- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Henry Booth
- Location of story:
- Polebrook USAAF base
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 November 2003
My father, Henry Booth, is now 83 but can vividly remember his war-time experiences, especially his "close encounter" in 1943.
It was in that year, while he was serving on an operational anti-aircraft site in Lincolnshire,that he received severe multiple injuries. He was told afterwards that he had been lucky to survive and was taken for treatment to the military wing of a hospital in Oxford that specialised in head injuries.
After several weeks receiving treatment, he was taken to a large house called Ashton Wold in order to recuperate. It was situated in the village of Ashton in Northamptonshire and was a very fine house indeed. It belonged to the Rothschild family and as part of their contribution to the war-effort they had allowed it to become a Red Cross convalescent hospital. My father was there for some time and since it was very close to several United States Army Air Force bases, he witnessed some remarkable sights. He remembers, in particular, the events of July 4th, 1943. It was a beautiful summer's day. The sky was clear blue with a very high ceiling and it rapidly became obvious that a large raid was being prepared. B17 Flying Fortresses began to form up in three massive 200 plane arrowhead formations. Gradually, the three separate formations became one enormous arrowhead formation of 600 planes. In each B17 there would be a ten-man crew so that meant that there were 600 men in the sky above, representing an entire USAAF division. The noise of the engines, he recalls, was deafening and unforgettable as they finally set off on their Independence Day day-light raid.
While still recuperating from his injuries at Ashton Wold, my father was one of half a dozen soldiers who were invited to one of these USAAF bases as their guests for the day. The base in question was at Polebrook and they were given V.I.P. treatment right from the start. They were particularly impressed by the Amaerican PX canteen. It was similar to A British NAAFI in function but much larger and much, much better equipped. My father says that comparing the two today would be like comparing a village store with a modern hypermarket! The British servicemen felt very much like poor relations.
While my father and the others were being escorted to the PX canteen, they walked alongside a sunken green area where a baseball game was in progress. The man taking the strike was not doing too well and was receiving a lot of barracking. They suddenly realised just who he was. There was no mistaking the famous dark hair and moustache or the flashing white teeth and broad grin. It was in fact Clark Gable, the world-famous Hollywood Actor.It transpired that he was "doing his bit" for the war-effort, serving as an officer with the 8th USAAF.
My father recalls that as well as meeting Clark Gable, he had a marvellous day at Polebrook. Everyone they met was so kind and friendly and, for him, the overall treatment they received really did convey the true meaning of the word "ally".
The base was operational and in the late afternoon they were privileged to see B17s returning from a day-light raid. When most of them had landed and everyone was waiting for the last few to arrive, he recalls how there was an uncanny silence all over the base. He also recalls how the last few aircraft to land did so "on a wing and a prayer", with tail-planes shot up and badly-damaged undercarriages. They all made it back on this occasion and my father has remained full of admiration for the skill of the American pilots ever since. He had been trained in anti-aircraft techniques and also found it slightly un-nerving to see allied aircraft that had been given similar treatment by the enemy. The details of the whole experience are still imprinted on his mind even after sixty years!
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