A Tribute From Clive Stevens
Today the historical aviation movement in the UK had the sad duty of laying to rest one its most devoted and loyal supporters, after a lifetimes commitment to the cause.
Growing up as a schoolboy in the heart of rural Suffolk during the war years, Cliff Bishop was one of six children and along with his younger brother Stan, they were raised in the locality in and around where I now live today. Cliff's father worked on a number of different farms in the region and as a result, the family lived in tied farm cottages that came with the job. During 1943/1944 they lived in the middle of three USAAF heavy bomber bases at Mendlesham, Horham and Eye and by 1945 they had moved to Monewden, close to the USAAF base at Debach. The incredible sight and sound of the American daylight bombing campaign unfolding from the local countryside was to have a significant and profound effect on the Bishop boys.
Cliff would often recall in the spring of 1945 when catching the school bus in the morning, the bus often being very late arriving at school. This would be caused by aircraft of the 493rd Bomb Group based at Debach. If the mission take-off timing coincided around the same time that the school bus was heading along the Ipswich Road, the traffic would be halted by Military Police whilst the entire Groups aircraft would take-off, fully laden with maximum bomb and fuel loads. The mighty bombers would require every inch of the main runway to get airborne and the aircraft would literally lumber into the air, skimming the main road that ran across the Northern end of the airfield. Cliff and Stan would watch from the window of the school bus with delight as bomber after bomber took to the East Anglian skies one after the other. Being just 12 years old, Cliff had little idea of the incredible dangers that each take-off entailed - To the school children is was just 'excitement' with the added bonus of missing the start of school! But further demonstrating the toll the Second World War would ultimately take upon the average British family, when the guns finally fell silent, Cliff and Stan would never see they're eldest brother again. He had lost his life in 1942 whilst serving his country in the British Army's Royal Artillery, engaged in the bitter fighting in Singapore against the Japanese. His name is inscribed on the village War Memorial in Monewden Church today.
Prior to moving to Monewden the family lived in Occold near Eye and everyday, Stan & Cliff would cycle to school in Eye and back home again in the afternoon, in all weather conditions. This was the only means of transport and at weekends, they would cycle the length and breadth of the county in persuit of aircraft spotting and visiting the many American and RAF bases in the region, including RAF Woodbridge, RAF Wattisham, Bury St Edmunds and Thorpe Abbotts - All on bicycle! An aircraft crash in the locality was seen as an opportunity of great excitement, and no sooner had the pall of smoke risen into the sky on the horizon, they would take-off on they're bicycles to investigate the scene. The carnage and devastation witness upon arrival at some of these crash sites giving ample testimony to the very different world of health & safety that we live in today.
With Cliff passion for aircraft is was no surprise that after the war he went into the RAF and also chose to work in and around aviation in his post-military career. Whilst in the RAF, he racked-up over 100 hours flying-time in B-29 Superfortress's (The RAF called it the Washington) and these were the mighty four engines bombers that dropped the Atom Bomb on Japan that ended WWII. In later years, Cliff would subsequently become one of the foremost historians on USAAF Operations from the UK, writing outstanding books and articles on the subject. In 1982 (34 years ago), Cliff founded 'East Anglia Books,' where he specialised in the sale and promotion of hundreds of titles on the subject, whilst also dedicating hours of voluntary time to assisting in the set-up of a new aviation museum in Cambridgeshire at an almost unheard of WWII Aerodrome called Duxford. Cliff went to Europe where he assisted in dismantling and shipping various aircraft back to the UK for exhibit at this new museum. Today the Imperial War Museum at Duxford sits beside the M11 Motorway and is one of the very best aviation museums in the entire world. Back then, there was no Motorway and the fledgling museum started from very humble beginnings, but Cliff was one of the instrumental movers and shakers in getting it off the ground. In addition, he also volunteered his services to a new organisation based at Duxford called 'B-17 Preservation.' They were trying to get a WWII American B-17 Bomber into show condition and Cliff's specialist knowledge was put to good use. The well-known Duxford based 'Sally B' is now the only operational and airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress outside the USA and still continues to fly to this day.
For many many years, Cliff could always be found at Airshows and WWII Airfield events across the region with his 'East Anglia Books' trade stand and always extended a warm welcome to anyone interest in the subject, regardless of whether they were looking to purchase anything or not; their company was what Cliff genuinely treasured. Cliff's daughter told me today that she still firmly intends to keep the family Business going, albeit from another premises.
I only knew Cliff in the last two decades of his life, by which time, his full time career had ended and he was heavily embroiled in his aviation book business and publishing various related titles and enjoying semi-retirement. I have many lasting memories of Cliff that standout varying from spending time with him visiting the battlefields of Normandy to seeing his look of total dismay when he dropped the toilet seat a little too heavily in Steeple Morden village hall, totally smashing the ceramic bowl underneath and cascading water all across the floor! But it was on a pilgrimage back to Occold and Eye in Suffolk around 2003 along with brother Stan and aboard my 1943 4x4 US Dodge Command Car that I remember like it was yesterday.....
