Masters of The Air - How Local Girl Edith Gilham Married a Handsome American GI
Edith and Tom Miller on their wedding day. Photo: Emily Fae, with kind permission of Rougham Control Tower Aviation Museum
When local girl Edith Gilham met Lt Thomas Grant Miller her life changed forever.
Edith was an aircraft manufacturing inspector in Cambridge during WWII. She had been engaged to a British flyer, Hal Smith, who had sadly been killed during the war.
Through a mutual friend, Edith met Tom Miller. Tom was born in Newark, New Jersey and was one of five children from British and Irish ancestry.
An American Pilot, Lt Thomas Miller, was stationed at RAF Bury St Edmunds with the 410 Squadron 94th Bomb Group, flying B-17s out of Rougham Airfield.
During WWII, the East of England became home to thousands of American air force personnel – over 350,000 in total. Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire would never be quite the same again. The Friendly Invasion, as it was dubbed, introduced a rural area to the big band music of Glenn Miller, peanut butter, chewing gum, nylons, donuts, jitterbugging, Coca Cola and much more.
By the time Tom met Edith, he had a combat tour of 27 missions over hostile territory, completed between 11 December 1943 and the 11 April 1944. He earned his DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) on his 8th mission. This was a 7 ½ hour trip to industrial targets in Brunswick, Germany: 25 aircraft took off, 17 bombed Brunswick and 8 were shot down. Lt Miller kept his plane aloft after an engine was shot out during some of the heaviest fighting.
Edith's wedding dress and Tom's uniform on display at Rougham Control Tower Aviation Museum. Photo: Emily Fae
Edith and Tom married in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, on 12 May 1945, four days after celebrating VE Day together. From the surviving photographs, it appeared to be a very happy day. Her sister Ethel was a bridesmaid and, according to Edith’s nephew, Arthur F Miller Jr., ‘It was the first day church bells rang in the South of England since the start of the war. To our knowledge, Tom was the only American officer married to a British girl on that day’.
Shortly after, however, they were parted when Tom was sent back to the States, while Edith was moved to a camp for war brides to await the trip to America.
After a long delay she, and several hundred other war brides, boarded the famous Queen Mary ship at Southampton. Tom and his mother were there to meet her when she arrived in New York.
Tom stayed in the Air Force post war, going on to be promoted to Major. He served in Korea as a fighter pilot and retired in 1965.
From Edith's heartbreak to happiness, the couple went on to have a son, Tommy and they maintained close ties to England throughout their lives.
Tom died in 1998, Edith six years later in 2004 and their son Tommy in 2014. But their story lives on in an exhibit at Rougham Control Tower Aviation Museum.
The couple’s family, along with many other generous American families, have kindly given the Museum, run by volunteers, some of their family treasures to display. They include Edith’s wedding dress, the couple's photographs and love letters which provide a wonderful insight into the romance of the era.
Plan your visit to the museum now and discover the story of how local girl Edith fell in love and married her dashing GI B17 bomber hero.
The Museum is open every Sunday and on special open days April to October. Entry to the Museum is free but donations welcome.
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