RAY BENNETT’s Recollections of World War II
1939 – My family and I lived at Hopton, near Diss. I was then nine years old, and I kept hearing my mum and dad talking about the dangers of war. Eventually, one day, we gathered around the battery radio and heard Neville Chamberlain say that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany. About a month later, a lady and two children came to live with us, they were evacuees. Where we lived was very isolated – we never saw a car, let alone a bus. After about three weeks the lady decided to go back to London as she couldn’t stand the quiet.
1940 – In February, we moved to Elmswell where my dad worked. Petrol was in short supply by now as it was rationed, like most other things. However, living in a village, we were much better off than those in the towns or cites – as we had our own chickens, got our milk from the nearest farm, bakers delivered bread, and we could buy meat from the nearby bacon factory.
One day a group of men walked down the road, on their left arm they wore armbands with the letters L.D.V. which we discovered later to stand for Local Defence Volunteers. Some carried shotguns, others hayforks, and still others with big knives tied to wooden poles. After a few months, the L.D.V. changed its name to The Home Guard and, after a short spell, they were issued with khaki uniforms and wore the Suffolk Regiment Badge. They still were without weapons as after Dunkirk so much equipment had been lost. In a little while, equipment arrived from the USA which consisted of rifles, bayonets, sub-machine guns and automatic rifles. All of this was First World War stuff, but in perfect condition. The ammunition was .30 calibre, different to the British Arm’s. All the older men who had been in The First World War were made officers and N.C.O’s. My dad was a corporal and they gave him a Browning automatic because he was a big and strong man. They used to patrol at night which wasn’t easy after working all day. When the Home Guard used to parade or do other things, we always went to watch.
One day my dad and I were standing in our back garden when a German bomber came over. We watched it all the way down until it exploded in a field. There was a Bofors light AA gun in a meadow near us which we saw as we walked to school. Our school had sticky tape over all the windows to stop the glass flying if we were bombed.
Later in the year, the Battle of Britain took place, after which the fear of invasion began to ease.
1941 – We heard that an airfield was going to be built near Great Ashfield. When they started, my friend and next-door neighbour Dennis Roper, came with me to watch them working. They had bulldozers and other big machines which we had never seen before.
Once, my dad managed to borrow a car from the company where he worked. We were going to see some relatives in Norfolk and, when we got to Little Fakenham, we were stopped by the Home Guard at a checkpoint. We had to show our identity cards before they would let us go in.
Another thing of note was the blackout at night. Every night we had to put up the blackout curtains or screens, and take them down in the mornings. Air Raid Wardens used to patrol at night to watch out for someone showing a light. One night a German bomber dropped some bombs in Wetherden, the next village to ours. They killed a man and his daughter, both Air Raid Wardens.
Next to our school was a church hall which was used by evacuees who were taught by some teachers from London.
1942 – This year came and went without much happening. Our schoolmaster used to put copies of the London Illustrated News on the blackboard and tell us how the war was going. Soldiers were constantly coming and going to our village. Petrol was becoming scarce and was rationed, the only people who obtained it were those who needed it for work or business purposes.
1943 – Early on in this year, we heard that the airfield was almost completed. RAF men came and manned it until the end of May. In June the first Americans arrived – some of them were under canvas until their huts were finished. Us boys would walk up there and see them, as it was only a short distance. Later, my mother and other village ladies started doing the Americans’ washing – my friends and I used to collect it and return it when done. We also sat and talked to the airmen as they were now in their huts.
By now, the news about the war was getting better.
1944 – I joined the A.T.C. (Air Training Corps) early this year, and began to learn about aeroplanes, etc. We had planes crashing around the villages, mainly due to collisions, and whenever one crashed, we all went to look at it (or what was left of it). One day we saw two U.S. fighter planes collided, and only one pilot survived. By this time, we were going to the airfield to go flying and to do other things. One morning, again my dad and I were in our back garden while mum cooked the breakfast, when we saw a Fortress falling from the sky, and saw the flash and smoke. Then in a few seconds there was an explosion and we felt the ground shudder. Three men got out, but one was killed by the explosion.
The next big event this year was the D.Day landings in Normandy. It gave everybody a big lift, as we had been waiting for it quite a while.
In July I went to Felixstowe with the A.T.C. and slept in bell tents for four weeks. There were no visits to the beach as it was full of barbed wire and steel posts.
One day I was on the Bacon Factory drive and saw an armada of planes and gliders stretched right across the sky. They were all slowly moving, and it was a sight I will never forget. I believe it was the day they crossed the Rhine and set foot on German soil.
On Christmas Eve the weather improved so that planes could fly again after being grounded for nearly a week. This was during ‘The Battle of the Bulge’ (December 1944 to January 1945) when they put every plane into the air, which was called a ‘maximum effort’. On their return, the weather closed in and a lot of planes had to land on the first available base. On Christmas Day morning, there were 92 Fortresses on Great Ashfield airfield. By this time, we were also getting the odd V1 flying bomb coming over, but luck was with us and none ever came down in our village.
1945 – The news kept getting better every day, and we knew that it was only a matter of time. Although the end was coming on all fronts, there were still thoughts about our forces still fighting against the Japanese in Burma and Malaya. When the war did end, everybody was relieved, knowing there would be no more losses.
Read more of Ray’s Elmswell memories by clicking on this link – CLICK HERE