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