Evocative war-time memories stirred by unearthing of bomb shelter at Bignold Primary in Norwich

Air raid shelter found under the playground at Bignold Primary School. Headteacher Clare Jones with

Air raid shelter found under the playground at Bignold Primary School. Headteacher Clare Jones with pupils Lola, 9, and Gabriel, 10.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

It was a chance discovery that set hundreds of children imagining life in Norwich during the Second World War.

Joan Blazeby, right, with her family at Crooks Place Junior School. Left to right: Joan's mother Phy

Joan Blazeby, right, with her family at Crooks Place Junior School. Left to right: Joan's mother Phyllis Stratton, nee Kett; her half-sister Dawn Stratton; her grandmother Lizzy Kett; Joan Kett (now Joan Blazeby). - Credit: Archant

But the unearthing of an air raid shelter under a car park at Bignold Primary School has also rekindled memories from the generation of pupils who found safety inside it.

Here, four of them remember the bomb shelter at what was then Crooks Place Junior School.

Mary Page, née Mary Woodcock

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'We weren't scared about going down the shelter; none of us were frightened. The whole school would go down and there were lights down there. We didn't have any food but would all sing songs.

'If we did go down it wouldn't be for very long. We very rarely had to use it because usually the air raids took place at night. If the air siren went off in the day we normally ignored it but if the crash warning went off we would go into the shelter.

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'After the period of bombing, I remember that mobile showers (with carbolic soap) were put up in the playground and we all got to have a shower as some people's houses didn't have any water because of the bombing.

'Showers in the playground seemed very exciting at the time.'

Rosalind Ford, née Rosalind Bruff

'When the siren went off, I believe it was near Caley's chocolate factory, the teacher had the children queue up near the classroom door and in an orderly fashion strap on our gas masks and march down into the shelters located at the edge of the playground, opposite Mr Stone's class and fairly close to the street.

'The children were supposed to take their lessons, a pencil, and exercise book with them into the shelter and study while waiting for the all clear. But not much studying was done sitting on those hard benches.

'Sometimes the crash warning would go off while we were down there which made us nervous, but luckily our school was never bombed as far as I can recall.

'I do remember a German plane flying over the playground very low during the morning when all the children were outside playing and eating their sandwiches.

'The pilot of the plane could easily have machine gunned us if he had wished, but luckily for us he chose not to. Perhaps he had children of his own and decided to spare us.

'Sometimes an army lorry would pull up onto the playground near the air raid shelter and our gas masks were tested for leaks. A few children at a time would sit on the lorry benches with gas masks on, while tear gas was released into the back of the vehicle. If a gas mask was malfunctioning we would soon find out in a most uncomfortable manner.'

Michael Womack

'I attended that school from 1943 to 1949. I think there were three shelters, all with a door and sloping roof at the entrances.

'These were taken down and capped at the end of the war; very few houses were left outside the school. What was left were pulled down by Pointers with a Bedford tipper and cleared away for the rebuild.

'Lunch time would see some of us go down to Dicky Derbies soft drinks shop for a bottle of soft drink for a penny, old money, and a stick of liquorice root to chew, or a locust bean from a store opposite.'

Joan Blazeby, née Joan Kett

'I remember being taken from my bed wrapped in a blanket and taken by my grandmother Elizabeth Kett down to the shelter in the playground... The siren went and down the shelter we went, Nanny Kett making tea...

'We used to sing, and sat on wooden planks each side. I can remember search lights and airplanes overhead, and the men on duty shouting 'Is it one of ours, Fred, etc'.

'I was not frightened as I was only a little girl. I remember windows getting blown out, and being carried through streets with houses burning each side. It does not seem like history to me, as life goes so fast.'

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