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Service marks the spirit of community

PUBLISHED: 10:41 25 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:04 06 July 2010

BERNARD Cook was only 12 when the Luftwaffe bombed Pakefield, near Lowestoft, and reduced to ruins the village church, which had galvanised the clifftop community since before the time of the Domesday Book.

BERNARD Cook was only 12 when the Luftwaffe bombed Pakefield, near Lowestoft, and reduced to ruins the village church, which had galvanised the clifftop community since before the time of the Domesday Book.

Images of firefighters desperately battling the inferno and the emotions of fear and despair evoked by lost lives and wrecked homes are indelibly printed on his mind.

But burning just as brightly in his memory is the remarkable community spirit shown by villagers who launched into fundraising with such determination that Pakefield's was the first war-damaged church in England to be rebuilt and re-dedicated at the end of hostilities.

Fittingly, Mr Cook, 81, who still lives close to All Saints' and St Margaret's Church, sharing its serene cliff-top setting within earshot of the North Sea waves, joined the congregation for yesterday's (Sunday) packed Songs of Praise service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of that re-dedication on January 29, 1950.

The special service, the brainchild of parishioner Mary Johnstone, included three of the hymns that were sung on that day, Thy hand, O God has guided, How sweet the name of Jesus sound and Christ is made the sure foundation.

Mr Cook, a retired shipwright, was living with his uncle, the local air raid warden, at the time of the raid and vividly remembers sirens going off and the drone of enemy aircraft shortly after 9pm on April 21, 1941.

“They dropped their high explosive bombs and some 750 incendiaries all over the area. I helped my uncle distribute sandbags for people to put on top of the incendiaries and smother the flames,” he said.

“Only two incendiaries fell on the church roof. The church warden Mark Adams and the Rev Stather Hunt tried but failed to reach them in the eaves, and they quickly ignited the thatched roof.”

Although two lives were lost in the raid and countless homes damaged as well as the church, Mr Cook recalls with pride that Pakefield's community spirit shone through straight away.

The village's Cunningham Hall was immediately converted into a place of worship and the ruined church even continued to be used - his mother's wish for her funeral service to be held there was granted in 1947.

He said: “The importance of the church in those days can be judged by the fact that virtually the whole village went to services and I went three times a day on a Sunday.”

Mr Cook, a community historian, recalled that he helped with fundraising in small ways but the determined effort was led by the “dear ladies of Pakefield”. “I seem to recall a figure of about £50,000 was raised,” he said.

The contract for the restoration went to R G Carter, of Norwich, but village tradesmen were included on the project with one, Fred Rushmer, responsible for rebuilding the entire flint south wall.

The Rev Heather Wilcox, curate of Pakefield church, said it remained an important part of the community today, still attracting congregations of up to 120 people, and yesterday's service could be seen as a celebration of its bright future as well as its successful past.

The church was half way to its target of £70,000 that would see a new toilet and kitchen and better disabled access fitted by the end of the year and they were shortly hoping to appoint a youth worker to reach out into the community.

Their success in appealing to the whole family was illustrated by “messy church” sessions, mixing craft activities and worship, which attracted up to 80 parents and children.

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