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.


My Grandmothers’ Christmas Legacy

My Grandmothers Emma Montgomery (nee Peterson on the right) and Mattia Aleo (nee Moceri, left picture)  had several things in common even though the worlds they came from were so different. Emma’s mother died around 1896 when Emma was ten. Mattia’s father died when she was seven-I estimate this was around 1901 or 1902. Both girls left home within a few months of their respective parents’ deaths to assume positions as servants or companions to wealthy families.  They were paid only in room and board, but their absence meant that their families had one less mouth to feed.

Emma lived in Southern Ohio and Mattia lived in Sicily. Emma met her husband-to-be a few counties over from where she was born; Mattia met her future husband in America where she had come to find work so she could send money back home.

Emma met her husband at an ice cream social; theirs was a love match. Mattia’s marriage was arranged by a match maker when her older sister and brother-in-law decided it was time for her to marry.  Both women  were married before the  United States entered the First World War and raised their children during the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Times were hard and life’s uncertainties took their toll on both families.  When my mother and father married, they brought this history to the new family they made. Our  family life could be stressful and unpredictable.

But one thing sticks in my memory: for some reason, the strife died down during the winter holiday season. I think this is because my parents felt safe at this time of the year. This tells me that their parents also felt safe during the holiday season and were able to create a temporary haven for their families. This is another tradition they handed down to my parents.

I remember that the safest I felt as a child was during the Christmas season. The craziness of the world was kept at bay and the adults seemed happier and calmer. My family was not big on extravagant gifts, but there were always decorations,  family and the smell of Christmas cooking.  This was part of my Grndmothers’ legacy-one I treasure.

Recipes are another important part of family tradition. We had Emma’s Brown Bread  and Mattia’s biscotti  every Christmas. Here are their recipes.

Mattia’s Biscotti

Three cups flour, one and one-half cups sugar, one-half teaspoon salt, four teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon vanilla, eight eggs, anise seeds.
Beat eggs and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla. Add flour, salt and baking powder (I just dump it in) and mix until blended. Pour into eight by fourteen inch pan which you have lined with a piece of buttered wax paper. Sprinkle  liberally with anise seeds. Bake at 350 degrees until baked through, twenty to thirty mintues.
Remember this is not a cake so it will not rise very much and will seem a bit rubbery.
Remove from oven. Flip pan over on a work surface. The cake should fall right out. Peel off the wax paper and cut cake in half crosswise. Cut each half into long biscotti-sized pieces. Place back in pan cut sides up and return to oven set at 250 degrees. Leave in oven until the biscotti achieves  the desired level of hardness. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, you can choose to leave the biscotti there overnight.

Emma’s Boston Brown Bread

Combine two cups boiling water, two teaspoons baking soda, one cup raisins. Let sit until warm. Cream together two tablespoons of unsalted butter, two cups sugar, two eggs and one teaspoon vanilla. Add two cups white flour, two cups whole wheat flour and the water/raisin mixture. Beat well. Add one cup chopped walnuts and mix to incorporate.
Fill four greased and floured #2 cans two-thirds full. Bake one hour at 350 degrees. Let stand in oven one hour after baking. The batter will rise about two to three inches above the top of of the cans. The bread should slide right out of the can although you will probably need to loosen the bread from the sides of the can by running a knife around the bread.
A #2 can will hold about one and one-fourth cups batter and give the bread room to rise. If you don’t want to use a can (this is an old recipe-people didn’t worry about doing this in the old days. The original recipe calls for “seeded muskets.” I don’t know where you would get raisins with seeds these days), you can try mini loaf pans. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted i. the bread comes out clean.
This bread is good sliced thin and spread with butter. It’s even better with cream cheese.


My father graduated from high school in the middle of the Depression.  When  war seemed likely, he enlisted and was finally assigned to Diss England as a member of the 351 bomb squadron, 100th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force.  He said later that this was the first steady job he ever had.

My father’s sentiments on his wartime experiences are best exemplified by the following episode:  In 1992, the movie Memphis Belle came out.  Memphis Belle was about the Eighth Air Force and I thought that my father might want to see it.   I asked him if he was going  and he  sneered and muttered something under his breath.  This was my father’s way of saying no.

I asked him why.  “God dammit!” he exploded, “How the hell could they make a movie about that?  If it was realistic,  all they could show would be a crew of young guys crapping in their pants for two hours!”

In later years, I related this story to  a retired air force corporal who flew fighter planes in China and Burma during the Second World War, and in Korea and Vietnam,  “Your father was right,” he told me.

My father (left) with his brother and sister before he left for boot camp.

Kearney, Nebraska

His lucky flying charm

At Thorpe Abbots

A B17  and autographs of the crew

His reward for surviving

His last reunion