VE Day 75: How one street faced the brunt of the bombing
- Credit: Archant
As we mark 75 years since VE (Victory in Europe) Day ALAN TUTT from Cromer Museum recounts how one north Norfolk road was irrevocably changed by the Second World War.
Central Road in Cromer runs westwards beside Morrisons and fizzles out into Howard’s Hill, providing a panoramic view of East and West Runton.
Such is the commanding view, that pill boxes were built on it in the 1940s as defences against German invasion; so solidly built, they survive to this day for children to play in and teenagers to frolic upon.
The houses that run along Central Road were built around 1902, unassuming red brick terraces and, arguably, not very central
to Cromer at all.
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As we commemorate 75 years since the guns fell silent in 1945, signalling the end of World War Two, and Victory in Europe, in many ways Central Road encapsulates all that befell folk in those dark times, before the light of peacetime.
On November 17 1940 a German bomber dropped a stick of bombs from Central Road to Suffield Park, This was one of a number of raids on Cromer, five of which, including this one, resulted in loss of life and serious damage to the town. What the raids had in common, is that were by single aircraft, often Dorniers, stray aircraft on their way back from larger raids on English cities such as Norwich, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham and so on.
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Luftwaffe pilots were keen to dispose of any bombs they had failed to drop, both to engender fear, create havoc and, of course, enable their planes to become lighter and fly faster to their homeland, to occupied territory, to loved ones.
It was 6.35am, a quiet Sunday, a month or so from Christmas, when one family’s life in Central was changed, irrevocably, for ever.
Five bombs plus incendiaries fell that day, just one failing to explode. Number 18, Central Road received a direct hit.
A bomb passed through the bedroom in which 12-year-old Doris King was sleeping before hitting the ground floor and exploding.
Mr and Mrs King, and Mrs King’s mother, Hilda Allen, awoke suddenly to find themselves covered in plaster with the sky now in view above them.
Doris lay dead. Her name now immortalised on the roll of honour of those who perished during the war, in the parish church of
St Peter and Paul on Church Street.
The previous night, Doris said to her mum: “they say at school, if you are going to be killed by a bomb, it has your name on it”.
Mrs King, naturally, had made light of this, replying that they wouldn’t dare bomb us, we have a royal name!
Sadly the randomness of living and dying in wartime is illustrated by the child sleeping in the bedroom in the terrace next door. John Andrews, then a little boy, survived that raid and in his 80s comes to the Cromer Museum ‘Mardles’.
There he is in the photograph with his mother outside their house in Central Road.
Today, you can still see the different coloured roof tiles on the houses damaged in that raid.
At nearby Beach Station, probably the intended target, track and carriages were damaged, cables brought down and a coal shed destroyed.
Billy Gaff in a nearby cottage on Central Road was awoken suddenly by the bombing early that morning and reached to light a candle; he then realised the tips of two fingers has been cut off by flying glass.
Another depressing feature of war and privation is exemplified in this instance; the Kings’ house was subsequently broken into several times.
People looking for souvenirs? That would be a generous view; looting being more likely.
On May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.
There were street parties all over Britain, celebrating the end of six years of loss, pain, deprivation and austerity. On this happier note a photo of Central Road’s VE Day bash was taken.
There are few broad smiles in the picture and few men either, they were mostly conscripted away fighting and dying on the front. The women and children look stoical, relieved certainly.
The tables are hardly groaning with food and drink either. Rationing had taken its toll.
On January 8, 1940, bacon, butter and sugar had been rationed. This was followed by successive ration schemes for meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned and dried fruit.
Fresh vegetables and fruit were not rationed but supplies were limited.
There had been tough times and they weren’t over.
Meat was the last item to be de-rationed and food rationing didn’t end completely until 1954.
Though one way to get rationed items without coupons, usually at greatly inflated prices, was on the black market from the likes of Dad’s Army’s Private Walker.