In this update, we explain how ‘The Samson and Hercules’ club played its part in the war effort in World War Two, becoming a popular haunt for many of the 50,000 United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) personnel who were stationed within a 30-mile radius of Norwich.
During the Baedeker Raids in Norwich in April 1942, Samson and Hercules maintained their guard over the front door of ‘The Samson’ club. Unable to take shelter, the bombs rained down; narrowly missing them on occasions.
By July 1942, there was a friendlier invasion. Samson would have looked on in wonder as the Liberty Trucks (or ‘passion wagons’ as they were sometimes called) from the local airbases pulled up and dispatched their cargo of young American airmen, keen to play hard while they could. Up to this point ‘The Samson’ had been a club for our ‘Boys in Blue’ but there was about to be a change in the colour scheme. The American uniforms, known as pinks and greens, comprised of an olive drab coloured tunic and pink-brown coloured trousers. By the end of 1942, the number of GIs in the city of Norwich had boomed. 'The Samson' club now regularly pounded to the beat of the popular Gerry Hoey and his Band, attracting a never ending flow of green uniforms.
However disaster struck on 18 March 1944. Despite their resilience to the German arsenal, Samson and Hercules’ long lives were nearly cut short when fire took hold of the building. With determination, the fire was put out and the ‘Samson and Hercules’ club and its fine figures were saved. However, the lack of materials available due to the war meant the new building the famous pair were guarding was far less impressive. They must’ve felt somewhat overdressed for the occasion!
For the past 74 years, rumours have abounded that Glenn Miller and his dance band were welcomed through the doors of ‘The Samson’. We certainly know that he played at Chapelfield Gardens on the afternoon of the 18 August 1944 but did he ever venture into one of the GIs’ favourite haunts to celebrate his promotion to the rank of Major? If Samson could talk, we would have discovered much earlier that the rumours were indeed true! Samson must have felt his feet rock on his plinth as the place erupted with roars and shouts of appreciation as the band stayed up most of the night celebrating their leader’s recent success.
As 1945 progressed, the war drew to its end and the American airmen, who had become part of the scenery, gradually returned to their homeland, occasionally taking with them their new English brides, whom they would have met as Samson stood watch. They left behind them not only the odd broken heart and bloody nose, but more significantly an enduring connection to Norwich and fond memories of nights out at ‘The Samson’.
We only have two weeks left to raise nearly 50% of our £15,000 bespoke Samson case target. If you know someone who has fond memories of 'The Samson and Hercules' club, please do share our campaign with them. By putting Samson back on display, we hope to unlock the untold stories of this Norwich icon and celebrate the role he has played within the local community.