This article appeared in the Ely Ensign in September 2003 on page 10.
This article was the first of a series of articles about Conington Church and its close relationship with the American fighter pilots based at nearby Glatton aerodrome.
A village church, which was used as a landmark to guide American fighter pilots to safety has become an icon to the veterans who served in Cambridgeshire during the Second World War.
It is many years since American servicemen, returning from a bombing raid on Germany, looked down from their B-17 aircraft on to Conington parish church, near Sawtry, and new that they were close to their airbase – and safety.
The young airmen in the 457th Bomb Group, based at Glatton aerodrome, used the distinctive building with its tower and four spires, to navigate their way back home after their dangerous missions over Germany.
The war veterans return to Cambridgeshire every two years to share their experiences and strengthen the bonds they first forged during this unique period in world history. During their sty they re-visit landmarks such as the church in Conington.
“The four spires atop the Conington church tower, highly visible from the air, were symbolic to those of us who flew from that air base, “ said Will Fluman, President of the 457th Bomb Group Association, “They were not only a reminder of our religious faith in those troubled times but, as a pilot, they were a landmark indicating we were home again after long hours in the air.”
Now nearly sixty years later, some of these old servicemen are getting to old to make the journey. So instead, they have recreated the distinctive beauty of the Cambridgeshire church in their own country to keep its memory alive in their minds. All Saints’ Conington features in a stained glass window in the Chapel of the Fallen Eagles in Savannah, Georgia, which stands in the grounds of the Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum.
“When the Museum decided to build a replica of a small English chapel in their Memorial Gardens, the 457th was eager to sponsor and design one of the stained glass memorial windows,” said Will Fluman, “The design team of three airmen from Glatton and one of our younger members incorporated those symbols which were most important to our Bomb Group. At the base of the window is a clear image of the Conington Church.”
When the 457th left the base in 1945, a monument was erected in the churchyard to honour the airmen who had lost their lives in battle. Below the bust of an airman is a wreath with the group motto “Fait Accompli” in its centre.
The veterans are planning their next reunion in England next summer – the sixtieth anniversary of their days as fighter pilots based at Glatton.
All Saints, Conington, is now redundant church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.