simply joyous to see so many members of our History
Group join our first Zoom
meeting. I felt heartened that we were able to be
together, albeit at a
distance and on a screen.
It was a
first on several fronts, not least the first time we
have been able to
share each other’s company in a year; the
first time we entered into this new format called
Zoom, with Neil Storey who
spoke at our first meeting some 10 years ago.
So it was fitting to invite Neil to present our
first Zoom meeting for
introduced Neil, thanking Ann and Peter for organising
the evening. After a
patient wait we sat back and watched and listened.
Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 was supported by
various countries and Claude
Bowers, the US Ambassador to Spain during this time,
called it “A dress
rehearsal for World War Two”. This was
the start of Neil’s journey, taking us with him
through those difficult years
along our coastline.
crisis of 1938 encouraged local communities to come
trenches were dug in villages. Martham had
its own trenches
dug in the playing fields of the
local school. Courses
poison gas attacks were carried out by St. John
Ambulance and the Red
Baldwin, the prime
minister of the day, took the decision to start
The Norfolk Regiment became the Royal Norfolk
Regiment in 1935; they raised seven active service
2,000 soldiers were lost during the
following 5 years.
from the Lincolnshire coast to London was seen as
vulnerable to invasion from
the sea. Training
camps were set up:
Neil showed us photos of the camp in the Weybourne
area in 1939 with mostly
bell tents and no permanent buildings.
The weather in summer 1939 was terrible.
few months of 1939 and the first few of 1940 was known
as the ‘Phoney War’
because it seemed far away in another land, but
reminders like the blackout,
rationing and preparations for war were clear to see.
On the 2nd
June 1940 we saw a picture of Vauxhall Station in
Great Yarmouth, with parents
waving to trains carrying children being evacuated to
safer places. On
this day over 47,000 children were
evacuated from 18 East Coast towns on 97 special
some from London, were billeted in
our coastline 50 Trinity light ships patrolled the
sea, the fishing fleet was
suspended and many trawlers were requisitioned to war
duties. Lifeboats also helped
in rescue missions. The Air Sea Rescue Service
provided four high speed gun
boats which were stationed at Great Yarmouth.
The beaches were restricted areas as they
became mined. There
were however other areas of the beaches
where the public were permitted.
seaside piers were seen as possible invasion
centre portions of both Cromer and Great
Yarmouth’s Britannia piers were blown up to create
In Yarmouth, the revolving tower dating to
1897, just north of Britannia pier and standing 150ft
tall, was seen as a
landmark for enemy aircraft. It was
demolished and used for scrap to assist the war
at pictures showing roads barricaded with blocks of
concrete and barbed
Barrels loaded with
concrete blocked all roads leading to the seafront in
Great Yarmouth. Pill
boxes came into their own once again and
many more were constructed, mostly hexagonal in shape
along the coast and
inland; these supported gun emplacements which were
strategically placed up and
down the coast. In
Yarmouth three gun
batteries were built, the northern battery stood at
the junction of Jelicoe
Road and North Drive, the second at the harbour mouth,
the third on Gorleston Cliffs. These sites
held a combination of
searchlights and a selection of various light weapons.
1940 a national force known as the Local Defence
Volunteers were formed; they
later became known as the Home Guard.
King George V1 visited the area in 1941
inspecting the Royal Norfolk battalions
billeted at Yarmouth race course, and locally based
WRNS were also inspected.
great depth of feeling Neil told of the horrors which
were about to bear down
on the East coast.
As the threat of land
invasion receded, air attacks now seemed inevitable. Neil
explained the main types of bombs used
by the Luftwaffe. High explosive bombs contained 50 to
500 kilograms of
bombs, weighing 21
pounds and only 18” long, were dropped from various
sized containers, each with
an average content of 72 bombs.
bombing started during the summer of 1940.
The heaviest bombing took place in Great
Yarmouth in 1941 when over
7,000 incendiary bombs and 800 high explosives were
dropped on the town that
year, with the loss of 109 lives and most of the old
town destroyed. Both
Cromer and Lowestoft were bombed but Great Yarmouth
was the most bombed coastal
town in the country during WW2. In June
1942 incendiary bombs fell on St. Nicholas Church:
“Flames leaped from the
roof, the steeple fell, windows shone red with
very eloquently recalled the story of Sefton House on
North Drive, now the
Burlington Palm Hotel. The Auxiliary Territorial
Service were billeted here and
30 girls had just come back from exercise.
At 8.45am on the 11th May 1943 out
of the sun and through the
mist Sefton House took a direct hit killing 26 ATS
November 1944 the Home Guard was ordered to stand down
and in September 1945
the war was finally over.
evening ended with a question and answer session. Neil
mentioned our Martham Stories which is
an oral history of Martham filmed some years ago. Here there
are memories of the war years. Just search
Stories: they are on U Tube and
mentioned with a link on the website.
of the Committee, we hope you enjoyed the evening,
trusting in the fullness of
time we will be able to meet in person once again.