Ice disaster at Coltishall was nearly Christmas birthday boy Noel’s last Noel
- Credit: Archant
More than 80 years ago Christmas Day birthday boy Noel Grout almost drowned after falling through thin ice on the River Bure.
But a last-minute rescuer plucked him to safety and ensured that he lived to pull yet another cracker on December 25 and celebrate his 93rd year of 'wonderful life.'
Mr Grout, of Maingay House, Aylsham, vividly remembers defying his mother's orders not to play on the frozen river near his then home, in Coltishall.
He skated across successfully once and then decided to make his way back, unaware that the ice had earlier been broken by a farmer and had re-frozen far thinner.
'I went through - I was shouting like blazes,' he recalled. Some men nearby tried to throw him a rope.
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'My fingers were frozen and I couldn't keep a grip on it. I went down twice and I was told afterwards that if I'd gone down a third time, that would have been it,' said Mr Grout.
Fortunately, the kerfuffle reached the ears of Bert Child who was at home in his riverside cottage recovering from illness. Mr Child rushed out and managed to pull the drowning Noel to safety and he was taken home, shocked and shivering, in the carrying basket of a bicycle.
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He remembers that his mother sent him to bed with no tea after dunking him in the washing-copper water to thaw him out.
One of seven brothers and sisters, with four older step-siblings, Mr Grout said his arrival in the world on Christmas Day had not gone down well with the rest of the family because it meant their mum was in bed, rather than cooking Christmas dinner.
'I think they wanted to sling me in the river that day,' he joked.
Despite his festive first name, Mr Grout said he did not enjoy having a birthday on Christmas Day as it meant he only received one present.
He recalls that one year his present was a wind-up toy which finally appeared in his stocking - along with a bundle of sweets and half a banana - after a year or two of hopeful waiting.
He stole out of bed at 2am, lit a candle and began playing with it on the floor until his furious mum stormed in, confiscated it and packed him off back to bed with a scolding.
The river played a large part in Mr Grout's boyhood and, while living at Belaugh, he remembers being among a large group of boys singing John Barleycorn to passing pleasure boats whose occupants would throw money.
The boys would then race further along the bank and try the same trick again with the same boats - it sometimes worked.
As an adult Mr Grout spent his life on the waterways, working as a marine engineer for Broads Tours, based at Wroxham.
It was not until he married that he started receiving two presents on Christmas Day as his late wife Irene always made sure his birthday was not forgotten.
'She was marvellous to me. I've had a wonderful life,' he said.