These pages were given to Sue Hodgkinson in March 2003 when she was gathering information relating to Superior Camp.
Geoff, Pearl Patricia Rushton's son, gave them to Sue.
The memoirs were written on the 16th March 1999.
1 - Little Pearl
My grandmother’s name was Caroline Kemp (nee Hunt) and she was born in the village of Newton Valence, Hamshire, England in 1852, where she was also married. She was living at Nore Hill, near Selborne, when I was born.
My mother was born in 1897, but I don’t know where. I don’t know what either of my grandfathers’ names were. My Granny Kemp died in 1936 and my Mum died in 1975. I was born Pearl Patricia Cooper on the 21st of February 1924, in the village of Selborne, in Hampshire, England. I was the second child of Ethel May (nee Kemp) and Sydney Cooper.
My mother told me that my father wanted a son but he then had two daughters, my elder sister Kathleen May born 10th of February 1921, then me, followed by a son Sydney Gordon on 26th of September 1927. We were all born in Rose Cottage. Nurse Grant, who delivered me called me “a little pearl”, so my mother named me Pearl Patricia.
At that time there were about three hundred people living in the village, not counting the farms in the outlying districts. The farms are mostly gone now. There were more shops then, with a Greengrocer, Sweetshop, Butcher, Hardware shop, General Store, Post Office, two pubs, “The Selborne Arms” and “The Queen’s Hotel” and a Working Man’s Club. When I was a girl “The Selborne Arms” only sold beer and no spirits. Now there is a different type of person living in the village and this is reflected in the shops. There are two Antique shops, a Tea Room, General Store/Post Office, and a Fruit/Vegetable shop. There are still the two pubs. There was an old yew tree in front of the church that we eight hundred years old, but sadly a storm brought it down recently. The village was a very close-knit community where everyone knew each other. Most people had been born there and their parents and grandparents before them.
My father and my grandfather lived in Rose Cottage. My father’s father, who was a woodsman, died the same week that I was born. My father’s mother was already dead. My mother’s father, a farmworker, died when she was only fifteen. I knew none of them as my father was thirty seven when he got married, and was sixteen years older than my mother. Granny Kemp was the only one still alive when I was a girl. My father had one brother, Martin, and three sisters, Emily, Mary and Laura. My mother, who was the youngest, had two brothers, Williams and Arthur and two sisters, Jane and Nell. Granny Kemp brought up two of Jane’s children, Eve and Jim, (wrong side of the blanket).
2 - Growing up in Selborne
Selborne was a lovely place to grow up in. Cars were in their infancy and you could hear them coming for miles. Zoe Evans had an old van, a Ford I think. My father’s boss, Brigadier General Burrows (ret’d) had a car and a chauffeur.
We played hopscotch, skipping and rolled hoops on the road without hindrance. Nobody had a real wooden hoop, only bike wheels with the tyres and spokes out. We drew a wooden stick across the rim to roll it. Some children had iron hoops made by the wheelwright, Ned Clark who had a clubfoot and lived in Gracious Street. They made a bit of a din on the asphalt. Aeroplanes were rare and I remember seeing an Airship pass over the village.
“Slug” Maxwell’s cows used to be driven from Barn Field down through the village by Mr Carpenter to the cowsheds in Gracious Street at 4 pm. To be milked just as we were coming out of the school. Old “slug” Maxwell was our landlord and he was very tall and pale and wore a bowler hat and kept cows and hens in the field behind our house.
There was a big Rhode Island cockerel, which was very fierce. My dad was going over the field to his allotment one day and the cock flew at home and dad hit it with his spade and knocked it flat. He came hone and told mum that he had better go and tell old Maxwell that he’d done for the old bird. He had a cup of tea and by the time he got up to tell him, the old bird was strutting around!
Slug used to slink up across the field to his orchard, where he met Molly Williams, one of farmer Woolhead’s stepdaughters. He was married and I suppose he thought nobody knew what he was up to. We didn’t miss a thing because we were always in his orchard pinching apples! We had to jump the stream when he came so that he wouldn’t catch us.
The horses would be brought in from the farms to be shod by Clifford Tarr, the blacksmith. The blacksmith’s shop was one house down from “Rose Cottage”, with the Village Hall in between and is still there but disused. His mother was a big woman with very skinny legs and everybody called her Granny Tarr. She would ask me or Grace Thompson, my best friend, when we were playing around the back of the Village Hall, to fetch her a bottle of beer from the “Selborne Arms”. She would give us an old cloth bag to cover it and say “Don’t let Clifford see, if he’s around put it on the copper in the outhouse”. The landlady, Mrs Knight, always recognised the bag and knew who it was for!
Granny Tarr was only one of the characters in the village. “Shacky” Earwhacker was another. He lived down the alley opposite Memoriam Cottages, and he was a little beady-eyed man with a beard all over his face. He would walk Selborne Hill all day and beat the stinging nettles back and keep the paths open. He used to catch adders. There aren’t many left now. We would see him come home with them and if it was raining he would have an old sack over his head and shoulders. He was a bit weird, but we were not afraid of him.
Billy Whitcher was another character, who was an “old soldier” retired from the Royal Engineers. He lived alone in a cottage halfway up Galley Hill. He used to blow a bugle at 8 am, midday and 5 pm, to let the fieldworkers know that it was dinnertime and knocking off time. Children playing out would know what the time was. The children playing at the tope of the village would by by Billy’s time and those at the bottom would go by the church clock. He also played the bagpipes and he wore tight tartan trews. Every now and then he marched down through the village to the “Selborne Arms” playing the pipes with a host of children marching behind him. He timed each glass of beer with his pocket watch, making each one last a certain time known only to him, and he never deviated. He died at a great age in the Chelsea Pensioners Home.
Joby Matthews was stone deaf, but he could lip-read. He couldn’t talk very well and he shouted so loud that you could hear him halfway round the village! Some of the children were afraid of him, but he was ok. He lived with his sister Liz. During the war, when the planes came over he couldn’t hear them and he used to say “Where is’n then?”
“Crabby” Evans, Zoe’s husband, suffered from gout and he was a miserable old bugger, who liked his glass of port. The older boys in the village used to hold on to the back of Zoe’s old van when she was starting up and prevent it from moving, and Crabby would come hobbling out and shake his stick at them. Zoe Evans once took Tom Rushton and Billy Ballard, the policeman’s son, by their ears and marched them to constable Ballard at Peel Cottage because she caught them fighting on the way home from school. He made them fight it out.
Mr Gunner was a retired artist who used to give us halfpennies and pennies for sweets. I don’t think he was very well off but if we told him that our team had won at cricket or soccer he would pay up!
Until about 1970 the village had always grown hops. They were grown on Lord Selborne’s land, which was known as the Blackmore Estate. He also owned many cottages, which were used by his estate workers. He was a good employer to work for and he never turned people out of the cottages when they retired. In order to give the hops something to grow up, they first had to be strung. Men on stilts attached strings from steel loops in the earth up to permanent overhead wires to form four vertical “bines” for each hop plant. The village women went hop training in the Spring when they would twist the young hop shoots to encourage them to grow up these “bines”.
In September we would go hop-picking. We just pulled the “bines” down until the string broke and then picked the individual hops off over the basket with no leaves included. The school timed the Summer holidays to coincide with the hop-picking and we all used to go, leaving the village almost deserted. We had to get up at about 5 am, depending on how far away the hopfields were. The fields were very muddy and we wore old clothes and we used an old pram to collect the hops in. We were always told to pick enough hops to pay for a new pair of boots to go back to school in. They only paid a penny halfpenny a bushel.
