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The War Years


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We hope to identify all those in the pictures below, so if you recognise someone as yet unidentified, let us know and we will update the site.
Let your cursor rest on each person's head and if we know their name, the label will appear. If you recognise someone unlabelled please do let us know - contact details at the bottom of this page.



Home Guard

The Home Guard started life as the Local Defence Volunteers but were not well equipped by the military planners, who for some time did not believe an invasion was likely. Arms and uniforms were not supplied for all recruits until 1944 - units were then stood down in December! Scares of invasion were met with common sense sceptism in the village with at least one volunteer taking time to shave before turning out!

Itteringham Home Guard (+ other volunteers) on Aldborough Green.
Itteringham Home Guard (+ other volunteers) on Aldborough Green.
Kent and Sons Stores is on the right
Click for larger image with names

We had a fright once. They said that the Germans were invading... Weybourne which was wrong...and the Home Guard started to march towards Weybourne with shovels and forks and all sorts of things cause they hadn't got any guns then.
Ruth Harrison

In 1936 Mr Cossey Skinner and his wife Win lived in the Manor House. Mr. Skinner was in the Home Guard. They used the front lawn on Sunday mornings to drill and lay out equipment.

A lady used to come and give demonstrations in the village hall. One poor man fainted while practising the bandaging.
W.S.

Many villagers, both men and women did "Fire Watching." Cups of tea were available from the old bakehouse in the centre of the village.

My husband was in the Home Guard...no not in the Home Guard - in the ARP. He called it the IRP and not the ARP (laugh)...
Well, the lady that lived over the road there, they used to have their meetings in her house before they went round to see if the boats were in, that sort of thing and one day when I came down to the shop, she said, "Oh, we had a spree last night!" So I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "They found a new game to play." So I said, "What was that?" She said, "Well, you find a bluebottle and you hold its wings and if you hold it over a full matchbox, that'll empty the matchbox." ...with its legs... hold it over the matchbox and lift it away out of the matchbox.
[Ruth demonstrates repeated movement with hands]
So that day after that, when it was time for my husband to go again, before he went off, I caught two bluebottles and put them in a matchbox and as he was getting all his gear ready to go away, I said, "Here, you'd better take this with you, look." So he said, What's that?" So he opened the box and one flew out. I said, "Nora told me all of you'd been playing empty the matchbox with a fly, so I though I'd better find you some flies...save you the job!" (laughter) He took it very well!
I suspect... they did have to pass the time.

Well, reckon that was a bit boring but there you are...
Ruth Harrison



Evacuees

The school was made ready for evacueees in October 1939. Several of the villagers looked after the children but some returned to their families despite the danger.

I had some evacuees. They came quite early. Poor little souls, they did look wrecks some of them. I had two from Gravesend and they were a couple of little monkeys... they were sitting outside the gate which joined the churchyard gate and Reverend Summers came down the road and he says, "Are you coming to church this morning?" Beryl said "No I'm not!" So he said, "Well, where do you go on Sunday when you're at home?" She said, "We go to the pub with father and we sit on the step and wait till he comes out."
Ruth Harrison

They were a couple of rough 'uns. They stayed with me till about a year before the war finished and then they, Mrs. H. their mother, took them home cause Beryl was getting a bit out of hand. I missed them, I missed them a lot.
Ruth Harrison

The little boy used to go down to the river every night. He'd only got one pair of trousers and he used to come home wet through. I used to have to dry the trousers every night... Just paddling in the water and all times during the year.
He came home one night, I said "What are you wet again? You are a naughty boy!" "Yes," he said, "Don't put me to bed Auntie, give me a damn good hiding!"
He'd rather have a damn good hiding than go to bed...I suppose that was what he'd been used to, I don't know? ...I didn't give him one...

Ruth Harrison

His mother sent him another pair of trousers after a bit so he had on pair on and one off but otherwise I used to have to wash them out Saturday nights and dry them Sundays, oh dear. We had a lot of accidents round here at that time. Then things started getting worse, some of them went home.
Ruth Harrison



Military

The nearest airfield was the fighter base at RAF Matlaske. The NCOs' and airmens' messes were at Barningham Hall but all the officers were billeted at Itteringham Mill. The transport from Matlaske to Itteringham was by bicycle. Further details are recorded on the Mill Page.

