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Brave American Airmen. Tony Keeps Their Memory Alive

Travel and history are favorite interests of Liz and her husband. In her writing she often likes to delve into the history behind the sites.

The memorial to the 'Mi Amigo' air crew.

The memorial to the 'Mi Amigo' air crew.

Picture The Scene

Young boys are scuffling on the grass in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, northern England. It is 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 is 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.

The Facts

Earlier that day, 'Mi Amigo', a B-17 bomber with 10 crew members on board, had been part of a U.S. bomber group that had taken off 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. German enemy fighters set upon the formation of American bombers. 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, apart from February 2021, when it was canceled due to COVID-19.

The memorial to the 'Mi Amigo' crew.

The memorial to the 'Mi Amigo' crew.

Tony's Story

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 for 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.

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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. High-ranking members of the RAF and US Air Force offered to 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 2019 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.

Flypast

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.

Looking down on the memorial with the plants tended by Tony.

Looking down on the memorial with the plants tended by Tony.

Meeting Tony

We visited Endcliffe Park a few months after the flypast. 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 a 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.