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15 October 2014
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Sounds and Smells of War: Childhood Memories of Norwich

by 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

Contributed by 
2nd Air Division Memorial Library
People in story: 
Clifford Hagg
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 May 2004

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny Christian of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library on behalf of Clifford Hagg and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

When the war was declared, the gulleys (drainage) in the street were in the middle, and they were being emptied with a horse and cart.

The first bomb I saw being dropped from a plane happened when I was fielding a ball during school sports in Essex Street (now called Wessex Street). I thought they looked like babies.

I remember spending an eternity in the shelters. There were two types of public shelters: the surface ones, which were built of brick, and those that were underground. They always smelled of damp. At each end of the shelter, there was a hessian curtain with an ‘Elsan’ closet in it – which was a toilet! It had a very ‘distinctive’ smell.

On the night of the 27th April 1942, the first big raid on Norwich happened. We lived at the back of the old Norfolk and Norwich hospital. The front of our house collapsed. We were in an Anderson shelter and all the earth fell off it. When the bombing stopped, my stepfather said we couldn’t stay there – we had to go somewhere else. We went to Chapelfield, and down Grape’s Hill. We just couldn’t get through – there was a mass of bricks and glass and lots of fire hoses. We went to a relative’s house and ended up on Dereham Road. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I remember it because we must have witnessed first hand the destruction of Norwich.

My outstanding memory of the war is the smell. Wet burning, combined with a damp cement mortar smell. I can remember it to this day. It’s a similar smell to when they demolish old buildings today.

On the 27th June 1942, my mother was expecting twins. We’d been billeted in Glebe Road and suddenly mother felt the babies were coming. She walked to Heigham Grove Maternity Home. As she turned the corner, she saw it had been demolished, as it had been bombed. So she gave birth on the pavement (sadly one baby died at birth). She was then put in an ambulance which had been sent to the maternity home to recover the body of an Air Raid warden who had been killed. He was Mr. Bright who was a shop-keeper on Grape’s Hill (but she didn’t have to share an ambulance with his body). She was taken to Earlham Hall, which had been converted to a temporary maternity home. There used to be a plaque on Heigham Grove in memory of Mr. Bright.

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