Welcome to the world

I have said many times that I regret not having properly listening to the stories my mother related about her childhood and the little bits and pieces about my grandmother and her own history. Now, in turn, I find that my children have the same attitude and like me they will possibly also wished they had taken in my history as well. I have therefore decided that I will write my story or rather start to write my story whether I will finish it is another matter.

I was registered by my father, Frank William Hoskins, as being born on the third day of November 1932, although my mother always claimed that I was born near midnight the day before, but because the birth was such a traumatic event, with me almost killing her as she pushed my 13lb. body into the world with the assistance of Nurse Ridpath, the midwife, that my father was in such a tither that he had no idea what time, what day or what month for that matter, that the event took place. I was named Brian on the suggestion of the midwife rather than being christened ‘ The Baby’ or ‘It’. 

The venue for this momentous occasion was a newly built, rented, semi-detached house, Shaftesbury Avenue, Chandler’s Ford, in the Borough of Eastleigh, in the County of Hampshire. It was then the first house on the southern side of the road off Bournemouth Road, the main road between Southampton and Winchester. My parents moved into this house 1929 or 30. With the exception of a small hall, a ‘School of Dancing’, the Avenue was made up of a mix of detached and semi-detached houses and detached bungalows, all built after the Great War. I have no memory of the house during the time I lived there because the family moved before I was old enough to remember my surroundings. A photograph taken in the front garden of that house, when I was about eighteen months old, show my older sister, Patricia (Pat) and brother [ cousin ] Rodney (Rod) and myself as a very plump or should I say fat little boy in a one piece bathing costume. Later I did know roughly what the house was like inside because three weeks after I was born, the next door neighbour, Mrs. Reeves gave birth to their only child, Denny. When I was at infant school I played with him at his house on a couple of occasions. 

The house was a typical nineteen twenties/thirties semi with a round arch over the front door, a small hall with the stairs on one side leading up to the three bedrooms and tiny bathroom. The doors to the front room and the dining room were off to the left of the hall, with the entrance to the very small kitchen at its end. A back door at the side and a door into a pantry or larder as it was called, further reduced the working area in the kitchen. Outside there was a lean-to on the back of the kitchen which was the coalhouse. Both the front and back gardens were small and connected by a path running along the side of the house. To compensate for the lack of immediate garden, both houses had an allotment abutting our house and parallel to the road and extending to the junction with Bournemouth Road, where there was a large hoarding on the corner facing towards the main road. It was about fifteen foot or more high. Later a wider hoarding was erected  the full width of the plot, with it’s wooden back and timber support struts facing our house and the front facing the main road with adverts for well known goods such as Bisto, Oxo and Guinness being ‘ Good for You‘.

Uncle Den, my mothers eldest brother and his wife Esme, who at the time of my birth had a daughter, June and later Hazel and Barry, lived in a typically 20/30’s styled bungalow just down the avenue on the same side as our house, whilst my Uncle Doug, another brother and his wife Mabel, who later had three children, Micheal, Robin and Jill, lived further along the road in a semi-detached house of a similar plan to the one we lived in but on the opposite side.  My Grandma and Granddad and at that time, my mothers youngest sister Joan, who was roughly twenty years younger, and at that time unmarried, lived along the main road, in a late Victorian three bedroom semi-detached house. It was only a sort distance from the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue, and only about a hundred yards from our house. At one stage, the whole Osmond family, (my mother’s maiden name), my grandparents and their ten children, five boys and five girls had lived there. 

Homeleigh

I think it was in 1934 or 5, [I’m not sure], that we moved to the northern end of the village and about a mile and a half away from Shaftesbury Avenue, to a much older property in Hursley Road. The reason for the move was probably, two or maybe three fold, to start with the house was bigger, had a larger garden, which was all important in those days, was probably less rent and from my fathers view further away from my mothers relatives, particularly my grandmother whom although, like my father, was a red hot socialist, never quite saw eye to eye with her on the subject, ironically, we in fact moved nearer one of dads brothers, Mark and his youngest sister, Rose, however, the benefits were at a cost, there was no bathroom, the toilet was outside and very out-of-date, there was no electricity, and the gas lighting did not extend upstairs, added to which because it was more rural, there was hardly any public transport. 

145 Hursley Road, which was also named ‘Homeleigh’, was built around about 1898, and one of four semi-detached houses, all owned by Mr. and Mrs. Morley who lived in one of the houses, two doors away from us. There was a similar styled detached property at one end, but four bed roomed, set forward from the others, the front being only about ten feet from the pavement. The house was obviously designed to be a business as well as a home with one front-room given over as shop and it was also the local carriers, with a brick built out-building which originally accommodated a stable and cart, later to garage a small Ford lorry, which like thousands of other such vehicles, was requisitioned by the army at the start of the II World War.
 
All the other houses in the block had gas lighting both upstairs and down, in our house it was down stairs only, because the previous tenant  had a fear of being gassed in her sleep and would not have it in the bedrooms. Although this was also a three bedroomed house, the rooms were all larger with higher ceilings and good-sized sash windows, against the smaller casement windows of the previous house. The plan of the house was also different, with the rooms both up and down stairs being directly behind each other, with the staircase placed between the front room (lounge) and the middle room (dining room).

The front entrance to the house was via a four by four foot square, single floored hall, built onto the side, directly at the foot of the stairs and between the front and middle rooms with the front door facing up the path to the gate, opposite the door was a sash window facing down the garden. The brick built hall had a parapet of fancy brickwork with a good sized lean-to wooden porch with a glazed roof to protect the entrance. The porch was open towards the road, with the lateral side filled with diamond shaped trellising. The house was built in an orange red brick, probably made in the brick field which was not far down a nearby unadopted lane called Common Road, and still active up until the second world war. 

The pitched roof was of grey slate, with two substantial brick chimneys, again with stepped out and indented fancy brickwork matching the parapet design of the hall. Buff and orange chimney pots one for each room of the house with various degrees of soot deposit topped the two stacks. There was a single floored angled bay with a slate roof and no gutter to the front room with the window to the bedroom immediately above. The kitchen and backdoor to the house was on the side, with two high steps with cement rendering. On one side, between the hall and the door, was the middle room window with a bedroom window above it. On the other side of the door, was the kitchen window. Beyond the kitchen and at the back of the house was a single floor and single brick lean-to, again with a slate roof, spanning the width of the house and that of the neighbours, this housed the outdoor toilets and from indoors a coalhouse and a walk-in larder, all had a small square window, hinged at the top.

The brown stained front door had four panels the upper two being clear glass with a net curtain hung on a sprung wire between a pair of hooks to give a degree of privacy. Having crossed the threshold into the small hall, on the left was the open entrance into the main house where there was a 3ft.square lobby at the foot of the stairs with the door to the front room or lounge as it was later called, on the right, and the door to the middle room / dining room, on the left. You had to pass through the middle room to get to the scullery / kitchen with the backdoor being immediately next to the middle room door.

Up until after World War 11, the scullery was the most lived in room in the house, not only was it used for cooking,  washing and ironing but also the majority of meals were eaten there and it was used  for most other indoor activities particularly in the winter months where the warmth from the kitchen range which was left burning all day, kept the room warm. The scullery was not that big, measuring roughly 10ft. x 12ft. [3m x 3.6m], within that area was a deep glazed stone sink in front of the sash window with the glaze worn through on its front edge exposing the ochre coloured stone underneath which was also worn down. A single cold water tap was at the back of the sink on top of a length of iron pipe, a wooden cupboard with a green painted matchwood door was under the sink. 

There was a wooden draining board on one side of the sink, later to be replaced with a thick aluminum version fashioned by my father, and a small cupboard to the same height as the sink on the other side, between the window and the door, with a mirror in a frame hung above it. Immediately next to the sink and in front of the draining board was an old fashioned gas stove made of blackened iron which required a great deal of elbow grease and blacking to keep it looking clean, it was not used a great deal in the winter months because most of the cooking was done on the kitchen range which was recessed within the chimney breast on the partitioning wall and backing the fire place in the middle room. This was also regularly blackened and the bright metal edges polished so that they shone, there was cement rendered hearth, which was whitened every week,  a surrounding fender with shinny metal tubes and ornate supports with fancy knobs on the ends corners and in the center kept one from getting to close to the range.

Above the range and more or less the full width of the breast was a simple wooden mantelpiece supported with a couple wooden brackets, with a cheap clock placed in the middle. At the door end of the mantelpiece was wall mounted gas light with an ‘S’ shaped bracket with a gas tap at the bottom, a thin glass globe protected the gasmantle and also defused the light, however, once the War had started, gas mantles and globes were hard to get and should the  mantle become delicate from use it was easily holed by the pressure of the gas and the a gas would flare out through the hole with a blue flame, making a roaring sound, consequently, through most of the war, the only light in the kitchen was from a brass oil lamp with a tall glass globe which was placed on the mantelpiece more or less immediately under the gas light.

 Beyond the range and between the chimney breast and the back wall was a brick built copper about 4ft. high with its own tiny fireplace to heat the water. The copper itself was about 2.ft. [60cm] diameter and about as deep, and as the name implies was made of that metal. A heavy, thick wooden lid with wooden handle was  placed over the drum to aid the boiling of mainly bed linen, towels, white clothes, and anything made of more robust material which was prodded and turned occasionally with wooden copper stick. Both the lid and the stick where bleached a creamy white from their constant contact with water, steam and washing materials. The copper also used to heat the water for our weekly bath, where a galvanized bath roughly 4ft. long with a handle at each end was brought in from the shed every Friday evening and placed between the copper and the larder door, and filled with hot water directly from the copper using a saucepan as a ladle.

The bath was screened by hanging a sheet or blanket over a cable stretched between the chimney breast and the larder door frame. There was not enough water in the copper to give clean water to everybody, therefore, we had to follow each other into the same water which was topped up between each use and even when the bathing was over the water was further used by emptying it into a smaller galvanized tub where some of the next weeks washing was left to soak ready for Monday wash day. Pat and I used to bath together until one day and for some reason unexplained to me, we had to bath separately. Typically back then if you asked, ‘ why can’t we bath together?’ your answer would be ‘ because you can’t’, and that was that.

Opposite the kitchen range and between the back wall and the gas stove were the latched matchboard doors to the walk-in larder and the coalhouse which opened in to the scullery, leaving just over the width of a chair between them, I think the doors and skirting was painted brown and the cupboard under the sink, green. The walls were also painted with oil-based paint, cream at the top and dark green at the bottom with an inch wide brown dado line between. The floor was covered with  patterned linoleum and in places of most wear the colour had worn away, leaving off-in some places the linoleum was worn down to the canvass backing,  this was mainly by the back door were a coarse, brown coir, door mat hid most off it.

The kitchen furniture amounted to four plain wooden chairs; a fifth had to be brought in from the dining room for Saturday and Sunday mid-day meals when all the family was present. The pine kitchen table had four brown stained legs with simple turnings; there were no supports or rungs. The table had a cutlery drawer and a leaf which was inserted for Saturday and Sunday lunches when it was covered with a cloth, most working class people covered the table with red or blue and white checkered oil cloths but Mum thought they looked cheap particularly when old as the surface became cracked and the printed check pattern worn away in places, they were not for her. For the rest of the week the table was closed up and bare and was scrubbed on wash days leaving the top a bleached creamy white.

The walk-in larder and the coal store were the same size, roughly 4ft. x 4ft. [1.25 x 1.25m.] the larder, apart from the expected shelves, had a thick slab of marble at table height along one side where it was supposed to keep some foods cool, such as butter, milk and eggs etc., but in hot weather not always successfully and the milk often ‘went off’ [sour]  and the butter rancid. In an attempt to overcome this problem, the milk and butter were sometime kept in a large earthenware jar with a lid and stored on the floor in what was deemed to be the coolest part of the room, but even this was not always successful. Flies and wasps were also very much a problem and because the small square window needed to be kept open to maximize the amount of fresh a removable fine metal mesh was fitted. Despite all the care to keep flies out there were occasions that a Bluebottle managed to get to the meat although never reaching the maggot stage nevertheless left a neat pile of tiny white eggs in some fold in the flesh. The floor of coal cupboard was below that of the scullery which meant that it was difficult to get the coal out once the stock had dropped below the floor level which was more or less all the time so eventually it was kept in the lean-to shed at the back of the house and the cupboard was used to keep brooms etc., 

You can see from what I have written that the kitchen /scullery was pretty busy and compact, with very little maneuvering space and for the housewife, very hard work to keep it clean. With only a cold water tap meant that the kettle was in constant use either being heated on the range or on the gas stove,

The middle room was much the same size as the kitchen with paneled doors, stained brown with hand applied graining effect which was carried out by my father, these led to the kitchen,  the foot of the stairs, the hall and the front room. There was also another full height door which opened out from a cupboard under the stairs, this was where the potato crop was stored in sacks, it also housed the gas meter and allsorts other bits and pieces. The room was heated by a blackened ornate caste iron fireplace with a vertical panel of ceramic tiles each side of the fire opening above it was a mantelpiece also made of caste iron, on which sat a clock with a wood surround resting on four small rounded wooden feet, this was backed a dark mahogany over mantle with a degree of carving and a small amount of fret work which  surrounded a good sized mirror. The fender was a very plain and simple in shape being made of wood covered with a thin layer of hammered copper, which was breaking away from the wood in places and did not match the design of the fire place in anyway. Stood on the hearth was a coal scuttle and on a stand hung a poker, small brush and tongs.

To one side of the fire place was a built in cupboard about 4ft. high which was of cream painted matchwood , on the opposite side between the chimney breast and the door to the kitchen was a small table on which sat the radio. The radio was typical design of the pre-war period being about 2ft. high x 1ft 6 ins. wide with a rounded top, a round cut out with a fretwork design backed by some kind of fine mesh which covered the speaker, below that was the tuning panel and under that four dark brown bakelite knobs to switch the radio on or off, change stations and volume and tuning knobs. There was a polished dining table with carved twisted legs and crossed rails connecting a square boss towards the bottom of the legs, below which, there was a rounded foot. The table which was a dark mahogany colour had a leaf to enlarge the table. The four chairs matched the design of the table and had removable padded seats covered in imitation leather.

There was a matching sideboard but for many years it was kept in the front room. In front of the sash windows was a freestanding gramophone, it was made of wood and French polished in deep mahogany, it stood about 4ft. tall on four narrow bowed legs which curved down from immediately under a deep hinged lid, to broadened rounded feet, there was a gap of roughly 9ins. between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor. The machine had a detachable handle to wind up the spring mechanism which was housed towards the top of the cabinet, under which was the sound box. The record deck and heavy stylus inside the cabinet was offset, leaving a 3in. gap running the full width of the cabinet to let the sound out. Below the sound box was the record store, I think there was no more than six records which were rarely played but I do remember the names of two of them, one was the ‘The Laughing Policeman’ and the other ‘ Bonky Doddle Ido- follow the sergeant major’ which we children found hilarious. A pair of doors with tiny knobs closed the storage area. Because it was little used, an Aspidistra plant in a large copper pot sat on a crochet mat adorned the top. In my earlier years there was a rather worn ‘chaise lounge’ sofa along one wall.

The floor was covered in beige and light brown coloured streaked and nondescript patterned lino with a cheap Persian designed mat and as was usual in those days, a slip mat in front of the doors. Why they were called ‘slip mats’ I’m not sure but they certainly did that, especially if they were laid on polished lino. As the room was 8ft. high, a brown stained wooden picture rail was set around the room, roughly 1ft. 6 in. below the ceiling, with a printed frieze immediately below that. Two framed prints with glass and mounts with the hanging cord visible were hung from the rail by a specially shaped moveable hook. The nondescript  prints were of pastoral scenes, one with cows and the other sheep. Although the wall below the picture rail was papered it was of a drab ochre colour, the ceiling including the wall above the picture rail was white. The ceiling itself was made of plaster and laths and as with all the ceilings in the house, had multiple cracks threading across it. 

 In the middle of the room was a gas light suspended about 15” below the ceiling on a tube was a small ornate globe of frosted glass with a wavy skirt around the bottom, a lever arm fixed across the top of the tube had a chain with a loop at each end, which reached to the bottom of the globe. Pulling one chain down, turned the gas on, pulling the other  turned it off.              
        
The front room/parlour/lounge/sitting room whatever, was the least used room in the house for no other reason than it had the best furnishings which had to be looked after and had to last, that ment ‘don’t use’.  I can only remember the room being used by the family on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and it was only on those days that a fire lit; consequently the room was cold because the walls had no chance to heat up. The only other times it was used, was by my mother who on fine summer days would sometimes sit and do the mending at the same time watching out for the passage of anybody or thing passing along the road, sometimes enviously as she watched a neighbour going off for the day, something that rarely happened to her or we children. The décor was rather drab in colour being generally ochres and beiges – safe colours, because it was expensive to keep redecorating, the only real colour in the room was probable in the carpet which was Persian styled, not, I might add, a real Persian Carpet. The floor, apart from the carpet was stained and polished boarding with a brown painted skirting board. It had a three piece suite in a chocolate coloured leaf design picked out by a creamy beige background but it was predominately the chocolate colour , although the arms were padded they were topped by a wooden arm rest with short turned wood supports and the seats themselves supported on round wooden feet with small castors. For many years the sideboard which was part of the dining room suite, resided in the room.
     
