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Turnstone Column: John Maiden discusses how Hunstanton got the name ‘Little America’

In his weekly Turnstone column, Hunstanton writer John Maiden discusses the days when his mother looked after the children of servicemen...

Anyone who lived in or around Hunstanton in the 1950s will realise why my hometown rejoiced in the name of "Little America".

Living at 79 Westgate (now home to the Sue Ryder shop) my family was surrounded by families of USAF servicemen based at RAF Sculthorpe.

Home of the Night Owls at RAF Mildenhall - June 2024 _ photo David Jones
Home of the Night Owls at RAF Mildenhall - June 2024 _ photo David Jones

My mother would often be called upon to babysit for these lucky Americans, who could see what a good job she had done in raising three fine offspring of her own, which of course included me, who would sometimes act as a willing assistant to my mum.

Thursday afternoon was early closing in those days and, while working for James Lambert & Sons, Grocers, and Wine Merchants, further down Westgate, I clearly remember one Thursday afternoon when I gave Mrs Martinez a break, by taking her lively pre-school-age son for a ride on the well-padded crossbar of my bicycle.

It cannot have been very comfortable for Larry, but he was so pleased to see real farm animals and wildlife that he made no complaints.

Twinning sign on northern approach to Hunstanton with Ben Knowles of KL signs
Twinning sign on northern approach to Hunstanton with Ben Knowles of KL signs

When I delivered him back to his home in Church Street, Larry told his 'mom' and his little sister all about the adventure we had shared. Perhaps it was his reaction to my commentary that led me to embark on a career in education upon completion of my national service.

It was while on leave from the RAF that friendship with my USAF neighbours led to a mildly amusing incident.

Dressed almost entirely in American clothing, and sporting a crew cut, crafted by my Irish friend, Lorcan O'Sullivan a barber at RAF Sculthorpe, that I was challenged by the US Air Police.

Little America - Hunstanton in the 1950's
Little America - Hunstanton in the 1950's

Their patrol car pulled up alongside me as I was walking up Westgate and a voice said: "Hey Buddy, you know it breaches the dress code to wear Levis off the base!" To which I replied: "I am not one of your guys," in my best English accent.

It should be noted that I was not alone in dressing like a 'yank', but for their part many of our USAF friends were doing their best to integrate with the local population.

This was made easier for them following the shared experience of the 1953 Floods, and the lives that were saved by two members of the USAF who were both awarded the George Medal for their bravery.

Of course, it is well known that they were not the only ones to risk their lives in trying to save others on that dreadful January night, but Reis Leming and Freeman A Kilpatrick fully deserved the special recognition they received.

Sixty years later, RAF Flt Sgt Mark Service, the official historian of the USAF 67th Air Rescue Squadron, asked me if Hunstanton would like to be involved in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the squadron, then renamed the 67th Special Operations Squadron, also known as the 'Night Owls' and based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

To prove that the renewed special relationship is of a permanent nature, last Tuesday afternoon was spent with my good friends David Jones and Jilly Hall, in the company of the present generation of USAF personnel and their families at RAF Mildenhall, where the Night Owls were holding a Change of Command Ceremony, at which Lt Col Michael Bein handed over to Lt Col Christopher Beets.

According to my records, Lt Col Beets is the ninth person to command the 67th since Hunstanton was invited to rekindle the special bond between town and squadron.

For this reason, it was really good to have Hunstanton's current mayor, Michael Ruston at the ceremony, and I wonder how long it will be before the 67th is invited back to Hunstanton, in recognition of the unique twinning of the Victorian seaside town of Hunstanton with the USAF 67th Special Operations Squadron.

Come to think of it, ten years ago this October the Night Owls were granted the Freedom of Hunstanton, so perhaps it is time to invite them back to exercise that Freedom?

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