- Contributed by
- Wymondham Learning Centre
- People in story:
- Born 1928, Cawston, Norfolk
- Location of story:
- Cawston, Norfolk
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 June 2005
The following are some of the memories of a youth growing up during the war years.
My Mum, Dad and two brothers and me had notification to attend Hellesdon Junior School to collect our gas masks. The gas masks came in a cardboard box with a piece of string around it. After a while a manufacturer came up with a new and better design, it was a tubular metal pipe with a lid on it, and was far more robust for the knocks of everyday life. This was improved again later and a modification was made that would protect us from mustard gas, etc.. I had just started to attend Hellesdon Secondary Modern School when a specialised caravan came to the school. All the children had to queue up and enter this caravan with our gas masks on, pass through it and emerge at the other side. The purpose of this was to test the gas mask with a controlled element of mustard gas. On emerging I felt fine at first but the gas was impregnated in my clothes and my eyes started to water and all the other children were affected in the same way.
I also remember the Baedeker raids on Norwich which happened every other night over a period of appox. two weeks. The first raid was really bad because we were completely unprepared with no searchlights, guns or any stragety for protection or retaliation. People who lived in the area during this time will remember the carnage which included buildings in Red Lion Street (where Debenhams are now), Caleys (at Chapelfields) and many of the central Norwich buildings. By some stroke of luck they missed hitting the cathedral and St Peter Mancroft. We were better prepared when they made their next and subsequent visits!
During these raids the vibrations and fear were so great we didn't go into our shelters instead we cycled into the countryside and stood and watched the horror of what was going on in the city. Following the raid we all cycled home after the 'All Clear' was sounded and Mum and Dad made up go to bed. One day, after a raid, us children would go around to our grandmother's who lived nearby and we saw pieces of torn metal(shrapnel) lying everywhere. This was what was left of ack ack shells which told us just how serious the raid had been. One afternoon I was in the back garden when the siren sounded, I saw some German planes in the distance on the outer fringes of the city - around the Mousehold Heath area. They attacked Boulton and Pauls, Barnards and Lawrence and Scott factories where munnitions were being produced, hence the reason for this raid. What was interesting was that the bombers had brought along with them, protection in the form of fighter planes, which led to some dog fights almost overhead. When my Mum realised that we were watching the dog fights and not attempting to go in the shelter she was 'just a bit cross!' and tried to stress to us the danger we were putting ourselves in. Looking back she was right but as young boys we were fascinated and thought her worries were uncalled for. During this raid my grandfather, who became an insurance man whilst the holder of that position was away at war, was near to the site of the Barnards bombing. He threw himself to the ground near a brick wall and came home covered in brick debris and dust. He was shaken but otherwise unhurt.
One afternoon it was drizzling with rain and I was looking out the French doors and saw a German Ju88 aeroplane appear from nowhere in a steep dive. I didn't see him drop bombs but heard a big explosion and the airport - which was quite near our house - had a bad, direct hit. As with a lot of cases after bombings, details were scarce and I didn't see the aeroplane leave the scene although I know he got away.
One day when we were returning to school after lunch there was an attack on Norwich Airport with a lot of gunfire going on. Us lads dived into the ditch because the bullets were flying about nearby.
Behind our house was the Francis, Hind and Hardy factory (manufacturing silk parachutes), Mann Egertons factory (which is now Fox's Jaguar and Rover dealers) (manufacturing ambulance bodies and also army lorry bodies). All of these buildings survived the war intact, with no hits.
My father during the war worked for the Air Ministry involved in work on emergency generator lighting. He visited airports at Watton, Horsham St Faiths, Pulham and Matlask amongst others. Whilst he worked at Matlask we moved to the Blickling area because it was safer for us all. One night during this time, I saw a Buzz bomb pass over and could see the red flames and heard the very loud jet engine. They were probably destined for London and had enough power to travel a long distance. Later on there were barrage balloons all around Norwich, they were silver and shone in the sunlight, these were operated by the WAAFs. The barrage balloons were anchored by a long cable attached to a drum. One day I saw a balloon that had broken loose and it was floating aimlessly across the sky. I was told that when this kind of thing happened a Spitfire would go up and shoot it down because of the danger to our own fighter planes or, in fact, any friendly shipping, etc..
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