US Memorial Day commemorated at the New Forest Airfields Memorial

US Memorial Day was marked on Monday 31st May at the Holmsley South Memorial by a short ceremony and placing of a wreath, in honour of all United States military personnel, who served on the twelve New Forest Airfields in World War II. The majority of those who served were under twenty three years of age.

The inscription on the wreath read as follows:

The Friends of the New Forest Airfields commemorate the part played by American service personnel in the Liberation of Europe in World War II to honour those who died for our freedoms

We mark this day annually, along with Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, to remember their sacrifice and to teach the rising generations of our young people the price of freedom, that Freedom is never ‘free’.

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Long Beech – Post War Nissen Huts and the Severe Winter Snow of 1947 remembered

We are publishing a new monthly series of recollections and recorded diary memories by those who lived at the Long Beech sites, next to Stoney Cross airfield, after World War II had ended.

They were written between the 1970s and early 2000s, by those who lived there in the Nissen Huts and Maycrete Huts, from 1945 into the 1950s. During that time, they endured basic living conditions and often deep snow in the winters, particularly during the harsh winter of 1947, when night time temperatures fell to below Zero Fahrenheit and snow lay on the ground for over two months.

The link to these recollections is in the black header at the top of the website, “Living at Long Beech after the War – Recollections and Memories”. 

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First of a series of Members’ Illustrated Presentation Evenings.

The first of a series of monthly PowerPoint presentations was given to FONFA Members via ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday evening 18th May, by Dr Henry Goodall, Chair of Trustees for FONFA.

The subject was “The New Forest Airfields in WWII”. The New Forest area was the busiest part of Britain for airborne operations, during the D-Day period in June 1944, with the temporary Advanced Landing Ground at Needs Oar Point seeing up to one aircraft movement every 45 seconds, for up to eighteen hours a day (4 am to 10 pm), during the three week period around D-Day.

Over 25,000 service personnel, supported by 10,000 civilians worked on the twelve airfields during this time of intense activity, which determined our future. Around 90% of the service personnel were under the age of 23 years. The peace that we enjoy today was forged by their courage and dedication, their hard work and commitment and their good humour.  We must never forget their sacrifice.  

FONFA Members will be able to access the future monthly talks, via a link, to be sent to them only, before every presentation. The regular slot will be on the third Tuesday of the month.

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Memorial Service for Ron Eden, former FONFA Trustee

The Memorial Service for Ron Eden, former Trustee, Board Member and long time active volunteer for Friends of the New Forest Airfields will be held at 1 pm on Saturday 3rd July 2021 at St. Mark’s Church, Hinton Wood Avenue, Highcliffe, Christchurch. Dorset BH23 5AB. He was a Standard Bearer for Highcliffe Branch of the Royal British Legion. He was born on 1st May 1937 and died on 2nd April 2020, age 82yrs.

Ron was a former Trustee of FONFA and played an active volunteering role, for many years, especially when we took over the former RAF Sopley standby generator building in 2015, to create the new FONFA Heritage Centre, both before and during the opening, in the Spring of 2016. He mounted all of the limited edition and other framed pictures on the upstairs gallery walls, often to be seen with his screwdriver in hand.

With his wife Lucy, who acted as our Parade Marshall at our Annual Service at the New Forest Airfields memorial, for many years, he was always present, assisting with dressing the Memorial compound with the national flags. A photograph of him working at the Memorial is below.
His funeral was held at the Bournemouth Crematorium on 21st April 2020, with a small assembly of his family and representatives of FONFA.

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Reopening of the Heritage Centre Museum – at last!

With the Government relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, in May and June, we are on schedule to restart Museum Open Days on Spring Bank Holiday Sunday, 30th May. We ask all visitors, except young children, to wear face coverings, to use the hand sanitising materials provided and to respect social distancing, as well as is possible.

It will be a great relief to be able to welcome visitors to our Heritage Centre once again, after a closure lasting more then fourteen months. The most important innovation for 2021 is the hand held audio guide system, which will enable visitors to hear a description of the main items on display, guiding them through the various sections.

