Wartime memories of Melford Hall

Sir Richard Hyde Parker, 12th Baronet of Melford Hall © National Trust

Sir Richard Hyde Parker, 12th Baronet of Melford Hall

Sir Richard Hyde Parker, 12th Baronet tells us about his time at Melford Hall and his memories of the Second World War.

I was born at Melford Hall, followed by my sister two years later; on the day war was declared. The house was then requisitioned and occupied by the army and we moved to a house on the green opposite.

North wing fire

My strongest early memories go back to 1942, when I was nearly five, watching the house burning in the distance.  That afternoon I walked hand-in-hand with my father to the scene, which was comparable, at my age, to a burnt-out box on a bonfire.

The fire gutted the North Wing and destroyed adjoining roofs. Water from the firemen’s hoses also caused extensive damage to important interiors and subsequently dry-rot.

Professor Sir Albert Richardson was the only architect prepared to restore the wing without demolishing the surviving structure, and his successful use of an internal concrete frame remains visible today.

Victory looms

I continued to grow up in a world where the trappings of war divorced from serious action were delight to a small boy living at the hub of military activity.

Men from 12 successive battalions from nine regiments made the house and the Nissen huts in the park their home.

Until in June 1944 the 1st Battalion of the Royal Hampshire Regiment was inspected by King George VI at Melford Hall before going into action as spearhead troops in the assault on Gold Beach during the D-Day landings.

My final memories of the war are as a child on VE Day, standing by the biggest bonfire I had ever seen, on Long Melford Green. There were no fireworks during the war so the army fired endless flares that criss-crossed the sky like searchlights but in red, green and yellow.

There were troops from the camps at Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall, Americans from the aerodromes at Alpheton and Acton and us from Melford with the many evacuees who came from London to live with us.

More than bricks and mortar

My sister and I often look back to our involvement as children in reviving the house, perhaps most when in charge of buckets to catch the rain, or when laying a bottle with our names in it behind new work in the north wing.

My family is no less supportive of the house now, because I think we have all learnt that houses are made of far more than just bricks and mortar.