by Deborah Boldero
When the newly formed Church Action Group mapped out the year’s programme of services, Mike Hillier suggested, as it was the 70th anniversary of RAF Swannington closing and Remembrance Day was a Saturday, perhaps we could have a special service on 11th November. Those who came must surely agree that “special” doesn’t even come close to what we experienced on that bright sunny morning.
At each meeting of CAG, Mike would update us on his latest “find” of relatives or information about those who served there. His net grew ever wider, reaching Wales, Scotland and the USA! He wrote to organisations who might know of people who would like to come to pay respects on behalf of their squadron or service. We would be having 7, no 11, no 17 wreaths laid by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, representatives of The British Legion, Australian Defence Forces, Police, Fire Service, Cadet Squadrons and relatives of those who served- but the list kept growing. He worked tirelessly to produce a major display of photographs and stories about action linked to RAF Swannington. Meanwhile Christopher Mander, using his filming skills, made contact with civilians who had lived in Haveringland at the time and produced a fabulous 15-minute video of anecdotes, interspersed with old photographs of the Hall and Airfield.
Running in tandem with this effort was the huge task of smartening up the area surrounding the church in readiness for planting an Avenue of Remembrance. Nigel Boldero masterminded this, getting trees donated from Broadland Council. Each weekend of October was taken up with volunteers & Community Pay Back Teams, who transformed the approach and planted 29 trees along the field edge. They also helped in a “deep clean” inside the building. In the days leading up to the 11th, St Peter’s was cleaned from top to bottom- we even found the key to the North door!
As the date drew closer, minds became fixed on solving all the logistical issues involved in such an event. We’d need some heat, food, a toilet!
There were so many unknowns; how many might come? Nigel managed to secure a grant from Broadland Council which gave a buffer of funds to provide what was needed. Everyone called in favours or pleaded our cause and were met with a fantastic response. Mike “persuaded” numerous companies to donate to the event. We begged & borrowed heaters, marquees, tables, crockery etc. A plea for cakes was heeded and Teresa Lloyd produced a masterpiece of a sponge featuring the Church and Stocks and of course a Mosquito! Rory Kent, a local artist, painted a picture which we could sell and use to raise more funds. People’s generosity knew no bounds.
Finally the day came, as did Civil Protection, with marquee and manpower to create the refreshment area. Mary Beatty & Carol Pearson took on the huge responsibility of feeding everyone and pulled it off superbly! By 9am, the first visitors came to look around before the service. They were the lucky ones, who had a parking space and a seat! St Peter’s was at its best, wearing its finery and looking well cared for, including beautiful flower arrangements by Chaley Hillier.
Standard bearers, Cadet guards of honour, wreath layers and dignitaries, alongside relatives of airmen and members of the Parish, all attended. But others too, who wanted to share this occasion. It was lovely to welcome so many old friends.
The pews filled and then overflowed, as the congregation swelled to nearly 300. People were filling every space available.
By 10:30, it began with a welcome and then some history of the airfield, read by Nigel. Standards processed in during the opening hymn and Andrew Whitehead read the roll of honour before the Last Post and the two minutes Silence. In the address, we heard 3 stories of people stationed & living here, read by cadets, bringing alive the distant past and making it real to all. The wreath layers were called up by name, and formed 2 impressive displays around the font.
As the standards left the church, the sun began to shine, and people spilled out. At last it was time for tea and cake. Lots of conversations of the past and of what was remembered of Haveringland.
At noon, the most poignant moment was the fly past of 2 vintage bi-planes. On the 3rd passing, a huge bag of poppies was released into the morning sunlight and drifted earthward. Some bore the names of a fallen loved one, researched by children at Cawston Primary, in memory.
The final part of the commemoration was the planting of three trees in the Avenue of Remembrance, one for each squadron stationed here and plaques were placed by them. Deputy Lord Lieutenant unveiled a sign at the start of the Avenue.
As I write, we are hearing of the impact the day had on so many; of their thanks for us not forgetting those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It will live long in all our memories.
Note: As we receive photographs of the day we will post them here- if you have any you’d like to share please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nigel Boldero