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Wartime Hethersett

The years were rolled back at Hethersett Library on Saturday, July 23rd, 2005 with an afternoon of wartime memories.

Over 50 people turned up to reminisce and recount stories and experiences of their lives between the years 1939 and 1945.

Service in the forces, evacuation, the bombing of Norwich and American GIs were just some of the topics covered as local people put their memories down on paper as part of a BBC Internet project.

Recorders from Radio Norfolk's action desk were on hand to jot down the memories to add them to the special WW2 People's War website at www.bbc.co.uk/ww2.

The site commemorates 60 years since the end of the war as Hethersett Librarian Rachel Harriss explained:

"The BBC is giving people the chance to pass on their stories to future generations. There are so many stories to tell about evacuation, wartime nursing, the home front, how families were kept safe, wartime romances and how everyone pulled together to put the country back together again at the end of the war," she said.

There were special displays of books, literature and music and refreshments were provided by Hethersett Women's Institute which is celebrating its 87th anniversary.

Colin Henson from Norfolk's Museums Service brought along wartime memorabilia to help jog memories. These included gas masks, helmets and many other items from Norwich's Regimental Museum.

"I am used to showing these items to primary school children who have no direct memories of the war. We can ensure that these memories live on for generations to come so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren can hear the same stories," he said.

In this section of the Hethersett Village web site we look at just what was going on in Hethersett during the war years of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

If you have any memories of those years please send them to this site by e-mailing them by clicking here.

Brian Denmark has already placed an article on the site about his memories of Hethersett during the war. To read this just click here.

There are a number of other stories also on line that mention Hethersett. Just go to the BBC site by clicking here and putting the word hethersett in the search area.

The following extract is taken from the parish magazine of February 1915 and comes from James Kerrison who was serving in the First World War. 

Sir 

Just a few lines to you all in Hethersett; hoping these will find you all in good health as it leaves me at present. We are having a trying time just at the present. Everywhere is so wet and muddy and there is nowhere to sleep only out in the wet when we are in the trenches. 

Sir, I am sending you this letter in answer to a parcel which I received on the 21st December –a pair of socks, four packets of Woodbines and a Christmas card from the friends of Hethersett, and I am asking you to thank the people who sent them, which I thought you sent if not I thought you would know. Give my best respects to yourself and your wife, Mrs Sharman and to George and Walter and all those on the farm. Hoping you and all in Hethersett will have a Happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. I am your obedient servant doing his country’s duty as a soldier and a man. 

James Kerrison

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A number of years ago Radio Norfolk featured Hethersett on its Village Voice programme. Hilda Hagg, who at the time was 85, talked of her school days in Norwich and the fact that she had lived in Hethersett for 41 years and ran the Kinkajou Cafe (previously on the main A11 - now demolished) during the war when it was visited by Polish, Czech and American troops. The Medical Service was stationed at Old Hall and soldiers were billeted in the village.

Her reminiscences of the village in the Second World War included the following:

"People walked out from Norwich to eat at the cafe where egg and chips cost 9d, egg chips, bread and butter and tea 1s 1d and no meals more than 2s (10p in today's money). Soldiers would come in for 50 cups of tea and then order 50 meals. Eventually the Kinkajou had to change from a restaurant to a transport cafe in order to get food during times of rationing.

"The foreign soldiers were lovely. The Czechs would come in. If one of them was missing they would be crying. Then somebody would come in they thought was dead and they would be singing and celebrating. I had letters from them all after the war."

                          *                          *

The following is an extract from a letter home from Roy Jonasson an American airman with the USAF 389th Bombardment Group stationed at Hethel airfield during the Second World War.

I pedalled to a little town six miles away by the name of Hethersett, a beautiful little English village. It was about 5.50 p.m as I approached and coming down the narrow, winding road I could hear the church chimes in the distance. When I got round the bend in the road I could see the little English church sitting on the side of the hill. It was one of the most beautiful sights  have ever seen. The church on the hill and the sheep grazing in the green meadow. There was a cemetery just outside the church, at one side, and we saw the most beautiful sunset. I decided to go into the church. I found it somewhat similar to our church. The most interesting thing I noticed was that the people were there for a reason, to give thanks. They let me know that I was welcome but that was all. They do not gather after church, they all walked out solemnly. I liked it so well that I shall go there again when I have the chance.

(The above was featured in the brochure for the Hethersett Revealed weekend being held in June, 2005)

                            *                              *

The following is an extract from the Parish Magazine of July 1915.

No small stir and excitement was caused in the parish on the morning of June 18th when news arrived that Pte R.W. Mapes of whom nothing had been heard since September 19th last had arrived safely back in England and was returning home that afternoon. Mapes was wounded in the retreat from Mons and after a number of exciting adventures was placed in a hospital from which he escaped after a few days with six comrades.

He was fortunate in finding friends who gave them a hiding place and refreshment and with whom he was obliged to remain for seven months. After several attempts to escape, which involved great risk, he finally got away and reached England on June 15th. We heartily congratulate him not only on his success but also on his pluck and determination and at the same time rejoice with his mother and relatives that their long and tense anxiety has come to such a happy ending.

NOTE: Apparently Pte Mapes' escape was made possible with help from Edith Cavell. He was the uncle of Roger Mapes who is well known in the village.

                          *                     *

The following is taken from "Merely Cricket" - A Brief History of Hethersett Cricket Club by A.J.R. Harris

Yet all we can record of that season of 1914 is that "some of the matches were never played," and that the one played against YMCA on the 1st August was the last played by Hethersett (as with many another village club in effect) for several years. For three days later, war was declared. Within four months, nearly 50 of Hethersett's young men were already serving in the Forces. And that figure would be increased by more than half within a few more months. Cricket became merely a subject to dream and talk about, as some relief from pressing employments of a far less rational nature.

But the tradition and its spirit survived. So much so that when early in the Spring of 1919, the parish of Hethersett set about the task of "getting back to normal" the revival of cricket was regarded as being some minor contribution to that process.

              *                         *                    *

Roy Jackson contacted the site in 2006 with a number of reminiscences of his family which included mention of the First World War.

Having found your site whilst researching my family who originated on my father's side from Hethersett, I hope I can open up a new family name to those that I find mentioned on your site.

My father, Edward Horace Jackson, was born in Hethersett in August 1914. He was son of the Blacksmith at the Smithy in Norwich Road, Horace Arthur Jackson, who had also been born in Hethersett in December 1886 son of John Jackson and Ellen. John Jackson was, as far as I can make out, a Coachbuilder and also had sons William (c1891), John (c1885), Alfred (who died in the First World War) and daughters Nellie, Edith (c 1882) and May (c 1890).

The iron bands around Kett's Oak, which we always used to see as we passed on the old A11, driving to visit my grandparents when I was a child, were replaced by my grandfather (HAJ) before he left Hethersett to live in Norwich. During the First World War he served as a blacksmith with the army in France and survived to return. I am not certain when he moved to live in Sandringham Road, Norwich, but he was definitely there in 1926 as his will is dated from that address and my father (EHJ) was then attending the City of Norwich School. My grandparents moved to live with my parents in Benson, Oxfordshire, in the early 1970s where they eventually died within a week of one another in 1980.

John Jackson (father of HAJ) also had a brother in Hethersett, Robert Jackson, known as "Bobbo". As far as I can make out he was born about 1863 and became a general labourer. All we know about their parents is that the mother was called Sarah.