Like the middle room, there was a picture rail and two good sized colour prints one of ‘Bubbles’ a picture of a small boy with blonde curly hair and dressed in a dark green velvet suit, sat on a stool with a bowl on his lap blowing soap bubbles. The other was called ‘Cherryripe’, this picture was of a young girl, again with curly hair showing under what I think was called a mop hat, also sat on a stool with a bowl of cherries. The prints, which were mounted in well made black frames with glass and mounts, were painted by a well known Victorian artist for the ‘Pearl Soap, company for promotional purposes. Although I remember these prints well, in fact still have the frame of one, I think that they were the only pictures in the room. Like the middle room, the fire surround was also in caste iron with an oval mirror above. The lighting for the room was by a gas bracket on the chimney breast as in the kitchen but with a globe like that in the middle room. I can’t remember what the wall paper was like nor what else was in the room in the way of furnishings the reason being I seldom went into the room, never-the-less, when we did use the room we children were quite excited by the event.

The stairs to the upper floor had a thread bare carpet which did not extend to the full width of the tread and was held in place by triangular wooden stair rods which clipped into fancy holders. The stairs, which were quite steep by modern standards, ended on a small landing from which there was a single step up into the front bedroom and in the opposite direction into a passage which led pass the middle bedroom, directly to the back bedroom. There was no artificial lighting anywhere upstairs except by candles or oil lamps, therefore, as there was no windows the only light to the stairs, landing and passage during daylight was if a bedroom door was left open other than that the only light was a pale glow stemming from the hall at the bottom of the stairs. Like the front room downstairs, to be allowed entrance to the front bedroom, my parents room, was almost as rare. I think there was a picture rail but I’m not positive but I do remember a couple of prints of women, possibly by Holman Hunt or Rossetti in oval mounts and gold frames. The bedroom furniture consisted of a free standing wardrobe with a full length mirror a chest of drawers but I not sure whether there was a dressing table. The suite was in mahogany with cream coloured inlays, I believe there was a wickerwork chair.

The bed had a feather mattress and I think I was only allowed into it once when I was small and that was during a thunder storm, my sister was scared and so mum allowed her into her bed, although I was not that scared of the thunder I also made it an excuse, however, I didn’t stay long as I found the feather mattress, although much softer than the flock mattress I slept on, was to me, lumpy and decidedly uncomfortable. The front bedroom had a small cubicle off one side which was over the stairwell with a window facing  over the porch roof  which was used as mums wash room  and had a marble topped washstand with a large ceramic bowl and jug.  All three of the bedrooms had caste iron fireplaces which we smaller than those down stairs, they were painted in pale green or white and had flower patterns in relief each side of the grate which was black. I do not think that there was ever a fire in mum’s bedroom in all the years she lived there, and the only times that there was a fire in the other two rooms was when we children were confined to bed through the more serious childhood illnesses such as measles and scarlet fever. Mumps, hooping cough, german measles and chickenpox were not serious enough to warrant a fire.

My sisters room, although the smallest was probably the nicest of the bedrooms. There was a matchboard partition between the room and the passage which led to the back bedroom, covered with some kind of sacking which was in turn covered with wall paper. Pat had a single bed but I can’t recall what sort, a small chest of drawers, a chair and a couple of oval shaped prints of winged cherubs in gilt frames, I cannot remember what other furniture, if any, was in her room. Bedrooms, even when we were small, were private places and once vacated in the morning would rarely be visited during the day apart from a rare change of clothes, we were never allowed to use a bedroom for play. 

My brother and I shared the back bedroom which had an ornate iron bedstead with small shiny brass knobs at the ends of all the vertical bars and large knobs on the corner posts. There was also a number of round glass shapes set in ornate brass mounts, moulded to give a cut glass effect which acted as mirrors, which gave a very distorted reflection if you looked into them. The bed stood quite high with the flock mattress resting on wire mesh, like chain link fencing, suspended between two substantial wooden support rails via springs with the two rails bolted onto the ironwork frames at the head and foot of bed.  There was a large plain wooden chest of drawers set against the inner wall, a small table with turned legs between the chimney breast and the outer wall and I think a single painted wooden bedroom chair with a woven bamboo seat. A small cheap mat was placed on one side of the bed. There were no pictures on our wall which was painted in cream distemper.

Curtains throughout the house were all of thin almost threadbare material which was threaded on to spring wires with hook ends which were stretched between eyes screwed into the window frames. The curtains, when pulled barely reached the middle of the window and as they faded quite quickly it always seemed to me that my mother was constantly dying them and always yellow as this seemed to be the most efficient dye. My mothers and sisters rooms both had white net curtains, covering the bottom half of the window, for added privacy because my mother’s room overlooked the road and my sister faced the neighbour’s windows. There was no need for nets in our bedroom. There was one other piece of equipment which all three bedrooms had and that was a ‘Jerrie’ or ‘potty’, in our bedroom we had a white enameled pot with a dark blue rim, and a round handle on one side. The other pots were more decorative ceramic ones, decorated with flowers. The pots were kept under the bed and generally out of sight. That pretty much covers the details of house which was to be my home up until after the war.        

As to the garden and the surrounding environment. At the front of the house, a three foot wide path of compacted dirt and stones, probably raked from the garden, led from the pavement straight to the front door. My first memory of the garden, before we actually lived there, was that there was a rose arch about three quarters way down the path, my sister tells me that the planting was cottage style with flowers such as hollyhocks, lupins and delphiniums but no grass, however, this quickly change during our occupation when grass replaced most of the flowers beds, and the rose arch, with two much smaller rectangular beds set in the lawn about eighteen inches from the path edge with a  two foot space between each other and at each end between the front hedge and between a border set under the frontroom window.

On the other side of the path, the garden was about half the width of that in front of the bay window, with a four foot high private hedge, planted on top of an 18” high banking, which was the difference in height of our neighbour’s garden. A seven feet high laurel hedge ran across the plot at the house end of this plot, lining up with the front of the house, which screened the back garden from the road; all the gardens  in the block had this feature. There was also had a couple of rectangular flower beds at right angles to the path on this side, with a diamond shaped one in the middle.The beds were always planted with the same flowers, displays of annuals such as wallflowers, snapdragons [Antarinums] asters, polyanthus, sweetwilliams, salvias, love-lies-bleeding and some times red-hot-pokers were planted annually, the only perennials were stocks and michelmus daisies.

There were no shrubs or trees in our front garden, or in any of the others with one exception, where there was a single lilac tree, however, there were plenty of fruit trees in the back gardens, mainly apple, with every garden having at least one. Between the front porch and the laurel screening hedge, there was a four feet wide path to the back of the house which passed the porch and the hall and leading to the back door. Immediately beyond the laurel hedge and alongside the path was private hedge about four feet high and about as long, because of the lack of light at this point, the hedge, as I remember it, was spindly and small leafed. The lack of light was not only because of the laurel hedge and the high private hedge between the gardens but also because there was a large mature apple tree between the hall and the border, with the result that nothing grew in the deep shade between the tree and the hedges.

This area, for some reason, was known as ‘ the gap’, which became a sort of play area and where sometimes, we children, would have our tea on hot summer days. I was never very keen on eating outdoors and the first sight of a wasp wanting to join the picnic and I was off indoors, having suffered two very nasty reactions to stings which caused the whole of my face to swell to the point of closing my eyes on one occasion and massive swelling of an arm on another, both stings required a visit to the doctor.  As you approached the back door, the path widened leaving a rounded border between the hall and the steps to the back door. A fifty gallon oil drum mounted on a few bricks which served as a water butt, abutted the hall wall close to the path, collecting the rain water from both the main and hall roofs. It did not have a lid with the result that it was a super breading ground for mosquito’s and I remember that once I had grown tall enough to see into the drum, I would watch the larva wriggling their way up to the surface, to take in air through their tails and then sink without movement back down into the depths. Once I had learnt, disappointingly, that these creatures were not baby fish as I first thought, but would turn into the nasty biting mosquito’s then their destruction was my aim, and I would get soaked in my endeavor to bring about their end by trying to spear them with a piece of wood, which resulted in a great deal of splashing a very wet me and probably no dead larva.

Opposite the flowerbed under the middle room window was a straight border running from the apple tree to roughly in line with the backdoor where a trained Loganberry bush grew on a frame. At the end of this border there was again an area of compacted earth about eight feet wide and extending to the boundary hedge which served as the approach to the door of a ten foot by eight foot weatherboard tool shed which my father had made and which also contained a treadle foot powered  lathe also built by him. It was also on this hardstanding that there was a very robust swing, which he had also built and although we children spent a great deal of time playing around and on the swing, I particularly remember the pre-school period when I was on my own, because Pat and Rod where already attending School, that I would spend hours swinging as high as it would go, at the sametime singing at the top of my voice, songs I had heard on the radio, even if I had got the tunes right, I could rarely remember the words beyond the opening phrase, from that point on I made up the words which of course was gibberish, nevertheless, nobody stopped me. 

There was another flower border along the side of the shed and parallel to the house and extending beyond the outdoor toilet. The toilet door faced down the garden with a space in front to give access. The door was screened by another seven foot high laurel hedge, beyond which, and at a right angle was another compacted soil path leading to the doorway of a timber clad lean-to storage shed which abutted the house, it had a corrugated iron roof and no door, and was where the coal and wood for the fires was kept and also the old fashioned mangle with a massive ornate caste iron frame and wooden rollers, The shed also housed various sizes of galvanised metal washing tubs which were hung on nails along one side. The path to the shed was extended across the garden to connect to a similar arrangement in our neighbour’s garden, where, at one time there was a low gate between the properties.  A three-foot wide path, again of compacted earth and stones ran from beyond these paths to the bottom of the garden and like the front of the house the path was offset making the garden wider on one side.  The whole of the back garden was planted with vegetables with a few fruit bushes, mainly gooseberries, there was also two apple trees, a Russet and a not very good Bramley cooking apple, both trees were towards the bottom of the garden one on each side of the path. There was also a plum tree which to my knowledge never produce much in the way of fruit and was latter cut off, roughly four feet from the ground to form a post where my father fixed a hand operated pump with a lever action, to pump water up from the stream to water the garden, this was during the war and it was Rod and my job to do this during dry spells, because my father worked away from home during the whole of my young life and was only home at weekends from late Friday evenings until early Sunday evenings, it was we children’s responsibility that the vegetables were well watered and woo betide us if it was not done as he would spot the neglect immediately when he came home on Friday, to inspect the garden was the first thing he did. 

The vegetable garden path terminated at a hazel hedge where a rough stepped path led down to the stream under an arch of Hazel. There were plenty of small fish in the stream such as sticklebacks and bullheads and few bigger fish, particularly by Common Road where the stream passed under the lane through a pipe which during very wet weather was too small which caused the water to back up and explode through the pipe with considerable force boring out a deep pocket as the water was accelerated through the confines of the inadequate pipe. The banks of the stream was also the  home of water voles, and because compost heaps for most of the houses were at the very bottom of the gardens and bordering the stream, brown rats also thrived on kitchen waste particularly meat and fish bones which were all thrown on to the uncovered heaps.  

Over the stream was rough pastureland, with an unmaintained ditch running through its center which made a good area of the field, marshy, and grew all the plants associated with such wet spots. On its northern side of the pasture was an uncut hawthorn hedge and brambles, bordering the unadopted, puddled and potholed lane called Common Road, where the brickfield was. An equally unkempt hedge on its southern side, separated the pasture from another small field, on the far side, the ground rose up to another narrow field, between the two was a row of more substantial trees including several large oaks and a tall wild cherry tree, which was a real picture in the spring. There was neither a hedge nor a fence on the steam side of the pasture apart from a thicket of blackthorn which grew along the bank from our garden up to the lane and a where nightingales would sing.  At the bottom of the gardens was an assortment of mature trees, with a few mature oaks but mainly hazel and hawthorn with particularly large but beautiful red flowering one between our garden and a neighbours. At the bottom of the garden of the shop and next to the lane was a very large and tall ash tree and the favourite haunt for barn and tawny owls to hoot their way through the night.         

The house faced due west with its side facing south, which meant that the sun reached every room during some part of the day with the windows of the kitchen or scullery and the middle or dining room received sun light for most of the day and because there was a good sized gap between the houses it was never in the shadow of the neighbouring property. The front garden was roughly fifty-five to sixty feet in length and about the same length at the back, with a width of roughly twenty-eight feet border to border.  A pair of substantial brick pillars with stone caps, flanked by low brick walls with chamfered copings  bordered the pavement. On top of the walls were simple designed, black, ironwork railings comprising of a flat metal bar at the bottom with vertical round bars approximately 75mm apart passing through an upper flat bar with two bars forming a hooped top and the third flattened at the top into a pointed spear shape, with a single ironwork gate of the same design between the pillars. A private hedge trimmed to the same height as the railings backed the walls and railings. There was a single stone step down from the asphalt pavement, from where the garden sloped gently down along its full length towards the small stream at the bottom.  

All the houses in the block had the same design of front walls, railings, gates and hedges with just two with double gates. Equally, all had neatly trimmed, four foot high, private hedges between the gardens in the front with laurel hedges or varying heights between the houses in the back gardens. The slope of the back gardens to the south of ours increased considerably over the distance.

Across the road was a pair of semi-detached shops with a concrete forecourt raised some 18ins above the road level, with roughly 6ft. of compacted hardcore between the pavement and the forecourt. There was another house on the southern side of the shops with a mock Tudor facade, the house was almost hidden from the road behind a wicket fence and copper beaches. The next nearest house on that side of the road was well over a 100yds further down the road with a narrow copse of mainly small oak trees and hawthorn with one solitary gas street lamp set in the grass verge, which also had a drainage ditch running the full length of the woods.  On the otherside of the shops was Ramalley Lane, which was a short gravel lane which gave access to brick built storage sheds at the end of the shops gardens and entrances to a couple of fields but also to a small thatched cottages on that side of the lane with another on the opposite side which housed three families, one of which was occupied by my uncle Mark, my fathers brother, and my aunt Lilly and their children Harold, Dorothy and Violet.

In Ramalley, the other cottage remained occupied by the Beckinham family until well after the war, when it was demolished to make way for a scout hut and half of its garden taken to make an entrance to a new cemetery where both my parents would later be buried. That cottage was also very small with the first floor window no more than 6ft. above the ground. On the northern side of the lane and extending roughly 200ft.or more up to the cottages was a copse of mature oak trees, the copse also bordered Hursley Road for probably 300ft. up to a track which lead to an area we called ‘The Green’. This copse must have once been a site for clay extraction as a number of these large oaks, stood on mounds with small ponds at their feet. There was a footpath through the copse, leading from opposite Common Road to a couple of farm labourers cottages. Where the track and the ‘Green’ bordered the copse was a steep embankment some 6/8ft. high which was obviously the extent of the clay pit. The ‘Green’ was an area of approximately 4 acres, where the local children could play, there was an area of rough scrubby grass with a large circular area in the middle where every year, up until the war, the locals would build a large bonfire to celebrate ‘Guy Faux’ night, with the result that the ground had become totally sterile and nothing would grow there. On the road side was a large area of gorse bushes, bordered by a row or young oak trees along the road side. On its northern side was another copse of mainly mature oak trees, between the road and arable farm land, which continued for some a quarter of a mile along Hursley Road. On the western side in line with the back of the farm cottage gardens was a hedge with an ungated entrance to field. The farm cottages which I have already mentioned bordered the southwest corner, where again the clay diggings had extended to their boundary leaving a steep bank  across the fronts and down one side. Ramalley more or less terminated at the end of the cottage gardens where it continued as a  track along side the furthest garden to reach the farm cottages and the ‘Green’ from their southern side.  

I hated Mondays

I hated Mondays; Mondays were washing days, washing ‘without fail’ days, come rain, snow, ice and gale force winds the washing would still be done. The weeks washing was left to soak over Sunday night in a large galvanised tub, ready for boiling. Starting first thing on Monday morning, after first filling it with water, a fire was lit in a tiny firebox under the brick built copper which occupied the far corner of the kitchen/scullery and abutting the chimney breast which housed the cast iron cooking range, using loosely screwed up newspaper and small pieces of wood for kindling.

The copper, which as the name implies, was made of that material, was round and shaped like an inverted dome with its top flush with the brickwork in which it was set. A round wooden lid about an inch thick with a raised wooden handle was placed on top and was periodically lifted so that the clothes, mainly bed linen and towels could be stirred and prodded, dense steam would billow up every time the lid was lifted filling the top half of the room and escaping through the wide open sash window and the ‘back door’ as we called it, at the same time much of it condensing, causing rivulets of water to cascade down the painted walls, particularly in cold weather.

Once the clothes had been boiled for a couple of hours the fire would be allowed to die, the washing was then removed from the copper using a wooden copper stick and placed back in to the washing tub, the copper stick was about two foot long and roughly 1.1/2 inches in diameter with about four inches at one end forming a handle, both the copper lid and the copper stick were bleached white from the heat and steam and in time the stick would wear away. The newly boiled washing was the taken to the deep stone sink where a smaller tub was filled with hot water from the cooper and where every piece of washing was further inspected and hand washed with any remaining stains receiving individual attention using a large lump of green carbolic soap which required a great deal of ‘elbow grease’ vigorously rubbing of the cloth together, some women used a wash board and scrubbing brush for this operation but mum preferred hand power, as she thought the other method was too hard on the materials. As each piece received its individual treatment it was hand wrung to get rid of most of the water, it was then rinsed and wrung again and placed back into the large tub, when it came to hand ringing the double bed sized cotton sheets which quite heavy when wet, it required not only a great deal of expertise but also a great deal of physical strength. I used to watch mum doing this with admiration and amazed what she could do as she was not that big.

