MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
The son of a British service member made a point to stop at Maxwell on June 15 on a tour of the states to see where his father trained during World War II.
Edwin Norton, from Norton Fitzwarren, England, took a nostalgic tour of Maxwell to see some of the places that his father, Edgar John Norton, probably saw when he was at then-Gunter Field as a Royal Air Force flight cadet for flight training during the war.
Norton’s father, in his early 20s at the time, was one of the 7,280 RAF cadets sent to the southeast U.S. for flight training under the Arnold Program, a large-scale flight training program for RAF cadets from June 1941 through February 1943. Norton’s father was one of the 4,200 who completed the three-phase training program and received their aviator’s wings. In addition, one-third of the graduates received a commission as an RAF flying officer.
The headquarters of the Southeast Air Corps Training Center (later Eastern Flying Training Command), located on Maxwell Field, oversaw the massive training of American and Allied flight cadets at more than 100 flight schools throughout the southeast during World War II. These schools included a Phase 2 school at Gunter Field throughout the war and a Phase 3 school at Maxwell Field from November 1940 to May 1942.
“Two years ago, I had a desire to visit friends in Chicago and Nashville, and I saw that Birmingham and Montgomery, where my father had trained during the war, were close to Nashville. As a result, I wanted to add a trip to Montgomery to my visit to the United States this summer,” said Norton.
“I thought that if I could see where dad trained and learned something of what he went through, then I would understand better what his life was like,” he said. “He spoke also of the training methods, which he found difficult on occasions. He did not like being ‘bawled out’ as he thought that was unhelpful.”
After receiving his aviator’s wings from the Phase 3 flight school at Turner Field, Albany, Georgia, the elder Norton returned to Britain. Assigned to the RAF Bomber Command, he flew 40 missions, was eventually promoted to flight lieutenant and received the Distinguished Flying Cross by the end of the war. Fortunately, the elder Norton survived the war as losses among Bomber Command aircrews were high.
“Dad always spoke fondly of America,” said Norton. “He spoke about Coke and egg sandwich breakfasts. You see, in those days food was rationed in the Britain and there was very little choice, so dad was living a good life over here.”
After the war, the elder Norton became a Methodist minister until he passed away in 2009 at the age of 89.