I had my first Coke and Hershey bar…. so that really was the beginning of a friendship.
For Children living in Cities, Towns and Villages in East Anglia, the Americans brought excitement and adventure. Boys who were enthralled by aviation would frequent the air bases trying to catch a glimpse of the pilots, planes, and ground crew. Many struck up friendships which lasted throughout the war. And for children who had known nothing but war, having grown up in a world where rationing was a way a life, gifts of food and candy from the Americans were a luxury earning them their reputation of generosity. This was where the famous saying “Any Gum Chum?” came from.
Across the region, Children were welcomed onto the air bases for parties during holiday periods at Christmas and Easter – a prevailing memory for many children at the time, which would leave an impression on them throughout their lives.
They had parties at Christmas time, all the schools went. Plenty of food and ice-cream … and you all got presents to come away … and they had dances at night. There were tables with all the food set out and you could take what you like!
David Hastings recalls his first encounter with American Al Dexter, a crew chief at Hethel, and another American ground crew member, Pop Ganness. Al was known as the ‘Old Man’ since he was one of the older crew members at 23 years of age. He and Pop would become frequent visitors to the Hastings household and good friends of the family during their stay in East Anglia.
“I cycled out there and they were all gone on a mission, but I stood staring over a hedge and the crew member came over and spoke to me, and when he found out that I was mad on aeroplanes he picked me up and lifted me over the fence, and I went and met the ground crew, the three others, and I had my first Coke and Hershey bar.
Around tea time, all the B-24s appeared in the sky overhead and Pop said ‘I think you’d better go back on the other side of the fence, but wait because I’m certain my pilot will like to meet you.’ I thought that at the end of a tiring mission nobody will have time for a young kid. Then I saw them land and I saw Pop talking to the crew, and to my surprise Al Dexter and his whole crew marched towards me and the fence, and Al said ‘I hear young man you want to see my aeroplane,’ and he picked me up and dumped me down right when a military policeman arrived and I thought oh no. The policeman told Al that I was to get off the base, but Al refused and said ‘no I’m sorry, he needs to stay here and you can either report me, or you can shoot me or you can get the heck out of here.’ So the policeman left, and I was never questioned again. So that really was the beginning of a friendship. I spent all my spare time, all my school summer holidays living with Al and his crew.
When they landed after a mission that was one of my treats. The aircrews were all given wax cartons full of candy and chewing gum for during the mission. Pop said ‘any candy you find it’s yours’ and he’d let me go from nose to tail looking for the boxes of left over candy. Sometimes if they weren’t flying and Pop was working on the plane and the engines need to be started, I was allowed to sit in the cockpit and start the engines.”