A new interpretation board has been erected to recognise the former RAF airfield at Ridgewell, Essex’s only long-term heavy bomber base during World War Two
The board, which highlights Ridgewell’s key events and locations, was unveiled on the 80th anniversary of the airfield’s costliest bombing raid, when eleven American B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were lost during an attack on Germany’s main ball-bearing plants in the city of Schweinfurt. More than 100 airmen from the 381st Bomb Group were declared missing in action on August 17, 1943, in what became the highest loss of any American bomb group.
The new interpretation board was erected next to the remains of Ridgewell’s main runway by volunteers of the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum. The site was given over by the Essex Gliding Club, with funding provided by members and supporters of the museum.
“The board has been designed to provide a brief overview of Ridgewell’s significance in the context of the Second World War,” explained Paul Bingley, volunteer at the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum. “It includes a number of photos depicting Ridgewell’s key events and locations, some of which the public will not have seen. This is why the interpretation board was necessary. It’s here to show us where we are and what it means. The history of this place is something we should never forget.”
The unveiling was carried out by Cami Kenworthy of Salt Lake City, USA, whose grandfather, Leven B Ferrin was a B-17 pilot with the 381st Bomb Group. Lt Ferrin was one of 160 airmen who returned safely to Ridgewell following the Schweinfurt raid – an event he described in his diary as the “greatest air battle so far.”
A second ceremony took place at the museum on the same day, when a stainless steel memorial plaque was unveiled in honour of those who lost their lives when a Ridgewell B-17 crashed on the Isle of Man on April 23, 1945. Flying to Nutts Corner near Belfast, the B-17 was carrying 26 passengers – mostly ground crew members – and five flight crew, when it crashed into North Barrule, the Isle of Man’s second highest peak. All 31 were killed in what is still the Isle of Man’s deadliest air disaster.
Funding and design of the memorial plaque was arranged by Don Madar, great nephew of Andy Piter Jr, one of those who was killed in the crash. “It is our fervent hope that this small memorial will serve as a reminder of the fallen,” said Mr Madar. “The voices of the men, the voices of the airbase as World War Two in Europe was coming to a close, will echo with the memorial as a reminder of a historic time in Essex that has gone by.” With thanks to Paul Bingley