George Le Surf: Campaigner for Norfolk’s footpaths

A campaigner for more than 50 years to improve Norfolk's footpath network, George Le Surf, has died peacefully aged 91 at his Norwich home.

When he moved to Norwich as station officer with the city fire brigade at Bethel Street in 1956, he and wife, Jeanne, found that most public rights of way were blocked and often not mapped and were generally in a 'muddled state.'

They also launched the local branch of the Ramblers' Association in 1960. She was appointed county footpaths secretary by the Ramblers and he took on the role of Norfolk area secretary, which he held for more than 46 years. On retirement, he was made Norfolk life vice-president and his wife, president.

They were honoured in 1976 by the Norwich & District Footpath Society, which marked its 15th anniversary by awarding the first life memberships to Mr and Mrs Le Surf.

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Together they walked almost every known footpath in the county as Jeanne, known as 'Rambler' in the EDP's sister paper, the Evening News, wrote more than 2,000 walks over the next five decades.

Born in Golders Green, London, George Le Surf joined the Royal Navy in 1936 as a boy sailor. He was serving in the battleship, HMS Warspite, on the outbreak of the second world war, and saw action in the North Atlantic and later the Mediterranean. After completing one of the Russian convoys to Murmansk, he was then posted to join one of big Malta convoys. Torpedoed three times, he was transferred to minesweepers and left the navy after completing his 12 years' term as a chief petty officer, joining the National Fire Service in London. He was proud of his campaign medals and especially valued his Russian convoy medal from the Soviet Union, which was overlooked by a burglar. Fortunately, he was able to obtain replacement of the others.

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Married in 1948, they later moved to Norwich and lived in married quarters at Bethel Street. Then, he built his own home in Armes Street with the help of fellow firemen on his watch.

After retiring from the fire service, he worked at HMSO, the Stationery Office, until the early 1980s. By this stage, the Le Surf husband-and-wife partnership had become a formidable team as Norfolk Ramblers forced action to tackle the backlog of blocked paths and rights of way. 'We were oddities in our big boots,' she told the EDP in 1975. In the early 1960s, paths were not mapped clearly.

They had taken the authorities to task from the start and their first battle concerned a cliff top walk from Overstrand to Cromer, where the path had fallen into the sea. Her determined advocacy, at public inquiries and hearings, and his detailed research, were to prove a highly effective combination as Norfolk County Council was persuaded to motivate farmers and landowners to improve access to the path network by improving mapping and erecting signs.

They celebrated their diamond jubilee in 2008 and were delighted to have received official congratulations from the Queen.

He leaves a widow, Jeanne, and daughter, Jane, and a grandson, Tom.

A funeral service will be held at Earlham Crematorium on Friday, April 20 at 9.45am.

Michael Pollitt

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