Memories of World War 2

World War 2

Around 2003-5, memories (and photos) of the War were collected from older residents when they were children - including memories of the evacuees, air raids, the Home Guard,the British Legion, and Mulbarton's most famous soldier. READ ON!

MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR 2 IN MULBARTON 

 by Bill Alborough

I well remember the tones of the Prime Minister of the time, Mr Neville Chamberlain, when he uttered that chilling phrase "...I have to tell you that this country is at war with Germany". It was September 1939 and I was nine. Rationing started, sweets disappeared, we started saving metal, people built makeshift air raid shelters, gas masks were issued and, strangely enough, at Mulbarton School, we started to learn the National Anthems of the Allies. I remember learning La Marseillaise word perfect. We hadn't a clue what the words meant, but to this day I know the anthem better than many French school children.

Soldiers starting to appear in the village. They were billeted at nearby big country houses which had been commandeered. They did concerts in Wingfield Hall. Soldiers whose homes were in the village were involved in the first major operation of the war, the battle of Dunkirk. This brought home to us that the war was serious. Soon after that came the fall of France. I remember feeling very depressed and scared at the thought that the Germans were now 22 miles across the Channel from us.

With the threat of invasion came various precautions. The Home Guard exercised regularly at weekends. Old wagons were parked at intervals on the common to prevent gliders landing. I was told that the remains of the mill near the pond was demolished so as not to provide a landmark for gliders. Huge Army lorries were tested by being driven into the pond near Frost's garage and then climbed up the steep bank on to the common. The sky was always full of the aircraft that we now associate with the early days of the war.

In 1942 Norwich had its worst bombing. If you did not have an Air Raid Shelter you were advised to shelter under the stairs or under a substantial table. From Mulbarton you could hear the thud of the bombs and see the glow in the sky from the fires. People came from Norwich to the country to escape the devastation of their homes. Mulbarton Chapel housed families for a while. We housed two families in our house. One man was a very good darts player and I played darts with him for hours.

In late 1942 the American G.I.s arrived at Hethel. These well-dressed and relatively rich servicemen were soon a regular sight in our pubs and at dances. The Flying Fortresses and Liberators they flew filled the skies over Mulbarton as they formed up on their way to their targets, mainly in Germany. The Americans did the daylight bombing while the RAF did the night sorties. The BBC News would report on the raids the next day, ending by saying how many aircraft were missing after the raid. We would gasp when the figure announced was particularly large, as we knew how many men had perished.

After a lot of setbacks, the war was swinging in our favour and in June 1944, although all the preparations were made in strict secrecy, it was announced that a landing had been made on the coast of France and that the Liberation of Europe was about to begin.

As Europe was liberated, the horrors of the concentration camps were uncovered and we all realised what man was capable of doing to his fellow man. The pictures on the front pages of the newspapers were terrible.

In May 1945 the war was over for us and we were allowed to burn the wagons on the common. I have a memory of visiting the fires the next morning and the huge hubs of the wheels were still glowing. The Americans left Hethel in what seemed like a matter of days. Sweets gradually appeared in Cracknell's shop, but not for long! If we couldn't get sweets, sometimes liquorice root was a passable substitute.

Despite the fact that we had supposedly won the war, we then had what seemed like an endless period of austerity and food items took an age to come off rationing. We realised this was the only fair way of doing things and accepted it. It was 1963 before St Stephen's Street in Norwich, where my mother used to do her shopping, was rebuilt.

I suppose one thing the war taught me was the amount of things you managed to do without, if you had to. It sure makes you appreciate things when you do have them, especially food. Above all, we still had our freedom. When I read history books on World War 2 today, I realise how near we came to losing it.                 Bill Alborough

The Royal St. Omer Close Home Guard - founded by lads living in the close during WW2.  Photo probably taken in 1941.
The Royal St. Omer Close Home Guard - founded by lads living in the close during WW2. Photo probably taken in 1941.

Back Row: Bill Alborough; Donny Abendroth; Peter Haverson; Rex Mickleburgh.
Middle Row: John Tuddenham; Chris Mickleburgh; Barry Dent; Dennis Mickleburgh.
Front Row: Bernard Rayner; (a relative of John Tuddenham); Bryant Mickleburgh; Lionel Robinson.