Sometimes we went on strike to get another halfpenny. These strikes were led by the gypsies who came for hop-picking and if you didn’t go on strike they would tip over your basket of hops. You were given a basket with a number on it and allocated a row of hops, which you worked on, and when the whistle was blown they had a tally. The tallyman would come and measure your hops in bushels and record it on your card. You got paid at the end of the hopping and sometimes it took three weeks. We would have to go to Blackmore Estate offices at Blackmore and when your basket number was called you collected your money.
3 - Drawing-in and other high days
One of the events that we children thought exciting was the “drawing-in” day. That was the weekend before hopping started. There was a field at the top end of the village where the gypsies came with their horse-drawn caravans and bell tents. They came from all directions and we would go to the top of the land above the Rushton’s house and watch the brightly coloured caravans draw in, adorned with their polished brass water cans. The walking lurcher dogs would follow them. Some of the women carried babies wrapped in their shawls.
Sundays were a very noisy affair when the gypsies were there because they used to sell their horses outside the “Selborne Arms”. They would hold on to the halters and run the horses up and down the High Street and look at the horses’ teeth and when they made a sale they slapped hands. On Saturday night the gypsies would hold a concert in the big barn opposite the fountain. They would all take turns at singing, tap-dancing and playing the fiddle. We would all go and listen at the door. Only kids went to watch them, mainly because of the smell and the fleas I think.
There were two main fairs at the time in the vicinity. Tarro Fair was held on Petersfield Heath and was a horse fair, where the gypsies ran their horses. They sold them in the morning and in the afternoon the fair was held on the heath. It was always on the Saturday nearest to 6th of October. I did’t get to go there until I was about thirteen or fourteen as it was too far to go by bike and too dear to go on the bus.
My mum and dad were married on Tarro Fair day.
Alton Fair was held on the Butts and I used to bike there with Grace, but she couldn’t go on any of the roundabouts because it made her sick and she also couldn’t go on Sunday School outings due to car sickness. She used to have a go on the coconut shy and other sideshows. We used to leave our bikes in the pub yard. Occasionally mum would come with us.
I was just five when I started school in the church school. There were two rooms, one small room for the infants and a very large one divided into two by sliding glass doors. The Rev Williams used to come once a week for prayers and a talk. We had three teachers, Miss Sutton for the infants, Miss Caustin and the headmaster Mr Dagwell. On Empire Day we would have the flag flown and then we would get a bun. We then went to church for a service and then we got the rest of the day off. We did a lot of extra things and I liked going to school there.
One year I remember we did butter making and milking cows and we also learnt all the different breeds of cows. We visited the dairy at the “Wakes” and Grange Farm. We also did sewing, knitting and crochet with Miss Sutton. I made men’s socks, pillowcases, nightdresses and a toy lion. These items were sold at the end of the year by the school in order to buy materials for the following year. The boys in the school did gardening and drawing, while the girls did sewing.
Miss Sutton entered us in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds annual Bird and Tree competition. We each had to study a bird and a tree and write an essay on both. I chose the Jackdaw and the Sycamore. In 1937 our team won the shield for the county and also the one for the whole of England. Gilbert White would have been proud of us! We did a lot of our schoolwork outside in the summer under the horse chestnut trees in the school lane. We used to play in the cart shed when it rained and down Huckers Lane under the rocks. Nobody had much money in the 30’s when I was at school so we were all pretty much the same as far as clothes went, patched and mended!
4 - Family making do
My brother Gordon was born in 1928 (?) and that was the completion of our family. My Dad was a Gardener for General Burrows (ret’d), who lived at the end of Gracious St at “Coneycroft”. Dad’s wages couldn’t have been more than thirty shillings a week, but the rent for our house was only three shillings a week.
We were lucky if we got a penny on Saturday, which would buy ten toffees. There were aniseed balls, gobstoppers, penny chews, coconut squares and nut brittle, and you could get a penny cornet on Saturdays which was when Mrs Adams made ice-cream.
My friend Grace Thompson’s father was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy when we were small and they were better off than most families. They lived in a big house with her aunts at the end of the village. It was a former pub and was known as the Whitehouse. We would go walking with the aunties on summer evenings and swing in the trees and cavort about like Red Indians! I learned to ride a bike when I was not too high, on my Mum’s old “sit up and beg” bike. I could only ride standing on the pedals and I was envious of Grace who had a new bike for Christmas one year.
When Grace’s dad came out of the Navy in the early 30’s they had a lovely brick house built just over the back of our house. It was great as I could stand outside and shout for her to be ready for school. We were always friends and we used to spend all of our holidays in the Dortons, either in the river or climbing trees.
My father was badly wounded in the Great War. He had shrapnel in his body that couldn’t be removed, so at times he was in a lot of pain. When he was in a lot of pain he would go up the back and saw wood. We all went for walks in the woods most Sunday evenings. We would go the long way to Coneycroft and Dad would shut the greenhouse cold frames.
He went into Alton Hospital in 1934 with stomach problems and was in there until he died in 1935 at the age of fifty three. We weren’t allowed to visit, as children weren’t allowed to in those days.
Before Dad died Mum had a very hard time trying to find enough money to keep us. There was no sick pay then. We had to go on Parish Relief, which meant we were means tested. A man came and looked around the house to see if we had anything that could be sold, like a sewing machine or a good clock etc. He then allowed us a one pound ticket for food, with all the cheap items listed such as margarine, oats, bread and tea, and nothing for coal or oil for the lamps. The grocer told Mum to choose what she needed and he would mark it to say she had the named items.
Gran was living at Huckers Cottage when Dad died and she used to give us biscuits every week, but she only had her pension to live on. They stopped the Parish Relief when Dad died and Mum got a Widow’s Pension of 18 shillings. (10 shillings for herself, 5 shillings for the first child and 3 shillings for the rest). Kath had just started work then so there was no allowance for her.
The authorities told Mum that if she couldn’t manage on that she would have to go and work in service and put us in a home. Mum told them to go to hell and she took in washing from some of the big houses in the village. She did washing for Mrs Hales at Streamhouse at the back of our house. The gardener delivered her dirty washing and Kath and I returned the clean washing in a wicker basket. Nelson Hayward, the gardener was later killed in WW2. Mum also became caretaker of the Village Hall, in order to earn extra money.
My strongest memories of Rose Cottage are of all the washing! Kath and I would get the water from the tap across the road to fill the wood-fired copper. All the water was pumped from a huge spring at the end of the village to taps at intervals along the street. In Winter it froze up and we had to thaw it by setting fire to newspapers. Mum didn’t have a mangle so everything had to be wrung out by hand. We also had to collect wood for the copper on Saturdays. Mum and Elsie (Grace’s Mum) used to go wooding in the afternoons because we couldn’t afford coal for the fire, and they were good pals until Elsie died in the 50’s. They used to tie the wood up into a bundle called a nitch.
Kath left school in 1936, which was when Gran died, and went to work in Empshott Vicarage which helped Mum as she didn’t have to keep her any longer. Fortunately the taxman didn’t want anything of what Mum earned on top of the 18 shillings pension, but at tuppence per sheet and a penny a pillowcase it didn’t amount to much after paying for soap, bluebag whitener and starch. All the ironing was done with the old flat iron warmed on the primus stove.
Mum also looked after the ground at the telephone exchange. She planted it with vegetables so that we had our own garden plus the allotment, so we always had lots of veggies. One of my uncles would drop us in a rabbit and we would get a penny for the skin when the skinman came. We always had at least four cats. There were enough rats for all of them! There wasn’t any fancy catfood on those days.
