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New Apple TV series ‘Masters of the Air’ Bury St Edmunds connections

‘Masters of the Air’, a new Apple TV series being released on 26 January has strong connections with Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area. Starring Austin Butler and produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the 10-episode series is based on Donald L. Miller’s non-fiction book of the same name. It tells the true story of the bomber boys of the American Eighth Air Force 8th Air Force, known as the Mighty Eighth.

During WWII, the East of England became home to over 350,000 United States Army Airforce (USAAF) personnel. The Friendly Invasion, as it was dubbed, introduced a rural backwater to the big band music of Glenn Miller, peanut butter, chewing gum, nylons, donuts, jitterbugging, Coca Cola and much more.

Designed as a base for a USAAF unit bomb group, Rougham Airfield (RAF Bury St Edmunds) opened in September 1942 . It became home to the 94th Bomb Group from 15 June 1943 to 12 December 1945 who flew more than 300 missions with the B-17 Flying Fortress.

Masters of the Air includes the heroic story of Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle. After early loses, he was given command of the 94th Bomb Group from 19 June 1943.

In April 1944 he took command of the 4th Bombardment Wing, the largest in the Eighth Air Force. On Christmas Eve 1944, he led the greatest force in the history of aviation against communication centres and Luftwaffe fighter fields. Flying over Belgium his plane experienced engine problems, but with friendly troops below he refused to jettison the bombs to gain speed and the trailing plane became an easy target.

Realising the hopelessness of the situation they were ordered to bail out. Castle took the controls to give his crew time to escape. Another attack exploded the gasoline tanks while Castle guided the plane to an open field. Of the nine crewmen, five survived the crash.

Castle was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour and Merced Army Airfield in California was renamed Castle Field and became the Castle Air Force Base.

Rougham Control Tower and Aviation Museum

Rougham Control Tower Aviation Museum

One of the best-preserved military buildings in the region, Rougham Control Tower is now home to an aviation museum where displays include an exhibit in memory of Brigadier General Castle. The air base welcomed 3,000 GIs during WWII.

Opened in 1992, it also houses a fascinating collection of memorabilia including photos, artefacts, uniforms, letters, and photographs, which tell the story of the airfield and the US personnel stationed there.

These include the wedding dress of British aircraft inspector Edith Miller who married her dashing GI B17 bomber hero Tom Miller on 12 May 1944, just after VE Day. There is also a collection of photographs and original concert posters of The Skyliners, the band of the 322nd Bomb Group after whom the new Skyliner Sports Centre and Skyliner Way in Bury St Edmunds is named.

The hangar where the Glenn Miller Ensemble played can also be visited although Glen Miller was never there in person.

The Museum is open every Sunday, from April to October with free entry. For information visit

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Dog Friendly St Edmundsbury Cathedral Sue Warren 1

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

A new display in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, running from now until the end of March to coincide with the TV series, will feature a 48-star American flag that was presented to the Cathedral on 29 April 1945 by the United States Air Force. The flag was given as a symbol of friendship between the service personnel and the citizens of Bury St Edmunds, as well as the common sacrifice of the British and American nations in the cause of freedom for all peoples.

This will be the first time that the Cathedral has displayed the flag to the public. It doesn’t include stars for all 50 states as Alaska and Hawaii joined the union in 1959, after the flag was made. The 48-star flag was used from 1912 to 1960.

The flag will be displayed along with American connection kneelers that were created for the Cathedral’s kneeler project in the 1960s. There will also be information available for more of the Cathedral’s American connections.

WWll Royal Observer Corps Control Centre at Bury St Edmunds Guildhall

Bury St Edmunds Guildhall WWII Operations Room 2 credit Bury St Edmunds Guildhall

The WWII Royal Observer Corps Control Centre at Bury St Edmunds Guildhall is the only surviving room of its kind in the world. From there, the Corps protected the skies of Suffolk and relaying vital messages to crews at local air bases including Rougham and Lavenham.

Tours of the Guildhall are available by appointment or for details of the free open days throughout 2024 visit

The Corn Exchange & Green King Brewery

The Corn Exchange Wetherspoons 965x540

Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange, now a stunning venue for a Wetherspoons pub on Abbeygate Street, was a favourite for GIs based in and around the town known for its dances to the sounds of boogie woogie and jazz.

