'Richly deserving': Freedom of town honour awarded at special ceremony
- Credit: Mick Howes
A Lowestoft man who has dedicated his life to preserving the memory of one of the town’s most significant wartime events has been honoured with the community’s highest civic award.
Retired teacher and author, Chris Brooks - who founded and has been the driving force behind the Lowestoft Evacuees Association for more than 30 years - was presented with the Freedom of Lowestoft at a special ceremony on Saturday by the town’s Mayor, Alan Green.
The event, held at Lowestoft Railway Station, was attended by friends, family and former evacuees.
On June 2, 1940, 3,000 schoolchildren together with their teachers were evacuated from Lowestoft, away from the threat of wartime bombing and invasion, to towns and villages in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
The stories and long-lasting links made with their host communities have been extensively researched by Mr Brooks, who went on to help those involved to both celebrate and cherish these unique memories.
Mr Brooks has written several books and hosted many events over the past 30 years including reunions, slideshows, tea parties and re-enactments as well staging visits to those host communities.
It enabled many former evacuees to meet up once again, often after many years apart, while he has also recorded more than 400 individual recollections of their experiences for posterity, enabling these stories to be told for generations to come.
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Mr Brooks chose the restored Parcels Office, now a public exhibition space, at Lowestoft station for his presentation as this was the location where the evacuation began back in 1940.
In his speech, the Mayor said: “Freedom of the Town is a way in which local people can acknowledge one of their own, to show respect and gratitude for what that person has done, formally and officially.”
He then handed Chris a framed certificate of the award along with a specially commissioned pin badge and added: “Chris, on behalf of Lowestoft Town Council, I am proud to formally confer on you the Freedom of the Town of Lowestoft. Well done, and thank you for everything you have done for this town and its people.”
Before the formalities had concluded, Mary Draper, a former Lowestoft Evacuee and past treasurer of the Lowestoft Evacuees Association, said: “On behalf of all the Evacuees, I’d like to express our gratitude to you, Chris - for everything you have done, we really cannot thank you enough."
Mr Brooks said: "I am humbled and amazed to think the nine ex evacuees pictured were determined to attend and support the granting of this honour, the call for which originally came from Clive Capps.
"As schoolchildren in 1940, they left Lowestoft by train in the government-backed evacuation scheme because their parents registered to ‘send them to safety’ because they did not want them to remain here facing the real fear of invasion and all that it would involve!
"I introduced Brenda Goldspink to Brian Warnes, who were unaware of their common link.
"I had them signed in to the event and on talking to Brian, discovered they attended the same evacuation school at Scarcliffe, Derbyshire, having travelled in the party on June 2, 1940 from Church Road Infants School that they attended up until then.
"This must be a record reunion after 81 years for Lowestoft evacuees.”
Although the Lowestoft Evacuees Association committee disbanded earlier this year, social gatherings will still take place with a Christmas event planned for December 3 at 10.30am in the 60+ Club, Clapham Rd and a summer reunion taking place at the railway station on the first Saturday in June next year.
Prior to the official presentation, Community Rail Development Officer, Martin Halliday, welcomed everyone to the station and conveyed messages of goodwill from Clive Capps, former chairman of the Lowestoft Evacuees Association, and Neil Williams, chairman of the Friends of Glossop Station.
Mr Capps, who along with writer Sandra Delf, co-authored the publication ‘A Long Way From Home’, had originally nominated Mr Brooks for the award on behalf of the Evacuees Association in 2020.
As a former evacuee himself, he expressed his gratitude for the efforts Chris had made in keeping such important memories alive.
With Glossop was one of the host communities which gave refuge to 600 Lowestoft children and their teachers during the war, Mr Williams said: “The Friends of Glossop Station would like to offer Chris Brooks warmest congratulations on his award of Freedom of Lowestoft.
“Chris' determination to keep the story of the Evacuation alive has been a driving force in his life.
"In doing so he has regularly brought the former evacuees together in reunions both in Lowestoft and the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire villages to which they were sent.
"Chris has given huge amounts of his time to these reunions."
Speaking after the event, Mr Halliday, said: “It was a privilege to host the presentation of such a befitting and well-deserved honour for Chris.
“I have been pleased to work with him over many years, both during my tenure managing the Marina Theatre wherein we hosted many events in support of the Evacuees Association, and, more recently, as development officer for the Community Rail Partnership, through which we continue to celebrate these important memories and join with our colleagues in Glossop in helping to preserve the unique links forged between our two communities all those years ago.”
Aviation historian Bob Collis added: "This is not just about what Chris Brooks has done for the Evacuees Association.
"It is an acknowledgement of all the work with local history and heritage groups and projects, and finally for his work as a teacher.
"He is richly deserving of this award from our town council."