Norwich author Steve Snelling plans a possible follow-up to his book on the city in the Blitz

Before I visited Steve Snelling's home off Plumstead Road East I thought I had a good collection of history books. But he has hundreds stacked on the shelves in his sitting room, with even more lying on the floor. I did not ask if he had read every single one of them, but I'm sure he had.

Many of them are on the Second World War, which is the topic he chose to write about in his new book 'Norwich – a shattered city, the story of Hitler's Blitz on Norwich and its people, 1942',

He said he decided to write the book after a close friend died a few years ago.

He said: 'She was only in her 40s and it made me want to grasp the moment, as you never know what's around the corner.'

During the research he discovered to his surprise how much his early life had been shaped by the war.


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He said: 'I grew up in Bishopgate near Cow Tower. The houses we lived in have since been demolished and replaced by flats.

'Cow Tower was our playground as children and near to it was a surface air raid shelter, which had been used as a school's changing rooms.

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'At the time I was growing up it was an old relic, full of broken glass, and was home to some strange activities at night. It stank. Kids would go in there at night and smoke, and other things.

'Writing the book brought back all sorts of memories of my childhood and how much of it had been shaped by the war.

'I also found out that Thorpe Hamlet Infants, near St Leonard's Road, had been rebuilt after the war. My father had been to that school as a child and remembered going to it after the air raids, and telling all his friends about it being ruined.'

Mr Snelling found a publisher for the book through his friend Keith Skipper, but had to rush to get the book published in time for the 70th anniversary of 1942.

'I embarked on research in late 2010 and had to deliver it by July the following year. It was a subject I had been really interested in for a long time.

'I had to go into the original records, the national archives, and the Norfolk Record Office, and appeal for information through the Evening News and EDP.

'I was astonished at the amount of material, and a large number of people got in touch. It shows how many stories are still out there. We are still learning about those times, how bad it was, what people were really thinking.

'One of the main surprises in my research was the scale of concern among government sources about the state of morale in Norwich. We all remember the Blitz spirit, but the government was really worried that so many people had left the city to go and camp out in the woods, because of the bombing.

'This indicated to them a collapse in morale although it did not in reality.

'There were also problems with so many people leaving the city, because some of them were supposed to be on fire watch, and that was an issue. As much as anything I tried to understand the personal stories.'

He is now working on another book, a biographical study of a Royal Marine medic who posthumously won the Victoria Cross.

He added: 'I got his letters and papers through his family. I'm hoping to finish that by the summer, and then I may do a follow-up to the Blitz book.

'I'm also doing a book to tie in with the anniversary of the start of the first world war, for 2014, from the letters and diaries of a Norfolk soldier in the war.'

Norwich born and bred Mr Snelling was born in Balaclava Terrace, Bishopgate, before the terraces were demolished to make way for flats. His family moved to the Plumstead Road estate, in their case, Lionwood Road, near Pilling Park. He attended the City of Norwich School, and at 18 he went to work for Eastern Counties Newspapers, now Archant.

He met his future wife Sandra at the Lowestoft office and they married in 1980. She is now an advisory school support teacher for special needs.

During his time working for the Eastern Daily Press and Evening News, he was based variously in Diss, Fakenham, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, and Norwich.

He also learned to design and sub-edit, had a column in the Evening News, and ran the EDP What's on supplement. As sports editor at the Evening News, he said the timing was brilliant.

He said: 'The first season I covered Norwich were in the FA Cup semi-final, and the second season Norwich were third in the league, with Mike Walker in charge, and the last season they played in Europe.

'It was a fantastic, exciting time. My colleagues were flying out to see Norwich play in Italy, and across Europe.'

He then helped the EDP's conversion from a broadsheet to a tabloid.

'There was a great deal of worry about how people would react to that, so we had to react to that,' he recalled.

He then went back to feature writing, took over the EDP Saturday magazine, and retired in 2010 after about 35 years working for the company.

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