We now have many more aircraft models on display, this year, as well as additions to the 55″interactive display screens, which were originally commissioned two years ago, in Spring 2019. If you haven’t yet seen the screens, they are ‘state of the art’ and can display a wealth of information, photographs, videos, maps and text, all adding to the information that we can share with our visitors.

We will continue to hold Open Days on the first and third Sundays of the summer months, through to October, with the addition, this year, for the first time, of Thursday Open Days, so as to offer increased access to holidaymakers, staying in the New Forest Area.

These are the planned Open Day dates – 10 am to 4 pm:

Sundays May 30th – Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

Sundays June  13th and 27th            

Sundays July   11th  and 25th      Thursday July 29th                                    

Sundays August    1st   and 15th     Thursdays Aug 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th

Sunday 29th August will be our Annual Service Date at the New Forest Memorial, postponed from June due to possible Covid-19 disruption (N.B. There will be no ‘Open Day’ on that date).                                                                                                

 Sundays September 12th and 26th

Sundays October 10th and 24th

In addition, there will be short open air ceremony at the New Forest Airfields Memorial at Black Lane, BH23 8EB, at 2 pm on Monday 31st May, to commemorate United States Memorial Day.. All are welcome. Any queries can be addressed to our E-Mail address: fonfa2010@gmail.com.

Our new visitor offerings and our continued existence as a ‘Not for Profit’ Registered Charity, promoting knowledge of our local History and Heritage, has been made possible by generous financial support from the New Forest District Council, to whom we are extremely grateful. Our future is now more secure than it was in March of last year. Without this support, it is very doubtful that Friends of the New Forest Airfields would have survived through this year.

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Raising funds for 2021 Open Day Season

Fundraising for FONFA – Give As You Live

We are still currently raising funds via an Emergency Appeal, to enable FONFA and our Heritage Centre museum to survive the Covid-19 crisis and emerge stronger in 2021.

If you are able to support our appeal for donations, please access the ‘Give as You Live’ web page at donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/friends-of-new-forest-airfields-donate to give a donation, however small, for which we will be most grateful.

Thank you for visiting this Educational Heritage Charity’s website. You may not be aware that FONFA raises almost all of our income from Heritage Centre museum visitors and face to face PowerPoint presentations to interested community groups.

At present and until the summer months, these income sources are closed completely, by order of the Government, due to the restrictions of ‘social distancing’.  However, our fixed overhead costs (electricity and gas standing charges, insurance, repairs etc.) continue as normal.

Our ‘not for profit’ Registered Charity is run wholly by unpaid volunteers. Although we have received support from the New Forest District Council, we will need additional funds to promote the Charity and re-open the Heritage Centre, with new advertising.  

In order to survive this open ended loss of our income, we launched an Emergency Appeal in April 2020 , to replace our anticipated income for last year and to prepare new interpretation methods, display items and equipment for our 2021 Open Day season at the Heritage Centre museum.

The initial response from our Members and supporters has been very positive, but we still have a very long way to go to build up our reserves, in order to promote a successful season this year..  If you are able to support our appeal for donations, please access the ‘Give as You Live’ web page at donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/friends-of-new-forest-airfields-donate

Please also consider making ‘Give as You Live’ your main channel for ALL Internet purchases, which will add further small amounts to the total raised, every time you shop. Thank you very much for reading this message and for your donations. If you have any questions or queries, please direct them by e-mail to fonfa2010@gmail.com.

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Making a Memorial

Following the passing of Les White, the Trustee Board are placing an account, written by Les, on our website, in which he describes how the memorial came to be first conceived and planned, and how those plans came to fruition, over several years, relating the trials and tribulations, and the obstacles to be overcome, finally leading up to dedication. We reproduce Les’ description, written in 2002, as part of the description of the Memorial page as a lasting tribute to him.

Click on the link above ‘The New Forest Airfields Memorial’ at the top right corner of the black header bar above, and scroll down to read it.

On Friday 16 August 2002 The New Forest Airfields Memorial was dedicated. This ceremony was the culmination of around seven years work by the Friends of the New Forest Airfields. Speeches were made, the dedication plaque unveiled and prayers offered up before the Red Arrows aerobatic team of the Royal Air Force, in immaculate formation, trailed their dramatic smoke streamers above the gathering.

