Back in 1995 I had the pleasure of meeting James G. Bartley when he returned to Raydon for a Group reunion. Originally from Adron, Ohio, he flew P-51s with the 352nd Squadron. He was assigned January 25, 1945 and remained at Raydon until the summer of that year. A few weeks after meeting him, a nice letter arrived along with copies of two wartime colour photographs as a remembrance of his visit – one of his aircraft SX-B ‘Little Midget’ and ‘Missy’ and one of Lt Lindsay W. ‘Red’ Grove’s SX-D ‘Miss Jackie II.’ The photos have since become fairly commonplace on the internet, but at the time I remember being very excited – it was only the second batch of wartime colour photos from the 353rd I had ever seen. I stayed in touch with Jim first by letter and then by email. He passed away March 11, 2010.
Luckily Jim wrote down some of his experiences and stories that are available on the World War II Pilots website along with some more of his photos. Click on this Jim Bartley link to read his story. This, however, is not the end of the story about the colour photos. Apparently they were part of a larger batch that is available to view at the Jeffrey L. Ethell collection website. If you click on this link and then click to open the search page you can view the pictures. Just type ‘Raydon’ into the location field of the search engine and you will be able to see eleven further colour photos taken at Raydon by Jim Bartley and friends. Interestingly, one shows a P-47D-22-RE SX-Q (a/c 42-25959) that was assigned to the Group in July 1945 for training purposes. The credits say it is Lt Bill Parker’s aircraft, but I have no information, as yet, to confirm this.
The search should also bring up a nice photo of a 353rd aircraft ‘Betty’ from the Robert Astrella collection taken at Mount Farm. Again, sadly I do not have any further information on this aircraft. In Astrella’s photographs there is also a shot of the Group’s AT6A Texan (a/c 43-13048) taken in 1945, so it is definitely worth searching through this archive website. If you are in the United Kingdom, the Imperial War Museum also holds the Astrella collection.
Trawling the internet I note the World War II Fighter Aircraft Foundation are restoring a P-51 to represent Bartley’s aircraft. It seems the 352nd are a popular choice for warbird operators these days – take a look at SX-H ‘The Little Witch’ with some wartime photos and SX-B ‘Double Trouble Two’. There are no versions of SX-Q or ‘Betty’ that I know of out there, but I should also say somebody is restoring an AT6 Texan to represent the 353rd’s wartime ‘hack’ aircraft. In both restoration projects they don’t lack historically accurate photographs and we can all thank Jim Bartley and Robert Astrella for an important and fascinating colour record.