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A 1950's Broadland Christmas.


Christmas by the Broads has always been very special for my family, not least because it was the one time of the year when we could all come together. My father was the proprietor of a restaurant and shop overlooking Oulton Broad, Christmas and Boxing day being the only two days during the year that his business was closed and his family could come together. As a youngster Christmas Eve was always a joy, a chance to go pike and perch fishing, my mother glad not to have my brother or myself under her feet. For Mum, my Gran and Mrs H, the hired help, Christmas Eve was about preparation.


A quick story about Mrs H, I well remember her for her outright broad Suffolk and honest, simple manner. It was a few years before I understood the family legend as of when, during the war, Mrs H was late for work. Full of humble apology she had explained that 'she'd hadda incendry up her back-passage. Let me explain, back passages in Suffolk, and maybe elsewhere, are the narrow passages between houses that lead to the backdoor. Incendries were incendiary bombs and, thankfully, that one did no real damage.


Anyway, back to Christmas Eve, the three ladies did prepare but also entertained their lady friends as seasonal pleasantries were exchanged. In the meantime Roger, my brother, would edge our rowing boat towards the Commodore, the local's local. At that time the pub itself was separated from the rather primitive urinals by a covered passage way where us youngsters were able to congregate in the dry whilst our fathers enjoyed their pints. Back then the Commodore, quite sensibly in my opinion, was a man's pub and the license was for ale only. We were kept supplied with copious ginger beer & crisps, the ones with little blue salt bags, by the men repeatedly crossing the passage and treating us lads. I don't remember what we caught on the way but I do remember downing thirteen bottles of ginger pop one Christmas Eve!


Back home and Dad would arrive with a sometimes odd array of goodies that would be past their best by the time the Christmas holiday was over. Our Christmas Eve feasts were memorable for the family time and the lack of a television. We would eat a plateful, play a game of droughts or pelmanism, Dad's favourites, before the next course and another game.


Christmas morning was inevitably about presents, not that we had that many as just after the war such luxuaries were not widely available. Of course we had to make good the aftermath of the previous evening's feast and, as we had no central heating, we had to make up the fires. I well remember the joy of my parents as items that had been absent from the shops during the war and even after made a welcome return to the table and Christmas stocking. More than anything I remember the long walks after our Christmas lunch, an all male affair. Always an adventure and full of interest. My father knew the local marshes like the back of his hand, the net-work of dykes and, most importantly, where the 'liggers' that crossed those dykes were. Liggers were generally nothing more than a narrow plank but, thankfully, non of us fell in. Winters were colder then, frost and snow was not uncommon. Being lost on the marshes would not have been fun but Dad never lost his way. Halfway house would inevitably be on the river bank at the Dutch Tea Gardens where we would sit and enjoy hot drinks and mulled wine. Chatting, laughing and maybe a carol or two, we would watch the sun work its way down towards the horizon. Inevitably we would arrive home in the dark, to a table loaded with mince pies and a Christmas cake from Dad's bakery, courtesy of Mum, Granny C and my Aunty Peggy.


Aunty Peggy's husband, Jack, had been a P.O.W. in Burma and Japan, had come back home when he weighed little over six stone, well under half his normal body-weight. He weighed even less on release. It was many years before I knew what he had gone through. A born & bred countryman and farmer, now I can understand and appreciate his joy and thanks for the freedom that we enjoyed on our Christmas walks. His understanding of the countryside was intense and his contribution to our walk was a joy.


Boxing day generally started with a bonfire, wrapping paper, used crackers and party hats, any left overs that would burn. No sooner had we finished the big clear up then we were out on the water. As usual our sailing boat was laid up for the winter so we would be out fishing or aboard Dad's motor-boat. Sometimes we would head up to Dirty Dicks, the Waveney Inn at Burgh St Peter, or perhaps up to Reedham Ferry for a drink with the Archers, great friends of Dad's. Way back then Mutford Lock would open on Boxing Day & one year we went through and into Lowestoft Harbour, the fishing fleet was in, the fish dock crammed with boats. Continental shipping would have a Christmas tree at the mast-head, a delightful custom so I thought. Boxing Day would end with a cold table, the Christmas left-overs and a welcome soup. The next day Dad would be back at work, the holiday was over, more memories were made, days were getting longer, summer and the first regatta was only five months away!

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Lovely piece of writing. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

My childhood was spent in London so it was a complete contrast to the wonders of the countryside that you described. But I was fortunate to grow up in a loving family, never wanting for anything ... and Santa always found his way down our chimney. xmas2

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Great memories Peter. Brought back memories of my own childhood Christmasses, although much later my grandfather who had been in both wars always insisted in a walk after lunch to "blow away the cobwebs"

like yours it was an all male event while the women did the clearing up but we always had to be back in time for The Queen.

happy days

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Fantastic read,  a big big thank you for that Peter.      I am hoping that others will have other tales to tell from Christmas past.     Christmas was a magical time.

Very poignant regarding your Uncle Peggy's husband.      I have memories of an Uncle who also was on the Burma railway , he like your Uncle came home like skin and bones along with a bad injury to his head from a rifle butt being used on him. Unfortunately like many others he never recovered properly.      We have a lot to thank these men for  that we today are able to enjoy our Christmas'.       

Did you really drink all of that ginger pop?     Bet you couldn't do that now.     Not the consumption side of things , it is the side effects.     One of joys of getting older.   xmas6





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39 minutes ago, Bound2Please said:

Well it is and always has been womens work Grace darlin, cant have you females sitting around twiddling yer thumbs and knitting can we darlin

Charlie :hardhat:cheers

I trust you know exactly where your running shoes are,  otherwise I hope you like hospital food.:norty:



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20 hours ago, Gracie said:

"While the women did the clearing up" ......... I really don't think so lol :facepalm:


It's how it was, Gracie. Be glad that you weren't born a hundred years ago! Just think that only 65 years ago The Commodore P.H. in Oulton Broad had a men only bar. Is that progress;)?

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Crikey JM, you don't look a day over 90 :naughty: Seriously, I'm not a bra burning, chained to the railings type of person but I do believe in equality in most things

Talking of memories this will not matter to anyone other than me but an important part of how my love affair with Broadland was to begin. My parents have been hiring boats since before I was born and as some of you might know my earliest memory of the Broads was when they hired a Gold Gem, I was about 5 or 6 and thought she was a palace, we've been on posher boats since but she remains a palace to me. I remember being tucked up in bed, Dad sitting in the front well having a beer, I couldn't sleep and snuck out to him hoping I wouldn't get into trouble for being awake so late, he said "What are you doing awake young lady!" I told him I couldn't sleep, he sat me on his lap and explained what the sounds were, the rustling in the bushes, the fish jumping, we even tried to count all the stars. We were wild moored on the Ant, it was probably one of the most special memories I have and one that I will treasure. I fell asleep in his arms and was gently tucked back into bed.

I'm trying to do the same for my little ones, fortunately they love being on a boat as much as me, I dearly hope that when they are grown with their own families they will do the same


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Perhaps we could, even should start a Broads Anthology thread. I'd especially look forward to contributions from the likes of Old Wossy & Vaughan for example.

Don't think that we always need chapter length reminiscences, sometimes a paragraph or two is all that needed. Not Christmas related but the memory of the following event always amuses me.

The following is the very true tale of an amateur mole catcher, I was moored up near St Olaves and the land owner, a friend of mine, was trying to gas the numerous moles that were plaguing him. Whilst most of us might use pellets, or the exhaust fumes from a tractor, the gentleman in question was emptying a calor gas cylinder down the burrows. It might have seemed a good idea at the time, until, when he'd finished, he lit up his pipe and threw the match down to the ground. There was no bang as such, just a roar, his prized bit of grass was quickly turned into an intricate trench system, such as had not seen since the 1914/1918 war. I may be mistaken, but I'm quite certain that I heard the scream of an airborne mole as it passed overhead, realising that it didn't have it's lifejacket on and was headed for the river. Okay, so that last sentence is entirely fictional;)!



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The last vestiges of an early morning mist kisses farewell to the dew sparkled grass dotted with cowpats, of a farmer's field that plays landlord to several tents. In what will become recognised as the standard morning ritual for the summer holiday of 1976, a male voice overlays that of the morning larks.

“John get out of bed! Come on you lazy old bugger out with thee!” shouts the voice with a strong South Yorkshire accent.

Forewarned by my mother I poke my tousled head under the flysheet to join those from other bivouacs to watch the performance from the tent alongside.

“I’ve warned thee, now I’ll learn thee!” shouts the voice as the sides of the tent bulge outwards and we can make out the shape of a head and what, surely, must be fists just missing it as they make smaller bulges in the nylon.

