December 9 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, August 17, 2013
A former bus driver had a surprise trip down memory lane as villagers gathered to celebrate a landmark birthday.
Norman Riches, of Hacheston, near Framlingham, recently turned 100.
To mark the occasion the popular centenarian was treated to a trip on a vintage bus - similar to one he used to drive for Eastern Counties.
Mr Riches, who was born in Wickham Market, was also VIP guest at a special party held in his honour.
Around 110 well wishers gathered at Hacheston Village Hall to congratulate him on reaching his 100th year.
“It was a big surprise and I enjoyed it very much,” he said. “It was splendid. Except I would have liked to drive the thing. I did manage to get into the cab, although it was a bit difficult as I’m older than I used to be.”
Mr Riches, who started off as a conductor, said he joined the buses because he enjoyed driving.
He would take passengers around the Eye area and further afield, although it was not all plain sailing.
“I remember once, close to Horham airfield, there was a sharp bend,” he said. “As I pulled the steering round it locked and I went straight into the ditch. I couldn’t do anything about it. I had a bus full of passengers.”
Mr Riches left school at 14 and thanks to his mother’s contacts started a job in Sainsbury’s, cutting cooked meats. He worked at branches in Chelmsford and Norwich but the later ended quickly, when he unintentionally destroyed a large display of jam jars by knocking them over with a large box of eggs he was carrying.
After a run of odd jobs he joined Eastern Counties but with the onset of the Second World War volunteered for the Navy, eventually being accepted as a trainee engineer with the RAF.
The Stirling planes were flown at low level and used to supply resistance fighters on the continent with anything from nuts and bolts to nitroglycerin. He flew 34 flights and it was on one of these that he said he felt the presence of God - something that would inspire him to become a pastor in later life.
Mr Riches’ Stirling was hit twice and in terror he watched the pilot turning his Messerschmitt for the final run to finish them off.
However the enemy plane then flew over the Allied aircraft - leaving the crew with a lucky escape.
After the war Mr Riches returned to bus driving but also took the occasional church service. When the Cransford Baptist Church offered him a full time ministry in the late 1950s it was something he could not turn down.
“I originally thought ‘no way, I’m happy with my driving’,” he said. “But all through the day I wad thinking more and more about what the Lord had done during the war - saving us again and again from certain death. I thought maybe he was saving me for a job.”
Mr Riches spent nine years at Cransford, followed by another nine in Cambridge before retiring and moving to Hacheston.
Hardly a day goes by without him getting out for a walk on the village green and he is still very active within the parish, regularly attending prayer meetings and as a church elder.