We didn’t have a milkman, so we just took a can to the dairy and collected it at 8 am and 4 pm for a penny a pint. At Christmas we collected holly and ivy and made paper chains. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. For presents we got an apple, an orange, nuts and sweets and one good toy and a book and anything else that Aunty Kate gave us. The Sunday School tea party was the highlight. A big tree was put on the stage in the village hall and all the toys put on it, with candles and tinsel. No lights. We had tea, and always had to start with bread, butter and jelly (to fill you up), and then the cakes. After tea there was a conjuror or something like that. Then came the presentation of books for good attendance, then the presents from the tree. Best attendance got first pick!
After the War that was considered unhealthy, like many things, including lavvies down the back, and keeping pigs in the back garden and killing them to eat. Gran kept a pig at Nore Hill and it was hung and bled and then half was sent to Maxwell the grocer, who smoked it for bacon, and the other half was jointed and salted. Everybody who had a pig sent the chitterlings to my Mum who loved them. You had to wash them literally hundreds of times. Horrible things! Mum also cooked lamb’s tail pie.
We had to clean our teeth with salt, or soot. The toilet paper was made from squares of newspaper. The “News of the World” was best! The toilet bucket had to be emptied once a week. We had to dig a hole up the top of garden and Mum used to say “We’ll have to wait til the pubs turn out to do it”. If the blokes stood outside talking we soon shifted them!! Now the village has sewerage and electricity and the water has been laid on and all the old taps disconnected. It’s a shame in a way. The water was free before.
5 - Seasons and Working
In Spring we had the Maypole on 1st of May, with a May Queen and a Maypole Dance. Country dancing was the bane of my life. I was plump and had a job to keep up!
Summertime we looked forward to the Sunday School outing to Bognor Regis. We started saving for this very early and I remember it was 2/6d for kids and 5/- for adults. My Dad used to have his only day off for the year to go with us in the charabanc. Miss Hales from Stream House took the money in halfpennies and pennies and wrote it on a card. Any over from the fare was “spends”. There was never much but ice creams were 1d.
Christmas time we went carol singing for halfpennies and pennies and even farthings. One Christmas we went to Miss Childs, an old dear at the end of the village and I remember she made us come in to her hallway and sing half a dozen carols and then gave us a halfpenny each!. Grace and I kept away from her. If she saw us she would get us to pick up horse droppings from the street with a bucket and shovel for her garden.
I left school in 1937 at the age of fourteen. I left at Easter and went to work a week after at Hawkley Hurst, which was a very large house where I was to be live-in Third Housemaid. I was very intimidated when I went for the interview with Mrs Davies, the lady of the house. Mr Davies was a tea importer and he also had connections with the tea trade in Manilla. There was a large staff there, ladies maid, butler, footman, hallboy, cook, kitchen maid, scullery maid and three housemaids. Lizzy Reed was Head Housemaid and had been there twenty years and was a bit of a tyrant. I got all the dirty jobs like cleaning out fire grates and polishing floors (miles of them!), cleaning brass water cans and carrying them to the bedrooms morning and night. I emptied chamber pots and cleaned toilets and baths.
My day off (which was on a different day every week) started from about 2 pm but I had to be back again by 9 pm. I cycled home and back again in that time. At first I didn’t have a bike so I borrowed Mum’s. Then I bought one on the never-never for four pounds and ten shillings. It was a “Hercules” sit up and beg type. My wages were twelve pounds a year which meant that I only got paid for forty eight weeks instead of fifty two at one pound a month, but I got my food and laundry found and the food was good there.
We had pretty much the same to eat as they did. I always remember how Ivy, the scullery maid and I used to giggle in prayers. We had to troop into the hall at 9 am with clean aprons on and sit and listen to a bible reading and then kneel down with our elbows on the chair seat while she said prayers. It was always “O Lord give us work to do and the strength to do it”. There was no shortage of work, but at least we had some fun too! I only stayed there a year. It was a lonely place and I had to ride back in the dark and walk up through a field to the back door pushing my bike.
One dark night I fell over a cow and that was the last straw and I decided to move on. I went to Stream House as house/parlourmaid and Kath came to work as cook. It wasn’t a good move really as we didn’t get on very well.
I left and went to work for Lady Bird, in Wickham, at Park Place which is now a convent. She was an American cow and she didn’t like my name Pearl. She said it was too good for a servant, so I became Pat and that is what I have been known as ever since. By then the war had started. I remember I was in Selborne church when war was declared. Everything seemed to stand still for a time. I couldn’t really comprehend what would happen.
6 - Joining up
In fact things went on much the same for a bit. Then the planes started to come over on their way to London and other targets and you could tell they were German by the drone. We had evacuees from Portsmouth next door to Rose Cottage. The Moores. They were bombed out. The girls had worked in the brewery in Portsmouth and they subsequently worked in Alton Brewery (this occupation was exempted).
Mr Moore died and was buried in Selborne and they kept in touch with Mum right up until she died.
At Wickham we weren’t far from Portsmouth and beds were taken down to the cellars for us in case of air raids. I didn’t like it down there as the hot water pipes ran around the walls and I thought that if we got bombed we would all be boiled alive! The Navy used to come up our drive with a mobile gun on some nights. In fact I know now that Tom used to be on that patrol. That was a terrible job for food. They had a home farm so we should have been able to have good provisions, but we only had our own rations. They were put out for us at the start of the week in a cupboard with your name on and you had to make them last. I was always hungry, so the kitchen maid and I would wait until the old cook went to bed in the afternoon and then raid the pantry.
We all decided that we would threaten to leave and so we had a meeting with her Ladyship. She told us if we didn’t like it we could join the forces. They all backed down except me and I gave a month’s notice. A month is a long time when you get all the dirty jobs!
So off I went again. I had to walk from Tisted Station to Selborne with my suitcase. I then worked in Selborne for a while at Nine Acres for Major and Mrs Fryer. He was in the Grenadier Guards and stationed in London at the War Office. In 1940 I met my first boyfriend, or rather had him thrust on me. Kath was dating a sailor from the village and he brought a pal home for the weekend and I got stuck with him. His name was Dick Williams and he came from Sunderland. I wasn’t too interested but it was a bit of a laugh. To tell the truth I wasn’t particularly interested in men. It didn’t last long. He went to sea and was involved in a lot of action, and I joined the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), in 1941.
I was the only girl from the village to join the forces. I went to Portsmouth to have a medical and my Mum came with me. It was the first time I had been to Portsmouth. I was accepted and given the King’s Shilling. A shilling a day was the pay. I was called up and had to report to Honiton, in Devon. I‘d never been so far away from home in my life and I was as green as grass compared to the other girls from the towns. I met lots of girls on Pompey station with little cases and so a few of us got together and had a good natter.
When we got to Honiton a woman sergeant met us. We had to scramble up into the back of an army 3 ton lorry. Some of the girls had high-heeled shoes and tight skirts and it was quite a spectacle to watch! When we arrived at the camp it was dark and we had to have our tea, which was Iceland Cod, ugh! And rice pudding boiled with sultanas, yuk! We were issued with our pint pots and kit from the store and given our army number. Mine was W/90797. We received a paybook and our AB64 (sort of ID booklet) and were sent to our hut.
We had an assortment of girls, but I knew it was only a basic training camp and that I wanted to be in the ack-ack (anti aircraft guns), so it wasn’t much good making friends. The next morning the army bugle rudey awakened me. I recognised the tunes, Wakey Wakey and Cookhouse Door, so we went to breakfast. That is where I learned the first lesson of my life. We lined up for our grub and as I don’t like sausages, I only had a bit of bacon and some fried bread. I took my eyes off my plate for a second and the next minute I had gained five sausages.
