Frederick Williman: West Norfolk headmaster’s role in 1953 East Coast floods

A former west Norfolk headmaster, Frederick Williman, who has died aged 98, turned his school into emergency centre at the height of the 1953 East Coast floods.

As the disaster unfolded, Heacham Primary School became a temporary refuge for 65 people plus their dogs, cats and even rabbits. His late wife, Gwyneth, provided warm drinks and he organised the distribution of Red Cross food parcels for flood victims.

Robert Frederick Williman was born on July 27, 1913 at Lowestoft while his father was at sea in the merchant navy. In 1916, when the town was shelled by the German fleet, the family was evacuated to Stanhoe, where his grandfather, a farm bailiff lived.

A keen musician and only 17 years old, he was organist and choir master at Oulton Broad – and received �12 pa. He won a scholarship and trained as a classical organist but then trained to be a teacher, working for London County Council. In his first teaching post at Camberwell in 1934, his annual salary was �148.

He moved to teach at Hunstanton in 1936 having married and then gained his first headship at Bawdeswell, near Dereham, in 1940, where he was also clerk to the parish council.

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After brief war service, because of his former work with young people, the Home Office released him to set up Service of Youth in the County of Norfolk – to open centres and form groups for teenagers.

In 1947, he was appointed headmaster at Heacham, where he remained for 27 years, retiring in July 1974 when there were 290 pupils on the roll. His wife also retired after 21 years as school secretary.

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When he became a Special Constable from 1948, his area of responsibility included King George VI's estate at Sandringham. He also became a district commissioner for the Scouts.

A keen supporter of the Royal British Legion, he was a committee member for 17 years, helping with the provision of homes for service people.

Music was a key part of his life and he was organist at Docking and also played at St Mary's and St Edmund's, Heacham.

He died peacefully after a short illness at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. His wife predeceased in 2002 and their two sons had both become teachers.

A memorial service will be held at St Mary's Parish Church, Heacham on Friday, May 11 at 3pm.

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