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Donald secures place in Yarmouth landmark’s history

PUBLISHED: 11:30 07 November 2010

Donald Holmes up a ladder and working on St Nicholas Church

Donald Holmes up a ladder and working on St Nicholas Church

Archant

A Gorleston builder played a key part in restoring St Nihcolas Church, and secured his place in the building’s history.

AS a schoolboy, he saw its charcoal-coloured skeleton left barely standing after an intensive bombing campaign, and in the proceeding years heard debate rage as to whether it should be knocked down.

But now one of the men who worked on restoring Great Yarmouth’s St Nicholas’ Church half a century ago has spoken of the pride he felt at doing his work – and revealed details of a little memento he left behind.

Donald Holmes, now 79, saw the building in ruins and a town in disbelief after a German air raid in 1942 saw 1,500 incendiary bombs dropped.

Over the following 16 years, peace was won and the town rose again from the rubble. But the church, plagued by a lack of funding and indecision as to its future, remained in ruins.

And it was having previously trained as a builder that David - back from serving with the Army in the Suez - got the opportunity to help restore the iconic structure.

The Gorleston grandfather, who later went on to start his own building firm, said: “I was working in a furniture factory nearby when I heard about the need for carpenters to help restore it.

“It was a challenge and something I had never done before. People had given up on it and there was talk of knocking it down, but I thought we still needed it in Great Yarmouth- it’s so old and impressive. It turned out to be one of my most memorable jobs.”

Turning up on the first day with a dozen or so others, Donald was tasked with working on the bell tower at a time when health and safety measures weren’t quite what they are today.

“We were cutting all the timber for the roof trusses. It was still like a bombsite there and it was very daunting but ultimately we were getting paid for doing it and we were enjoying the work we were doing.”

It was over the course of six months that Donald played a key role in making sure the roofing was watertight, ahead of rebuilding beginning inside the church.

With work having started on the site in 1958, his efforts and the efforts of those like him meant St Nicholas’ was reopened to its congregation five years later. And aware he was taking part in something historic, Donald could not help but leave a little mark to show his role in the restoration.

“I had a chisel and carved the initials DGH on the timber inside the roof where the concrete spiral staircase is. I said to myself that in a couple of hundred years time someone might see it and say ‘that person was involved with this’.”

The St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust will be holding celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of church’s reopening on May 8. If you were also involved in the restoration work, contact them on 01493 843647 or email paulpearce@yarmouth8143.freeserve.co.uk.

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