....We visited the farm cottages where they all lived as children in the war and also visited the many aircraft crash sites in the locality that the boys discovered. As we were driving along the B1113 between Occold and Eye, the road starts to climb to its highest point, just before it starts to descend into Eye town. From the back seat Cliff tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Can you pull over just at the top here, where we can look across the valley?" It's a fast stretch of road, but the big Dodge had no trouble mounting the verge and climbing the bank, well off of the road and into the stubble field. In a scene reminiscent of George C Scott's portrail of General Patton in the Academy Award winning film of the same name, Cliff stood up in the back of the General's open-top Command Car, turned to his brother Stan and surveyed the landscape with a look of contemplation and said "Do you remember the view from this exact spot Stan?" It transpired that this was the route that the boys cycled to school every morning and it was from atop of this hill overlooking the town of Eye just before school time, that the brothers regularly remembered the vast formations of Fighter aircraft screaming over the tops of their heads at low level and heading off to rendezvous with the Bombers Formation before they crossed the enemy coast. Ever since that day and every time I drive over that hilltop, I can also envisage the formations of Lightning's, Mustang's and Thunderbolt's in my minds eye, skimming the tree-tops and Church Tower and heading off to war; just the same as Cliff had so vividly described to me all those years ago.
Cliff was one of England's true gentlemen, an ambassador of the cause in every respect and an extremely well liked and respected historian. His funeral today at Harlow, Essex was, dare I say it, probably the most lovely funeral service I've ever attended, if indeed such a thing can be had. The words spoken by close friends and officials were heartfelt and entirely fitting and Glenn Miller's 'Moonlight Serenade' resounded throughout the building which afforded everyone the opportunity to pause and consider their own memories of Cliff Bishop. It was standing room only, such was the turn out to pay a final respect to a man who had touched so many people over the years.
Stan Bishop (left) & Cliff bishop (Right) in a field near Crettingham, Suffolk, which they had visited in March 1945 as the crash-site of a B-17 from the 34th Bomb Group based at Mendlesham involved in a mid-air collision.
A Tribute By Paul Andrews
I do not think we have ever met, but I first met your dad in the summer of 1977. I was in England doing research for my masters in history and met up with a number of interesting individuals interested in the Mighty Eighth, with your dad at the top of the list.
25 years ago my dad, then 76, passed away suddenly. Spoke with him on a Sunday evening and learned Wednesday morning around 5 in the morning that he had passed away in the middle of the night. My graduate advisor wrote to me about my feeling of loss and what I had missed doing with dad and that there was no longer any chance to say things I would have wanted to say. His words carried a great deal of weight then, and I have made them part of my mindset in facing each day.
“Life is fragile and some events make life all the more fragile.”
I vividly recall your dad during that summer of ’77 in England taking me to Thorpe Abbots to walk around the abandoned airfield. His knowledge of that base and the general layout and function of USAAF bases during the war was highly instructive. Walking around Thorpe Abbotts was almost like the civilianized Harvey Stoval going back to the 918th Bomb Group airfield in the beginning of 12 O’Clock High!
The weather was warm and the sky nearly free of clouds.
Before taking me back to the train station for my return to Bromley South (where I was staying with my friends grandparents), we stopped at Nuthampstead. We parked outside one of the old entrances and walked around a bit. When the sun set, a shiver went up my spin. Maybe it was the affect of the sun setting . . . maybe not. I suggested we ought to go so I do not miss the train. During the drive back I mentioned to your dad that I sensed that there were spirits at the base. Your dad said he had the same feelings and even though we did not talk any more about that experience, I still would what happened at Nuthampstead during that one twilight summer evening.
Your dad led a remarkable life in many ways. His passion for the Mighty Eighth and his contributions with his books and supporting as well as encouraging others, like myself to share information will be remembered affectionately by many. As I wrote about Roger Freeman’s passing, your dad has gone to the other side of the clouds, and is missed and remembered by those who have had the fortune to know him well or even share just a few moments with him.
Paul M. Andrews
East Anglia Books was formed by Cliff Bishop and has now been trading for over 30 years. As a boy Cliff enjoyed watching the 8th Air Force operations around his home in Suffolk and from this, stemmed a lifelong interest in aviation history.
During those years in WWII, he was surrounded by airfields occupied by the 8th Air Force and used to spend his days watching formations of B-17’s and B-24’s heading off to war, some sadly, never to return. Later while serving in the RAF, he worked on the Washington, the RAF’s name for the B-29 Superfortress. Following his RAF service he went on to train as a Design Engineer and spent many years in the Civil Aviation industry working on many different types of aircraft.
"Last Of The Summer Wine"
left to right, Malcolm "Ozzie" Osborn, Stan Bishop, Cliff Bishop, Brian Collins and Bernard Thorpe.
Cliff has spent many years researching the history of the 8th Air Force, involving trips overseas to Museums and Record Centres: His books “Fortresses of the Big Triangle First” and “Fortresses Over Nuthampstead” have proved very successful and he has also published many books on behalf of other Authors.
Cliff helping rename "Sally B" to "Memphis Belle"
In 2014, he visited Normandy for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and then to Krakow, Poland where he visited Auschwitz and in September, a memorable trip with his daughter Marilyn to Arnhem for the 70th Anniversary commemorations.
East Anglia Books has now grown to include an extensive stock of aviation and military related titles covering all aspects from WW1 to the present, in particular one of the largest stocks of USAAF Unit Histories, plus a wide range of second-hand titles, many now out-of-print and difficult to obtain. Some of our customers have been with us for over thirty years and have become firm friends. We strive to provide a friendly and knowledgeable service and hope to continue trading for many years to come.
Marilyn Bishop under arrest outside The Greyhound at Tibenham,
the airfield being the former home of the 445th Bombardment Group, now the home of a Glider club.