By Charles Butcher
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us painfully of the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.
Reepham Archive’s records show how local people did their bit when enemy aircraft were last seen in Norfolk’s skies, and how the town came to have its own nuclear bunker.
Travelling to Reepham from Norwich on the A1067, you might have noticed a little brick-and-concrete building in the hedgerow at Sparhamhill, just before the turning to Nowhere Lane. It looks like a water tower.
In fact, this was an observation platform for civil defence volunteers to track Soviet aircraft on their way to bomb Britain’s airfields and cities.
Close by is the entrance to an underground bunker from where they would have phoned in reports of nuclear explosions.
The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) post at Sparhamhill operated from 1953 to 1968, at the height of the Cold War. But Reepham’s connection to the ROC goes back to 1934, as war with Germany loomed.
The original Reepham post was much closer to the town: on Norwich Road, on the high ground near the junction with Furze Lane.
Hazel Dove of Reepham remembers counting hundreds of Allied aircraft on their outward and return journeys, the American airmen who would stop by to chat, and night shifts with “three girls and a rifle”.
The end of the war brought little respite as the Soviet Union became the next military threat. In 1953 the ROC post moved to the Sparhamhill site, keeping the Reepham name even though it was no longer close to the town.
By the mid-1950s jet aircraft were flying too fast and high for ground-based observers, and in any case a roofless hut was no place to be during a nuclear war.
The ROC’s role changed to observing where the bombs were falling, and in September 1962 a small concrete bunker was built at the Reepham post.
Sitting in this damp windowless box, counting the fireballs and wondering what would happen to your family on the surface, must have needed a great deal of courage.
Today, our thoughts are with the citizens of Ukraine, and we hope that any talk of nuclear weapons is just sabre-rattling.
Read the full story of the ROC in Reepham HERE.
- The Reepham Archive is open to the public on the first Wednesday and Saturday of the month from 10 am – 12 noon (or by appointment), upstairs in the Bircham Centre, Market Place, Reepham. For more information about opening times and current services, contact the Archive by email.