The rubbing and scrubbing was not the end of the washing effort, it now had to be wrung out, using the ‘mangle’ which was installed in the lean-to shed at the back of the house. The ‘mangle’ or ‘wringer’ was about 4ft. or more tall and approx, 3ft.wide with a heavy ornate, caste iron frame, which supported two 4inch wooden rollers with meshing cog wheels, bridging the rollers was another ornate caste iron frame with the makers name caste in raised letters, it had a screw down devise so that the pressure between the rollers could be adjusted. The rollers were turned by a handle, wide enough for both hands to grip it. The washing still in the large tub was placed on the receiving side of the ‘mangle’ with another tub set to catch the water, a third tub was required to put the newly mangled items in. The washing was fed to the rollers with one hand whilst turning the rollers with the other, once the rollers had gripped the material both hands could then be used on the handle. Each item would be fed through the machine several times with the pressure increased with each pass, this process was repeated until all of the washing was done. As important as ‘mangling’ was to speed the drying process, it also made extra work because it was very efficient at crushing and ripping off buttons.

Having ‘mangled the wash it now had to be hung out on the line to dry. Most people had a simple line of wire or cord stretched between two wooden posts about eight or nine feet high with the line running through a pullywheel at the top of one post and anchored at waist height by looping the line round a metal plate with two spigots, it was impossibly to pull the line level when fully laden with wet clothes resulting in the washing touching or nearly touching the ground in the middle of the line, therefore, a wooden prop about eight feet long with a ‘Y’ branching at the top was needed to push up the line in the middle placing the line in the ’Y’ branch and the bottom of the pole immediately in the ground under the line. It still meant that the sheets in particular were not very high above the ground and as the lines abutted the garden path, were subject to being caught up in any taller growing plants or anyone using the path.

Mum had no such problem with her line as dad had made a high line using twenty foot scaffold poles sunk and concreted into the ground at each end, the line was attached to a metal plate which had a shaped wheel that ran up and down the pole on the opposite side of the post to the line, which was pulled up by another line attached the plate which went to the top of the post , through a pully and back down to a handle operated ratcheted wheel and cable drum, this devise was at both ends. On top of each pole a smaller diameter tube on each post carried an aerial for the radio. The extra height not only got the washing out of the way but greatly speeded up the drying, however, there were many Mondays where it was simply to wet to hang out the washing and other days, where although not raining, the washing would not dry and on yet other occasions in cold weather the washing would freeze as stiff as boards.

Having at last got the washing on the line was not the end of the wetness of Mondays, the water left over from the process was used to scrub the wooden kitchen table, the steps up to the ‘back door’ and worst of all the wooden bench toilet seat and concrete toilet floor of our outside loo. The seat remained wet for a long time and it was not the most comfortable place to sit when the call was such that you could not avoid it. If as happened a lot the washing had not been hung out then some of it would be hung up in the kitchen to dry adding to the dampness caused by every thing being wet.

Unlike Pat who took a packed lunch to school I always came home, so the wetness probably affected me more than her, typically on a Monday lunch would be ‘bubble and squeak ’using the left over vegetables from Sunday which were mixed together and fried, I loved that meal which went some way to compensate for the wetness.

Monday was the most labour intensive day of the week for most housewives but Tuesday was almost as intensive as it was ironing day, particularly in our house because we did not have electricity therefore the ironing had to be done using flat irons heated on the gas stove. There were several sizes of irons and weights of iron suited to different materials. At least two were required of any different size so that whilst one was being used the other would be being reheated on the hob. The irons were made of cast iron with the sole being highly polished. A smooth tubular handle was fitted between two upright arms attached to the cast iron base. The whole iron including the handle would become very hot when heated, therefore, a padded cloth was needed to grip the iron to avoid being burnt, although that often happened.

Although I imagine many households had ironing boards much the same as modern ones, mum did not have one, instead she used the kitchen table, covering one leaf with an old blanket and doubled over linen sheet, a further piece of cloth was required to wipe the bottom of the iron before touching the cloth to be ironed, this piece of cloth was also essential to test the temperature of the iron to avoid scorching, spitting on the iron was also used to this end, although even with the best ironers this still happened, often leaving a brown scorch mark in the shape of the iron, a scorch if sever enough would quickly become a hole which meant another item to be patched.

Water was also needed to dampen clothes which become too dry, which was flicked across the item using the fingers. On top of all this, starch was also needed for many items which was also flicked on to things like collars. [When I was in the Army and stationed in Egypt, the dhobis used to take a mouth full of starch and create a fine spray by shooting the liquid across the garments between pursed lips and a swing of the head which gave an even distribution of the starch, it worked very well, but I don’t know whether there was any long term health effects from having a mouthful of starch for most of the day, as all off our clothes were starched]

On hot summers days with the gas burning to heat the irons and the sheer effort required in ironing four double and two single cotton sheets plus pillow cases and all the other clothes which amounted to nearly everything that was washed, would cause mum to sweat with it dripping off the end of her nose, despite the kitchen window and the back door being fully open, but Tuesdays was ironing day ‘come what may’ The smell of scorched cloth and starch is a memory of Tuesdays.

Wednesday afternoon was spent repairing clothes and in particular sewing on buttons which had been ripped off or crushed in the mangling process in Mondays wash, to overcome some of this destruction, cloth buttons were introduced but they were only suitable for certain garments. Darning holes in socks and woollen gloves also needed carrying out, it was more often the case of darning a darn, as all clothes had to be kept going even though they were ‘passed it’. Darning was carried out using a ‘toadstool’ a handheld polished wooden instrument which was pushed into the sock exposing and spreading the hole so that it could be properly darned in weaving fashion. There is very little, more uncomfortable, than wearing a sock or glove with either a toe of finger poking through a hole, fortunately Mum was very good at sewing and darning so we did not have to put up with the discomfort for very long.

Wednesday was ‘early closing day’ when all the shops would close at mid-day, this was a regional scheme which allowed shop workers to work the same hours per week as other workers, as they were required to work Saturday afternoon, which for most others would be time off and complied with the ‘five and a half day working week’. I say regional because which afternoon was taken off varied, with Southampton and Eastleigh it was Wednesday but in Winchester it was Thursday, which allowed shop workers somewhere to shop themselves. Nearly all shops closed for an hour at lunch times and shut again by about five or five thirty.

Thursday was shopping and visiting Gran day. The morning would be taken up with general chores, Beating rugs and polishing the lino, furniture and ornaments etc,. Sometime after lunch mum would take off with empty shopping bags to do the weekly grocery shopping at Cowleys a small shop about 1 mile from home, even though there was a similar shop immediately opposite our house but mum had always shopped at Mrs Cowleys in Bournemouth Road. The shop was the end house of a terrace and was in fact the front room. Mrs Cowley was not very tall with greying hair, she always wore a flowery wrap around apron, which fully covered her dress, with narrow tapes which tied at the back. The door to the shop was offset to one side with the whole of the rest of the width taken up with a glazed window of three panels. An ‘L’ shaped dark brown panelled counter with a leaf at one end was placed just far away from the inner and back walls to give the server passage room between it and the multi shelves carrying an array of goods .

   

First countryside walk

This is an attempt to try and capture the sights and feelings I experienced on my first countryside walk with my father which took me across a particular meadow and through a large wood which I had never been before. I was under five years old at that time, so it’s not really a story as such.

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Beyond the wooden foot bridge crossing the brook, the footpath continued through a rough pasture where a herd of cattle of mixed heritage grazed peacefully, slowly, making their way from one end of the field to the other, their tails swishing back and forth making a full arc across their hind quarters, keeping the worrying flies at bay, their heads down as they sought the more edible grasses amongst the dense clumps of soft rush, which was anything other than soft, with its multiple blades of stiff, dark green, upright cylindrical stems which was the dominant plant in the field. The cows as well as swishing their tails also shook their heads in a pivotal way to dislodge the multitude of flies from around their eyes which were only momentarily dislodged before landing again; their paddle shaped ears were also engaged as fly deterrents and used as swats.

Apart from the movement of the cows, everything else was on the move from the fluffy white clouds, to the multitude of flying insects of bees and flies of different types, with the taller grasses answering the puffs of wind as they waved  back and forth, equally nothing was silent, the bees and flies buzzed, the grass whispered and the cows snorted and mooed whilst high above us, so high as to be almost out a sight, skylarks sang their songs, rooks and crows at one end of the field added their own voices whilst at the other and in the next meadow, pewits, lapwings or plovers being other names, with their black and white plumage, wheeled and dived whilst making their own distinctive call. 

We three children were also on the move as we followed our father who being profoundly deaf walked silently ahead whilst we played, laughing, chattering and arguing as we ran about jumping over the tuffs of reeds or using them as stepping stones, or picking a buttercup and placing under each others chins to see if we liked butter, if its yellow colour reflected on our skin, apparently we liked it. We also picked one or other of the many types of larger daisy like flowers, growing in abundance amongst the reeds, pulling off its petals, one by one, accompanied with the old rhyme ‘she loves me,’ as you removed the first petal and ‘she loves me not’ as you removed the next and so on until all the petals were removed, the last one being either ‘she loves me’ or sadly ‘she loves me not’ 

There was some distance between the brook across the meadow to the woods beyond, the grassy path unlike most of the field was devoid of the soft rush with much of its it’s length covered instead with rich yellow meadow butter cups which to a young child had a special smell which quickly becomes blunted with age. Each step along the path disturbed grasshoppers which would jump and flit ahead of our feet, only to be disturbed again and again as we advanced, small brown and meadow brown butterflies flitted beside us and seemed to keep company, as did a following of flies with the intent of landing on us and kept at bay by using our hands and arms much like the cows swishing their tails. Every cow pat and there was plenty of them to be avoided, had its own group of orange coloured soldier beetles collecting moisture from the newly deposited dung. In contrast to the clumps of olive coloured rushes were tall spikes of ragwort dotted throughout the pasture with bright green leaves with more soldier beetles foraging amongst the heads of ragged yellow flowers and where later the plants would be the food source of masses caterpillars of the cinnabar moth, hairless, brightly banded in orange and black which would strip the leaves down to a skeleton of veins.

The herd of some twenty cows were straddling the path by the time we were a quarter of the distance to the wood and walking through a herd of cows would be a new experience for me as an under five year old, but it was the path we were about to take, although it became a regular route in the future.  My father who was well versed in the ways of the countryside lead my brother, sister and myself along the footpath, as we approached the cattle, which loomed bigger and bigger as we got nearer and nearer.  The cows back then all had horns and with this particular mixed herd every type and shape was present, as was their colouring. The cattle, which had to this point ignored our approach now raised their heads from the grass and whilst still chewing their last bite, turned their heads to stare at us, with tails swishing, heads shaking, ears batting and flanks twitching. We children stopped our play and fell in ‘line astern’ and in ‘close order’ behind Dad as we approached them, without a change in his  pace, ‘head on’ so to speak, at which point these giant horned beasts stopped chewing and turned not only their heads but bodies so that they all faced us ‘head on’ with a look which seemed to say, ‘one more step and we will charge’ but still my father kept walking towards them with an unaltered, unfalteringly pace, to almost touching the nearest cow, which suddenly moved backwards and sideways to get out of the his way as did each cow that had straddled the path, almost forming a guard of honour  with their horns pointing towards us, so we passed through their ranks with each cow turning its head to stare at our passing, I looked back to see that almost immediately that we had passed they were back to grazing as if we had never been. Was I scared and afraid? yes I was, although I tried not show it, as they were almost twice my height with their heads being almost as big as me but the lesson learnt was they we just as scared and afraid of me as I was of them  and as I grew older I would approach cattle in the same way as my father.

Beyond the cows the path led to a stepped stile into the woods, predominately of oak trees, known as Knightwood, an extensive woodland which bordered the pasture and arable fields which flanked it. At my age and at that time I thought it was ‘Night’ wood so named because it was dark inside. Although I was familiar with being in woods, usually they held no fear for me but the name alone made Knightwood different, The trees were bigger, older and closer together, the branches of those on the edge projected some thirty feet out above the pasture, bowing down to a point that the cows at full stretch had cropped the growth to an even height along the whole length of the field. The soft rushes were absent in the deep shade cast by the trees dense foliage. A barbed wire fence supported on timber posts topped a low embankment often with the wires stapled into the trunks of the mature trees, with between them, hedge plants such as hazel and hawthorn, struggling to compete with the mature trees forming the border between field and wood.

The field we had almost crossed was full of warm bright sunlight but our following of annoying flies immediately deserted us as did the warmth of the sun as we moved into the shadow of the trees and reached the stile. Before clambering over the stile my father stressed that we were to keep strictly to the foot path, be quiet and keep our voices down once we were in the woods, as the ‘gamekeeper’ was very strict about such matters. I was very unsure as to what a ‘gamekeeper’ was but I was not keen about meeting one, particularly as father lowered his voice almost to a whisper whilst passing on his instructions. 

In contrast the noisy meadow the wood was silent, what bird song there was seemed distant and high up in the canopy of leaves, the birds unseen. The oak trees inside the wood were different to those on its boundary with tall bare trunks and branches only near their tops; some were ivy clad to their full height. The narrow footpath which was no wider than the prescribed ‘one man and his dog’ immediately sloped up from the stile and meandered between the trees, adding to the closeness and darkness were large dark green, yew trees which appeared nearly black in the shadows of the oaks and a great many equally dark holly trees growing close to the path added to the sense of gloom. To further add to the gloominess, as soon as entered the woods the sun chose to hide behind a cloud, dimming the already dark wood still further. As we proceeded close together and in single file and in silence, up the narrow path, the sun reappeared throwing beams of light through gaps in the leafy canopy which hit the trunks, branches and leaves, leaving spots of brightness and colour within the gloom, flashes of silver light bounced off the dark green glossy leaves of the holly bushes and brilliant green were it fell on the newly growing bracken, myriads of tiny midges were caught in the beams as they danced up and down against the dark of a yew tree like dancing stars. This ever changing kaleidoscope of colour and sun beams kept pace with us we reached the end or the rising ground which levelled out as we continued, a blackbird making a dash from cover from a bush very close at hand, chuck, chuck, chucking its alarm call as it sped away made me jump, high up in the canopy there was sinister thwacking sound from the wings of a number of bigger unseen birds as they took off, disturbed by our presence, from a distance came an echoing ‘squawk’ sound of a jay and the hollowing ‘rat-a-tat’ sound of a woodpecker as it hammered a tree which echoed through the woods, what birds we did see were flashes of colour as they flew speedily between the trunks and branches.

Still keeping close together, in line astern and obediently keeping more or less silent, as instructed, we passed through a particularly dense stand of holly bushes to find our path transverse by another footpath running north to south but unlike the closeness of the one we were on, this one, although the path itself was equally narrow, was through a beautiful avenue of very mature and majestic beech trees with very little undergrowth to detract from their gracious smooth greeny/grey bark. The woodland floor, apart from the path and a few clumps of spiky dark green ‘butchers broom’, was still covered by a layer of copper coloured beech leaves from the previous winter. Unlike the darkness of our passage up to this point, there was a warm glow with the sun shining through the bright green leaves as well as the beams of light escaping through gapes in the canopy, these shafts of light speckled the floor with spots of gold where they shone on the discarded copper leaves and nearly white patches where they touched the trunks of the beeches. The avenue was less than two hundred yards long before each end was closed off by the darkness of holly and oak, it was like being in the nave of a cathedral, although at that time I had never been in one, with the boles of the trees acting as columns and the branches forming arches and tracery as they meshed high above us. We headed north from about halfway along the avenue where at one point we came across a weasel which ran ahead of us straight down the path we were treading, its skinny body undulating, first in shade then in sunlight, one second dark brown, the next chestnut, it went quite a distance before veering off to the safety of the undergrowth, that incidence by itself was enough to make my day, at the same time I was shortly to know what fate awaited its kind. 

As we passed to the end of this open and colourful beech walk, oak, holly and yew trees took over and we were back into the type of woods we had experienced earlier, we had not walked far into this area  when I saw a figure of a man ahead of us, he was stood sideways on in the middle of the path with a broken twelve bore shotgun in the crook of his right arm with his left hand gripping the barrel and was looking intently up at the tree canopy, he wore a flat cap, tweed jacket. waistcoat, striped shirt with a stiff white detachable collar and a narrow tie, his trousers appeared to end just below his knees with his lower legs enclosed in light brown leather gaiters, on his feet in he wore darker brown boots. Only when he became aware of our approach did he drop his skyward glaze and turn to stare at us, the rest of his body remaining in the same stance and blocking the path. Father carried on walking in his easy going unalterable pace towards the man who continued to gaze at us with an expressionless look, only at the last moment did he step aside to let us pass, ‘mornin’ said father to the man at the same time as touching the rim of his trilby hat, ‘mornin’ came the unenthusiastic reply, ‘nice day’ added father, ‘seen worse’ said the man, equally unenthusiastically and that was all that was said. As we passed I could see that his face was ruddy and weather beaten with traces of blue, his small eyes under heavy eyebrows were unblinking as he stared down at me with a look that seemed to say ‘I hate kids’ which he probably did.  I have no idea how old he was as at that time of my life anybody that was not a child was to me, very old. As we moved further away from him I looked back to see the he had moved back to his original position but still stared after us, only when we were almost out of sight did he turn his head skywards again staring intently towards the same tree top. ‘Who was that man? I asked my older brother, in a voice just above a whisper, ‘that’s Mr Andrews, the Gamekeeper’ he said ‘what is a Gamekeeper?‘ I asked, ‘you’ll find out soon enough’ was his unsatisfactory whispered reply.

Not much further on from our encounter with the man, which I now knew was the Gamekeeper, I became aware of a smell that was new to me, a sweet sickly and unpleasant smell, the path at this point ran a short distance close to a wheat field with a barbed wire fence between the field and the wood, a small section of wire was exposed and free of any plant life, instead it displayed a lot of dead creatures in varying states of decay, hung on the wire, forming grotesque shapes and from which came this pungent smell. There hung the corpses of jays, magpies, rooks, crows, squirrels, weasels and a stoat, my father gave this display no more than a passing glance and as usual never altered his pace and offered no explanation as to what we were seeing but to my sister and myself it destroyed what had been an exciting mornings walk, I asked my brother who had killed the creatures, ‘the Gamekeeper shot them’ he said ‘Why?’ I asked, ‘better ask dad’ and that question would remain unanswered until we got home……..

