History shows us in a crisis, Norfolk’s community spirit shines brightly
PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 April 2020
The hand of friendship at a time of need…a crisis of one kind or another brings people of all ages and from all walks of life together.
The old and the young, the rich and the poor. We are all one and there are those who need more support and help than others.
A virus, a war, floods…they illustrate how people help each other at difficult times which claim lives. A time when no-one is safe.
Imagine the way it was in Norwich and Norfolk of a century ago when people were dying from a rare form of influenza. The First World War was coming to an end but lives were being lost at home.
The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was in lock-down, schools were shut and factories were struggling to survive with so many workers absent.
The symptoms of what was called “Spanish Flu” were similar to diphtheria, and the most at risk were those who lived in the squalid courts and yards in the city or the hovels in the county.
A communal sandpipe for water, an outside privy, life was grim. Men, women and children were dying.
Men would return from the bloody front line in the Great War to fall victim of this illness at home.
Before that in 1912, large parts of Norwich sank in the August floods. Lives were lost and thousands were washed out of their homes. Once again the people who suffered most were the poor living around the river but those more fortunate came to their rescue.
An appeal for help attracted support from across the world. The rich helped the poor.
Fast forward to the 1930s and I have heard from 92-year-old Sidney Chaplin of Norwich who remembers the diphtheria epidemic of the 1930s when he and his sister and mother were all quarantined in the isolation hospital on Bowthorpe Road.
“I can remember that fateful day when the ‘green fever’ van came to my grandparents house to take us, The stay at the hospital was not at all comfortable. We were subjected to fresh air treatment like living in a garage with double doors open,” said Sidney.
Then, shelters were being dug, ration books were issued along with gas masks.
The country was at war again, fighting for its freedom. Once again the people came together as the bombs fell from the sky destroying large parts of the city and county killing hundreds of men, women and children.
Imagine emerging from your Anderson shelter to see your home had been reduced to a pile of smoking rubble and you were left with the clothes you stood up in.
Once again the people came together. In Norwich there were the likes of Ruth Hardy who ran M.A.G.N.A. which stood for the Mutual Aid Good Neighbours Association.
On a visit to the city after the 1942 blitz King George VI said to her: “Mrs Hardy there is too little friendship[p in the world today, do keep up this wonderful work when the war is over.”
Rationing was still with us in 1953 when the terrible floods hit Norfolk and Suffolk. One of our greatest peacetime disasters which caused so much misery and heartache.
It was at the end of January when a storm surge driven by hurricane-force winds hit us. In East Anglia this was a nightmare as homes were engulfed, Many people in Norfolk and Suffolk lost their lives and thousands were driven from their homes.
The coastline between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton took an early hit. At South Bank where 40 holiday bungalows stood, the water swept them away with people losing their lives.
The American forces at Sculthorpe were among the first to help with Reis Leming, a non-swimmer, rescuing 27 people before passing out.
He later told our reporter: “Shucks, it wasn’t much.” He was awarded the George Medal. He died in 2012 but will be remembered.
The floods caused havoc along our coastlines and further inland. The plight and the spirit of the people touched the hearts of others across the world.
Rest centres and feeding stations were quickly established. There was furniture, fuel, clothes, sandbags, money and offers of accommodation.
Times change but our community spirit is as strong as ever.
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