Plans to mark the fallen airmen

Members of a Norfolk gliding club are set to apply for a grant to build a heritage and visitor centre at what was one of the most important military airfields of the second world war, its three intersecting runways hosting the famous USAF 445th bomb group.

It was one of the most important military airfields of the second world war, its three intersecting runways hosting the famous USAF 445th bomb group.

They were the valiant fighters whose daring missions led to them suffering 108 combat losses, including the highest single-mission loss when only three of the 37 aircraft that went on a raid to Kassel, Germany, made it back to base.

Since the war ended, Tibenham airfield, near Attleborough, has become a site of pilgrimage for the families of the Americans who served and lost their lives there.

All that remains is a memorial in the nearby church - with the airfield now serving as the home of the Norfolk gliding club.

But all that could soon change, with members of the club set to apply for a grant to build a heritage and visitor centre at the base, to give relatives a better idea of what life was like during the war years.

Club member Chris Slack said: "There is a lot of history at this base and if we could get a grant we would love to create a museum here.

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"People come over from America all the time to see the airfield and there's a big call for giving them a heritage centre.

"Until recently we've been taking what we've got here for granted, but now there's a recognition we have responsibility for protecting its history."

Mr Slack said they would be applying this month for a grant of about £10,000 to build a heritage centre on the airfield.

It will contain photographs of life on the base during the war, many submitted by relatives, and parts of the downed planes subsequently rescued from battle sites.

He said the centre would be orientated towards families, and could also contain a section on famous faces to have served there, including Oscar-winning actor Jimmy Stewart.

Lt Col Stewart was based at both Tibenham and nearby Old Buckenham, commanding squadrons of fighters and taking active part in 20 operations during 10 months between 1943 and 1944.

After the war, as he resumed his role as one of Hollywood's biggest stars, he kept in contact with villagers in Tibenham - paying a secret visit to the base in 1975 and enjoying his first glider flight.

Mr Slack said one of the three pilots who survived Kassel was still in contact with the gliding club and had recently expressed his support for the heritage centre.

"So many people want to come here and commemorate the loss," he added. "For a lot of Americans, a visit to Tibenham is a pilgrimage, and building a heritage centre would help make their visit more pertinent."

He said that a five-year plan had been drawn up to increase use of the airbase, which included a fly-in last Sunday for powered planes to show that Tibenham was not just for gliders.

Mr Slack said about 60 planes had been expected from as far away as Newcastle and Dorset, but poor weather conditions

on the day meant that numbers had been less than hoped for.