Lesson number one learned. Lesson number two was learned when I took a short cut across the parade square to the NAAFI . I heard a horrible voice shout “That girl!” and I shook in my shoes. It was the Company Sergeant Major. He roared “That square is mine and you NEVER step on it except for parades!” I was so confused that I saluted him, which was wrong yet again.
We had to have our inoculations and vaccinations and as I hadn’t had any of them as a child it was pretty bad. I also had to have a mole removed from under my arm so when Christmas Day came I was quite cheesed off. When the dentist tried to take a tooth out which wasn’t deadened properly, I kicked him. He reported me and I had to go up before the Commanding Officer, but luckily she let me off. We had a Selection Board to decide which job we were best suited for and I was horrified when one of them said I could be either a cook or a batwoman, because of my experience in service. I was so mad I told her that I didn’t volunteer for that and I wanted to be on a gunsite. I thought she would have my guts for answering back, but when I told her that I had been stuck in service since I was fourteen she relented and put me down for 507 Battery, Royal Artillery. That camp is now a housing estate.
7 - War years
I shall never forget a journey we made from Honiton up through Wales in a troop train. Our destination was Angelsea. It was really beautiful scenery and we crossed the Menai Strait Bridge, which later burnt down. The camp was near RAF Valley where the new planes from America landed. They showed us all over an American Flying Fortress. I was glad that I didn’t have to sit in one of those gun turrets.
Here are some of the songs we sang when we marched: To the tune of “Anchors Away” – We are the ATS marching along We are the Ack Ack girls and this is just our marching song We joined the Royal Artillery to fight for yours and mine And when we see a Hun we shoot the blighter Shoot the blighter down……..
To the tune of “Fred Kano’s Army” – A ragtime lot are we What bloody use are we? And when we get to Berlin Old Hitler will say “Mein Gott, Mein Gott, what a bloody fine lot Are the 546 AA.
The tune of “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” – When this bloody war is over Oh how happy we shall be Just to get our civvy clothes on No more soldering for me No more church parades on Sunday N more asking for a pass We will tell the Sergeant Major To stick his passes up his ass!
I was sent to Oswestry on a training course to be a height-finder, but they were short of air raid spotters so I said I’d give it a go. It turned out to be a good move as spotters were on duty at awkward hours, so we got away with my Physical Training, no fatigues and did pretty well what we liked when we were not on duty. It was very hard to learn aircraft recognition and at one stage my head was going round and round with all the different types of planes, but suddenly it all came together.
The battery was formed and we all went on leave.
We rejoined and went to a firing camp at Bude in Cornwall, for a month’s training. My memory of Bude is cold, cold, cold. It was the middle of winter and right next to the sea. We did target practice with a plane towing the target. I was glad when we’d finished our month here. The only good thing about it was that as there were two batteries nobody knew anybody else and the sergeants and the corporals could be fooled into believing that you weren’t in their mob!
When we eventually went on our first gunsite it was at Meols in Cheshire. We had a prissy little 2nd Subaltern who thought she was God and everybody hated her (so much so that I can’t even remember her name), but the other subaltern was a doddle. We didn’t get much time off so one night we were on “make and mend”, in the next room and three of the girls decided to go over the fence to the canteen in the village nearby. We wanted some beer so it was arranged that they would dump it and we would keep watch. We didn’t need to because they all got caught. The canteen caught fire and they were caught red-handed so we never got any beer and they were all put on a charge.
We went from there to Seaforth in Liverpool. The beachfront was all mined and I didn’t like it there very much. It was too close to the action for comfort as Liverpool was a prime target. We used to give money to some local boys who would fetch us fish and chips. We went to Walney Island near Barrow-in-Furness in Lancashire, and while we were there two training planes collided over the sea. I was on duty and saw it all through the TI (telescope identification). An Anson hit the plane towing the target. I think it hit the towing cable. They both crashed onto the beach killing both crews. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sickening noise.
I was in Northern Command then and we next went to Manchester and surrounding sites, then on to Newcastle. It was there that I realised that I didn’t like the North, so I exchanged with a girl from Plymouth who wanted to be near her husband, so off I went to 546 Battery at Tregantle Torpoint, near Plymouth. That was a good move and Tregantle was one of the happiest places I ever went to.
The girls were great and I had lots of mates. There were seven spotters and we all got on well together. We were the biggest bunch of dodgers in the camp! We laid low in the boilerhouse and we had a den in the middle of a blackberry thicket. When we heard the Sergeant calling “All Out” for something or other we would be gone in a flash. If she ever saw us we would say “I’ve just come off duty, or I’m just going on duty”. She couldn’t catch us because of us six spotters one was on duty sometime between sunrise and sunset, when the guards took over.
When we were on night call we had to sleep in the “manning hut”. It was close to the guns and had no glass in the windows for safety and it was freezing in there. We had to take our blankets over there from our usual hut and more often than not nobody from the other crew would bother to light a fire for us because they were snug in the NAAFI. Any poor spotter coming off duty soaking wet and cold could never warm up and the nearest toilet was in the NAAFI, which was at the bottom of the field. So if you went for a pee outside the door you had to be quiet or you’d have a guard with a bayonet behind you! The showers were very primitive, just a long hut with doors either end and duckboards down the centre, with cubicles on one side and concrete shower trays on the other. Cold water most of the time, with a howling wind and sacking for privacy. You didn’t want to stay in for long and sometimes I didn’t bother. A strip wash in the ablutions wasn’t very private but it was a bit warmer.
Peggy, Rose, Sue Sordy (Geordie) and I all had our birthdays in the same week. We were all celebrating our twentieth birthday so we decided to “hop the wire” and go down to the local pub and bring some beer back. We had to pass the guardpost on the road outside, so we made loud footsteps so that they would think that we were men from the fort! Coming back we found it more difficult to get back over the fence. Sue got caught on the barbed wire and ripped her skirt from the hem up. She had to get round the storeman to give her another without anybody finding out.
I used to stand on duty and watch the Sunderlands go up and down from Plymouth and in the summer it was good. There were Yanks stationed at Fort Tregantle and they used to down to the pub in the little village of Millbrook just down the hill from our camp. Halfway down the hill was the searchlight camp and at the bottom a barrage balloon site. There were five of us who went out together, Sue Peg, Bobby, Joan and I and we led the Yanks a bit of a dance. We got plenty of free drinks and then hopped it through the toilet window and walked back to camp behind the edge along the road.
Then we called into the searchlight camp for a cup of cocoa and waited until the Yanks went by on their way back. They never twigged on. There were so many of them you never ran into the same one twice and if you did they were “definitely mistaken in having ever met us”. Anyway, the fags were great!
We had several actions when there was enemy aircraft overhead. We had to get out of bed when the klaxon went and grab boots, respirator, tin hat, trousers and battledress top and run across the field, holding the lot, in our pyjamas to the Command Post, getting dressed along the way! We had to be there in a matter of minutes. When we had a five minute stand-down we would get a bucket of cocoa brought around from the cookhouse. It was very sweet and went down a treat. When those four and a half inch guns went off it was a hell of a noise and there were four of them. Sometimes when we were off duty and there was action we used to help load the shells onto a trolley from the ammunition dump.
8 - D-Day to Demob
Just before D Day (Normandy Invasion 6th June) we were sent to the city of Plymouth to a gunsight at the back of the big barracks. We had to go through their main get to get to it. At that time we had no idea D Day was so close, but things were a bit suspicious as we had very little time off and all leave was cancelled. There were Yanks in the two big barracks in Plymouth and there was a big build up of troops.
