Brave American Airmen. Tony Keeps Their Memory Alive
Picture The Scene
Young boys are scuffling on the grass in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, northern England. It's 22nd February 1944. A plane circles overhead. The noise of the engines increases as the plane gets lower. The boys can see the crew waving at them. They wave back. Something is wrong. Black smoke is belching from the plane. The engines are making a sputtering sound. The boys run, as the crew wave frantically for them to get out of the way. The pilot maneuvers the plane to avoid the boys. The plane is struggling to gain height. There's a big explosion as it crashes into trees at the base of a hill on the other side of the park. All 10 crew members are dead.
Earlier that day, 'Mi Amigo', a B-17 bomber with 10 crew members on board, had been part of a U.S. bomber group from Chelveston Airfield, Northamptonshire. Their mission was to carry out a daylight raid on a Luftwaffe military airbase at Aalborg in occupied Denmark.
The military airbase at Aalborg was shrouded in fog and they were unable to locate it. The formation of American bombers was set upon by German enemy fighters. Three B-17s were shot down and the remainder fled back across the North Sea, jettisoning their bombs en route.
'Mi Amigo' had been badly damaged. The plane emerged from the clouds over the city of Sheffield. The engines were failing. when the pilot spotted the green of Endcliffe Park and descended to attempt a landing. The ten crew members who died that day were:
- First Lieutenant John Kriegshauser (pilot)
- Second Lieutenant Lyle Curtis (co-pilot)
- Second Lieutenant John Humphrey (navigator)
- Staff Sergeant Harry Estabrooks (flight engineer/top turret gunner)
- Second Lieutenant Melchor Hernandez (bombardier)
- Staff Sergeant Robert Mayfield (radio operator)
- Sergeant Charles Tuttle (ball turret gunner)
- Sergeant Vito Ambrosio (waist gunner)
- Sergeant George Williams (waist gunner)
- Sergeant Maurice Robbins (tail gunner)
'Mi Amigo's' Last Flight
The Years Roll On
Three of the crew members, Harry Estabrooks, Charles Tuttle, and Maurice Robbins were laid to rest at the American Cemetery, Cambridge UK. The remains of the others were returned home after the war.
In 1969 a memorial stone was placed at the crash site and 10 oak trees were planted in memory of the 10 American airmen. There has been a memorial service and an annual commemoration since.
Tony Foulds was one of the boys who had gathered at Endcliffe Park on Tuesday 22nd February 1944. He was 8 years old. He never forgot the events he had witnessed that day. The memory of the American airmen who lost their lives remained with him.
Tony felt in some way guilty about their deaths and he made it his mission in life to tend the crash site in memory of the dead airmen. He planted flowers there, which he tended and he diligently swept the leaves away and kept the site in good order.
Tony's devotion continues to this day. Several times a week he makes the journey on three buses from his home to tend the memorial site.
A Chance Meeting
BBC Breakfast presenter, Dan Walker sometimes walks his dog in Endcliffe Park. One day he took a slightly different route and came across a man sweeping leaves up by a memorial. Offering to help, Dan got into a conversation with Tony, who told him the story of the crash and his devotion to maintaining the site in memory of the dead airmen.
Tony told Dan how he wanted the council to tarmac the path and that he would dearly love a flypast to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash. Saying "Leave it with me", Dan left, wondering how he could help Tony achieve his dream.
Dreams Start to Come True
Dan was true to his word. After leaving Tony, he quickly verified the story and then contacted the US Embassy and RAF Lakenheath (hosting base for United States Air Force units and personnel). He also asked his Twitter followers for help. The feedback he received was very positive, with high ranking members of the RAF and US Air Force offering help. The story took off globally.
Several days later, a group of people turned up to paint the fences around the memorial. The local council arranged for a contractor to tarmac the path and steps to the memorial. A local school crowdfunded a flagpole. A flypast was even being talked about in the House of Commons.
Everything was coming together. Dan invited Tony to come into the BBC Breakfast studio on 22nd January to meet Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK. Emotions ran high as a live link to RAF Lakenheath confirmed that Tony would get the 75th anniversary flypast he so much wanted.
