The May meeting of Alde Valley Suffolk Family History group was treated to an entertaining talk by local historian and author, Sheila Wright.
In an eleventh hour switch from her scheduled presentation on Drinkstone village school, Sheila captivated the audience with an engaging trawl through the verbatim reminiscences of Suffolk families who lived out their lives against a backdrop of two World Wars.
An experienced speaker, Sheila mixed heart-rending stories of loved ones lost during the global conflicts with lighter moments, introducing us to an array of characters and skilfully weaving their stories into the tumultuous events that dominated the first half of last century.
And so we learned of young Arthur Lee, affectionately recalled as ‘the baby who ate all the bananas’, who was miraculously spared while trying to evade German troops, when a sudden dense fog descended on the Dunkirk beaches, hiding him from enemy eyes, and enabling him to leap from the motorcycle he was riding, into the water and on to safety.
In another fascinating account, we heard of how the wedding celebrations of Wilfred Bland and Ruby Rogers, whose bride’s dress was made from parachute silk, were disrupted by an airplane crash in the field immediately behind the hall where the reception was to be held. The newly-married couple arrived at the venue only to find the hall deserted, save for the wedding cake and food spread on the tables. The eighty guests had rushed out to witness the aftermath of the crash. Unsurprisingly, this disastrous event, in which the pilot was killed, formed the sole topic of conversation for the rest of the day.
Sheila also provided some lessons in aviation, challenging the audience to identify the famous aircraft that played such a prominent role in the Battle of Britain and beyond – the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Avro Lancaster bomber and, later, the Flying Fortress and Lockheed Lightning.
In a similar vein, we were told that the flat lands of East Anglia provided a perfect landscape for airfields, but also attracted the frequent and unwanted attention of enemy attacks. Nonetheless, the arrival of United States Air Force and Army personnel in Suffolk provided local children with many adventures – the lads living near Drinkstone Park were sometimes allowed to take a turn at the wheel of Command Cars, and regular children’s parties were laid on by the American soldiers.
For anyone keen to find out more about life in Drinkstone, as well as other interesting subject matters, the full range of Sheila Wright’s meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated books can be viewed on her website www.kisumubooks.co.uk.
For others keen to hear more of Sheila’s stories, wrapped up in her simply stated philosophy that "every life is unique and everybody’s memories are worth hearing", watch out for a return visit to Leiston at some future date. In the meantime, you may care to take a moment to reflect on our relatively secure lives, free from rationing, the threat of bombing or the fearful anticipation of a telegram bringing news of death from the warfront.