Eddie Coe's story: When the Americans came to Horham they found Redlingfield's small village pub and made it their local. They swarmed across the fields and drank the place dry. The Crown was tiny and there was no room inside so they would sit along the verge. It must have seemed very quaint to them, as we had no electricity in the village. The pub was lit by oil lamps and, with cigarette smoke as well, walls and ceilings were very grubby - but they loved it. My Brother Stanley made friends with some Yanks and was asked whether he knew of anyone who would do washing. Mother agreed and I became a laundry boy. The copper would be filled and a fire lit underneath and all the whites boiled. Coloureds were washed by hand.
There was a Military Police post in Redlingfield and we became friendly with those on duty. Once, I was given a sandwich which I thought contained cheese - it was in fact butter. Our butter was rationed and to see so much in a sandwich was unheard of. We were also given sweets and chewing gum. Mother was given soap for washing. In collecting the washing I became friendly with navigator Russell Cook, bombardier Anthony Braidic and other crew members. (Eddie is pictured right in American uniform).
I remember Lt Braidic cycled over to Redlingfield to ask Father's permission for me to visit London and him giving consent. To a 12-year-old who had never been on a train, and certainly never been to London, this was wonderful.
We went on Saturday April 28th 1945. It had been a cold night and there was a sprinkling of snow, which disappeared as we travelled onward.
On arrival in the big city, we ate at Grosvenor House, there was a bit of trouble because I was a lad in civilian clothes, but it passed and I was allowed to stay. I remember having a partitioned metal tray containing various foods plus an orange.
In the evening I went with Lt Cook to see the Tonight And Every Night starring Rita Hayworth. On Sunday April 29th we took a tour by taxi to see the sights and the bomb damage, then a train back to Diss railway station.
Back in Redlingfield my Mother made me sit down and write a thank you letter to thank Lt Cook for taking care of me. He kept this among his possessions.
On Monday May 7th Lt Cook was navigator on B-17G 44-8640's flight to drop food to civilians in German-occupied Holland. Despite these missions being given safe conduct by German authorities it is believed that it was fired upon by an anti-aircraft gun. The plane limped home and almost made it, cartwheeling into the sea just off Benacre Ness. There were only two survivors. B-17G 44-8640 was the last aircraft of the Eighth Airforce to be lost in Europe during World War Two.
My thank you letter was found by Lt Cook's Mother among his possessions, she kept it until her death. It was eventually found and copied and sent back to me years later, the original is still with the family.
Eddie Coe now lives in Fressingfield.
B-17G 44-8640: The crew of the last B-17 shot down in Europe were: pilot, 1st Lt Lionel N Sceurman; radio operator, Staff Sgt Gano H McPherson; armourer/gunner, Staff Sgt Norbert I Kuper; tail gunner, Staff Sgt William R Lankford; ball turret gunner, Staff Sgt John J Keller; toggler, Staff Sgt David Condon; navigator, 1st Lt Russell H Cook Jr; co-pilot, 2nd Lt James R Schwarz. Also on board from the bases' photo section were: Staff Sgt Edward H Bubolz; Technical Sgt Robert W Korber; Staff Sgt Gerald Lane; Sgt Joseph Repiscak; and Pfc George L Waltari. The original bombardier 1st Lt Anthony Braidic was invited to fly that day for “old time's sake” but instead flew with his new crew. Crew chief Staff Sgt Al Space also did not fly that day. It is believed that despite having safe passage for its Manna Chowhound mission to drop supplies for starving Dutch civilians the aircraft flew over an E-boat base defended by SS troops. Their anti-aircraft fire hit an engine. The aircraft came down just off the Suffolk coast. There were just two survivors Staff Sgt David Condon and 2nd Lt James R Schwarz. In its short six-month life B-17G 44-8640 flew 54 combat missions and six food supply missions. The regular crew of B-17G 44-8640 pictured: back row, Al Space, Gano McPherson, Norbert Kuper, William Lankford, John Keller, front row, Anthony Braidic, Russell Cook, James Schwarz, Lionel N Sceurman.
Click to visit the 95th Bomb Group (H) Memorials Foundation's page about the last B-17 shot down in Europe.
Many thanks to Edith and Eddie Coe and the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association/Red Feather Club. Extracts also from WW2 People's War, an online archive of wartime memories contributed by the public and gathered by the BBC at www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar