Hunstanton Heritage Centre visitor jogs lighthouse memory

Turnstone picture of Lighthouse - courtesy of Brian Holmes
Turnstone picture of Lighthouse - courtesy of Brian Holmes
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Hunstanton Heritage Centre provides a fantastic insight into the town’s growth and development, from the coming of the railway in 1862 right up to the present.

There are occasions, however, when my own memory is jogged by a visitor to the centre, rather than by the items on display.

One such event occurred recently when I volunteered to open up specially for a gentleman by the name of Bill Warwick, whose stay in the town did not include a day when the centre would normally have been open to the public.

As we greeted one another Bill spotted my Royal Observer Corps badge and, in the conversation that followed, I was made aware of the fact that there is an organisation called the Royal Observer Corps Association, of which Bill is an active member.

We exchanged stories of our service and memories came flooding back of a period in the mid-1950’s when I joined the ROC, mainly to improve my chances of serving two years in the RAF when the time came to do National Service.

There was the added attraction of carrying out regular exercises, when two of us would climb the staircase to the top of the lighthouse, armed with binoculars through which we could identify aircraft and plot their course through the airspace above our town.

On one sunny afternoon in the summer of 1956, I was on duty at the top of the lighthouse with Sammy Marshall, famous for owning a china shop in the High Street that had royal customers.

In the course of his wartime career in the ROC, Sammy had served on warships in the English Channel. I really should have found out more about this chapter in his life, but at the age of 17 my interest in local history had not properly developed.

Events that afternoon suggested that my sense of direction also left a lot to be desired, because instead of training my binoculars on the sky, they often pointed down towards the beach, where my interest was probably taken by birds of one kind or another.

I was suddenly reminded of my primary duties by a voice in my headphones informing me that an observer in Docking was plotting the course of a Victor bomber.

A quick glance skywards was sufficient to inform me that the plane was directly overhead. I asked Sammy what I should do to indicate that we were not asleep at our post.

He told me to put in a call to our HQ in Derby giving details of the course being followed by the Victor. Completely forgetting the recent changes to the phonetic alphabet, I heard myself repeating the call sign: “Sugar one, sugar one calling.”

To my surprise there was no response, then the silence was broken by a gruff voice reminding me of the new phonetic alphabet with the immortal words: “Sierra one, you berk!”

Fortunately, unlike other iconic landmarks Hunstanton has lost since 1956, the lighthouse survives, along with the ruins of St Edmund’s chapel, including the archway through which this picture was taken.