Rhoda Robinson UPL 34879
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Rhoda Robinson's Red Cross Aeroclub

Rhoda Robinson was one of thousands of members of the American Red Cross sent to Britain to set up Aeroclubs at Eighth and Ninth Air Force bases. Through their hard work, service clubs were transformed into morale-boosting 'homes away from home'.

From the outside, there was little to distinguish the drab metal-clad Nissen Hut from any of the other airfield buildings on Alconbury’s communal site. A white wooden entrance sign, neatly painted with the words ‘American Red Cross Aeroclub’, was the only indicator of the hut’s recreational function. However, for Alconbury’s personnel, this unassuming exterior housed an antidote for the toil, trauma and mundanity of airfield life – a ‘home away from home’, as many veterans recalled. It was here that the base’s enlisted men (those personnel below the rank of officer) could eat, play cards, read, write, dance, attend a class, or simply find an attentive ear.

Rhoda Robinson with her fellow ARC staff members and station personnel standing outside the American Red Cross Aeroclub

Alconbury’s aeroclub was one of many clubs established and run by the American Red Cross (ARC) to provide comfort and relief to members of the US armed forces serving overseas. They were part of a global network of Red Cross service clubs, clubmobiles (mobile canteens), and other recreational facilities that stretched across all theatres of the war. The first Red Cross aeroclub opened in England in February 1943, at a time when US Army Air Force airfields were rapidly being constructed to house the bomber and fighter groups of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces.



Responsible for setting up these clubs were ARC staff from the US. At Alconbury, this task fell to ARC Staff Assistant Rhoda Robinson. A college graduate from Barre, Vermont, Rhoda arrived in England in May 1943 and was soon posted to the air base at Alconbury, near Cambridge. Built as an RAF station in the 1930s, Alconbury had been transferred to the Eighth Air Force in 1942.

Work immediately began to convert Alconbury’s former NAAFI canteen into an aeroclub, complete with a library, games room, snack bar, and lounge. Rhoda enlisted the help of artists from the base’s ranks to paint murals. Not only did this act of homemaking improve the club’s interiors, but it also had the benefit of giving the men a sense of ownership over their club. 

A swing band play on the stage of the Red Cross Club UPL 18469

It was common for aeroclub walls to be adorned with squadron insignia, popular cartoons, or iconic American vistas. Limited resources necessitated creativity when it came to furnishing the rooms. At some clubs, ammunition crates were transformed into chairs while bomb fins were modified into trash cans and ashtrays.

In this photograph of the aeroclub at Bottisham, it appears as though drop tanks from P-51 Mustangs have been adapted into bandstands.


While furnishings and decoration helped to brighten up the space, it was the presence of the aeroclub’s team of American staff that added a feeling of home. As Red Cross recruit, Ruth Register, asserted, ‘Our job is to bring a little touch of America to the boys away from home’. Fulfilling this role required more than an American accent, as emphasised by the rigorous six-week training programme undertaken by Red Cross recruits before their deployment. Subjects ranged from bookkeeping and military history to dancing and doughnut-making. Considerable attention was also given to the women’s uniform and overall presentation. While it was the British volunteers who carried out many of the everyday tasks involved with running the club, such as cooking and cleaning, it was the American staff members who were on the ‘frontline’. For many battle-weary crews, it was the smiling faces of the ARC assistants who greeted them when they returned from missions. Armed with trays of donuts and cups of coffee, Rhoda and her colleagues provided welcome relief to the shaken airmen.

"Our job is to bring a little touch of America to the boys away from home and I imagine that the sweat and blood behind it will be worth the effort"

Ruth Register

On 10 February 1944, Alconbury’s aero club received an important visit, when His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stopped by for tea. By this time Rhoda had been promoted to Club Director and was in charge of the overall running of the club. Other morale-boosting occasions included a visit by Nelda Kurtz (better known as Rosie the Riveter) and a Christmas party for local children.

In early 1944 Rhoda was re-assigned to the aeroclub at Rivenhall, before being posted to Hardwick, home to the 93rd Bomb Group. Rhoda’s clubs were hugely popular, and the centre of many men’s non-working lives. Her last posting was to Headquarters as Supervisor, and later Director of Field Club Operations. In November 1945 Rhoda sailed home on the Queen Mary. After the war, she settled in San Francisco, where she worked for a polling company. The American Air Museum is home to some of her collection, including her service cap, wartime portrait, and mementoes acquired during her travels.