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Podcast script - Sunday, April 19, 2020

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Good Morning Chelveston, Caldecott and Chelston Rise. Yes it’s Sunday the 19th April, the end of one week or is it the beginning of another, I really don’t know which but who cares anyway. This is Adrian Dale with the daily podcast for the Village.

It was another day of fascinating revelations on the historical front yesterday, but I’ve decided to save those up for further research. Today I am determined to finish the story of our enduring relationship with the Americans. In particular, I want to tell the story of the second memorial to the 305th Bombardment Group in the centre of the Village.

The story began in 2002. The skyline of Chelveston, Caldecott and Chelston Rise was dominated by a huge green aircraft hanger. It was apparently one of the last J-Type hangers in the country and part of military history. On top of this hanger was a windsock mast and a lantern that was the signal of home for all those missions that made it back from Germany during the war.

The hanger was still in daily use by Les and Stuart Carr to overwinter livestock and to store machinery and animal feed. They leased the hanger from the Minstry of Defence, who decided that the hanger was too expensive to maintain. It was going to costs over £100,000 to repaint. The MoD decided that the hanger should be demolished as it would be cheaper in the long run.

The Village and local military enthusiasts were outraged. This was our last connection with the Yanks from the war. 769 men died flying from that hanger.

The campaign to save the hanger unfortunately failed and the demolition teams moved in. But Bill Betts from Rushden moved in with them. He was a 305th fanatic and he went in every day to film the demolition. On the day the windsock mast and the lantern came crashing down, he snapped. He persuaded the demolition crew to go for a long lunch in the pub. Whether money changed hands, we will never know.

As soon as they had gone, Bill called a young Peter Hill. Peter farmed Duchy Farm in Bidwell Lane with his father Graham. He also a 305th enthusiast. Peter drove quickly up the airfield with his tractor and trailer. Bill and Peter managed to load the windsock mast, the counterweight and the lantern onto the trailer. They then drove them ½ mile to airfield farm, where they hid them in the undergrowth.

Like all great heists, Peter and Bill went their separate ways and they lay low for a couple of years.

In 2004, Bill Betts and Billy Donald approached the Parish Council. Billy Donald was THE authority on the 305th and quite literally wrote the book on it. He suggested that the Parish Council might like to become the “custodians” of this piece of history. He also suggested that they might like to make the windsock mast the centre of a new memorial to the 305th.

The Parish Council thought this was an excellent idea, but then the Clerk stepped in. Now, those who know Mark Hunter will recognise that he is the most law abiding, and upright, public servant there is. The idea that his Parish Council should vote to take ownership of a piece of allegedly stolen property certainly raised his eyebrows. However, even Mark recognised that this was a really important piece of history and he found a way through. He agreed that the Parish Council would become the “custodians” of these items, pending such time as the rightful owners claimed them back. Furthermore, displaying these items prominently in the middle of a war memorial would allow the rightful owners every opportunity to claim them back, should they so wish. So our new memorial was born.

I was dispatched with Billy Donald to design it and we came up with the triangular design that you see today. A triangle with a G in the centre was the tail sign of all 305th squadrons and seemed appropriate.

We faced many obstacles but the moto of the 305th was “Can do”. They were known as the “Can do” squadrons. Nothing was going to stand in our way.

First there was the problem of cash. Our design was going to cost nearly £20,000 so we launched an appeal. Money flooded in from the Village, the names of the Village benefactors are all engraved on the plaque at the back of the memorial. Then cash came in from America, with veterans and their families all digging deep into their pockets. The money was raised in no time.

Then Northamptonshire County Council told us that we could build the memorial on that spot but we should recognise that it might be demolished to widen the road. They said that they would pay the costs of demolition and relocation should this happen. We sorted this by digging a huge foundation hole, 2 metres deep and 3 by metres square. Steve Abbott, Michelle’s husband, then built us a steel re-inforcement cage which was anchored in the hole another metre below ground. Mike Woolhead’s company then filled the hole with concrete, giving us a 25 tonne foundation. There was no way this was being demolished.

Peter Hill then took the windsock mast up to Steve’s workshop in Higham Ferrers. Steve and his team worked free of charge on the mast. They straightened it, sand blasted it and repainted it in military green. They then installed new bearings and produced the unique B17 bomber weathervane at the top. Steve’s Dad even painted the weathervane. With Peter Hill, they then lifted the assembly into place on a new steel frame. That was a great day indeed.

Michael and Robert Farrow then carved and built the stone work around the windsock mast. Although Michael then lived in Finedon, he has now moved into the Village and Robert is now our goto stone mason for the Church and Village Hall. We like to keep things local in this Village.

Although I managed the building work, the dedication ceremony was organised by Mark Hunter. It was an amazing day, Bank Holiday Monday the 26th May 2007. This is traditionally memorial day in the United States. Mark closed the roads and we had a contingent of nearly 100 Americans fly over for the event, surviving veterans and their families. Patrick Logue, Wendy Williams and the Village Hall committee redecorated the Village Hall for the event. The WI produced an amazing civic lunch for the visitors and dignitaries, no mean feat given the terrible kitchen at the time.

Lynn Freeman organised a coach load of Chelsea Pensioners to join the event, resplendent in their scarlet tunics. The Yanks loved just this.

Bill Betts organised a cavalcade of military transport to take the veterans back to the airfield.

There was a guard of honour and all the base commanders from all the nearby American bases.

The pub was open all day and themed up for the 1940s. It was just an amazing day for all.

But we didn’t ignore the reason for being there. We were there to commemorate 769 young Americans who gave their lives for our country. Father Grant Brockhouse lead the memorial service to the fallen. At the end of it Aitch’s sister Margaret Hawkins read out her tribute poem to the Yanks. Margaret was hard of hearing and had never spoken into a microphone before, let alone to a crowd of hundreds. She spoke loudly and clearly, without a catch in her voice. The poem was simple and clea,r saying it all about our relationship with our American cousins. There wasn’t a dry eye in that audience that day. So next time you go down to the memorial, please take a read of Margaret’s poem. She died last year, but we have inscribed her poem on a plaque for all to read in perpetuity.

This was a day, when all the Village came together. It was made possible by a cast of residents who cared passionately about the place they live and the history that brought us here.

We are in the middle of huge battle today. The same sense of community is shining through. The “Can do” spirit of the 305th clearly lives on.

We will beat this virus together, so keep the faith folks.