The Last Post  and  Reveille  were  sounded  and  the  National  Anthem  taken  up  with great enthusiasm by a thousand voices.  As the last notes faded, a dream had at last been realised. The flags and uniforms departed, the crowd drifted away and there, in solitary splendour, under a blazing sun, stood THE MEMORIAL. It will stand for many years to come, a tribute to all those it remembers.

Every ending has a beginning and the intricate threads of achievement between one and the other are fine, closely woven and, in this case, enhanced by happy coincidence. It is fair to say that the original seed was sown on New Year’s Eve, 1993, when my wife and I were invited to a party by Rob Sawyer, a fellow aeroplane enthusiast. He handed me a book about local wartime airfields and,  as I browsed  through  the  pages , the years fell away and I was once again back in my days with the  Air Training Corps, in the later stages of World War Two. In those days, the sound of aero engines was seldom absent from the sky, I was madly keen to fly and a regular visitor to most of the airfields in the New Forest area. That night, saturated by returning memories, I never slept and arose the next morning, determined to record something of my love affair with aeroplane, as I came to write “The Lure of the Blue”.

Publication was a costly problem so with some trepidation but the help of my son, Steve, we published and printed the eighty-page booklet ourselves. Despite a few hiccups, it received good press notices and sold well locally, many copies also going to locations all over the UK and overseas.

On 22 November, 1994, my post contained a letter from John Leete, at Basingstoke, who had read the book and was anxious to meet me and see some of the remaining airfield sites. So on a wet Sunday a few weeks later, he arrived with a party of friends We toured around, visiting several  places of interest. During lunch at ‘The Three Tuns’ at Bransgore, the conversation turned to commemoration of the airfields. Alan Brown, chairman of the New Forest Aviation group, had erected some modest plaques, but those, together with the gravestones in local churchyards, were all there were.

Over the following months, the possibility of erecting a comprehensive memorial with material collected from all the  airfields  was  discussed.  Some  months  later,  John arrived with a jeep, a party of re-enactment  enthusiasts  and  a cameraman  with  the object of making a “then and now” film and shots were taken  of the  lads in US uniforms of the wartime period, complete with small arms. They leapt in and out of some of the remaining surface air raid shelters on the Holmsley South site, loosing off a few blanks to create a little realism. Later, we visited Beech House, a modern dwelling on the site of the mansion that had been the wartime airfield headquarters but since demolished.

There we met Bernard Baily, the owner, also an aero-enthusiast, the holder of a private pilot’s licence and owning his own plane. He showed great interest in our plans and it was decided that we should, as a group, seriously explore the possibility  of a permanent memorial to all those who had served on the New Forest airfields during and immediately after the war. John set about obtaining sponsorship from national firms and established a link with Maeve Kennedy of the ” Guardian” newspaper and other bodies likely to be of assistance. A tentative approach to the New Forest District Council resulted in a thumbs down, for various reasons, to our hopes of a site in Lyndhurst. Bernard suggested that a plot of land adjacent to the old airfield and abutting a field in his ownership might be the answer to our problem and approached the owner, Bob Newell. The request was declined but eventually Bernard was able to offer the present site on an extended lease for a peppercorn rent.

At this stage it became necessary to formalise our activities and consequently, a meeting was held at Beech House on 16 May· 96 to make realistic plans for the future. John, Bernard and Basil White, a friend of both Bernard and me, plus myself, attended the meeting. Basil, who lived at Sopley, was an architect of standing having spent his early days in his profession working on the government buildings in New Delhi. He had been approached by Bernard to give us the benefit of his experience. It was agreed that Basil should produce draft plans preparatory to seeking charity status. This he did, making the necessary planning application, which did not meet with approval. At a second attempt, the revised plan was accepted by the NFDC, so we had a site, a plan, an eager band of hopefuls, but as yet virtually no money.