Despite the concern that weather conditions might cause problems for the flypast, all was well on 22nd February. Thousands of people gathered with Tony at Endcliffe Park to witness the historic occasion of US Air Force and RAF planes flying over in honor of the 10 men who lost their lives when 'Mi Amigo' crashed 75 years before.
One person was absent on the day. Dan Walker was in Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of charity.
The remarkable story of Tony's devotion to the memory of the airmen of 'Mi Amigo' culminates with the flypast to mark the 75th anniversary of the plane crash.
We recently visited Endcliffe Park. Staying in the area and having heard the story, we were interested to see the memorial. Parking on the road opposite the park, we were very aware of the cluster of pre-war housing nearby and how much worse the tragedy could have been. We could see the grassy area, a cafe and wooded hill behind it, but there were no signs to point us towards the memorial. Spotting the top of a flagpole through the trees, we headed towards it, crossing a stream with stepping stones.
Ahead of us, we saw a flagpole with an information board below it and some wreaths. To the side, there were steps up to a fenced area, which surrounded the memorial. There were plants, flowers, and wreaths around it. People were gathered below the memorial. Some had American accents. Photographs were being taken and a man introduced himself to us as the Chairman of Sheffield Rotarians. They were apparently hosting a group of US Rotarians.
After a while, we noticed that they were crowding around a man, who was wearing a cap with 'Mi Amigo' on it. There were shouts of 'Tony, look this way' and 'Tony, over here'. Somebody appeared with a pendant, which was presented to Tony to mark the occasion. He was invited to join them for a meal in the evening and then they were gone, off to the next location on their trip.
The three of us were left. Tony still proudly clutching his pendant. We struck up a conversation and ended up joining him for a cup of tea in the nearby cafe.
A Fascinating Conversation
Tony was very pleased with his newly acquired pendant. He showed us a new memorial bench which he had received the previous day. It seemed that a visit to America was being lined up for him by the Rotarians. He told us of his busy calendar. He would be seeing the American Ambassador, going to the American cemetery near Cambridge, visiting Bomber Command in Lincolnshire, collecting plaques made for him and Dan Walker by prisoners in Leicester prison and he had been invited to speak at a school in Portsmouth.
Going into schools and speaking to 8-year-olds about his experience is especially close to Tony's heart. He was 8 years old himself when he witnessed the crash of 'Mi Amigo'.
Tony spoke of his regret that there was no memorial to the US airmen until 1969. Recent events have made up for this omission.
When we expressed surprise that the US flag is not on the flagpole. Tony explained that this would require a bugler morning and night to raise and lower the flag. A special 'Mi Amigo' flag has been made instead.
I said that I had been concerned about weather conditions affecting the flypast. Tony's response was "I knew it would be alright. They (the crew of Mi Amigo) told me." Twice a year he sleeps in the park. It's very dark and he hears the wonderful noises of the animals in the park.
Tony spoke highly of Dan Walker the BBC Breakfast presenter who did so much to break his story and help him achieve his dream.
Much has changed for Tony Foulds. He now has the status of a local celebrity. He has been given a Sheffield Legend Award and a plaque on Sheffield Town Hall Walk of Fame. In April he was awarded the True Englishman Award 2019 by the St. George's Day Club.
Please, Mr. President
There is just one more wish that Tony has to fulfill. He would love to shake hands with President Trump. To his mind, shaking hands with "the most powerful man in the world" would be amazing.
He regretted not remembering to ask the US Rotarians about his chances of meeting the President. We reminded him that he could always ask when he met them for a meal later. We also suggested he mention it to the US Ambassador when he next sees him.
Do you think that President Trump should shake Tony's hand?
- WWII - Mi Amigo the flying fortress that crashed in Sheffield (UK) - BBC News - 4th January 2019 - Y
The story of Tony's devotion to the 'Mi Amigo' memorial and his wish for a flypast first made BBC Breakfast news early in 2019.
- Tony Foulds gets his Flypast 22nd Jan 2019 - YouTube
How Tony found out live on BBC Breakfast, 22nd January 2019, that the flypast was going to happen.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Liz Westwood