Did you know that in 1939, the tiny village of Earl Soham had at its disposal 118 mortars, 72 Sten guns, 350 bombs, 111 rifles, and 1 stretcher all in preparation for the expected German invasion? Or that in August 1940, the boys of Framlingham College were evacuated to Repton School in Derbyshire? Or that if you look closely enough, you will see the remains of a blast wall in front of Darcy B’s?
We learnt about this and more as John Bridges provided a remarkable insight into life in Framlingham during the Second World War. The FramSoc audience were regaled with tales of valour, subterfuge, romance and mishap. Local icons such as American serviceman turned Fram native LeRoy Keeping, Chief Evacuation Officer Percy Stannard and former College Headmaster William Whitworth were brought vividly back to life.
John shared an amazing range of evidence from his book A Suffolk Town in Wartime. There were photographs of the pillbox on what is now the Well Close Square roundabout, the Air Raid Shelter on Market Hill and the blast wall protecting the Crown Hotel. There was also the rather alarming ‘Beating the Invader’ leaflet posted through every door exhorting the good folks of Framlingham to do their duty in this hour of need. Contemporary items from the National Archives were discussed with the maps, inventories and orders and instructions revealing the conversion of Framlingham into a veritable Devil’s garden of tank traps, landmines, sticky bombs and ambush points ready to welcome any invading German.
John highlighted the role played by the College’s very own Major Collins who commanded the local Home Guard and acknowledged the eighty-eight OF’s, including Captain Percy Pickard of Operation Jericho fame, who gave their lives for King and Country during the course of the conflict.
Entertained and better informed, the audience left full of admiration for a very special generation, intrigued by the transformation of their town from ’39-’45 and slightly bemused at the thought of fortress Earl Soham.