Roger Freeman: Obituary - Out Of Hobby Became Foremost Historian Of Military Aviation

Historians in the News

Roger Freeman, who has died aged 77, became one of the world's foremost military aviation historians alongside making his living as a farmer; he specialised in the history of the USAAF Eighth Air Force, the largest air striking force ever committed to battle.

Freeman, who grew up on a farm in East Anglia, had a boyhood obsession with aircraft which developed into a historical interest in the airmen and operations of the Eighth Air Force, a force with some 3,500 bombers and almost 1,000 fighters occupying some 60 airfields in the area.

During the early post-war years Freeman researched the history of the Eighth when farming allowed. After almost 25 years research, he managed to interest a publisher in his compilation, although publication was dependent on a declared American interest, since "few people in the UK will be interested in what the Yanks did".

The Americans were persuaded; although, with the printing presses ready to roll, they expressed reservations about Freeman's title, which they thought too prosaic. Freeman was given an hour to come up with something more pithy, and lit on The Mighty Eighth. The book was an instant success, and became the first of a trilogy on the Eighth Air Force's operations mounted from Britain. They have become standard works, with a worldwide circulation and translations into several languages.

The son of a farmer, Roger Anthony Wilson Freeman was born at Ipswich, Suffolk, on May 11 1928, and educated at Colchester High School. When he proved a poor student, his parents withdrew him and he began working on the family farm aged 15.

His enthusiasm for aircraft was ignited when a number of airfields were built in his local area, one of them (Boxted, in June 1943) next to the Freeman farm. Long-range escort fighters flew from Boxted, and the Freemans were given permission to carry out haymaking and other agricultural activities on the airfield. Roger delighted in raking hay while surrounded by the hefty Thunderbolt long-range fighters of the 56th Fighter Group, known as the "Wolf Pack", which provided escort for the armada of bombers.

With his teenage friends, he cycled hundreds of miles to watch and record the activities of the aircraft at other airfields. He always knew where to go, thanks to schoolboys' word of mouth. On one occasion towards the end of the war Freeman recalled seeing more than 30 formations of bombers, totalling more than 1,000 aircraft, head for Germany.
Roger Freeman died on October 7. He married, in 1956, Jean Blain, who survives him with two daughters and a son; two sons died in infancy.

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