RAF Mildenhall's Galaxy Club has quite the history
Stars and Stripes
RAF MILDENHALL — Airman 1st Class Evan Anderson says RAF Mildenhall’s Galaxy Club is a great place to unwind with friends and grab a beer or three.
“I think it’s a real nice place to go and relax,” said Anderson, who is with the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “And the food is excellent.”
But Anderson also said that given the choice of whether to stay at the base bar or head out during the weekend, he’d rather take it to one of the more hopping pubs and clubs in a place like Cambridge. Places that actually have some women.
“If it’s close to payday, maybe running a little short on money, we might just go over there,” he said of the G Club.
The general line of thought here is that the G Club is a great resource to have on base, but its lack of the fairer sex inevitably makes outside destinations more attractive.
But believe it or not, it wasn’t always like that. The old Galaxy Club was a destination in and of itself since opening in the 1950s, drawing just as many ready-to-party Brits as it did American airmen. The old building is long gone, and photos from the height of the revelry are hard to find. But the old club’s glory days are still fresh for Robin Smith, a British man who has worked at the club for 40 years.
“We used to have all the big shows come through, Johnny Cash, all the big names,” said Smith, 60.
The club was such a draw that bouncers had to turn people away every Friday and Saturday night, he said.
“On the weekends we had a one-in one-out policy because it was jam-packed.”
The building itself wasn’t anything to write home about, Smith said. There were few toilets, and at one point, the main floor nearly sank due to water problems underneath the club.
“It was a crap building, pardon my language,” Smith said. “But it had a terrific atmosphere.”
British women eager to check out the hot spot would rent buses and come en masse to the club each weekend, hoping to meet an airman, he said. Once there, they’d bat their eyes and hope that an airman would sign them in to gain entry to the club, he said.
“Buses would come from Cambridge, Norwich, Ely,” Smith said. “The club didn’t organize those buses. The girls would get together and organize on their own.”
The club’s distinction even earned it a spot on a top 10 clubs in Europe list that was put out by Playboy magazine in the early 1990s, Smith said. A spokeswoman for Playboy said she was unable to confirm that ranking by Stripes’ deadline.
The lack of fences or gates at the base until the late ’90s was a big part of the old club’s success, said Al Overthrow, a G Club manager.
“Anybody could get on base,” he said. “The ladies would line up waiting for someone to sign them in. You’d have a good 300 to 400 people.”
The building was old and largely derelict, but, as with hot spots in America, sometimes that age exudes an intangible charm.
“It was a dirty place,” Overthrow said. “But it just had character.”
This darker, danker, more stylish old G Club started to wane in popularity during the mid-1990s, Overthrow said. In 1999, the new Galaxy Club facility went up. Then the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States happened, and the party basically was over. Security measures increased, and the base became more difficult to access.
“The gates going up changed a lot,” he said. “It started to die out, and after Sept. 11, it was really restricted.”
The new building is more modern and has more amenities, Overthrow said, but there is a tradeoff involved.
“It makes for a bit of a sterile environment,” he said. “And this building can turn people off. My wife doesn’t like this building.”
Brits can still get into the G Club, but now they have to wait outside the base and be signed in by someone with an ID card, instead of being able to wait outside the club door, said Paul Guzewich, who has worked at the club for 23 years.
“You have to modernize,” he said. “And things have to go away.”
Smith said he also thinks the change has to do with a more disciplinary Air Force, as well as the way of the modern world.
And while scant historical records exist on the old club’s potent potential to draw in the ladies, guys such as Overthrow, Guzewich and Smith, as well as countless enlisted Air Force members, ensure that the old club lives on.
“There are so many good memories,” Smith said. “But most of them you wouldn’t be able to print in the paper.”