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War memories revived

PUBLISHED: 09:54 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:54 03 July 2010

Nobody wanted another war, and few people really expected it.

The first world war was the Great War: the war to end all wars, people thought.

Even 21 years after it ended, many communities were still coming to terms with losing so many of their young men in the trenches of northern Europe.

Nobody wanted another war, and few people really expected it.

The first world war was the Great War: the war to end all wars, people thought.

Even 21 years after it ended, many communities were still coming to terms with losing so many of their young men in the trenches of northern Europe.

They had become accustomed to peace, and began to believe that there was no appetite across the globe to endure another bout of bloodshed.

For 15 years, thanks to the terms of the Versailles Treaty, which forced Germany to pay massive reparations and severely limited the size of its armed forces, Europe had been secure. The nation that was most feared had been neutered.

When Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, few thought it would make much difference to the balance of power, which seemed to be heavily tilted towards Britain and France.

This false sense of security continued to hold sway as Hitler re-armed Germany, swallowed up Austria in the Third Reich and aggressively took over Czechoslovakia.

Hitler could not believe his luck as the nations fell over themselves to make concessions, and the power trip around Europe continued.

Back in Blighty, the policy of diplomacy engendered a complacent sense that all would be well.

It meant that the declaration of war 70 years ago today came as a surprise to most, including those making a living and going about their business quietly in Norfolk.

Even in the months after the declaration, the concept of war was rather surreal, with actual conflict sporadic.

Little did the people of Norfolk know how significant the announcement was on September 3, 1939. Little did they know how it would turn their lives upside-down. Little did they know that it would last for six nerve-shredding years.

Ahead lay a new type of war, which would force itself upon every man, woman and child.

Gone were the days of attritional trench warfare, with conflict limited to a small overseas stage.

The second world war brought with it Blitzkrieg tactics to overwhelm nations. It was also the first major conflict where the war came to the home front.

Nobody could be certain that they were safe as German bombers thundered over towns and villages to drop their bombs and leave behind a devastation not seen before or since. Norwich and Yarmouth were among the places that endured nights of terror, with many people killed and areas laid waste.

People in Norfolk soon grew accustomed to dashing to their bomb shelters as the air raid warnings sounded. Those who survived sometimes emerged to see dust and rubble where their communities once stood.

At times, the larger communities took a battering, with death and destruction becoming a sinister part of the routine.

In a cruel twist, after one generation of husbands and fathers was destroyed from 1914-1918, thousands of men from the next generation were called up to take the fight to the Nazis, leaving behind frightened families which feared another outbreak of mourning for lost loved ones.

Some of those families were able to throw open their homes to evacuees, as countless children were transported away from the major cities to stay in the relative safety of rural areas.

And as the balance of the war tipped more towards the Nazis, the women on the home front were called up to make their own contributions to the cause. They worked the farmland to produce food and many were on factory production lines, where an endless supply of military hardware was rolled out to give our boys the edge.

Few people were exempt from the war effort as Britain sought to energise its people and wring every drop of effort from them in a bid to gain a crucial advantage over the enemy.

On September 3, 1939, however, as confused and disconcerted families gathered around their wireless sets to hear the deadpan announcement that Britain was at war with Germany, all of that was ahead.

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