'I ran for my life': Grandad shares memory of being shot at in city park

David Robert Rackham

David Robert Rackham (far right) is sharing stories of growing up in Sprowston in Norwich in the Second World War. Insert: David and his wife Marian. - Credit: The Rackham family

Walking around the Fine City in 2021 it is difficult to imagine it ravaged by war. 

But David Robert Rackham, 87, is determined not to let the past - and the sacrifices the people of Norwich made - be forgotten. 

So Mr Rackham, who lives in Sprowston, has turned to social media to share his stories of growing up in the 30s and 40s. 

David Robert Rackham

David (far right) as a young man in the 1940s. - Credit: The Rackham family

His tales of finding fun despite the terrifying times have attracted thousands of likes, shares and comments to the surprise of the city grandfather.

David, who has five children, said: "It's quite rewarding. I thought it would bore people."

David Robert Rackham

David (middle) as a young man in the 1940s - Credit: The Rackham family

David, who grew up in Allen's Avenue in Sprowston, said one of his starkest memories was using an old fuel engine dumped by a plane based at RAF Horsham to paddle down an anti-tank trench.

These deep trenches could be found across the city including in Catton Park, Chapel Break Road and Dereham Road. 

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He said: "When they flooded they were deep enough for us to use the empty fuel tanks and paddle about."

David Robert Rackham

David in 2021, sat in his sunroom to listen to the football commentary on Radio Norfolk. - Credit: The Rackham family

He added another memory that had been triggered by seeing a post about works in Glenburn Avenue. 

He said: "That road used to be a smallholding next to my house. My brother and I, with the horse and cart, would collect food scraps from Sprowston and the barley drainage from a brewery and it would be made into feed for the pigs."

He also remembered walking through Wensum Park with his neighbour Lesley during the Second World War when "the peace of the park was shattered by the roar of a low flying aircraft, spitting bullets along the length of the park".

David Robert Rackham

David Rackham as a young adult. - Credit: The Rackham family

He said: "I wasn't scared - I ran for my life but by that time I was used to it. Then a bomb was dropped near the old gas works - a young lady living nearby had gone home for lunch and it hit her home."

David, who later married wife Marian, added: "Someone in the comments said her grandma was in the park at the same time.

"My children and grandchildren encouraged me to start writing them down so I'm trying to do one a day."

David Robert Rackham

David (second from right) with other young men in Sprowston in the 1940s. - Credit: The Rackham family

What happened to Norwich in the Second World War?

Norwich had appeared to have escaped the worst of the war.

But then on Monday, April 27, 1942, the Luftwaffe set out to reduce parts of the city to rubble.

They had read in the Baedeker travel guides that Norwich was a place of great historical interest - and so targeted many of the city's landmark buildings were targeted.

It was approaching midnight when 25 to 30 planes flew over and dropped bombs - largely on residential streets. 

That night the Luftwaffe pounded Norwich, dropping around 185 heavy bombs, weighing more than 50 tons in around two hours.

At the time, official records reported 162 deaths with almost 600 others being seriously injured.

The planes returned on Wednesday, April 29, 1942, and did less damage given anti-aircraft fire. 

It lasted for just over an hour with figures recording 69 people to have died.