Below is correspondence between me and Sue Oatley, about her father, Graham Palmer, who was achild in Brnadon during the war.
During the war
“My dad, who was born on 5th January, 1934, lived at 161 Thetford Road, Brandon, with his parents – Albert “Smoker” and Annie Palmer. Dad said he originally lived in (and may have been born in) what was locally known as “the Laundry” – a row of four houses on the edge of Forestry Commission land, which also belonged to the Commission. He had five siblings: Flanders (called as he was born on Nov 11th but always known as ‘Flip’), Derek, John, Robin and Faith. At some stage, Derek and Flip both worked for Charlie Thompson’s lime company driving lorries. John used to work at the farm at Brandon Hall. Graham had a paper round for WH Smith in Santon Downham and then worked at the sawmill putting chains around logs and helping to unload and offload them before he joined the army.
Dad was five when WW2 broke out. He thinks he remembers some Italian POWs being used to clear the gorse fields, with my dad being given toast and jam by them. Local police turned a blind eye to rabbit poaching – the farmers were grateful (as rabbits were pests) and without rabbit meat the people’s diet would have been poor and boring. Camps of conscientious objectors worked in the forest.
Lots of ordnance was dumped in Thetford Forest towards Santon Downham and my dad remembers Paul Harbour, whose family emigrated to Australia, and the two of them playing at the ammunition stores towards the end of the war. They nicked four canisters of flares and thunder flashes, and hid them. They dug them up when there was a party on Brandon Market Hill. They also put them in people’s garden dustbins and set them off. They also had long strips of fire crackers. On one occasion they lit a flare and chucked it in the Little Ouse, but it went too far across, hitting the reeds and weeds on the railway track, which then caught fire. He also remembers Ivan Drewery and Kenny Adams who lived in London Road and Thetford Road. He loved his childhood. He said children were free to do what they wanted and rarely got caught!
Once, when he and Paul Harbour were in the Army Cadets, they had a ‘near miss’ with some grenades. It was during an exercise, when Paul had the grenades, Mills bombs, and “had to get rid of them”. So, he primed them, by pulling the pin out, while they were in Thetford Forest. One exploded and the second rolled into an old pit in the ground, where it hit a tree stump and bounced back. It pretty much cleared the area! Graham said the pair of them were “quite scared”. To be fair, that isn’t what he said, but you can imagine what he did say. Paul had a younger brother Lewis (Louie).
Graham’s older brother John, married a girl called Sylvia Hunt, whose father, after the war, got the contract to clear the cabling from some of the decommissioned USAF bases in the area. By rights, this should have made him a wealthy man, given the amount of valuable copper and other metals in the cabling. However, he bought a “bloody useless greyhound for racing and it all went” according to dad. My dad also remembers, like a lot of older people, the second-hand shops and ration books and coupons for everyday necessities.
The bomb that fell near to their house at 161 Thetford Road, exploded at number 167, the Inns’ home. It hit their outside toilet. The bomb fin took the top off Albert Palmer’s apple tree. The neighbours at number 159 were the Bilverstones, who ran the fish and chip shop, and Mr Bilverstone had been gassed during WW1. At number 163 was Mrs Ames, who used to cut people’s hair, and Mr Ames was too old to see service in WW2. My dad also remembers ‘Titch’ Norton going out with a girl on Thetford Road, who he eventually married.
Military service after the war
Graham himself joined the RASC when he was old enough (18 in 1952) at West Mills petrol depot railhead, Dorset. He spent three years in the regular army and five years as a reservist, during which time he was sent to Suez – Famarah. He was originally destined for Korea during his time as a reserve, but was transferred to Middle East Land Forces – 36 Petrol Station Platoon. His army number was 22796204. There is a bit of confusion here – dad says he was sent to Egypt in 1954 and spent 23 months there; coming back “when his time was up” (I thought Suez was 1955/56 ).* His unit sailed to Egypt on the Empire Windrush and he hated sleeping in a hammock for 10 days. They flew back and were meant to land at Stansted, but bad weather caused the plane to be diverted to Lyon and an overnight hotel. Lyon was covered in snow, with gritter lorries out. Dad was then sent to Goodge Street, in London, to be given a rail warrant to go to Bordon, in Hampshire, to be demobbed. He worked out a few final days and was finally demobbed in Woking. He enjoyed the army, mainly as it was routine and had regular meals, but wasn’t cut out to be a career soldier.”
- Sue Oatley, August 2022
*Although the Suez Crisis was during 1956, Britain retained a garrison there from WW2 to the conclusion of the Suez Crisis, so Sue’s father, Graham, has probably remembered his time there well. Looking at the timescale, he may well have been there until the end of the garrison.