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Former pupil presents schools with special commemorative book to remember Norfolk’s American air base heritage

John Gilbert, right, director of the 392nd Bomb Group, with Glyn Hambling, Unity Education Trust chief executive and some of the children at Beeston Primary School, with the 8th Army Air Force display fixed standard, and photos from wartime at Wendling Airfield given to the school. From left, Katy Barratt, eight; Tegan Childs, eight; Alfie Garrard, (back), eight; and Archie Wiseman, nine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

John Gilbert, right, director of the 392nd Bomb Group, with Glyn Hambling, Unity Education Trust chief executive and some of the children at Beeston Primary School, with the 8th Army Air Force display fixed standard, and photos from wartime at Wendling Airfield given to the school. From left, Katy Barratt, eight; Tegan Childs, eight; Alfie Garrard, (back), eight; and Archie Wiseman, nine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

A man who lost his home in an air raid during the Second World War has returned to his former school to present its pupils with a special commemorative book.

John Gilbert, director of the 392nd Bomb Group, with Tegan Childs, eight, and Archie Wiseman, nine, holding the World War Two 8th Army Air Force Roll of Honour, from 1942 to 1945 which has been given to Beeston Primary School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJohn Gilbert, director of the 392nd Bomb Group, with Tegan Childs, eight, and Archie Wiseman, nine, holding the World War Two 8th Army Air Force Roll of Honour, from 1942 to 1945 which has been given to Beeston Primary School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It is the first time the Book of Remembrance, which is currently housed in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, has been reproduced, and lists the 28,000 Americans who were based in Britain and lost their lives during the war.

Now, four school across the county have been gifted with a copy in an effort to keep the memory of the war, and those who fought in it, alive.

The first school to be presented with its copy was Beeston Primary, near Dereham, by former pupil John Gilbert.

Mr Gilbert attended the school in the 1940s after moving with his parents to the nearby village of Wendling, when he was just four years old. The move came after they lost their home on Grapes Hill in Norwich during the Baedeker Blitz in April 1942. More than 90 tons of bombs were dropped and 67 people died.

The 8th Army Air Force display fixed standard which has been given to Beeston Primary School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe 8th Army Air Force display fixed standard which has been given to Beeston Primary School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Remembering the day it happened, he said: “The siren went and my father carried me into the air raid shelter at the bottom of Grapes Hill with my mother. By the time we were able to surface again, our house had gone.”

Mr Gilbert’s father helped to build the air base during their time at Wendling.

“So I spent most of my time with the Americans when they were based here,” he said.

One of Mr Gilbert’s earliest memories is a visit from Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force band when they performed at Wendling Airfield, and photos of the occasion exist in Beeston Primary today.

John Gilbert as a pupil at Beeston Primary School in 1947. Picture: Courtesy of John GilbertJohn Gilbert as a pupil at Beeston Primary School in 1947. Picture: Courtesy of John Gilbert

Primary schools Litcham, Scarning, and Colby in north Norfolk have also received copies of the Book of Remembrance, as well a Roll of Honour banner stand which lists every American which was stationed in England during the war between 1942-45.

The project was funded by The Eighth Air Force Historical Society.

Glyn Hambling, chief executive of the multi-academy Unity Education Trust, said: “We are immensely pleased an organisation like this is supporting causes with the children to support the memories. It is important children understand what it was like to have active air bases in the county.

“We are ensuring the memories stay alive and we acknowledge the importance of having people like John coming to talk to the children.”

One of the photographs given to Beeston Primary School by John Gilbert from the 392nd Bomb Group, of Glen Miller during his visit to Wendling Airfield in 1945. Picture: Courtesy of John GilbertOne of the photographs given to Beeston Primary School by John Gilbert from the 392nd Bomb Group, of Glen Miller during his visit to Wendling Airfield in 1945. Picture: Courtesy of John Gilbert

One of the photographs given to Beeston Primary School by John Gilbert from the 392nd Bomb Group, of the five B24s in which Glen Miller and his band arrived at Wendling Airfield in 1945. Picture: Courtesy of John GilbertOne of the photographs given to Beeston Primary School by John Gilbert from the 392nd Bomb Group, of the five B24s in which Glen Miller and his band arrived at Wendling Airfield in 1945. Picture: Courtesy of John Gilbert

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