DOWNHAM MARKET: Classmates’ treasured memories
TREASURED memories of war-time school days were shared for one last time at the final annual buffet lunch of Downham Grammar School’s Class of 1939-46.
Organiser retired policeman Basil Kybird says after nine years, he’s calling it a day, and no one else has come forward to take on the task.
“We’re all cracking on a bit and understandably we lose a few more of us each year so we all felt it was better to call a halt now,” said Mr Kybird, whose old autograph album and a “where-are-they-all-now” quest ignited the first gathering at the town’s Conservative Club.
“Up until then I hadn’t visited Downham since moving away from the area in 1945 and although I did try searching for anyone I knew, I had no real success until I came across a Downham publication, so I sent a letter listing the names and asked if there were any old school chums still around.”
With help from the late John Haylett, a total of 95 former classmates were traced and although many of them either lived too far away or had health problems, there was great excitement at the first reunion, which also included a visit to the old school.
“During those war years we shared our school with evacuees from London. The Dalston Girls’ School had the use of the facilities in the afternoons while the ‘locals’ were shunted between various church halls. The evacuee girls were in lodgings in the town or nearby villages and some have kept in touch with their Norfolk families. We’ve even had two or three of them coming along to the reunions.
“Reminiscences of the pranks we got up to, the school dinners and tales of horse and whale meat, the idiosyncrasies and the nicknames of the teachers we remembered – it made the hard work worth while, but I haven’t been too well lately and it’s just getting too much for me,” said Mr Kybird, who can recall the 12-mile bus journey from his Methwold home to and from school in Downham.
““The bus took us past the airfield at Bexwell where we would see bombers, Stirlings and Lancasters, being loaded with bombs. You could see some of them had been badly damaged by German fighter planes or aircraft fire over Germany during the night raids.
“Looking back we didn’t realise the full significance of what we saw but I later learned that 170 aircraft were lost from this airfield during the war.
“There were so many airfields in the area so plane crashes were inevitable, and as soon as we boys heard of a crash, we’d be off on our bikes looking for souvenirs, parts of aircraft and live ammunition. We never gave a thought to the fact that a plane crash meant a loss of life.”
The autograph album received as a birthday present in December 1943 was immediately put to use and bears the signatures of both school friends and servicemen. It’s also the treasured possession that reunited a group of wartime classmates nearly 50 years later.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 14 C
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