Celebrating the Home Front Heroes

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time? Have you ever wondered what life was like during the Second World War for those living in Suffolk?The Second World War was the first major conflict where it was just as dangerous to remain at home as it was to join the armed forces and fight on the front line.

By Andrew Clarke

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time? Have you ever wondered what life was like during the Second World War for those living in Suffolk?

The Second World War was the first major conflict where it was just as dangerous to remain at home as it was to join the armed forces and fight on the front line. Daily and nightly air raids brought death from the skies and there was the constant threat of invasion both on the beaches and by paratroops from the air.

For the first time ever just as many civilians were killed as troops on the front line. The Blitz was what drove many children out of London. There are reports that at the outbreak of war, in September 1939, children being loaded on pleasure steamers at Dagenham and then travelled up the coast before being dropped off at Felixstowe, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

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But even in rural East Anglia people weren't safe as there were frequent air raids across the region with Ipswich, Clacton, Colchester, Southwold and Bury St Edmunds being targeted by German aircraft at frequent intervals.

The war years have always captured the imaginations of writers, film-makers and TV producers but they invariably concentrate on action in the front line. The Suffolk Record Office are holding a series of open days to commemorate Home Front Heroes and to look at the effects that evacuation would have had on the young children which had been ripped away from their homes and families.

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Kate Chantry, from Suffolk Records Office, said: “The idea behind the open days is to encourage evacuees to write in with their experiences and offer younger generations an opportunity to travel back in time and get a taste of what life would have been like for those fighting their own war on the home front.

“During the early years of the Second World War thousands of mothers and children were evacuated from London and other big towns, including Ipswich, to safer areas for protection from German bombing raids. The questions we will be addressing include: What was it like leaving your family behind and travelling to a strange town, staying with strangers and going to a new school? The experiences of evacuees varied greatly and would affect them for the rest of their lives.

“Some were very happy staying with their new family, whilst others were unhappy and couldn't wait to get home. Many found it difficult to adjust to living in the countryside and jokes were told illustrating the misunderstandings that arose between the locals and newcomers. For example a small evacuee was told by his new family that he could go and fetch in any eggs. He found a newly laid egg, (which was still very warm), and came running in to the house very excited saying “aren't you lucky to get eggs all ready boiled!”

She said that the open days had been designed to include activities for all the family which would include storytelling sessions, interpretive performances designed to bring to life the documents, letters and photographs in the collections of the Suffolk Record Office.

But it's not just the Home Front which will be explored. Material relating to the Suffolk Regiment will be on display showing their campaigns in the Far East and in Europe where their experiences were very different. The 1st Battalion arrived in France in early October 1939 with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and took part in fighting in France and Belgium before being evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940. They returned to France landing on Sword Beach on D-Day, June 6 1944. The 2nd Battalion took part in the Burma Campaign. The 4th and 5th Battalions spent three and a half years as POWs following the fall of Singapore on February 15 1942, initially in the infamous Changi Jail, then working on the construction of the Burma to Thailand Railway. The 7th Battalion fought in North Africa and up through Italy.

As with life on the home front, the story of the men in the Suffolk Regiment will be told through their letters home and personal photographs.

In contrast, those left at home served as ARP (Air Raid Precautions) officers, wardens, and volunteers, AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) volunteers, ambulance drivers and attendants, first aid post volunteers, special constables etc to counter the threat of air raids and possible gas attacks, direct rescue work, help victims, and assist with fire fighting. Others worked in local factories making munitions and specialist equipment for the war effort or on the land to feed the nation.

Kate Chantry added that she hoped that the exhibits and interpretive events would inspire youngsters between the ages of 8 and 13 to enter the Home Front Heroes Writing Competition. This involves putting yourself in the shoes of an evacuee and writing either a letter home to your parents, a diary, a poem, an interview or a newspaper article about the evacuation. The maximum length is 500 words. Things to consider in the piece include: Who or what did you miss from home? What did you take with you or leave behind? Who are you staying with and what are they like? What happened to you? Was evacuation a frightening experience or an exciting adventure?

Prizes will be given for best writing and most imaginative design in two age ranges: 8-10 years and 11-13 years. Closing date is April 21. Entry forms will be available at the Home Front Heroes Family Day or from your nearest Record Office or Library or can be down loaded from www.suffolk.gov.uk/RecordOffice .

There are two open days: The first is tomorrow at Bury St Edmunds Library, Sergeants Walk, St Andrews Street North, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1TZ from 10am to 4pm and then at Ipswich County Library, Northgate Street, Ipswich, IP1 3DE on Sunday April 2 from 10 am to 4pm.

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