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 members.
introduced Neil, thanking Ann and Peter for organising
the evening. After a patient wait we sat back and
watched and listened.
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
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 for
managing poison gas attacks were carried out by St.
John Ambulance and the Red Cross. Stanley
Baldwin, the prime minister of the day, took the
decision to start anti-aircraft training. The Norfolk
Regiment became the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1935;
they raised seven active service battalions. Over 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.
The last 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 trains. Evacuees,
some from London, were billeted in Martham.
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
piers were seen as possible invasion landmarks. The centre
portions of both Cromer and Great Yarmouth’s Britannia
piers were blown up to create anti-invasion barriers. 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
We looked at
pictures showing roads barricaded with blocks of
concrete and barbed wire. Herring
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
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.
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
Neil explained the main types of bombs used by
the Luftwaffe. High explosive bombs contained 50 to
500 kilograms of explosive. Incendiary
bombs, weighing 21 pounds and only 18” long, were
dropped from various sized containers, each with an
average content of 72 bombs.
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 flames”.
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 girls.
1944 the Home Guard was ordered to stand down and in
September 1945 the war was finally over.
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
On behalf 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.