This is a collection of written pieces that comes from things I’ve thought and experienced; occasionally they are illustrated with photos that I’ve taken. They are here because I want people to enjoy them. This is a sort of print performance and as with other kinds of performance it is a meaningless exercise without an audience. So be my audience ...

Thursday, 15 September 2011


My parents and I arrived at Polebrook Aerodrome, near Oundle, in 1951, just eight years after Clark Gable left it. My Father's job was to use the standing buildings of the airfield as a hostel for what were known as 'DP's - Displaced Persons. These were people who, for one reason or another, were here instead of there, washed ashore by the tides of war. Poles, Latvians, Ukranians, Yugoslavs and Germans. There may have been other nationalities but these are the ones I remember. Those whose homes were in countries of the U.S.S.R. would probably never return to them as they were, to the monstrous Stalin, traitors to a man and they would be killed as soon as he could get his hands on them. They all worked on local farms and they lived in the fairly substantial wooden huts that had, during WW11, housed American airmen.

For the two years we were there we occupied the hut of the erstwhile Camp Commandant which was one of several that housed the officers. Nailed to the walls of the huts were the names of the occupants painted onto pieces of wood that the Americans would have referred to as 'shingles'. Just across the way from where we lived there was an empty hut with three names on the shingle: the first was that of Clark Gable (yes, that Clark Gable). Fairly early in our stay at Polebrook my Father thought to prise this shingle off the wall to protect it for posterity and later bequeathed it to me. It now hangs on my study wall. It shows some signs of having been interfered with and some weathering but the names are clear enough.

Many people of Oundle remember Gable. I once saw the page of a diary written by an elderly lady who had been in her teens or early twenties in 1943 and who, with a friend, had gone out on a date with a pair of Yanks one of whom was the famous film actor. 'Oh', she wrote, 'He was so naughty!' There is sometimes a hint in people's recollections that he was was little more than a playboy over here to make a training film and was not really part of the fighting machine. What follows has been taken from Wikipedia and I think it gives a picture of a man who really played his part - and made a training film.

During much of 1943, Captain Clark Gable was stationed at Polebrook to produce a recruiting film for aircraft gunners. He had trained with the 351st Bomb Group at Biggs Army Air Base , Texas, andPueblo Army Air Base, Colorado, then accompanied it overseas in early April 1943. While with the 351st, he flew five combat missions as an observer.

Gable's first combat mission occurred on May 4, 1943, when he accompanied 351st group commander Lt. Col. William A. Hatcher on a late afternoon familiarization mission before the 351st became operational. Flying squadron lead with Capt William R. Calhoun of the 303rd Bomb Group, RAF Molesworth, against the Ford and General Motors plants in Antwerp, Belgium, Hatcher and Gable's B-17 was nicknamed The 8 Ball MK II. Gable fired a few rounds from a machine gun mounted in the radio room and suffered a minor case of frostbite from wearing leather gloves in the extreme cold.

Gable's second mission came July 10, 1943, flying with 2nd Lt. Theodore Argiropulos of the 351st's 508th Bomb Squadron in Argonaut III (42-29851) to bomb the airfield at Villacoublay, France. The mission was frustrating in that clouds forced the bombers to return without dropping their ordnance, but did not prevent German fighter attacks. His third combat mission occurred on 24 July 1943, again in Argonaut III as the lead aircraft of the 351st, with group executive officer Lt.Col. Robert W. Burns. The mission to bomb the Norsk Hydro chemical plants in Heroya, Norway, was unopposed, but was also the longest by the Eighth Air Force to that date and began a week-long series of intensive operations against German targets known as the "Blitz Week".

On the morning of August 12, 1943, his fourth mission was to bomb a synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr, joining 351st operations officer Maj. Theodore "Ross" Milton and Capt. John B. Carraway's crew in Ain't It Gruesome (42-29863). Bombing Bochum, Germany, as a target of opportunity in bad weather, Gable experienced the Eighth's most dangerous mission to date, with 25 of its 330 B-17s shot down. Although none of the 351st's Fortresses went down, 11 suffered battle damage, one crash-landed on return, and the group's crews suffered one killed and seven wounded. During the mission, Gable wedged himself behind the top turret gunner for a better view as German fighters made five passes at the 351st's formation. A 20mm shell came up through Aint It Gruesome's flight deck, cut off the heel from Gable's boot, and exited one foot from his head, all without exploding. Afterward, the crew noticed the fifteen holes in the aircraft, and Gable noticed his boot. Brushing off concern with reporters, Gable claimed, "I didn't know it had happened. I didn't know anything about it until we had dropped eleven thousand feet, and could get off oxygen and look around. Only then did I see the hole in the turret."

Gable's final combat mission was an early morning strike to the port area of Nantes, France, on September 23, 1943. He flew with Lt. Col. Burns and 510th Bomb Squadron commander Maj. John Blaylock, leading the 351st in The Dutchess (42-29925). Half of the six groups assigned failed to assemble in bad weather, and intercepting fighters inflicted extensive battle damage to the other half, but no bombers were lost. Gable left his film crew in the waist of the bomber and manned a gun in the nose.

Captain Clark Gable was awarded the Air Medal on October 4 for completing five combat missions, and later the Distinguished Flying Cross. His final three missions were flown in the dangerous position of group lead, a hazard emphasized when the B-17 flown by Col. Hatcher and Major Blaylock was shot down near Cognac, France, on December 31, 1943, killing Blaylock and resulting in Hatcher's capture. Gable left the 351st on November 5, 1943, returning to the US with over 50,000 feet of 16mm color film. In 1944, the film Combat America, narrated by Gable, was released.


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