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Several years ago, my wife and I entered a sweepstakes sponsored by British Airways. The contest was called “The World’s Biggest Offer." and the grand prize, limited to a very few, was a trip for two to any location in the world of the winners' choosing. Thousands of others would win round trip tickets to London, and still more who had already bought tickets for flights on a special day in April, the "Up and Away Day," would fly free. Much to our surprise, we were among the winners.

What, then, to do with our time in Britain? For my wife, it would include a visit to a Scotswoman she had befriended while traveling in Rome during her college semester abroad, now living in the Cotswolds with her husband. For me, the choice was clear: I would go to Glastonbury, and find the Lamb.

Glastonbury, England as seen in American Public House Review
     Glastonbury, England

pastel painting of the Tor by Michael McBride as seen in American Public House Review
J. McBrid

The idea of Glastonbury, its image and metaphor, infused my family’s tradition with the stuff of legend. Hanging above our mantel, almost as a shrine, was a landscape painted by my father as a gift to my mother on the occasion of their first wedding anniversary. Done in pastel, it depicted the Tor, a high hill cluster, somewhat natural but partly man-made, rising out of what was once pre-historic marshland in the county of Somerset, just west of the Salisbury Plain and the monoliths of Stonehenge and Avebury. At the Tor’s summit stood a stone tower, the remnant of St. Michael’s church, and surrounding it was the lush landscape of this ancient British town in which they spent their short honeymoon during the war, in the affectionate care of a family named Kyne, the owners of the Lamb Hotel.

My mother served as an officer in the Army Nursing Corps in the European Theater, at the 110th Station Hospital in Netley, Hampshire. My father was in the Army Air Corps, stationed at Wendling Air Base in East Anglia as a technical sergeant in an ordnance unit of the 392nd Bomb Group of Eighth Air Force. My parents had known each other before the war, and in truth, my father had enlisted with the purpose of following his love to Europe. She was a captain, he a non-commissioned officer, so their marriage in 1944 required special permission from their superiors, and made for an interesting story in the local newspapers. And to us, throughout our childhood, the fact that she outranked him was forever a source of gentle teasing.

McBride Wedding Ceremony as seen in American Public House Review

My father and my mother both had a good war, if such could be the case. They had come home uninjured, unscarred by the horrors of combat, and elevated by memories that sustained their lives, of camaraderie, the nobility of an honorable fight, and the companionship of the English, especially the Kyne family, to whose hotel they returned often as the military obligations permitted, to renew their courtship and romance. There were nights in my childhood when the stories of their war came to life, elevated to myth. We would open the trunk in which they kept their uniforms, and my brother and sister and I would put them on. We would bring out the photo albums, and look through pictures of B-24s decorated with images of warriors, three ton bombs with painted greetings to Hitler. We would examine their insignia badges, their medals and ribbons, especially the Bronze Star my father was awarded for devising a wrench that would allow gunners to remove in-flight the gun barrels disabled by the heat of repetitive firing and replace them with new ones. And we would hear of the Lamb, this mystical, magical place and the people who lived there that had so captured their hearts and formed the enduring context for their union and the family that was borne of it.

Bomb crew as seen in American Public House Review
B-24 nose gun as seen in American Public House Review

The 392nd Bomb Group Memorial Association was formed in 1985. The association has more than 700 members who, through their donations and interest, support the Memorial erected at Wendling Air Base in England. On October 7th, 1989, it was dedicated in honor of the American men and women who served the 392nd between 1943 and 1945.

Currently the group is seeking financial support in order to maintain the repair and upkeep of the Memorial and surrounding grounds. Contributors to the fund are asked to send their donations to the association's treasurer. His address is:

 Mr. William McCutcheon
20620 Milton Court
Brookfield, Wisconsin 53045

They request that checks be made out to "392nd BGMA" and with - (Wendling Memorial) written on the memo line.

