New light shed on Norwich mystery of wartime heroine
New light has been shone on the mystery Norwich home of World War Two heroine Elsey Tilney, who rescued Jews from the Nazis, following an appeal on the Network Norfolk website.
Prof Philippe Sands, QC, a London barrister and leading human rights lawyer, who describes Elsie’s extraordinary story in his international best-seller, East West Street, on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity, asked for help in finding her Norwich home.
Prof Sands mother, Ruth, as a year-old baby, was rescued by Elsie Tilney, a Christian missionary, 78 years ago, from Nazi-occupied Vienna and reunited her with her father Leon in Paris.
There, Elsie handed the baby over to Leon, quickly writing her name and Norwich address in pencil on a scrap of paper, two inches square. It said simply: ‘Miss E.M.Tilney, ‘Menuka’, Blue Bell Road, Norwich, Angleterre.’
For more than 60 years, the baby’s father, Leon, treasured that slip of paper. After Leon died, the yellowing paper fell out of an old suitcase as Prof Sands was researching his family history. For two years, the scrap of paper hung above his desk as he sometimes wondered about the person who wrote it.
Now, after our online appeal, two Norwich historians have come up with vital clues to the mystery address, which no longer exists.
Surrey Chapel historian Dr Rosamunde Codling believes she has located the site of Menuka. She said: “After working on various Surrey Chapel documents, combined with research at the Forum Local History section, I discovered that the house was near the Eaton end of Bluebell Road and was demolished to enable the Cringleford bypass to be built in 1975.”
Meanwhile, fellow historian Heather Ramsbottom
, who also has links to Surrey Chapel, found mention of Menuka in the 1939 Census.
“In September 1939 the only occupant of Menuka was a Miss Hilda Riches, a spinster in her fifties, a schoolteacher. She inherited the house in late 1938 from a relative - Robert Riches, who died in December 1938, aged 83. There was no mention of Elsie Tilney being there at that time. There seemed to be a row of houses with names and no numbers and then the numbered houses started - presumably it saved renumbering all the houses, though this did happen eventually.”
If you can shed any more light on the mystery or have any pictures of Menuka, please email the editor.
Read our earlier story on Elsey Tilney here
Pictured above is Philippe Sands, QC, with his mother, who was rescued as a baby by Elsie Tilney; plus a picture of Elsie Tilney in 1920; copy of the slip of paper that Elsie gave to Leon after handing over the baby in Paris in 1939.