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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Ray Russell
Location of story: 
Terrington Marsh Near Kings Lynn
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 November 2005

This contribution to BBC People’s War website was provided to Sarah Dyer, Volunteer Story Gatherer from the BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk at an event organised by the Norwich, Norfolk and Suffolk Pensioner’s Association. The story has been written and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of Ray Russell.

As a youth during the second world war, my home was alongside the A47 trunk road, some 4 miles west of King’s Lynn and almost 3 miles, as the crow flies, from Terrington Marsh where a decoy aerodrome was set up to attract enemy bomber aircraft away from their intended target, the nearby RAF Station at Sutton Bridge. The decoy airfield was constructed on rich fertile farmland reclaimed many years earlier from the Wash and was not far from the River Nene, the course of which the Germans would follow to guide them to their target area. The site included electric night landing lights and other lighting features which were adjustable to simulate different runway lighting systems. With the first attack coming in the late summer of 1940, the decoy airfield was bombed on a number of occasions and proved to be highly successful.

It remained possible for the decoy airfield to continue to be cultivated and in one particular year it was used for growing maincrop potatoes. As was customary at that time, when harvested the potatoes would be stored in clamps, often referred to as graves, at the edge of the field. The potatoes would be piled up into triangular shaped heaps, usually several yards long and about six feet high at the apex, and covered with layers of straw and earth to keep out the several winter frosts, the earth being dug from around the sides of the graves thereby leaving a trench into which the rain water would drain from the sloping sides of the clamps. In the spring, the graves would be opened up in turn and the potatoes would be riddled to get rid of any dried on earth and to grade them according to the size after which they would be placed into sacks ready for marketing.

On one winter evening, the decoy airfield was singled out for a particular heavy attack when, in addition to several high explosive bombs, a vast number of incendiary bombs were also dropped, a string of which pierced and entered a potato grave.

My late father who was badly wounded by shrapnel in the first world war resulting in the loss of an elbow and leaving him with a shortened left arm, which hung limp and was of limited use. He reckoned that he had an old score to settle and took great delight in joining the Home Guard where he became a sergeant machine gun instructor for a number of units as well as carrying out normal platoon duties. He was out on patrol in the general direction of Terrington Marsh on the night in question and when he returned home he had a broad grin on his face. “We fooled old Jerry with the dummy aerodrome again last night” he said, “but this time his fire bombs cooked five tons of spuds. So the locals who turned out to see what the fuss was about joined us and we all had baked potatoes for supper.” And he added, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good!”

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