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Unveiling of war memorial remembered

PUBLISHED: 16:52 12 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:36 03 July 2010

The 1949 ceremony of unveiling of the war memorial in St George's Park

The 1949 ceremony of unveiling of the war memorial in St George's Park

November 12 held a special significance in Yarmouth's recollections of the second world war because it marked precisely 60 years since the unveiling and dedication of the war memorial in St George's Park “in commemoration of all who gave their lives” during it.

November 12 held a special significance in Yarmouth's recollections of the second world war because it marked precisely 60 years since the unveiling and dedication of the war memorial in St George's Park “in commemoration of all who gave their lives” during it. They numbered 854 men and women.

The sombre ceremony took place on a Saturday, the eve of Remembrance Sunday that embraced the fallen from the two wars.

There was a uniformed parade to the park led by bands, then a procession representing the armed services, Civil Defence, ex-service organisations and uniformed youth units. The civic party followed, joined at the park by the clergy, and all stood in the enclosure formed by the three walls of the new memorial that faced the obelisk-style one paying tribute to those who died in the first world war of 1914-18.

The Bishop of Norwich, Dr Percy Herbert, said twice in the lives of the older people present “our nation has been faced with an appalling choice - either war and its horrors, its pain, its illimitable loss, or allowing the forces of evil, lying treachery and brute force to dominate the world and to crush out what we mean by Christian civilisation.

“On these two occasions we chose with our eyes open, knowing what we did, what we believed to be the lesser of two evils. It was not you or I who paid the price,” he emphasised. “We survived only because these gave their lives.”

Dr Herbert warned the open-air congregation that although the war was over, peace had not yet come and there were difficult times ahead still. How prophetic those words proved to be! Since that memorial was dedicated six decades ago, a plaque has been added, recording the six local citizens who have subsequently died on active service.

The civic parade was led by the Mayor, Fred Kruber, who unveiled the memorial, and included the borough's Member of Parliament, Ernest Kinghorn.

The memorial was designed by Mr Francis Haward, a partner in the architectural and surveying firm of Olley and Haward in Queen Street, who had also designed the 1914-18 memorial close by.

In fact, Mr Haward - who lived in Poplar Avenue, Gorleston - had not been the first choice to design the 1914-18 memorial. That assignment was offered to Sir Edward Lutyens, an internationally famous practitioner who was responsible for the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the viceroy's palace in New Delhi, India, but his scheme was considered by the Yarmouth authorities to be far too expensive, and they turned instead to the local man whose price was more reasonable; his creation was dedicated in the park in 1921.

In this column in 2009 the subject of war has been inescapable, and not only because September marked 70 years since the outbreak of the 1939-45 conflict. There have been features about various aspects of the 1939-45 war and the Great War, the latter because of the July death of 115-year-old Henry Allingham, the final survivor of the 1914-18 campaign who was stationed in Great Yarmouth during it and experienced the nation's first-ever air raid (by a Zeppelin).

After I wrote about the German airship dropping bombs hereabouts in 1915, killing two residents in the St Peter's Road area of Yarmouth, I received a call from Brian Blake, of Seafield Road North in Caister, reporting that there used to be a reminder of that attack which townsfolk trod on daily as they went about their lives and perhaps never even noticed it or realised its significance.

This was a brass plate, or brass letters, let into the pavement in or near St Nicholas' Road but, he says, “I am 100 per cent sure that it doesn't exist today. Perhaps it was removed by the council during footpath repairs.”

Of course, in the last decades of the 20th century, there were vast changes at the parish church/Market Place end of that road, mainly due to land being cleared of terrace cottages and commercial buildings to make way for Sainsbury's supermarket and car park, and a filling station. In my youth I had a friend who lived in Belfort Place, but it is impossible nowadays even to try guessing whereabouts that was before redevelopment razed it, also removing premises once occupied by silk manufacturer Grouts that became Gainsborough Cornard and Jersey Kapwood...

Mr Blake lists Shuckford's Buildings, Rudd's blacksmithy and farriery, a potato warehouse and a dairy as among the premises he recalls there.

Reminders of the 1939-45 war include pill boxes, those sturdily built hexagonal concrete bunkers with gun slits hastily erected after the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940 when there were fears of a German invasion of Britain. The most prominent one in the Yarmouth area is probably that at the beginning of the Acle New Road, twixt highway and railway; there may be another on the other side of the road, but pill box spotting while driving is hazardous.

There must be several others in the Yarmouth neighbourhood that have easily withstood the test of time, if not the need for removal for redevelopment.

The number nationwide varied between 18,000 and 26,000 nationwide, depending on which report you believe, but it is now claimed that only about 6500 of these mini-forts survive. Not all were six-sided, but there were seven standard designs, plus local hybrids.

Thankfully, none was used in earnest.

There is a growing band of enthusiasts striving to preserve the survivors, aiming to persuade councils to give them “listed” status as being of particular historical interest, and so far about 40 have become officially protected as part of our landscape and heritage. Now and again these enthusiasts discover a new one, perhaps hitherto hidden away, occasionally filled with spare barbed wire, or pressed into other uses. In the war, they were often disguised to resemble a garden or allotment shed, haystack or garage.

Apparently there is one at Woodbridge down in Suffolk bearing the name Hotel Continental with a notice promising a warm reception for visiting troops!

Last year one in thick woodland in Cambridgeshire attracted 60 bidders when it was auctioned - and sold for £55,000 although the 6ft pill box has neither windows, heating nor lighting, and cannot be altered because it is in an official green belt.

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