Saturday, August 2, 2014
The patriotic spirit of the 1940s – including its dramas, fashions and hardships – are being recalled during a nostalgic weekend on the Mid Norfolk Railway.
Travellers on the heritage line between Dereham and Wymondham today were joined by about 300 costumed characters, including evacuee children, British soldiers, German officers and US airmen.
At Dereham station, a noisy mock skirmish ensued after Nazi officers attempted to arrest a French resistance fighter – prompting a gunfight on the platform with arriving US troops.
Further down the line, Kimberley Park station was “occupied” by enemy forces and Wymondham Abbey became a base for some vintage military vehicles and jeeps, and a US army encampment.
Steam trains added to the 1940s ambience, with the stations’ tea rooms selling snacks and drinks which would have been popular during the Second World War.
Among the uniformed “officers” was Charles Warren, smartly attired with a paratrooper’s red beret. The 44-year-old, from Easton in Norwich works at RAF Lakenheath, but in his spare time he is a member of the Norfolk Military Vehicle Group, which added to the realism of the weekend alongside the re-enactors of the Real Allied History Group.
Mr Warren said: “The railway would have looked very much the same in the 1940s – there may have been an ARP (air raid precaution) warden or perhaps members of the Home Guard protecting vital resources like coal, so they wouldn’t get stolen and sold on the black market.
“Dereham was very famous at the time because troops would often move through here, with all the army camps and the US Air Force camps at Shipdham and Wendling. They would all have been mixing with each other, and sometimes fighting over the same girls.
“At Wymondham, you would have had mostly American air force personnel coming from the nearby Hethel aerodrome. In fact, one of the bombers at Hethel was named after one of the local pubs where the airmen would meet and drink, called the Green Dragon. When US servicemen come back to visit Wymondham, they still make a beeline for that pub.
“We are blessed with so much history, and old airfields and old railway stations, which are always struggling for funding to evoke these memories so other people can enjoy them for years to come.”
Brian Gratton, a director of the MNR and station master at Dereham, said: “This is the second year we have run the event - we have taken it on and improved it, but we want to build on it and make it even better for next year’s event, which will be on August 1 and 2.”
The event continues for the rest of this weekend.