Personnel of the 391st Bomb Group board a truck to take them to Coombe House, Shaftesbury for a few days rest. Image via Bob Mynn.
Coombe House was built in 1886 on a 50 acre site, a mile to the east of Shaftesbury in Dorsetshire. The house and estate became the luxurious, Coombe House Hotel early in the 1930s. It was ideally equipped and located to become a USAAF Rest Home.
For USAAF combat air crews in the UK, home leave was impossible. So the doctors responsible for their well-being believed the next best thing would be Rest Homes, using the tranquillity, comfort and freedom from military routine achievable at English country houses or hotels.
Aircrew could, at least once during their tour, come for a week away from the horrors of war. After which it was hoped they would return to their units, refreshed.
At the rest home they were provided with civilian clothes. Uniforms only appeared for the evening dinner. Air Service Command supplied an administrative commanding officer, an adjutant and enlisted helpers. A Medical Officer, rotated each week from operational units, provided any necessary emergency care or medical advice.
American Red Cross girls acted as hostesses, supervising the recreation and dining. The American Red Cross also employed and managed the civilian staff needed to run the house and maintain the grounds.
Coombe House joined the programme on 20th September 1943. It was set up to accommodate 50 officers and was allocated to the 2nd Bomb Division.
Soon after the war, Coombe House was sold and became St Mary's, an independent, Roman Catholic School for girls. Nowadays, with many new buildings and facilities added, it houses 325 students, two thirds of whom are boarders.
English Heritage's record description
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Military | Captain | Pilot | 448th Bomb Group
William Wilhelmi served as a pilot with the 712th Bomb Squadron of the 448th Bomb Group, flying missions out of Seething, England. He was assigned to the squadron on 31 July 1944.