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15 October 2014
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The Lizard in Wartime

by Wymondham Learning Centre

Contributed by 
Wymondham Learning Centre
People in story: 
Anthony (Tony) Burton, Robert Poll, Joy Poll, Mabel Poll, Bertha Buttolph (née Poll), Eddie Buttolph
Location of story: 
Wymondham, Norfolk
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 April 2005

This story was submitted to the BBC People’s War site by Wymondham Learning Centre on behalf of the authors and has been added to the site with their permission. The authors fully understand the site's terms and conditions.

I was seven when the war broke out. I lived at number 9 on the Lizard in Wymondham with my stepfather Robert Poll and my younger stepbrother and stepsister Robert (Bob) and Joy Poll, two older stepsisters Mabel and Bertha, and Bertha’s husband Eddie Buttolph. There were about fifty-two houses on the right-hand side of the road and one, known as Lizard House, on the left. Everyone knew everyone else.

I remember the day war was declared. My stepfather was crying. He was a very kind and caring man and was thinking of our family. The following Sunday he and my Brother-in-law Eddie dug a big hole in the garden and built an air-raid shelter using old railway sleepers and corrugated iron, putting the earth they dug out of the hole on top. That was the first air-raid shelter I ever saw. I remember spending many nights in the shelter and watching the sky light up when Norwich was being blitzed.

Later, shelters were provided for those that wanted them. There were Anderson shelters, which were outdoors, and an indoor type called a Morrison shelter. The Morrison was made of steel and was used as a table. When an air raid was on you got underneath and hoped for the best. When the war started I was in Wymondham Junior School at Browick Road and concrete air raid shelters were built in some of the classrooms.

My most frightening experienced happened one Sunday morning. I was looking up at an airplane and saw some objects fall out of it. I called my sister Mabel to look. She realised they were bombs and pushed me back indoors. Then there were some big bangs and dirt and stones crashed onto the conservatory where I’d been standing. Shaking like a leaf, I went into the front room and looked out of the window. On the pavement in front of Lizard House a fountain of water was shooting up beside a big flame from a broken gas pipe. Of the six bombs I saw falling from the plane, one landed in the back garden of number 3, one in number 4, and one in front of Lizard House. If those bombs had landed just a few yards further on there would have been casualties. Another scored a direct hit on the railway line, damaging the bridge over the river Tiffey, which blocked the river and dammed back the water. The fire brigade had to use pumps to divert the water around for a few days until a culvert was made to let the water under the railway embankment.
I think the other bombs landed on the fields and recreation ground between the Lizard and Browick Road.

I remember more bombs dropping later on the meadows belonging to the late P W J Fryer of Browick Hall. As they did not explode the Army made some attempt to recover them, but gave up, saying that they would eventually rust away because the soil there was very marshy and acidic. I also remember a V1 bomb falling on Browick but doing no damage. In fact I found and kept the rocket bit from the top. As far as I know it was still in my garden shed when I moved from Wymondham in 1960.

The Army was billeted in the Fairland Hall and for a time there was a hole with a gun in it on the Fairland and a searchlight camp at the back of George Semmence’s garage on Norwich Road.

I also remember the Irish labourers that came over from Southern Ireland to construct airfields. Then the Americans came, and my friends and I often walked over to the airfield at Hethel to watch the Liberator bombers taking off and landing. Sometimes we walked onto the airfield past the guards and were very rarely challenged. One day I was invited into the dining room, and was amazed at the food that was there. It was Thanksgiving, and I thought Christmas had come early. I’d never seen so much food, as we were all living on rations. I was even lucky enough to taste some.

I remember a very nice American, Captain Earl O’Widen, who came to our Sunday School at the Congregational Church on the Fairland. Unfortunately he passed away, I think in his forties. I heard it was from overwork.

A big static water tank for the fire brigade was built in the market place in Wymondham, and I heard that when the Americans had had a few drinks one would often get thrown in the tank.

By the time the war ended I was at Wymondham Comprehensive school, and we used to grow nearly enough vegetables to keep the school kitchen going all the year, as we had gardening classes and a lot of gardening could be done with about thirty pupils each day from different classes. I was often on cycle repairing detail, as anyone who lived more than two miles from the school was given a cycle if they didn’t already have one. We also had a short-wave radio club, run by a teacher called Mr. Edwards, at the school. I think the call sign was G3 GTD.

When the war in Europe was over we had a street party on the Lizard and fun was had by all.

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