Over the Bank Holiday weekend – Sunday 28 and Monday 29 August – a great many visitors, many of whom were in ’Forties dress, flocked to Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse to experience life as it was on the Home Front during the Second World War.
Once again, the annual Village at War event delivered an impressive display of Home Front history, with so much to see, as visitors strolled around military and civilian vehicles lined up in the Arena, meeting uniformed characters from both the British and American forces.
In the Courtyard the strains of toe tapping 1940’s music and live radio shows could be heard coming from the marquee where the talented ‘Timescape’ were playing all the wartime favourites.
Whilst in the Chapel, Gressenhall’s very own Rachel Duffield was entertaining a full house with her lovely renditions of wartime songs.
The familiar cigar-smoking figure of the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, was visiting the Village for the weekend and boosted morale as he gave his well-known ‘V for Victory’ sign to the assembled crowd.
The Arena was packed full of military hardware – ranging from wartime Jeeps and heavy lorries, to military motorbikes, all accompanied by personnel in full battle kit.
Just about everywhere there were soldiers in uniform, who were more than happy to chat with visitors who wished to learn what life was like in the ranks whilst on active duty.
American forces had set up a machine gun nest in a ruined barn under the trees on the edge of the Arena, which appealed to the inquisitive nature of many onlookers.
Nearby, was a marvellous display of vintage cars, their highly-polished paintwork gleaming in the sunlight, with their owners enjoying picnics accompanied by the sound of music from their gramophones. Some were even dancing!
In the Victorian schoolhouse lessons were underway with a chance for today’s children to discover what it was like for a war-time child during those dark days of the 1940s. From school lessons to leisure activities and it was also revealed how children were able to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort.
Nearby, next to the Orchard, a contingent of the Southern Norwich Scouts were camping 1940’s style, whilst down on the farm meadow the Girl Guides were encamped.
Getting creative in Art Attack! it was possible for children to make their own model airplanes and, if they had their ration card, collect their weekly allocation of sweets from the Village Shop.
Down on Gressenhall Farm harvesting was taking place using the old methods and machinery, including the tractor-hauled sail-binder for cutting the corn.
Later, the corn was gathered up by members of the Women’s Land Army who were pitching the sheaves onto wagons pulled by Gressenhall’s Suffolk Punch horses, Bowler and Trojan.
On the farm, everyone was displaying the spirit that helped win the Second World War, by keeping the country fed, whilst, nearby, the Home Guard were kept busy drilling new recruits, having to make do with broom handles in place of rifles!
With fears of fifth-columnists rife, the Home Guard were keeping a close watch on all visitors, inspecting Identity Cards, and a road-block was set up, protected by armed sentries.
Just after half-past two on Monday afternoon, 29 August, all eyes were scanning the skies watching out for a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
With the roar of their mighty Rolls-Royce Merlin engines drowning out all other noise, a Spitfire and Hurricane from the Memorial Flight screamed overhead, dipping their wingtips in a victory salute.
To us older folk, who can still recall them in the air just after the Second World War, the sight and sound of those two planes brought a lump to the throat and a tear in the eye. Sheer nostalgia at its best! And what a great two days, thanks to all the staff and volunteers at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, as well as all those taking part.