The USAAF bomber bases of World War Two were situated in the heart of rural England. Surrounded by countryside and pretty villages, it took the crews little time to become ‘regulars’ at the nearest village inn, where traditionally there was Open House to American servicemen. A few convivial hours at the pup after a gruelling mission provided a welcome escape from the rigours of combat flying. Today most of those local pubs are still there, serving up that unique brand of British hospitality which is so cherished in the memories of the USAAF aircrews.
Never was the welcome at the inn more warmly appreciated than on Christmas Eve, 1944. General von Rundstedt had launched a massive offensive in the Ardennes, and the situation was critical. The Eighth Air Force was called upon to mount its largest single operation of the war, and on that day over 2000 American bombers climbed into the cold air and headed for the battlefields. After fighting their way through to the target, neutralising enemy airfields, and pounding highways and railtracks, the elated crews headed home only to find the gathering mists swirling around their bases. After landing and debriefing, they were in the mood to party down at the village inn. And they did!
Nicholas Trudgian has painted a wonderfully nostalgic rendering of B-17s returning over a Suffolk village on that memorable Christmas Eve.