Touching everyone's lives
The lives of every family in Bracon Ash and Hethel must have been touched by the two World Wars.
In 1911, Bracon Ash had 269 people - and the number must have been roughly the same in 1914. During the Great War, 33 men donned uniform - more than 10% of the total population and high proportion of the men in the village. Of these 17 never returned.... Every family must have had a member, friend or neighbour killed in the war. One family lost two sons. There are photos of most of the men who went to war in 1914 - 18 - thanks to a wonderful archive created by Gladys Watling, daughter of the Postmaster, who made a point of asking families for photographs before their men left the village.
(Below) six unknown men from a photo in the Bracon Ash archive (please contact us if you can throw any light on the group.)
World War 2 once again saw men leaving home to serve their country, but a lower proportion of the villages and far fewer casualties. The villages were also inundated with new arrivals: evacuees came to Bracon Ash from London and later from Yarmouth and Norwich; land girls came to replace men who had been called up; and Hethel was transformed by the arrival of American airmen. Civilians trained as first aiders, fire watchers and made preparations for a possible invasion: the Home Front played an even greater role in World War 2.
War must have seemed too close for comfort at times, once the USAAF heavy bombardment force arrived at Hethel airfield. Besides German planes targeting Norwich (mostly at night) there were B24 Liberators setting off for Germany (mostly by day). The landscape of Hethel was changed for ever as hedges were ripped out and field concreted over for runways, storage facilities and accommodation blocks, and 'home from home' facilities - including a chapel. The population swelled by over 3000 people - all with strange accents. And after the Americans left, and the base closed for active duty, the accommodation was commandeered by the District Council for housing at Hethel Camp, with various amenities including its own school. It was not until the late '50s that the population of Hethel returned to its normal size - and by then some of the 'Camp' folk had been rehoused in the new Council Houses in Bracon Ash and Hethel.