Serendipity - the American Chapel at St Mary the Virgin, Little Easton
by Esmerelda Weatherwax (February 2013)
I had a choice earlier this week.
- Stay at home doing housework and trying to write an article for February’s edition of the New English Review. Maybe: Whither the EDL in 2013? Muslim Patrol – Whose streets, Our Streets! Grooming trials – still more arrests…
- As it was neither raining nor snowing and a strange yellow ball glowed in the sky I could join my husband on an outing, following our noses with a pub lunch at the end of it.
I chose option B. of course, and this is one of the things we stumbled across. Knowing how many of our readers have an interest in the USAF service in eastern England I thought it might be of interest.
There is a tiny and quiet village near Dunmow in North Essex called Little Easton. In 1942 it was the site of RAF Dunmow, also called RAF Little Easton and with the arrival of the American 386th Bomb Group (known as the Crusaders) it was anything but quiet.
This is the outside. Having little building stone in Essex, St Mary the Virgin is built of flint and reused pieces of Roman brick
Inside the church the first thing you see are mediaeval wall paintings. It is rare for these to survive at all. These are scenes from Christ's Passion.
To the south is the Maynard chapel with memorials from the 17th to the 2oth century of members of the Maynard family who owned the nearby estate.
To the north is the American chapel dedicated in 1987 to the several hundred US servicemen who lost their lives during the 13 months they were stationed in Essex. Harry Guinther who flew with the 386th as a wireless operator and gunner was project director for the installation of the stained glass windows which were made by American artist Douglas Phillips and his team in Ohio.
The information about the chapel and the windows in the chapel is repeated here at this link and general history of the 386th at this. I will just tell you, as it isn’t clear in the photograph, that the Bible reading is Isaiah 40.31 “But they that worship the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint."
The aeroplanes are B 26 Maurauders with a fighter escort of RAF Spitfires and a USAF Thunderbolt.
Mr Guinter and Mr Phillips seem to have agonised over whether it was right to put modern style glass in such an ancient church. They need not have been daunted; it was the right decision. The wall paintings were modern once. The Victorian glass was modern once. The windows are beautiful and beauty will never be out of place.
The 386th Bomb group was re-activated in 2001 as the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. They are currently stationed in Kuwait and saw service in Iraq.
Photographs E Weatherwax January 2013
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