WA5IYX 1952-1954 UK Photos

I was in the UK as a USAF dependent (aged 5-7) from late Feb 1952 until late Jul 1954.  We had been in central Washington state (Larson AFB, Moses Lake, WA) since early 1949 when the 81st Fighter Wing (my father was in the motor pool section) was moved to the UK in August 1951. They were initially at RAF Bentwaters (near Ipswich, Suffolk), but were later moved to RAF Shepherds Grove (near Bury St. Edmunds).  This was first squadron of F-86 Sabre jets to be stationed in the UK during the Cold War.

My mother and I had a transcontinental train trip to NY City leaving on Feb 14 - the Ephrata, WA to Chicago leg of it on the Great Northern Empire Builder deisel.  We were billeted a few days at Fort Hamilton before sailing on the USNS Gen. Alexander Patch on Feb 20.  February is NOT the best time to cross the North Atlantic on a 600' ship!  One night the seas were so rough that the propeller screws were "biting air".  On another occasion a freak wave smashed thru the glass windows in an upper-deck lounge.  Luckily we hadn't been sitting in our "normal" area or, at the least, we would have gotten soaked.

Docking at Southampton Feb 29, it was a fair road trip up to Suffolk and the Angel Hotel in Bury. A few days later we went over the Square House where we stayed until more-permanent lodgings could be found.  (While at Bentwaters my father had arranged for rental housing, but that had to be dropped when he was transferred.)
The more-permanent housing turned out to be a 33' "caravan" (house trailer) in a field in the small village of Botesdale, about 6 miles northeast of the RAF base on the A143.

This is a closeup from the negative of a 5-year-old me sitting at the foot of the "main" door.  That field had housed a WW2 AA gun of sorts - (before or after the town was shot up by a German fighter?).  My mother was always concerned that some live ammo might still be shallowly buried there for me to dig into (though I'm very sure that the place had been well-swept with metal detectors when they had vacated it).

This is a closer closeup made by trans-illuminating the print (that's why there's so much "texture" in it) as I couldn't find the negative for it.
Some more transilluminated prints (taken by someone else so no negatives were ever available) of a squadron party somewhere in the rural UK.  A volley ball match and one of the family, my father, me (in the same outfit as in front of the trailer), and my mom.  Some buses are parked in the background.  I've no idea who the guy is leaning down to pick up a bottle/can!
Two shots at the seashore at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.  These are highly-cropped from the negatives.  We also went to Felixstowe (via Ipswich).  Either one took a while to get to even though only some 45 miles away.
This is a photo that I took.  It's obviously in leafless wintertime.
Two photos of our pet Corgie Dog, "Danny Boy".
Two photos of the landlord's property.
This is probably from the summer of 1953.  Note the clothes line and pins angled at the top towards the camera.  Wearing shorts in that field soon acquainted me with stinging nettles!  The background building (north) was a residence that was converted from an old school - notice the small bell tower (and the bricked-in windows).  I've since found out that the building dated to the 1820's - some 30 years older than we had thought at the time there!
Some of the Botesdale Methodist Church is in the far background.

That June the Coronation of QE II was held.  We got to see some of it on a TV set at the base. There was some interference to the signal - they ascribed it to the base radar.  But, being June I have to now wonder if it wasn't some Continental European Es doing it!  Unfortunately, I've no idea what channel that the set was tuned to or how far away the BBC station was.

Lacking a TV of our own, going to the base theater to see the first-run films such as Quo Vadis, Moulin Rouge, etc was the bulk of our visual entertainment.  (On-base transactions were handled with script certificates rather than US currency, and a recall for conversion to a new series issue was a MAJOR, unannounced exercise!)  Another large attraction there were the BINGO games - at which I managed to accumulate some $70 (most of it being spent on the likes of new school clothes, etc).

I started school at the Dependents School on Base (a six-mile bus ride) in September 1953.  This is a picture of my 1st-grade class.  The classrooms weren't all that too far from the runway area.

