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Our UK-US relationship is still special
The tragic wartime origins of the UK-US special relationship mean that, for many on both sides of the Atlantic, the relationship lives on. Sheffield’s USAF fly-past was our latest poignant reminder
By George Storr
A story of wartime heroism and modern day guilt brought about the 22nd of February’s US Air Force flypast over Sheffield. It did more than that, too. It showed that the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US still exists in the hearts and minds of their citizens, even if it doesn’t always in the actions of politicians.
The B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber in question soared over Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park on the 22nd of February 1944. It was in dire straits when 23-year-old pilot, Lt John Kriegshauser, diverted its course and saved the lives of a group of young children playing in the park.
The Bomber, named Mi Amigo, could have made an effective emergency landing on the long strip of turf at the south side of Endcliffe Park, half of which is now covered by tennis courts. The sight of the children though caused a last minute diversion and forced a crash landing in the hilly, wooded area to the north of the park.
All ten US airmen on-board Mi Amigo died as a result of the crash. Now, Sheffield’s 82-year-old Tony Foulds, says he is sure that the pilot diverted the planes course in order to save him. “I know they saved my life,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be here with my family.”
Kriegshauser was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for minimising loss of life during the incident. Foulds insists he feels guilt about the airmen’s deaths to this day.
A 10-aircraft-strong USAF flypast, one plane for each man lost, commemorated the event 75 years to the day. It was a hugely emotional experience for Foulds and for the 10,000 people who gathered in the park at the heart of Yorkshire’s Steel City.
“It’s gotten to the stage now of course where, when the American anthem comes on I’ve even started doing the same thing that they do,” says Foulds, placing his hand on his breast. He then opens his coat, saying “oh, and of course…” before revealing a pin badge that, he says, goes everywhere with him. The badge shows a Union Jack next to the stars and stripes of the US flag.
Technical Sergeant Michael McCann
The Missing Man Formation
Foulds wasn’t the only one to feel pangs of cross-Atlantic unity on the day of the flypast. The American asked Technical Sergeant Michael McCann of the US Air Force, at the flypast, whether the feats of those US airmen inspired him. He said that, of course they did, but that something else stuck out further in his mind: “What more inspires me is just how integrated we are together, you know, The US and the UK. Just how…” he tailed off for a moment, fishing for the right word on what had been an emotional day. He met my gaze again, saying: “we’re partners”.
The atmosphere amongst his USAF comrades seemed to reflect a similar feeling. They mixed and mingled with the people of Sheffield and their counterparts in the RAF. McCann said: “Being here, we’ve been talking to the locals, getting pictures, telling stories and then everyone stopped for the fly-by and then we were right back to it.
“It’s just amazing. Showing up expecting a good turn out and getting here and it’s an amazing turnout. The amount of people here to celebrate the historic meaning of what happened, it’s breath-taking to see.”
The crowds were amassed for the Flypast - the US Flag fluttering in the distance
Media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic questioned the long-standing idea of the UK-US ‘special relationship’ last year, that term having been coined by Winston Churchill in 1946.The BBC’s James Landale asked "Has Trump broken the special relationship?" While in the US CNBC argued that: “Trump’s inauguration as president heralded a new uncertain era for the ‘special relationship.’”
Joggers and dog-walkers were replaced with a 10,000 strong crowd to remember 10 US airmen in a park in Sheffield. Those are the simple facts. The show of unity, with many Brits waving their own US flags, went some way to showing that the ‘special relationship’ still exists for real people.
Jim Kriegshauser (nephew of Captain John Kriegshauser) speaking to Col Will Marshall of RAF Lakenheath
Lots of media from around the world wanted to speak to Tony
The ten young American men who flew back from a daring raid on occupied Denmark’s Aalborg airfield had made the UK their home in inauspicious circumstances. In that most difficult time in living memory, World War Two, the UK and the US stood together and far too many of our young people died together. The memory of their sacrifice has created a bond that is hard to sever, whether our modern-day politicians work together or not.
Alongside the new flagpole and the park’s memorial, Tony Foulds now has a physical aide memoire dating back to that fateful day. “When I saw the family of the pilot they gave me a door handle off the bomber,” he said. “It had been printed ‘God bless. Never forget.’ and they gave it to me.”