CAISTER MEN NEVER TURN BACK

Farfield was the boarding house of my school and I wish to refer to two scions of famous Norfolk families  who entered the house with me in 1963. We did not regard these two boys as anything special at the time, but in retrospect it was a remarkable thing. Out of about a dozen new boys that year they represented a fair sized chunk of Norfolk’s recent history.  If I say that their names were Jasper Edrich and Gordon Haylett you might be able to guess what I am talking about.

Jimmy Haylett was born in 1825, so he would not have been Gordon’s grandfather, but he may have been his great grandfather; he was definitely an ancestor. Gordon came from Caister where James Haylett had been the assistant coxswain of the Caister lifeboat for many years. James Haylett had moved there from nearby Winterton.  (Caister was a small fishing village just to the north of Great Yarmouth.) At the time of the great storm in November 1901 Haylett was already well into his late seventies, and was no longer going to sea in the lifeboat. He did however take a leading part in the rescue attempt when the boat overturned in the surf while trying to rescue a vessel in distress.  Several of his family as well as other crew members were drowned. A gale was raging and the events of this day gave rise to the famous words “Caister men never turn back”, Haylett’s reply to the question of why he had risked his life. This was a journalist’s version of Haylett’s actual words but the phrase has stuck. The motto “Never turn back” has been adopted by all lifeboatmen in the country. James Haylett saved just two of the crew, but they would otherwise certainly have been drowned. He was later given the RNLI gold medal by the king at Sandringham for his heroic efforts in the storm. He was royally entertained and spent several hours talking to both the Prince of Wales and King Edward VII. He was taken from Caister to Wolferton and back by a special train.

Gordon Haylett of Caister

Gordon Haylett of Caister

His descendant Gordon was a great one for reciting poetry which he had learnt by heart, so a way with words had obviously come down the generations. I can still hear him now standing in our study doorway and declaiming Milton’s sonnet On His Blindness; “When I consider how my light is spent…” Gordon’s father had been involved in the Yarmouth herring industry, but that had been in decline for years and by 1963 he had turned from drifters to the holiday chalets in Caister. I remember visiting Haylett’s parents at their bungalow in Kingston Avenue, Caister. It was in November 1980 and Gordon was already practicing accountancy in Spain. With my friend Bill and my sister Tiggie we were entertained with big glasses of whisky, buns and apple pie, although it was only the mid-afternoon.

James Haylett had spoken as a true Norfolkman, which is what he was, and poor Gordon was rather mocked for his Norfolk accent when he first arrived at Gresham’s as a County scholar in 1960. Gordon trained as an accountant and now lives with his family near Oxford. I had not seen him for many years, but we met up in 2011 at the Farfield centenary dinner.

*   *   *

Jasper Edrich

Jasper Edrich

Jasper Edrich was cricketing legend Bill Edrich’s son. Bill Edrich was born in 1916 at Lingwood in Norfolk and was educated at Bracondale School in Norwich. Lingwood is on the railway line to Norwich from Great Yarmouth, and his journey to school each morning would only have involved a walk of half a mile or so from the Station to Bracondale school, along the riverside. This small private school was closed about 20 years ago. The fact that the school was only half a mile from Norfolk County  Cricket Ground at Lakenham may have had something to do with developing his cricketing skills. He certainly played for Norfolk aged only 16. Like Bracondale school the cricket ground has also been closed in the last 20 years.

Bill had a career in international cricket that was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he won the DFC for piloting Blenheim bombers. He returned to cricket after the war and in 1947 scored an astonishing 3,539 runs, a number which was exceeded only by Denis Compton, and not by many. With the reduction in the number of matches played in First Class cricket these numbers are unlikely ever to be beaten. Bill Edrich also took 67 wickets in the same season.

Bill Edrich had retired from cricket by the time I knew Jasper, and was running a rather less glamorous business supplying sewage treatment plant to people living outside the areas covered by mains drainage. However the family still played amateur cricket and fielded a team with all eleven players members of the family. There is a book on Bill Edrich (Alan Hill, Bill Edrich; a Biography; Andre Deutsch, 1994) which has a photo of Jasper in the team. Like Gordon, Jasper also went into accountancy and has lived in South Africa for many years.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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