To learn more, or to become a member of the association please visit them at:

But then a tragedy: one day, moved by an urge to look again through the symbols of my parents’ heroism, I found the trunk and the articles within it destroyed by mold. Although a few things were salvageable and remain intact to this day, most had to be thrown away: the Eisenhower jacket, my mother’s cape, the dress uniform, the fatigues. The news hit us like a death, and it was as if a shroud had been drawn over that phase of our family life, and the tales of the war were rarely brought to life again, and their dream to return to that place, if only in the realm of imagination, left unrequited.

Now, with the gift of a trip to England, I had a chance to do what they could not. It had been many years since the trunk had last been opened, much more since their wedding, yet there was never a doubt that we would in our search find the Lamb, and somehow discover that same bliss that my parents had experienced. Though my father had passed away two years before our trip, and my mother seventeen years before that, I had full faith that they would know I had been to Glastonbury.

Michael McBride as seen in the American Public House Review

Robbie McBeide as seen in American Public House Review

Armed then with a Michelin map of Britain, some good walking shoes, and a small album of photographs of my parents at war and in love, we departed for England. The well-wishes of the British Airways employees and the strains of the bagpipers playing the “Cock of the North” still rang in our ears when, after a good night’s sleep, we were off to the land of Somerset and Glastonbury, in search of the Lamb.

As we approached the town on the A361, a thick haze brought a soft focus to the landscape. Out of the misty air, the Tor loomed like a whale breaching above the ghost of the sea that once had covered this valley. We drove through the town, finding nothing that bore any resemblance to the photographs we had brought as reference, nothing named the Lamb Hotel, so we laid our plight on the mercies of the elderly gentleman minding the tourist center. He was solicitous, though puzzled, and unfamiliar with the Lamb Hotel, but would telephone a friend, the resident Glastonbury expert, whose answer was most marvelous in its simplicity: what we were seeking was in fact next door to the center, he said, and was now a pub called the Who'd'A'Thought It?.

Who'd'A'Thought It Pub as seen in American Public House Review
     TRANSITIONAL Who'd'A'Thought It? PUB

Who'd 'A 'Thought It pub, the site of the Lamb Pub as seen in American Public House Review

After some vigorous knocking on both the pub’s front and rear doors, and in mild defiance to the established closing hours, we were let in by the owners, Bill and Lizzie Knight, who greeted our explanation with a mild skepticism. Yes, Bill said, he knew the Kyne’s, and he quickly identified them in our photographs: the Kyne family with my parents, at the back of the hotel, in front of a now-fallen wall the cobblestones from which Bill had recently uncovered in his yard; Judith, the Kyne’s granddaughter, with whom Bill played as a child; Mrs. Kyne, Doris, who died of lung cancer in 1949, an illness obliquely mentioned in her letter to my parents the year before, a letter that my mother had kept safely locked and cherished in a file box since its arrival, a letter we had also brought with us; and the room where my parents had stayed, the sign bearing the name of the Lamb Hotel clearly visible through the window.

Before the war, Bill’s family had owned the pub, an 18th century inn, then sold it to the Kyne’s, who ran it for over thirty years. It was sold again after Doris died, and the hotel declined, getting a bad though deserved reputation. Bill found that hard to accept, so he bought it back and began an extensive renovation. The pub interior was completely re-done, but the upstairs rooms were yet unfinished, with old sinks, bathtubs, and walls bereft of plaster evidence of the work in progress. The effort seemed more a labor of love than anything else, and Bill’s distaste for the memory of its prior character so strong that he would not speak the name the hotel had before he bought it back. For him, though, the redemption of its reputation was now so complete, its remove from what it had once been so surprising, that there could be no other name for the place: Who’d'A'Thought It?.

Wgo'd A Thought It sign as seen in American Public House Review
Who'd'A'Thought It Pub as seen in American Public House Review
Who'd A Thought It patio as seen in American Public House Review

We would stay the night, and though the upstairs rooms themselves were unsuitable for occupancy, we booked accommodations in a guest house down the street that Bill and Lizzie owned, and took off to explore the town.

