Obituary: 'Heroine of the A47' dies aged 94
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A community stalwart who campaigned tirelessly for road safety measures and was made an MBE for exceptional dedication to her village has died at the age of 94.
No stranger to helping others, throughout the decades Valerie Knights assisted well over a hundred people involved in traffic accidents along the A47 near North Burlingham.
Armed with a crowbar, first aid kit, blankets and pillows, Mrs Knights would frequently attend to shocked or injured patients at the accident blackspot between Norwich and Great Yarmouth, comforting many with her melodic Norfolk accent.
Whether her helpful nature was due to her own struggles with ill health as a child or being a full-time career to her husband for more than two decades, it is fair to say that Mrs Knights spent a lifetime dedicating herself to the needs of others.
Born in 1928, a young Valerie first came to live in North Burlingham with her mother in 1940 after recovering from tuberculosis.
Here she met her husband-to-be, farmer Leslie Knights. Nicknamed Jim, he worked with his father at Church Farm and provided the local milk round by delivering the goods via pony and cart.
During the Second World War, she raised chickens, geese, and rabbits to supplement the larder, and obtained a cow from Mr Knights who taught her to milk and make butter. Her interest in both farming and Jim increased over the years. The couple married in 1950 at North Burlingham Church.
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As she spent more time on the farm, Mrs Knights learnt to harrow and plough with horses and undertook an apprenticeship on Charlie Wharton's larger farm at Filby.
In 1958, the couple moved to Firs Farm in Norton Subcourse, near Loddon, and developed a dairy herd with prize-winning cows. They also farmed around 100 acres of arable land for peas and sugar beet.
Five years later, Mr Knights became disabled with severe rheumatoid arthritis and the couple's farming ambitions were curtailed. In 1968, they returned to North Burlingham and for 20 years, Mrs Knights cared for her husband until he died from lymphoma in 1983.
Before his passing, after hearing about the Glaven Care Scheme developed by Dr Tony Allibone in Blakeney, Mrs Knights decided to start a similar scheme in the Acle area. After approaching local doctors in 1978, the Acle Voluntary Aid (AVA) scheme was born.
Volunteers provided care in a crisis that included support such as night sitting, shopping and transport assistance, and developed a daycare and lunch club service at Acle Methodist church.
The scheme was recognised with awards from Whitbread, Great Yarmouth's Rotary Club, and Age Concern, and in 1994, Mrs Knights was made an MBE for her voluntary work developing AVA.
For most of her life, she was also heavily involved in North Burlingham church, becoming a churchwarden in 1948. She would go on to hold positions of treasurer and secretary, and would often decorate the building with flowers from her garden, play the organ, and deliver Sunday services herself when no vicar could schedule a regular one.
In 2015 she stepped back from these duties, and in 2020 she became an AVA client of its day centre service that she had created 40 years earlier.
Mrs Knights also appeared in the newspaper several times, campaigning for road safety on the A47 at North Burlingham, after being the first responder to hundreds of accidents at the blackspot.
In 2021, she attended the planting of a rowan tree in her honour at Acle Methodist church.
Mrs Knights died at home on April 6. A well-attended funeral took place at North Burlingham Church on April 29. She leaves behind her sister Rene, children Carol and Tim, and grandsons Christopher and Tom. Donations in her memory for AVA via c/o J.Gedge & Sons, Garden Road, Blofield, NR13 4JL or 01603 712276.