This week I was allowed unique access, to visit and speak with four elderly residents at The Grange care home. This started out as a general chat, about them living during the war, history, dates and geography. It ended up being so much more…For me, it ended up being something, which will stay with me for a lifetime.
This is their story (I will refer to: as our friends):
(Thankyou: Phyllis, Ida, Richard, Jenny & The Grange: Taz)
Littleport, during World War 2 was viewed as being a safer area. Littleport and The Fens was seen as a predominantly natural marshy region, flat and away from any high populated city or national area/building of high security importance with few main transport links. It was expected that Germany would drop bombs on Britain’s main cities. As this had been their action during the Spanish civil war.
Our friend living in Prickwillow recalls being aged 10 at the start of war and that a letter had been sent to the countries prime minister from Hitler. Due to this letter, the country was now at war.
From the outset of war. Littleport and the fens were deemed as being a suitable place, where city children could be welcomed and evacuated too.
These evacuee children came to this area by train, bus and coach. On arrival (usually to a village school or hall) the children would be welcomed with drink and cake freshly made by residents. Often welcomed by a prominent Fenland group, such as the Local Mothers Union. In reality and as we now know, nowhere was truly safe. The children were usually kept with siblings. But not in all cases.
Our friend explained at Alexandra Hall, Victoria Street, Littleport, evacuee children were welcomed. Addresses were assigned and they would then begin life, for the duration of the war (nobody really knew how long this would be).
Some of these children, included those who were Jewish. She recalls that the village children thought that they spoke differently. But all were integrated and included well. Into mainly welcoming families and the local school. It was sometime later, that the magnitude and atrocity affecting Jews in occupied towns became apparent…..
Many evacuated Jewish children would never see their birth families again. Boys and girls were educated separately. Most of the Fenland children found these extra friends as being of interest and fun could be had. The reality of war was viewed less dramatically by the younger children, than those whom were teenagers. The horrors of war would for them, forever be committed to memory.
As war took grip the local schools closed. Both Littleport and Prickwillow. But were used to aid war effort and to assist with the distribution of food rationing.
One of our friends attended the once Prickwillow school. Indeed five generations of her family attended. She was active in trying to prevent the schools closure in more recent years.
This food rationing via a rationing book, continued well after the conclusion of war. Indeed many years after. On the whole this was effective. There was a feeling and rumour, that certain families received more, a bit extra. One of our friends said that her mum always seemed to have extra sugar. But as she adored tea.. She would swap some sugar for the tea with a neighbour.
The Boys Salvation Army became prominent and assisted where needed. The evacuees initially arrived and started school with a name tag attached to their coat button. This tag stated their name, school and other details. They had a small suitcase, a gas mask and a pre-addressed, stamped postcard to send to parents, telling them where we had arrived.
Our friend, Aged 12, having lived in Littleport all her life. Was grateful that she lived on a farm, Mildenhall Rd, Littleport. Her father was the farm manager and as such he wouldn’t be enlisted to fight in the war. Those exempt from conscription were: Dock workers, miners, farmers, scientists, merchant seamen, railway workers and utility workers.
An Uncle went to war and sadly didn’t return. Food was plentiful on the farm. To be fair, being from a farming community. People ate from garden to table. Growing a good variety of fresh goods. Rabbit and wild fowl was readily available.
As war raged on. It became clear that nowhere was truly safe. The fens were home to many flight landing strips with bases. Ely, Lakenheath and Mildenhall to name but a few. It was these areas that proved to be some what of a target. Our friend explained the terror of one night when the long concrete access road to the farm became a mistaken target (looked like a runway) and was bombed.
But all was not lost as the ‘land Girls’ from the British women’s Land Army had arrived! These enthusiastic young woman were speedily put to work at the farm and in the area. The farms becoming in affect, their employers. The idea was that these civilians could replace men called up to the military.
Our friend, who lived with her family in Prickwillow lived in a cosy, functional home which was full of asbestos inside and out. Her Grandmother lived a short way away in a riverside, corrugated iron cottage. During the day she had asked our friend if she could the next morning bring her some bread. This day was the last time that she would see her Grandmother (& a male relative….too painful to explain). Two American B17-Flying fortress, believed to have left a local airbase. They flew over her Grandmothers home, it is believed their wings touched. This cause of event, had catastrophic implication. The planes were loaded with bombs. Both fell to the ground. One fell in a field, exploding into a fireball on contact. The other landed on the Grandmothers house. Killing those inside. The date was 6th February 1945. Her Grandfather had been heavily into horse showing and had collected a lifetime of memorabilia. Something which our friend had fondly viewed with her Grandfather (possibly, hoping to own sometime). All was destroyed. Nothing was left….
Our friend recalls Anderson shelters quickly going up, at the start of war. People seemed to like making these. As it felt like proactive work. Many became very inventive with their shelters. A neighbours was made from an old chicken coop, dug into the ground.
The sight of regular, daily planes going over brought about differing feelings from our friends. This seems to be dependent with the age. Those whom were the youngest viewed as excitement. The others as terrifying. A daily reminder of being at war.