 

Family life

At the start of the War practically every form of entertainment like theatres and cinemas were closed, although this was relaxed as the war progressed, not that this affected me, I had only experienced being in a cinema once before the war and before I started school, that one visit was in The Picture House one the two cinemas in Eastleigh, they were opposite each other in the High Street. The Picture House was the older of the two with marble steps leading up to the foyer and much more like a theatre as was its décor both inside and outside, I don’t know its history but maybe it was a variety theatre originally. The film I saw must have been a popular one, featuring Shirley Temple, when she was about five years old, in which she sang a song she was famous for ‘ On the good ship Lollypop’, whatever the film was about I’ve know idea but it was one of those films that one had to queue to get in, standing room only, at the back of the stalls was all that was available for mum and our neighbour Mrs Welch so they had to stand at the back of the stalls with mum holding me in her arms throughout the whole performance, a vague remembrance of moving pictures in black and white is all I remember about the visit. I think that it was the only time Mum ever went to a cinema.

For my family, a trip to the beach, before the war, was a one day, once a year affair and that was a Sunday School outing with the Congregational Church and was always to Southsea. Although I had been Christened in the Church of England at St Boniface Church in Hursley Road, my mother did not like Vicar, so we children were sent to the new Congregational Church in Kings Road, where Mr Frith was the priest. I’m unsure whether I started Sunday School before day school but there is a fair chance that I did as think that I remember two trips to Southsea before they ceased, due to the war. How we got to Southsea I assume was by train, I don’t think we went by Charabanc [coach] as they were the called but I do remember very clearly the last visit because there was a pool near Southsea Castle and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour where you could hire a small paddle boat, suitable for children, with the paddles being operated by hand with handles, each boat had a number painted on it, so that you could be called in when your time was up. Whilst I was paddling around I saw a large battleship making its impressive and silent entrance into the harbour with the sailors lining the decks, emblazoned on the bow of its grey hull were the words ‘Iron Duke’ in relief and in black lettering. The ship was a WW1 ‘Dreadnought’ the type of obsolete ships we started the war with, although I did not know that at that time, to me it seemed so close that I could almost touch it, with its massive guns pointing fore and aft, it formed such a lasting impression that I can still see that ship in detail seventy-six years later.

There were the odd trips to Southampton and Winchester and occasional visits to more distant relatives. There were three relatives that I enjoyed visiting, although in general I hated visiting anyone. Firstly, there was Aunt Kit who lived in Winchester, she was one of Dads sisters. Aunt Kit and her husband Cecil and two children, Grace and Frank, lived in Stable Gardens, a narrow street off the High Street just below the West Gate. They were caretakers for the offices and showroom of the Winchester Coal and Coke Co., which their rented house backed onto, the house had no garden, just a tiny Courtyard surrounded by high brick walls and an entrance door through one that abutted an alley. One thing I liked about Kits house was that it had a cellar which to me as a five or six year old was a great adventure to go down into. Kit was short and dumpy, as were his other four sisters. All but one of Dads five sisters were deaf with the exception of Edith the eldest. Unlike like his sisters, Dad and his two brothers, although also short, were slim, neither of his brothers went deaf. Kit, despite being short and dumpy, was a very smart and good looking and fun to be with. Back in those days with very little to entertain, visitors, particularly if they had children and especially in house without a garden, was to go for a walk and I loved the walks we had around Winchester, with its ancient buildings, and along side of the River Itchen with its mills and around the medieval City Wall and passing through ancient gateways into the Cathedral Close with the beautiful Cathedral.

Another attraction was on occasions we travelled to the city by train and a train was always better than a bus as far as a young boy was concerned. Winchester, up until the time that ‘Beaching’ destroyed hundred of miles of track, had two stations, the main station on the Southampton/London track the western side of the city and Chesil Station on the eastern side, which was built against the flank of Chesil hill, I believe this was a single track known as the ‘Watercress Line’ because its main roll was to transport watercress, to market from the many beds sited on the Itchen River north of Winchester. This branch line started at Shawford and crossed the Itchen and the valley via a brick built multi arched viaduct and through a long dark tunnel approaching the station. I think the track then headed to Alesford and Alton and beyond.

It was by visiting Aunt Kit that I fell in love with Winchester back then, which was reinforced over the period that I was an Art Student there, but then planners started to ruin it.

Another place I liked to visit was Mums cousin who we called Auntie Maggie, she was one of mums cousins on grandmas side of the family and lived her sister, Lilly, and her husband, in a brick built detached house in Burley, a small village in the New Forest. To get to Burley was to me an adventure having to catch a train, which was in itself was an adventure, first from Chandlers Ford to Eastleigh, then a main line train from Eastleigh to Brockenhurst on a much bigger, faster train with a corridor, the local trains had individual compartments without any connection between them. Having reached Brockenhurst we then changed to another train, a real ‘puffing billy’ which chuffed its way to a place called Holmsley. As far as I remember the station was devoid of any other buildings anywhere near it, from this isolated station we had to walk almost two miles to reach Burley, through the unfenced forest, which was again a new adventure, with wild ponies crazing on the verges and crossing the road unmolested. On the occasion that I am recalling we passed an army camp under canvas, presumably on manoeuvres, a probable forerunner of what was to become common as we approach the then undeclared war. Apart from the sight of about thirty bell tents and a couple of marquees, there was an armoured car, which was no more than a gun turret mounted on a large car like a an old Rolls Royce, I’m sure it was a veteran from WW1, this was the type of equipment that we entered the WW2 about a year from my seeing it. It is hardly surprising that the Germans overrun us so easily with their super modern equipment, our politicians continue to make the same mistakes even today and expect our soldiers to fight with poor out dated and insufficient equipment.

I loved the novelty of Maggies house, which was detached, apart from the sight of ponies and even pigs grazing immediately outside their boundary fence, was that their domestic water was pumped up from a well to the kitchen sink, using a lever operated pump with an up and down action which gushed water out of a quite big spigot on the down stroke. Maggie had no children of her own but she was certainly knew how to handle them and I was very fond of her.

The third relation that I was happy to visit was Dads brother, Mark. Mark, his wife Lily and three children, Violet, Dorthy and Harold, moved house three times in a short space of time, just before the outbreak of war, firstly they lived very near to us in a semi-detached thatched cottage in Ramally Lane just across the road from our house. The cottage [now demolished] was a half timber affair and pretty run down, it had quite a large garden with lots of different apple trees with very different tastes and lovely tastes at that, the cottage, like Maggies relied on well water but here it was wound up on a rope with a bucket on the end. I can’t remember what sort of toilet Maggie had but at this cottage it was a privy down the garden and like so many cottages of the period the privy was under the spread to a yew tree, I never used either. I remember being upstairs in the cottage with my cousins and kneeling on the floor was able to look through gaps between the floor boards at the adult activity going on below, The tiny upstairs windows were practically on the floor.

Mark and his family then moved to a 1920 semi-detached house in Common Road, I think I only went there once and wasn’t anyway near as interesting and don’t remember any thing about it worth mentioning. Their third home was at Crampmoor, Nr Romsey, the house had been a pub called ‘Ye Old House at Home’ and the washed out lettering on the gable end of the building attesting to this, was still easily read. The only way that we could get to Crampmoor was to walk, unless we caught a bus to Hursley and then another from Winchester to Romsey, which still left a long walk down Crampmoor Lane. The walk, from home, was about three miles, the first leg was along footpaths through Ramally across the fields to Knightwood, then along Flexford Road, passing the St Johns Church, a small and ancient church dating back to Saxon times. I recently discovered, that in the graveyard are the graves of twenty two Hoskins including my Great Grandfather, [ I have now completed an oil painting of the church which has altered very little from my first sight of it] we then walked almost the full length of Pound Lane and then along Green Lane which was not much more than a farm track, and finally into the lower end of Crampmoor Lane, crossing a ford and the level crossing with its Gatekeepers cottage, which much later, one of my cousins would became the Gatekeeper. Having crossed the Eastleigh to Romsey railway track, uncle Marks house was about three hundred yards further on. The brick built house was pretty old and a bit tumbled down but it had about two acres of land, which backed on to the railway, it was owned by Dads second cousin, Harry Hoskins, who lived opposite St Boniface Church in Chandlers Ford and ran a successful coal and coke business and a hardware shop on the corner of Southampton Road and Leigh Road not far from my Grandma’s House, he also had a depot off of Hursley Road, just up the road from home [now a Drapers Tools warehouse]. ‘Ye Old House at Home’ had very low ceilings and small windows which made it rather very dark inside with the kitchen being particularly gloomy. nevertheless, despite this the house was very inviting. Auntie Lil always made us very welcomed, she was not very tall and was slim but full of go and seemed to be involved in every organisation in the village, apart from that, Uncle Mark kept pigs which added to the attraction of the place, we loved scratching their backs.

Mark was a ‘ganger’ with Southern Railway, his job, together with several other men, was the maintenance and upkeep of the railway track between Eastleigh and Romsey and further on to Dunbridge, this included keeping the vegetation on the embankments and cuttings in check, with once a year burning off the long grass, this was important because steam trains showered red hot sparks out of their funnels, often catching ripe wheat fields alight in late summer, if the embankments had not be burnt off the likelihood of this happening was increased. Another task was to keep the whole track from embankment to embankment weed free and weed free it was, finally and most importantly, was to make sure the track was safe. The lines of a railway tracks were mounted on wooden sleepers via a cast iron cradle bolted to the sleeper, the actual line was then locked into the cradle using wooden wedges, about 6ins long x 4ins deep x 3ins wide, these were hammered home using a specially designed long handled hammer, the ‘gangers’ job was to make sure that all these wedges were fully knocked home and to replace worn and broken ones. Another task was to check that the bolts securing the ‘fish plates’, metal plates which connected the individual lengths of rail, were fully tightened. The width of the gap between each rail was important and had to be wide enough to take up the expansion of the rail in hot weather, this gap gave the familiar ‘clickity clack’ or ‘tumpty – tump’ sound as the carriage wheels passed over them.

All of Marks children were a lot older than me, Violet the oldest was 10years older, all of them served in various armed services during the war, Harold was in the navy, Violet in the WRENs, I’m not sure about Dorthy but I think she was also a WREN. I gather that Violet used to push me out in my pram when they lived near us, She could play the piano and they had an upright one in what I suppose was their front room, I had quite a good singing voice and on one visit they wanted to hear me sing, being very shy I would not oblige but after a great deal of persuasion I agreed only if just Violet was in the room to play the piano and that the door was shut, so a sang a song, stood facing the door, I can’t remember what the song was nor if my audience could actually hear me through the door, never- the- less I got applauded, but for me I was red in the face with embarrassment.

Although my father’s family lived only about a mile from home in a semi-detached brick built house in School Lane, we rarely visited them. I never knew my Grandfather as he was already dead when I was born and did not know that much about my grandmother. Two of dads siblings were still at home when I was about five years old, Fred and Rose, Fred kept bantams to which I would feed grass, and that was about the most exciting thing that I can remember about that house. Dads sister Mary who lived next door, would always come round when we visited, and she was very deaf like my father. There are two memories that I have regarding grandmas house. My Father used to take Pat, Rod and I on country walks on a Sunday morning, more often than not we went through Knightwood in one direction or another, sometimes this lead us past Grandmas house, and that is exactly what we did, walked passed it, without calling in, but on one occasion it did not work out as Dad planned. Opposite Grandmas house was the play ground of the local senior school, which was unfenced, at that point it was a clay bank with scrub growing on it, as I ran up the bank I slipped and fell on to a broken milk bottle, badly cutting my knee, resulting in us having to go into the house to clean up the wound. The cut was about an inch long and deep, now-a-days that would mean a trip to the A&E for stitches and a Tetanus injection but back then it was washed and bandaged and that was that, but I was left with a scar which widened out to about a quarter of an inch and which I still have to this day. Another memorable visit was when Dads mother died, I don’t know how old I was but I remember being carried, I think by dads sister, Rose, around the bed where the body of Grandma lay, her eyes and mouth were open and Dad closed her eyes placing a penny on each to keep them closed and tied her mouth shut using a thin scarf. The remembrance of that occasion has put me off ever viewing any one that has died because I don’t want my memory of that person to be that of a corpse.

Eastleigh was about the only we place that we could visit regularly in the early stage of the war and it was a ‘one eyed ‘ working class, railway town, which most Fordonians regarded as a ‘ bit of a dump’ and ‘one eyed’, even though many worked there, mainly in either the railway Carriage Works or the Engine Works of the main construction works of the then Southern Railway, there was also Perelli General an Italian cable works which was an extensive factory in the middle of the town, it was taken over from the Italian ownership once Italy declared war against us, there was also a large printing works under the name of Caustons who’s main work came from printing ‘Littlewoods’ football coupons . Most of the men from Chanler’s Ford working in these factories were artisans and skilled craftsmen, therefore Chandler’s Ford regarded itself a cut above Easleigh. Our visits to Eastleigh were usually shopping trips and included an annual trip to buy shoes in Olivers Shoe shop which were not available locally, the proprietor would greet dad like a long lost friend and welcome us into his shop, [Mum never came on these trips], would buy each of us one pair of shoes and possibly a pair of sandals which had to last a year. Before one got to wearing the new shoes it was the practice that steel tips and studs or brads were hammered onto the souls and heels to extend the shoes life and nearly ever father had a ‘last’ and would repair shoes themselves or if that was beyond them then they would be taken to the cobblers for repair, in our case that cobbler was Mr Croad who lived five doors away in a identical house to ours, he worked from a couple of sheds situated along side the house. Mr Croad was extremely short sighted and wore pebble glasses with very thick lenses and had to hold the boot or shoe he was inspecting almost touching his nose to see what needed to be done and equally as close, to see whether he had done it, he had a petrol driven stitching machine in one shed which he would usually use only once a week, we knew when he was doing so because of the pop pop noise the engine made which audible from our garden.

If we were lacking in what would now be regarded as the ‘good things in life’ did we feel ‘hard done by? No we did not, that was life and what you’ve have never had, you don’t miss.

Kings Road School

Kings Road School at the time that I attended had altered little from the time it was built until after The Second World War, apart from two additional timber built classrooms, which I imagine were added sometime during the late twenties or early thirties, to accommodate children from all the new houses in the southern half of the village and Council housing at Fryernhill. Two air raid shelters were also built abutting Kings Way in 1938.

The original brick built school had three class rooms connected by a corridor running from east to west with entrances at both ends, at the western entrance there was a flight of steps leading up to double doors, immediately beyond both entrances was an area for coats and a row of sinks suitable for children, boys at the western end and girls at the other, between these two areas was the staff rooms and the Headmistresses Room.

The main building was centrally heated by a coal or coke fired boiler in a room underneath the westerly classroom, Access to the boiler room was outside but abutting the southern side of the classroom with a flight of steps down to it, iron railings and a gate prevented any unauthorised entry. Although there were low set hand basins suitable for infants in the cloak rooms, I think there was only cold water taps, but of this I cannot be sure as I have no memory of ever using them. There was a school bell which was rung every morning for, I think, ten minutes, before the start of the school day.

The bell was situated at the apex of the gable end of the middle classroom with bell rope just inside that room. It was deemed a privilege for any child called upon to ring it, however, the bell ceased to be used at the advent of WWII as were all bells including church bells which were to be rung only if there was an invasion. The Toilets were outside the main school in two separate buildings, the boys was across the playground close to the western boundary, it was a brick built windowless building with a single WC at one end which was roofed, but the urinal was open to the elements and quite smelly. I am not sure where the girl’s toilet was nor what it looked like other than it was somewhere behind the staff rooms.

To the east of the main building there was brick retaining wall roughly two metres from the school and about 60cm high, beyond which was a raised grassed area running up to the boundary with Kings Way and King Road, and the site of the ‘above ground’ air raid shelters. At the other end, were the wooden classrooms, which might well have been ex WW1 army huts, These two classrooms were heated by coke stoves and stoked by the teacher, they used to glow red with heat at times, but the heat generated did not reach the back of the rooms. The floors were of bare and uncovered boarding as were those in the main building. A further strip of grass ran along the northern boundary from the wooden classrooms across to the western boundary and abutting the asphalt playground and a passage which separated the main building and the huts. It was at the far end of this run of grass that the boy’s toilet was sited.

The asphalt playground was on the western and southern side of the school reaching across to both boundaries and up to the grassed area. The whole site was surrounded by iron railings with a double gate more or less opposite Mead Road and a single gate at the eastern end of the paved area. Four large lime trees planted close to the railed fence bordered Kings Road with a fifth one mid-way along the western fence, these trees were probably planted at the time the school was built, which would have made them roughly thirty years old at the time I started school There was also an old apple tree on the grass area just beyond the entrance gate. Boys and girls were very much kept apart both in the classroom and also in the playground where there was an invisible line across the play area more or less centred on the middle classroom across to Kings Road which separated the two, girls at eastern end and boys at the other.