CHILDHOOD IN THE WAR by Brenda Ford, nee Collins

I was three years old when the I939/45 war began and my father was called up just before the start of hostilities. He had been a regular soldier in his young life and when he left the army he went to work for Peter Finch at 'Woodlands' (Long Lane) but remained a member of the Territorial Army, so when the war was imminent he was called up and we saw very little of him for the next six years. During the course of the war I became five years old and started school at Mulbarton.... It was a pleasant walk as there was virtually no traffic. The bread delivery van was one of the most likely motorised vehicles to come along, and sometimes an army lorry, but we were quite safe. One morning we found a parachute in a ditch along the lane and were quite excited about it. Several parachutes were found during the course of the war but we never knew why they were there or if anybody had landed by them. The village policeman would come and collect them and that was the last we heard. Towards the end of the war masses of strips of silver paper used to appear and we later found out it was something to do with stopping some form of communications.

Mulbarton did not have any bombs fall on it as such to cause damage, but we could see and hear the air raids taking place on Norwich and hear the guns firing at enemy planes. My mother's family were bombed out in Norwich and came to live with us in our small bungalow, along with a land girl who worked for Mr Betts at Braconash. Goodness knows where we all slept, but it was wartime and we managed. A Stirling bomber crashed in the early hours of the morning very near to our bungalow, cutting off electricity and causing enormous damage to trees nearby. Fortunately the airmen all managed to survive without too much injury and armed guards were placed near to the crashed plane until an enormous truck came to take the remains of the plane away.

A Stirling that crash-landed
A Stirling that crash-landed

On one or to nights dogfights took place in the skies above our part of the world and unfortunately there were one or two nasty crashes when pilots were killed and us children were kept well away from the crash sites. Hethel aerodrome was not far away across the fields as the crow flies and we used to watch the planes gathering to take off for their massive air‑raids, circling round and round until they all went off together to drop their bombs on enemy territory. It was quite an exciting time for children as there was a lot going on around us which although we didn't understand fully what it meant there was something interesting happening a lot of the time.

Mulbarton had evacuees during the war but as we already had a house full we did not have any billeted on us. Several came to the school but did not stay for very long. One very nice family went back to London and later we heard they had all been killed in the air raids. The London children were very different to us and thought they had come to a real backwater. 

Social life in the village continued in spite of the war and dances were held in the village hall. Although I was very young I remember a band called the 'Bunwell Swingers' where Flo Utting, who lived in one of the thatched church cottages, played the piano. There used to be a Fete on the common on August Bank Holiday Monday, which was the first Monday in August in those days. We used to have all sorts of races and competitions and I used to take part in a wild flower competition seeing how many different varieties of wildflowers we could collect. This would not of course be allowed nowadays.             Brenda Ford nee Collins

MEMORIES by Bryan Tungate

I was born in 1939, just before war broke out. It was not my fault, I hope!!!! Father was exempt from service in the early war years because he was involved in agricultural work but he was eventually called up to serve in the R.A.M.C. (Medical Corps). He spent the latter time during his service on trains carrying wounded back, but before this he spent some time at Abergavenney Castle in Wales where he had to look after Rudolph Hess.

Of course I don't remember much about the earliest days of my life but have been told I was one of the first babies in Mulbarton to have a gasmask on, [during a demonstration in the old Wingfield Hall]. It was fitted so there would be no leaks. Some of my earliest memories are of going to school in 1944 when I reached the grand "old" age of 5. Every time any sound of an aeroplane came into hearing we all had to dive under the desks, this would have been no good if a bomb came down on us. We didn't know any better anyhow.

After the War when my dad was demobbed I went to Norwich for the first time.... Norwich was a mess then with all the bomb damage, but it was soon built up again over the next few years.

EVACUEES

During the War years, my Mother had evacuees. First we had a family from Bethnal Green - the name was Callaghan and there was a mother and two boys. In the latter part of the war we had the Jay family from Norwich: mother, two boys and a baby. I think most people had evacuees if they had room. My father was in the army during the War, but there was still my mother, brother and myself in a 3-bedroom house, so goodness knows where we all slept!
Evelyn Smith (nee Stackyard)

AIR RAIDS

During the war, a German aircraft making a run from the Norwich air defences dropped a stick of bombs across the farmyard in Rectory Lane. One dropped in the horse yard, one in the pond and the rest across a meadow. No-one was hurt, but as the bombs exploded a young colt was born. He was registered with the Suffolk Horse Society as 'Mulbarton Blitzkreig'. How apt that was! He was completely untrainable and eventually had to be disposed of.

Between the Butcher's and the School there were some old tin huts. These were used for storing salvage during the war. After school, children went door to door collecting rubbish to be recycled to help the war effort.                                      (Tony Kent)

Air raids over Norwich would light up the sky - and Mulbarton was a place of refuge not only for people but also for equipment. People would commute out of Norwich in the evening and return to work next morning - by train to Swainsthorpe Station, by bus or even walking.

