Tuesday, 7 June 2011

News - Blue plaques signpost history in Great Yarmouth (Worksop/Retford)

The seven year old was being whisked away from his home and family - but heading away from Great Yarmouth with hundreds of other evacuees was “all good fun” and a bit of a jolly adventure.

However instead of safety and excitement one little boy faced bombing raids and harsh treatment, hunger and cold at the hands of his grudging guardians.

James Holt, 77, of Caister, near Yarmouth, was yesterday among a crowd gathered at Yarmouth’s Vauxhall Station for the unveiling, of a Blue Plaque commemorating the single day on June 2 when 3700 children were sent away and pressed upon the people of Nottingham.

He recalled his parents had just one day to make up their minds about whether to send him and brothers John and George, then aged three and five away, amid warnings of air raids and gas attacks while the German advance continued across the continent.

The three brothers found themselves in Worksop split between two equally unkind households who put the boys to work growing vegetables in the garden but only ever feeding them bread and water.

After two years they were rescued by their father who, having been injured in Dunkirk, was recovering in hospital in Birmingham. Shocked at their waif-like appearance they went to live with him near a railway yard - itself a major target - where they endured constant bombing and saw first-hand the gruesome wreckage of war.

Miraculously they all survived and would have certainly been killed had they stayed in Yarmouth - their house in Suffolk Road the only one to be totally destroyed during a particular raid.

Meanwhile, Alan Barham, of Gorleston, who unveiled the plaque, told how having been evacuated to Retford with a delightful family he was called into the headmaster’s office to be told his father had been killed in an air raid. The following day the 12-year-old was again summoned to hear his mother had suffered the same fate.

He learned later that their Anderson shelter in Northgate Street had suffered a direct hit. But by a quirk of fate his four year old sister Janet was staying with family in Norwich and was spared.

Today Mr Holt, is a member of the Great Yarmouth and Local District Archaeological Society behind the Blue Plaque scheme and a heritage guide - making his next appearance in Yarmouth history as a teenage vandal a subject of awkward discussion at the second plaque unveiling of the day.

The town’s St Nicholas’ Priory School, in the Market Place, was the next building to have its history put on the Blue Plaque pedestal, with current pupils mingling with old boys and girls and teachers from yesteryear.

The history of the site has been traced back to the late 13th century with roles spanning a home for the needy, armoury and workhouse, although there has been some sort of school there continuously since around 1551.

When Mr Holt was a pupil there in 1946 there was only intermittent electricity, and pupils could barely make out what they were doing.

The answer at the time was to knock a massive hole in the section of Medieval town wall that was blocking light to the woodwork room.

As an adult Mr Holt is horrified by his act of destruction- although no one gave a thought to heritage at the time and it adds a colourful anecdote to his town tours.

Paul Davies, society chairman, said the aim of the plaques was to raise the profile of Yarmouth’s heritage. At the school headteacher Mark Adams said it was a great opportunity for youngsters to connect with the community, their past, and meet former pupils.

Tony Wright, former Yarmouth MP, shared his memories of being a pupil there in the 1970s which included seeing cows shot in the head at the neighbouring slaughterhouse when he went to retrieve a ball: “Its an image that pretty much stays with you,” he said.

The evacuee plaque at Vauxhall Station was sponsored by Great Yarmouth Borough Council following an event last year when those chattering children herded onto trains 70 years ago were invited to tea at the Town Hall.

Former teacher Ann Dunning, 69, had traced the school’s history since it was set up in the late 13th century by Thomas Fastolph - a relative of Shakespeare’s Falstaff - as St Mary’s Hospital, a home for the old and needy. The plaque, was put up at her request, the 20th since the society has been sign-posting places of interest since 1980.

From: http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/blue_plaques_signpost_history_in_great_yarmouth_1_913996

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