2023 marks 60 years since the first Memorial Library dedicated to the 2nd Air Division of the 8TH Air Force of the United States Army Forces (USAAF) was opened in Norwich, Norfolk. Today the American Library retains the identity first envisaged for it – that of a living memorial, a place where there is a shrine to the dead and a daily exchange of American thoughts and ideals. 

In its 60th year the library maintains an American presence through two scholarships annually awarded to US PhD researchers at the local University of East Anglia. The library programme includes a heritage strand and an American life and culture strand. The books and the programming reflect the diversity of American life and the audience is both local and in the USA. In this blog post, Orla Kennelly of the American Library shares details on this unique memorial and library.


  • The origins of the library

During World War 2 the 2nd Air were one of three divisions of the 8th US Air Force based in England. They flew mostly from bases in Norfolk. As the war was coming to an end and thoughts were turning to commemoration the idea of a library as a memorial began to take hold.

A group of women seated next to a sports trophy, Second World War
© American Library
2nd Air HQ Ketteringham Hall Staff Sports Teams

General Kepner & others from the Division were joined by local people in establishing the Memorial Trust of the 2nd Air Division USAAF . It was to be another 18 years before the library supported by the Memorial Trust first opened. The American Room was part of the 1963 Norwich City Library building. Today the county flagship library, the Millennium Library, is on the same site but is now part of a new civic building. The Forum opened to the public in 2001 with the Millennium Library as its main attraction and the American Library within its ground floor. 


  • Transformation for a changed audience 

In 2019, the Memorial Trust, with its partners in the Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service, embarked on an ambitious library transformation project. The living memory of WW2 was fading and the story of these men and women needed to be told in new ways to ensure the library continued to thrive. 

A wall of black and white images of Second World War pilots
© American Library
Wall of Remembrance at the American Library

A memorial area with the Roll of Honor continues to be at the centre of the American Library. This is surrounded by the faces of some of those young men who sacrificed their lives flying on missions over Europe. To see the often smiling faces of these young men who didn’t make it home enables visitors to think of the lost lives in a more personal way. 


  • Telling the story of the 2nd And Air Division 

For those who have no knowledge of the so called “Friendly Invasion” there are text and graphic panels as well as a small number of displayed objects and art works. To keep exploring there are digital displays which tell you about life in the air and life on the ground. Airman Mac will take you through a day on mission and you can view items from the archive along side the story. There are books to borrow or read in the library which tell you about all aspects of life in WW2 Norfolk. For those keen to research the stories of the veterans in their own words you can visit the 2nd Air Division Digital Archive in the library or from home anywhere in the world. Whatever your knowledge or connection there is something for you discover when you visit the American Library. 

Model of B-24 Witchcraft built by Mike Caputo
© American Library
Model of B-24 Witchcraft built by Mike Caputo
  • An audience across the pond 

The American Library is unusual in that it has stakeholders and a significant existing and target audience who will never actually visit the library in person. It has been essential to reach out to these audiences during the consultation element of the transformation project and in the years afterwards. The communication options and the audience size have all increased due to the COVID19 pandemic.  


  • 2nd Air Division Family and Friends

Associations to remember each of the Bomb and Fighter Groups as well as the Division itself and indeed the 8th Air Force were formed in the years after the war. The work of the 2nd Air Division Association is continued now by the Heritage League of the 2nd Air Division USAAF .

This brings together the many descendants of 2nd Air Division men and women as well as some remaining veterans. In 2023 The American Library hosted the Heritage League during their Norwich reunion. We were joined by one veteran of the 389th Bomb Group at Hethel, Norfolk. Allan Hallet was a gunner on three missions at just 17 years old and travelled with his family from their home in Massachusetts. 

 Looking at Red Cross Registers from the 2nd Air Division Archive
© American Library
Looking at Red Cross Registers from the 2nd Air Division Archive
  • Missing Histories 

The archive is a reflection of its creators and was not developed in a planned way but rather grew organically and with the generosity and support of veterans and their families. The Bomb Groups of the 2nd Air Division were more local to Norwich and so became more active in collecting and donating items to the library. They are therefore better represented than the Fighter Groups. The story of the ground crews has still not been fully told in the archive. Also missing are the experiences of those who built the air bases who were often African American regiments based in Suffolk. 


  • Remembering the Past Inspiring the Future 

The American Library is celebrating its 60th year with a series of exciting events online and in the library. There is a Norfolk wide Big American Read of US fiction and the inaugural 2nd Air Division History Seminar which is intended to become a biennial event in the 8th Air Force research community. Working with new partners and delivering blended events for a trans-Atlantic audience the American Library continues to remember the past while looking towards the future. 

For upcoming events follow us on americanlibrary.eventbrite.com

To  discover the archives of the 2nd Air Division https://digitalarchive.2ndair.org.uk/

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