- Contributed by
- Norfolk Adult Education Service
- People in story:
- Susan Merchant
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Sarah Housden of Norfolk Adult Education’s reminiscence team on behalf of Susan Merchant and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Memories of Norwich Airport During the Second World War 1939-1945
by Susan Merchant
I married in London on September 10th 1938 and went down to Devon for a week’s honeymoon. From there we came to Norwich to a house called Sunny Bank, on Fifer’s Lane, which stood alone in the middle of a field facing Mr Wharton’s farm on a narrow lane with four houses next to The Firs public house. In the other direction there were no houses as far as Old Catton, except for the Rectory on the corner at Catton, and no houses as far as the Cromer Road. What is now Heath Crescent was an unmade gravel track and we stood in the middle of a field.
In January 1939 they started building an aerodrome for Spitfires in the field opposite. After 18 months being used for Spitfires, the Americans took it over and the runways were altered from east to west for the Liberators. This was St Faith’s Airfield which is now Norwich Airport. We lived at Sunny Bank throughout the war, and so saw much of the coming and going at the airfield.
On March 12th 1940 my son Tony was born. My husband, who was in the Voluntary Fire Service, came home to see the baby, and on about the 17th March was upstairs in the bedroom facing the aerodrome. He suddenly shouted “Oh, my goodness! I believe its coming in!” and when I lifted myself up in bed to look I could see a Spitfire coming straight for our house. Fortunately he nose-dived into the hedge opposite. My husband rushed downstairs to help the pilot, but luckily he wasn’t too badly hurt.
When the raids started on the Docklands, 20 men from the Voluntary Fire Service went to relieve the firemen there and my husband was amongst them.
When the Americans took over the airport, we were barb-wired in. Huts were built each end of Fifer’s Lane, and you had to carry a pass to be able to get in. This meant that we had to let the guards know if we were expecting any visitors, and we then had to go and identify them. The guards were armed too!
There was heavy bombing in April 1942 and we sheltered in a Morrison Shelter indoors. My Grandmother was staying with us and Tony, aged two, reassured her when there were raids on, saying “Its only a shooter Granny, its only a shooter!” The Americans suggested that we go and shelter in their bunker, but we couldn’t see that this would be any safer as the airfield was likely to be a target, so we stayed where we were. The American eventually built a shelter on a piece of land next door to house those of us still living in Fifer’s Lane.
One of my friends was sheltering in their Morrison with their family during a heavy raid, and there was a hit in the centre of her house which blew the Morrison outside. My friend Betty was in the closed end of the shelter and injured her back and suffered with it from then on.
During one raid on the city we were passing near the Odeon Cinema and the cleaners from the cinema called us in to shelter. During another raid, my husband (Sid) was on duty with the fire service and was talking to his friend Sam Bussey when someone came in and said that the horses’ stable was on fire. Sam went to try and rescue the horses, but sadly, he died trying to do so.
When my sons were born the doctor told me to be sure to let the guards know that he was coming as he didn’t want them shooting at his tyres! I had my second son, Geoff in 1944. Tony used to like to stand on the garden gate and talk to the airmen. When he was four he was outside on the gate when there was a dreadful noise as two planes collided. He was blown off the gate by the blast. He came running indoors and said in an indignant voice: “Someone pushed me off the gate and now there’s no-one there!”. He was swiftly followed by some Americans who had seen it happen and had come to check that he was alright.
On one occasion several planes came in damaged and on fire, being followed by enemy aircraft. Pilots were jumping from their planes with their clothes alight and the whole airfield was screaming with ambulances giving them First Aid and taking them to hospital. I watched all this from my bedroom. It was a dreadful time and there was a great deal of loss of planes and life.
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