Nobody was allowed on Plymouth Hoe. We had no guns on the site, only dummy guns stuck up in the air and we had to carry on as normal doing all our drills and line ups. The Yanks were doing commando exercises, climbing up ropes etc, so we guessed that something was afoot.
We were invited to their camp for dances and I always liked that. Dot and I always got to know a cook, then they would open up huge tins of fruit and there was always lots of ice cream. Sometimes we were too full to dance! When there were several choices of fruit and you haven’t seen any for years, your eyes are like saucers.
We also had our own dances and Bill Wakeford, a boy I went to school with in Selborne, was in the Navy and he came to see me while I was in Plymouth. He brought five other sailors to the dance and I had to sign them out. Miss Thomas, one of the subalterns, was at the guardroom to see that they were out and boy did I have a job rounding them all up. They had all found themselves partners and were snogging in quiet corners and what with the blackout it was a nightmare!
The Yanks gave the whole battery a complete meal before D Day, although we didn’t know it at the time that it was because they were going away. Chicken with all the trimmings, and ice cream, gateau and fruit. Plenty of cigs and booze. The poor devils didn’t know that they would probably never see England or their own homes again. We heard later that there were very few survivors from that camp.
On D Day I was on spotter duty and I trained the TI on the road that led to Plymouth Hoe. There were hundreds of lorries, tanks and army equipment all nose to tail. We knew for sure then that something big was on as our guns had gone too! Life was quiet at the barracks with not a soldier to be seen, but the news was full of the invasion.
When I had leave I always went to Selborne. I longed to see the hill as you came along the Alton Road in the bus and to see the pale green leaves in spring and the lovely tints of the beech trees in autumn, but there was very little to do in Selborne and I soon got bored. Gordon was working in the sawmills in Alton and on Saturday and Sunday mornings we would get up early and take Mum’s Golden Retriever, Nipper, down the Dortons to get moorhen eggs to cook for breakfast.
The pond where we used to go had dried up now and so have the water meadows by the river where the flags used to grow, because they altered the river course. The cinema in Alton was ninepence and so was fish and chips. A packet of Woodbine cigarettes was fourpence and the bus fare about two shillings and sixpence. The trouble was that there was nothing to spend your money on as everything was on coupons.
Kath worked at the factory in Alton making filters for Spitfires and Hurricanes and she had to bike to work. I had a perfectly good bike when I left home for the Army but now everything had been scavenged from it in order to keep Kath and Gordon’s bikes going, as you couldn’t get spares. I had to borrow Mum’s old bike with the basket on the front to go to a dance in Blackmore. Kath and I and Joan Barber would go to dances in Selborne Village Hall which were OK. A three piece band, piano, fiddle and drums provided the music. A Mrs Popplet from Alton ran it and she was also the pianist. The soldiers stationed at Bordon and Longmoor came. We got the odd Canadian or two. We always had a laugh when one of them asked to see us home as we lived next door to the hall!
After D Day we went to Bristol. We arrived at the camp after dark and about seven o’clock my mate asked me if I had read the battery orders. I hadn’t, which is a CRIME in the Army! She told me not to bother to unpack as I was down for seven days leave in the morning. So off I went and after a couple of days it dawned on me that I hadn’t a clue where I had to report to at the end of my leave. That information was in the battery orders, which I had not read. I didn’t let it bother me until the day I went back. I got into London and on the Underground railway I met another ATS girl and we got talking and I told her about my dilemma. She had been on several sites in Bristol, so she was able to help me and I managed to get to one of our sites.
I hated Bristol as we were on dummy sites again and they didn’t know what. We also visited the local courts in the public gallery. The case was about a woman bus driver who had knocked somebody over.
We had no bathrooms so we had to be marched to the Slipper Baths (public baths). My friend Corporal Dianne Westlake, nicknamed “Scrubber”, took me to her aunts place one day and we saw her cousin’s new baby girl, which I nursed. She was looking after her because her cousin’s other little girl had measles. I was a bit perturbed because I hadn’t caught measles when Kath and Gordon had them when we were little. I slept in the same bed as them and didn’t catch them and the whole school even caught them!
(In 1992 I met a man and his wife in a hotel in Bournemouth, who mentioned in conversation that they came from Bideford, which is where “scrubber” came from. I asked if they knew Dianne Westlake and the man said he went to school with one of her younger brothers. He said that she had died a few years earlier)
Anyway ten days after I had nursed the baby girl, I developed a hacking cough and I felt like hell. When I couldn’t get out of bed they sent for the Medical Officer and he put me in the Camp Reception Station, which was manned by Voluntary Aid Division people. There were a couple of bitches there and when I came out in spots they seemed to think I had done it on purpose.
I got very ill and an ambulance took me to the Isolation hospital at Ham Green in Bristol and I was put in a ward full of kids. I was in there for three weeks with complications. The kids used to ask me to tell them a story so I made some up. I got pretty fed up as all the adults I saw were two pay blokes who came and paid me part of my money and brought me chocolate and cigs (which I wasn’t allowed to smoke). I used to go into the toilet and blow the smoke out through the window. When I was able to get out I was only allowed to go to certain areas as there were some very infectious diseases in that hospital. I had a month’s sick leave from there and I was escorted to the station by a uniformed nursing sister and I felt a bit of a twit standing there waiting for a train with all those service people around.
My battery had moved on while I was in hospital and I had to report to the RTO (Railway Transport Officer) at Bedfont station, near London. This is in the path of German doodle-bugs (V2 rockets) as London was their prime target. I was talking to a serviceman in the train and he suggested that it might be quicker if I took the Underground. When I arrived there was no RTO and again I hadn’t a clue where to go. I came up the steps from the Underground and slipped and cut my knee and a lady came over and helped me up. I asked her if she knew of any ack-ack sites in the area. I was in luck as there was one quite near where she lived so I went there, and they sent me on to my battery.
That place was a nightmare. The doodle-bugs came over and most nights we didn’t get to bed. It was head down on your tin hat whenever you got a chance. The end of the war was getting closer in Europe although we didn’t really know it then. Our gunsites were gradually being run down and we were being dispersed into other jobs. We went to Brighton in the dead of winter and we were billeted in the posh Black Rock area, where all the actors lived.
I was in Gracie Fields' house. No furniture of course, only our army beds and so many girls to a room. We had quite a bit of time off there, but I didn’t go home. We had a Selection Board in London to determine what we would do until the end of the war and we were demobbed. They wanted to put me in the stores at Aldershot, but that wasn’t when I wanted. I wanted to go to the Driving School at Camberley. I got what I wanted and my pal Dot and I both went.
I loved driving. We went on blocks first and then on the roads. We went four at a time with a female instructor. Sometimes I didn’t think it was fair because some of the instructors had favourites and some of the girls got a lot more driving than others. They would also go “off route”, to expensive coffee shops for a break. We were “off route”, on the Hogs Back one day when one of the other girls ran over a manhole cover and the back wheel got stuck in it. The Corporal instructor got into quite a row over that.
I used to get home most weekends from then on. (I was in the Queens with Mum one evening with Mum and Kath and I met Tom for the first time in years). I was woken up one morning by a terrific din. All the NCOs were tearing around the parade square in vehicles of all descriptions! There was lots of shouting and cheering. The war in Europe was over! Nothing changed for us, however. It was duty as usual and we still had to serve out our time until demobilisation. I passed my five-week driving test and carried on until the eight-week test and I’m afraid my reversing went all wrong. I didn’t much care because I hoped it wouldn’t be long until I was demobbed. You went out “longest in, quickest out”, by numbers.
