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Remembering 49 US airmen killed in 1944 Greenham Common air disasters





Crowds braved the chilly weather at Greenham Common Control Tower last Monday (December 12) to honour fallen US airmen at the former airbase.

In 1944, two aircraft accidents occurred, resulting in the deaths of 49 US airmen. On December 12, 1944, 31 American paratroopers of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment and two pilots of the 88th Troop Carrier Squadron were killed during a training exercise when their British-made Horsa Glider crashed shortly after take-off.

And just three days later, two B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers from the 368th and 423rd squadrons of the 306th Bombing Group, nicknamed the 'Reich Wreckers', collided over the Common — killing 16 US airmen — after being diverted due to heavy fog on their return from Germany.

Honour guard stand in memory of the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944
Honour guard stand in memory of the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944

This year's commemoration for both accidents was led by Rev Keri Eynon, with an opening reading of the airbase's wartime history by Newbury resident Allan Mercado.

The congregation also sung both the American and British national anthems.

Attending the service were representatives from RAF Welford, the Parachute Regimental Association and the Royal British Legion, among others. Control Tower volunteers kindly supplied much-needed hot drinks and refreshments in the café after the service.

Newbury Mayor Gary Norman, left, and Thatcham Mayor Jeff Brooks, right, attending the commemoration
Newbury Mayor Gary Norman, left, and Thatcham Mayor Jeff Brooks, right, attending the commemoration
Former Newbury Weekly News photographer, Allan Mercado, gives a brief history of the tragic accidents
Former Newbury Weekly News photographer, Allan Mercado, gives a brief history of the tragic accidents

All US personnel left the airbase following its closure in 1992 and the land was put up for sale. This year marks 30 years since the closure. On the 50th anniversary of the glider crash, the Newbury branch of the Royal British Legion worked with the former airbase's land agents at the request of the 17th Airborne Division Association to build a memorial for the 33 US servicemen killed.

RBL Newbury branch secretary, Keith Williams, explained the history of how the memorial service started. "I was contacted by someone in the States about the original memorial in 1993. I was lucky enough to be in a position to do the leg work, because the Common was in transition at the time and Vail Williams, the land agents, were looking after it.

"They said 'if you want to put a memorial there, do it', which we did. That was in 1994, and there's been a service every year since. There might have only been three or four of us there sometimes, but we've been there every year.

Salutes for the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944
Salutes for the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944

"The original memorial was on the other side of the airfield by the old chapel. We sometimes had two or three coach loads of Americans arrive for the original services. But in 2010, it got too busy with traffic there as it was near a road junction, so we had to move it.

"We had the new ones constructed, which the Greenham Common Trust very kindly paid in excess of £40,000 for, and put them again on the industrial area."

HRH Princess Anne unveiled the memorials for both accidents in 2012. But they were still too hidden.

Mr Williams added: "Our then president, Janine Westropp, said 'that'll be a good project for me to get some money for' because the Royal British Legion aren't allowed to spend their own money on memorials.

"So, she collected £20,000 to move them to the Control Tower in 2019 and it didn't take the whole amount, so we asked Greenham Parish Council if they'd take the remaining amount to maintain them, which they did. That's the story of it so far. It's something we hope will last."

Newbury Mayor Gary Norman, left, and Thatcham Mayor Jeff Brooks, right, and laying wreaths
Newbury Mayor Gary Norman, left, and Thatcham Mayor Jeff Brooks, right, and laying wreaths
Honour guard stand in memory of the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944
Honour guard stand in memory of the 49 American airmen killed in two aircraft accidents in 1944

Roads and buildings at Greenham Business Park also commemorate the fallen airmen, including Jones Drive, named after glider crash casualty, private Evan Jones, in 2006.

USAAF assumed control of the Greenham Common airbase in October 1943. On June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower famously addressed paratroopers bound for Normandy here with his 'eyes of the world are upon you' speech.



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