Robert Rice was one of the engineers with the 834th Aviation Engineering Battalion. Robert, sent me the following text back in 2002 by email. Without stories being recorded like these, so much history is lost. It was good to have been able to record Roberts part in Matchings history.
The 834th Engineering Aviation Battalion was my outfit, and we built Matching Green Air Drome right from scratch. It was a long time ago, I am 81 years old now and I think about those years more and more. At the time the army, which usually is a SNAFU outfit, got it sort of right with me since I had worked beforehand with my Father on steel tanks in the oil fields in Pennsylvania where I grew up , with this background of civil engineering, I was well placed.
The concrete batching plant at Matching
The 834th Engineer Aviation Battalion. was activated in May of 1942 at Westover Field in Mass USA. After training we embarked on the USS West Point [it had been the luxury liner, America] along with 8000 other troops and we landed in Liverpool and then proceeded to Matching Green by train.
We started out using British equipment and eating British rations until our equipment and food supplies arrived. We worked on Matching Green for around 18 months. while at Matching we all had different haunts that we favored. all the guys went to a different town, we ran trucks to so many place's for the guys on a pass. My place was Chelmsford where they had dances at the Corn Exchange and a very nice Red Cross club where I experienced my first air raid. We could not get to a shelter and so we sat the the stairway in the club. It scared the living daylights out of me and reinforced my admiration for the British people.
The batching plant looking towards what is now Anchor Lane, The blister Hangar was used to store bagged Cement and is in use today as a a warehouse
There were both good times and bad during the period we built the drome, we worked a standard 12 hour day regardless of the weather conditions, it seemed like mostly rain, and for a long time we had very little time to ourselves since we also worked seven days a week. The good times were with the many friends and families who invited us into their homes.
Laying French drains alongside the perimeter track, this track is now Anchor Lane.
We were told never to arrive empty handed and to go to the mess and get canned goods, etc. to contribute. I especially remember two maiden ladies who lived close to the manor house of the farm we were building on. We would go in their home and sit in the kitchen which had ships timbers holding up a low ceiling, drink tea and eat scones, all the time in our rough dirty fatigues and the ladies, who were sisters I think, just radiated warmth and made us feel so at home".
Constructing the perimeter track, Brickles Wood in the background was the location of the Bomb Storage area.
Sergeant Andrew Hertz compiled the following information to build Matching Airdrome,
and thanks to him wherever he is, for recording such vital statistics.
1,524,205 man hours were expended.
120,000 cubic yds of concrete, enough for a 2 lane highway 45 miles long.
350 buildings, both Nissen huts and brick construction were erected.
1,285,000 bricks were laid .
600,000 cubic yards of earth were evacuated.
94 acres of woods were cleared.
6 miles of 4'' and 6'' inch water mains
12 miles of French drains were placed.
A sewage system, large enough to care for a city of 2500 people was built at Abbess Roding, and is still in use to this day!
On Oct.24, 1943, the first air force troops arrived as the Battalion evacuated its self built huts for tents and very seldom were billeted under a solid roof again until the war ended. I only wish that I had more time to travel to different sections of the country. As it was, I did take a three day leave in Stratford on Avon since I had been reading a lot of Shakespeare and loved it. I did get sent to Northern Ireland and to Wales to anti aircraft gunnery schools and that was interesting. Of course, chasing girls was our first priority rather than sightseeing. We then went into training for the invasion of France.
On June 6 our forward unit which I was attached to, tried to land on Normandy on Omaha beach but due to heavy enemy fire we were unable to land and had to tie up overnight next to an LST. It was just as well since our equipment would have been useless at the time. The next morning we went ashore and since the original site for the air strip we were to build (designated A-1) was still in German hands, we reconned and found another area right above the cliffs and by June 8th we had planes landing and taking off . These were the first allied planes to operate in France since its fall. For our efforts we were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
We went on to serve in more campaigns. By the end of the war we had some elements of the Battalion in Pilson.
There were separate Engineering Battalions for each of the airfields built in England by the Americans, RAF airfields were built by British Contractors such as Laing ect. I was surprised that the 840th was credited for helping build Matching as we had just about finished when we went into training for the invasion. We did come back to Matching for a month or so to finish off some work but we never saw them.
I have never been back to Matching, I have really wanted to but it just wasn't in the cards.
Above: Half track in Normandy. Right: Laying mesh tracking above Omaha beach for the first allied airfield (A1) after the invasion. For this, the unit won its Presidential Citation for Bravery.
Images© Robert Rice, Rochester, New York, USA.
The photos that appear between the paragraphs are courtesy of footnote.com and were all taken during the construction of Matching airfield.