The Viewpoint of an AAM Volunteer

By General ira snapsorter on 30/10/2015

Here's a word (or two!) from Phil Jackson, one of the AAM's vital volunteers, on what it's like working with us at IWM Duxford:

Early in 2013 I was given the opportunity to assist with the American Air Museum project, which involved the sorting, identification and cataloguing of a very large collection of photographs known as the Roger Freeman Collection. After working for about a year on the ‘ Friends of Duxford’ front desk – meeting and greeting visitors, some of whom were very interesting – I was, to be honest, not over-stretched in the post. Still wanting to have an involvement in the Museum I enquired of the Volunteer Manager whether any other opportunities were available, and luckily, up came this job!

I have to admit at the start I was solely interested in the sorting, and bringing into order the physical photo collection from a purely “I like lists and order” viewpoint (ex-mainframe programmer mind set!) – I knew nothing about the AAM and even less about Roger Freeman, the USAAF and the 8th Air Force (I failed my Modern History ‘O’ level TWICE!). Thus began my journey back in time in the TARDIS known as Hut 292. (Just to clarify, I use the term TARDIS, not to denote the differences in the internal and external dimensions of the Hut but to try and give a sense of scale to the knowledge of the wonderful people who inhabit that humble space daily. (Also could apply to the volume of coffee, tea and biscuits consumed in a working day).

So now, on every Wednesday that I can manage, I am still turning up to Hut 292 in the certain knowledge that there will be yet more interesting work to do. During the early sorting and digitisation of the Roger Freeman images it became clear to me that behind each one there was personal tale to tell but at that time it was almost impossible for me to make connections between units, aircraft and people – mainly due to my lack of knowledge but also to the vast numbers involved. Just think about these figures and the impact on East Anglia:

  • More than 350,000 American service personnel;
  • 283,000 aircraft;
  • 130 American bases and 75 airfields;
  • 30,000 airmen killed and 30,000 taken Prisoner of War
  • More than 490 bombing missions into Europe

... all of which add up to shed-loads of photos, correspondence, published works, hand-written stories and a vast amount of website information provided in the public domain.

Whilst some of the photographs had scant information written on the back – and many had no information at all – I could understand the aim of the Project – to link them into a coherent whole, providing a picture of the men, women and aircraft involved – and this is now what this website offers, a resource available to us all. My involvement now, in addition to ‘cleaning up’ entries and deleting duplicated or unwanted material on the site, is to assist with making the associations between people, units, aircraft and places, thereby making their histories more coherent.

Already the site has attracted great interest from US 8th AF Veterans, their families, 8th AF enthusiasts, and British people who have memories of the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” which was East Anglia in WWII. Each day we see the addition of information ranging from simple messages left in remembrance of a lost relative, or a recollection of an event at a specific place, to detailed narratives linking this site to many other sites built by veterans or enthusiasts.

You don’t do this job without being constantly reminded of the effort which had to made, and the consequential sacrifices that had to be borne, in order to get the WWII job done – I won’t dwell because so many more important and erudite people have said the words. But you also have your favourite ‘bits’!

My favourite photo is this one of Lieutenant Colonel Gray demonstrating how to throw a horse-shoe to watching members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

One of my favourite people is Ambrose Willard Reese, not least because of his comprehensive website but he also looks a bit like Norman Wisdom!

... and, if I can have a favourite ‘worst’ bit, if only to illustrate the ‘horrors’:

The fate of Second Lieutenant Martin A Kane, a co-pilot with the 379th Bomb Group, who was killed in 5 April 1945 in B-17 42-97128 “Screwball Express”.

Further details are held on Fold3 - http://www.fold3.com/image/29426412/ (Read with discretion – it contains distressing information).

So, if you have even the remotest interest, please come on down to this site and marvel in the way we can now portray this important history and, who knows, you may be able to add your bit.

I shall continue to mosey on to Hut 292 in the faint hope I am being of some scant use to the friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable folk on the project.

Regards

Phil Jackson.   (aka “General Ira Snapsorter”)