After failing my driving, first aid and maintenance tests I was sent to Nottingham and the Army Postal Services. To sort out overseas mail. Now that was a job I really enjoyed, and I quite liked Nottingham. We did a bit of training at sorting and we were billeted at an ex ack-ack site. We had to march about a mile and a half into Nottingham and back out again at the end of the shift. We worked in an old lace mill down by the canal called Hickins (it’s still there) and it was freezing. After a while we were billeted in empty private houses requisitoned by the Army, in West Bridgford, near the Trent Bridge cricket club.
We had our own cookhouse and food hall in the grounds of the cricket club, and our Dentist and Medical Officer came to one of the rooms there. We had to make our own way to and from work when we were there and I enjoyed the walk over Trent Bridge. Just over the bridge there was man used to sell bacon cobs (small bread rolls) and coffee from a little shop and we would get one for breakfast there. I have never tasted cobs as good as that before or since! It was there that I shared the attic room with a rookie girl who didn’t come from ack-ack.
We had an inspection and the officer asked us if we didn’t think the room might be better for a little decoration. So I went to the stores and they gave me some white distemper. I didn’t think much of that so I asked him if he had anything more exciting than that and he gave me some red ochre. God, what a mess, it came out all streaky! I hate to think what the owners thought when it was given back. If you wanted to iron you had sign for an iron at the stores. I borrowed one and when I’d finished I put it on the metal fireplace fender which was painted black. When I went to pick it up to take it back it was stuck to the paint. I had to take the fender complete with iron back to the power point and plug it in to melt the paint so that I could get it off! I got some of the paint off and returned it to the store pretty damn quick.
The Trams were running then and they turned round at Trent Bridge. It was a penny ha’penny to town but the clippies (bus conductors) never charged us. We used to jump on and off while they were still moving. The War ended and on VJ Day (Victory in Japan) some of my friends and I were in the square in Nottingham in the evening. There were thousands of people and you couldn’t hear yourself speak, the noise was so great. I got fed up with it and went back to the billet.
I was writing to Tom then and he came out of the Navy in December 1945. My demob came up very quickly and I had to report to Guildford in February 1946. I ran into quite a few girls that I first joined up with there. The same meal was served up there as the day I joined. Fish and rice pudding! Tom and Mum didn’t know that I was out of the Army for good, they thought I was just on leave.
9 - Getting married and moving out
I had a wad of clothing coupons and my gratuity money which seemed a lot of money in those days. Kath helped me to spend the coupons, as everybody’s clothes were pretty tatty by the end of the War. I bought a new bike in Alton and rode it home. I remember that it cost me eight pounds and ten shillings and was twice as much as the first one. It was a “Hopper” and much later Geoff learnt to ride on it.
I had to find a job so I went to the Labour Exchange and had an interview with a silly old woman who told me a Mrs somebody or other wanted a servant. I told her what to do with that so she said that there was a toy factory opening in Alton and perhaps I’d like to try there. I was accepted but the factory never seemed to be ready and was always postponing the opening, so Tom and I decided to get married if we could find a place to live. Ted Hailstone had come home from the Army and Kath and him were living in Rose Cottage. It was a squeeze as Gordon was also there sleeping in the living room.
Somebody at the 2ESD (Engineers Stores Depot) in Liphook, where Tom worked as a Storeman, told him of a place at Rake. It was a Riding Stable, where the woman wanted someone to do housework in return for two rooms. We thought it was a fair deal, so we went and saw her. She thought we were married and so we had to stick with it and not let on.
We went to Alton and got a special licence because we hadn’t had the banns read, and we were marred on May 18th. Mum kicked up a fuss because we wanted to get married in the Register Office with no fuss, but she carried on so much that we gave in I ended up taking Kath’s wedding dress to Petersfield to be cleaned and spending money that I didn’t want to spend. I suppose I’m glad now that I’ve at least got some photos to show for it. Uncle Will gave me away and Mum had a cake made in Alton. She had to provide the fruit and sugar and eggs because of the rationing. I wanted to wear a suit that I had just bought, but no fear, Mum wouldn’t have that. Kath married in white, so I was going to be too.
We would have had the reception in the Village Hall, but there weren’t enough people. There weren’t really enough people to fill Rose Cottage and I didn’t really want the fuss. We went straight to our rooms in Rake. We caught the four o’clock bus from Selborne. We came back to Selborne on Sunday to get the motorbike and I had a pack up on my back laden with pots and pans etc. The bike was a 1932 500cc Ariel with hand-change gears. It wasn’t too bad at Rake but it was down a lane and a bit isolated.
I was OK in the mornings, with plenty to do, but I was used to plenty of people around and lots of things going in and I used to get lonely. I had no wireless and I didn’t like horses much. People left their horses there and came to ride them. Sometimes the horses would come back riderless and if there was nobody in I would have to try and persuade them to go into one of the boxes. We had no coal allowance and it was not very warm, so I used to bring home a couple of knobs of coal and a few logs from Mum’s when I went over on Tuesdays.
That was the day that the Selborne butcher had pies. They were supposed to be for the agriculture people and off the rations. He used to save me a couple. There wasn’t much meat in them but filled hole. We couldn’t make the rations last a week. Bread was rationed and neither of us was used to rationing having been in the forces. I used to make soda bread when we ran out, but most of the time we had no butter or margarine to put on it. Mum used to give us vegetables and Tom’s Dad used to give us a bit of salt pork now and again. However, we survived!
That was the year when we had the dreadful snow in 1947 and it lasted on the grounds for months. The old lady we lived with broke her finger and had to stay in hospital. That night it got bitterly cold and when I got up in the morning, to make the tea, I slipped all over the hall parquet floor. It was a solid sheet of ice as the radiators had burst. Huge lumps of cast-iron broke away from the old-fashioned radiators. We didn’t know anything about the central hearing furnace in the cellar and the cold snap had come so quickly that it took everybody by surprise.
Tom couldn’t go to work on his motorbike in Liphook. He used my pushbike and rode in the frozen car tyre tracks. It lasted from November until March and the frost brought the tarmac up off the roads.
When the thaw came, the water poured through the ceiling and I opened the front door and swept it out with a broom. Tom went flying up three flights of stairs to find the stopcock, and we used chewing gum, rags and anything we could to stop the water. Everyone wanted a plumber, but there just weren’t enough of them around. There were three dogs in that house, Smug, a brown and white Spaniel, Friday a black Spaniel, and a Fox Hound, which as far as I know, had no name. I called it Swine! It was huge and could stand on its hind legs and pick things off shelves, like my butter ration. It wouldn’t move out of the way and I didn’t like dogs. The rats used to run along the pipes that came through from the Feed Shed next door, and when you came in at night and put the light on they were there. I put my hand in the drawer one day and there was a rat in it.
10 - Children and Superior Living
That year we decided to go to live with Tom’s Dad, Jim. Tom went over there and gave it a good going over and got rid of some of the old chap’s worst things and decorated the room. We had already bought a bed and dining room suite and two armchairs, so we made it into a very comfortable little place. It was a bit poky but OK, except that the old chap was a bit funny at times.
I liked living up there and I used to work potato and hop picking, but somehow it didn’t work out. I don’t think the old chap liked me very much, even though he was looked after and the place was clean. I became pregnant while we were living there, so we got a room in Liphook, Losely Cottages in Headley Road, because we wanted to be on the Petersfield housing list. As we had lived in Rake before, we were able to get on the list.
