's - Flying Fortresses. It became very obvious that a large raid was in progress. The planes were forming up in three 200 plane groups - each in arrowhead formation becoming one large arrowhead formation of 600 planes. In each B17 there are a ten man crew making 6000 men altogether. This would represent a whole division of the U.S.A.A.F. the engine power was deafening when they finally went off on the raid. They came from U.S. bases in Northhamptonshire - Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. One day whilst still at Ashton Wold - 6 or 8 of us who were by now feeling much better were invited as guests for the day to polebrook, a U.S.A.A.F. base a few miles away we believed this had been arranged by the nurses who were friendly with the yanks. We were given VIP treatment and this continued throughout the day. After introductions etc. we were taken to the PX Canteen this was similar to the NAAFI in function - but very much larger. It would be like comparing a village store to a present day Hypermarket - but of course the bases were in effect small towns. We were escorted to the PX canteen and on our way we went alongside a sunken green where a baseball game was in progress. The man taking the strike was not doing too well and was coming in for a lot of friendly barracking etc. He was in fact "Clark Gable" - there was no mistaking his famous dark hair and moustache - flashing white teeth and broad grin. It transpired he was actually serving as an officer with the 8th U.S.A.A.F.

We had an excellent day throughout - escorted around the base and everyone was very kind and friendly in fact I would say that the overall treatment we received portrayed the true meaning of the word ally. The base was operational flying B17's "flying fortresses" and in the late afternoon we were privileged to see the bombers returning from a daylight raid. When the last 6 or 8 were finally arriving the silence was uncanny and lasted until they had landed yes! - they were literally coming home on a "wing and a prayer" - make no mistake about that. It involved one and two engines out of action - tail planes shot up and badly damaged undercarriages etc. I am pleased to say that they all made it safely on this occasion. It was certainly marvellous flying by the pilots. I personally found it very ironic because I was trained in Anti - Aircraft technique - to give similar treatment to the enemy. I have thought a lot about this many times realizing that this scene must have occurred very often to friends and foes alike - in fact this particular incident is vividly imprinted on my mind - and now that I have matured I personally think they were ALL very brave men indeed.
H. Booth.     May 1997.