Both my older brother and sister attended the King Road school and at the time my brother was there, Kings Road was unadopted and there was a ford at the Park Road end with a wooden foot bridge along the northern side of the road, by the time that I started School the road had been adopted and there was a properly built bridge, nevertheless, the school was set in a rural or semi rural area with rough pasture land bordering Kings Road on both sides, from Park Rd. On the northern side was a meadow, with the hollowed stump of an oak tree which had been struck by lightening, the stump was six to eight feet high with a ‘V’ shaped opening from its top down to the base large enough for a child to climb into the blackened hollow. The meadow abutted the newly built Congregational Church with just one detached house between it and the school. On the southern side and up to Mead Road which was a rough gravel track all the time I was at school and was only adopted sometime after the war. As I attended Sunday School at the Congregational Church as well as day school, meant that I made the journey from home to Kings Road six days a week

In those days, parents had very little contact with the teachers, only visiting the school on a few special occasions during the year such as Easter and Christmas, in fact I think my older sister took me to school on my first day and I do remember that I started to go home at the morning break thinking that was it for the day, I had almost reached Park Road before I realised that no one else was following, so I crept back, the school day seemed to last forever.

I only experienced one year at Kings Road School before WW11 as the starting age at that time was five years old and because the new intake was after the summer holidays and my birthday was in November I was nearer six than five when I started, so I cannot judge how much I lost out as a result of that conflict. I certainly did not miss out on holidays as they were a rarity for working class families who would be entitled to one week a year at the most and in many cases even less, almost ever man had to work Saturday mornings, which was still the practice well into the fifties, thus trips out at weekends would be very limited, with Sunday being very much a day of rest with hardly any transport running, the chances of going anywhere on that day, apart from sedate walks were very unlikely. A couple of day trips out during your father’s holiday would be as much as you could expect, even this was curtailed when war started as beaches were out of bounds, being mined and with various types of barriers erected to hamper any landing.

.My first classroom was in the most easterly one in the main building and my first teacher was Miss Bourne who was probably about 30 years old, in truth I’m not very sure how old any of the teachers were because as a five year old, anyone older than 20 looked old, very old or very very old, Miss Bourne lived at Castle Hill Farm along Flexford Road, in fact she was the farmers daughter, and cycled to the school everyday. She used to dress in a grey pleated skirt with white or cream colour blouse and a navy blue cardigan, she had dark hair which was sometime permed into corrugated waves. Whether she was qualified or whether qualifications to teach at primary level were necessary in those days I do not know, nevertheless, she managed to install in her charges the bases of English and maths, in fact she quickly realised my talent for drawing. In those days, in the first year we sat at desks with bench seats designed for four children, and used slates to learn our letters and tiny sea shells for learning to count. Once allotted a desk and seat position it would be where you sat every school day for the whole of the year, which was the practice for all the classes throughout my school years.

Miss Goulding the Headmistress taught the six year old class, which was in the middle and largest room. As far as I remember, she was slim and tallish but quite old. Her hair, which she always wore in a bun, was grey as were her clothes, she wore long grey skirts, grey stockings and high necked blouses, also, grey with maybe fine white vertical stripes and lace around the collar and cuffs. She always wore a long close knit grey cardigan, with pockets and a large cameo broach at her throat. She either wore simple shoes with a buttoned strap or laced boots which were always black. Her teeth were yellowish and she tended to shower you with fine spit when she spoke to you close up. To add to her look of authority she wore small pince nose glasses at the end of her nose, although very strict, she was soft spoken and a kindly lady and if you pleased her in one way or another you were invited to her room to choose one ‘dolly mixture’ sweet, as a reward. A ’dolly mixture’ was about a six millimetre cube which was not a massive reward but an important one. I don’t think anybody could not like Miss Goulding.

Mr. Lush taught the third year children in one of the wooden classrooms, he had been brought out of retirement to teach at the outbreak of WW11. I believe he had been headmaster at the Senior School in Bournemouth Road, which ceased to be a school in 1939, He was slim and upright but not very tall and bald, what hair remained was nearly white. He wore a Hitler type of moustache, white like his hair, and small round, wire framed glasses. He was distinctive in his dress, wearing as he did, plusfore trousers, full length tartan patterned socks and brown boots. Added to this he wore tweed jackets with leather patches at the elbows with additional leather trimming on the cuffs and collar, this was a common practice during the war as it extended the life of the garment, a waistcoat and striped shirt with a starched white collar, bow tie, flat cap and a walking cane completed his apparel. The walking cane was more to do with appearances than as a walking aid. Mr. Lush most definitely considered himself ‘a cut above’ as the saying goes and had a bit of a swagger, this was echoed in the class room where all his movements were a little bit exaggerated He was the strictest of all the teachers and if you upset him he would make your life hell, not so much with beatings but by humiliating you in front of the rest of the class, he would keep on until you were in floods of tears and was often not satisfied until his victim be they boy or girl wet themselves to complete there humiliation.

I got on reasonably well with Mr. Lush although I did upset him once, I cannot remember why, but at least I did not get the full treatment, in fact I think I was one of his favourites, for some reason, generally I preferred to stay unnoticed and in the background, an attitude which has stayed with me for my whole life.

Mr. Lush thought it a good idea for his charges to learn to grow vegetables, so each child was allotted a tiny plot between the bracing bars supporting the iron railings between the eastern school gate and Kings Way. The tools used were his own and I had the job of collecting and returning them to his house which was in Brownhill Road near its junction with Kings Way, in a home made wooden barrow with pushchair wheels. I don’t think the gardening was a great success, for I cannot remember ever picking any crop or even a single bean, in any event the scheme only lasted a year.
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Mr Lush also took us on nature walks which we loved, mostly because it got out of the confines of the school, boys regarded picking wild flowers as being sissy’ish, if there is such a word, unless the word ‘poisonous’ was mentioned, then they became ‘all ears’. On one occasion we visited a large yew tree which grew on rough ground off Kings Way, not far from the school, Mr Lush pointed out that it was poisonous in all its parts except for the red flesh which encased the dark green seed, this he said was edible and gave some of us seeds to sample, it was sticky and sweet a quite a nice taste. Nowadays Health & Safety gurus would have the tree chopped down and miss the fact that there are dozens of common, wild and garden plants which are equally or more poisonous than the yew, Mr. Lush taught us which was which and as far as I am aware not a single child poisoned themselves by eating the wrong plants.

Miss Watts was in charge fourth year children in the other wooden classroom, but I was not taught by her as there was a change round of teachers and so that our class continued to be taught by Mr Lush for our fourth year, therefore, I know very little about her nor what she looked like, however, my sister was taught by her and described her as a knuckle wrapper, she would walk between the desks and wrap you across the knuckles with a ruler if you were not holding a pen correctly etc., my sister was left handed and in those days, the left handed were forced to use their right, consequently my sister came in for a good many wraps.

In my final year at Kings Road, our class was back in the main building, in the most westerly class room. The teacher for the senior class was Mrs. B, [ for the life of me I cannot remember her name, but I think it began with a ‘B’.] She lived in one of the older houses at the upper end of Mead Road, not far from the school. Mrs. B, being married, was bit motherly, I think she had a child of her own. Unlike the other female teachers, Mrs, B wore bright flowery dresses. I can’t remember how good or bad a teacher she was but I do remember I had a bit of a crush on her.

Throughout the whole of my school years, in what ever class, or teacher, there was little or no movement of children during a lesson, certainly no talking, if you needed to attract the teacher you had to put your hand up and wait for her to ask what you wanted, very often this was ‘to be excused’ to go to the toilet and if the ‘excuser’ failed to get the teachers attention quickly enough it often led to wet pants and a puddle on the floor. For a five year old the need to go to the toilet and the act itself are pretty close, on top of that the toilets themselves were outside the school and across the playground, and as already mentioned, for the boys it was a roofless building. The five year olds were the furthest from these facilities, so rain or cold weather acted as a bit of a deterrent, putting the child off from requesting to go there until it was ‘to late’, so puddles on the floor were almost an everyday occurrence amongst the younger children.

Discipline was pretty tight throughout my school days, not only at school put at home as well, there were plenty of deterrents against bad behaviour, but because these deterrents existed and you knew they would be used, they were not often needed, nevertheless, you could be made to stand in the corner of the room with your back to the class or made to stand outside the classroom, or be made to sit with your hands clasped on top of your head, the later was often used as a punishment for the whole class if any form of disruption was likely to get out of hand. Persistent naughtiness would lead to having to ‘put out your hand’ and receive a whack from a ruler or cane across the palm. Bending over to received the cane across the buttocks was used on older children at senior school, it was not as far as I remember, used on infants and juniors. Another punishment was writing lines, this was, more often than not, brought about by talking in class, which could result in having to write out one hundred times ‘I must not talk in class’. Some thought that the quickest way to do this, was to write out the first line and then under the ‘I’ you would write out all ‘I’s down the page, followed by ‘must ‘etc., nevertheless, it could still take sometime as this had to be done with the old fashioned pen and ink, with regular dips into the inkwell to recharge the nib with ink. If you rushed this work a little to fast and it was in any way messy, you could be made to do it again. This punishment was only meted out to the older children.

I only experienced school for one year at school in peacetime, I started school in September 1938 and war was declared in September 1939. but there was already a war going on in Spain where fascist leader General Franco was fighting to over throw the government. I clearly remember seeing Spanish refugees camping in a field on the eastern side of Chestnut Avenue more or less opposite what is now Asda Supermarket. My Mother, Grandma and Aunty Joan who was still unmarried at that time and possibly my sister and brother walked up to the camp to see what was happening. The refugees were camped under canvass and were wandering around aimlessly and to me as white English and never having seen but very few non English people was fascinated by there olive coloured skin and very long black hair, their clothes were also different to ours, particularly the women with their long full gypsy skirts and plaited hair. Whilst we were there a cream coloured ambulance with a red cross on its side arrived, it had a number holes in it and I was told they were bullet holes. I can only remember one non white man, before the war and he was a Sikh with a turban, not that I knew his nationality at that time, he made an annual visit to the area, selling various wares from a suitcase and was always greeted politely.

First bike

I don’t known how old I was when I started to range further from our house than just playing in the garden, and when I did, who I played with, although I know where I played. Opposite our house was Ramalley a gravel track which served a couple of thatched cottages before taking a right angled route were it became no more than a grassy farm track leading to a pair of farm cottages and about three acres of rough land which was called ‘The Green’, there was another hard track leading unto the area on its southern side from Hursley Road. From Ramalley upto ‘The Green’ was a copse of mature oak trees with the gardens of a semi-detached cottage running along most of its western boundry. There was a foot path through the copse from Hursley Road a short distance from the lane to the farm cottages. At sometime in the past , clay had been extracted towards its northern boundary, leaving many of the oaks growing on little hillocks with hollows at the foot which filled with water in the winter, it also left eight foot high embankment along most of ‘The Greens’ southern boundary.

To the north of ‘The Green’ was another copse the depth of the rough land and bordering Hursley Road for some distance, which also had a path running through it. On the western side between the farm cottages and this copse was rough grass with a hedge with a ungated entrance to the arable farmland beyond. Small oak trees formed the boundary hedge with a drainage ditch at its foot along side of Hursley Road with a large area of mature gorse bushes backing into the waste land, the rest of the land was short coarse grass with a large circle of bare earth in the middle which was the site of the annual bonfire on November 5th.

An old 1920 style, open backed lorry with its wheels removed which had belonged to Targets Transport Company whose premises were opposite ‘The Green’ was dumped on the edge of the gorse and made a great addition for the kids to play on, it didn’t take long for them to totally wreck it, nevertheless it remained there for a long time. I remember seeing Rod kissing Edwina Moss who lived about a quarter of a mile down Hursley Road, whilst they were stood on the flat bed of the lorry, I remember staring at them because that was a new experience for me as I can’t recall seeing anyone kissing before, it certainly did not happen in our family, I also remember that he also had his hand on her breasts. Whatever they were doing they seemed to enjoy, it even if I did understand what was going on.

I’m not sure how old I was when I had my first bike, it was second hand machine which dad had ‘done up’ but it was really too big for me and he had to fit quite thick blocks of wood to the pedals for me to reach them, I can’t recall actually learning to ride nor who taught me I assume it was probably Rod but I did love the wonderful sensation I felt when I did succeed, the problem was although I could start off ‘OK’, using the kerb, so that I could reach the pedal, but once started I could not stop without more or less falling off, which I did regularly. To minimise and ‘put off’ the stopping routine I just kept riding, often going round and round the Bonfire circle to the point that the other kids kicked a football at me to try and knock me off.

The track from Hursley Road to the Green had a slight bend about 50ft from the junction where there was a large coppiced hazel, on one occasion whilst cycling alone I failed to take the bend and rode straight in to the hazel but remained upright on the bike right in the middle, luckily there was nobody about to witness my embarrassment but on a second occasion I was not so lucky, although I had successfully negotiated the bend I was very reluctant to stop and fall off when reaching the road, so I took a chance of not stopping but I was going to fast for my inexperienced cycling ability to turn safely, consequently I went straight across the road hitting the kerb and landing in a heap on the pavement at the feet of a middle aged man and woman, although slightly shocked, as I come out of nowhere, they just looked at me as if to say ‘you stupid boy’, but actually said nothing and with a shrug of their shoulders continued on their journey but I was red faced with embarrassment.

I don’t remember how long I had that bike nor what happened to it, but it became increasingly difficult to get spares and the quality of tyres and inner tubes was poor, the rubber inner tubes would quickly perish and the outer cover would very quickly wear down to the canvas. I was too young to be able to repair a puncture for myself; therefore, it is probably a combination of shortages and lack of maintenance that the bike didn’t last long. Flat tyres were not uncommon at that time for anyone who owned a bike and it became quite common to see a victim with his bike upturned and resting on the handlebars and saddle on the pavement repairing a puncture, it was essential to never be without a repair outfit which was in a small tin with a hinged lid and contained a number of different sized rubber patches, a tiny round tin with a removable lid containing dusting powder which was to prevent the patch sticking to the outer cover and a tiny tube of rubber solution and I think there was also a larger fabric patch to stick over any hole on the inside of the tyre. The puncture outfit was carried in a little leather container strapped to the back of the saddle.

 

 

War is declared

I find it a bit difficult to describe how the declaration of war affected me as an under seven year old. News and what was going on in the world was a lot more remote at that time, there was no television to show you world happenings as they happened, therefore, adults relied on newspapers and the radio and cinema newsreels to keep pace with events. At that age I was not good at reading, in any case I would not have understood what was happening even if was good enough at reading, which I was not, my father disapprove of us touching his paper anyway but the ‘News’ on the radio was never missed and so we children would begin to understand the seriousness of the situation not only by the tone of the news reader but also by the look on the faces of our parents.

There were very few pictures in the newspapers, those that were published were in black and white and of poor quality, however, I do remember very clearly the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in a speech on the radio and equally as clearly I remember my father, who was profoundly deaf, cupping his left ear hard up against the radios speaker to hear Chamberlain speak, and that as Herr Hitler had ignored the request to withdraw his troops from Poland, we were at War with Germany. From that speech and from the look on my father’s face I knew that whatever war was, it was not going to be much fun. My father had fought in the trenches in the Great War [ I now know a little more about my fathers time in the army, more about that later] and although he and his two brothers survived physically unscathed, mentally they were greatly affected and rarely mentioned the horrors they had experienced and actually felt guilty because they had survived where so many of their fellow soldiers had been killed or gassed. Surprisingly he had no hatred of the Germans but had little time for the French. He had no great love of King and Country and the ruling classes that he thought had led us into the war and even less for the officer class that ran the war from well out of harms way at the rear of the actual battles.

At the time that the second war started nobody really knew what course this latest war would take and whether it would again be bogged down in trench warfare as the previous one, however, as nothing really happened after the declaration and the defeat of Poland, the optimists were confident that it would all be over before Christmas, nevertheless, preparations for the war had started sometime before the declaration and proceeded to affected everyone. At school, we children had all been fitted with gas masks, this was one of the things that happened before war was declared, they were very claustrophobic to wear, expelled air escaped from the mask along your cheeks with farting noise and the clear visor tended to mist up. The masks were fitted into unsubstantial cardboard boxes with a string handle to go over your shoulder, and were to be carried with you at all times. The poor quality of the boxes, which would quickly fall apart led to a substantial industry making rain and knock proof cases covered in various coloured oil cloth, artificial leather or other hard wearing material or your parents made them. At sometime after the start of the war an extra filtering system was added to the masks with white sticky tape making the snout a lot longer and clumsier. Being aware of the nastiness of gas warfare in WW1, it was the fear of a gas attack which scared me and many adults most. To that end there was much publicity to make one room in your house ‘gas proof ‘. I still have several cigarette cards of a series of not only how to ‘gas proof ‘a room but how to make blackouts and bomb shelters.

At school we were immunised and inoculated against small pox and diphtheria and had regular check ups from a school nurse mainly to inspect our heads for lice, it was considered a disgrace to be sent home with a note if such creatures were present. Childhood illnesses we rife back then and would account for most absentness, every year there would be an outbreak of one disease or another or more than one, which nearly every child, who had not already had it, would catch, which meant that most children would have had measles, chickenpox , hooping cough, german measles, mumps and some the more serious diphtheria and scarlet fever, which then meant going to the Isolation Hospital, located off of Oakmount Road in a remote spot and surrounded by a high green vomit green corrugated fence. If you had older brothers and sisters, there was a fair chance that you would have caught most of these infectious diseases before you went to school, which I suspect I had because I think it was at the end of my first year at school that I received a prize in the form of a book for best attendance, having not missed a single school day during the year.

The first thing that happened every morning once you were in the classroom was that the teacher would ‘call the register’ which was a ledger with ever child’s name listed in alphabetical order, when your name was called you answered ‘present Miss’. If you were absent from school without a good excuse, then your parents could quickly expect a visit from the School Board man to know the reason why, it was therefore almost impossible to play truant without being found out.