Other than the seacoast trips not much sightseeing was done while in the UK.  Indeed, it was a while before my father obtained a 1953 Chevy from the US.  Travelling in a left-hand drive car on the UK roads has to be experienced to be fully appreciated!  (Rather hard passing when the driver is on the "curb" side of the road.)  Once a Circus at Bury was attended.

There was one trip to the famous church at Borley (taking in those at Long Melford and in Lavenham on the way back), and another to the Framlingham Castle.  A few USAF football games were traveled to (catching a glimpse of Sandringham on one return).  As odd as it now sounds, sometimes a picnic lunch would be packed and eaten in the car while parked in the countryside or just viewing the parked B-36 and B-29's at RAF Lakenheath.  (Using our camera might have been a little bit "risky" there at that time!)

The three trips to London were for "business" with the American Embassy.  The last, in April 1954, lasted two days, requiring an overnight stay in the Douglas House.  We got to visit the Tussaud's Wax Museum, but business ran too late to take in the Tower of London.  The only reason that we came across Buckingham Palace was that my father got lost in the urban traffic!

Leaving the UK was bittersweet - I had spent almost 2.5 of my 7.5 years there but was still anxious to return to the US.  After moving out of the trailer we spent a few weeks again in the Square House in Bury - this time taking in more of the historic spots of that town (like the Abbey and the museum at Moyses Hall).  A few visits back to Botesdale were even made by bus while there, one coninciding with the June 30, 1954 partial solar eclipse (my first).  The anticipation of my first air flight increased.

July 25, 1954 (I was keeping a bit of diary by this time) we left Bury by rail, changing trains at York before arriving late in Glasgow at the Bath Hotel.  The next day it was off by rail (this time in contrasting-3rd class vs 1st class) to Ayr.  We stayed at the Elms Court there - longer than we had expected due to various delays in air-departure schedules at Prestwick.  I had my largest dose of TV to date in the lounge there.  (luggage label)

We flew out on a MATS DC-6 with a scheduled refueling stop in the Azores.  Before the flight I had already been running a fever, and I got quickly worse.  The crew had to radio ahead to Lajes Field to have a doctor waiting.  His diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection ended that leg of the flight for us.  Some 2-3 days were spent on what seemed like a tropical isle vs the UK.  Late one night we were aroused by a phone call and told to pack and board a US Navy plane that had come in from French Morocco.  (We may have actually watched it land earlier that evening!)

Unlike the prior flight, this one didn't stick the huge "Mae West" yellow life jackets on us (with packets of dye, shark repellent, etc.) though we certainly hit some stormy weather across the North Atlantic that night.  (BTW, the seating custom in those days had the passengers facing tailward.) We arrived over Massachusetts near dawn, circled for a long time (for the fog to clear?) before landing at Westover AFB near Springfield.  I finally realized that the constant "cloud bank" behind us was actually the horizontal stabilizer!

One of the immediate US "welcomes" was having the plane fumigated because of some plague in Morocco!  Only little state-of-the-art hand-plunger type sprayers, but you COULD still smell it, whatever "it" was.

So, with our delays in Scotland and the Azores, some of those returnees who had come back by ship actually got to the US sooner than we did!  And, as the orders show, the original destination would have been Idlewild (now JFK) Airport in NY City.

After immigration processing it was on to NY City via a commuter train.  (A cab ride gave a better view of the Empire State Building that I'd had in Feb 1952 when it was covered with clouds half-way down it!)  Then one night in the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn.  It was the weekend so it took a while to arrange to pick up the pre-shipped 1953 Chevy from the depot across the bay.  We got over to there by going across on some small cabin cruiser.  Docked off to our north, of all things, was the USNS Patch!  The odds of that "full circle" in life.  It certainly looked a lot smaller than the last time that I'd seen it.  (I recently found out that it had only arrived a day or so before so some exquisite timing there.)

Anyway, it was late afternoon before the vehicle was recovered - so the first leg of a long transcontinental road trip was a short one - along the NJ Turnpike and maybe halfway across Pennsylvania on their Turnpike to Bedford.


Created: December 13, 2001
Updated: November 29, 2011