Westland Whirlwind P7094 c.1943
Westland Whirlwind P7094 c.1943
After a forced landing near Matlask, when returning to base on 23rd December 1941, this aircraft was transferred from No. 137 squadron to No. 263 squadron after repair, almost a year later. Flying as HE-T it was wrecked on 16th May 1943 after 166 flying hours.

On 29th May 1942, a Westland Whirlwind from Matlaske piloted by P/O Jowitt arrived over the airfield at 06:00 hours. When at about 800 ft, his port engine caught fire and the aircraft went into a spin. Jowitt baled out and conviently landed outside the officers' mess in time for breakfast! The plane crashed in the watermeadows by the bridge near Bintry Farm.
The aircraft was No. P7118 of 137 squadron and had flown a total of 111 hours. The aircraft was named 'Bellows 4' which indicates it was one those purchased by the Argentinian company Bellows, who donated four Whirlwinds to the RAF.
It's believed the wreckage was excavated by an aviation museum after the war.

Westland Whirlwind P7110 in 1941
Westland Whirlwind P7110 in 1941
This aircraft was almost certainly stationed at Matlaske during the course of it's service
photo supplied by www.ww2images.com

There was a plane crashed just over the bridge, alongside of the river, on the Common side of the bridge, on the bend. If you look you can see, on the bend, it went down the bank.
Ruth Harrison

Searchlight boys - January 1943
Searchlight boys - January 1943
Standing left to right: Nancy Lusher, Fred, Ron, Jim, Kay Denyer
Front: Jack, Charlie, Bill, 'Appy'

 
Searchlight boys - January 1943
Searchlight boys - January 1943
Left to right: Bill, Ron, Fred, Charlie, 'Appy'
With backs turned: Jack, Jim

Searchlight boys - January 1943
Searchlight boys - January 1943
Standing left to right: Nancy Lusher, Fred, Ron, Jim, Eileen Stone
Front - Jack, Charlie, Bill, "Appy"


Home Front

It was awful. We had a rough old time, esecially when they were bombing Coventry because there were troops up on the park at Wolterton, there were troops at Barningham Hall and there was the airforce at Oulton. We were in the middle of the lot... they used to put the searchlights up and you could see the planes in the searchlight. They fired at them, bits of shrapnel would come down sometimes. We had bombs one night come down, they started just over the bridge and they missed the farmhouse, Hill farmhouse and dropped further afield on the road where you go down from Aylsham to the Common.
Ruth Harrison

Some of them (bombs) fell in that plantation up there. We had it pretty near sometimes. My father was scared stiff of 'em. He worked at that time up on the farm that joined the arifield, I think it's Harrolds' now. And he came home one day and he said to my mother "I'll have to have some clean linen, some clean clothes." She said he'd been hiding behind a row of wire netting while they machine gunned the airfield and that frightened him (laughter).
Ruth Harrison

Possibly evening of 29th October 1940 when 5 Dornier 17 bombers bombed and machinegunned the area.

Tom Baxter had a miraculous escape one day, when he decided to walk home for his dinner. On his return a large bomb crater was where he had left his bicycle. Had he not decided to go home, Tom would have been no more.

We didn't have official shelters, we had shelters that they made themselves, you know. We had a pigs' house lowered down; they dug a big hole and lowered the pigs' house down and used to have to go down three steps to get into it, down deep. But don't think that was a bit of good really because had anything dropped we should have had it, shouldn't we? I know my brother was home on leave, he was minesweeping off the Naze and he was home on 48 hours leave and he was so tired because they'd been, you know, doing it all the while. He went to bed soon as he got home and of course out go the sirens. My mother opened the door and she said, "Boy, you'll have to get up, the siren's out." So he said, "I aren't coming." So he said "I aren't coming, I'm tired." She said, "Well you'll have to come, we're going to the shelter." So he said "Well you can go, I'll stay here." But she wouldn't go without him. She always used to carry her handbag on her arm with the rent in. She said if the house went down she'd got the rent money with her.
So we went off and she wouldn't give me any rest when we went down; I said, "You'll have to get up boy, we've got no peace up there." So he got up and she was waiting for him just out in the yard, so she walked in front of him as we were going up the garden and a chandlier flare came out, lit everywhere up like daylight. 'Course we started to trot, to run to get down the dug-out and instead of going down, she fell down, went down head first. So my brother said, "What on earth do you think you're up to?" She say, "I always go down here like that." He say, "Well, the Lord know what you do when you're in a hurry then." (laughter) Poor old soul.

