From a Veterans Perspective
THEY ALSO SERVED WHO SAT AND TYPED TO KEEP PLANES FLYING OVER GERMANY - By Ernest F. Imhoff, Resident
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton (1608-1674) Frank Hudson Simmonds Jr. was a young typist in the Eighth Air Force in England in World War II when he saw and heard amazing things. He didn’t fly the war planes himself, but they also serve who sit and type. Simonds served his country fulltime by creating equipment manifests almost very day for two years to help send damaged planes up in the air again.
Simmonds saw four-engine B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24s, P-38 and P-51 fighters by the hundreds flying out and back on their missions across the English Channel to fight Germany. He witnessed many of them crash land, some totally destroyed. He heard Hitler’s buzz bombs screaming overhead and crash into England. He saw C-47 planes towing gliders full of paratroopers bound for Holland. He heard German planes flying overhead to strafe nearby towns such as Bury St. Edmunds where he had arrived in 1943 by troop train from Scotland.
“I was not a fighter” but very busy, says Simmonds today. “We had definite jobs, worked very long days, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and often beyond, whatever it took to help the planes keep flying.”
Simmonds, an Army Air Force soldier, experienced these things from Honington Air Force Base in England but he couldn’t tell his mother, Ella May, father, Frank and sister, Betty because of wartime censorship.He did write many routine letters (“I knew what I shouldn’t write”, he says) which reached his parents, and he has them all today.
But at the end of the European war on May 16, 1945 when restrictions were lifted with Germany’s defeat, Simmonds finally told his family in one letter what it was really like to be a soldier going to war on a big shipand then serving in a war zone in Europe.
Seven decades later, Simmonds is 90, has a twinkle in his eye and a full head of white hair. For the first time, in October 2013, he revealed the illuminating letter to someone outside his family, a fellow resident at the Springwell Senior Living Community in Baltimore, MD. The still active veteran is informally considered the mayor of the retirement home. He tends two gardens and cultivates bonsai trees and plants.
His old eight-page single spaced letter is a valuable low-level document of wartime, recording his human impressions and life with the Air Force after he began service. Simmonds was a fine observer and reporter.
His letter covers two periods of service. First was his week going to Great Britain on a crowded troop ship, the RMS Aquitania, a 45,000-ton, 868-foot long converted Cunard liner. He had 8,000 shipmates. The second is his observations of the incredible excitement swirling around him of men flying in war after he arrived ashore in Great Britain and served in East Anglia, England.
Baltimore-born Simmonds joined the U.S. Army on his 21st birthday on Feb. 3, 1943. He wanted the Navy but his weak eyes kept him out (“Sorry, son”) while the Air Force “had urgent need” of typists (Simmonds could hit 99 words a minute and knew shorthand). He did his basic training at St. Petersburg, FL, and learned air force supply at a women’s college at Chillicothe, MO.
After a stop at Camp Kilmer, N.J. Simmonds took a New York ferry with fellow soldiers, “dragging our bag behind us” to “form a line to a massive steamer”. His load was heavy. “This is one of the roughest things there is—to have to carry everything you own on your back. I certainly had a great desire to drop my rifle over the side of the boat.”
Young Simmonds put things in perspective. “Heading straight for New York skyline was a thrill, but it’ll be a much bigger one when I see it again.” When Simmonds arrived at Honington air base depot, he began two years of intensive work against the backdrop of planes landing or crashing. The base served 14 other air fields from 10 to 40 miles away. Simmonds and one other typist, his friend, Joe, wrote all the manifests of supplies for the planes. Six days a week, all day, sometimes into the night and sometimes seven days, they supplied truck drivers a record of every new or repaired part loaded on their trucks to take to waiting B-17s, B-24s, P-38s, P-51s and C-47s in the 14 fields.
The trucks returned later with parts from newly damaged planes that had just landed. Simmonds used his shorthand for other duties. “We were like a massive department store,” Simmonds says today. He kept track of “hardware and clothing for the airmen” on their never-ending tough schedules to keep flying.
YOU MAY READ THE COMPLETE STORY OF FRANK’S PASSAGE TO EUROPE ON THE AQUITANIA AND HIS HARD WORK IN THE EIGHTH AIR FORCE IN ENGLAND FROM 1943 TO 1945 IN A BINDER ON THE TABLE IN THE LIBRARY OF SPRINGWELL SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITY.
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