Other things occurred which had no direct affect on me, one being the blackout where the top half of all street lights, car lights and even torches were painted blue to reduce the amount of light going skywards. When total blackout was imposed all the street lights were extinguished. Any obstacle likely to walked into in the dark such as lampposts, trees, poles etc., had bands of white painted round them, the edges of vehicle mudguards were also painted white to make them more visible. One aspect of the blackout that did have an impact on everyone was that no light was allowed to escape from windows or doors, resulting in having to make them light proof with either shutters, heavy dense curtains or any other means that stopped the light escaping. Dad, being the craftsman that he was, made shutters from battening and sacking, in two halves for the sash windows for the kitchen and living room, which fitted neatly over the top and bottom sections of the windows each secured in place with four swivel wooden clamps. The shutters were of a lightweight structure to make it easier for mum to fit. Those two rooms were the only ones in the house to ‘blacked out’, consequently we could not have lights in any of the other rooms after dark, thus we learnt to get undressed and in to bed without lights during the winter months, something that I have done ever since.

Air Raid Wardens patrolled the streets to make sure the law was obeyed. I don’t know what the consequence were if you were caught showing a light, probably a fine or maybe prison, I don’t actually know. Double British Summer Time was introduced, I’m not sure exactly when, so that it was almost midnight before it got dark at the height of summer, therefore, we children were in bed and asleep long before nightfall. Many windows, particularly public buildings, had tape, about 2.5cm wide stuck diagonally across each pane to reduce or stop glass from flying from bomb blasts and this included the school. Some private houses in Chandlers Ford also went to these lengths but most did not, thinking that the village would not be a target. Under the stairs was regarded as the best place to take cover in a raid if no other shelter existed. To this end, my father did build a Dugout shelter into the bank of the stream that was at the bottom of garden. It was built of railway sleepers and probably to a designed based on those he used in the trenches in WW1, it was snug and dry, but we never used it because the government supplied Anderson Shelters to all families with young children, ours was sited close to the house which I suppose was considered a better site than Dad’s effort.

The Anderson Shelter was of prefabricated corrugated galvanised metal sheets which when bolted together was set approx: 3ft.[ 90cm] into the ground, forming a shelter roughly 6ft.[ 1.8m ] x 8ft.[2.4m] and 6ft [1.950m] high. The end sheeting stood higher than the curved side sheets so that they retained the spoil from the hole when it was piled over the top of the shelter, keeping the entrance hole clear. Sand bagged soil was then stacked up to form a barrier around the entrance. Householders had to dig the hole, the site being of their choosing, government workers fitted the shelter together and the householder finished the job off. On one side of the shelter my father built two wooden framed bunks with chicken wire springing, with an old kitchen chair for my mother on the other, he made no provision for himself as he worked away from home and was only ever present at weekends and would stay outside even during air raid and not without risk from falling shrapnel. The shelter was much nearer the house than that built at the bottom of the garden which dad demolished and filled in.

To complete the preparation for war an air raid siren, which become known as a ‘moaningmini’ was fitted on the roof of Hendy’s Showroom on Bournemouth Road, [recently demolished] which was then an agricultural equipment dealers and approximately half a mile away as the crows fly, it was regularly tested and was very loud and clear, a noise that even to this day, if I hear it on television, sends shivers down my spine.

Most rationing did not came about until 1940 but there was shortages of most things with sweets and ice cream almost disappearing, not that either of the items greatly affected my family or indeed most other working class families, as they were a rarity anyway, in fact, we had more sweets as a result of rationing because they had become an entitlement and people took that entitlement, which I believe was one quarter of a pound per person per week. Before the war, my father gave my sister and I one penny a week pocket money, my older brother probably got more, which we usually spent on a small bar of chocolate or during the summer months, on a triangular stick of frozen fruit juice in a cardboard sleeve which we purchased from an Walls Ice Cream vendor who would tour the streets at weekends in the summer months, on a tricycle with a cold box between the front wheels, soon after the war started the Ice Cream man no longer came but not only did we miss the ice cream but the penny as well, as my father deemed that as there was no longer anything that we could purchase for a penny, he stopped the money as well. If that gives the impression that my father was a bit mean, well he was where money was concerned.

Amongst the many luxuries to disappear or became scarce was oranges, bananas and grapes and although these fruits were real luxuries to working class people they were badly missed at Christmas time where oranges in particular were used as stocking fillers, in my case, along side a lump of coal and a potato and very little else. Despite this meanness, I still believed that Santa had brought it and continued to believe in him even though the orange also disappeared.

Shortages also affected the school with all the disposable items such as paper, pencils, chalk and pen nibs etc., so that every piece of paper had to be used fully and sparingly, pencils were used up to the point that they were just stumps and so short you could hardly hold them. The War effort was such that almost everything was in short supply and that included school equipment such as desks and chairs and other such gear. The newly opened Senior School in Leigh Road called North End which served secondary children from both Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford was particularly badly hit by shortages as it was still not entirely equipped when the war started. My brother [ cousin] was one of the first pupils in the new school, he became House Captain, Sports Captain and Head Boy and Head Prefect, none of which my sister nor myself ever achieved, often being told by some of the teachers that we did not measure up to his abilities, nevertheless we were very proud of him. Rod was good at all the academic subjects and all sports and which I was average at but to compensate I was better than him in a number of subjects including geography, woodwork and throughout my whole school life I was top of the class in art and craft and pretty good at singing, however, his subjects were considered more important and counted for more praise.

At this point in time the reality of war was still a bit remote for we children but that was about to change. At this point it is necessary to recap on the events that had happened in Europe after the declaration of war.

Three days before our declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939, the Germans were already fighting in Poland and by 5th October Hitler had a victory parade in Warsaw, meanwhile Russia had also attacked Poland from the East. With Poland defeated, Hitler could now concentrate his efforts on their western front, having come to an agreement with Russia for Germany to occupy the western side of Poland with Russia to occupy the other half. It was after that time that Hitler decided to launch his attack in the west. But there was a period of time between the defeat of Poland in October 1939 to the following April 1940 before his attack in the west, which became known as the ‘phoney war’, where nothing happened on land although a great deal was happening at sea, it was during this period that the Graf Spey was scuttled in the River Plate in South America after an epic battle with Royal Navy.

It was when Hitler attacked Demark and Norway that the reality and closeness of war was to become apparent. On the 9th April 1940 the Germans attacked and conquered Norway through Denmark which offered little resistance with only 13 dead and 23 injured, on the 19th May he attacked the rest of western Europe through Belgium and Holland which surrendered on the 14th May, on the 17th Brussels was captured, such was the speed of the Germans advance that Mussolini, also a fascist, who seeing that Germany was making mincemeat of the Allies, sided with Hitler and declared war on France and Britain on the 7th June, on the 20th June, attacking France from the south. France surrendered on the 25th June. Thus in just over two months Hitler had captured Denmark, Norway, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and France and with Italy siding with Germany a good deal of the Mediterranean had also become alien, Britain had now become very isolated, as Spain had already become a Fascist country in 1938, and had close links with Hitler’s Germany.

Why was it possible for this rapid advance to happen? The French had built the massive Maginot Defence Line extending from Switzerland along the French, Luxembourg and German border but it did not extend along the border through Belgium, however the German Siegfried Defence line on the other hand, which opposed the Maginot Line, extended up to the Dutch border and it was across this undefended Belgium border that the Germans attacked France cutting off the British Expeditionary Force resulting in the famous evacuation from Dunkirk. By attacking France through the undefended Belgium border made the Maginot Line completely useless.

Numerically the opposing armies were much the same in size but the French army was both badly trained and equipped the British although much better trained were also very badly equipped, they also had the antiquainted view that this new war would be much like the previous one and fought from trenches. The British Navy however far exceeded the Germans in numbers at least but what the Germans lacked in numbers was made up to some extent by the quality of their ships and their submarines. As far as the air forces were concerned, the Germans not only outnumbered the Allies but their planes, apart from the Hurricane and Spitfire, were far superior, a large number of our aircraft were still old fashioned biplanes including some of our bombers which really belonged to the First World War.

With such a rapid and overwhelming defeat of the western European countries Hitler was upbeat with his chances of also defeating Britain that his intention was to invade Britain in September 1940 and so just over two weeks after the fall of France that on July 10th he started to bomb targets in England, Southampton being one of the earlier targets and I remember a daylight raid when we were at school and seeing a German plane, probably a Stuka dive bomber, diving on Eastleigh Airport, as we crossed from the school to the shelter. In the shelter we sat on wooden benches in the semi-dark with just a little light filtering in from entrance, I can’t remember for how long the raid went on but I do remember that that was the only occasion that we used the school shelters. After the raid we returned to our class rooms as if nothing had happened after school walking home on my own as usual. This bombing attack was aimed at the aircraft industry at the air port and the shipping industries at Southampton along the River Itchen. I don’t know what damage was done nor how many casualties there were but I do believe there were a number killed. I was seven and half years old at the time of this raid and it was my first experience of the reality of war and seeing that diving plane is imprinted in my memory.

 

 

The Battle of Britain

It was not until August 13th that the real aerial battle began which became known as ’The Battle of Britain’. In order to invade this country Hitler needed to wipe out the RAF and to do so he needed to destroy not only the aircraft but also the airfields and aircraft industries and so he sent massive squadrons of bombers and fighters over the channel in daylight to achieve this end.

The reason that I only went into the school shelter the once was that the ensuing daylight battles were during the schools summer holiday and by the time this was over the daylight raids on Southampton had ceased but during that holiday I witnessed a number of such raids. That summer was one of beautiful weather with clear blue skies nearly every day which made a spectacular background to these aerial battles taking place high above us, high enough for most of the planes to make vapour trials with tiny silver under bellies of the planes leading them, only when they dived below a certain height were the planes left without this tail. If the RAF was engaged in an aerial battle then there was no anti-aircraft fire but when they were absent, then the guns would open up, the nearest battery to home was less than a quarter of a mile away from our house and very noisy, making a sort of ‘bing bang’, you could hear a shell as it left the gun which made a diminishing whooshing sound and finally a distant ‘crump’ as the shell exploded leaving a little white puff along with many others as they burst around and about the attacking bombers and their vapour trails. It was not easy to shot down an aircraft with gunfire, after all the planes were flying at 10000ft of 12000 ft. at over 200mph plus the shell was subject to variable wind speed and direction as it went up and many shells burst well off target. I think actually hitting a plane was more to do with luck than judgement.

When the fighters were present the pattern was quite different with the vapour trails being all over the place the whole sky being full of new and old trails with tight and open loops, individual trails chasing individual trails, multi trials diving on multi trials with flashes of silver as the sun caught the underside of the planes as they rolled and twisted in the air, this was accompanied by a background roar of hundreds of engines, punctuated with the whine of engines of climbing and looping planes as they either tried to get on the tail of an opponent or tried to get one off their tail. There was also the ‘tat tat tat ‘of machine gun fire when a plane had successfully got another in its sights. I understand that 96% of all ammunition fired on either side, missed the target.

One day I was out with my mother on the weekly grocery trip which also included a weekly visit to Grandma , my mother seemed to know everyone we met and land up talking to them all, on this occasion we had just left ‘Cowley’s,’ the small grocery shop that Mum had dealt with for many years and almost immediately Mum was talking or should I say gossiping with another villager, leaving me kicking my heals but going on above was one of these spectacular aerial battles which had become so every day that very few people bothered to look up but this one to me was special as the whole thing was being played out with a rainbow background. A plane had been hit and had spilled oil which the wind had spread across the sky causing the sun to create this wonderful very wide rainbow. I think I was the only one to see it but it is a scene very much locked into my visual memory.

On another glorious sunny day another air battle was in progress immediately above us, on this occasion we were stood in the garden outside the shelter watching this battle and watched as a diving fighter locked on to an enemy bomber and opened fire leaving groups of dashes, like stitches, trailing its wings. This attack seems to have been successful although we could not see the plane it was attacking, a couple of minutes later coming from an unexpected direction a burning German plane came very close to hitting the house and mature oak trees across the road crashing in a field and at the edge of a copse in Flexford less than half a mile away ‘as the crow flies’. After the battle was over lots of locals went to view the wreck which was just visible from the road although not much seemed to be left, the local fire brigade was still dosing the remains when we got there but my main memory of that event was just how scary and how shocked we were at how close the plane was to hitting the house and secondly the smell of burnt and melted aluminium when we were near the wreck. I think that the crew managed to parachute to safety which funnily enough, although there was a massive hatred of any German, the only good one being a ‘dead one’. I think that most people were kind of pleased that none died on this occasion.

The daylight raids and the attacks on our airfields and aircraft industries which had seriously started on August 13th had ceased by the 18th September and as far as the local area was concerned, had stopped by the time the school holidays were over. The German assault had failed. That period become known as ‘The Battle of Britain’ with Winston Churchill saying ‘never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few’. This was the first set back for the Germans but alas by no means the end of bombing as the Germans moved increasingly from daylight raid attacks on airfields to massive aerial attacks on cities and in the end mainly night ones which was to become known as the ‘Blitz.

Although the daylight raids were a spectacle and either watched or ignored, night bombing was an altogether different experience and from my own view the most frightening one in my whole life. I can’t remember how many night raids were made on Southampton it seemed an awful lot. Chandler’s Ford was not a target but it was under the main flight path of the attackers for dropping their bombs which were released above us to hit mainly the dock area and the city centre, amidst the din of anti-aircraft fire and the light from the searchlights which bathed everything in the area in a white light like moon light, was the scream of the bombs as they headed for their target, one such bomb in every stick would do this, the scream would increase in intensity as it fell with each one seeming to be heading for you personally, one could feel ones head sinking deeper and deeper in to ones chest as the scream or whistle increased to the point that it would start to diminish and you knew it was not ’that one’ with your name on it. Night after night long periods of time were spent in the Anderson shelter from the time of siren alert to the all clear.

It was not only Southampton that was being bombed at this time but Portsmouth as well, but an attack on Portsmouth did not necessarily mean an attack on Southampton. Mum being a light sleeper and also of a nervous disposition and above all having no husband at home all week, was alert and up long before the local siren sounded, I would often wake up to see the silhouette of mum against our bedroom window which faced east towards Portsmouth where a raid might already be in progress, once awake you could feel the impact of bombs and the sash windows would rattle, sometimes the raid would be on Portsmouth only, so we lost sleep to no purpose but on other occasions Southampton would also cop it, Mum would say “you had better stay awake and get ready to go down the shelter, Botley siren has just gone off,” we knew then that we destined to spend another scary couple of hours at least stuck in our damp smelling shelter. Even then there were occasions when the raid was upon us, with the siren only going off as a bomber was making its ‘ run in ‘.

As we made our way to the shelter we could see a tiny silver twin engined plane caught in the beam of a couple of search lights with the bang of the ack- ack firing from just down the road, the whooshing sound of the shells going up being much more pronounced at night as was the fluttering sound of shrapnel coming down with clunks and boinks as it hit roofs and other solid objects, this was very dangerous stuff and Dad had a lucky escape during one raid when he was home. As I have already mentioned Dad would not come down in the shelter preferring to watch the raid outside but being profoundly deaf he was unaware of the shrapnel coming down, on one occasion he sheltered under the glass roofed porch over the front door, he was wearing a trilby hat, as most adult males wore hats back then, he felt something fall on the hat and putting his hand up discovered it was full of broken glass where a piece of shrapnel had shattered the pane above him, the shard of metal narrowly missing him and burying itself in the earth floor next to him
.
As I have already said, Chandler’s Ford was not a target but nevertheless it was hit by stray bombs and incendiaries which made it necessary to take shelter during every raid. More about that later.

Evacuees arrive

Before the war and up to 1940 I had only my sister and Don Welch to play with, Don, an only child, who lived next door and was a couple of years younger than me and not really allowed to come out very often and was not much fun anyway, in fact we did not get on that well at that time, I remember chopping up worms and throwing them at him every time he ventured within range sending him back indoors, crying, so I played mainly on my own or with Pat and very occasionally with Rod, but when Pat went to school I spent most of the time on my own during the day. The reason for this was there no other boys of my age living anywhere near, apart from Don, Pat also suffered the same problem with the lack of girls of her age in fact for her it was worse. Rod fared better as there more lads of his age living near and as he was older was able to range further afield for his friends he also made friends very easily, although I did play with him occasionally I was not particularly welcomed to join in with him and his mates as our age difference was too great.

As a result of the intense night bombing of Southampton many families were made homeless particularly in Northam and Woolston and the areas near the docks and the River Itchen, these were the slum areas of the city, where the majority of these displaced families were evacuated to I do not know but I do remember that several families were housed in the Scout Hut which was then in Valley Road, I remember passing the hut one day on my way to school, the door was open and I could see quite a large number of children and adults inside and one small child was in the doorway, she was dressed in a very patched and worn dress and her face, legs and arms were grey with dirt, not new dirt, the smell coming from the building was also very unpleasant with adults being equally dirty.

Apart from those being displaced there were a great many who decided to escape from the town who were not necessarily directly in line of the attacks but not taking any chances and for safety sake decided to find refuge further away from the towns centre, to this end we had an ‘old’ Mrs Cooper and her black Scottie dog take over Mums bedroom, I don’t remember how long she stayed with us but I very much remember her dog which bit me, quite severely, on my hand at our very first meeting which resulted in me being very untrusting of the breed ever since. Mum slept downstairs in the front room, but I don’t know how or on what she slept as there was no bed in the room nor even a spare mattress as far as I remember, this must have been even more uncomfortable at weekends when dad was home but I really don’t know what happened.

