War and peace, and a hair-raising escape

WAR and peace: that encapsulates today’s column that begins with a hair-raising escape in a German 1943 air-raid on Great Yarmouth; and then looks at a postwar humourously hazardous incident involving a ship belonging to F T Everard and Sons whose vessels were regular visitors for many decades to our port.

Both topics stem from previous features in Through the Porthole.

In 2007, I wrote about a squadron of enemy aircraft unleashing 17 high-explosive bombs and machine-gun fire on north Yarmouth in 1943, based on the memories of Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, whose boyhood home in Cradock Avenue was badly damaged.

That article was read by 70-year-old Barry Taylor, now resident in France but in 1943 a neighbour of the Hambling family who lived between his home and that of his grandparents.

Recently he contacted the Mercury, and we put him in touch with his boyhood neighbour.

“I was in the house with my mother and month-old sister Beverley during the raid,” says Mr Taylor who was two at the time but can remember sustaining a tiny head cut and being walked by his Aunt Stella to a doctor’s parked car to be examined.

In later life, he recorded his mother’s dictated recollections. Mrs Taylor, who died four years ago, told him: “Due to the low altitude of the aircraft, their bombs bounced upon landing; in our case, a bomb landed in the front garden and bounced, leaving its tail fins there, then passed through 7 Cradock Avenue, demolished the far corner of 9, and finally exploded on the dividing fence between 5 and 7 where Barry normally stood.

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“Our house received extensive damage from the blast. I unstrapped Barry from his high chair and tucked him under the dining room table. As I was getting up from doing this, the table was lifted by the blast and landed upside down, striking me across the back. I got to my feet, leaving a shoe behind, and ran to fetch my baby from her pram in the hall, getting fragments of broken glass in my foot. I took Barry by the hand and, with Beverley in my arms, I climbed over the piles of rubble and arrived on the front road.

“I went to my mother’s house (number 9) which had suffered substantial damage and had to be demolished, as did ours. My husband arrived...and retrieved the high chair and sat Barry in it. The baker arrived and left a loaf of bread on the high chair, followed by the milkman who left a pint in the same place, there being no house to deliver to.

“Passers-by found this very amusing.”

Barry adds that when an official came to retrieve the bomb’s tail fin from their front garden, “my mother told him that as it was on our land, it was our property! After a long discussion and his insistence on regulations, she gave in and her souvenir was taken away.”

Forty-nine people died and 41 were injured in that attack which, it transpired, was the final major one of the war for Yarmouth. And it is almost impossible to believe seven decades later what ordinary folk endured.

My recent column about Everard’s numerous coasters and tankers (based on the book, Everard of Greenhithe, by Captain Ken Garrett, published by the World Ship Society) prompted reader David Papworth, of Lilac Close, Bradwell, to recollect a voyage in one of the fleet made memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Ex-Greenacre School pupil David loved being a Caister Sea Scout and at one meeting on the ex-herring drifter Ocean Emperor spotted a notice seeking recruits to the Merchant Navy.

After training, he signed up. But, after voyages mainly between Africa and Middlesbrough, and getting married 52 years ago, he switched to coasting “as you could get home more often”.

Shipping agent T Small and Co’s offices in Regent Road, Yarmouth – long-since a waxworks – found him a ship, one so small that when he went to Town Hall Quay to join her, he could just see her mast sticking up above the quay. “I couldn’t believe how small she was,” he writes.

This was the Everard tanker Affirmity. The captain showed him to his cabin but “I never got to use it.” She had little freeboard and on passage from Yarmouth to London with molasses from Cantley for Spratt’s dog food factory in Greenwich, a gale and heavy seas meant the deck to the cabin was awash all the way to the Thames.

On arrival, the captain said he intended returning to the Cantley sugar factory to fetch another cargo: “I was a bit dubious. I was the only seaman on board and there was no cook; but anyway, I agreed.”

When the Affirmity was empty and ready to sail back to the Yare, “the skipper asked me to take the wheel. He rang down for ‘slow ahead’...and there was an almighty bang. He dashed to see what was wrong and said the compressor had blown up but in so doing, it had started the engine, and we were going to leave anyway.

“It had got dark by this time so he stood on the bridge wing, shouting instructions to me at the wheel. Suddenly he shouted ‘hard a-port’ and the next thing I knew, we were going uphill! We had fetched up on the right side of the river.

“I think to this day that he had got the wrong side of some barges which were dotted on each side of the river. He got a ladder, climbed down and made his way to some lights in the distance. When he returned, he said he had phoned Greenhithe, Everard’s main base, and they were sending a tug to pull us off.

“All this time the engine, which had been put into reverse, was kept running. We eventually floated off on the rising tide and made our way to Greenhithe.

“The next morning the skipper said she would be staying at Greenhithe for seven days. Not too happy with things aboard, I asked to leave. He said how sorry he was to lose me, gave me �14 and a travel ticket home.”

Everard bought the 25-year-old Dutch-built tanker in 1958, re-engined her and renamed her Affirmity, in the company style of “-ity” endings.