Obituary: 'Heroine of the A47' dies aged 94

Valerie Knights pictured at home in 2020

Valerie Knights MBE pictured at home in 2020 - Credit: Supplied

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.

Valerie Knights circa 1946 winning first prize in the final of the county hand milking competition at the Royal Norfolk Show

Valerie Knights, circa 1946, after winning first prize and a silver cup in the final of the county hand milking competition at the Royal Norfolk Show. It was said to be something she was just as proud of as her MBE honour - Credit: Supplied by family

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.

Valerie Knights (top left) building a stack. Husband Jim is on the trailer below, circa 1948

Valerie Knights (top left) building a stack. Husband Jim is on the trailer below, circa 1948 - Credit: Supplied by family

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. 

Valerie Knights after receiving her MBE in 1994

Valerie Knights after receiving her MBE in 1994 - Credit: Supplied by family

Valerie Knights at the Acle Volentry Aid (AVA) 25th-anniversary celebrations

Valerie Knights at the Acle Volentry Aid (AVA) 25th-anniversary celebrations. Pictured with GP Nigel Rolls (back) and client Maurice Spooner - Credit: Archant

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.  

NEARBY RESIDENT VALERIE KNIGHTS ,LOOSING COUNT OF THE ACCIDENTS AT THE NORTH BURLINGHAM A47 JUNCTIO

Valerie Knights MBE campaigned for better safer measures to be installed at the accident blackspot on the A47 at North Burlingham - Credit: Archant

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.  

Valerie Knights from North Burlingham with an old photo of the stables at her home. The stable block

Valerie Knights with an old photo of the stables at her North Burlingham home, used as a horse hospital during the First World War - Credit: Archant © 2012

Valerie Knights from North Burlingham with an old photo of the stables at her home. The stable block

An old photo of Valerie Knights' stable block when it was used as a horse hospital during the First World War - Credit: Archant © 2012