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Veterans Stories

The Great Blackberry Mystery

The following story was told by a ‘local’ man……

“On Bungay Common, nine miles north of Halesworth, in Suffolk, UK, there grows a different kind of blackberry. It is an American species and I’m told that whilst it can be found in other parts of the country, most of the plants originated from those on the Common. Experts from the National Trust say that it first appeared on the Common in the latter part of World War II. It is thought that perhaps when the American airmen had picnics on the Common they left blackberry seeds there. Well, that is one explanation. However, the story that unfolded during a trip to America is a little more humorous.

“I spent a holiday in Oklahoma, with former World War II pilot, Wilmer Plate. During my visit we were invited to a ranch. Growing on the ranch were acres of blackberries, the very same species that grows on Bungay Common. The rancher’s wife made us a huge blackberry cobbler, which I enjoyed very much.

“On August 18th, 1998, I attended a reunion dinner of the Friends of the 489th American Bomber Group, who flew from Halesworth. It was my luck to sit next to one of the waist gunners, Ed Myles and his navigator Sandy Gaylord. Stories of World War II were coming thick and fast. Little did I know that the mystery of the Bungay blackberry was soon to be solved. The desserts were about to be served and there was a wonderful array of dishes.

‘Just look at that fruit, I haven’t seen anything like that since I was in Oklahoma’, I exclaimed.

‘Ah’, said Sandy, ‘you have to be careful eating too much fruit. I was going on a raid over Germany in 1944 and before I went I ate a jar of wild blackberries. We got up to 25,000 feet when it struck me that it possibly hadn’t been a good idea. I needed a loo fast! Obviously B-24 Liberators weren’t equipped with that kind of amenity. It was suggested by the rest of the crew that I spread some paper down and do what I had to do behind the front wheel. At that height it would freeze in a very few minutes. They then said I should throw it out over the target at ‘bombs away’ ‘.

“Sandy went on to explain that after this mishap things got better. In a very short time he found the target. He said that the flak was so thick ‘you could walk on it’. The pilot, Wilmer, put the B-24 dead in line over the target and it was ‘bombs away’. Wilmer then put the plane into his famous corkscrew manoeuvre and they were soon heading for home.

The parcel behind the front wheel had been forgotten. Crossing the coast at Great Yarmouth Sandy shouted over the intercom, ‘twin churches ahead – Bungay’. Wilmer gave the order to lower the front wheel. This was duly done and the forgotten parcel was released as the wheel was lowered. Sandy said to me that he remembered thinking that someone sure got fertilised in Bungay that day.

“Now, I don’t think they hit Bungay, I think they made a direct hit on Bungay Common. Could this be the mystery solved? If so, we have the crew of the B-24 Liberator ‘Plate’s Date’ to thank for our American blackberries.”


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