Henry Farwell, who served with the USAAF 386th Bomb Group whilst at Boxted Airfield, passed away on September 3, 2013. He was a long-term supporter of the Boxted Airfield Historical Group and its efforts to establish a museum dedicated to all who served at the airfield. Despite his age, Henry attended as many of the various group events and meetings as possible, including fly-ins. We were privileged to have him open our museum to the public on May 29, 2011. As such, our group is especially saddened by his loss.
Henry was born in Illinois in 1922, but spent most of his early life in Wisconsin. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in May of 1942 and after basic training was selected to be an aircraft Radio Operator and Gunner. In the Summer of 1942 he was sent to Radio and Gunnery Schools, and then in November 1942 he was sent to an Operational Training Unit at McDill Army Air Force Base, near Tampa, Florida. In December 1942, the 386th Bombardment Group (Medium) was activated at McDill comprised of the 552, 553, 554, and 555 squadrons, and Henry was consequently selected and assigned to the 554th Squadron. It was here that the air crews were formed and Henry received the nickname "Fireball" on account of his surname as well as a satirical reference to his placid good nature.
On February 7, 1943, the group moved to Lake Charles AFB, Louisiana for their 2nd and 3rd phases of operational training. In April, the air echelon left by train to pick up brand new B-26B and B-26C aircraft from Selfridge Field, Illinois. Henry's crew named their aircraft "Litljo" after the last two digits of the aircraft's serial number 131622, as "Litljo" was the slang term for a score of 2-2 in the dice game "craps". George Cheadle (Engineer Gunner) did the artwork on the nose of the aircraft's fuselage.
On May 8, 1943, the ground echelon, including Henry and other gunners, left by train for Camp Kilmer near New York City, and later that month they boarded the Queen Elizabeth for the journey to the UK. However, conditions aboard were not luxurious, with extremely cramped conditions and long queues for the 3 meals served each day. Men slept alternate nights on bunks or the floor, and with the ship making sharp evasive turns every 20 minutes to throw off possible submarine attacks, the journey was made even more uncomfortable ! The Queen Elizabeth eventually arrived in Gourock, near Glasgow, and the men of the 386th boarded trains to take them to their first base in England. On June 2, 1943, they arrived at Snetterton, only to move shortly after to Boxted on June 10. The group's remaining aircraft and crew arrived at Boxted after flying across the North Atlantic via Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland.
Henry flew his first combat mission from Boxted on July 31, 1943, and flew a total of 68 missions. He had vivid recollections of the 386th's participation on D-Day and of the thousands of ships in the English Channel that they flew over.
Henry usually operated the waist guns in the rear of the Marauder, but later flew 16 missions as a "togglier" in the bombardier's compartment in the nose of the aircraft. The togglier was responsible for opening the bomb bay doors, arming the bombs, and releasing the bombs when the lead aircraft in the formation dropped theirs. The bomb bays were hydraulically opened by pushing a selector handle forward and the bombs were electrically released by operating a red "toggle" switch on the left hand side of the compartment. After the bombs were released, Henry said he always twisted and pushed the lever of the selector handle fully forward to salvo any bombs that may not have released.
After every mission, each crew member would be given a "Mars bar" and a shot of whiskey. As Henry preferred the Mars bars and "Mac" (E.J. McDonnell - Armorer/Tail Gunner) preferred the whiskey, they would do a swap !
On June 15, 1944, the 386th were to attack an ammunition dump at La Roque, St. Lo, France. It was Henry's 67th mission and, in addition to the crew, the pilot's small black dog named "Mabel" was also aboard Litljo. Henry remembered that the dog was shaking and so he wrapped it with a blanket to make it more comfortable. Flak over the target was heavy and after releasing the bombs, there was a burst of ﬂak just below and to the left of the cockpit. The explosion shook the airplane and smoke was seen coming from the right engine. The pilot notified the crew of the damage, and ordered the top turret and tail gunners to come forward to assist. The pilot had a piece of ﬂak sticking out of his left wrist but he was still ﬂying the plane, and Henry had sustained head and lower body injuries. Once the pilot and co-pilot had got the aircraft back under control, the co-pilot was able to slide his seat backwards to allow Henry, covered with blood, to crawl out of the bombardier's compartment and to receive first aid back in the radio room.
The pilot had shut down the right engine and had feathered the propeller, and the crew headed towards an emergency landing strip at Friston on the south coast of England. It became apparent that the hydraulic system in the nose wheel well had been damaged and hydraulic fluid fumes were escaping into the cockpit and irritating the crew's eyes. Mabel the dog was barking and jumping all over the radio compartment. On approach for landing, the nose wheel would not lock in the down position, so the pilot brought the Marauder in and held the nose high for as long as possible. When the nose wheel touched the runway, it collapsed amid a lot of dust, noise and sparks.
The plane wound up on its nose but everyone got out, including the dog, who promptly ran away was never seen again ! The pilot and Henry were taken to a military hospital at Oxford in a small single engine stretcher plane. The waist gunner was knocked unconscious during the landing but everyone else got out without injury. “Litljo” had flown over one hundred missions, and the damage was repaired flew again until it was destroyed in another crash landing at Charleroi on September 23, 1944.
After leaving hospital, Henry flew one more mission before returning to the US where he served as a gunnery instructor on B-24 Liberators at Langley AFB, Virginia. It was here that Henry became a member of the "caterpillar club" after having to bail out of an aircraft.
He left the US Air Corps in the fall of 1945 and found work in the construction industry. However, after falling from a roof and breaking a leg, he re-enlisted in the Air Corps in the Spring of 1946. He went on to perform Air Traffic Control duties at various locations in the US and around the world including Upper Heyford, Uxbridge, and Vietnam. He met Lottie at Upper Heyford in 1952, and they were married after a courtship of only 4 months. They celebrated their 60th Anniversary last year. Henry retired from the US Air Force after 30 years of service.
The crew of Litljo
(back row, left to right):
T/Sgt. Henry M. Farwell (Radio Operator/Gunner), Lt. John P. Dennison (Bombardier/Navigator), Lt. Gerard T. Soper (Co-Pilot), Lt. Asa N. Hillis (Pilot), S/Sgt. E.J. McDonnell (Armorer/Gunner). Note: The original crew Co-Pilot was Lt. C.W. Olson.
(front row, left to right):
Unknown, Unknown (Sgt), Unknown (Sgt), S/Sgt. George W. Cheadle (Engineer/Gunner).
The unknown persons are likely to be ground crew, possibly: T/Sgt. Edward E. Glandon, T/Sgt. Ursle Blair (Crew Chief), M/Sgt. Leo L. Duda,
Litljo after 105 missions
Note: the 3 duck symbols represent decoy missions.
Litljo in flight