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Narborough lies in West Norfolk approximately five miles north-west of Swaffham.

Narborough Church

Narborough Church

The novelist W.E. Johns was stationed at Narborough Airfield during the First World War. The airfield was the largest in Norfolk and covered 900 acres and Johns worked as a pilot instructor. Johns used his experiences of active service during WW1 to invent 'Biggles' - alias James Bigglesworth - the daring, clean-cut hero. In the books, Biggles spent his early years with his uncle in Norfolk and also learnt to fly at No 17 Flying Training School in the fictional 'Settling' in Norfolk.

Captain W.E. Johns

Johns first moved to Norfolk in 1912 to take up a job as a sanitary inspector in Swaffham. Soon after he met and married Maude Hunn the daughter of a vicar from Little Dunham. However, when the war broke out he joined the Norfolk Yeomanry and saw active service in Gallipoli. He then volunteered for pilot training  and joined the No 25 Training Squadron at Thetford.

The Biggles novels proved extremely successful and Johns became the second most popular children's author after Enid Blyton. In total, there are 96 novels.

In Narborough churchyard there are a number of graves of airmen who died in training at the airfield. There is also plaque commemorating their lives.

Narborough Aerodrome Plaque

Narborough Aeorodrome Plaque

David Turner, the chairman of the village history society, has published a history of the airfield entitled: The Great Government Aerodrome.

There is also a moving poem by John Press which records an autumn evening visit to Narborough Church. The 'seventeenth-century gentleman' in the poem - who 'leans nonchalantly on his side' is a reference to the monument to Sir Clement Spelman (d.1607) which lies on the north wall of the chancel. The monument depicts Sir Clement and his wife - both reclining one above the other - wearing ornate ruffs.

Narborough Church

I stroll across the railway bridge,
Past cottages with pink-wash walls;
My sentimental pilgrimage
Deposits me inside the church
As the chill autumn evening falls.

A seventeenth-century gentleman
Leans nonchalantly on his side;
His cold stone eyes appear to scan
The casual visitor who admires
The face that art has petrified.

A snapshot of the football team
Of nineteen-ten slants on a nail.
Some of these gawky youths who seem
Fit only for a rustic farce
Found graver parts at Passchendale.

This yellowing print, that crumbling stone,
Commemorating buried lives,
Might tell a saint that love alone,
When pride of art and body's strength
Grow dull and pitiable, survives.

But, standing here, I find it hard
To bandy such a word about.
Whatever flames grows cold and charred,
All self-consuming passion dies
And time stamps the last embers out.

My parents, married in this place,
I, baptized in this angel font,
Have left here not a single trace -
My father dead, my mother old
And I a mourning revenant.

The rags of flesh, the splintered bone,
Put off their lustre in the shade
Sooner than print or chiselled stone,
Though in the end time mars the bust
And the weak tints of sepia fade.

I walk in darkness to my car,
And drive along the narrow lane
That scores the landscape like a scar
To where my oblivious children lie
Cocooned by sleep from wind and rain.

More photographs of Narborough




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