Ruth Harrison

Eileen Stone - 1941
Eileen Stone - 1941

I called in at the village_shop in early October and mentioned that my mother Eileen Stone was a Land Girl at White_House_Farm, from November 1941 till February 1943. I promised I would send copies of the snap shots but there are so many of them, most with descriptions on the back, that it has taken me a while to sort through! Some are of the farm, others of the area and one or two of local people: Mr & Mrs Lake with children Tommy and Mary at White_House_Farm, Mrs Curtis the Post Woman, Mr & Mrs Douglas of 64 Woodgate and the Regis family (Mrs Regis, Lois, Peggy, baby Reggie, Lynn, Mike and young Lou) from the Mill House.
There are two group photos of the Searchlight Boys but they are only given first names.  There is also a photograph of Daisy and Rosa Heward at their home, O'Fids, Hall Road Cromer. One of the Miss Hewards ran the YMCA at Cromer.
I have three letters Mum wrote to my father from the farm, and I have extracted relevant bits from those. It is pity there are not more letters from Itteringham, as I have a huge archive of wartime letters and diaries from both my parents but those three are the only survivors from Norfolk. 
Mum, at her request, was transferred back home to a farm in West Sussex in 1943. My father was a PoW in Stalag Luft III, involved in a very minor way, in the Great Escape. Theirs is quite a love story and they were married a month after his return to the UK in June 1945.
Leigh Lawson - 1st December 2011

Regis boys from Blickling Mill House - November 1942
Regis boys from Blickling Mill House - November 1942
Lynn, Mike and Lou Regis with Kay, Rover and Gussie

64 Woodgate, Blickling -1942 Mr & Mrs Douglas & daughter from 64 Woodgate -1942
64 Woodgate, Blickling -1942
Mr & Mrs Douglas & daughter from 64 Woodgate -1942

Nancy Lusher, Eileen Stone & Kay Denyer milking - 1942

According to a recording of my father talking for an oral history project in 2003, on leaving Plumpton Agricultural College in Sussex, Eileen Stone and Kay Denyer requested to go to an isolated farm. Their wish was to be as deep in the countryside as possible.

They were first billeted with Mr & Mrs Douglas who lived at 64 Woodgate, Blickling. It was so cold and damp in the beds that sometimes the girls slept in their mackintoshes. They used the tepid water from their hot water bottles to wash in, when there was ice on the washing water in the jug.

They were very relieved when a month later, a room was found for them to share in the farmhouse at White House Farm. It was a ground floor room, and they used to go in and out through the window rather than use the front door and go through the house!

Some of the men working on the farm made it hard for them at first, deliberately leaving things lying around for them to trip over etc, but the girls took everything in good part and were eventually accepted. Eileen remembered being told to go into the pen with the bull to brush his coat - which she did without hesitation. She wasn't one to give up easily and I think she impressed the men with her spirit.

Leigh Lawson - 31st December 2011

The following are extracts from letters written by Eileen Stone, from Lyminster, West Sussex, a Land Girl billeted at White House Farm, Itteringham, to her boyfriend Flt Lt Leslie Speller from Littlehampton West Sussex, serving with the RAF in the Middle East.
Eileen and her married friend Kay Denyer trained at Plumpton Agricultural College in East Sussex and went straight from there in November 1941, to Norfolk where they stayed for the first month with Mr and Mrs Douglas at 64 Woodgate, Blickling. They lived and worked at White House Farm until February 1943 when they got a transfer to Lock Farm, Partridge Green, West Sussex Kay’s husband Freddie, spent his leave with them at White House Farm before going to Africa.
Leslie was shot down in 1942, captured and sent to Stalag Luft III where he remained for the next three years. He married Eileen a month after arriving home in 1945.

