The next day at
school everyone was talking about us being at war.
The only thing you knew about war was that men
who had been at war 20 years earlier knew what it
all meant. For the general public it didn't mean much to them at all.
It was broadcast over the
radio and I think that most families knew that
broadcast was going to be broadcast on that
morning at that time. Our family was gathered
around the radio at that time, half expecting to
hear Chamberlain say we were at war.
Did you see the
In the first weeks of the war I moved
with my parents to Coronation Place and I can
remember playing football on the London Road and
seeing a large group of children coming down the
road, two-by-two, hand in hand with WVS (Women
Volunteer Service) or Red Cross people. They didn't appear to have anything with them, apart from a
little parcel or attaché case. They were dropping
them off at the houses as they came along. They
were girls from the Green School at Tottenham and
some had their brothers with them and they also
had two teachers. I think because they were girls
we became quite friendly.
It was much different they following year when
the Barnardo Boys came to Wangford
Hall. There were 20-30 boys there then and it was
a bit different as there were fights and
arguments. They were quite friendly though, but
they had two male teachers who were quite strict
so if they were caught fighting they got punished
while we didn't! They integrated into the
local schools and there were some good
friendships and some of them came back later. But
there was a different feeling for the evacuees,
whether you felt sorry for them, or because they
were girls, they were a bit pitiful as they didn't seem to have much with them.
Did rationing affect your family much?
My dad had two allotments and so we had
seasonal vegetables. Rabbits were about too. I
suppose the hardest things to get were sugar, tea
and butter, but you just accepted that you weren't going to have them. There was bread, or toast,
and dripping (left over fat from cooking meat).
There was always school dinners and that was a
meal you didn't have to supply. The meals
were comparable to what you would get today and
lots of children would stay for a school dinner.
I remember one example of Shepherds Pie and
chocolate pudding and custard.
Perhaps not every week, but most weeks, we would
have rabbit at home. In the Harvest time, along
with other boys, we would bike up to Brandon
Fields to the cornfields. As the binders would
circle the fields and get nearer to the centre of
the field there would be dozens of rabbits come
out and the boys would catch a few. Maybe the
foreman would throw you one and say, "Here
you are boy".
What can you tell me about the Air Raids?
When they tested the sirens one Sunday
morning, me and some boys went to the Police
Station to watch it go off. It was quite noisy!
When the sirens first went off at night me and my
family woke up and went downstairs. That happened
for the first week, then we took the attitude
that if they were going to hit us they would hit
us upstairs or downstairs and so we didn't wake up after that. You would often hear the
German bombers going over and on one occasion
there was a stick of bombs that fell roughly on
line with the flight path of R.A.F. Lakenheath.
One bomb fell behind a house on Thetford Road and
another on Lingheath. I remember biking to
Lingheath to get some shrapnel. It seems strange
now, but there was no big crater just a hole in
the ground and so we hunted around for some
I think that in that same stick of bombs one fell
into an asparagus field off Bury Road and some
more fell off towards Mayday Farm. Thats
the only actual air raid where bombs were dropped
locally. The only other incident was the dinner
time one where a stray plane came over, firing
machine guns. I was going home for dinner at that
time. I crouched against a fence in Coronation
Place and watched it fly past. It was still
firing at that time, flying toward R.A.F.
Lakenheath, a long slim plane. I think it was a Dornier. When I got back to school I heard that
there were two bullets that had hit the school.
One went into the cookery room and the other was
in the classroom. We saw the hole in the ceiling
Later we heard the Doodlebugs. They had a
particular drone and it was well known that when
the engine cut out, well, they would then come
down. They didn't wake you up at night, but
if you heard them, then you would sit there
hoping they would pass over. It wasn't every
night, but it was something that people heard.
They knew what they were and where they were
going, and when the engine stopped they were
coming down. But it didn't really affect us,
other than it being a talking point.
There seemed to be a lot of fund raising in the
Every year, I believe, there would be
one week set aside where they would raise money
for a specific cause. I think one was Aid
for Russia. There would be various events,
whist drives, dances and a big parade. That would
start in the High Street and they would be
collecting money on the way. I remember there
being a bandstand too.
What was it like for you during the war in
There was so much going on for a young
boy that it was a little bit exciting really.
There wasn't much school football, or much
out of town activities, so the war was the main
topic of conversation. So if there was a bomb
dropped, say on Lingheath, then you would get on
your bike and go looking for shrapnel. There were
so many people and planes about, tanks too, so
yes, I guess it was exciting.
