My Friend Jack
It was January 1994 when I read in our local Newspaper an article about a Remembrance Service, that had been held in a Church, not too far from where we live in South Wirral,England. It was to remember the 50th Anniversary of the death of a young American Airman, whose P47 Thunderbolt had fell from the sky crashing into a field, killing the young USAAF Airman. It seem's the P47 had been guided to crash into the field narrowly missing a village.
I had been born in November 1941, and have practically no memories of the war, except I vaguely remembered my father in his RAF uniform, and a few of my uncles in their Naval uniforms. Come to think of it, I grew up not knowing much about the war years at all. Think by the time I was going through my school years, everyone was trying to put the war years behind them, and get on with there lives, and looking forward to the future.
Back to January 1994. Having read the story about this young American Airman, and learning of the fact that he had been an only son, of a couple from Gillette, Wisconsin, and that he was actually laid to rest in the American Military Cemetery, at Madingley, Cambridge. His name was 1st Lt. Jay Fredrick Simpson, and had been 27 years old when he died. For some reason, I had a strong desire to learn more about this young man.
First thing I did, was to get the phone number of the chap who had written the article for the newspaper. His name was Doug Darroch, and it was a wonderful conversation I was to have with him. He was so helpful, and said he would give me as much help as he could, to enable me to try and find more information about this young American Airman, and the P47 he was flying.
Doug was a member of a group who had found the remains of Jay's P47 some years before. He had done some reseach already, and had managed to get a copy of the 'Crash Report' of the Jay's fatal crash on 9th January 1944. Parts of Jay's Thunderbolt had been put in a local museum at Perch Rock, New Brighton, which was looked after and run by the members of the group.
I was to learn from Doug, that 1st Lt. Jay Fredrick Simpson, had been a Test Pilot, and had flown that fateful day on a Test Flight from Burtonwood Base. However, amongst items found at the crash site in 1973, was a piece of paper, which was almost beyond reading, but from it, they had made out '20th'. This got Doug wondering if Jay had actually been a Pilot of the 20th Fighter Group, who had for some reason been at Burtonwood in January 1944, and because of the 'pressure' of planes that need to be tested at that time, had been helping out, by Test Piloting.
I was groping in the dark, but having obtained all the books I could from my local libary, about the US 8th AAF, who were based over here during WW2. I was to read about the 20th Fighter Group, who had been based at Kings Cliffe. Being as naive as I was at that time, I wrote to the first person I got an address for who had been a member of that group. I cannot even remember, exactly where I got Jack Ilfrey's address from, but off went a letter to ask Jack if he could check the records of the 20th Fighter Group, to see if a 1st Lt Jay Fredrick Simpson had been a member of that group.
About this time, I also visited the American Military Cemetery at Madingley, and was able to find Jay's grave. It was the site of all those white marble crosses, and the names of so many on the Wall of Remembrance, that I suddenly realised how real WW2 was........Leaving the Cemetery, I decided I wanted to find out as much as I could about these young Americans, who had paid the Ultimate Price for our freedom.
In a very short time, I was to receive a reply from Jack, to say that he had checked for me, and 1st Lt Jay Fredrick Simpson had not been a member of the 20th Fighter Group, but he admired what I was doing, and wished me luck in my mission to find out about Jay, and if he could be of any further help, just to let him know.
As the next few months passed, I spent every spare moment pursuing the task I had set myself. When I was not writing letters here there and everywhere, I had my head in books learning about both the Fighter Groups, and Bomber Groups of the 'Mighty Eighth'. While reading one particular book, I was amazed to discover an article about 'Jack Ilfrey'. This very kind gentleman I had contacted a few months previous, was in fact a 'Ace Pilot' himself, having flown both P38's and P51's during the war years. In fact the article mentioned a book Jack had written called 'Happy Jack's Go Buggy'.
Off across the 'Big Pond' went another letter, this time asking Jack please could I have his Autograph. In the mean time I searched the Aviation bookshops for a copy of Jack's book. I was so disappointed to learn that it had been out of print for years, and there was no copy to be found. So I approached my local libary to see if they could find a copy for me to read. As luck would have it, while waiting to hear from the libary, I got a call to say one of the bookshops in the South of England, had found a copy for me.
When my book arrived, I was delighted to discover that it had been Autographed inside by Jack (obviously many years before). 'Happy Jack's Go Buggy', was one of the most enlightening books I have read. Jack had recorded events that had happened to him all during the war, and his description of things made me feel I was there, flying with him in the cockpit of his P38 flew the Bolero Mission, out enjoying the nightlife in the wonderful cities he found himself in. Cheering him on, when on landing his plane in Nuteral Portugal, and escaping from right under the noses of the Portuguese, almost causing an International Incident. I think by the time I reached the end of this book, I fell in love with the brave and loveable character of such a wonderful down to earth guy.
My rely from Jack arrived, it was a large brown envelope, containing not only Autographed photo's, but some copies of the 20th Fighter Group News Magazines 'Kings Cliffe Remembered', of which Jack is the Editor. With the promise that if I wanted, he would send me all the back dated issues of the magazine, from when it was first published in February 1983. Of course Jack kept his promise, and each quarter he sends me the latest copy to add to my collection. And so was the beginning of such a lovely friendship, with such a down to earth guy, who has packed so much into his life, and at 78 yrs of age, he is still so full of humour, and generosity to all who have the pleasure to know him.
My search for information about 1st Lt Jay Fredrick Simpson, enabled me to make so many dear and wonderful friends from all over America who are Veterans of WW2. After months of letter writing, and phone calls to the States, I not only found all I wanted to know about Jay, but I have contact with his cousin Rose Nell Godfrey from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Rose Nell was delighted that I had taken an interest in Jay, she has sent me photo's of Jay as a young 9yr old, as a teenager, and snaps of him in his uniform when he graduated Flight School, and has told me all about his younger years living in Gillette, with him Mom and Dad, who ran a Tavern there. Like so many young men and women, Jay had Graduated Flight School in May 1943, in November of that year, he arrived here in England. Two months later he had died while serving his Country in a strange land,and is buried so very far from his family and home town.
Not only have I found friends of Jay's who were based at Burtonwood Air Base, but a friend from 'Flight School', and a another friend who grew up in Gillette, Wisc. with Jay. So you see, all my letter writing paid off, and gave me great satisfaction, to have achieved not only what I set out to do, but to have given me such wonderful new friends, like Jack Ilfrey, George Gosney (Moundsville, WV),the late George Montgomery(Masaryktown,Fl), Delbert Harris(Wildersville,Oregan)., Henri Piters (of the Netherlands),Tom Corrigan (Colorado Springs, Colorado). Chester Hallberg(South Carolina) Donald & Vera St. Jaques (La Crosse, Wisc). Doug Darroch (UK) Mike Carroll,(UK). Eric Johnson (Altamonte Springs, FL).Rose Nell Godfrey,(Whitefish Bay, Wisc.).
Thank You 1st Lt. Jay Fredrick Simpson for fetching all these wonderful people into my life.
Yvonne Barnett (South Wirral, UK).
A testimonial from Gen. Ira Eaker.
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