18 January 1942
If the Postwoman doesn’t bring me a letter [from you] tomorrow, I shall take it out of the old cows. They certainly “go through it” when I feel bad tempered. I had a marvelous time at Mr. & Mrs. Dennis’ last Sunday. They live 9 miles from us and have got a really lovely farm house. There was home-made farm butter, chocolate sponge with real cream in, date and walnut cake etc. etc. for tea. Gosh it was good.
At last we have found someone to do our cleaning and so we don’t have to rush around quite so much when we get in from work. Mrs Glister is her name and she scrubs and polishes our room until it shines like a new pin and then does our ironing. It is a treat to see the place look clean again. We feel far too tired to set down to scrubbing and polishing when our day’s work is done. As it is, we usually have a tree to saw up, quite twice a week, to keep the jolly old fire alight.
There hasn’t been any more snow the last few days but it has been damned cold. It is real torture to drag oneself out of bed in the mornings. It has been later every morning before Kay and I can summon up enough courage to take the plunge. 6.15 this morning! And it should be 5.30!!! When we do get up, we light the fire and make a pot of tea so that the next torture is leaving the fire. We still haven’t got a wireless – I wish we had – it is so dull without one.
Don’t tell a soul but I think we may be getting a weekend soon. It sounds too good to be true. We have made several friends at Cromer and one very nice lady has invited us to her house if we can get a weekend. Fancy being able to go to a dance again and the pictures, and best of all, not have to get up at 5.30.
I don’t think I will marry a farmer after all! Life is far too much like hard work on a farm, and no holidays.

3 February 1942
Our lovely snow has turned to rain today and it has been pouring all day long. Rather mucky in the cowstalls – milking dripping, steaming cows. The trees looked like Spring yesterday. The snow on them was thick just like white blossoms. But the sun didn’t come out and it was rather dull so I couldn’t take any photos. We had a super snowball fight though. I had the advantage as I was on the top of a hay stack.
For the past fortnight our “Wallie” has had to take the milk down for us as the fields are too dangerous for us. We have beaten the record and have now got icicles 16 ins long. And I ain’t exaggerating – no Sir.
We managed to get in to the flicks on Saturday and what should be on but ‘Victory’ and we had both seen it and didn’t like it any way. That is the second time that has happened. It is a queer place this Norfolk – we had to knock the manager up in order to buy the tickets. I suppose so few people go in on Sat. afternoons that they don’t bother to keep the box open.
So you don’t like our Norfolk don’t you? Well it is rather unfair to judge it from the air isn’t it! But I know it is very flat around Cambridge – here though it is exceptionally hilly and I simply love the trees. We have got quite a collection of wild birds too which come to our window sill for bread. There are 6 Goldfinches which are often outside the cowstalls too. They are driven in by the wild weather of course, in search of food.

2 March 1942
Hurrah for March! It was quite warm today and we were able to work in “next to nothings”. It is Heaven working on a farm in the warm weather. Unfortunately we shall have to take the milk
down the meadow ourselves again from tomorrow as the ice has at last gone.
Went to Norwich on Friday and saw “Hatters Castle” Do you remember I read the book?
I asked about going home at Easter for Joyce’s wedding the other day and Mr. Lake is going to see if he can manage it. Oh boy oh boy – if I can. Just think of seeing the old faces again. I shall have been in the W.L.A. six months, excluding the month’s training, by then so am entitled to a few days and traveling expenses are paid. I am also entitled to a half diamond then for my arm band. Whoopee! I hope the war is not long enough for me to have more than one diamond any way.
We haven’t produced any more calves lately. I must send you a photo of them some time. Oh gosh. Time for bed again. All we do is eat work and sleep. Hell. To hell with Hitler and all those blokes who keep this war going.
Eileen Stone, from Lyminster, West Sussex

EVACUATION

Having survived unscathed the early blitz period of the war, by late 1943, air raids had become fairly infrequent, and people were becoming fairly relaxed. This ended with the onset of Hitler's last fling, with V1 flying bombs, and the V2 Rockets.

