Soon after Vic Jenkins and I started our researches into the 398th Bomb Group in 1971, we began to receive precious photographs from veterans, on loan for copying and subsequent safe return. Vic and I had no experience of this type of photography and thus used professional services to begin with. However, our funds were limited and as more photographs arrived we began to feel quite concerned. Our concerns were heightened by the arrival of the whole of Col Heyward Braddocks collection all as original negatives. We had a few printed by friends, but clearly there were far too many to expect them to continue in this way. So we purchased an enlarger between us, Vic got the necessary chemicals and one memorable evening we locked ourselves into our darkroom, his bathroom, for some 3 hours! We emerged blinking into the harsh light in his hallway, with just 12 spotted prints to show for our labours. Clearly we needed something else.
My Father had just taught a young man to drive who, it turned out, was a talented amateur photographer, living just 25 miles from my home. So I approached him about copying Braddocks collection for us. We agreed a price for the approx 10x8 prints, and this resulted in my making frequent trips to Romford to collect them as each batch was completed. It was so exciting to see the prints at last and many of the HALS photos are these very ones. We worked as a close team Vic and I, so naturally we had two copies made of everything we ever received, including Braddocks of course. Thus with some exceptions, my present collection almost mirrors HALS.
There were once larger aerial photographs of the base, which Vic had a colleague at work enlarge for us both, just four prints and shared, two different ones each, the only time this happened. Their present location is unknown.
I had purchased a Praktica LTL3 SLR camera with an additional Zeiss Jena 35mm wide angle lens which had excellent macro facilities for its day. After paying several people to make copy negatives of our loaned photographs, I decided the time had come to have a go myself. This enabled David at Romford to earn some money making prints, whilst I developed a red, sore, right eye from hours squinting through a camera lens!
They were definitely not professional standard negatives, but they enabled us to build our precious collection with very limited funds.
One day I discussed with Vic the concept of bringing our researches into a more public arena. I felt, and Vic agreed, that we should share our photographs and ever growing knowledge of the 398ths history with a wider audience. This meant getting our precious photographs on to transparencies. I sought advice from a real slide show expert, Steve Gotts from Friends of The Eighth. Thus I found myself with two very expensive rolls of Agfa Dia-Direct, specialist Black & White transparency film. With an A.S.A of 50 it was a very slow, fine grained film. Now I found myself copying the photographs twice, one for Vic and one for me. Out the back yard with two tons of Blu-tak, a steady tripod, cable release and not too much sunshine hopefully.
My red right eye increased exponentially with the numbers of photos copied!
The film came back rolled and uncut, with self-adhesive cardboard mounts. I then taxed my patience to its limit as I sat indoors carefully cutting and mounting two sets of slides for our forthcoming shows. Vics set is in HALS, I still have mine.
One day I would love to put on another slide show at Nuthampstead, in memory of those many nights Vic and I travelled around the dark English countryside, on our way to, or returning from, a venue. The shows took place in Village Halls; we never ever charged of course, the Clavering show benefitted Addenbrookes Hospital at Cambridge for example. It was a nerve racking experience standing in front of a sometimes very large audience. But the resulting stories and unabashed affection felt for those yanks by all present, made it all so worthwhile red, sore, right eye as well. That was the seed corn of the present English Friends of the 398th BG.
So when I look at the HALS photos on the wonderful web-site it brings so many wonderful memories flooding back. But, I never forget the stories behind those photographs, heroism of the highest order, tragedy always waiting in the wings, boys becoming men after just one mission, men working long hours getting the Big Birds ready. They have shared their precious memories and fading photographs with us all, the least we can do is share them with the world at large via the Internet.
Thanks guys I promise you will never be forgotten.
Malcolm Ozzie Osborn
Written by Malcolm "Ozzie" Osborn who along with Victor Jenkins began the Nuthampstead Airfield Research Society, the predecessor organization to the English Friends of The 398th.