Ellingham, the Waveney Valley Line and World War II (WWII)

Ellingham Railway Station

Ellingham railway station opened in 1863 as part of the 20 miles of track (the Waveney Valley Line) between Tivetshall and Beccles, incorporated into the Great Eastern Railway. You can see Ellingham station and the Waveney Valley Line on navigable 1946 O. S. map

At first there were four trains daily (in each direction) during weekdays and this rose to eight in 1915. 

Ellingham signal box   The signal box to the east of the station

Word War II (WWII)

Map of railway line at Ellingham in the 1940s

The railway was crucial during WWII. A fuel storage depot and sidings were constructed in 1943, along with defence works: a pill box near the bridge, plus a searchlight and machine gun protecting the marshes on the west of Station Lane. 

The military depot (station number 'AF DD342') stored petrol and aviation fuel. It had four C1 tanks with a combined capacity of 2000 tons. Fuel was pumped from the railway tankers, under the road and into the depot's storage tanks. Civilian drivers (four in all) transported the fuel locally to USAAF airfields at Seething, Flixton and Thorpe Abbotts, plus (rarely) RAF Ellough and, occasionally, the naval base at Lowestoft.
Ellingham fuel depot WWII

The depot closed in 1946 but the fuel storage tanks remained long after. In the 1980’s these were replaced by grain stores. Several of the WW11 buildings remain.


WWII pillbox on Church Road, Ellingham  Up to 20 army personnel were billeted in the area, manning the pill box and the searchlight (you can still make out a few WWII remnants on the west of Station Lane).

 

Alec Rogers recalls the tragic events of WWII

“When the war broke out my friend and I went to Norwich to try and join the airforce. The chap asked us what job we were doing and when I told him that I worked on a farm, and my friend did also, he told us that that was a reserved occupation and we had to go home.

I was working on a farm near Gillingham when two Spitfires collided over us. We knew there were three Spitfires, then heard a sound like the tearing of paper. We ran to the scene. One landing wheel had ploughed a furrow through the field. We found the remains of the pilot. He was blown to pieces. The other Spitfire came down with its tail cut off.

I was living in the council houses at Ellingham when I remember this Liberator coming over twice firing out red Very lights. I saw two members of the crew falling out. One had his arms and legs spread wide open but no parachute. The other one his parachute opened just as he disappeared. He fell down on his back on the telephone wires alongside the railway line through Ellingham. I spoke to him hobbling on the road. He said it saved his life. The other one his parachute didn't open. He was smashed up.

The plane crashed near Shipmeadow, where the old workhouse was. This plane was right black. I think it was 1944.

If it wasn't for the Americans I don't know what we would have done. We used to watch the open trucks coming up the railway line full of bombs for Seething and Flixton. There was a huge petrol dump at Ellingham.”

Alec Rogers lived in Mill Lane, Ellingham.
This extract is courtesy of the BBC’s 'WW2 People's War’ - an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'


Karl Adams’ Schoolboy memories

“There used to be as many as 20 people stationed near the mill. We could hear the air raid sirens go off in Bungay and the soldiers would go running to the searchlight and the machine gun off Station Lane. The camp cook was called “Basher” – he used to give haircuts to us boys.

My father was a sergeant in the home guard and a driver for the lorries at Ellingham Mill.

Bombs were stored in the sidings opposite what is now the football ground. Americans would arrive in their trucks to take them to the airfields. We would shout, “Give us some gum, chum!” and they were very generous, giving us coffee and biscuits.

Evacuees were in the village. Three stayed in Butterfly Corner: Peter & John Benge and Roger Faux.

Big grey tankers would come to the depot to take fuel away the airfields.

We would watch the planes come back home in dribs and drabs from their bombing raids. One day we saw one that was badly shot up, with part of its wing missing and bits out of its tail. Little puffs of white came out as the guys bailed out.” <This was likely the same episode referred to by Alec Rogers>

Karl Adams lived in Mill Pool Lane for many years.

The decline of the railway

A train at Ellingham station

In 1948, train services switched to the new "British Railways" and marked the decline of the Waveney Valley Line.

The last passenger train from Tivetshall junction to Beccles was pulled by ex GER Class C32 (LNE classification) Class F3 2-4-2 tank locomotive No 67128 (British Railways number) on the 5th January 1953.

Ellingham railway station

Freight services continued, but these too declined. The last whole train to use the complete Waveney Valley Line was an M&GN society special with J15 65469 on the 8th October 1960 (this was under a Light Railway order). The section between Harleston and Bungay was closed in 1960 after Homersfield closed to goods. The Ditchingham to Bungay section closed in August 1964 followed by Beccles to Ditchingham in August 1965. Some of the last wagon loads to leave Ditchingham were sand and gravel from Broome Heath, used in the construction of Hammersmith fly-over in west London.

A train at Ellingham station

Mr Dale was the last station master and lived in the station house long after the closure of the railway.

The line’s route was over Broome Common and the marshes, where the Broome bypass (2002) is now. The remainder of the line between Ellingham Station and Gillingham was sold to land owners, but the old route is still easy to trace. The station is now two dwellings. The wooden signal box is no more, and Crossings Cottage (where the line passed over Braces Lane) is a private dwelling.

Ellingham Railway statoin

If you have any WWII or Waveney Valley Line memories we would love to hear them. Please contact us or the Ellingham and Kirby Cane Computer Club.


Bibliography

'WW2 People's War’. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'

Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org

The Waveney Valley Railway - Beccles to Tivetshall by Ashley Dace www.geograph.org.uk/gallery/the_waveney_valley_railway_beccles_to_tivetshall_11153

Airfield Research Group forum www.airfieldresearchgroup.org.uk/