The next stage was an application to the Charity Commission. Bernard made an introductory trip to the Commission’s offices at Taunton, in May ‘97 which paved the way for our registration as an officially recognised charity, enabling us to raise funds from 8th September ‘ 97. By this time, the group had enlarged and now consisted of John Leete, Bernard and Ann Baily, Madeleine Edwards, Basil White and Peter Durant, plus myself. Consequent upon our attaining charity status, this committee became the Board of Trustees.

Duties at this time were allocated as follows CHAIRMAN, Bernard, ARCHITECT, Basil, SECRETARY, Madeleine, TREASURER, Ann, HISTORIAN AND RECORDS, Les and SOLICITOR, Peter Durant.

Bernard’s wide range of business contacts proved a great asset throughout the construction period, his first “kill” being the donation of a wartime Dakota propeller by CFS Aeroproducts of Baginton, Coventry. The arrival of this item gave the group a terrific boost, providing the focal point of the memorial. The agreement of Edmund de Rothschild  to become our patron and Group Captain Luker, CO at RAF Odiham  as our Honorary President, at John’s instigation, were also announced at this time, together with a number of individuals and organisations who had given us their blessing. Our finances then totalled £1,184.

Whilst membership and assistance was being sought from various sources, our first newsletter was produced in the summer of’ 98, announcing the divergence of our activities by the establishment of a “heritage trail”. An appeal was also launched for suitable contributions to a time capsule to be installed in the fabric of the memorial and opened fifty years hence.

It came as a great shock to learn that our architect, Basil, had died suddenly and sadly would never see his creation in the finished state, though it would be, in a sense, HIS memorial. Charles McKenzie, member of other like bodies to FONFA, joined the Board of Trustees in October’ 98 and immediately took up the office of PROJECT MANAGER. Patrick Kempe, film-maker and archivist with local interests also became a trustee at that time with a special responsibility for visual records .

1999 began with the resignation of Madeleine. Charles also mooted the idea of a newspaper based on the principle of the “freebie”, with advertisers providing the revenue and I provided a list of prospective advertisers. The proposal that we should join Defence of the Realm and the Solent Protection Society was also suggested. At this time, Merryfield Park premises, part of the old RAF Sopley, owned by Bernard, were being refurbished by he and Charles to create our HQ. Bernard stated that in general terms we should concentrate all our efforts on the main task, i.e. the memorial.

In May, the board welcomed Peter London as a trustee and besides his expertise and enthusiasm, he loaned the Trust some valuable office equipment. He agreed to become PRESS OFFICER, limiting his activities solely to the memorial and in addition, to produce the next newsletter.

By this time the need for a solicitor had disappeared and consequently, Peter Durant left the group. Work at HQ was progressing and the offer of the main building stone and transport thereof, free of charge, from Hanson, Bath and Portland, subsequent to Bernard’s mention in a trade journal, was agreed after he and Charles had paid two visits to the quarry and arranged the loan of a stone saw.  A cutting shed was erected on Bernard’s premises and a portacabin brought to the erection site to house tools etc., by way of donation by Keystone (masons). R.H.H. Franks, metal workers, agreed to fabricate the time capsule as a donation, Bernard supplying the metal sheeting.

Since Madeleine’s departure, there had been no permanent secretary and as I had acted as a stand-in, I was invited by the board to take over. At this time, Ann was able to report that after several incidental expenses had been met, the main and membership accounts totalled over £1,700.

In June a letter was received from John stating that a coming press article about FONFA would be less than flattering. Enclosed was what purported to be an e-mail emanating from an uncheckable address, voicing the fears of a person from East Kilbride, alleging that he had made a contribution (of which we had no knowledge) and that our affairs were not being carried out in a proper manner. It was agreed that the nature of this communication and its contents branded it almost certainly as bogus.

At the meeting of 12th July, Bernard announced that we were now in possession of eight to ten tons of aircraft spares, obtained through the good offices of Eric Hayward, to be disposed of for funds. These items were catalogued by Bernard and Charles, each putting in some 100 hours of work, besides the ongoing task at HQ, for which the incidental expenses were paid by them. It was at the same time agreed that all contact with the heritage trail should be discontinued and that all our efforts should be focussed on the memorial.

