Norman’s life on the Wash and its marshes

Wildfowler Norman Parnell with a keepsake from his bomb disposal work. Photo: SG171013-115NG
Wildfowler Norman Parnell with a keepsake from his bomb disposal work. Photo: SG171013-115NG
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Norman Parnell has pulled someone out of the mud on the Wash marshes minus his wellies, trousers and underpants.

“I just pulled him out with the butt of my gun,” says Norman (70), who is, luckily for the unfortunate man, familiar with the dangers of that area.

Norman has lived close to the marsh all his life, at Gedney Drove End, and has made a living from the Wash and its remote margins.

After working for the village blacksmith and a couple of other jobs, Norman spent 20 years as a fisherman on the Wash. He built his own boat in his back yard, the Suzanna II, and fished for prawns, brown shrimps, cockles and mussels, which were sold in local markets.

He has also spent many happy hours wildfowling on the marshes, and is one of the founder members as well as chairman for many years of Gedney Drove End & District Wildfowlers’ Association.

He was shooting on the marsh from an early age, hares at first before progressing to bigger guns to shoot ducks and geese.

He says: “When I was a little boy there were one or two punt guns, but mostly it was shot guns.

“I was a good shot – you had to be or else you couldn’t afford to buy your next lot of cartridges.

“After a few years we got people saying they should ban the shoot and then someone wanted to buy the marsh and that’s what formed the wildfowling clubs.

“It’s the freedom of the shore. That’s what you want to thank wildfowlers for.”

Wildfowling clubs, such as Gedney Drove End’s which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, pay for the rights to shoot.

Norman says: “The club acts as a limit on the number of birds shot each year because we have a bag limit, and when you go out you probably only have half an hour’s shooting time.

“In extreme weather conditions there’s a total ban because birds get in a poor state.”

Norman knows it can be dangerous out on the marsh, especially without knowledge, and says several people have “come off with no shoes and pants”.

However, there is also the danger of live ammunition because RAF Holbeach uses parts of the area as a bombing range.

This too has given Norman work as he and his son Carl clear ordnance from the range and maintain buoys and beacons at sea.

Norman says: “I have had a good life. Not many people have had as good a life as me.”