Freedom Day
Picture Gallery

Honorary Freedom of the
Borough of St Edmundsbury
Conferment Upon
United States Third Air Force

Special Message from the Prime Minister

Sunday 27th August 2000


The County of Suffolk in the East Anglian Region of the United Kingdom has a long history of links with America going back to Bartholomew Gosnold's first expedition in 1602. So much so that this website in West Suffolk has a whole section of its website entitled American Connections. However, the closest links were to come in 1942 when the American Eighth Air Force began to establish wartime bases in Britain to further the war in Europe, and America came to Suffolk.

Plane image
The Mighty Eighth

The first American war plane to land on British soil was a B17 Flying Fortress on 1st July 1942 and the first official wartime action by American air personnel took place on 4th July, at that time using British RAF Bostons. Within two years, the Eighth Air Force was the biggest military airfleet ever seen with 122 bases and 200,000 personnel, flying 2,000 four-engined bombers and 1,000 fighters.

The Third Air Division

Suffolk was the home of the Third Air Division of the Eighth Air Force. With its Headquarters at Elveden, the Third Division mainly flew B17 Flying Fortresses out of its Suffolk bases.

The Local Wartime Bases

From 1942 to 1945 nobody in Suffolk lived very far from a USAAF airbase. The base officially called Bury St Edmunds was known locally as Rougham airfield, with its 94th Bomb Group. Debden near Haverhill held the Fourth Fighter Group and Ridgewell held the 381st Bomb Group. Honington, Great Ashfield, Knettishall, Lavenham, Rattlesden, Sudbury and Little Walden were all within a few miles of the present day inhabitants of St Edmundsbury.

The United States Third Air Force Today

In February 1944 the United States Army Air Force was renamed and after a further change in 1945 it became called United States Air Forces in Europe, or USAFE, the designation used today. By the end of 1945 nearly all the wartime bases were decommissioned and the men and planes flew home, although at least 26,000 men of the Mighty Eighth could never return to their families.

In 1950 RAF Mildenhall was handed over the USAFE and Strategic Air Command and was later to become Gateway to Europe as a staging post for flights from the USA. By 1990 Mildenhall held all the in-flight refuelling KC135's in the UK, making use of its giant 3,000 yard long runway. The annual Mildenhall Air Show is a chance for people from all over the region to visit America in Suffolk.

RAF Lakenheath became an American base in 1948 and in 1960 it became home to the 48th Fighter Wing. From 1977 through the 1980's their F111's were a familiar site overhead, upgraded to F15E's since 1992.

From 1951 to 1963 Shepherd's Grove was an active American base, as was Tuddenham from 1954 to 1963.

Further Information

This website contains much further information which helps to explain the close links between our area and today's United States Air Force. Go to this sections main index and check out our other American Connections pages.

The Freedom Scroll
Click for larger image (249K)
The Freedom of the Borough

The Honorary Freedom of the Borough is usually granted to particular individuals who have contributed outstanding service to the life of St Edmundsbury. It is very rare for an organisation to be granted such an honour and hitherto it has been granted only to the Suffolk Regiment in 1944 (later the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1963), the Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry in 1953 and 1967 and to RAF Honington in 1972.

Further information on the origins and meaning of the Freedom ceremony together with a list of past recipients can be found on this website by following the link below:

But what does it all mean?

Although there are pages of history which tell us about our long friendship with the American airman, no history exists without the thousands of individual stories of selfless service, often unrecognised, which have figured in our skies since 1942. This is one such story which has crossed the years to the present day and crosses international boundaries, linking the Middle East to the far West.

The Bracelet in the Sand - the story of First Lt Ashley Guynn

AMERICA WEEK - 20th-27th AUGUST, 2000

Sunday 20th August - Rougham Air Display
The Week gets off to a flying start, when up to 65 aircraft are expected to fly in between 9.30am and 1pm. A range of displays on the ground and in the air - including the spectacular air display, military vehicles, tours of the old base, pleasure flights, living history and control tower exhibitions - will bring the former USAAF Flying Fortress base back to life and take it back to the forties.
The air display takes place between 1pm and 4pm and will feature the Spitfire and Hurricane commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the legendary P51 Mustang fighter, the "Cadillac of the Skies", and other classic participants including the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster bomber.
USAAF veterans have visited the display over its previous five years and organisers hope many more will attend the show this year. Up to 5,000 people are expected to attend the event, which is organised by Rougham Tower Assocation.
Gates open 9.30 a.m. (finish 6.00 p.m.)
Air display, fly-in, classic cars, military vehicles, pleasure flights, family entertainment.
Adults 6.00, Juniors/OAPs 3.00, Children under 12 FREE

Items for midweek:-

Tuesday 22nd and Thursday 24th - Mayor's reception for veterans (p.m.)
The Mayor of St Edmundsbury, Councillor JOHN WAYMAN, is hosting two informal receptions for visitors to the town who have previously served with the US Forces. Veterans will be welcomed in the Mayor's Parlour on Angel Hill from 12 noon to 4.30pm.

Thursday 24th Mayor's reception for veterans (p.m.)
See entry for Tuesday 22nd.

Saturday 26 August
The 388th Bomb Group Collection presents an evening of nostalgia with a 1940s dance at Hopton Village Hall from 8pm. Guests are invited to help make the night by wearing 1940s dress - civilian or uniform! Tickets are limited and cost 5 (telephone Simon Frost on 01359 259503, 6pm - 9pm ONLY).

Sunday 27th August - Freedom of the Borough

The Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Edmundsbury will be awarded to the United States Third Air Force.

11.00:Special Council Meeting in the Abbey Gardens.
11.40:Review of Parade by Major General Hess and the Mayor of St Edmundsbury.
Fly-past by USAF KC135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft.
11.45:USAF troops march from Abbey Gardens to St Mary's Church.
The Major General and the Mayor will take the salute on Angel Hill as USAF troops from RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath march past.
Fly-past by four F15 Strike Eagle jets in a 'Missing Man' formation.
12.00:A Service Of Thanksgiving in St Mary's Church.
13.00:USAF exercises its Freedom by parading through Bury St Edmunds with the USAF Honour Guard and USAFE band.
Route covers Churchgate Street, Guildhall Street, Abbeygate Street, and Angel Hill.
13.15:USAF Honour Guard performs its precision drill routine on Angel Hill.
13.45:Abbey Gardens - American themed stalls and entertainments for all the family, including food, squadron memorabilia, military vehicles, and square dancing.
18.00:Close of event.

Go to American Connections Go to Chronicle year 2000 Updated 30 August 2004
Page created by Chris Woodhouse
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