You had to have points to help you up the list. As we were in only one room and I was pregnant that helped us and about a month before Geoffrey was born we were allocated one of the ex-Canadian Army wooden huts in Superior Camp, that had been converted into houses. I didn’t see it until the day we moved in. The address was 67 Superior Road. Tom said that the kitchen was big and we didn’t have anything to put in it, so he persuaded a shop in Liphook to sell us a kitchen table, without dockets. He got the biggest one they had. When I got there I remember I sat on it and wondered how on earth we were going to fill the house and get curtains etc. Tom said not to worry, as we would jump the hurdles as they came.
I think we’ve been jumping ever since, one way or another! We didn’t have electric light at first and no coking stove. Mum gave us a brass paraffin lamp for lighting and we used a Primus stove for cooking and an old flat iron. It was the middle of Summer in 1948 so we didn’t need the lighting, we just went to bed when it got dark or used candles.
The National Health Scheme started in 4th July 1948 and Geoffrey was due to be born on 1st July. Luckily he was a stubborn baby and didn’t arrive until 31st July, so we didn’t have to pay for the hospital etc. He gave me a hard time in the end and they knocked me out and he was dragged reluctantly into the world with forceps. He arrived at 12 o’clock lunchtime and weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces and was bald as a coot.
Tom had worked hard to get a new cot and pram. He worked in the garden of “the Coffee Shop” in Liphook all the hours that he wasn’t at the depot. I went to work cleaning in a house on Haslemere Road, to get the baby clothes. I made most of the clothes myself. Tom got Four Pounds Sixteen Shillings a week and rent was Twelve Shillings a week. About a fortnight after we moved in the electricity came on and we had an electric stove and lighting, and an electric copper.
We had to work hard to make that place look something like a home. The floors were concrete so Tom painted them to seal the dust. We had coconut matting on the kitchen floor and lino in the bedrooms. I made woollen rugs for the bedrooms and dyed white sheeting for curtains. The sheeting came from waterproof cloth used in the Depot for wrapping machinery. We found that if you boiled it long enough the oil would disappear and a good cloth was left. I made cot sheets and table cloths out of it as well.
When I first brought Geoffrey home from St Georges Wood Maternity Home at Grayswood, Haslemere I knew that there was something not quite right with him. The sickness after feeding was abnormal. It was spurting and came out like a fountain. The medical term for it is projectile vomiting. The Welfare Nurse said I wasn’t giving him enough food but I didn’t believe her and I rang the nursing home and spoke to the Senior Sister. She said not to worry but that he would have to have an operation for Pyloric Stenosis and to ring Dr Johnson in Haslemere. He visited me and told me that he would arrange immediately for a hospital car to pick us up. This was two weeks after Geoff was born and by then he weighed about six pounds.
They baptised him before the operation. I was the only one there besides the vicar and a nurse. Tom’s Depot gave him use of a private phone so that he could see how Geoff was doing, but nobody got time off for things like that in those days. I think the surgeon’s name was Mr Orme but I’m not sure. The operation was successful but they couldn’t get him to feed, so I took him home. He told me to feed him Cow & Gate half cream milk. Geoff wouldn’t wake up for a feed so I had to keep an eye on the clock and try and feed him every two hours. In the end I made a great big hole in the teat and shook it into his mouth. He was too weak to suck properly. I think he would have just slept and died if I had left him.
He was always such a good baby and never cried much. Once he started to pick up he came on in leaps and bounds, but he was slower to gain weight than the other babies at the clinic so I stopped going. Everybody seemed to be comparing the weights of their babies. Too much peer pressure! We were absolutely delighted with him and Tom was so proud to take him out. Geoff never did crawl on his knees, but put one hand on the floor and got along on his bottom. I think that perhaps he didn’t like the coconut matting. He had a few scrapes at that time.
He managed to fold his highchair up while he was in it! We got his fingers trapped in the door a couple of times and once Tom strapped him into his pram but only did one strap up and he ended up hanging over one side of the pram. Little Kathleen Futcher from next door came running to tell us “He out, he out!”
Another time Tom was putting him into his pyjamas on the kitchen table and he wriggled out and on to his head on the concrete floor. Tom was thirty when Geoff was born and we decided that we would have another baby while he was still young so that they could grow up together and anyway while I was washing for one I might as well be washing for two.
Linda was born on 8th June 1950 at St Georges Wood Maternity Home and weighed Seven Pounds. She was born at 12.30 in the afternoon and had a mass of black hair. Thinking back it was not a good idea, as Geoff was too young to understand that a new baby was coming and he had no doubts that he didn’t want anybody else in his pram! He would climb onto the pram wheels and poke Lin until she woke up and cried and then he would cry too. When Lin was a baby, Geoff called her “inky”.
He couldn’t say Linda. I expect it was because we called her Lindy Lou. Outside the Post Office in Grayshott, Lin was in the pram with the groceries and when I looked in she was trying to eat a string of raw sausages. I left the pram too close to the table in the front room ands there was bowl of bluebells on it. By the time I discovered her she had eaten most of them! She would eat anything she could get her hands on, including sticks, dirt and stones etc. When she started to crawl she would get under the kitchen table if Geoff was on his trike. She very soon learned to keep out of his way.
Linda cut her finger badly one day by poking it into an opened soup can. I don’t know how she managed to get up on the draining board, as she was only two years old. Once Geoff got into the larder and pulled a basin of eggs on top of himself. He once opened a jar of Virol, a food supplement, and got it everywhere. He seemed to have the knack of taking things to pieces. If it was at all possible would do it. He took all the knobs from the wireless and the stove and put them in the chicken run along with all the ornaments and rugs. He took the handle off the copper and put it into the fire.
The coach which took the men to work at the Depot used to turn around outside our house and the woman who drove it asked me if we needed another trike for Lin as her children had grown out of theirs. After Lin learned to walk they were pretty good pals on their small trikes together and Geoff looked after her quite well. Geoff had a three wheeler with inflatable tyres and we used to go shopping in Grayshott. I had a job to keep up with him. Lin learned to ride the three wheeler very early on the pedals down a little slope on the lawn and often came to grief.
11 - Bikes and Billy Carts
We moved up to 23 Superior Way, when Lin was about a year old and Mrs Ansell and Robbie Wassel lived across from us. Robbie was a year older than Geoff and was a bully. He used to chase Geoff around the block with a stick and I got fed up with it. Tom gave Geoff the stick and told him to chase Robbie and after that they became the best of friends.
Andy Ansell and Geoff got on very well together and used to hang around together. My main worry was the Waggoner’s Wells ponds and that they might be tempted to go down there. They were extremely dangerous and full of weed. Three young soldiers were drowned there one Sunday afternoon when they went out in an old punt and it sank. They became trapped in the weeds.
We used to go down there on Sunday afternoons for a walk around the ponds. There were swans and Geoff loved it there. Sometimes Kath and Ted would bring the twins, Brian and Colin, and we would all go down there.
We kept chickens and Geoff loved to collect the eggs, but people were always coming and telling me that he was poking the cockerels again. Lin and Geoff used to pick all the summer bean flowers off! We couldn’t be cross with them when they presented them to us. Tom and I used to ride our bikes with the child seats on the back with Lin and Geoff on board and walk when we got to the hills.
We often rose to Selborne and on the way back we would stop at the pub in Headley and have a drink and some crisps. It was good fun but I was worn out by the time we got home! It wasn’t so much of a hill but a long slope from Selborne to Superior Camp. On Coronation Day in 1953, we went to Ken Butcher’s, a West Indian who lived opposite, to watch it on his television. There was a celebration in a field and there were races and sideshows etc. Tom won the 100 yards race and I was mad because he fell over and split the only decent pair of trousers he owned.
