'I saw the Dam Busters on dummy run'

BEING evacuated from Ipswich to escape Second World War bombing raids and not seeing your father for three years are all memories of a reader from West Suffolk

David Kindred

BEING evacuated from Ipswich to escape Second World War bombing raids and not seeing your father for three years are all memories of a reader from West Suffolk

Geoff Messenger, of Great Barton, tells us of how the lives of a small boy and his family from the Stoke area of Ipswich were thrown into turmoil by the events of the war.

He also describes the influence on his life of his time with the Boy Scouts. This was prompted after seeing a photograph in Kindred Spirits from John Browning of Felixstowe, of a Scouts' gang show performed by the 19th Ipswich St Mary Stoke Scout Group.

Geoff told me of his dramatic formative years and the influence the youth organisation had on his life.

He said: “I was born in Wherstead Road and my oldest memory is playing 'alleys' with glass marbles in the roadside gutters all the way to school. There were not many cars then.

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“When war broke out my father joined the RAF and our family was evacuated. I remember standing on a crowded Ipswich station platform in August 1940.

“It was chaos, with some mothers crying. My mother had four children under nine-years-old.

“The train took us to Leicester where we had to spend the night in a cinema.

“Next day we were taken to the village of Great Easton. My mother and my two youngest brothers, Roy and Kenneth, were billeted in one house and Don and I went to a farm. I grew to love the change from town to country and life was exciting.

“We were evacuated to escape the war, but the war still found us. An RAF Spitfire crashed on our farm one night, we could hear its ammunition exploding in the flames and I remember pulling my brother away from the window.

“When we went down to breakfast, the pilot was lying on the long wooden table in the kitchen wrapped in his parachute.

“He had survived the crash, but fell on a post in the field, which smashed his thigh and a military ambulance came to take him away.

“On another night a German bomber dropped three bombs on the village, the nearest one close to our school. Next morning our teacher asked for three volunteers to go in the playground to sweep up the glass.

“To my delight I was one of them, what we really wanted was to pick up any shrapnel!

“One day we heard planes flying low outside the village. Several of us climbed a hill and lying down on the grass at the top we overlooked a reservoir and Uppingham Dam.

“To our great excitement, bombers were lining up to fly just above water level and then over the dam. It wasn't until years later when I read the book Dam Busters that I realised that we had seen Guy Gibson and his team practicing for the famous raid.

“My mother, with Ray and Kenneth, returned to Ipswich after one year to look after our house, but Don and I stayed another two years. We moved to four different foster parents in that time.

“We used to have to clean the cornfields after harvest. The corn we picked up fed the chickens, but the cut corn stalks used to make our legs very sore. We were also sent out to collect wild rose hips, which were made into rosehip syrup for vitamin C.

“We came back to Ipswich in August 1942. I had passed the 11-plus and went to Northgate Grammar School. We only saw dad once in three years.

“It was the time of the V1 rockets and I have vivid memories of the sirens going off in the middle of the night and the mad scramble to get to the Anderson shelter in the garden.

“Sometimes there wasn't even time for that and we all huddled together under the dining room table. Often the siren would go off several times in a night and it was difficult to stay awake at school the next day.

“I joined the Scouts in 1943 and stayed until 1951 when I left home for National Service. Capt Oldroyd was our first leader, and then came Eric Hollingworth, then Mr Cocksedge, Arthur Hunt and Colin Elsdon.

“It wasn't until later in life, when I became a teacher and youth club leader that I realised how much we owed to those leaders and I offer belated thanks on behalf of all Scouts under their charge.

“The gang show was a great experience. I remember Ron Cocksedge in a pram dressed as a baby.”

Brian Schofield contacted me from his home in France to tell me about his time with the Scouts. Brian said: “I used to go to Cub Scout meetings at the Old St Mary Stoke School Hall when I used to live on Philip Road.

One vivid memory of living “Over Stoke” was when I stood in on a paper round for my neighbour's son Geoffrey who lived in Croft Street opposite the Great Eastern pub. He was one of the three sons of Mr and Mrs Gibbs.

“I duly turned up at Bert Halliday's newsagent in Vernon Street and off I went pushing papers though the door with great efficiency only to discover that I had put them through the wrong doors!

“I had started in Vernon Street instead of Wherstead Road. Bert Halliday was furious and told me to go and retrieve said papers which caused great annoyance, especially among those who had just come off shift work.

“Needless to say I was not asked to do it again!

“The Eagle Tavern on the corner of Bath Street was a favorite 'watering hole' of my grandmother Mrs Barrell, who lived at 102 Wherstead Road, where I first made my appearance in the world.

“The house still stands, I believe, unlike so many others in the area. I know where some of my childhood friends are, but I would be pleased if I could trace some others. They would be welcome to contact me here in France. I am at 39 Rue Principlace, 37420 rigny-Usse, France.

Kenneth Messenger, of Heathfield, Martlesham Heath, said, “I am the youngest of four brothers who lived in Wherstead Road and we were all Cubs and Scouts of the 19th St Mary Stoke Group, which had Land and Sea Scouts. My three older brothers are all in the gang show photo.

“Geoff the eldest was a Land Scout and became Assistant Scout Master; he now lives near Bury St Edmunds. Don was a Sea Scout and also very good at gymnastics.

“He lives in Ipswich. Roy was a Land Scout and lives near Ipswich.

“I was a Sea Scout and in the cast of two gang shows at the Art Gallery in High Street. In 1953 the show was call 'Red White and Blue'.

“A painful memory was of slicing open my arm on the boundary wall which was topped by broken glass, when the log I was standing on (to look over the wall) rolled away.

“I was taken to hospital on the Scout master's motorbike and had six stitches in the cut! In the winter the school was very cold, but a rough game of “British Bulldog” soon warmed you up.

John Ghafur added: “I lived in Great Whip Street and my best friend David Mortimer, who I was recently reunited with, lived in Felaw Street.

“We both went to Luther Road Primary School. I still have school books and prizes dated 1946 and 1949.

“The headteacher was Miss Hack and other teachers were Miss Williams, Miss Pulham, Miss Holland and Mrs Thurkettle. I would love to hear from any other of my school friends from those days.

“They include David Kingsnorth, Ivan Lloyd, Louis Haddock. Rex Last, Russell Mills, Tommy Filmer, Ivan English, Richard Palmer, Tony Reid, Malcolm Simpson, Basil Gunn, Colin and Brian Hedges, Barbara Pulham, Marjorie Southgate, Dawn Makin. The Pallant twins of Wherstead Road, Suzanne Moss and Marina Scarlett. The caretaker was Mr Leggatt.

“At the nearby Bourne Park the park-keeper was Mr Southgate. The local shops were Shortman's, Nightingales, for Dinky Toys, Mayhews for cycles, Potters and Gilbert's sold secondhand items. We swam at Stoke Bathing Place on the River Orwell, near the Ransome and Rapiers factory.

“We sledged down Willoughby Hill in the winter. The library was near Stoke Bridge. We played along the River Orwell on the boat landings.

“There was a one-penny ferry across to the east side which we used to go to Holywells Park. There was a fair at Christchurch Park every year.

“Toffee apples were sold from a local house. I went to Sunday School at the Elim Tabernacle in Vernon Street and still have a prize. If anybody would like to contact me my e-mail address is johnghafur@hotmail.co.uk

- Do you have memories you can share with readers? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN. Or e-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk