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June 4, 2010

The article as it appeared n the Nottingham Post.

Note the photo of "Chalk 18" carrying pathfinders of the 508th into Normandy.

Bygones: Memorial to GIs at Wollaton Park


Top left: Nottingham writer Joan Wallace.

As a little girl gazing out of my bedroom window on a warm, summer's evening in June, how could I have known I was witnessing part of a most memorable time in the history of the Second World War? Standing outside the Royal Oak public house which was about 200 yards from the back of our garden...and outside toilet, was a crowd of young, handsome American paratroopers.

Laughter and friendly banter floated through the air. I opened my window wider and leaned out towards the fun.

Young women, dressed in their best clothes, had gathered around the smartly dressed paratroopers. I imagined I was taking in a Hollywood film.

Evenings in Radford had never looked like this before.

I watched in wide-eyed amazement, my stomach turning over with the excitement of it all. What where they all laughing and talking about?

Why were the young women and not so young hugging and kissing the young men?

"Joan...are you out of bed?" Mother's voice called from the bottom of the stairs.

"I'm just looking at the soldiers, Mam. There's loads of them Americans those out of the tents on Wollaton Park.

"They can't all get inside the pub...they're all drinking outside. Are they having a party, Mam?"

"Yes," my mother answered. "I'm just going across with your Auntie Flo and some of the neighbours to have a drink with them. They're all going away soon.

"Big Jim Lacey's opened a special barrel and I don't want to miss it. Won't be long."

The back door closed and I watched as Mother clip-clopped in her best high-heeled shoes, down our cobbled entry.

She hurried along Denison Street and into my own Hollywood movie.

I hope those handsome, young paratroopers enjoyed their party. Hope they drank Jim Lacey's pub dry because for many of them, it was to be their last good time.

Soon they would be slaughtered, as they drifted down beneath their parachutes, over the beautiful Normandy countryside.

Brave men of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, heroically sacrificing their lives for us. The kindly pub landlords, little girls peeping excitedly out of bedroom windows, innocent babies fast asleep in their prams. They protected us all.

Although they were strangers in a foreign land called England, the 508th didn't hesitate.

In the July, on another warm summer's evening, I can recall little groups of women standing huddled together on Independent Street.

I'll never forget how sad they looked. Crying, they let the tears flow unchecked.

When I asked my mother what was wrong, she replied: "It's the Yanks...off Wollaton Park. Loads of them won't be coming back. They've been killed."

She was still crying as she added: "Some mothers' sons... they were all mothers' sons."

Mother used that expression a lot during the war. It was not until I was older that I realised just what she meant.

All those lost sons...all those heartbroken mothers. But when you are 10, everything seems so exciting.

In June 2009, some of the surviving 508th PIR revisited Wollaton Park. I was befriended by their treasurer, Ernie Lamson, and was thrilled to be made an honorary member of their association.

They are returning to Wollaton again this year, on June 27 to be precise, for the official unveiling of their memorial. The ceremony begins at 1pm.

I can't wait to see them all again.

I can still remember looking out of my bedroom window that wide-eyed little girl as if it was yesterday.



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