Our friend, lived just outside of Welney. Was aged 13 at the start of war. Initially working on a land farm. Then going into the ‘Home Guard’. The Home Guard, started out being voluntary, but then became compulsory as war bore on.
Our friend, in part, valued this time. As it taught many skills. Recalling that on one day there were 13 fires to be put out. On another occasion a plane had tried to Bomb Welney bridge. This bridge was an important access into villages. Luckily the bomb landed in a field, falling short. Being part of a Home Guard platoon came with some much needed social events. Which included meals and dances or village ‘whists’.
Our friend, was born in 1943. So was a young child at the start of war. Remembering the affects of food rationing and that it was still in place when she was 12 or 13 years of age. Her and her family lived in Cambridge University accommodation. Her family ministerial. She would help with the food distribution. She remembers it all being laid out on tables at a shop ‘Joshua Taylor’, Market St, Cambridge. Enjoying as a young girl cycling in Cambridge. For a city, obviously not as built up as now. They had a larger than average garden she enjoyed having fruit from the fruit trees. She recalls that everybody pitched in. That there was an amazing sense of community.
Our friend, remembers the sad time when and an Uncle died during war. His wife and young daughter moved in with them. Our friend later became a teacher and understands the importance of war being taught in schools both then and now. But to children who aren’t too young. Due to the deep seating feeling war evolves and the atrocities that can be viewed from history. Her Grandfather was a missionary in Africa.
I asked all four as to why it is important for our community and future generations to remember war. They spoke of the need to respect and remember those whom sacrificed and who lost their lives. In order to give us the future which we enjoy now. To ensure and protect that we never be at war again. Too much needless human loss. Too many families affected and torn apart.
So how did Littleport remember…
Adams Heritage Centre pay respect
During the weeks leading up to Armistice Day, Clair’Marie from the Heritage Centre trustees requested that the community come together. To help her create a creative visual remembrance window. To mark the community coming together in remembrance. She needed beautifully crafted (whichever medium you chose) hands and poppies. The poppies being in red and purple (to remember the animals whom died in war). The idea was that the window would describe a ‘Joining of hands’. This was symbolic at the end of the war and now too. The red hands were joined together to create one, centrally displayed huge poppy.
The residents, schools, pre-schools, child minders and local businesses (whom helped distribute flyers) didn’t disappoint). Clair’Marie received a staggering approx. 1,000 !
The poppies were made from everything, strayed plastic bottle ends to metal and wire work. The youngest participant being just a few months old. A beautiful poppy with the babies hand print for the poppy leaf. Two children (9 yrs) drew and cut out beautiful poppies. Both with themselves coloured in, peeking out from the top of the poppies.
In case you missed it. When the window display is taken down. It will be kept in part of the heritage centre. For another viewing day :
Poppy Exhibition Day – Sunday 25th NOVEMBER from 10am.
Mark announced via social media that his Niece and Nephew: Elizabeth, aged 5 and Morgan, aged 8 had wanted to do something special to remember the soldiers. They were already part of the #Norfolkrocks. So it seemed a fitting idea. They painted many rocks and hid them around Littleport, near to one of the primary schools. I am sure you will agree. They did them beautifully and they were found!
The Rainbows, Guides and Brownies
The youngest section of girl guiding got crafting. Rainbows are aged: 5 – 7yrs. They made beautiful spray painted, bottle top poppies to display. The photo shows: Alicia, Isla and Isabella, from Littleport 1st Rainbows enjoying their group time. Well done girls!
The Beavers, Scouts and Cubs
Not to be left in the dark by the guiding girls. The Littleport beavers & scouts got busy. Painting rocks. These rocks were placed along St George’s church footpath. For worshippers to view on Remembrance Day. They were all individual and stunning. Well done all!
The Port Youth Club
We all had an inkling that the fabulous staff at the Port youth club were up to something…When several weeks leading up to Armistice Day. Via social media, they put out a request for chicken wire, plastic sheets and plastic bottle tops. All I can say is wow, what a display ! The wired poppy display is just by the door, as you go into church. Showing 100. As well as a steel silhouette which was cut from a steel sheet by Stuart Palmer at Anvil Crafts. Their is a Podcast recording which Carol Palmer assisted the port to put together. The link can be found on the ports Facebook page. The youths were joined at the church on Remembrance Day by the bikers of 363.
Leading up to remembrance. I asked the question:
“Why is it important for the young, as well as the old to remember now, those whom fought in the war and to keep the memory alive?”
Reply – Charlie N “We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those who lost their lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes, families, friends, strangers and the future they believed in. To pay our respects to those who died, serving their country. We must NEVER forget those who spent their lives protecting us”
Wow! Well done Charlie. Awesome, well thought out words. You have made The Port and Littleport proud. Well done all.
Royal British Legion (Littleport Branch)
In honour of the 100 years. A memorial garden has been made. This is at the large graveyard, Parsons Lane. It is to be dedicated in April. So look out for that.
In memory 1918-2018
#livelovelittleport #spottedinely #guiding #girlguiding #scouting #scouts #rembrancesunday #armistaceday #royalbritishlegion
The Littleport Remembrance Parade
Photographs taken by Maria Stableford