After the V1 had destroyed the school and damaged several other buildings in Wembley High road, evacuation of children from the area was again considered essential.

My parents decided to send me to the small village of Itteringham, in Norfolk, to stay with a family who were acquainted with my cousin Chester Dickenson, at the time serving with the RAF at a nearby airfield.

Having travelled with my mother by train to Aylsham, we completed the journey to Itteringham by taxi. It seemed like a very long journey, but in reality it was only a few miles.

The Family I was staying with was named Broughton. The mother was a widow, and there were two boys around my own age, named Freddy & Denis, and an older boy in his teens. There were two girls, one around twelve years old and another was a teenager named Dulcie

The house was the first in a row of four farm workers cottages known as Church row. There were two downstairs rooms, and three small upstairs bedrooms. At the front of the building, adjacent to the front door was the entrance to a small storage area for firewood which also contained a wood fired boiler, known as a copper, used for laundry.

There was no piped water, and no electricity in the house. Lighting was by two large brass oil lamps, hanging in the center of each of the downstairs rooms. Each of these rooms also had a cast iron cooking stove, which served for heating in the winter as well as cooking. There was no heat in the upstairs bedrooms.

Since the houses were built on a slope, the back room was slightly lower than the front, resulting in a step down between two halves of the ground floor rooms. In the winter, the family used the upper part of the downstairs area, and the lower part, opening on to the garden was used in the summer. The house also possessed two large Tom-cats, which were half wild, and made their own arrangements for food.

For decoration in the cottage, there were a number of stuffed birds and small animals in glass display cases fastened to the walls.

There was also a pantry and store cupboard leading off from the lower room, containing among other things a large galvanized pail full of drinking water. Shortly after my arrival, I asked for a drink of water, and was given a cup, and shown the pail of water in the pantry. Accustomed as I was to getting water from a tap, the thought came into my young head that the people in the house were trying to poison me.

The downstairs floors in the cottage were of flagstones. These were partially covered by rugs made from strips of old rags sewn on to a backing of sackcloth. They were laid out in front of the little cast iron ranges in the upper and lower areas of the house. They seem to have been particularly attractive to the house cats.

Each of the cottages had a garden at the rear, with access to the old fashioned windlass well which served all four homes. Behind this was a lane leading to a farm. The village Hall and what was then a sandpit, was on the other side of this lane.

The front door of each of the cottages opened into a narrow passageway bounded by a flint faced wall, about four feet high, on the other side of which was the churchyard. The passageway led to the Shared vegetable garden at the far side of the cottages, and a small shed containing four outside toilets, one for each home. These were foul smelling ‘Thunderbucket' latrines, which from time to time had to be emptied. For night-time urination only, there was a chamberpot in each bedroom.

Behind the row of toilets was an area given over to vegetable gardens and chicken runs, as well as a deep square pit into which the contents of the thunder-buckets from the toilets were emptied. When the pit was two thirds full, it was back filled with earth and another pit was dug elsewhere in the garden area.

The cottagers kept a variety of domestic fowl in the wire runs in this area, including ducks and bantam chickens. These were generally fed on ground up kitchen scraps. Most people also kept rabbits, and these were generally fed on certain weeds and herbs collected from the hedgerows as well as cabbage stalks etc.

At the time of my evacuation there was no piped water in the village. There were a number of wells, each serving about half a dozen houses. These were the classic design, consisting of a brick lined shaft about four feet across, rising about three feet above ground. The water, which was crystal clear, was about twenty-five feet down, and was drawn up in a galvanized pail by a rope and windlass. There was a little roof covering the well, supported by the wooden posts to which the windlass was attached. The galvanized pail remained in the well. The water from this was poured into another container, which was kept in the house.

Although there were a few houses in the village connected to the electric service, there was no connection to Church Row. The cottages were lit by candles and oil lamps.

The oil lamps were of the old fashioned design, with a wick that needed trimming every day. They burned paraffin oil, which gave off its characteristic stench when burning.

