1st Lt. Charles F. Gumm Jr.

Pilots of the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, Boxted. Image Source: American Air Museum in Britain

Lieutenant Charles "Chuck" Gumm Jr. was born on 29th October, 1920 in Spokane, Washington, and was a relative of the entertainer Judy Garland - born Frances Ethel "Baby" Gumm. He graduated from the John R. Rogers High School in 1939 from where he then proceeded to Gonzaga University to continue further his education. In 1942, following the US entry into World War 2, and shortly after marrying his high school sweet heart, Muriel "Toni" Wiley, Gumm left university to volunteer for training in the USAAF. He joined the 354th Fighter Group (The Pioneer Mustang Group) of the 355th Fighter Squadron (Pugnacious Pups) where he undertook his training as a pilot. After a while, Charles and Muriel were blessed with the birth of their daughter Toni, and then some time later the Fighter Group was posted to England. After crossing the U.S. by train they arrived in Manhattan where they were loaded onto the HMS Athlone Castle, and set sail for Liverpool. They arrived on 1st November, but could not move into the dock until the 3rd owing to a thick fog which hung over the harbour. Early on 4th November they disembarked and made their way to the Greenham Common airbase, which was to become their first home in England. But this would be only a short stay and, on 13th November, they were posted to Boxted airfield, Station 150, (located at Long 0:55:59E, Lat 51:56:19N - map ) in the small rural East Anglian village of Langham, which lies on the Essex-Suffolk border, close to Nayland. The Air Ministry usually named airfields after the nearest village or town. However, there already existed an airfield named Langham in Norfolk, so in this case the airfield was named after the next nearest village, Boxted.

Lt. Charles F. Gumm in the cockpit of his Mustang
Image from American Air Museum in Britain

Two days before leaving Greenham Common, the 354th Fighter Group received its first combat airplanes, the new Merlin-engined P-51 Mustang fighters which, when fitted with additional drop fuel tanks, could escort allied bombers all the way to Germany. The 354th Fighter Group were called "The Pioneer Mustang Group" because they were the first group to fly these new P-51B Mustangs. Lt Gumm soon saw action and on a mission to Bremen, 16 December, 1943, is credited with being the first P-51 Mustang pilot to shoot down an enemy plane over Europe - a Bf-110 over Breman. He returned to base with a claim of one JU 88 damaged and one Bf 109 shot down at 1330 hours. A little over two months later on 21st February, 1944, Lt. Gumm became the first of many 354th Fighter Group aces by downing a Bf 110 over Brunswick at 1430 hours - the accepted definition of a fighter pilot ace is one who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft. Lt. Gumm was assigned two aircraft, both of which he named "My Toni" after both the wife and baby daughter he had left back in Spokane. After a six-month stay, the 354th moved to Lashenden, and thence to Criqueville, France in August 1944, following the Normandy invasion.

Lt. Charles F. Gumm in front of his P-51 Mustang
© Crown Copyright: IWM

In a cruel twist of fate, Lt. Gumm's career ended very unexpectedly on 1st March, 1944 when he made the ultimate sacrifice. The P-51 Mustang (P-51B1, 43-12165) he was flying (on a cross country flight to Goxhill) crashed shortly after becoming airborne. Its engine lost power at 800 feet. Observers of the crash, and in particular Canon W. Wright of St. James Vicarage, reported that Gumm could have parachuted to safety but chose to stay with the plane which crashed into an open field outside town. He realised he was over the Nayland village and that if he bailed out to save himself his plane would crash into the English town and claim innocent lives. He therefore decided to remain with his plane to steer it away from the village and to attempt a forced landing. It crash landed on the banks of the river Stour near 'Court Knoll' but, unfortunately, at the last moment his Mustang hit a tree and he was thrown out of the cockpit and died instantly.

The Court Knoll earthworks (located at Long 0:52:22E, Lat 51:58:09N - map ) is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and was the subject of an Archaeological, Geophysical & Historical Study by the Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society.

