USAF airmen from RAF Mildenhall have rallied round to help a former Spitfire pilot who was their base’s RAF commander for two years.
Noel ‘Red’ Dunningham, 94, used to be a keen gardener but his garden has become overgrown and unmanageable but for the past few weekends members of RAF Mildenhall’s 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Fuel Management Wing have been working to tame the wilderness.
The connection began when the wing’s Staff Sergeant Brian Nichols moved in two doors from Red in Red Lodge.
Red said: “Almost immediately, this young man was knocking on my door saying ‘I’ve heard about you’ and he said ‘If you need help, this is my number’. He’s been many times to my house and his wife brings me meals.”
Brian said the neighbour between them had told him about Red’s RAF history and connection with the base.
He and his wife Rizza tried to tidy the garden alone, but he said : “It was too much for us to do ourselves – this was the only practical way of doing it.”
They have cleared two skips of undergrowth from the garden and expect a third.
Brian loves Red’s sense of humour and added: “I love it when he goes into detail in his stories. He’s very vivid.”
They are stories about a flying career begun early in World War Two after, as a teenaged Home Guard, he saw dogfights over Ipswich.
Red said: “I thought I hadn’t been good at much in my life but had a strange feeling I would be good at that – I was a deceived 17-year-old.
“I thought I would be flexible about my age and went along to the recruiting office.”
He recalls being sick when on early flights in a Tiger Moth biplane but he went on to fly Hurricanes and Spitfires, the RAF’s first jets the Meteor and Vampire, the world’s first jet bomber the Canberra, Hunter fighters and the Victor nuclear bomber. Brian has been to see a Victor Red flew at a museum in Yorkshire.
In the late 1960s he went to the US headquarters at Weisbaden, where he found it hard to find a squash partner until an American in the showers offered to play. He turned out to be the general commanding US forces in Europe.
It was he who suggested the base RAF commander job because Red ‘got on with Americans’. He was base commander from 1972 to 1974 but after ‘hell of a send off’ returned to become weapons and explosives safety officer for another 13 years.