Photo Gallery: Fond memories of ‘friendly invasion’ are recalled at public history event

Roy Banham and (R) John Killingworth at the 'Friendly Invasion' in Shipdham. Picture: Ian Burt Roy Banham and (R) John Killingworth at the 'Friendly Invasion' in Shipdham. Picture: Ian Burt

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
5:55 PM

As a 10-year-old Shipdham schoolboy, John Killingworth got the shock of his life when an American aircraft flew over his head.

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He didn’t realise straight away, but it was the first aircraft to land in Shipdham from the USAAf 8th Air Force and signalled the start of the “friendly invasion” which became an important part of the history of his village, the region and two countries.

Mr Killingworth, now 82 and still living in Shipdham, near Dereham, recalled the incident like it was yesterday when he attended a public history event held at Shipdham WI Hall on Saturday.

He said: “I can picture it now. I was in a horse and cart with my father going to load up some barley from a local farmer and we heard this loud noise and saw the plane coming in so low.

“I didn’t know what was going on and I remember my dad saying he thought it was going to crash.”

In the months after America entered the Second World War in December 1941, nearly 70 airfields were built between Northamptonshire and the north Norfolk coast, each with up to 4,000 people living on them.

The story of those servicemen and women of the USAAF 8th Air Force and their impacts on the communities which welcomed them, is being told in the new Eighth in the East project.

The three-year regional programme of archeology, oral history and museum development is being run by Suffolk-based social enterprise, New Heritage Solutions CIC. It has been supported by a £575,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Saturday’s was the first community history event in the project.

Films from the East Anglian Film Archive’s mobile unit were shown and the archeology team from the Norfolk Historic Environment Service, based at nearby Gressenhall, provided fun for youngsters with a mini-dig.

Pupils from the village school took part in a competition where they wrote letters to loved ones from the perspective of someone in the American air force in the Second World War.

Mr Killingworth said: “I got on very well with the Americans. They were always giving us sweets, saying, ‘you want any gum chum?’

“It’s very nice to see this event happening and it brings back a lot of memories.”

Project director Nick Patrick said: “It has been great to see how many people have turned up and such a mix of ages.

“A major aim is to get local schools involved and to keep these stories alive.

“We will be holding similar events throughout East Anglia in the next three years.”

For more information about the project, visit www.8theast.org

Are you involved in preserving wartime heritage? E mail newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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