I do not recall seeing any pressurized oil lamps, such as the “Tilley” anywhere in the village. One soon became so accustomed to the smell of paraffin oil, that it was no longer noticed.

There was also a battery radio in the house, but it was rarely used. The big batteries were expensive, and the glass accumulator needed to be charged regularly, but in the winter it was occasionally switched on and the whole family would sit round listening to it.

The village school was a two-room building with a tarmac playground surrounding it.

There was one teacher who was probably in her thirties, but to a seven year old looked like an old lady. Due to the wartime staff shortages she had to manage things alone.

The children were divided into two groups by age, the younger ones in one room, and the older ones in the other. The teacher would take the class of older children, and delegate one of the older and brighter girls to look after the younger group.

Pupils above a certain age were driven to Sheringham each day to attend the school there.

The toilet facilities at the school were in keeping with the rest of the village, consisting of a row of four thunder-bucket stalls set against the wall at the back of the playground.

The contents of the filled buckets were emptied over the wall to join the existing malodorous mountain of dung and straw from the adjacent farm's cowsheds and stables, ultimately to be spread on the fields as manure.

Situated about a mile from the village, one of the favorite playgrounds for the local boys was Mannington sandpit, (pronounced Munt'n sandpit by the natives.) This sandpit was used as a firing range by several of the local airfields, and there were always a wealth of bright brass cartridge cases, both live and fired, lying around in the sand. Most of these were .303 rifle bullets, but a few revolver rounds could be found and these were highly prized. I recall on one occasion helping to carry a small sack of live 303 rifle cartridges home, and hiding them under the hedge behind the vegetable garden. The boys had no use for these, except to look at, and the instinct to collect bright things must have been akin to that of Magpies and Ravens. The cartridges are probably still there, although the sack would long ago have rotted away. On one visit we found an unexploded hand grenade, which I stayed well clear of, but the other boys examined it closely. By a miracle it never exploded. It is well said that God looks after drunks and little children.

Close to the sandpit, there was a ruined Church, which at the time was held to be haunted by the local villagers. Nobody would go near the place at night.

Towards the end of Summer, it seemed the whole village turned out to collect firewood for the winter. Surprisingly large tree trunks and branches were dragged, sometimes several miles from the surrounding woods. It is possible that the local villagers enjoyed the ancient right to collect fuel, known as ‘Fire Bote' dating back to Saxon times. It is unlikely that the owners of the woods welcomed this annual incursion. The wood supply had to last out the winter, but the fireboxes on the cooking stoves were very small, so a little went a long way.

The smell of the wood fires in the village was very pleasant on winter evenings, compared to coal smoke, which I had grown up with in Wembley

The same woods that were the source of firewood were predominantly sweet Chestnut, and in the autumn when the nuts were ripe, they were gathered by the village children.

In addition, many of the hedgerows were hazel, and again the children would go out in groups and collect these Hazel nuts, which were delicious when fresh picked from the bushes.

Most of the farms around Itteringham grew wheat or barley, and when the time came to harvest this, most of the village population would turn out to help. To cut the Wheat, a “Binder” was used, pulled by an old Fordson tractor with spiked rear wheels. The spikes had to be removed when traveling on the road. These old tractors had dual fuel tanks, one of which contained petrol, and the other paraffin oil. The engine was started on petrol and when it had warmed up the fuel line was switched to paraffin. The Binder machine would cut the crop, and tie it into bundles, which were then ejected behind. A group of workers would follow the Binder and stack the bundles upright into “Stookes” to dry. The machine would start at the edge of the field by the entrance gate, and work around the field in a spiral. As remaining area to be cut grew smaller, the Rabbits, which had been sheltering in the crop, would break cover and make a dash for the hedges at the edge of the field. They would be met by an occasional shotgun, as well as dogs and boys with sticks enthusiastically giving chase, hopeful of rabbit stew for supper. About half of the rabbits made it to safety.

Once the cut crop had dried and was ready for threshing, the stooks would be collected from different fields either on a farm cart pulled horses or a tractor, or possibly by an ancient Thornycroft lorry with solid tyres, and taken to the threshing machine which had been set up in a convenient central point. This machine was driven by a steam traction engine using an enormous four-inch leather belt, which by some miracle managed to remain on the flat drive wheels. I recall watching this belt with fascination for long periods, listening to the regular click as the joint in the belt passed over the flywheel and the chuffing of the steam engine.