As more heads, adult ones this time, pop out to view the commotion the tent flaps split asunder as a spritely, white haired bespectacled man in his late sixties erupts from the tent. Grabbing his own shirt collar and britches behind he somersaults and starts to run around the field shouting and throwing himself out of bed. We kids squirm out of sleeping bags running after Uncle John laughing and giggling, some twenty or so of us from tents all over the site, as he sprints around the field, a somersaulting, cartwheeling, cavorting, straw bale leaping, modern day pied piper.


While Uncle John capers, his wife calmly exits the tent and puts the kettle on. Aunty Phyll was a dour woman. Tightly curled dark hair above a face ‘old before her years’, as they say, that spoke of a life on the land; Aunty Phyll was not so much a ‘nag’ as a strong woman with ‘opinions’. The rest of our adult ‘family’ emerged from tents and drop into deck chairs for the morning ‘cuppa’. Aunty Margaret, John and Phyll’s flame haired daughter, her husband Malcolm...flame haired too and possessor of a wickedly dry sense of humour, finally my Mum and Dad. My Mum a small,dark curly haired woman about four foot nothing tall and Dad or Uncle Albert as he is known now...in those days about seven stone wet through. I put ‘family’ in inverted commas as Margaret was my Mum’s school friend but Mum had spent so much time at their home as a child that they were now considered to be ‘family proper’.


As Aunty Phyll pours the tea, John finishes his last lap of the field and saunters into camp to stand behind Uncle Malcolm and promptly flicks his ear.

“Sit down before a’ put thee down!” drawls Malcolm.

This is no idle threat. Malcolm was a very tall, well built, ex-coalminer. His relationship with his father in law was one of constant pranks and jokes, until that is, Malcolm would grab hold of the old man and quite literally tie him in knots on the floor. Two phrases that I often heard in my childhood, aimed at John and Malcolm by their respective wives, were ‘pack it in’ and stop tormenting’.

“Where’s me cuppa tea woman?” John asked his wife as he sat beside her.

“John! You're covered in…”

“Sh! There’s kids present.” John cut in, winking at us kids.

‘Us kids’ were Margaret and Malcolm’s two children Alan and Julie and my brother and myself. In 1976 Julie was a toddler, my brother around six years old, as was Alan, while I was ten...and very shy, believe it or not.


The mornings, evenings and the occasional night would be spent fishing. Dad, John then Malcolm were strung out in pegs along the river Thurne. Boats were more numerous in those days, or so it appeared to my young eyes. Motor cruisers would plough along the river and countless yachts would glide by, their booms skimming the tops of the reeds and anglers heads.
“Boom!” Dad called to warn John as one yacht came in really close.
John ducked and then we could hear him counting in the reeds.
“Five, six, seven, Malc! Malc!”
“What?” asked Malcolm standing up just in time to be hit in the face with the boom!
Sniggers erupted from the reeds around the peg inhabited by John.


So where do the moles come into the story? For several nights a mole had been digging beneath the tents. It’s underground progress charted by the rattles of pots and pans at night underneath several different tents disturbing everyone's sleep. John had been forced into moving their pitch by his wife so annoying had the campsite mole become. Still nursing his head from his encounter with the boom, Malcolm decided to take revenge upon John. While John and Phyllis were asleep Malcolm would creep out of his tent, take his ‘idle back’ from his rod case and slip it underneath John’s groundsheet. Rattling the pots and pans stored in the awning of the tent.
“John, John that mole’s back! Do summat about it!” Phyllis would wake John up.
John would then climb out of bed and start jumping up and down as we had discovered that noise and vibration would cause the moles to leave those runs under the tents. Malcolm kept his nocturnal mole man act up for a couple of days. The mole activity intensified towards the end of the first week of the holiday. Not only was John plagued by real moles and Malcolm of course, but Malcolm was also being plagued by moles after he’d gone back to bed.


All mole activity ceased one night when a shout echoed into the Norfolk night. A mole had disturbed Malcolm and he could actually see the ripples in the groundsheet where the mole was moving. A big strong bloke, Malcolm had punched the mole, there was a snap and Malcolm’s arm was now hanging at a funny angle where he’d broken it. Jumping out of the tent in his agony Malcolm had then tripped over John who at the time had been impersonating a mole under Malc’s tent by means of a large iron bar.


After a trip to A & E both John and Malc were very subdued the following morning, Malcolm’s arm in pot,  as their wives took it in turn to berate each of them in turn for several hours.


Beware of Norfolk Moles...they can break your arm!

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Gun boat winter.jpeg

Christmas on Hart's Island, in the 1950s.