The residents of Nayland were deeply moved by Gumm's clear and unmistakable gallantry and commissioned a memorial plaque. They installed a bench in St James's churchyard with two brass plates afixed; one with a dedication to the young hero, whilst the other has the apt poem, 'A life that I have', by Leo Marks, inscribed as follows,

    The life that I have
    Is all that I have
    And the life that I have
    Is yours

    The Love that I have
    Of the life that I have
    Is yours and yours and yours

    A sleep I shall have
    A rest I shall have
    Yet death shall be but a pause

    For the peace of my years
    In the long green grass
    Will be yours and yours and yours

    Leo Marks

The people of Nayland had for many years lobbied unsuccessfully with the War Graves Commission to have Lt. Gumm's name recorded on the Village War Memorial. However, they did re-iterate Nayland's appreciation of Lt. Gumm's bravery on Saturday 31st March 2001, by erecting a new bench in the centre of Nayland Village near the War Memorial. Brass plaques were re-located from the original commemorative bench, which still remains in St. James's churchyard.

The story of Lt. Gumm's heroism was recounted at the time in the 'Stars and Stripes'.

During his brief flying career, Gumm received the air medal and three oak leaf clusters. He was also awarded, posthumously, the silver star, the soldiers medal and the distinguished flying cross for gallantry in action. At the time of Lt. Gumm's death he was the leading ace for the group with 7½ victories to his credit.

Photograph Credit: Sue Tanner

Lt. Gumm is buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace in his home town of Spokane, Washington, United States of America - where he is still remembered. He was survived by his wife Muriel R. and 10 month old daughter Toni. Muriel subsequently remarried, to Duke Shearin, who had been in Charles' squadron and she adopted her new husband's surname. Lt. Gumm also had three older siblings, a brother Ross and two sisters Velda and Lucille, all whom are now deceased (source: Salley Green, grandniece of Charles Gumm, granddaughter of Lucille). Lucille lived in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, until she died in July 2010 (source: The Spokesman-Review.com ).

Lt. Charles F. Gumm's heroic deed is remembered still with a wreath being laid on on his bench each Remembrance Day.

Graham W Griffiths, Wissington


Much of the above information has been gleaned from the the websites indicated below. Our thanks go to these sites which perpetuate the memory of the gallant deeds of Charles F. Gumm and other US Airmen who fought along side the UK in its hour of need. Special thanks go to Mr Gene Lamar who supplied pictures of Charles Gumm from his personal collection and to Mr Richard Turner who supplied pictures and valuable background information relating to Lt Gumm. Mr Lamar has created a website dedicated to the 354th Fighter Group and his father, pilot Lt. Robert Lamar, who served in this Fighter Group. Mr Turner is Chairman of the Boxted Airfield Historical Group. Additional material has been obtained from the references indicated below. Pictures have also been supplied by Nayland residents.

Graham W Griffiths, Wissington

Tribute To Charles F. Gumm Web page specifically dedicated to Charles F. Gumm.
American Air Museum in Britain Further Information on Charles Gumm.
354th Fighter Group Website dedicated to the 354th Fighter Group.
355th Fighter Squadron History of the 355th Fighter Squadron - The Pugnacious Pups.
First P-51 to Down Enemy Plane Web page confirming Gumm piloted first P-51B to shoot down an  enemy plane over Europe. Note: this report states it was a Me-110, not a Bf-109, as stated in 354th Fighter Group, by William N Hess.
National WWII Memorial Website, including an electronic registry, that supports the National World War II Memorial located in Washington, DC. This website lists Lt Gumm as a World War II Honoree and provides official confirmation that Gumm was the first pilot to down a German plane in a Mustang P-51.
Boxted Airfield Historical Group Website dedicated to Boxted Airfield History.
Washington State Roll of Honor Charles F Gumm is cited on Part 5: World War II, G-L

Other References:

  • Arthur F. Brown (Capt.) Ed, 1992, History in the Sky, 354th Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group, Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas, USA (reprint).
  • Tom Frisque Ed, 1999, Aces and Wingmen, Vol 2, Aviation USK.
  • Paul M Sailer, 2016, I had a comrade, Loden Books.
  • William N Hess, 2002, 354th Fighter Group, Osprey Publishing Ltd.

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