Watlings' vans on Mulbarton for a group photo, 1940. Soon after, some vans were driven to the Common during the Norwich blitz and left overnight.
Watlings' vans on Mulbarton for a group photo, 1940. Soon after, some vans were driven to the Common during the Norwich blitz and left overnight.

THE BRITISH LEGION received a new boost when the war was over:

The British Legion became active after the war and my dad was standard-bearer until we moved to Norwich. Many people in Mulbarton had served in the armed forces during the 1939/45 war and on Remembrance Sunday there used to be a large parade at the village church and a special service was held.                           Brenda Ford - nee Collins

One of its most active members, who was also very much part of the inspiration behind the church clock war memorial was the soldier from Mulbarton who received the highest honour:

MULBARTON'S MOST FAMOUS SOLDIER

Regimental Sergeant Major "Bill" Haverson DCM of the Royal Norfolk Regiment died on 17th December 1991 in his 93rd year.

The Haverson family moved to Mulbarton in 1940 and all the children went to Mulbarton School. Bill Haverson had already seen service in World War I, and between the wars had served in India, Gibraltar and the "Home of the Bristish Army", Aldershot. Pauline had been born at marham; Gordon and Colin at Aldershot; Peter at Farnborough and June in India.

The "Norfolks" were in France at the very start of World War 2 and in that desperate rearguard action leading to the miraculous evacuation of British troops at Dunkirk in 1940, Bill Haverson and his platoon succeeded in holding Aire Bridge on La Basse Canal in Northern France to allow battalion survivors to escape to fight again. As a result of this, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal - second only to the Victoria Cross in Military Honours. Bill became Regimental Sergeant Major of the Regiment and trained fresh troops for the now famous D-Day invasion of France in June 1944 which eventually led to the fall of Nazi Germany.

After the war, Bill left the Army to become Mulbarton's postman for 17 years. He was also a School Governor, Parish Councillor, Secretary of the British Legion and was largely responsible to raising money for the clock on Mulbarton Church tower, placed as a reminder of those men who fought and died for our freedom. He was also the local Poppy Day organiser.

Always the disciplinarian, as befits an RSM, the rows of seeds in his garden were immaculately straight. The story goes that he slept "to attention"! He was a "collar and tie" man and was concerned about his appearance to the end. Mrs Haverson died in 1985 and Bill spent his last years in Wymondham.                                                           Bill Alborough

HOME GUARD

Founded in 1940 as the Local Defence Volunteers but renamed 'Home Guard' by Churchill later in the same year. Organised into Sections (usually 1 per parish) of 25-30 men. 4 Sections = a Platoon; 4 Platoons = a Company; 4 Companies = a Battalion. No. 9 Battalion based at Wymondham - certainly included men from Bracon Ash and Cringleford.

Mulbarton & District Home Guard on the Common near the mill
Mulbarton & District Home Guard on the Common near the mill

The Home Guard had problems recruiting in rural areas, and protests when conscription and attendance registers introduced in 1942. EDP articles speak of difficulties of combining long hours in farming with Home Guard duties (28 June 1940) and ran headline 'Harvest Must Come First' (Aug. 1942)

30th Sept. 1942 - 'The Day the Germans Captured Wymondham' - a realistic exercise for No. 9 Battalion (and maybe others) which began on 17th Sept.

Stood down in late 1944, with many parades, farewell dinners and photos. King George VI thanked the Home Guard in a radio broadcast in Dec. 1944.

The local Home Guard before being stood down
The local Home Guard before being stood down

Poem published in The Diss Express, Feb. 1941 (by a Home Guardsman from Eye):

On lonely hills the Home Guard stands,
His rifle ready in his hand.
He's ready to defend or die,

Should Hitler's Nazis come nearby.

The moon is lovely to behold,
The night is nippy, bitter cold.
But brave, undaunted, still he stands

              The rifle ready at his hand.

For freedom he's prepared to fight,
And Right shall conquer Hitler's might.
Should Hitler's hosts decide to land,
His rifle's ready in his hand.

(Quoted in 'Standing up to Hitler - the Story of Norfolk's Home Guard and 'Secret Army' 1940-44' by Adrian Hoare. Wymondham: George Reeve Ltd, 1997)

BUT, even when World War 2 was over, war was not over: there was fighting in Malaya, later in Korea, and in Europe the 'Cold War'. Here is a map of our area - in Russian - showing the edge of Norwich North-East (top right); Wymondham South-West (left margin towards bottom); Hethel airfield prominent East of Wymondham, and Mulbarton with its triangular Common East of that (by right margin).