There was a Walls Ice Cream van, which used to come round and at first we tried to trick the kids into thinking it was something else, but after a while they twigged. They used to call it the “bingdy bong man”.
Fred Hodgkinson made us a box kite from balsa wood and tissue paper and we took it to the old parade grounds to fly it. It got away from us and Nobby Clarke put his foot on the string and saved it. There was a man called “Tiny” who worked at the Sewage Farm and he used to give us sludge, as garden fertiliser and wood for fencing.
Bill Reynolds used to ride from Headley and leave his bike at our place. He became “Bill Bicky” to the kids as he always brought biscuits on Thursdays. The kids seemed to know it was Thursday. I took Geoff on his first day at school and he screamed his head off and tried to kick the teacher Miss Blackburn. He hated school until he was seven.
I didn’t take Lin for her first Day at school in case it was a repeat of Geoff’s performance, so Tom had the day off work to take her. She just walked in and asked where she had to sit! When Lin started school Mrs Ansell and I used to go to jumble sales at Haslemere on our bikes, but that was after Geoff had got out of the habit of running home from school. He didn’t seem to take to school very well and when he went up to Tudor House he wouldn’t go without a packet of Spangles (sweets).
Geoff was very inventive and was always making things out of odds and ends. A hole in the bottom of the garden with the old round base of a stove, and it was a car. He once covered the lawn with small tents that he had made by tearing up squares of cloth and placing them over a central stick to make a sort of square wigwam. He said it was a camp for his solders. He had a fine collection of Dinky toys, which were all the rage then. He constructed a strange flower by putting a lot of flower heads onto a stick to form a sort of small lupin and arranging the leaves from another flower around the base and it fooled us for a while!
One of Geoff’s friends was Phillip Longhurst, who lived at Headley Down. His father had a vintage Morris Cowley. He picked Geoff up one day to go to a party at their place. It was about the only party I ever remember him going to. Then we moved to Admers Crescent in Liphook. It was a brand new Council House. Geoff had to go to Bramshott Boys School then.
At first he wasn’t very good at going, but when he got used to it he was fine. They had to catch a bus on the A3 London/Portsmouth Road and then walk the mile or so up Bramshott Lane to school. Sometimes he would come home late after walking home and spending the bus fare on scratchings from the fish and chip shop or a slice of bread and margarine from Radford Café. I didn’t like that because it was dangerous road, but he survived.
Geoff learnt to ride my old Hopper bike up and down the back garden path well after Lin had learnt. Whilst learning I remember he crashed into a rose-covered trellis that Tom had built! Bikes were the love of his life and it wasn’t long before the chainguard and mudguards were removed from my old bike. He had a brand new dirt-tracking bike for on of his birthdays. He was forever dirt-tracking, whatever the weather and I always knew where he was and what he was doing.
He didn’t like fishing, too slow! He only went once with the boys who lived two doors down, Michael and David Sutton. He also made lots of billy-carts, using old wooden boxes, pram wheels and old reclaimed nails. Bert Benham, the man living next door, gave him a bicycle sidecar and he bolted it onto his bike and took him for a ride, but the best was Speedy Gonzales, a sidecar that he built to ride in the Liphook Carnival. He had young David Hodgkinson in the sidecar. Linda joined the Girl Guides and became a second. She enjoyed it but I think it disbanded in the end due to low numbers.
We had some great times at motor bike scrambles. I used to be busy on Saturdays cooking for the picnic on the Sunday and it was hot and dusty in the summer and cold, wet and muddy in the winter, but it got us out. Geoff’s favourite rider was Ron Stillo, and he used to sulk if he fell off, which invariably happened. We often went to Bognor Regis with Win Dewberry, Uncle Reg and family. We didn’t have many holidays away, but we did stay at Hayling Island for a week when Geoff was about seven and Lin about five.
It rained nearly every day. We had a bungalow and it blew half a gale most of the time. Geoff had a wooden sailing yacht and he sulked because he couldn’t sail it because the wind was too strong. We had to go to the beach, whatever the weather. We also had a fortnight at Bognor Regis at a guesthouse run by a Mrs Gutsel. We went to then pictures there and saw Harry Belafonte in “Island in the Sun” and “Yangtze Incident”.
We went to Ilfracombe to Watermouth Caves for a week in a caravan, and it was a good holiday. I wasn’t very keen as it brought out my rheumatism and didn’t agree with me at all. I don’t like donkeys and I was trapped in the caravan by a pet one that always seemed to be around.
When Geoff was about twelve or thirteen, he and George Stapley, Chris Bedlow and Mick Bradford decided that they would go camping on their bikes. They set off fine, heading off on the A3 towards Portsmouth. We were going to do some shopping at Petersfield on Saturday morning and we came upon them repairing a puncture at the side of the road. Heaven knows how they got on or where they went, but one dark thundery night about six days later when all the power had failed, I heard this squelching outside. It was two polecats, stinking to high heaven.
I gave Geoff and Mick Bradford a good meal and put them both to bed. The next day they were no worse for wear and they seemed to have had a good time.
When we had decided to move to Derby Mr McMullan told Tom about Rolls Royce and we thought it would be a good opportunity for Geoff to get an apprenticeship there if possible. He was very enthusiastic about that. Poor old Lin wasn’t so keen as she would have to go to school in Derby for a year. Geoff went off to Derby to have his interview at Rolls Royce and they were happy to take him on.
Tom and him lodged at Nan Turnbull’s in Hilton, near Derby and came home at the weekend on the motor bike and sidecar. Lin and I were alone in Liphook until Tom found a house in Derby. Tom found it a bit cold coming home every weekend on the bike so we got a Ford Anglia. It was a choice of two houses in Derby, a new one in Hilton or an old one in Chaddesden.
We all thought that Buxton Road, Chaddesden was the most convenient for work etc. Lin never really believed we would move and was very upset for a long time. I was pretty miserable too, because the house wasn’t nice and especially when one of the metal windows came away in my hand. The house made strange noises in the night that I couldn’t get used to. To crown it all Tom had to go on a course in Camberley.
I couldn’t get warm in that house. I went to bed in socks, cardigans and a balaclava! One night when the water tank was making a funny noise I asked Geoff what we would do if it burst and he said we would open the front door and sweep the water out. He told me to get into his bed and it was even colder than mine! Rolls Royce seemed to be good for Geoff and he bought a BSA Bantam motorbike. Sometimes on the cold mornings he pushed it up and down the drive a couple of times to get it going. When he came home in the evening he often had a little dog chasing him. I wonder what happened to the dog that bit him while he was riding the bike down Chequers Lane to the scrapyard one afternoon?
Soon after we moved to Derby Tom and I went to Bingo. Tom won forty two pounds. It was the first time we had been and we never went again. We found an advertisement for a caravan in Ilfracombe for forty two pounds, so we decided to go. Linda was going out with Chris and we asked him to come too. Geoff and he were on a bunk bed and in the middle of the night Geoff fell out of the top bunk and completely smothered Chris. They were up against the door and we couldn’t open it and it was a bit of a laugh!
Geoff announced that he was going to emigrate to Australia and I didn’t really think he would go through with it. I tried to block it from my mind but he was very determined and it would have been wrong of me to try and stop him. After all, I left home at fourteen and Tom at sixteen, so I guessed that would make it alright. That didn’t stop me worrying though. Linda sat on his empty bed for hours crying her eyes out, but like most things, we got used to it.
Geoff wasn’t a very good correspondent.