A small market town that grew from what was long ago an isolated village in the Somerset marshlands, Glastonbury, through its legends and landscape, has had a significant role in the spiritual life of Britain. Its history as a destination for pilgrims can be viewed as the source of many of its myths, and whether these are considered traditions, truth, or the mere perpetuation of propaganda that promoted its place as a center for the commerce generated by these religious tourists, is a matter of continued debate. In truth these legends so resonate with its unique ability to attract and sustain the sacred, that they still thrive today. Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb the fallen Jesus was buried, is said to have traveled here with the young Christ, returning after the Crucifixion to make his home among a community of hermits and bringing with him the Holy Grail, which he buried in the Chalice Well at the base of the Tor, whose water flows red. At the spot where he landed, Wearyall Hill, one of the seven hills which at the time of his arrival by boat would still have been islands, he planted his staff, and from it grew the Glastonbury Thorn, a descendant of which still blooms today at Christmas. It was here that the first Christian church in England was founded by Joseph, built of wattle and daub, and where he, the great-uncle of the messiah, died.

It was shortly after the destruction of this church by fire in the 12th century that the monks had new cause to celebrate their destination and give those on pilgrimage new reason to journey to the Abbey: the discovery of the graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the cemetery. An amalgamation, perhaps, of stories about the kings and soldiers who defended this Celtic Christian country against the invading Angles and Saxons after the Romans had left in the 6th century, the Arthurian legends are well grounded in  Glastonbury and its Tor. It was here that Arthur came to rescue his kidnapped queen. It was here, in the Celtic Underworld, the Isle of Avalon entered through the summit of the Tor, that his famous Excalibur was forged. And it was here he came in a futile attempt o heal the mortal wounds he received in his final battle with Mordred at the Slaughter Bridge in Cornwall.

                                                    Photograph by Daniel Boulet: www.bouletfermat.com

Glastonbury Tor as seen in American Public House Review

With this “discovery” renewing its notoriety, the Abbey once again prospered as a tourist site, acquiring riches that at one time rivaled the great centers of Canterbury and Westminster. But under the reign of Henry VIII, it was seized by the Crown and stripped of its riches. The Abbot was drawn and quartered. The stones of the Abbey, moved from the remains of the first St. Michael’s Church on the Tor, themselves remnants of a Neolithic fort which in legend belonged to Arthur himself, were sold as quarry to form the homes, churches, and pubs that now fill the town. The pilgrims still come to the Glastonbury Abbey, but it is now a wounded place, its ruined arch rising to the heavens in supplication to a deity whose mindfulness has been cast elsewhere, with a notable indifference to the persecution and cruelty that befell its inhabitants and its structures. Yet majestic as such, nobler – though battered, it is not yet defeated; open to the sky, it is now a part of the landscape, a companion to the mysterious and far-older Tor, which is also a work of man now absorbed by nature, possessed of an underworld of buried relic and the bones of temples.

As we climbed the Tor, an old West Country word for hill, we followed the pathway that rings its slope and forms a spiral to the top. A sacred, Neolithic labyrinth, built at the time of Stonehenge, or simply the natural ruts formed on the grass by generations of grazing animals, or terraces used by the monks for farming on the hillside when this area was marshland, it presents a tantalizing puzzle to those who walk it. The mysticism of Glastonbury lies not just in the realm of Christianity, but was firmly established long before the arrival of that new religion. The Celts, who founded this village in the third century BC when the sea came fully to the base of the Tor, speak in their legends of this place, this Island of Glass, as a Druidic sanctuary and a gateway to the Underworld; and this path echoes similar patterns as those found in Crete, Italy, Ireland, and ironically, since Glastonbury is the legendary burial ground of Arthur, also at the hero’s birthplace in Tintagel, Wales. Created when the Tor itself was reshaped by these ancients to bring believers to the King of the Underworld and his spiral castle, the path circles the Tor seven times and ends at the top of the hill, the place that in Celtic faith was the bridge between earth and sky.