An open day in September to mark the establishment of our HQ was reasonably well attended, showing 8 to 10 new members, one life member and £80 00 for funds. Eric Hayward, an aviation consultant, who had made a tremendous contribution with his aircraft spares became a trustee on 25th October’ 99. By this time, stone cutting had commenced and in order to expedite matters, £1,000 00 was made available from the main account for outside labour. In addition, a further facility of an interest free loan of £5,000.00 by Bernard and Ann was offered to ensure continuity of construction, to be used if and when required.

The memorial base had been laid by Bernard some months before the Spring 2000 newsletter was printed but at that time we were able to report that Derek Fagan would commence construction of the memorial core as soon as the weather allowed. Bernard had negotiated an agreement to rent land adjacent to the memorial for pony grazing and model aeroplane flying and proceeds will help to swell FONF A funds. There had been a steady flow of donations and memberships and at the board meeting of 26th June, Ann was able to report a balance of £1,758.93 on the bank account with the membership account standing at £1,057.63.

At this time, Bernard was devoting much of his energies to the construction work and also had health problems, so he wished me to take over the chair. This proposal was adopted by the board on 22nd October ’00 and welcomed by me, as holding the joint appointment of chairman/secretary meant a considerable saving in routine administration etc. Ryanstone of Co. Wicklow, Republic of Ireland, donated paving and sets in green granite for the memorial “apron” and would deliver free of charge. Ann reported new government legislation regarding ” gift aid” , that would enable  FONFA to claim against donations by taxpaying benefactors. The final result of an “aerojumble” held at Bournemouth International Airport showed £186 taken on the day, from books and spares and resulted in the subsequent sale of spares totalling £260. Donations etc. were still coming in at a steady pace.

The new year, 2001 came in with concern being felt at the lack of progress although the airfield name plaques had been engraved at a cost of £110, defrayed by Bernard. At the meeting of 27th March, Ann was able to report that our total cash asset stood at £3,224, but also announced that she wished to relinquish the office of treasurer, though she would continue until a replacement could be found. Another misfortune overtook us with the news of Eric’s resignation on becoming the victim of a stroke. He had made a significant contribution and had been sadly missed. Peter too, had health and business problems, preventing him from producing the proposed newsletter.

Keystone carried out stone cutting at a cost of £440 and the main elements were ready for use by mid-May and the slabbing and sets for the “apron” had been delivered by Ryanstone.

Another trustee had by this time joined the Board, John Lay of Sopley, also chairmen of the RAF Sopley Association. He agreed to assist me with laying the “apron” slabbing, setting the kerbs and spreading the shingle surround. An approach to Weymouth Technical College for possible help in stone erection as an exercise failed to elicit a positive response but we were in contact with Mark Luscombe of Keystone and arrangements were finally placed in his hands.

By mid-July, considerable progress had been made by Keystone with occasional help from Bernard, with more contributions in kind and the loan of his employee, Charles and myself, Bernard located a run of redundant iron railings to be disposed of by Southern Water at Lymington, which cost £200 plus, eventually a  considerable amount of work in refurbishment and erection at the site.

On 29th August an appraisal of our finances took place. It was agreed that£ l ,000 should be transferred from the membership account to the main account and that Bernard and Ann should supply £2,000, leaving the main account standing at £5,183 of which £3,840 would be paid to Keystone for services rendered. The balance of the main account would then stand at £1,343 with $100 in hand to be changed for sterling, and the membership account at £128.

No meetings took place between September and January ‘02 although work had continued with more stone cutting by trustees for the side paving. The “apron” had been laid and pointed by me with John’s assistance and Tim Lowndes of MacPennys Nurseries would supply topsoil, shrubs and Mypex membrane for the surround.

At this time, a letter was received from Betty Hockey who had been a member of the concert party entertaining the forces at Holmsley South  on the eve of D-day, wishing to be associated with the forthcoming dedication ceremony. This resulted in Betty becoming a trustee and providing many valuable contacts, not least of which was an introduction to the Red Arrows. A copy of her original letter is attached as app.6.