US service personnel held parties at the Corn Exchange for local children, paid from their own pocket. The venue also held dinners for returning servicemen and on VJ Day there was dancing until midnight.

The Greene King Brewery was kept in business during the war thanks to Academy Award winning actor Jimmy Stewart who ordered trucks of Greene King’s lager every week for the thirsty air crews of the 453rd Bombardment Group stationed at Old Buckenham in Norfolk, not far from Bury St Edmunds

The Airmen's Bar at The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa

Airmans Bar The Swan at Lavenham Resized for blogs

Lavenham Airfield is also mentioned in the ‘Masters of the Air’ book. It was operational during WWll between March 1944 and August 1945 manned by the USAAF 487th Bomb Group, who flew 185 missions and over 6,000 sorties.

The unit's first commander was Lieutenant Colonel Beirne Lay Jr., a prominent Hollywood screenwriter. He was shot down over enemy territory on 11 May 1944 but evaded capture and was returned to duty. After the war, he wrote the screenplay for the 1949 film, ‘Twelve O'Clock High’, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Gregory Peck.

During World War II, many British and American servicemen stationed at RAF Lavenham called The Swan at Lavenham Hotel their local pub. Over 1,000 signatures adorn the walls of the Airmen’s Bar, and there is an extensive collection of military memorabilia including cap badges and shoulder titles, making it an inspiring setting to relax over a drink or two.

The writing on the wall includes the names of the servicemen who took up the infamous challenge of downing a 3.5 pint boot of ale and how long it took them. the record seems to be an amazing 22 seconds held by Mick Wilson in 1940! There is a framed image in the bar which depicts the moment. Twenty-two seconds was pretty impressive when most attempts were just over four minutes, evidenced by the writing on the walls

Flight of Peace Sculpture and Appleby Rose Garden

B17 Bench Appleby Rose Garden 965x540

The Flight of Peace, B17 Flying Fortress sculpture on Bury St Edmunds Lady Miriam Way roundabout commemorates the US Air Force’s arrival at Rougham Airfield. Designed by Roy Proctor and fabricated by Nigel Kaines of Designs on Metal, it was unveiled in 2016.

The sculpture features a dove of peace blossoming from it as a symbolic remembrance of those gallant American servicemen who contributed to lasting peace in Europe.

The aircraft from Rougham Airfield were identified by the letter ‘A’ in a square background on the tailfin, which is captured in the sculpture. The landscaping of the roundabout represents the United States five pointed white star in a blue circle.

When John Tate Appleby from Arkansas arrived at the 487th Bomb Group in Lavenham in March 1945, the war in Europe was all but over. During his seven months in Suffolk, he had plenty of spare time which he spent travelling around East Anglia, mainly by bicycle, the result was a book, ‘Suffolk Summer’. He donated his royalties from the book to fund The Abbey Gardens Rose Garden as a lasting memorial to the brave young men who lost their lives so far from their homeland.

Originally an orchard, the garden now has over 400 rose bushes and a unique feature – a bench made from the wing of a USAAF B17 Flying Fortress. There's also a stone monument in memory of the 94th Bomb Group. Unveiled in 1977, the monument is dedicated to those Americans ‘who gave their lives during World War II’.

The Athenaeum

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The Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds also made a unique contribution to the American troops stationed during WWll. As John Appleby says in his book ‘Suffolk Summer’, "The Athenaeum Canteen made a unique contribution to the people of Bury St Edmunds and to the entertainment of the troops stationed there."

When the Athenaeum Canteen was closed in 1945, almost a million and a half servicemen and women had entered its doors. The Athenaeum is now a wedding and events venue

'Masters of the Air' Guided Walk

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To coincide with the series release, Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides have created a new guided walk.

Starting at 3.30pm on 13 February and 12 March, the 60-minute walk will bring to life those buildings and places which contributed to the war effort or helped raise the morale of allied servicemen and women during the dark days of WWll. It will end with a 30-minute visit to The Guildhall, to see the Royal Observer Corps Operations Room, where specialist guides will describe its vital role in Britain’s air defence and the many lives it saved.

Advanced boking essential on, tickets priced at £12 adults, £6 under 18s, under 5s free.

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