Another major crop in the area was sugarbeet, and harvesting this was a labour intensive and back-breaking job. The farmhands would work backwards across the field, grasping the beet by its leaves, and pulling it out of the soil. When two had been uprooted, they had to be banged together to remove the loose soil, after which the worker would move back to the next two beets and repeat the process. When the field had been cleared in this manner, another group would remove the leaves with a sickle, and load the beet into a truck or farm cart to be taken to the factory for processing.

On another occasion, whole families including children would gather to pick blackcurrants, payment presumably being made by weight of berries picked. A good many were also eaten by the children.

Across the lane behind the Church Row cottages was the village hall. I recall an occasion when the Vicar managed to get a magic lantern and a film projector, and gave the population of the village a treat. The film show was mainly black and white cartoons, with some music hall acts, including sand dancers. A good time was had by all.

My winter in Itteringham in 1944, was one of the coldest on record, with snow drifting to a depth of three feet or more. There was a little water filled ditch behind the village pub, which was frozen almost solid, and made a good slide. For small boys wearing short trousers the snow would be above the knees, but I have no recollection of feeling particularly cold, and we would go out to play in the road in the morning at least half an hour before school started.

During the war the whole county was dotted with airfields. Perhaps the closest was at Matlaske, and I recall the thrill of seeing three fighter planes taking off, on an occasion when we ventured further than normal from the village. At the time, the hedges close to the airfield were covered with aluminum foil strips, known as ‘Window', used to jam German radar.

Another airfield used by American bombers was on the road to Aylsham, close to Blickling, but we never wandered that far from home. However, I can recall the discussion among adults in the village when a returning bomber had crashed and burned on that airfield.

The closest popular play area to the Church Row cottages, was the sand pit across the lane, and adjacent to the church hall. This small open area, was bounded by Church Road on one side, and a small swampy thicket of trees and alder bushes, known locally as ‘The Car' on the other. The sandpit extended down as far as the schoolhouse. On the other side of ‘the car' was a small brook running into the river Bure a little upstream of the bridge. There was a small footbridge crossing the brook behind the area now known as the Big Yard, and close to this footbridge, was an area generally used as the village rubbish dump. We used to search the area from time to time looking for prized empty jam jars, used for fishing in the brook where it passed under the lane. There were both three spine and ten spine sticklebacks, as well as stone loaches in the brook, in addition to lampreys, known as blood suckers, which were much sought after as a delicacy by Italian POW's working on local farms. Dead electric light bulbs were also popular, as floating targets for stone throwing.

Another summer pursuit by young boys in the area was bird-nesting and the collection of birds eggs. Searching the hedgerows in late spring was a popular pastime, although most birds, particularly blackbirds tended to build their nests in thorn bushes and were therefore unreachable. There were many more wild birds about at that time, and it was even possible for collectors to buy wild birds eggs commercially.

There were also many varieties of butterflies, many of which are quite rare today, that we enthusiastically chased but rarely captured. In the evenings we would stay out until dusk, at which time the mothers in the village would stand outside and call their children home. Each woman had her own recognizable call, and they could be heard at a distance that would make an army Sergeant Major green with envy.

The village policeman, a much respected and universally feared figure, lived in a house on the other side of Church Road, a few hundred feet from the entrance to the church.

He rode a heavy framed large wheeled bicycle. The most serious crime in the area at the time was probably small scale poaching.

There were numbers of Italian POW's working in the area at that time. Primarily it would seem in clearing out the drainage ditches in areas of reclaimed swamp. Many of these prisoners made baskets and woodcarvings, which they would try to exchange for a few shillings or a bar of soap that was in short supply at the time. They were generally of a cheerful and friendly disposition, no doubt glad to be out of the war for the duration.

At the end of the war I returned home to Wembley with a strong Norfolk accent which took me several months to lose, and a love of the country which I retain to this day.

Tony Rock - 22nd March 2012


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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2004
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