Ash Gant writes with the sad news that we have lost another veteran of the 353rd Fighter Group. Harrison J. Wakely, a former Pfc with the 1260th Military Police Company, passed away March 6, 2013 aged 89. You can visit his obituary site for further details HERE.
Harrison came back to Raydon on several occasions and Ash took time to record his memories of his wartime service. They are a wonderful evocation of a time now passed and a reminder that the 353rd as an organisation was more than the pilots and planes. The following post is with condolences to the family of Harrison and with thanks to Ash for his efforts to record the history of the 353rd and for sharing it here with us in memory of his late uncle.
PFC Harrison J. Wakely – 1260th MP Company Memoir
These recollections were written up following an interview with Harrison when he visited Raydon in 1999 for the 353FG reunion. They are written in the order that the interview followed.
I was inducted 22/1/1943 and drafted a week later on 29/1/1943. Our initial posting was to Little Falls Army Camp in Minnesota for 5 months intensive training. Our basic training covered various aspects of MP’s work including learning to ride a motorcycle, traffic control, riot control and use of firearms. I qualified as a rifleman which nearly had serious repercussions for me later in the war as I will mention in due course.
Once we’d completed our training I (Military Policeman 677) and the company transferred to New Jersey. At this time we were a fully operational unit and received orders that we were to be posted to the UK in the ETO. We left Newark, New Jersey on 8 October 1943 and arrived in Liverpool on 20 October 1943 after 14 days in convoy. The trip was largely uneventful. Upon arrival in the UK we received further training and were posted initially to Goxhill on the River Humber. I then had spells at Leiston (where there were no flying units but we oversaw construction work), Bottisham and finally Metfield in Suffolk where the 353FG were based at the time. By this time the company had been reduced in number from about 100 men down to 60, the remainder being re-assigned to other bases and/or units.
The company structure was split into three smaller companies each being allocated to a different base. Detachment A were assigned to Raydon and Detachment B to Leiston. I cannot recall where Detachment C were sent. The chain of command within the company was Captain, Lieutenant, Staff Sergeant, Sergeant and Corporal. I was promoted to acting Corporal at the end of hostilities when the base was being closed down.
Our duties in England were many and varied. In addition to the routine daily duties there were other tasks that we had to fulfil. The MP’s were split into three 8 hours shifts so at any time there would be around 20 of us on duty. The shifts were 6-2, 2-10 and the ‘Night Shift’ 10-6. During a shift you might be on duty at one of the 3 main gates onto the base or on the dispersal areas guarding the aircraft. Motorcycle patrols were also carried out frequently around the base and in particular the ammo and bomb dump areas which were more remote. It was during a motorcycle patrol around the ammo dump that I slid off on a patch of ice, fortunately avoiding injury other than a dent to my pride. The Harley Davidsons that we used were however very heavy to lift from a horizontal position. Other duties we performed included escorting the Group Finance Office into Ipswich where the bank handling the 353FG’s finances was located; this was one of the first tasks that I carried out when I arrived at Raydon. We also provided escort for the weekly garbage run to the US dump located near Manningtree station. This run was usually carried out by American prisoners and our main job was to make sure they didn’t escape or go AWOL. Similarly we had to accompany and guard prisoners who were taken to the American hospital in Braintree.
On base one of our duties was to provide a guard on the door at the Red Cross Club on dance nights to prevent the men leaving with local girls which wasn’t always successful. One of our more dangerous jobs was when the group were flying P-47’s on ground attack missions. They frequently returned with bombs that had failed to release or ‘hung up’ but the jolt on landing would often dislodge them and they would drop onto the runway. If this did happen we were instructed to secure the area and guard the bombs until they were dealt with – not a popular job!
Another unpopular though necessary duty was to guard any crashed aircraft which often still had the bodies of crewmen inside them. Our MP’s were responsible for crashes in the vicinity of Raydon but extending South to Boxted, West to Sudbury, East to the coast and North to Wattisham. If the crash crews from those bases were already dealing with an incident then we would provide cover and vice versa. One crash that sticks in my mind is the 446BG B-24 that came down in the middle of Capel St Mary, fortunately without loss of life. My future wife Doreen, her sister Margie and friends Joy and June bought Fish and Chips in the village and sat and ate them underneath a large part of the plane to keep dry – even though there were still 3 tons of bombs on board! I also recall the P38 crash just after D-Day. The P38 was ‘rat-racing’ with one of our P-47’s and hit the ground right in the middle of the barracks that the MP’s had been living in until only the previous day. We had fortunately moved to the site opposite the Queen Public House in Great Wenham – my new hut was the nearest to the Pub.
There were very few law and order problems at Raydon; the main offenses being drinking and traffic violations. Security on the gates was however tight and access was via a system of passes. Civilian workers had to show their passes to get on and off the base. We liaised regularly with the local Police but generally there were few problems. Off base we would carry a .45 pistol and on base an M1 carbine. We would usually send a couple of MP’s into Ipswich and Colchester to patrol the streets and keep a check on American servicemen going into the towns but again there were no real problems to speak of.
Around the time of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, most of the riflemen from the MP companies were drafted into the infantry under the Infantry Replenishment Program. Because I was due to get married I avoided the draft and believe I was the only qualified rifleman to do so. I know that several men went from Raydon and that some were wounded but don’t know any specific details. I do recall we lost one member of the MP company while based at Raydon but cannot recall how or why he died.
The base was virtually underneath the flight path of the V1 flying bombs launched from France and we had several land near the base although none actually hit us. I do remember a V2 rocket breaking up in the air above us and falling to earth about 15 miles away; several men had pieces as souvenirs and we would watch the rocket trails as they passed high overhead.
At the end of the war I remained at Raydon and oversaw the closing down of the base. At this time I was promoted to Acting Corporal and was one of the last personnel to leave the base. At this time I transferred to 66FW HQ at Sawston Hall near Cambridge under the command of Commander General Woodbury who was from New Hampshire. At this time we were being prepared for possible assignment to the Pacific Theatre following the assault on Okinawa but luckily the war ended shortly afterwards and this never happened.
We were transferred in early 1946 to Bury St Edmunds/Rougham which was a transit camp for US personnel returning home. I very nearly never made it home as one night the truck I was travelling in left the road and overturned but fortunately no serious injuries resulted. We finally left the UK via Southampton in late January 1946 and arrived in the US on 2 February 1946 at which time I was demobbed at Fort Devens, Massachusets.
Harrison returned to Raydon on several occasions after the war as his wife Doreen’s family remained in the area. His final visit to the UK was when he attended the 1999 reunion at Raydon where to his surprise he was asked to sign many autographs.