Below are extracts taken from an interview with Jack Inns in the mid-2000s. Jack, born in 1925, was 14 at the outbreak of war and his parents’ house on the Thetford Road was damaged from a German bomb that was dropped on the town in 1941. Here is his account and other recollections from the war era.
War is declared
I’ll tell you where I was when war was declared. I was in Mundford, delivering newspapers and at 11 o’clock I stood at a door and heard the wireless say we are now at war with Germany. I suppose the older generation were more worried about the war than what my generation and me were.
The Home Guard
I left school in 1939, aged 14, and worked at Mount’s (Lime pit) and volunteered for the Home Guard in the early 40’s when I was 15½. We signed up in the Flintknapper’s clubroom and paraded every Friday at the Infants School, we drilled in the yard there, practised at the rifle range that was in the forest along the Bury Road and had night maneuvers. When I first joined we had a broom handle to drill with when it was known as the Local Defence Volunteers. Then we gradually got our Army uniform, boots and then issued with a rifle, which we kept at home. We had exercises where we would be involved in a mock invasion. We would ‘invade’ Newmarket or Thetford or we would defend Brandon against them. We learned about camouflage, night maneuvers and the art of self defence. We went all over Brandon at night, Thetford Road, Brandon Fields and Lingheath. It was fun at that age playing at soldiers and I enjoyed it. We had a job to do, but at my age it was a laugh. I remember Colonel Walton, Frank Holmes was an officer, Percy Hunt was our Sergeant-Major and Herbert Field was a Sergeant. The military would come along sometimes and take us on parade when we were put through our paces and there was discipline too.
We had a special unit that would go out and gain intelligence. For example they would try to get past sentries and guards to test them. I joined when Lt. Rodney Rought led it and we would go find out when there were maneuvers nearby and we would hide, and then try to take prisoners. We used to go to Rought’s house at night times and have a supper before we went out. We had weekend maneuvers and keep away from home for the weekend.
The Auxiliary Unit
Our headquarters for the Thetford Road platoon of the Brandon Home Guard was at what used to be the old shop at the front of Marlows. The other Brandon units had theirs at ‘Tip’ (Town Street) and Bury Road. We would have to go to the Infants School for our meals and bring them to our Headquarters. One Saturday night we were all in our HQ and there was supposed to be a guard on duty outside. Well I don’t know what happened next but we had a little stove there for warmth and the chimney from this stove came out into a little yard. Then all of a sudden there was a hell of a bang! One of the ‘specials’ had dropped a firecracker into the chimney and you’ve never seen anybody move so fast! Of course it was one of Phillip Field’s gang who had seen us all in there and decided to give us a fright. They also went out to creep around Thetford Forest to see if they would get caught and try to penetrate our lines.
The bombing of Thetford Road
On the odd night, now and again, you could hear the German bombers flying over because that was a different sound to what our planes sounded like. It was a droning noise. There was nothing different about that night. The siren went, we heard the siren, and father, who was in the Fire Service got up and said, “Look, be careful, the siren’s gone off.” We were about to make our way to the Morrison shelter in the living room and the next thing I know is that I couldn’t get out of bed. The window in my room at the back of the house had blown in, the ceiling had come down and there was glass everywhere. Dad came into my room to see if I was all right and said that we had been hit. I hadn’t even heard the blast!
The gas stove in the kitchen at the back of the house had been blown across the house, nearly to the front window, the pantry was down and all the ceilings were down. Of course, there was no light so we had to feel ourselves around the house and when daybreak came we saw the outside toilet had been knocked down and there was another bomb crater in the garden. The two bombs hit within 50 yards of each other and the toilet had been demolished and it blew one side of the house in The bomb also killed our two dogs and five rabbits. I think there are still splinters in that wall today.
At about 9am the next day the R.A.F. turned up from Feltwell and they dug around the garden crater and they found shrapnel. I remember an officer saying to me, “Well boy you are very lucky. If they had been High Explosive bombs then you would not have been here today”. He told me that as far as he could tell they were ‘splinter’ type bombs used for strafing runways and as far as I know there were four bombs dropped that night – the first one on Lingheath, one on our toilet, one in our garden and one near the railway sidings.
I will say that the people of Brandon in those days rallied around for us. If you ever wanted anything you only had to ask and we never locked our front or back doors, it was a different era then. Mum and Dad lived downstairs and we boarded at Aunts and Uncles until the repairs were complete. The best thing to come out of this was that our house was the first in our street to have a flushing toilet after they turned our coal shed into a toilet and built us a new coal shed.
Military activity in Brandon
When war was declared the military came into Brandon and there was an ammunition dump in Nissan huts from Santon Downham to Brandon, another at Warren Wood (now Centre Parcs), Army camps at Pinewood Drive, Santon Downham and what is now the Industrial Estate (London Road) and a military hospital at Weeting. There was never really any trouble from the squaddies and they seemed quite friendly. In the pubs the atmosphere was very good, there would be a piano in there and we would all have a really good night and there were no bad feelings at all. The Americans used to come in convoys taking their munitions from the railway to Warren Wood and although I can’t remember anyone getting knocked down it was a bit hazardous trying to cross the road at times.
I knew a lot of them from the town who were caught up at Singapore. ‘Gunny’ Royal, ‘Smoker’ Palmer, Jimmy Malt, Bertie Branch, Tom Dyer, Donnie Field and others. I knew them before they went, but a lot got killed. My brother volunteered for the Territorial Army along with these men at the start of the war when they were recruiting on the Market Hill. We did not know what was happening to them because we did not hear anything.
Joining up for service
I could have decided not to go into the Armed Services because I was in agriculture and it was a reserved occupation, but I said, “Well if it’s time for me to go then I’ll go.” I went to Cambridge for a medical before my 18th birthday and then got called up after my 18th birthday. Once we were given our service number we were ready, but if our number was even we would go into the coal mines as a ‘Bevan Boy’, if it was odd then we went into the Armed Forces. Mine was odd and I went into the Army, but three or four from Brandon went to the coal mines. When I got called up I had to report to Inverness, in Scotland, for 6 months training. I was then tested to see if I was suited to the Infantry, Engineers, Signals, etc. and I was posted to the Royal Engineers where I did another month training on a Sapper’s course. After that I was posted to France, via Dover, then into Belguim, then Nijmegen in Holland, then from there I was posted over to Hamburg in Germany.
I worked in what was known as the ‘TNT stores’ where if a unit wanted supplies, such as a Baily Bridge then we would load it onto a lorry and send it to the frontline and as the frontlines moved we had to move along with it. The people in Nijmegen were very, very, nice and you could not wish for better. The bridge at Nijmegen had been partially demolished by the Germans where a gap of about 20 yards had been blown and we put a Bailey bridge across the river there. There were more Canadians there than English and we had a good time with them. When I was in Hamburg I saw nothing but chimney stacks for miles and miles and everything was absolutely flattened. We were told not to talk to any Germans; it was called ‘non-fratenising’. I spent four or five months at Hamburg at the end of the war and then we were sent back to Scotland to cover for the dockers’ strike at the Glasgow docks, working on the King George V docks, and then when that had finished we were sent back into Hamburg.