Exploring The Last Green Valley: WWII pilot from Thompson fought for Britain

Exploring The Last Green Valley: WWII pilot from Thompson fought for Britain

 “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill provided this well-known quote when he delivered an address to England’s House of Commons on Aug. 20, 1940.

He was referencing the heroic deeds of the Royal Air Force fighter pilots who had fought valiantly against overwhelming odds during the Battle of Britain, a military air battle fought between June and October 1940 as the RAF defended England against the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

The Battle of Britain occurred before the United States entered World War II. Until last year I was unaware that a handful of Americans had joined the RAF and fought during this infamous battle.

I was visiting Tourtellotte Memorial High School in Thompson when Joe Lindley of the Thompson Historical Society pointed out the name Andrew Mamedoff RAF on a plaque in the front entrance of the building.

The plaque lists Thompson residents lost during World War II. It was then that I decided to bring his unique story to readers of The Bulletin for Memorial Day weekend.

Lindley suggested I get my hands on a book by Alex Kershaw, “The Few,” which details the lives of a handful of American Knights of the Air who risked everything to save Britain in 1940.

I purchased the book and so began to understand Mamedoff and the other American members of the RAF who fought during the Battle of Britain. Lindley also sent me additional information about Mamedoff and was helpful to me in writing this column.

Born in 1910, Mamdedoff was the son of Lev and Natasha Mamedoff. They were Russian immigrants who arrived in America to escape Communist Russia.

The Mamedoffs moved to Thompson at the suggestion of Natasha’s brother, Count Anastase Vonsiastsky, who had earlier settled in Connecticut after marrying Thompson resident Marion Ream.

Andy Mamdedoff was known for his wild streak, his love of adventure and fast cars, and for hanging around with a troublesome group of kids. He attended Bryant College in Rhode Island and eventually found his calling flying airplanes – the perfect occupation for a daredevil with a penchant for danger and love of speed.

He obtained a pilot’s license, purchased his own plane and established a charter service in California.

At the beginning of World War II, America had declared neutrality as the German Army swept through Europe and had sights on conquering Britain. The United States did not enter the war until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Some Americans with relatives living in Europe were frustrated by American neutrality and decided to join foreign government militaries, despite United States laws forbidding it. One such American was Mamedoff, and, with a handful of other American pilots, he traveled to France to sign on with the French Air Force.

Unfortunately, Mamedoff arrived as the German Army was completing its conquest of France.

He barely escaped on one of the last ships out of France; he landed in England, where he eventually joined the RAF in September 1940.

Soon after his arrival in England, he became one of the first Americans to join the Royal Air Force and became a member of the newly formed No. 71 Squadron at Kirton-in- Lindsay, Lincolnshire. His unit took the name of the Eagle Squadron.

The Eagle Squadron, with its fighting American pilots, was credited with many Luftwaffe kills.

During the Battle of Britain, the Eagle Squadron was an important part of the RAF’s success in driving off the Luftwaffe from daily raids over England.

The tenacious RAF pilots, with few reserves available, were able to survive to fly again against the German Luftwaffe. But for the skill and bravery of these few pilots, England may very well have fallen to Nazi Germany.

In August of 1941, Mamedoff was reassigned to the 133rd Eagle Squadron. His skill as a pilot led to him being appointed flight leader — the first American appointed to lead a squadron.

Two months later, Mamedoff and the 133rd were on a transit flight from Fowlmere Airfield to RAF Eglington in Northern Ireland.

Mamedoff never arrived at Eglington. A search found his body and wreckage of his plane near Maughold on the Isle of Man. The RAF determined his fatal crash was due to bad weather conditions. Mamedoff is buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.

On this Memorial Day, I hope you’ll join me in honoring all the veterans who have fought and died. The Last Green Valley was home to many who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the cemeteries in our communities provide their final resting place.

On Monday, their graves will be decorated with American flags and we’ll gather to honor their life and service. I hope you’ll also remember Mamedoff from Thompson, one of our fallen veterans with a final resting place overseas, in the land he so valiantly defended during World War II.

We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley. From our communities, many residents departed to defend our freedom in far-away lands and many did not return. Now it is left to us on Memorial Day to remember their bravery, to retell their story and to honor their sacrifice.

Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.