Famous Figures: The stars who went to war

Joe Kennedy Jr. The man who should have been President

The Friendly Invasion - Joe Kennedy Jnr

Operation Aphrodite was an experiment to use radio-controlled, bomb-laden aircraft to attack enemy targets. It required volunteer pilots to take off, the parachute out before the bombers were directed at their targets. On August 12, 1944, the first USAAF mission took of from RAF Fersfield, in south Norfolk.

Aboard were two lieutenants – Wilford J Willy and Joseph P Kennedy Jr. Kennedy, aged 29, was the eldest son of the influential Kennedy dynasty. He flew land based PB4Y Liberator patrol bombers and took part in anti-submarine missions. In the summer of that year he joined Operation Aphrodite. The idea of the initial mission was to attack military installations on Heligoland, in the North Sea.

Taking off early in the morning, the aircraft were passing over the Suffolk coast when the explosive detonated prematurely. The wreckage came down near the village of Blythburgh, causing damage to houses but causing no casualties. The remains of Kennedy and Willy were never recovered. Their names are inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial.

Last photo taken of JP Kennedy

JP Kennedy Jr, The Friendly Invasion

Taken by Earl P.Olsen on day of flight, August 12, 1944

Jimmy Stewart, real life and Hollywood hero

Jimmy Stewart, 453rd Bomb Group, Old Buckenham

James Maitland Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997), also known as Jimmy Stewart, was an American actor and military officer, known for his distinctive drawl and down-to-earth persona. Stewart starred in many films that are considered to be classics, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, He also had a noted military career and was a World War II, serving in England at bomber bases in Norfolk and Suffolk.

When promoted to Major...

Jimmy Stewart, The Friendly Invasion

Jimmy Stewart continued to voluteer for missions, stating “I couldn’t ask my men to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself,”

Joe Louis, World heavyweight boxing champion

The Friendly Invasion - Joe Louis

Joe Louis was boxing’s Heavyweight Champion of the world when war broke out. Joe joined the army and helped to raise morale amongst serving African- American troops. In 1944 Joe came to the east of England to meet many of the Black American GIs serving here. He visited a number of air bases and attend a huge rally in Stowmarket, Suffolk.

The US army was a segregated force. This mean that formal racial segregation came to England for the first time. However, white British people lived alongside the Black American GIs, and many Black Americans took this experience of equality back into the civil rights movement following the war.

A national hero...

Joe Louis, boxing heavyweight champion, The Friendly Invasion

After being told it was a white man's army, Joe said “Lots of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain’t going to fix them,” 

The Queen

The Friendly Invasion - The Queen

The Queen Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, visited many airfield sites in the region in support of the war effort. Her visits really helped to cement the special relationship between the UK and America that endures to today. A friendship honoured when in 1944 a B17 bomber was christened ‘ Rose of York’ in her honour.

Did you know?

The future queen was not the only member of the Royal family to visit the region and meet with the Americans stationed here. The Royal family still have a presence here today with their home at Sandringham on the regions North Norfolk coast. What’s more Prince William, the heir to the throne, was a pilot for the region’s air ambulance service.

Clark Gable

Clark Gable, The Friendly Invasion

Another major Hollywood actor who served in the USAAF was Clark Gable. The star of Gone With The Wind joined up as an air gunner. As well as going on five combat missions from East Anglia, Gable made a gunnery training film and toured a number of bases. Head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering, was so intrigued by the ‘King of Hollywood’ that he offered a reward worth £5,000 to any pilot who shot him down.

Gable served with the 351st Bomb Group, based mainly at Polebrook, Northamptonshire. On one occasion flack went through his boot and narrowly missed his head. Major Gable was relieved from active duty in 1944 as he was by then over-age (43).