Fakenham car-boot find reunited by Sheringham man with its US hero owner based at wartime Tibenham
An old paperback bought for 20p at a north Norfolk car-boot sale has led to a transatlantic detective trail spanning nearly 70 years ending in the book's poignant reunion with its wartime hero owner.
Brian Farrow, of Beeston Common, Sheringham, came across the book while browsing at a Fakenham sale in May.
Mr Farrow, 71, who takes an interest in RAF and USAAF memorabilia connected with East Anglia, spotted the book, A Guide to the Army Air Force, printed in 1944, and thought it looked interesting.
Inside was a war economy label bearing the name Lt MN Panosian 702 SQN. There were also annotations in the book which mentioned two other USAAF lieutenants, Marvin Gasster and Francis Farmer.
Intrigued, Mr Farrow contacted the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, based at The Forum, in Norwich, to see whether they could tell him anything about the trio.
He also trawled the internet, keying in the men's names to discover as much as possible.
Combined researches uncovered fascinating details about the three. They had crewed B-24 Liberator heavy bombers at Tibenham, in south Norfolk, where they were part of 702 squadron with the 445th bomb group, probably in 1944 and 1945.
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New Yorker Panosian, whose parents were from Syria, had been navigator, Gasster, the pilot, and Farmer co-pilot.
Mr Farrow's own digging led him to a website dedicated to the 445th where he was thrilled and moved to find a wartime photograph which included and named the trio.
'A lot of the photos showed crews killed in action and others had no names so when I found my three I went wild - I almost cried!' said Mr Farrow.
He was even more delighted to stumble across a photo of 'Manny Panosian' on the website of a school in Horseheads, New York state. It had been taken in 2000 when Mr Panosian went to talk to the children about his wartime experiences.
Then 78, Mr Panosian said he had been working at his father's shoe store when America entered the war in 1941. He recalled his best friend being killed on his first mission and people running for their lives to escape his plane when he flew close to the ground.
'Overall he learned no good comes from war. He hopes we'll never have another one,' says the school's website record of his visit.
Further delving, into the American equivalent of the Yellow Pages, revealed that Mr Panosian was still alive in 2009 and was living in Horseheads.
Mr Farrow crossed his fingers and arranged for the book to be sent to him, with an accompanying note explaining the background. He heard nothing until a few days ago when a hand-written letter arrived 'From the desk of Manny Panosian', penned by his wife, Lucille.
She explained that her 89-year-old husband was now mentally and physically disabled but said she and her children had gained a great deal of pleasure from the book.
Her husband had never spoken of his experiences in Europe as a navigator. After returning from war he had become a successful businessman, They had been married for 57 years and had five children.
Mrs Panosian added: 'We are extremely grateful to you for finding the book and for your efforts to locate us..'
Mr Farrow, who is retired after working in the food-processing industry, said he was delighted at the outcome of his sleuthing.
Some of his earliest memories were of standing looking at the skies over Sheringham and Cromer, black with American planes circling as they prepared to head for the continent.
Lt Panosian had flown an impressive 23 missions at a time when young men had been lucky to survive 13 or 14, said Mr Farrow.
Among Americans based at Tibenham during the war was Hollywood film superstar Jimmy Stewart who served there as 703 squadron commander.
'I feel that we in this country owe these people a lot because they came over here and died in their thousands. Two fifths of them were killed in the war. I have long admired their bravery,' he said.
'I didn't realise what I had got when I had found that book. I'm very pleased that it's now back with its owner - for his family to treasure.'