Returning soldiers could bank on amazing gesture of thankful Norfolk villagers in Hethersett
- Credit: Archant
Peter Steward tells the heart-warming story of a gift given by the people of Hethersett after the Second World War
Servicemen returning to a Norfolk village after the Second World War found themselves the recipients of a new savings account containing a donation of £10 from appreciative villagers.
Residents of Hethersett were so moved by the exploits of “their boys” in the war that they raised the money from events such as jumble sales, darts matches, auctions, dances, socials and public subscriptions through a Welcome Home Committee.
When that committee was disbanded it was replaced by a Memorial Fund group which raised further money to prvide what became the present-day Hethersett Memorial Playing Field.
There was a sad side to the £10 (over £300 today) awards, however, as a number were sent to the families of those who never returned. Twelve men from Hethersett are recorded as having lost their lives in the war.
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The welcome home committee raised an impressive £2,270 – almost £70,000 in today’s money - and a total of 227 servicemen and/or their families received the £10 gift.
The committee put together two letters to go with the donation. The first for those that returned read:
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“Your Hethersett Friends wish you to accept this small token of appreciation for all the sacrifices you have made on their behalf and in welcoming you home, offer their best wishes for the future.”
The second message sent to those who had been bereaved read:
“In Grateful Remembrance of the sacrifice made by your _______________________. Your friends in Hethersett offer their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss.”
At Christmas 1944, the committee, which consisted of representatives from 19 village organisations, sent messages and parcels to those serving abroad with the following message:
“It is with great pleasure that the people of Hethersett send you their greetings for Xmas and the new year. A parcel is being sent to as many as possible of those from Hethersett who have left these shores. This letter goes with best wishes for your health and happiness and the hope of a speedy return. All are looking forward to that day.”
At that time there were over 90 “village boys” serving overseas. They were all given a flavour of what was happening in the village:
“The village is full of activity these days, including a “Brains Trust” run by the Women’s Institute. You are not forgotten, as every Tuesday evening there is a special service when a number of us meet together and pray for your safe keeping.”
In October, 1945, the committee wrote to those still overseas to obtain their views on what form a lasting memorial should take. Suggestions included: street lighting, a “home for old folk”, a sports field, a centre for young people and a maternity home.
There was a promise that the names of those who had died in the conflict would be added to the village war memorial which was originally set-up in 1920 to commemorate those who died in the First World War.
The most popular suggestion was to create a sports field. The Welcome Home Fund closed in November 1946, but subscriptions continued to be collected and a monetary balance helped to see the Hethersett Peace Memorial Fund set-up to provide a lasting recreational amenity and memorial to the men who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Further fundraising events were held until there was enough money to buy land from local farmer Mr P. H. Curson. In March, 1959, the purchase of the land was completed and the playing field was formally opened by the managing director of Mackintosh Chocolate and a local resident, Charles Wood, the Second Earl of Halifax. The plaque erected to mark the occasion gave the name of the playing Field as Hethersett Memorial Field and Garden.
Today the field is home to a number of sports clubs and organisation – all of whom are enjoying the fruits of the labours of so many people from three-quarters of a century ago.