‘Old’ Mrs Cooper was replaced by her daughter-in-law and her two daughters Gladys and Brenda, Gladys was about 14 years old and Brenda slightly younger that Pat who was about 10 years old. Their own home was towards the eastern end of Burgess Road and to the north of Southampton which as it turned out was probably safer than Chandlers Ford. I’m unsure exactly at what point that came to live with us but I believe it must have been at the end of the night raids as I have no memory of the being in the shelter with us. Mr Cooper stayed in Southampton during the weekdays and only visited over the weekends, he had been too young to fight in WW1 and too old for WW11. I do remember that he did get dad to talk about his experiences in the trenches in the first war the one and only time dad had ever mentioned the subject which quickly brought him to tears. Like so many veterans of that war Dad felt, somehow, guilty that he and his two brothers came through that war unscathed having witnessed so much death right next to him. One task that he and his fellow soldiers had to do was creep out of the trench in turns to mend the telephone lines which were constantly being broken by the shelling, time and time again his trench mates never came back, but he did and without a scratch.

How the Coopers reacted to living in our house with its outdoor lavatory and no bathroom against their own house which both a bathroom and an indoor lav’ I don’t know, but they seemed happy enough. At the same time they probably had some influence on our lives, being, ‘townies’ as we termed anyone not living in the country, a more modern approach to life, in some ways this was a sort of cultural shock to our family. The Coopers were into cinemas and probably many other up to date forms of entertainment, Gladys was very much into films and had lots of American ‘movie’ magazines with all the latest gossip about the then famous ‘stars’ with lots of photographs of the latest glamorous female and handsome men in the business and so Pat and I became familiar with the names and images of ‘stars’ such as Betty Davis, Jane Russell, Diana Durban, Mae West, Sonja Henny, Carmen Miranda, July Garland, Shirley Temple and the likes of Clark Gable, Errol Flyn, Humphry Bogart, Robert Donart, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ronald Colman, Mickey Ronny, James Cagey, Charlie Chaplin and many many more and apart from Shirley Temple I had never seen any of them in an actual film.

Pat and I did go with the Coopers to visit their semi-detached house in the eastern end of Burgess Road which was typical of 1920/30 style of architecture with bay windows and an arch over a set back front door which had stained glass panels, in the case of the Coopers house the top half of the house was in pebbledash rendering, the front garden was very small with a flight of steps up from the pavement and a wicket fence. I don’t remember what the house was like inside as I was too interested in the trams which passed the house and spent the whole of the time we were there, watching them. Although I knew what a tram looked like from earlier visits to Southampton, my impression was pretty vague but here I had an opportunity to really get a close up view of them as they were very different to a bus.

The trams were rounded at both ends as there was no actual front or back as both ends could become either with a driving position at each end as they could not turn round at terminals thus when a tram reached the end of the route the driver would have a long pole which he used to detach the armature which connected the tram to the overhead power cable and swing it round and reattached to face the other way, what was the back end of he tram now became the front. There was a couple of wooden boards across the front of the tram and under the rounded ends, between the road and the undercarriage which abutted the slatted step up into the entrance to the tram which was immediately behind the driver, directly opposite the entrance was the spiral stairs to the upper deck this arrangement was repeated at the other end tram. As I remember it, the driver did not have a seat and stood up for the whole journey as the control of the tram was down to two handles called the ‘deadmans levers’ which wholly operated the tram, both the start and stop and the acceleration and braking, it was called the ‘deadmans lever’ because if the driver took his hand off then the tram would immediately stop.

The driver of the older trams was exposed to the elements as there was no windscreen, later trams were fitted with one. The trams run on a track which was sunk into the road to level with the road surface, granite setts or cobbles about 4’’ [100mm] square filled the space between the tracks, as a tram was running on a fixed track, the track had to be placed far enough out in the road to pass parked vehicles thus when passengers alighted or stepped off the tram they had to cross the gap, I don’t know what the rules were about passing a tram with car or lorry but the tracks could be quite dangerous for cyclists if their front wheel got caught in groove formed by the track, my fathers youngest sister Ruth was killed by a tram as a result of doing just that. You certainly knew when a tram was coming by the loud metallic rumble from the noise of the metal wheels on the metal track, although there was no engine noise, added to which there was a crackling noise and lots of sparks from the armature as it passed the joints which carried and supported the overhead power cable. I think that our visit to the Coopers house that day was the only time that I traveled on one, this was because their house was on a tram route, about a mile down Burgess Road from its junction with The Avenue where we alighted from the bus from Chandlers Ford.

Just like a bus the seating was set across the carriage and facing the front, with two seats each side of the gangway, the seating was made of slatted wood with a simple wooden back rest with two metal supports which were pivotal so that when the tram returned, the back rest was swung over to be on the other side of the seat. I think there was a similar arrangement on the upper deck but unlike the buses at that time the gangway was in the centre, whereas on a bus at that time it was on the offside with a step up from it to reach the four seater bench seats. Like the buses Trams also had a conductor to collect the fares. To my mind, better than either a bus or a tram, was a trolleybus which Bournemouth had, it combined the maneuverability of a bus, which it looked like, whilst being powered by overhead electricity like a tram. I only went on one once and was impressed by its quietness and smooth running.

The Coopers must have stayed with us a number of weeks as Pat was taken to a cinema in Swaythling by them on another occasion, which must have been a novelty and a real treat for her. It was whilst they were with us that I suffered a number of boils [abscesses] on the back of my neck, which were very painful, mum was hopeless in dealing with anything like that so it was Mrs Cooper that made and applied bread poultices to them in order to draw the puss to the head which would eventually burst, spewing out a mass of greenish yellow puss. A bread poultice was made by placing some bread in very hot water and when fully soaked, drained and placed in a piece of cotton or linen cloth which was the squeezed into a pad. No sooner had I got rid of one boil when another formed, which was probably caused by some lack in my diet due to rationing. I still have lumps on my neck where the boils had been.

Although we got on very well the Coopers I bet mum was pleased to get her bedroom back when they left, although we never took in anymore evacuees other families did such as the Bakers who lived three doors away, he was a painter and decorator by trade and was, I think, self-employed, they had a young daughter of their own. They took in the Newtons, a widow with three children, Marion , Frank and Allen. Marion was the eldest being roughly four years older than me, Frank came next and about eighteen months older with Allen being roughly two years younger. The Newtons house had been badly damaged by the bombing but I’m not sure where the house was. It didn’t take long Frank and Allen together with Don for the four of us to became inseparable mates and called ourselves the ‘ Ramalley Gang’, named after the lane across the road from us. Like the Coopers the Newtons were ‘townies’ and much more in the then ‘modern world’ than we Hoskins and having lost their father were by no means as disciplined as was I.

Shopping

Shopping involved walking about one and a half miles to Mrs Cowley’s grocery shop where she was registered, you could only shop where you were registered for any goods that were rationed, she would then walk another half mile to reach Grandmas house. By that time she was already loaded down with the weeks groceries before she got to there and then had to cart it all from there the two miles home, how she managed that I will never know because physically she did not look up to it.

This trip was mainly to get the groceries; another trip would have been made to shop for other items such as meat and fish. Fish was not rationed but was often in short supply and it was shortages which caused the queues, not rationing, although you still had shortages of rationed goods. When I think back I realise just how true was the old adage ‘a woman’s work is never done.’ It certainly was never done in Mothers case. On top of all this hard work Mum would always ‘change’ her clothes every afternoon and unlike many women would never leave the house with her hair in curlers nor leave our premises with an her apron still on.

Other requirements were delivered to the door, milk was one and delivered everyday, up until the war the milkman carried a churn more often than not, without the lid on, ladles of different sizes were suspended inside the churn with hooks hung over the rim, the customers chose how much milk they wanted for the day, the measures ran from a gill up to a pint, having selected the quantity, the appropriate measure was dipped into the milk and poured into there own container, mainly a milk jug. Why milk was delivery daily was that very few people had a fridge or other method of keeping the milk cold and it would quickly ‘go off’ particularly in hot weather. Bread was another item that was delivered to the door with the baker’s man carrying the loaves and other baked goods in a large wickerwork basket. Greengroceries also, were often delivered to the door, with the rounds man coming to the door to collect your order based on what he had to offer, which back then was very seasonable.

For years milk and to a lesser extent bread, was delivered by horse and cart a practice that remained with some companies to well after the war, at some just before the war started our milk came from a dairy six doors away from home but they sold out to ‘James Hand’ a much bigger dairy in Eastleigh, their delivery vehicle was a three wheeler which was a glorified motor bike with handlebar steering and an open cab and sides, I was given a ride in it one day up to Cuckoo Bushes Lane when I was about six years old, but had to walk back home from there. Glass milk bottles by that time had replaced the churn and the empty bottles returned for washing and sterilizing before reuse the bottles were sealed by a cardboard top which had lots of uses for kids in play. Milk like so many stable foods was also often in short supply and products such as dried or powdered milk, died eggs and even powdered potatoes called ‘pom’ came about and were in common use even if they were pretty awful and did not taste anything like fresh milk, eggs or potatoes.

Until the outbreak of war all the door to door deliveries were carried out by men, by the end of the war it was done almost entirely by women. One thing that went missing with this change was ‘whistling’ which it seems every male delivery man seemed to do; I don’t mean ‘wolf whistling’ although there was plenty of that but whistling a familiar tune, the women didn’t do that.

First car journey

Private motor cars were not that common before the war but more and more people were owning them but they became much rarer after the outbreak because of petrol rationing and shortage of spares etc,. in fact petrol became only available for ‘essential journeys’ such as doctors visiting patients, therefore many owners mothballed their vehicles for the duration of the war, standing them on blocks and removing their wheels and if stored in the open covering them with a tarpaulin, many privately owned cars along with lorries and vans were requisitioned by the government for various tasks but for the majority this had little effect as the most had probably never ever travelled in a car, the means of getting about was on buses, trams, trains, cycles or walking.

I had never been in a car, to my knowledge, before the war and it was well into the war before I experienced my first ride which was courtesy of Mr Hatley who lived further up Hursley Road on the corner of Cockoo Bushes Lane, he ran a small engineering works at the bottom of his garden and also had a sawmill in Baddesley Road. He owned a black painted Ford V8 car, as almost all cars were that colour at that time, it was quite big by the general standards. My first car journey was less than half a mile, from St Boniface Church to home accompanied by mum and my brother and sister, we were given the lift because were caught in a heavy downpour whilst walking home from Grandmas.

I found the short journey a little bit scary as it was a new sensation and I felt a bit claustrophobic so I was not keen to do it on a regular basis which of course was very unlikely anyway. Mr. Hatley had two sons and a very dowdy wife who was rarely seen, their home was a bungalow clad in dark green corrugated iron and although it was close to the road it was well hidden by a dense laurel hedge. Possibly because his wife was plain and mousy Mr Hatley had an eye for other ladies and one such lady was Mrs Newton, Frank and Alan’s mother.

Four doors from home lived old Mrs Wallace with her son living next door, ‘old ma’ Wallace as we kids called her, was intolerant of young kids, particularly as there was a small and very climbable oak tree opposite her house which was a reasonable distance from it, any noise we did make shouldn’t have disturbed her but she would come storming down her path and across the road brandishing a clothes prop, poking into the branches trying to dislodge us, and telling us to ‘push off’, all she got in response was laughter and her behaviour resulted in we children climbing the tree more often and making as much noise as we could in the hope that we could provoke her.

Old Ma Wallace either died or moved to somewhere else and her house became empty, thanks to the good offices of Mr. Hatley, Mrs Newton and her children moved in. I don’t know exactly what relationship Mr Hatley and Mrs Newton had nor cared but he seemed to be supportive of that family in more ways than one. The Newton’s house was very open and friendly, in the thirties and forties if you knocked on the door of a friend you were never invited in and stood on the doorstep until they joined you, it was rare to be invited into play in most houses but at the Newtons you were always invited in to wait if they were not ready and on wet or cold days often played there. It had to be pretty awful weather for we children to be allowed to play indoors on Saturdays or during the school holidays or even after school when there was enough daylight, not that we were that keen to stay indoors most of the time, my mother was always busy and did not want her kids ‘getting under her feet’ as she use to say, so out we went. If we complained that it was cold she would say ‘run about you’ll soon get warm and she was right, we did.

Before the war Sundays were very much regarded as a day of rest and in some households practically nothing was done including gardening and only essential chores in the house. In our house on Sunday mornings dad often took us for walks through the fields and woods as already mentioned, Sunday afternoons we went to Sunday School and quite often the whole family would go for another walk mostly through the residential roads in the ‘upper crust’ area of Chandlers Ford so that we could see how the ‘other half’ lived, for the most part that did not amount to much as all the bigger properties were surrounded by dense and large evergreen shrubs and mature trees with maybe the sound of tennis being played, we rarely saw the people who lived in them.

Chandlers Ford was not very much a village if one could actually call it a village, it was more of a dormitory for Eastleigh and Southampton of ‘have’ and ‘have not’. None of the children from most of the top end of the village, which was occupied mainly by the middle and upper middle classes, attended the local school, that included the children from the retailing ‘live over the shop’ kids from the small shops in the village, who all went to Sherbourne House private school with the older ones paying to attend Peter Symonds school in Winchester, only one child came to Kings Road school from that group and that was ‘fishy Jones’ the son of the local ‘fishmonger’ who also sold ‘fish and chips’, he was called ‘fishy’ not because of the family trade but because he smelt ‘fishy’ and more than just faintly.

Sundays were very quiet and I remember being able to hear sheep bells from a flock over a mile away and that with dense woodland in between and also the peal of bells from Hursley Church which was, almost if not more than three miles away, with a substantial hill in between, the bell of our own local church, it only had one, which was just over half a mile away sounded very close and clear, traffic noise was almost none existent apart from trains running on the track not far from home and even they were few and far between on a Sunday. There was a bus service along Hursley Road which during the week ran every hour, on Sundays this was reduced by more than half.

During the summer months it was we children’s job to pick the peas and beans and shuck them for Sunday lunch, Pat and Rod were also made to do the washing up, me being the youngest got away with that, much to their disgust, but a roast dinner on Sunday was always the best meal of the week, particularly with freshly picked veg. and new potatoes straight from the garden, although meat was rationed I think nearly all our weekly allowance was used up in that one meal.

Added to rationing, which did not come into force until January 1st 1940, was that there was no guarantee that the butcher had much in the way of meat to sell, which often meant that the housewife would have to queue up to get the little that was available, not only for meat but nearly every other foodstuff, in fact you had to queue for almost everything, consequently, queues were an everyday thing and became part of life right throughout the war and long after.

 

 

Make do and mend

In June 1941 even clothes were rationed each person being allowed 60 coupons for the year this was further reduced to 48 at one stage, the coupons could be used for any sort of clothes but availability also played a part, a dress would require seven or more coupons, depending on how much material was used and two for a pair of stockings, a mans suit would use up to thirty, almost half of the allowance. The coupons were about postage stamp size and printed on sheets of paper with some being in booklet form, the retailer had to cut the stamps from the sheet of paper using scissors.

Apart from the clothes being ration so to was the amount of cloth that could be used, turn-ups at the bottom of trouser legs were banned, pockets were also reduced in number and seams cut the minimum as were lapels and I don’t think you could have a double breasted jacket which had been fashionable prior to the war, dress lengths were also shortened and knicker elastic, often much to the embarrassment of the ladies, was in very short supply. ‘Make do and mend’ was the slogan and to that end you had very little alternative but to do so,

Clothes were then made of natural materials such as wool, cotton, linen and silk and apart, I believe, Rayon was made from cellulose the only man made fibre at that time was Nylon manufactured in the USA but unavailable in this country. Almost all women and girls had been taught from an early age how to knit, sew and darn but they were time consuming tasks, most households had a hand operated sewing machine, and even the most ‘cack-handed’ could manage to knit a scarf, which was usually made up of wool remnants. These skills came very much to the fore during the whole period of the war and after. Mum was good at sewing and darning but not quite as good at knitting which Dad made up for being excellent at both knitting and crochet, which he used to do to occupy his evenings during the weekdays whilst he was away from home.

The same holes in woollen socks and gloves were darned time and time again not always with matching wool, rips and tears in dresses, shirts and trousers were either sewn together or patched, the patch more often than not of different material and unmatched, new trousers had the seat patched from day one to prolong their life which as with new shoes having metal studs, heel and toecaps hammered on, as already mentioned. It did not make any difference how well off you were, make do and mend was for everybody and patches were to be seen on rich kids trousers just as often as on the poorer classes, although much of the repairs for the better off was carried out by the less well off, nevertheless, it was a great equaliser.

To prolong the life of jackets, leather patches were added to the elbows and a strip of the same material was sewn around the cuffs and sometimes the lapel which was the case of Mr Lush one of my teachers as already mentioned. Apart from the upkeep of the clothes there was the problem of wear and tear on things like sheets, blankets, curtains, towels etc., which, I’m told were also subject to clothes rationing and became increasingly threadbare as the war wore on. Sheets, which were mainly made from cotton or linen, would wear thin in the middle, so before they fully wore through mum would cut the sheet down the middle along its longest length and then sew the outer edges together and then re-hem the new outer edges. Towels which had become beyond repair were cut down to make flannels, dish clothes and house clothes, blankets were patched. Nothing was discarded until it was an utter rag and often when it reached even that stage would be used to make rag mats with larger pieces sewn together the make patchwork quilts.

Women’s magazines were full of knitting and clothes patterns and advice and methods of reusing nearly everything including the best ways to use leftover food, it was the women who bore the brunt and the task of feeding and clothing the family with all this extra work combined with the shortages and worry on top of the daily tasks which were normal, every task in just running a house in the thirties and forties was labour intensive unless you were well enough off to employ a daily help.

