The Home Front
After telling how the Red Cross unit was re-formed in the area (see Watling), Gladys Watling writes....
'As time went on there was the threat of war again and some more classes were formed with instruction ranging from First Aid to the advancement of gas. An amusing expression was given by our lecturer when he spoke of treatment of wounds and he said 'You know the use of spirits is effective - in fact some people prefer to drink the whisky and breathe on the wound!'
From the 1939 Register it is obvious most active residents of Bracon Ash and Hethel who were not called up joined the Home Guard, ARP and/or WVS.
Below: Photos of First Aid training for ARP wardens at Bracon Lodge or Woodlands, October 1939. Featured in most of the photos is a trailer stretcher-carrier built by Captain Kayusing a front axle from an Austin 7. After it had taken ARP and AFS equipment to the scene of a 'raid' it could be used to transport a casualty.
The Home Guard
'Dad's Army' - well, in Bracon Ash it was Captain Kay's army! Captain J S Granville Kay who lived in Cuckoofield Cottage (near what is now the roundabout) was one of the key organisers. He rose to the rank of Captain with the Royal Fusiliers in WW1 and commanded the local Home Guard in WW2.
From Ted Moore: Country people were caught up in the war because the Germans were bombing Norwich. I remember the night German fighters came back with the Hethel bombers, and they didn't know they were there. They shot them up as they landed. There was a search light behind the King's Head , Ashwellthorpe, and I saw the German fighter plane go down that searchlight and he came out of it. Nobody had an air raid shelter - we sat under the table! It was a great experience - I hope not to be repeated.
You can read of Ted Moore's wartime memories here:
Evacuees came to Bracon Ash and Hethel from London, and later from Yarmouth and Norwich when they were targetted. For most it was their first taste of rural life. For some, the course of their lives was changed for ever....
As Lodge Farm had a number of unused rooms in the attic (once the servants' quarters) four families who had moved out of London's East End to escape the bombing were accommodated there. The initial idea was for them to have a room each plus a communal room for cooking and eating, the ladies from the local WI came to help set this up. But these families found the change to rural living hard enough without having to share everything, so they kept to their own rooms and cooked over a coal fire or oil heater. The whole house had to share one toilet and that without a flush!
Miss White wrote about two of the refugee families:
'Mrs Upton, with her children Patrick and Ellen, had three times lost their home from bombing. Mr Upton was in the army and Mrs Upton feared that the next bombing may be the last and he'd never see them again.... [The children attended the local school.] Not that Patrick spent much time in school, he very often played truant. Nevertheless, Mrs Garrard saw his potential and tried had to persuade him to sit the scholarship exam. In spite of his spasmodic attendance she also - somehow - implanted in Patrick a love for English literature... Later he emigrated to Australia and had - in his fifties - pursued that interest in English literature by taking a degree course at Darwin University and followed this with a Masters Degree.'
'The Pollen family had 3 boys, Gussie, Paddy and Jimmy. After the family's return to London, Paddy remained, growing into a gentle giant, and finishing his education at 14 at the village school. He worked on Lodge Farm with Mr White, living in as one of the family...'
Another evacuee wrote about moving to Hethel:
Beryl Hague was a Norwich girl who was bombed out of her home at the bottom of Grapes Hill in April 1942. After a second night of heavy raids, '...my dad thought I should be evacuated into the country, so I went to my Uncle's farm, Corporation Farm at Hethel, near the new American Air base.... I attended a small school about a mile away from the farm which I had to walk to after helping to milk cows at about 6am, and at about 7.30am I would have to take a basket of eggs to the American base kitchen and the cook would give me some candles or chewing gum. When I got to school it was poorly heated with one stove in the middle of the classroom which we could not feel if we were near the wall or windows, and I had to keep my heavy coat on for many lessons.' [From 'Wartime Childhood Memories 1939-1945 by Museum Members' - E Anglian Aviation Heritage Centre, Flixton, Suffolk]
New arrivals also came to serve on local farms.
Brenda Ford (nee Collins) whose father worked for Peter Finch at Woodlands, Long Lane, grew up in a bungalow in the grounds of the 'big house'. Her father was in the TA so was called up even before the war began and was away for almost 6 years. During that time her mother accommodated some of her own family who had been bombed out in Norwich and a landgirl working for Mr Betts. She also remembered the plane that crash-landed in a field between Woodlands and Bracon Lodge: 'A Stirling bomber crashed in the early hours of the morning very near to our bungalow, cutting off electricity and causing enormous damage to trees nearby. Fortunately the airmen all managed to survive without too much injury and armed guards were placed near to the crashed plane until an enormous truck came to take the remains of the plane away.' Some men went out when they heard the crash - somewhat cautiously, not knowing whether the plane was friend or foe and if any survivors would be armed. The airmen were taken to Woodlands and Brenda's mother helped to patch them up with makeshift bandages until the emergency services arrived. The truck that came for the plane was a 'Queen Mary' and getting that onto the land from Long Lane, through the mud, was quite something, it seems! What a shame no-one took photos! (But it would have looked like the one below....)
8th May 1944 was a day of thick cloud over Bracon Ash when Thunderbolts from Bodney airfield were flying over the area in close formation - too close it proved! Six of them collided with neighbours - two managed to right themselves and returned to base; one managed to land at Hethel, more by luck than judgement, though his plane was a write-off. Two pilots managed to bail out and parachute to ground in Flordon and Hapton. Sadly, one aircraft ploughed into the edge of a wood near Mergate Hall, Bracon Ash, and the pilot (Lt. Earl H Bond) was killed instantly.
Read more about this at the Flordon History website where there is a link to the full story.
Below: Donald "Mac" McKibben's Thunderbolt, "Sneezy" before it crashed in Hapton. Miraculously, the nose art from "Sneezy" and a scattering of other objects were recovered in Hapton in 1992.