The above photo was actually a bit later, around 1968 in the days of Jenners. Before this, Norwich had a coal fired power station pumping out thousands of gallons of hot water, so the river never froze in Thorpe. The quay would be empty then, apart from the gun-boat, as all of Hearts cruisers had room in the boat sheds, for the whole fleet. Most yards were like that, in the 50s.

I have already told you how the choir of Thorpe Church used to get on Hearts' flat ferry boat and stand in the middle of the river singing carols outside the gunboat. My parents also held 2 or 3 cocktail parties on board, for members of the Frostbites; for fellow members of Blakes and for friends in Thorpe, who lived up South avenue or Thunder Lane. My job, from aged about 10, was to pick guests up in our electric launch when they arrived on the river green and ferry them over to the island. Getting them back again afterwards was rather more difficult   :wasted: but the only one I ever dropped in the river was Bob Simpson, who was a big man and I just couldn't "correct his balance" quick enough. He was the production director of the Norvic Shoe Co., and was later my boss, when I left school!

One of the guests would always be the vicar, in those days the Reverend Jolly, known by my father as "Oh, be joyful". He attended on Christmas Eve lunchtime and stayed most of the afternoon enjoying "gin and It" to which he was partial. Eventually my father and Miles Simpson (of Stalham Yacht Station) took him over the river to help him get back to the rectory, which in those days was beside the church. I shall always remember these two large men, both ex Navy, standing on the pavement waiting to cross the Yarmouth Rd, one each side of the vicar, and with an arm linked under his elbows. When the traffic cleared, they "frog-marched" him to the rectory with his feet off the ground! Whether he made the service for midnight mass that night, I don't know!


Gun boat 50's.jpeg

This is one of my favourite photos of Morning Flight but I am posting it here because you can see the line of hundreds of light bulbs, which picked out the shape of the hull and superstructure in true naval fashion. They were fitted for the Festival of Britain in 1951 but afterwards were always lit over the Christmas period and made a fine sight, on the river green. We also had big floodlights which shone up into the willow trees in the background, in different colours.

Christmas Day was also very social, with invitations to "cocktails after church". This meant visits to several friends up South Avenue while parents had drinks and me and my friends from school compared the presents that we had found in our stocking that morning. Luckily, mother had already put something in the Rayburn range before we set out, and so a leisurely lunch could be enjoyed later. Not turkey very often : usually pheasant or duck, cooked as a roast, much like a chicken, with all vegetables grown on the island, a thick gravy and a spicy bread sauce. Simple cooking and delicious.


Then came Boxing Day and that meant shooting! There was a big syndicate shoot just to the west of Coltishall and one of the other members was my head-master at Langley, Bill Tomlinson. During the winter term, he would advise parents that a shoot was being held on a certain day midweek, so that all of my form, about 15 of us, could come to school suitably dressed and get loaded into the back of a long wheelbase Landrover and Hearts' Standard Vanguard pick-up. Off we went for a day out as beaters and those days still live in my memory. There was a pub called the Adam and Eve in Hautbois, near Coltishall, which would open early about 4.30 PM once the shoot was over and we would all pile in; the guns drinking whisky and milk at the bar, while the gun dogs and the beaters gathered around the big coal fire and steamed as we warmed up again - by that time smelling about as bad as each other! On the floor against one wall of the bar, the "bag" of pheasant, partridge, hare and the odd pigeon or rook, would be laid out ready to be divided up among the guns. Then it was back into the trucks and singing songs all the way home.

In Thorpe, the staff at Hearts, the postman, Wally Moore in the Buck, Doctor Hilton and the local policeman, all got a brace of pheasants for Christmas.

Meantime the head-master, having taken a whole form out of school for the day, would write it in the curriculum as "nature studies". And what better way could young boys learn about the country, than on a syndicate shoot in rural Norfolk, trained by an estate game-keeper?


Shooting 1.jpeg


Shooting 2.jpeg


My father's guns were a pair of Purdeys but in those days, my gun only fired corks.

Looking back over my life later, I often wish it had stayed that way!

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I love the mole stories, and I have one of my own, This happened in summer, rather than at Christmas:

The   garden of our last house, we were plagued with moles. The earth from mole hills is highly prized as seed compost, by country folk, but we'd had way, way more of it than we needed. I had tried several different ways of discouraging our moles, everything from traps -  which the little velvet-waistcoated gentlemen first laughed at, and then ignored, to hosing water down into the runs, which just brought up the worms - which the moles loved!  I was running out of ideas, so I asked my Father-in-law for advice. A man of farming stock, he rummaged in his shed and came out with something resembling  a firework  with a fuse at one end. Sceptical, I took this device out into the garden with a box of matches. I recall that it was a still, warm  summer evening when I  did the deed. I  found a fresh mole-hill in the centre of the lawn and carefully scraped away the loose earth to reveal  the access hole beneath. I lit the fuse, shoved the device into the hole, placed a large stone on  top, as instructed and......

