THE AFTERMATH OF WAR
Although the Second World War had been over for less than four years when I was born I was not often reminded of the conflict. As I was growing up there were plenty of things that spoke of the late war if you were listening but we were all looking forward to the bright future than was unfolding as the 1950s dawned. This was even true of the rest of my family who could all remember the war firsthand.
Nevertheless there were some things you could not ignore, and one of these was rationing. Other things were still rationed, but what I remember most was sweet rationing. Sweets eventually came off ration just in time for my fourth birthday in 1953. I don’t suppose I was bought that many sweets after rationing ended – there wasn’t a sweet shop for miles around after all. However the weekly arrival of the ration out of the ration book made the purchase of sweets a necessity. I may well have eaten more sweets while they were rationed than I did later; that is one of the unintended consequences of rationing. My favourite refreshment was not sweets at all but a glass of Corona ginger beer. The purchase of a bottle did not rely on a visit to a sweet shop; the Corona lorry called on us.
My father’s RAOC cap badge was among the oddments that could be found in a box on the mantlepiece. Another relic of wartime was a version the badge in mother-of-pearl and enamel, to be worn as a brooch by the soldier’s wife or girlfriend – in this case my mother. Otherwise there was nothing in the house to indicate that the war had ever taken place. The plaster that had been brought down from the ceilings by a bomb which fell less than a quarter of a mile away had long been replaced.
Outside in the garage there were rather more reminders. There were for instance the remains of the leather gaiters my father had worn as part of his Home Guard uniform. These had been cut up and nailed to the wall to make retainers for garden tools – hand forks and trowels. Also in the garage was a gas mask. There must originally have been four gas masks, one for each of the family. I can remember one with a breathing canister attached directly to the goggles, and one with a long hose like an elephant’s trunk with the canister at the end. There was also a khaki canvas bag that held one of the gas masks.
Beyond the back garden and across one field was a more substantial reminder of wartime. When I first remember them the eight Radar pylons of RAF Stoke Holy Cross were all in place. There were four built of wood (the picture to the left shows the guard-room by the wooden pylons’ site) and four built of steel. In this later photo only three of the steel pylons remain, and an additional one had been erected in 1959 to relay the Anglia TV signal from Norwich to the transmitter. In 1953 the Radar station was still in use; the concrete huts were still occupied and male and female Air Force personnel made their way back and forth between Stoke and the hutted camps in Framingham Earl, one for each sex. The enemy was no longer Nazi Germany but Russia, and the Cold War meant that continued vigilance was deemed essential. The proximity of so many airmen and women must have meant good trade at Framingham Earl post office, Spalding’s grocery shop and the Railway Tavern, all of which were a short walk away. Besides the Radar pylons at Stoke Holy Cross there were also pylons at Bawdsey near Felixstowe where the early experiments took place. There is now only a derelict bunker there to remind one of its wartime importance.
Further afield there was the air raid shelter that had been built at my school in Bungay. This was a dank place used for storing garden tools in my time. There was no natural light and no artificial light either and I don’t think we were supposed to enter, although there was nothing stopping us apart from an easily moved oil drum. Apart from this I can remember no air raid shelters. I can remember lots of pill boxes though; these were a bit brighter inside as at least they had gun slits that let some daylight in. They were nevertheless still damp and smelly places .
In 1950 there were still plenty of RAF airfields in Norfolk; St Faiths (now Norwich Airport) was the nearest of these, but Swanton Morley and Coltishall were not far away. The nearest to our home had been RAF Seething, a former USAAF bomber base, but that had closed in 1945. There was a USAF base at Scunthorpe near Fakenham right through 1950s and it still has an occasional use as a reserve airfield. Suffolk had the US air force at RAF Bentwaters until 1993; also at Lakenheath and Mildenhall where they still remain (for now at least, although Mildenhall is due to close in about 5 years time).
The bomb dump at Earsham, where piles of bombs (unfused of course) sat on neat tarmac lay-bys along the roadside were a definite reminder of the recent war. Apparently this too was a USAAF facility. The HQ of the Royal Norfolk Regiment remained at Britannia Barracks throughout the 1950s and in the early years of that decade the Cavalry Barracks were also still in use. The volunteer Civil Defence Service which replaced the ARP air raid wardens during the war was reintroduced in 1949 as the Civil Defence Corps. It was a presence in the city with its headquarters on the Ring Road at Sprowston until the organisation was stood down in 1968.
In the war Norfolk was a front line county, particularly from the air, but over the years this has diminished until now a military presence is virtually non-existent. Having only two sizeable ports, Kings Lynn and Yarmouth (neither with particularly easy access), there was no large Naval base in Norfolk in the 20th century. This was very different in the 19th century when Great Yarmouth was a Royal Navy port with a large naval hospital among its facilities. Only small naval boats used the port in the Second World War – a number of trawlers together with their crews were conscripted for service as patrol boats and minesweepers. An army barracks remains at the former RAF base at Swanton Morley and there is still a Radar station at Trimingham. The largest remaining establishment, by area at least, is certainly Stanta, the battle training area in South Norfolk.