Return to Thorpe Abbotts

My Father served in the 100th Bomb Group during the Second World War and was stationed at an airfield in Thorpe Abbotts, England.   After he completed 35 missions, the Army shipped him to a hospital where he learned how to talk again.   Then he started his life over.

He never wanted to return to Thorpe Abbotts and I can’t say I blame him. But I had always wanted to visit the place that must have changed him so much.  I finally got to visit Thorpe Abbotts on my last trip to England.  And I felt closer to him than I have ever been.  Strange that it took a visit to such a far away place to feel this way.  I made the  journey for me, but I had returned for him.

 I caught a train from London at Liverpool Street Station on the Norfolk line and traveled to Diss, the station closest to Thorpe Abbotts.  A few years ago, I found a stub a train ticket stub for a London to Diss journey in my Father’s old wallet among some family papers.  He had taken the same route from Liverpool Street Station when he returned to Thorpe Abbotts after a leave in London in March of 1944.  

Thorpe Abbotts is a country village surrounded by millions of acres of farmland near the east coast of England.  A perfect place for an airbase and there were many  of them up and down the English coast.  Before World War Two, Thorpe Abbots had a population of about 40.  When the airbase opened,  the Americans station there increased the population  to 3,500.

Now it is a quiet village again and the rich and valuable farmland  has been given back to the farmers to grow crops.  

Here are some pictures:







The tall structure on the left side of the road is All Saint’s Church.  Some members of the 100th Bomb Group were married there.  Many more had funeral services there.

If you are in the area, try to visit Thorpe Abbotts and the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum,  started in 1977 by the locals.


Ways of Remembering

   One of the goals of my blog is to examine history, personal history and the bigger kind, to  see how it impacts our lives, art and creativity.   We tend to think of history as something that happens far  from us-maybe we catch some of the ripples-but we believe that unless we are very important people or happen to be at a particular place in time, we are never a part of history or a witness to history.  We remain unaware of the effect history has in shaping our personality and lives.

     I started to examine all of this when I began to delve into the story of my family and  interview war veterans about their experiences.  I knew when I spoke to them that I would never get the whole story.  How could I?    It’s terrible to remember such things much less give them new life by saying them out loud, and  to a person without a shared experience.  Few of us would dare make ourselves that vulnerable.

      But it was on this this journey that I began to understand how  much of my creativity, my need for a rich fantasy life and my personality comes from my childhood, which was shaped in large part by  my father’s personality. I knew he served in World War II, but not much more.  Then I came upon this quote from the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings.  J.R.R. Tolkien was a World War One veteran and  there is a controversy on whether The Lord of the Rings  was influenced by his war experiences.  This quote erased all my doubts and  clarified so much of my father’s personality for me.  This, in turn,  helped me to understand myself better.  

     “But,” said Sam,  and the tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.”

     “So I thought too, once.  But I have been deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them… [Keep] alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.  And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.”

Frodo speaking to Sam Gamgee, in The Grey Havens, last chapter of The return of the King,  the third book of the Lord of the Rings.

     I could see from living with my father that he was “deeply hurt,” and began to understand why.    I also began to understand how my personality, creative and otherwise, developed as a way to cope with his.   The whole process is, of course, much more complicated,  but this should be enough to give you an idea.

    On this Memorial Day Weekend 2008, take some time to examine how the experiences of your family members influenced your life and creativity.    The answers are not always obvious and you have to dig deep.   Do not be afraid to dig.  Prepare to be surprised.




The Spruce Goose


     Most people say that Howard Hughes was crazy, but some people call him a visionary.  He was probably both.  During World War II, the United States government charged him  with solving a design problem:  Make an airplane capable of carrying a large number of troops that can land on water.  And don’t use materials vital to the war effort which meant no metal. 

      Hughes’ solution was to build a plane out of laminated wood, and the Spruce Goose was born.  People were incredulous. Congress was furious. Hughes’ funding was pulled and his partner quit.  The plane sat until the end of the war.

       We all know that wood can float, but could the Spruce Goose fly?  Hughes put the skeptics doubts to rest when he flew the plane in 1947.  That was the first and last time the Spruce Goose was airborne.

        For a while it was kept in a huge domed building in Long Beach, California  where I saw it.  My reaction to the Spruce Goose was similar to what I experienced walking  through Cathedrals in Europe or cave dwellings in New Mexico.    Seeing it, it is hard to believe humans could make such a thing, much less that it could fly.  If you look at my pictures, (Click on the “View All Images” bar above) you’ll see what I mean.

     Howard Hughes suffered a sad fate, but he sure built one beautiful flying machine.  If you ever have the chance to see it, don’t pass it up. Today, the Spruce Goose sits in the Evergreen Avaition Museum in Oregon.   For more infomation, click  HERE.