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Glimpses from the history of Watton and Wayland


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    At the History of Watton and Wayland in Pictures and in Words ~ Issue 1 April 2007

    1.00 Only Available from


    High Street


    To the first (and may be the last!) issue of Looking Back. Why the last? Well, it depends on your reaction to this issue! I have no idea whether you will find this publication as interesting as I think it is. I need to sell around 1,200 copies or more to make the venture sustainable. So, if you find it interesting, please let me and everyone else know and if you dont, then please tell me why. Tell me what I need to change to make it worth the 1 you paid for it. SO WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

    As many of you will know, I have been researching and collecting the history of RAF Watton and the town for the last 20 years. In that time I have amassed a collection of items from a variety of sources, some gifts and loans from old Wattonians and some purchases from places like Ebay. When we had a museum I was happy that people could view at least some of the collection but since its closure in 2000 the collection has continued to grow, but to what purpose? So I am trying this as a means to start making it all accessible. In many ways this is better than a museum, for example, the 2 booklets reproduced inside give a wealth of information about the town and the area and you would not be able to sit down and read them if they were on display in a cabinet! I hope to follow this venture up - if successful - with a web site and also some DVDs of the video and sound archives I have. I have gone for larger pictures where the quality of the original will support it which reduces the number per publication - do you agree thats the right thing to do? WHY DID I HAVE TO PAY FOR IT?

    The Wayland News has always been free because the advertisers effectively pay for its production. But the amount of advertising out there is limited. I will not jeopardise the future of The Wayland News by diluting the limited advertising so you have had to pay a pound for this copy of Looking Back. I hope you think its worth it but either way let me know - PLEASE. CAN I CONTRIBUTE?

    Absolutely!!! I am hoping that what you read here will trigger memories for you and I am hoping even more that you will find the time to sit down and write to me. ONLY WATTON?

    No! Definitely not!! But I know very little about the villages history so I would very much welcome all the village historians and groups to get in touch and contribute to the publication. Sadly there is no money to pay for contributions, but if you want to get involved you will be very welcome indeed. AND FINALLY . . .

    My contact details are on the back page if you do want to get in touch (please do!) and if successful then next issue should appear within two months. Thank you for your interest and I hope we will talk again soon. Julian Horn - publisher of Looking Back.


    The picture above is from a postcard sent in 1939 and shows the old pump still in place though the cattle trough down by the road side has gone. The picture of the same area below dates to some 40 years earlier. One of the things that is remarkable about the early photographs is the amount of detail in the picture. This is illustrated by the enlargement at the bottom taken from the picture below and others on the left and below are details showing the Crown Hotel Stabling (I think) and the Bull Hotel from pictures of similar or earlier date.

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    YOU THINK? The scans reproduced here are from the Official Town Guide, which although undated, is probably 1923 - 1924. A fascinating record of businesses and a good description of the locale make this book, for me at least, very interesting reading. But what did you think? As I said in the introduction, this issue is very much an experimental one. Do you find reproductions of the entire booklet better than say, a description with an extract or two and a list of advertisers? I would really like to know what you think so that I can judge and refine the content of future issues to be of more interest. Please write and tell me!

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    L ooking back through the years, Easter Monday 1940 always stands out. It was a personal D Day for me - a day etched in my memory forever. I caught a bus and made my way to the RAF Station near Norwich (RAF Watton) where I was to begin work. On arrival at the gates, I asked a kindly policeman where the NAAFI canteen was. He pointed to a building that was quite a distance away. I took one look through the gates and exclaimed, Do I have to walk past all those men? He replied My dear, youll see thousands of those before youve finished! He saw the look on my face and added, Dont worry, dear, Ill find someone to carry your case! He came back with a very shy airman, who I couldnt get a word out of, which made things even worse as there were catcalls, wolf whistles, and comments of all descriptions flying around. After what seemed like an eternity I arrived in the NAAFI with my case. Straight away I was put into what I thought was an absolutely shapeless uniform. The thing that amuses me now is that these uniforms are worn, practically the same, by nurses today. It was a royal blue cotton dress, belted at the back and straight through to the hem, with short sleeves and white piping. The only difference to the nurses uniform is that we had the NAAFI crest, Servientur Servietium, on the lapel. Case unpacked, uniform on, hair off the collar, I was in at the deep end. I barely had time to draw breath. The provisions for women on an essentially male Base were somewhat limited. Eight of us girls shared a dormitory together, so there wasnt a great deal of privacy. We each had a bed, locker and wardrobe, and the room had a radiator. Fortunately, we were in an RAF station that had been built before the war, on similar lines to all others built in the same period. We lived in relative luxury compared with the Nissen hut accommodation provided on later hastily built airfields, with only a cast iron stove for heat, linoleum floors, and biscuit mattresses to sleep on. Compared with what I had previously known in the village, the life on the base was a totally new experience for me. We had station concert parties, dances, and ENSA concerts (Every Night Something Awful) occasionally as well. There was an excellent pianist at the station, who regularly played Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue, and our own Station dance band with good musicians. We were allowed out after 9.30pm and during light summer evenings were granted a two hours extension to go out for a walk, so there was always a sense of something going on. It wasnt really possible to mix with the Airmen, because there was no real venue except on dance evenings twice a week. The Airmens Mess was the only one with sufficient space to hold dances, and their social life was mostly based around the canteen. The Officers had cocktail parties, and the Sergeants and other ranks held social gatherings. After the start of the war, however, civilians were not allowed on Air Force bases; so all socialising was purely among those on the base. There was a dance hall in the town - after a fashion. Dances were held in the saleroom where auctions were held. This was popularly known as the Sweat Box. On joining the air base, my initial hurdle was to get over my nerves. I soon learned to join in, and began to realise that I would have to get used to answering for myself. In the past, of course, my mother had always answered for me, and standing on my own two feet was a totally new experience. This didnt happen overnight. On the second evening after I started work in the canteen, there was a concert on the base. Someone had to go in and serve cigarettes and chocolates before the performance and during the interval, and I was delegated the job of Usherette. As it turned out, it wasnt so much that I was taking the money; it was more that the men were dropping their change onto the tray that was shaking in my hands. I was so frightened I didn't dare look up. One thing that did my self-confidence the world of good in the early days on the base was learning to dance. I found a willing teacher, and soon picked up the basics in the NAAFI canteen. I danced all the rest of my life while I was fit. Like my uncle before me, I loved to dance. In the past my partner at village hops had been the clod-hopping farming friend who wooed me with chocolates. He trod all over my toes and we made painful progress. Now, however, I was in the arms of a burly great RAF Flight Sergeant who had gallantly offered to escort me round the floor. He was a superb dancer, with a light step and a natural sense of rhythm, and I learned very quickly from him. I also learned very quickly to keep my feet out from under his! For the aircrew stationed on the base, the concerts and dances made something of a distraction from the nerve-racking business of flying. They certainly needed it. Like most civilians who joined up to serve in the war, I enrolled with very little idea of what life on an operational RAF base would actually entail. I was almost totally unprepared for being brought face to face with tragedy. Sadly this happened all too soon. The girls in the canteen were friendly with a young air gunner on the station, and about two weeks after I started work, we were all invited to his twenty-first birthday party. On the morning of the party, the crew of three, the pilot, navigator and the young air gunner whose birthday it was, went out on a mission in a Blenheim bomber. After they took off from the airfield the plane hit a tree and the fuel tank exploded into a fireball on impact. There were no survivors. The shattered s