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Looking back to when Norfolk was preparing for war

PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:46 20 August 2019

Picture: George Plunkett

Picture: George Plunkett

George Plunkett

Thousands of Norwich families had made their way to the coast.

South view of the air raid precaution trenches at Cattle Market, 20 September 1939. Picture: George PlunkettSouth view of the air raid precaution trenches at Cattle Market, 20 September 1939. Picture: George Plunkett

The sea front at Great Yarmouth was packed.

Lowestoft and Gorleston were heaving and even more were crowding on to trains and buses to Cromer as thousands of people attempted to have one last celebration before life changed forever.

The sun would soon be disappearing under the dark clouds of war. The days of family fun at the seaside were coming to an end.

For months shelters had been dug in Norwich and across the county. Sandbags were appearing outside important buildings, scared and bewildered children were arriving from other parts of the country. Gas masks were being issued.

Newspaper advert from the Eastern Evening News from 6 September 1939. Photo: Archant LibraryNewspaper advert from the Eastern Evening News from 6 September 1939. Photo: Archant Library

The country was preparing for war.

Nineteen thirty nine began with news that Norwich would not be evacuated during any air raids which may or may not happen. The city and Great Yarmouth had been described as "neutral" areas which would not be evacuated or receive evacuees.

Times would change.

An appeal went out for Air Raid Wardens and the people responded while young refugees began to arrive from Vienna to stay with Norfolk families.

Newspaper clipping from the Eastern Evening News. Photo: Archant LibraryNewspaper clipping from the Eastern Evening News. Photo: Archant Library

As the months went by the Territorial Army launched a big campaign for recruits. Thousands of men signed up and in April conscription was announced. Men aged 20/21 were the first to be called up.

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In August of 1939, 300 Anderson Shelters arrived in Norwich. They were in 21 pieces and there were demonstrations in the city centre of how to put them together.

Then the air raid sirens were tested, gas masks issued and the threat of war loomed larger than ever.

Haymarket brick air raid shelter being built, 20 September 1939. Picture: George PlunkettHaymarket brick air raid shelter being built, 20 September 1939. Picture: George Plunkett

Civilians were changing into uniforms and becoming soldiers ready to fight for our freedom as the murdering and evil Nazi's marched across Europe.

Operation Pied Piper, the mass evacuation of thousands of children, people with special needs and pregnant women, many from London began. Trains full of children with worried looks on their faces, clutching suitcases and with a gas mask slung over their shoulder arrived in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Many of them had never been away from their families before.

There were also Jewish children who had managed to escape the death camps. It was even more difficult for these poor little boys and girls.

Norwich, Ipswich and the towns across the two counties welcomed the children. Temporary loos were established at stations and there were carrier bags with food, biscuits, tinned milk and chocolate.

In Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth they were arriving on steamers.

Factory sirens or hooters were banned. August was over.

On September 3 1939 the streets were deserted as people listened at work or at home when prime minister Neville Chamberlain announced the country was at war with Germany...

Life would never be the same again.

Death and destruction was on its way.

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