The wind was strong at the top, the clouds grey under the sun, which tried hard to breakthrough the overcast but managed only to cast a faint orange tinge to the haze, lending a mystical quality to the light. Sheep munched on the grass, noisily conversing as they chewed their endless meal. We sat for awhile, in the shadow of St. Michael’s tower, a tribute to the warrior Archangel who defeated the powers of darkness and in fact a replacement of the original church, which collapsed in an earthquake in the 13th century and whose stones, from Arthur’s hilltop fort, were later used to build the Abbey. When that structure was destroyed, the villagers took the stones to build their homes, shops, and pubs, thus imbuing the ordinary with magic.

Glastonbury Abbey as seen in American Public House Review

Saint Michaels Ruin as seen in American Public House Review

When we could take the cold no longer, we descended back to the hotel, the Who’d'A'Thought It? now but always the Lamb, and had a pint. Dinner was traditional English pub fare: peas and ham in a cream sauce, broiled lamb chops in mint, country sausage with hot mustard. We sat toward the front, gazing at the interior, all renovated since my parents had stayed there, and tried to resurrect their presence from the few things that may have witnessed their stay: the mantel and fireplace, a mirror that looked much like the one on the photograph, a rack of pipes, the blue plates, so much like the ones our family used.

Who'd"A"ThoughtIit Bar as seen in American Public House Review

Who'd A Thought It's Fireplace as seen in American Public House Review

Afterwards, we moved into another room, where the Roger Bond Group, local amateur jazz band, was playing. A gentleman of about seventy noted that with us, the audience had just tripled. He had asked for “Rosetta,” he said, and as the band took up the notes of that standard and filled the room with a poignant hint of love gained and now departed, we had our tea and pudding. The crowd grew, as did the appreciation of the band’s music, both of which enlarged the capabilities of the musicians. Roger played saxophone and clarinet, and was joined by a cornet player, a rhythm guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer. The guitar player sometimes lagged a little, but no one minded; he was certainly intent, almost biting off the tongue that poked through his lips every now and then and seemed essential to his style. None of them looked the jazz musician part; there was no attitude, no attempt at coolness. Those who wore bifocals let them slip conveniently down their nose; their attire ranged from sweaters and jeans to buttoned-down shirts. Roger himself was the most fashionable, but he had been to New Orleans, as his band mates kept reminding the audience, and was therefore entitled. No one took offense at the good-natured heckling and the atmosphere was casual and friendly, imbuing in us and the others in the pub an air of pleasant memories, of lives fully–lived, of wonder at the magic of places such as Glastonbury and their power to aggregate the happiness of its inhabitants and convey it to the newcomers.

Roger Bond Band as seeen in American Public House Review

The band broke into “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and last call was announced. We were bid farewell by Bill Knight, by Roger Bond, by the few people who had shared in the music with us. We left the next day, though we did not want to, and in a way never have, nor did my parents. There was something about this hotel, in this small town on the Salisbury plain of Somerset, whether it was called the Lamb or the Who’d ‘A Thought It, that my parents felt, that we felt now, some wellspring of warmth and companionship that transcended whatever adversity, war, grief, or regret, that was in the present. It was as if all of us in that pub shared a past, that we were all the same people meeting over and over again, though in different incarnations, different lives, yet still overjoyed at the reunion. Almost as if, long ago, we had met as pilgrims to the Abbey, or in Arthur’s court, and had vowed always to return here, and meet again and again through out the centuries. The British travel writer, H. V. Morton, wrote in 1927 that “it is, perhaps, not strange that all places, which have meant much to man, are filled with an uncanny atmosphere, as if something were still happening there secretly; as if filled with a hidden life.”

Who'd A Thought It Bar as seen in American Public House Review

Who'd A Thought It dining room as seen in American Public House Review

In this ancient ground, then, where once the sea met the land, and the living met the dead, we had found the Lamb.

Who'd'A'Thought It postcard as seen in American Public House Review