.......within only a few seconds, I was standing in hell. Vile acrid smoke had erupted from a dozen places in the lawn around me and, due to the lack of wind, filled our front garden with a thick sulphurous pea soup, which prevented me from breathing and irritated my eyes so much that I couldn't see what I was doing.  I could hear my kids laughing from the house, where they were watching the action unfold, so I staggered towards the noise, found the front door, fell into the entrance hall and was finally able to breath again. Then on hands and knees  into the bathroom, where I was able to wash the acid  smoke out of my eyes.  When the fog finally cleared, I was able to view the scene, through reddened eyes, from the safety of the front door.  I could swear that, far from clearing out the mole population, I could  actually see a couple of mole hills  that had not been there before I lit the "mole candle".   It later transpired that the device in question was an ancient thing, conceived long before the rigours of Health and Safety, and designed for use on an agricultural scale and definitely not for a domestic front garden.

Needless to say, that was the very last time that I sought my Father-in-law's advice.









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Some of you on this thread have mentioned having relatives who were prisoners of war in Burma, and Japan, and so here is a different memory of Christmas and this time it is my father's memory, not mine. It was on Christmas Day 1941, 75 years ago, that Hong Kong fell to the Japanese.

My father had been living and working in Canton and Hong Kong since he left England at age 18 in 1928 and by the time war came he was a Lieutenant in the RNVR, skipper of MTB 07, one of the 2nd MTB flotilla, which were more or less all that was left of naval forces there when the Japanese invaded. The rest had already been withdrawn to defend Singapore.

MTB 07.jpeg

The battle for Hong Kong was long and very bravely fought, by military and civilians alike. Father himself got the DSC for attacking Japanese troop barges off the coast of Kowloon on 19th December, where the water was too shallow for torpedoes or depth charges, so he charged among them and capsized them in his wash.

Eventually it became inevitable and so the 5 boats that remained of the flotilla were told to try and take away certain senior Chinese officers and diplomats, to prevent the embarrassment of them being taken by the Japanese. They laid up during the day of 24th December under camouflage and came back that night to lay off the island of Ap Li Chau, near Aberdeen Harbour. Things went wrong of course, and the launch bearing the dignitaries was shot up by machine gun fire from the high ground. One of these was Vice Admiral Chan Chak, who was shot in the wrist, but cast off his wooden leg and swam out to the waiting MTBs. 

The boats then made off eastwards in the night at full speed and the last thing my father ever saw of Hong Kong was his own house, on the cliffs above Stanley Bay, in flames. This house was later rebuilt and is now a war museum, as it became the place where the British forces finally surrendered, on Christmas Day.


Meantime the MTBs ran up the coast until they ran out of petrol and had to be scuttled. The Admiral knew all the local Chinese guerrillas since he had been Chiang Kai Chek's personal envoy in Canton and was already a hero to his people. An escape was arranged and the naval party were smuggled out, during 3 days march, until they got out of Japanese occupied China at Waichow.


This shows Chan Chak, in a sling, in the centre, wearing Lt Cdr Gandy's best uniform and cap, which he was given when fished out of the water, and wore with pride throughout the rest of the escape, including in all official photos. Most of those in the front row are the Chinese guerrillas who assisted the escape. Apart from a few who were too ill, by then, to appear in the photo, these are the 67 men who were the only ones to escape from the fall of Hong Kong. My father is seated, 2nd row, 5th from left.


From there they were passed by boat, truck and train for 2000 miles across south-west China, down the Burma Road to Mandalay, and then on to Rangoon. They were there for two weeks until Rangoon fell also, and they had to escape from there as well, but that is another story!

Escape Map.jpeg

This tracing, done from a map at the time, shows the escape route.


My father sort of "got his own back" in the end, as he went back there in 1945, this time as senior officer, coastal forces, in the Arakan Campaign, led by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and General "Bill" Slim, to drive the Japanese back out of Burma.

So Christmas, for him, must have held rather different memories.


MTB 07 crew.jpeg

Note the crest of Coastal Forces MTBs on the spray rail in front of the bridge, as still worn on RN patrol boats, and on the preserved MTB 102.

"Beware the sting in the tail".




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