Gorleston & Great Yarmouth History

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Constance Renton

I was a sixth former when war broke out. I lived in a small seaside town — Gorleston-on-Sea, near Yarmouth. When still at school in Great Yarmouth, a German plane flew level with the second floor window of my classroom. My eyes were riveted by the black cross painted on the side of the plane. When there were threats of invasion, my father decided that he did not want my mother, sister and me to be in an area that might be invaded. There were fleets of herring trawlers that were converted into minesweepers. There were also E-boats to fight U-boats that threatened our food convoys. It was thought that Yarmouth might be an invasion point. My mother, sister and I were put on a train with my puppy, a fox terrier. We went to Liverpool St, across London. We took the west country train to Newlyn. We had been booked into a fisherman’s cottage — the Simons. The puppy was put in a little outbuilding just beside the kitchen. There was no hint that there was a war except that we had to dig trenches on the pebbly beach into which barbed wire was put to save the area from invasion. I went to a Girls High School in Penzance.

My mother returned to East Anglia. I went to join my old school which had been evacuated to Retford in Nottinghamshire. We shared a school — the local children went to school in the morning and we, the evacuated children, went in the afternoon. We had to wear our gas masks to school and when fitted we were nearly choking. These were never really used. As sixth formers we were trained to fire-fight and when we were on duty, we went into an office on the ground floor of the school. There were straw palliasses and we were expected to sleep there at night. We were there from early evening to the morning. We went onto the roof to see if there were any incendiaries. We saw Sheffield being bombed, rockets falling and the whole of the ground in flames. In the blackout these fires stood out. My father was a coal merchant who fuelled some of the fleet, so he was in a reserve occupation. I grew up with a young man and he became my boyfriend. He visited me at Retford after he had volunteered for the Army. He became a Glider Pilot and was killed at Arnhem. He was only 23 years old.

I went to London and saw the underground where people made themselves at home. They built bunks and put their clothes out and their childrens’ toys by where they slept. Moore’s paintings of the underground show exactly how it was. I was terrified when the buzz bombs went over the house, only about 50 feet up. We did seasonal labour on a farm during the holidays, helping to get in the harvest, picking potatoes. It was very, very hard.”

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© Constance Renton: WW2 People's War: gathered by the BBC 27th June 2005
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