A draft of the proposed dedication reading: “In grateful remembrance of all personnel, service and civilian, British, Commonwealth, Empire and Allied, who served on the New Forest Airfields during and immediately after World War 2”, was prepared by me and adopted. In the final run up to dedication day, each copy of the Bransgore Parish Magazine, 1850 in all, contained a FONFA news sheet providing background information and invitations to attend the ceremony, all printed and distributed free of charge. This was one of the very many gifts in cash, kind, services and general support and assistance, far too numerous to mention, but nevertheless greatly appreciated.

The final organisation centered around the availability of the Red Arrows, which fortunately was forthcoming without charge within our time frame, enabling a firm date to be fixed, dignitaries invited and publicity arranged. The preparation and erection of the railings was the last major task although many necessary items such as the public address system, media coverage etc. needed to be organised. Unfortunately, Peter London was no longer able to carry out his duties as a trustee and left us but was replaced by John Brooks, who took over the spares department and Treasurer’s Office, besides presenting FONFA with a very substantial cash donation.

Thus consolidated, the remaining loose ends were tidied up, the programme for the dedication was finalised and our original aim achieved. It can be fairly said that with enthusiasm, goodwill, determination and hard work, our task was well done.

LES WHITE CHAIRMAN.

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Les White – Co-founder of FONFA

It is with sadness that we record the passing of Les White at the age of 92.

Les was one of the original Trustees, who set up the Charity in the 1990s. Further details will be listed here, when they are received.

FONFA Trustees in 2002 (left to right)

Standing: Les White, John Brooks, Charles McKenzie

Seated: Ann Baily, John Lay, Betty Hockey, Bernard Baily

(Les White, Charles McKenzie, Ann Baily, Betty Hockey and Bernard Baily are all now deceased)

Leslie R White 1928 – 2021

An Obituary by John Brooks

Les was the principal fountain of an idea to build a memorial to the 12 Airfields based in the New Forest during WWII

Amongst his many talents ranging from gardener through after school working at a sheet metal factory in New Milton/ Air Cadet/RAF service/Air Observer/shop keeper in Highcliffe then becoming a Magistrate and a very talented author.

Amongst the books he published locally was “The Lure of the Blue” which featured his story being told as a young boy growing up in the New Forest during WWII. At the time of the story Les was living New Milton.

This book was read by a farmer in Bransgore, Mr Bernard Baily, he was so impressed by the story that he contacted Les and arranged to meet him.

Les told Bernard that it was his intention to construct a Cairn memorial in Lyndhurst car park using material from the 12 airfields, Bernard suggested that as he had land on the edge of Holmsley airfield he would donate a site to build a permanent Portland Stone memorial that his friend Basil White who lived in Sopley, a retired Architect who was very interested in helping out, could design and arrange the planning application. So FONFA was set up.

This was agreed and a Charity was set up seeking donations which then took place and the Charity being funded and ultimately registered by the Charity Commission in 1997. Eventually with Les appointed as the Chairman ultimately the memorial was dedicated on August 16th 2002 with an attendance of over 1500 persons present aided by a flyover of the Red Arrows on a date arranged by Les.

Les continued as Chairman and conducting the annual re dedication services at the memorial until he decided to stand down in 2006 and retired and I took over as Chairman as well as being the Treasurer.

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Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day 2020

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the immediate commencement of a four week ‘Lockdown’, up to December 2nd, there will no formal ceremonies at the New Forest Airfields Memorial at Holmsley South on Remembrance Sunday, November 9th, and Armistice Day, November 11th. The Memorial is open to visitors, so may be visited by individuals, or group ‘bubbles’, within Government guidelines, at any time.

If you wish to leave wreaths, crosses or poppies at the Memorial, you are very welcome to do so, while observing ‘social distancing’ regulations.

If you touch the gate, or any other part of the Memorial, please take care to sanitise the gate with your alocohol wipe, and all other items touched, both before and after your visit, so as to protect yourself and all who follow you. Thank you all for your support and remembrance of our fallen servicemen and women.

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A Heartwarming Story for These Difficult Times

For those of you reading this post, who haven’t heard this story before, the second video link, at the end of the text, will give you the complete picture. The World War II-era ‘Candy Bomber’ turns 100. Those who caught his candy – now in their 80s – say thanks.

Colonal Gail Seymour “Hal” Halvorsen (born October 10, 1920) is a retired officer and command pilot in the United States Air Force. He is best known as “The Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

Halvorsen grew up in rural Utah but always had a desire to fly. He earned his private pilot’s license in 1941, at the age of 21, and then joined the Civil Air Patrol. He joined the United States Army Air Forccs in 1942 and was assigned to Germany on July 10, 1948, to be a pilot for the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen piloted C-47s and C-54s during the Berlin airlift (“Operation Vittles”).

Many of the RAF aircraft involved in this humanitarian operation flew from the New Forest Airfields, from Stoney Cross, Holmsley South and Hurn. Even though this was peacetime, 39 RAF and 31 USAF aircrew died during the operation. The blockade of Berlin, by the Russians, lasted eleven months from June 1948 to May 1949 (323 days).

During that time Halvorsen founded “Operation Little Vittles”, an effort to raise morale in Berlin by dropping candy via miniature parachutes to the city’s residents. He began “Little Vittles”, with no authorisation from his superiors, but over the next year became a national hero with support from all over the United States. Halvorsen’s operation dropped over 23 tons of candy to the residents of Berlin via 250,000 tiny parachutes. He became known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber”, “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, and “The Chocolate Flier”.

He has received numerous awards for his role in “Operation Little Vittles”, including the Congressional Gold Medal. However, “Little Vittles” was not the end of Halvorsen’s military and humanitarian career. Over the next 25 years, Halvorsen advocated for and performed candy drops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Japan, Guam, and Iraq. Halverson’s professional career included various notable positions. He helped to develop reusable manned spacecraft at the Directorate of Space and Technology and served as commander of Berlin’s Templehof Airport. He retired in August 1974 after logging over 8,000 flying hours. From 1976 until 1986 Halvorsen served as the Assistant Dean of Student Life at Brigham Young University.

‘Hal’ Halvorsen in 1983

It was the summer of 1948 when U.S. Air Force pilot Gail “Hal” Halvorsen noticed children clustered around a barbed-wire fence watching military planes at Tempelhof airfield in Berlin. World War II had ended three years earlier, and Halvorsen was part of an air mission to deliver food and fuel to desperate Berliners after the Soviet Union had blocked land and water access to areas of the country, leaving millions without access to basic goods, known as the Berlin Air LIft. Many of the RAF aircraft involved in this humanitarian operation flew from the New Forest Airfields.

Halvorsen, then 27, decided to park his plane and say hello to the kids at the fence. “I saw right away that they had nothing and they were hungry,” he recalled. “So I reached into my pocket and pulled out all that I had: two sticks of gum.” Halvorsen tore the Wrigley’s Spearmint gum into small strips – one for each child, he said. Then he made the kids a promise: He would return the next day to drop a load of chocolate bars from the sky. Halvorsen recorded that he wanted to do more for the children, and so told them that the following day he would have enough gum for all of them, and he would drop it out of his plane.

Then he made the kids a promise: He would return the next day to drop a load of chocolate bars from the sky. Halvorsen recorded that he wanted to do more for the children, and so told them that the following day he would have enough gum for all of them, and he would drop it out of his plane.

According to Halvorsen, one child asked “How will we know it is your plane?” to which Halvorsen responded that he would wiggle his wings, something he had done for his parents when he first got his pilot’s license in 1941. “I told them that I’d ‘wiggle’ my wings so they’d know which pilot had the goods,” he said. “Then I went back to the base and asked all the guys to pool their candy rations for the drop.”

Following his first sweet mission – hundreds of Hershey chocolate bars were wrapped in parachutes made of handkerchiefs – Halvorsen returned again and again during the 15-month humanitarian airlift. The children of Berlin soon gave him a nickname: the “Candy Bomber.”

