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Alfred Attmere was born 1919 at Sibton Green, in a two-up, two-down cottage tied to Packway Farm where his father was head horseman. Alfred was four years old when his father died, which precipitated the eviction of the family. His mother became an inmate of the local Bulcamp Workhouse and Alfred was taken into a children’s home. The family was eventually united at Packway Cottage when his elder brother, taken on by the farmer, became the breadwinner and his mother received a widow’s pension. He wrote about his memories of growing up in the Sibton Green community in a booklet ‘Worth a Mention’ published in 1971. This book is about country people living in poverty when he was a boy compared with as they were in the 1960s in modern society. His viewpoint on life is set out in the following extracts from his introduction to the booklet, which was republished in 2006 by the Friends of St Peter’s, Sibton.


“In the making of notes necessary to writing these pages I have again and again asked myself what makes one a 'roamer' and another a `stay-at-home'. The short answer is, of course, circumstances, but there is often much more to it than that; to some extent it hinges upon a starting point.

The nomad from the city seldom returns permanently to the scene of his departure; not so the countryman. Wherever he travels the smell of the soil will follow him. If he does not return to it eventually it is surely because some whim of nature misdirected his advent.

Within the last half-century the countryside has changed radically. Two world wars alone taught that the land is as important as the factory. Methods of farming have been revolutionised, but if one could forget that, to all intents and purposes the rural areas are much the same as they were. The arteries necessary to commerce and communications pulsate day and night with motive power of every description, but, quite unconcerned, the land lies sleeping. At nature's will she bends to the hand of man and he prepares her apparel according to the season, yet, for all his labour, she retains her identity in seeming defiance. Her caprices know no bounds. Sometimes her canopy is that of gold, at others her shroud reflects her mood, sullen and still. You may go to any city or town in the world, what is seen is taken for granted; go to the country and it is not so. Something quite indefinable grips you, laid out in splendour is nature's creation. You stand as one mesmerised by the incomprehensible.

Those who travel far to visit some long sunk mound in a churchyard must feel frustrated at the loss of identity, yet they soon find something to dispel their sadness. Maybe it's an old gnarled tree where once, long ago, up to some prank the sound of tearing cloth foretold the hiding to be endured later. Often recognition of a long cherished object will raise a laugh in one; in another perhaps a masked tear depicting a poignant memory.

It matters little really where lies the mecca of the homing traveller, a pile of rubble in some forlorn back street suffices for some, to them it was a place called home. To the countryman it is not just the shack where his mother nourished him at the breast; the acres around were also his habitat. He knows every field and meadow. Coming from the soil he rightfully expects to find them just where they should be. To him the earth is sacred, nature's birthright, not to be cluttered up with such things as shops and houses”.

Alfred Attmere’s imagination, and probably his poetic intelligence, set him apart from his contemporaries, and both traits in his character eventually led to his departure from the village in 1935 at the age of 16 to join the army after trying to make a success of life as a farm labourer. He described this event as follows.

“So it came about on a March morning….a frail woman and a confused country boy took the narrow granite road to Darsham station. I had been called to enter the county regiment as a drummer boy. ….. I was to serve with the colours for nine years….. I strode off up the road as manfully as my lagging feet would allow, each step I took, tempered by the fire of regret. How long I paced that well-known road is lost to me now but the memory of that engine as it hissed to a halt at the platform … will never die. Somehow my buckling knees made the door and into a compartment. The door slammed and the whistle blew, green as the grass on the meadow outside our house, I was borne away to be a soldier and embarked on a road which was to be as unsure as the clods I had been born to”.

After leaving the army he settled in Cornwall, eventually returning to East Anglia to live at Spixworth, a suburb of Norwich, where he died in 1986 with his mind fixed upon his native village of Sibton, about fifty miles away. His ashes are buried with his mother in the southeast corner of St Peter’s graveyard.

Alfred Attmere’s story is generally significant in that it is about a lifetime’s search for contentment. He described his goal as the ‘pulse of existence’, and discovered and held it in his boyhood memories of living at Sibton Green. The strength of recall is predicted best by the vividness of an event’s visual imagery. This is the stuff from which we all compile a lasting sense of place, and if we have not been able to achieve this first hand, we are compelled to assemble a sense of place vicariously through the visual memories of others, like Alfred Attmere, who have the skill of transcribing their mental images into words. The fact that he collected these vivid images from living in a tiny area, that even today has one of the lowest population densities of Britain, is testimony to the powerful command that rural place has upon our imaginations tuned to wounding environment of day-to-day urban living.