Volunteer efforts honor Thorpe Abbotts museum
By Senior Airman Justine Rho, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 09, 2016
RAF MILDENHALL, England —The view from the air traffic control tower is of vast golden grass edged with trees – a peaceful and silent contrast to the once bustling airfield. Throughout the museum, the hallways and rooms are filled with World War II artifacts, ranging from canteens to machine guns. Taps, the song that honors service members who have lost their lives, begins to play as visitors enter a room dedicated to the men of the 100th Bomb Group. As the song sounds throughout the dimly lit nook, the pictures and names of the fallen soldiers are read and remembered.
The ATC tower at the Thorpe Abbotts museum is a refurbished original structure used by the 100th BG during World War II. Construction of the memorial site began in the 1970s by a group of volunteers who refused to let the tower be demolished for agriculture. Today, volunteers continue to honor the site to keep the memory of the fallen men alive.
When the tower was active, the 100th BG dispatched many planes from the airfield that never returned. This grim fact earned the 100th BG their nickname, “the Bloody Hundredth,” which originated from the significant losses they suffered.
“Their losses in the war were extreme; on several missions they lost nine to 12 aircraft, out of
40 to 45 flying,” said Robert Mackey, 100th Air Refueling Wing historian at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. “The museum was started by locals who wanted to honor the memory of all the young Airmen who didn't come back from the war.”
An individual who felt like too much would be lost in the demolition of the tower made the decision to preserve the location.
“Mike Harvey initiated the construction of the site as he was exploring some of the airfields in East Anglia,” said Ron Batley, museum curator since 1995. “He came to this place and climbed the broken steps to the viewing deck. We really don’t know what made him decide to save the place, but after sitting in the tower he came to a conclusion, he wanted to save this area.”
Harvey approached Batley to begin funding and to find volunteers for this project. The history enthusiast believed in the project, but admitted he felt like they had taken on something too big.
The first step was to ask for permission from the land owner who had intentions of bulldozing the tower. The owner supported the proposal and a lease for 999 years was made and signed for the property. In 1981, some of the remaining members of the 100th BG attended the opening ceremony of the museum.
Donated funds and volunteer hours continue the legacy of the Bloody Hundredth.
“I volunteer my time because I feel that we shouldn’t forget the sacrifice of these young men,” said Batley. “My father told me that when he heard the Americans were building airfields here, he told his wife, ‘We’ll be alright now.’ And that’s indeed what happened.”
The Square D on the tails of the KC-135 Stratotankers at RAF Mildenhall commemorate the 100th BG with every mission. The Thorpe Abbotts museum gives Airmen a deeper understanding of why that tail flash is honored by the 100th ARW.
The base historian organized a tour of the museum Aug. 25, 2016, for RAF Mildenhall personnel.
“For our Airmen, it’s an opportunity to see what our wing's culture is really about – the sacrifice and memory of those who have gone before us,” explained Mackey. “They set a standard of courage and mission accomplishment that continues to be upheld.”