And now, some of those kids – now in their 80s and 90s – have sent cards, letters and video messages of thanks to Halvorsen in honor of his 100th birthday on Oct. 10. The legacy of the retired colonel was celebrated at an outdoor reception on his birthday for about 130 family members and friends. In addition to birthday cake, there was a helicopter flyover to drop chocolate bars and other candy to the guests, said Denise Williams, 67, the second oldest of Halvorsen’s five children.

Although it’s a few weeks early for Halloween candy, Halvorsen said he was happy to see another candy “bombing” run. “I’ve always had a sweet tooth,” he said. “But I have to be honest. I’d rather have black licorice than chocolate.” Williams, who now helps care for her dad, said she had initially invited a large contingent of grateful German candy recipients to the party, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit. “There are hundreds of people who will never forget my dad dropping those candy bars during the Berlin airlift,” she said. “He’s beloved around the world for his positive attitude and giving heart.”

Several of those children from the 1940s now live in the United States and shared tributes to Halvorsen via Zoom at the party, Williams said. Ingrid Azvedo of Sacramento was among them. Azvedo, 86, said she was with the group of kids who were handed small strips of gum through the wire fence from Halvorsen that hot July day in 1948. “There was no food or clean water in Berlin; we were starving to death,” recalled Azvedo, who was 14 at the time. “Then along came this tall and skinny pilot, who reached into his pocket to give us all that he had. A kindness like that stays with you for a lifetime.” Azvedo didn’t eat her gum, she said, but instead placed it under her pillow. “I would smell it every night,” she said. “And when he came back to drop chocolate instead of bombs, we could hardly believe it. Nobody had tasted chocolate for a very long time.”

Christel Jonge Vos, who now lives in Keizer, Ore., said she was never able to catch a chocolate parachute because the teenage boys in Berlin ran ahead of her. “But that was not important to me or the other kids who did not get one,” said Vos, now 86. “We knew there was an American pilot called the Candy Bomber who cared about us. He laid the ground stone to the fact that enemies could become friends in Berlin.”

Halvorsen said he grew up on a sugar beet farm in the small city of Garland, Utah, and became a Civil Air Patrol pilot after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, launching the United States into World War II. He later joined the military and was assigned to the South Atlantic Air Transport Command, he said, but when word came after the war that the Soviet Union had blocked West Berlin, he volunteered to fly in supplies on humanitarian missions. More than 2 million tons of food and fuel were airlifted into the city over nearly 280,000 flights, Halvorsen said. But just weeks into the effort, he saw another need. “When I dropped those first candy parachutes and saw the kids racing for them, I knew I had to keep going,” he said. Operation Little Vittles, as it was called, ended up delivering more than 23 tons of candy and chocolate to children throughout western Berlin, he added.

More than seven decades on, the lanky C-54 pilot is still in pretty good health, according to his children, and he flew as a co-pilot as recently as last year in North Carolina during a reenactment of one of his candy bomber flights. “He certainly has his physical challenges, and his short-term memory isn’t what it used to be,” said son Bob Halvorsen, 63. “But he still has a vivid memory of dropping those chocolate parachutes in Berlin years ago.” After Germans had watched American planes drop bombs during the war, to see a pilot drop candy made a lasting impression, he added. “My dad helped to create an attitude shift in Berlin about America,” he said. “I’m amazed at the number of people who continue to write to him about that airlift. They tell him that it’s the one time they finally had hope.”

Dagmar Snodgrass, now 86 and living in Springfield, Mo., is among those regular pen pals. “I was 14 and had seen too much evil to believe in anything good, when the Candy Bomber made a place for himself in the heart of every West Berlin child,” she said. “When a gust of wind carried that little parachute to me, you cannot imagine what it meant,” said Snodgrass, who finally met Halvorsen for the first time in 2015. “Because of [Halvorsen], we started to believe that good could come out of bad.”

Halvorsen said that’s exactly the lesson he had hoped people would take away from his sweet humanitarian missions. “My advice to people is the same today: Don’t hate and don’t be mad at your next-door neighbor,” he said. “If you want to get the best out of life, you have to forgive.” And sharing a bit of chocolate with someone now and then can’t hurt either, he said.

References:

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