For a boy of my age, I guess they were quite
exciting times. We saw so many planes. Especially
at the time of Arnhem. The sky was full of planes
and gliders and you then knew something was
happening. The same could be said at the time of
Normandy. Probably a week before there was a lot
of activity with the tanks moving out from the
London Road camp. They went down to the railway
station where they had enlarged the sidings and
built ramps and they moved the tanks onto the
trains. I remember one fella saying, "Were
off tomorrow. Were going! I cant tell
you where were going, but were going!"
After Lakenheath became operational I would watch
the planes from my bedroom window in Coronation
Place. I could see these Stirlings which were
large planes, roaring and appearing to be
struggling to get into the air as they were so
heavily loaded. At night I could see their
exhaust flames. I should have been going to bed
at that time, but I would sit there watching
until there were no more planes.
I do remember once there was a Stirling crashed
at the Brandon Fields. Word got around of the
crash, and as boys will be boys so a gang of us
got on our bikes to go looking for souvenirs. We
rode up there and there wasn't much left
there to be honest. The guards up there kept
telling us to get back, but we kept coming back.
There was this parachute by the side of a track
and this airman guard said, "Dont look
under that!" Well, of course we then just
had to have a look. So when we did eventually get
the chance to have a look there was a flying boot
with half a leg in it. It didn't appear to
upset anyone though, maybe because of our ages
and we talked about it for ages. It wasn't until later I felt an element of sorrow that
there were 8 or 9 men lost in that crash.
Did you have much contact with the troops
billeted in the town?
There were soldiers in the main camp and
in the Brandon House. There was a canteen in the
Church Institute, a canteen in the Baptist Chapel
and there was a building on the green near the
cinema. Actually the boys were inclined to drift
into the edges of the camp, there wasn't the
security that there might be now, and you were
reasonably well looked after. Some of the troops
gave you cakes. There wasn't any trouble
really and they integrated reasonably well.
As I said earlier they enlarged the
railway sidings also to serve the bomb dump at
Elveden, probably near where Centre Parcs is now,
and I think it was one of the biggest dumps in
East Anglia. They brought a tremendous amount of
bombs to the area for the American Air Force. We
had never seen such big trucks as the ones the
Americans used to collect their bombs. Huge
trucks roaring up the High Street with their open
exhausts in convoy up the Bury Road to the bomb
dump. It was also probably one of the first times
that people in Brandon had seen black
people and most of these drivers seemed to be.
These Americans seemed to be excitable. Roaring
up the road, not stopping for the crossroads,
shouting, singing and laughing. It would seem to
be a big thing for them roaring up the road. The
fact that they were loaded with bombs meant
nothing to them. But if you were coming out of
school on the Market Hill they would often throw
chewing gum and sweets.
There was probably more trouble at the dances
with the Americans than there were with the
British troops. The Paget Hall was the place for
dances at that time, also the Church Institute,
but if there were any trouble at the dance then
we saw the American white-helmeted Military
Police. They were cruel. They would thump the
trouble-makers across the back of the head and
throw them in to the back of the jeep. Just like
that! There wasn't any questions. They would
just wade in. I never noticed much friction
between the locals and the Americans because they
did appear to be free with what they had got.
Mind you there wasn't any Americans based
And Brandons Home Guard?
They were very active. One day a week
and maybe Sundays they would have a parade or
exercise. I suppose there wasn't much else
they could do other than man the road blocks.
Most of the roads had concrete blocks halfway
across the road and barbed-wire barriers that
they could pull across. There were several roads
where there were roadblocks and places where
there were pillboxes. One was on the corner of
Rattlers Road. There were also blocks of
concrete with spigot posts where you could
position a mortar.
What are your memories of VE and VJ Days?
Everyone was excited and I think it came
as a surprise that it happened so quickly. Mr.
Henmans shop, where G & I
is now, was a cycle and radio shop. It had a flat
roof and there were floodlights, fairy lights and
speakers on there. The road outside was blocked
off with dancing well into the night and a very
large bonfire in the pit down Thetford Road.
Everyone seemed to be out, I believe there was
also dancing in the Church Institute.
For VJ night there were dances in the Paget Hall
and the Church Institute and another very large
bonfire in the pit in the Thetford Road. There
was a lot of thunder-flashes and firecrackers
which found their way into Brandon from the
corrugated iron ammunition shelter on the Santon
Downham Road. Im not sure whether the young
boys found that they were there and easy to raid.