Aerial photos of WWII airfields join new crowdsourcing American Air Museum website

By Richard Moss | 05 February 2015

Aerial photos of WWII airfields join the growing resource that is the American Air Museum website

a black and white aerial photo of an airfield
Aerial photograph of Duxford airfield, looking south, the runway runs upper left; the control tower and airfield code are in front of the leftmost hangar, 9 July 1946. Photograph taken by No. 540 Squadron, sortie number RAF/106G/UK/1635.© English Heritage (RAF Photography).
English Heritage has donated more than 700 aerial photographs of Second World War airfields in the UK to the Imperial War Museum’s new crowd-sourcing website for the American Air Museum at Duxford.

The photographs, many of which have not been seen by the public before, show airfields in use or under construction across the United Kingdom between 1940 and 1947. They reveal the pace at which the English landscape was changed by the war and by the arrival of the United States Army Air Forces.

A growing digital record of memories and stories of the men and women of the USAAF who served in England during the Second World War and the British people who remember them, the site launched in 2014 with 5,000 images from the collection of the late Roger Freeman. 

The aviation historian and native of East Anglia had a keen interest in the USAAF during World War II and amassed a vast collection of photographs. So far they have helped the website attract thousands of users who have made more than 2,000 contributions - ranging from the identification of personnel to individual recollections.  

Staff at Duxford are hoping the new set of aerial photos will add to the building picture.

In a number of the photographs of Duxford’s airfield, the baseball pitch can be clearly seen, demarcated by the running boots of servicemen, in the field behind the accommodation blocks.  

Describing the new additions as offering “a unique picture of the English landscape at a time when the pressures of war changed it out of all recognition”, Mike Evans, who heads the English Heritage Archive, said they would “add another layer of information to the rich collections of photographs and memories which are already on the site".

a photo of woman in full air gear and parachute in the hatch of a plane
Lucille Parker, Red Cross Aeroclub in a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 303rd Bomb Group© IWM
Other recent additions include a further 5,000 images from the Freeman Collection - among them a photograph of Red Cross Aero-club Manager Lucille H Parker wearing her parachute gear inside a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Parker, from Westchester, New York, managed the Red Cross Aero-Club at Molesworth, Cambridgeshire as part of the recreational services of the US Armed Forces. Aero-clubs, situated at airfields, often provided food and entertainment for the men living on the base.

In 1943 she helped to organise a Christmas party for local children, where Santa Claus was specially transported from the ‘North Pole’ inside a B-17 Flying Fortress for the occasion.

An experienced pilot with more than 1,600 flying hours, Parker was also an experienced parachutist having made more than 198 jumps. In between her daily duties, which included everything from darning socks to serving coffee, she also gave talks to young airmen about how to bail out of their planes.

In 1944 the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper praised her work by reporting how she "helps them get over the fears that even the bravest men admit.”

Now the museum is hoping the public will help them reveal more stories like Parker’s.

“Seventy years on from the Second World War, there are still people alive who lived through it and have strong, formative memories of it,” said American Air Museum Project Leader, Jenny Cousins.

“We have a last opportunity to capture these stories, to record their testimony and to retain it for future generations.  

"Everyone’s experience of war is important to us. We’re touched by the public response we’ve had to making this collection freely available online. People have really got behind the spirit of what we are trying to do – reveal the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”

Watch a trailer for the website:

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Imperial War Museum asks public to help chart history of WWII American airmen in England
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