Below are extracts from a conversation with Mrs Jeanet Scott, recorded in 2001. Jeanette was my first interview in connection with ‘Brandon at War’ and took place at Brandon Heritage Centre, where she was a volunteer. Jeanette was 9 years old at the outbreak of war.
Some went back early because there wasn’t enough going on here, but they brought their own teachers, and there were classes in the Church Institute, but we were all integrated. The London teachers were very different to Brandon teachers as not many teachers in Brandon had been to teacher training college, instead they did their apprenticeships in the schools. We had two evacuees, the two left over that nobody wanted, stay with us. Mum used to work at the shop that is now Barclays Bank and it used to be groceries on one side and hardware on the other. I had been down to granny’s and when mum came back all the furniture had been stacked around the walls and the evacuees were having a lovely time mountaineering. That didn’t go down too well! They didn’t stay very long and then they went to live with another lady who they should have gone to in the first place, but they didn’t stay there very long before they went back to London. In fact a lot of them did.
Outbreak of war
I remember coming home from Sunday School in the afternoon and a girl called Gladys Kemp, who was billeted at the top of what is now Sweden Place, stood there in thick black stockings, a big black hat and she said to me, “The war’s started!”. I said, ” Oh, has it?”, not really knowing what war meant at nine years old and I went to school just the same, but there was a lot of activity about building pill-boxes and tank-traps.
Life in Brandon
Rationing started quite soon afterwards and my grandmother had a fit when she was told that her butter ration would be two ounces a week and I remember her saying, “I’ve never eaten margarine in all my life, and I’m not starting now!” So my mother and I had to swap our butter and lard ration with her margarine ration and we used to barter with each other. If someone had a good supply of carrots, say, then we would swap their carrots with our parsnips. Before sweets were rationed, there used to be a shop on the corner next to the fish shop on Thetford Road called Steggles. He was a special policeman as well as owning the shop and he used to open on Sunday mornings. We were allowed, I think, a quarter pound of sweets. That was the only time he opened. There was a long, long queue up Thetford Road and he would allow them in, 3 or 4 at a time, and that’s how you got your sweets. Then, of course we had our sweets rationed, and coupons after that, but sweets were in ever such short supply.
My dad was discharged from the Army in 1942 because he was over 50. He was training men with rifles, he was a good shot and a boxer in the First World War – he always said you should box, not fight. He had no job to come home to because his job was not kept open. He was a stoker at the Gas Works and in the Summer he would do whatever was going, digging gardens or laying pipes, for example. He went on the railway at Lakenheath Station where he used to walk the line and go ‘fogging’ at night, where they would have to lay detonators on the line to warn the engine drivers that they were coming into the station. There were no radios on the trains, no telephones on the line and the signals on the trains were given by flags and at night time you wouldn’t see those. With the stations under blackout there would be no lights showing, so he would sit in one of those huts a few yards from the station and set the detonators off, which meant put your brakes on!
You definitely didn’t go out without your gas mask. Horrible things. You had to take them to school and they had to be fitted every month to make sure they were right, although some of us used them as footballs.
I don’t think we worried about an invasion and the general feeling here was, we live with what comes, the same as we do now. I saw the destruction in Norwich and knew that my Auntie couldn’t live in her house anymore and knew that I couldn’t go to Norwich for holidays anymore.
I think one of the soldiers explained to me about Dunkirk and what it meant, because we didn’t have a radio then. We didn’t even have electricity. We were reliant upon other people’s messages from their radios and the daily paper. My mother said, ” Well if he [the enemy] lands here, you go first, then I go”. I take it she meant she would kill me and then commit suicide herself, and then I went to see my granny and told her what mum had said. She said, “Oh don’t be silly, she’s just talking”.
Troops billeted in Brandon
There were troops who came into Brandon, the Royal Engineers, and most of them came from Norwich. I think they had all been in the T.A. in Norwich together and they were based at the Brandon House. I think they mostly filled sandbags and we had four billeted with us. Dad was away when the Billeting Officer came and mum said, “I can’t take more than two as I’ve only got two spare beds” and he said, ” Oh, they don’t want beds, they can have palliasters on the floor”. Anyway, she scrounged up two more beds from the family, so they all had a bed and then we had another come. He was a raw recruit from London who had been a tailor and his hands were all blistered because his soft hands were not used to the manual work, and I could have cried for him. I think they were all 18-20 years old, although there was one older one who I think had caught the tail-end of the First World War, but they were all young. They stayed until after Dunkirk but most of them got caught up in Singapore in 1942, and one escaped and came back. One didn’t go, he went into the bomb-disposal as he had children and they paid more money. Anyway later we had some more troops – The Signals in the Brandon Hall and also we had, I think they were called, the Northamptonshire Yeomanry after the camps were built on the London Road. That was a huge camp from Green’s and on to Mile End and they were in and out … gone! There were tanks and off Rattler’s Road there were Nissan huts.
There were two bullets that went through the roof of the cookery room, but nobody was hurt. They said it was a Dornier, and they said it was just getting rid of ammunition before it reached the coast and were shooting anything. I think there were only about two bombs fell on Brandon, one was on an outside loo, down the Thetford Road and Brandon Hall Fields I think got hit too.
The black out was pretty tight here. You would have a room at the back of the house and you were all blacked out there, but if you opened the door the light would shine through. They were pretty sharp on blackout and everybody had torches to get around with. Very often you would hear “put that torch out!” It was pretty tough, but I think it eased off when the Allies invaded Europe.
VE & VJ celebrations
VE night was good but most people were waiting for VJ day because there were so may Suffolk men in Japanese hands. Gerald Rolfe had an ancient bike and he had fire-crackers around the wheels of his bike and he was cycling around with these going off around the wheels.