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A Sunday afternoon of terror... the war years in one Suffolk town

PUBLISHED: 13:23 01 November 2018

The pillbox in Well Close Square, Framlingham. Picture: Lanman Museum

The pillbox in Well Close Square, Framlingham. Picture: Lanman Museum

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We’ve all seen the harrowing images of London and other big UK cities in the Second World War, and the devastation inflicted by enemy bombing raids.

Flying Fortresses of the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association pass over Framlingham on their return from a mission. Picture: Horham 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association. Colour by colouriser.co.ukFlying Fortresses of the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association pass over Framlingham on their return from a mission. Picture: Horham 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association. Colour by colouriser.co.uk

But what about the smaller towns, and villages? They feature far less in newsreel footage or books. How did, for instance, market towns in Suffolk fare between 1939 and 1945? How much did they suffer?

Well, a book written by John F Bridges gives us a fascinating insight into the war years in Framlingham. It shows that, far from emerging unscathed, “Fram” suffered significant damage and some people lost their lives.

The book, A Suffolk Town in Wartime – Framlingham 1939 to 1945, has been written after painstaking research by John, including speaking to some of the town’s older residents, and visits to record offices. The result is a piece of work which is always engaging, sometimes surprising, and very evocative.

Framlingham is very close to John’s heart. The Bridges family have been in the town for about 300 years.

ATS women about to strike up a tune with Royal Engineers on the castle bridge. Picture: Framlingham Photo ArchiveATS women about to strike up a tune with Royal Engineers on the castle bridge. Picture: Framlingham Photo Archive

What inspired him to write the book? He said: “About four or five years ago I thought it would be a good idea to interview some of the older people in the town. I then got thinking about how the air raid sirens worked, and it all evolved from there. I got into researching, including visiting Kew Record Office.”

The book features a striking cover photo – Flying Fortresses above Framlingham castle, the ancient building now made famous worldwide thanks to local boy made good Ed Sheeran.

On subsequent pages are a series of pictures capturing every aspect of those long-ago wartime years: a pillbox in the centre of town, local girls with American GIs, air raid shelters and the homespun heroes of the Home Guard. Plus, of course, an admirably detailed narrative of the trials and tribulations of wartime Framlingham.

Interestingly, during his research, John’s view of the Home Guard changed dramatically. Many of the post-war “baby boomer” generation have been led by the TV classic comedy Dad’s Army to view the Home Guard as somewhat hapless and something of a joke.

Bomb damage to the Sir Robert Hitcham almshouses in Framlingham in 1940. Picture: Framlingham Photo ArchiveBomb damage to the Sir Robert Hitcham almshouses in Framlingham in 1940. Picture: Framlingham Photo Archive

Very unfair, says John. “Many of the Home Guard were decorated First World War soldiers. They would have fought to the death. They were very brave. You have to remember that after Dunkirk there was suddenly a very realistic risk of invasion.” So, apologies to Capt Mainwaring, Sgt Wilson, and their brave men...

Writing the book also helped John to find the answers about Framlingham’s air raid siren. “The town didn’t have one,” he says. “They kept asking Blyth Rural District Council for one, but the Home Office said Framlingham wasn’t big enough. The Air Raid Patrol wardens would use a whistle and knock on doors to warn people. Eventually, Framlingham bought its own air raid siren through public subscription.”

The book reveals the physical changes the war brought – roads were mined, tank traps were laid, and there was a machine gun post halfway up Fore Street. Hard to imagine these days!

The war also brought death to Framlingham. Although not a key strategic target for enemy aircraft, it nonetheless suffered its share of tragedy.

Eight bombs landed in the College Road/New Road area on Sunday, October 6, 1940. The school house attached to the infants’ school was destroyed, and Caroline Harvey, the 62-year-old headmistress, was killed. Picture: Framlingham Photo ArchiveEight bombs landed in the College Road/New Road area on Sunday, October 6, 1940. The school house attached to the infants’ school was destroyed, and Caroline Harvey, the 62-year-old headmistress, was killed. Picture: Framlingham Photo Archive

There was an awful event in 1942, when a lone German plane released about 700 incendiary bombs in the Albert Road area. Young mother Maria Stannard and her two sons, Leslie, 13, and little Neville, aged five, all died in the flames, despite the desperate efforts of local people.

Earlier in the war, in 1940, eight bombs fell on College Road, killing Miss Caroline Stannard, headmistress of the infants school. The book contains vivid eyewitness accounts of that terrifying Sunday afternoon – one of many examples of the fascinating and often evocative detail in the book.

A Suffolk Town in Wartime – Framlingham 1939 to 1945 is £20. It is available from local bookshops, or from the author on 01728 723557 or framww2@gmail.com

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