Lowestoft’s past is labour of love for historian

Local Historian John Holmes

Local Historian John Holmes - Credit: Nick Butcher

It was nearly 30 years ago that John Holmes published his first book – The Spirit of Lowestoft A Town at War 1939-45.

Since then, the prolific writer and history hunter has written nearly three dozen books detailing Lowestoft and its surrounding area's rich past. And as a result of Mr Holmes's many tomes, including his latest book, A Pakefield Scrapbook, and the countless slide-shows he has given over the years, local charities and good causes have had a windfall of more than £40,000.

All of the money from his books and talks goes to deserving causes, such as Palliative Care East Appeal and Sandra Chapman Unit at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, East Anglia's Children's Hospices and ill or sick children including Owen Baldry, a Carlton Colville boy who needed an operation to walk.

Mr Holmes, 75 and who worked as an engineer for the GPO and BT, fell in love with local history when he attended a slide-show in 1971 by Jack Rose of the Old Lowestoft Society.

He then got involved with the society.

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It was renamed the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society in 1990 after Mr Holmes helped to convince Mr Rose, who had become a close friend, not to disband his organisation – a decision that helped to forge his love of writing.

Mr Holmes said: 'In 1992 we did a presentation at the Marina Theatre to raise funds for a memorial stone to mark the 50th anniversary of the Waller's Road in the war, which saw Lowestoft town centre bombed.

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'During the interval, several people approached me and told me of their wartime experiences, and it was because of that I decided to try and produce a book

'I did not have any idea about writing and making a book, or desktop publishing.

'I bought a word processor to type up all the stories people had sent me.

'The book was a success and sold 1,000 copies.

'So I went on to publish a second volume and felt inspired to write further publications.'

Mr Holmes has now written more than 30 books, which have been printed by Waveney District Council, and he has three more in the pipeline which he is writing in what he calls John's Den, at his home in Somerleyton Road, Oulton.

He is also chairman of the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society and has hosted up to 40 slide-show talks a year.

As well as collating and printing people's experiences in the area, over the years Mr Holmes sees his work as a form of tribute to Mr Rose, who died from cancer in 2000.

He said: 'Jack Rose not only became a very good friend of mine, but he inspired me to hold slide-shows and compile local history books for charity.

'It is also my aim to give people a voice. My books are about people's memories – I am just there to collate them all.'

And it is not just local people who have enjoyed his books.

In 2008 Gordon Brown, who was the prime minister at the time, was given a book by Mr Holmes on the history of Southwold as the Labour leader had been on holiday in the resort.

In letter of thanks, Mr Brown said: 'Your booklet seems to be a real labour of love and I am very grateful to you for sending it along.' Mr Holmes was born in Hampstead in 1937 and was the oldest of three children.

His father was a Coldstream Guardsman, John William Holmes, and his mother, who was from Kessingland, was called Vera.

The family relocated to Pakefield in 1940 after they were bombed out of their home.

Mr Holmes still has very fond memories of his childhood during the war in Lowestoft.

He said: 'I remember seeing a doodlebug passing over our bungalow and it crashed into a field.

'It was also very common to see planes dog fighting in the skies over Pakefield.

'When I was growing up life was simple, we had a tin bath and an outdoor toilet, but we were very happy.'

After serving in the RAF for three years, Mr Holmes worked for 34 years for the GPO and BT in Lowestoft. He even compiled a book, Making the Connection in the Norwich Telephone Area, about his time there.

Mr Holmes met his future wife, Val, in May 1960 at a dance on Lowestoft's South Pier and they married in St Margaret's Church in 1967.

He said: 'I could not have achieved all I have done without the loving support of my wife Val, my sons and friends.'

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