There was huge shortage of tobacco during the war and although I don’t think they were rationed, the shortage meant that a tobacconist would impose his own limits to how many he would supply to each customer, There was still the different brands with their different ‘slogans’ like ’Senior Service Satisfy’, ‘Players Please’ and ‘Craven ‘A’ does not affect your throat’, Before the war the main brands carried cigarette cards covering a very wide range of subjects, the cards had a coloured picture on one side and a description on the other, I think there was fifty two cards in anyone set. Dad did not smoke a quality brand that carried a card nevertheless we children managed to collect a great many cards. To encourage children to collect a given series the tobacco companies produced booklets which had a frame for each card, with the description that was on the back of the card, next to it. I remember picking up discarded packets in the hope that it still had a card in it, which they often did but the tobacco companies in order to prolong the time a series ran made the last few cards difficult to find, therefore, one could collect forty eight of the cards reasonable easily but the last four would be near impossible to get. At the end of a series it was possible, at a price, to send away for the missing cards, which I never did.

I think the cheapest brands were ‘Players Weights’ and ‘Woodbines’ which I think were in packets of ten and even five and much smaller than modern cigarettes, also they did not have filters and the war time packets did not have foil inside the packet, at one time even the printing disappeared with the brand name more or less stamped on the plain cardboard in quite small type. Such was the degree of the shortage that many men kept the butt ends in a tin and when they had sufficient would use them to roll more cigarettes. Rolling your own was also common using Ritz Cigarette papers and either doing so between the fingers or having a rolling machine which generally made a better job of it, the success of hand rolled cigarettes very much depended on the skill of the smoker, some were hopeless at it either having to little tobacco so that the result was more paper than tobacco with half of the cigarette going up in flames once lit, other suffered from too much tobacco so that it was not properly sealed and therefore they could not draw air through it. You could by tobacco specially for rolling your own which had a different consistency to pipe tobacco, I think that at that time pipe smoking was as popular as cigarette smoking and many men had a pipe rack up on the wall in the their kitchen or living rooms, with three or four pipes with different bowl sizes and shapes, the thing about pipes was that in their lighting a great cloud of smoke was released and as they often went out relighting them produced another cloud, many wives regarded them as being filthy and I think they were probably right. Cigars were I think still available but extra hard to come by, but Winston Churchill was rarely seen without one.

With tobacco being in such short supply dad decided to grow his own, I think he probably had about six ‘nocotinus’ plants which had a lovely smell and although they grew well producing a fair number of large leaves the problem came with drying and curing them which is more difficult than one would expect I think mainly due to our damp climate. He did produce some sort of tobacco although it did not look exactly like the manufactured stuff and it was not at all suited to cigarette making and had to be used in a pipe. To make his product more palatable dad mixed in some of his home produced honey and stuck this gooey mess in his pipe but I don’t thing it was very successful as I think that it was his one and only attempt to grow his own.

 

 

 

Market gardening

The bombing of cities went on right through the winter of 1940 and more or less stopped at the end of April 1941, the reason being that Hitler needed his aircraft to attack other countries and also that he had failed to achieve his objective in bombing our towns but he was a lot more successful elsewhere and by the middle of 1941, he and his Italian ally had added Romania, Bulgaria, Greece Crete, Albania and Yugoslavia to defeated countries and his army was deep in to Russia having already captured the Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland which had sided with him, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey remained neutral but both Spain which was already a Fascist country and Turkey had close associations with Germany. With the fall of France he also gained Algeria and French Morocco. Our only remaining territories in Europe were Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Palestine and Egypt in the Mediterranean but we had taken over Iceland and the Faro Islands which were Dutch possessions, we took them over when Denmark surrendered to the Germans.

Italy’s attack on the British in 1940 in which Mussolini hoped to capture Egypt was a disaster for them and almost lost him Libya from where he launched his attack, with the Commonwealth forces pushing his army, back further and further across the desert and capturing 130,000 soldiers in the process. This was about our only success during the first two years of the war but that was comparatively short lived once the Germans and Rommel interceded and took over from the Italians. The Germans were also winning the war at sea with ‘U’ Boats sinking enormous amount shipping in the North Atlantic, further the Japanese were making inroads in our possessions in Asia.

As an island nation we relied upon imported goods for food and raw materials delivered by sea. With a population of roughly 42,000,000 in the 1940’s we could not feed them without these imports, therefore Hitler did his best to destroy our merchant fleet and came close to succeeding. In an effort to produce as much home grown food as possible every available piece of land that could grow something was dug up and planted, including, parks, railway embankments, grass roadside verges, football pitches and down land which prior to the war would be regarded as useless as arable land. ‘Dig for victory’ was a slogan at the time, Thus our front garden which was about 50ft. long and roughly 30ft wide which until that time was laid out with lawns and flower borders was dug up and potatoes planted, the back garden which was roughly the same size was already fully planted with vegetables and fruit bushes, in addition dad created an allotment on rough pasture land at the bottom of Cowleys Dairy which was four properties up from Common Road with access from that lane. The plot was about 40ft X 40ft. It was poor quality land which dad had to drain before he could start to captivate it and that required what is called double digging which in clayish soil is very hard and laborious work, further he only had Saturday and Sunday mornings to do that, at the same time cultivating the rest of his existing garden, to do all this required that we children would also have to do our bit.

Dad was a very neat gardener with all the veg’ planted in very straight lines with the gaps between lines accurately spaced, in the growing season and before they were bearing fruit, all the different plants together were a joy to behold. Because dad was away at work all week, it was Rods and my job to do the watering, to this end dad fixed a hand operated lever action pump to the stump of an old plum tree at the bottom of the garden with a pipe running down from it into the stream which ran across the bottom of the garden. A flexible hose with an adjustable nozzle was attached to the discharge spigot which allowed the operator to direct the water so that roughly half the garden could be watered by one person, the other half could only be reached if a second person did the pumping and the other controlled the hose. Although we had a sufficiently sized garden to give fresh vegetables from late spring until the autumn, they were all seasonal, although it was possible to keep root crops which would last almost through the winter, partly dependent on the success of the crop, by Christmas things like cabbage and brussel sprouts were used up, as for fruit, apart from some types of apple which might keep until January, the rest had to used as they ripened or preserved, by bottling or making into jam, which was another task for mum.

Just prior to the war Pat and I were given pet rabbits, my own desire for one came about after I played with Denny Reeves who had been borne about three weeks after me in the house next door to my birth place in Shaftesbury Avenue, I think I played with him at his house a couple of times after school but not only did he have a tricycle but also a rabbit and I loved the combined smell of straw, hay and the rabbit. Dad built two grand cages for our two rabbits, I had a Silver Grey doe which I call ‘Flossy’ and Pat had a Belgium Hare buck which she called ‘Whiskers’. I don’t know how long we had kept them before dad decided to mate them but I seem to recollect that ‘Flossy’ had been pulling fur out of her chest as an indication that she wanted babies and that was the reason. I clearly remember that once he had put ‘Whiskers’ in with ‘Flossy’ and lowering the blind over the meshed front of the hutch, I’m unsure whether this was for the benefit of the rabbits or so that we children should not see the actual mating act, after a great deal thumping and bumping there followed a silence, dad raised the cover and put ‘Whiskers’ back in his own cage and the act was done. I can’t recall how long it was before ‘Flossy’ was making a nest from fur she pulled from her own body. We had strict instruction not to open the door to the nest box nor frighten the adult for fear she might kill her offspring but to allow the babies to emerge in their own good time, we could hardly wait to see how many and what colours they would be, as it happened she had seven babies in her first litter, brown and white, grey and white, all white, black and white, all grey and all black. We kept two and gave away the others but it did not end there, dad built more cages and at one point we had forty rabbit mouths to feed.

We still kept our two original rabbits as pets but the others were destined to either sold or fattened for our own pot, the task of killing them was down to dad, he also did the skinning and gutting. We did attempt to preserve some of the skins to make gloves by stretching them out and tacking them to a board and then rubbing a saltpetre solution in to them, although we managed to preserve them they were as stiff as the board and we never managed to make them supple enough to make gloves. Needless to say we had plenty of rabbit stews from our own bred rabbits but also wild ones which dad acquired at work, and some times he brought home live eels which came from road workers clearing ditches, he used to bring them home wrapped in wet newspaper and let them loose on the kitchen floor but like the rabbits it was him who did the killing, skinning and gutting. I loved eel and the taste and texture of the creatures.

The call was for families to produce as much food for themselves as possible, resulting in lots of households keeping chickens, some with larger plots even kept pigs, to that end we did have a white cockerel to fatten for Christmas, it was quite a bad tempered beast and I remember coming home from school one day when mum had not yet got back from a visit to grandmas and found the bird had some how escaped from its run, I tried to capture it but it was having none of that and pecked at me quite viciously and although I had grabbed it to stop it flapping it managed to free itself leaving me hanging on to the end of one wing, I remember going round in circles with the bird furiously flapping its other wing and trying to get at me at the same time causing me to launch it away from me, when it landed it strutted about as much as to say ‘just try that again’. With Pats help we did eventually manage to re- cage it.

With dozens of people keeping if not chickens then just a cockerel, the trouble with that was that cockerels crow, thus at first light and that could be as early as four or five o’clock in the morning, one would start crowing with others then taking up the call so that when they were all at it, it was quite a din, if you had the misfortune to be awake when this started you certainly would not be able sleep until it stopped. Not only did we have a cockerel but at another time we had six karkikambel ducks which were kept in a pen at the bottom of the garden, they were lovely creatures but the trouble was that they got terrible muddy in the pen and looked quit miserable and at that point in time had not produce a single egg. Mum decided to let them out and in a rush they headed straight down into the stream with much quacking and had a glorious clean-up, from then on they were more like pets, being let out first thing in the morning and spending nearly all day in the stream wandering as far away as Valley Road which was almost a quarter of a mile, but returning in a rush when mum called them by beating their food container, you could hear their quacking getting louder and louder as they got nearer and nearer finishing with a rush up the path from the stream. They used to come up to the back door and were quite happy to be picked up and loved to rub around your neck with their beaks, but like the rabbits and cockerel, they also landed up in the pot. I think we only ever got about two eggs from them and those I recovered from the stream.

Bee keeping was another home enterprise but which required a bit more hands on skill, Mr Compton who with his wife ran the grocery shop across the road had about six hives and there quite a number of other bee keepers about, Dad decided to be one of them having bought a book of ‘How to keep bees’ and proceeded to get all the necessary equipment and to build the hives and as usual for him they were well made. I don’t know where he got the swarm from but the hive was set at the bottom of the garden where the ducks had been or we might have still had the ducks I don’t know. He started off with two layers of honey combs in frames one being for the production of honey and the other for producing new bees. A metal mesh with slots large enough for the worker bees to pass but not the queen was set between the two layers, the bottom layer was for the production new bees and the upper layer was for the storage of honey, as the number of bees increased further layers of frames with man made combs made from wax were added.

I was fascinated in these busy insects and spent a lot of time knelt down very close the hives landing stage, making sure I was not in their flight path, watching the bees coming in with their back legs loaded with pollen in a wide range of colour from lilac, purple, lemon yellow, chrome yellow, orange and even red, as each bee landed it was inspected by guard bee, if an alien bee landed it was attacked and seen off., on hot days a number of bee would stand at the entrance with tails ends towards the entrance beating their wing and directing the air into the hive to cool it. At the end of the summer the drones [male bees] which had spent their lives doing nothing but feed off the efforts of the workers were evicted and died. If you were to get as close to the hive as I was you had to make sure that you did not have a smell about you that they did not like, my father made the mistake of going near them when he had creosote on his hands and clothes from treating the shed, the bees showed their disapproval by giving him almost a dozen stings.

You had to have the right equipment to keep bees not only in protective gear like the hat and net veil and the smoke puffer to subdue the bees when you opened the hive but also a method of extracting the honey from the combs, here again dad made his own extractor which was a centrifuge in the form of an open top drum large enough to take three frames at a time, the wax lids to each cell having been removed using a broad flat knife heated in hot water. The frames were held vertically on a central spindle, a lid with a central spigot which located onto the central spindle and secured in to place by hand tightened clamps had a handle in the centre which when turned would spin the combs throwing out the honey.

If you keep bees you were entitled to extra sugar which the bees needed to survive the winter once you had deprived them of their honey, this was given them in the form of sugar water, dad decided one year that he would let the bees keep the honey and mum could use the sugar for jam making etc., Bees being bees can out grow their hive meaning they need to form another colony elsewhere so they swarm, a new queen taking half the bees with her, this presented mum with a problem as the bees were not obliging enough to wait for the weekend to do so and when dad was available to deal with it, bees won’t swarm if there is thunder about, therefore, if they were in the process of doing so mum found that if she beat on one of the galvanised washing tubs they mistook it for thunder and went back in the hive but this only worked a couple of times when the need for them to go overruled the threat and away they went and dad had lost the swarm. I don’t think that the bee keeping was a huge success mainly because dad was not around at the time he needed to be to properly look after them, I think the end came when we had period of very cold weather and the hive had not been insulated which resulted in the bees freezing to death.

Secret hoard

With our only military success being the routing of the Italians in North Africa in 1940 and the first half of 1941 this success was to be reversed when the Germans under Rommel interceded and on in July 17th he struck for Egypt quickly pushing our troops back over the hard fought land we had taken from the Italians, by October 1942 his troops were poised to attack towards Alexandra in Egypt but was held up by the British at El Alamien which one could say was the turning point in the war and on the October 23rd the British and Commonwealth troops, under the command of General Montgomery and after the greatest bombardment in history using 592 guns firing full out for fifteen minutes, started to push the Germans back across Libya from which they never recovered. I clearly remember that the sound of this bombardment was recorded and played over the radio.

As Winston Churchill said at that time ‘this not the end but the beginning of the end’. In the Atlantic the Germans were still achieving a great deal of success in sinking Allied shipping with thousands of tons of ships and their precious cargos going to the bottom of the ocean through the action of mainly of the U Boats although aircraft also took a toll, at the same time they were loosing more and more submarines.

In many ways at the age of ten I was aware of a great deal about America, mainly through the radio and particularly singers or ‘crooners’ as the male singers were called and once America was in the war comedy programmes, big band music, swing and jazz became as familiar as our own programmes. One the first songs we heard was ‘Over there, over there, over there, everywhere, for the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming over there.’ And ‘You’re in the Army Mr Brown, no private room or telephone you had your breakfast in bed before but you won’t have there anymore’

The American soldiers became known by their own terminology such as G.I.s [General purpose] Doughboys and of course Yanks. When I asked my Father about them all I can recall call was that they smelt but I didn’t gather what sort of smell, good or bad, but all though welcome, they did come in for some derogatory remarks such as ‘what took you so long’ and ‘at least you are in it a little earlier than last time’, referring to the First World War. They were also ‘better off’ ‘better dressed’ ‘better fed’ and ‘better equipped’ than our own troops which didn’t go down too well with our forces and to make matters worse, the women loved them particularly as a source of nylon stockings which were otherwise unavailable.

As I have already stated the night bombing more or less stopped by the middle of 1941. How many night raids were actually made on Southampton I’m not sure nor when the last one took place. I do recall that the first time that the siren sounded that we did not have a shelter I took myself into the cupboard under the stairs and sat on sacks of potatoes, I was shaking and scared more from the prospect of being gassed, particularly as our house did not have a gas proof room. I think on that occasion no raid developed.

The Anderson Shelter which came later, originally had a dirt base but before we used it mum discovered that water was getting in and was already covering the floor. Almost too late, she remembered that dad had buried something in the floor, although she didn’t know what exactly what, dad thought he had buried what ever it was secretly and without mum knowing, luckily she knew he had buried something and thought that whatever was, it would be damaged by the water so she dug it up. It was a biscuit tin containing about £200 in cash which was contaminated with water, she had to peel the notes apart and pegged them up on the line across the kitchen to dry out, Dad was less than pleased when he got home, not so much because of the state of the money but because mum now knew about his secret hoard, £200 was then quite a lot of money.

Before the night raids started a concrete floor and sides up to ground level was added although water still seeped in but I don’t know were dad hid the cash from thereon, nevertheless his secret was out, which I think showed a great lack of trust in mum.

Stray bombs

There was no NHS until after the war therefore you had to pay for the services of a doctor or hospital treatment, to avoid such costs it was necessary or at least sensible to be insured against those needs, to this end most families belonged to schemes where they paid into the ‘Panel’ a few pence per month. At that time there was a wooden hut which had once been the village ‘Reading Room’ which had been relocated to be in the grounds of St Boniface Church and about half a mile down Hursley Road from home, it was here that we would pay our subscription to Mr Pook the Prudential Insurance agent.

Mr Pook looked a bit like Capt. Mainwaring from ‘Dads Army’ in his role as the bank manager. He lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden at the top end of Hursley Road between Hiltingbury and Hocombe Road. Our gang got to know this house or rather its garden because we had befriended an evacuee from Portsmouth Grammar School who was lodged there during the ‘Blitz’. One day after a night bombing raid we called on him, outside the house was a mattress almost totally destroyed by an incendiary bomb which had crashed through the roof and onto his bed just as he left it because of the raid, the bomb was one of many that had fallen mainly into the birch wood that backed all of the houses at that point but they had caught fire to the thatched roof a lone property in Hocombe Road destroying the entire roof. The woods was also part of the garden of the house where we found a number of burnt patches with a white ash centre and the fins of the bombs and a strong smell of phosphorous. I kept one the fins for many years together with shards of shrapnel and the calibrated nose cone of an anti-aircraft shell.

On another occasion a stray bomb hit and destroyed a large detached house on Winchester Road, again between Hiltingbury and Hocombe Road, killing a man. My Uncle Doug and his family had a lucky escape when a land mine fell at the bottom of his garden in Shaftesbury Avenue, the road where I was born, The gardens of the surrounding houses which backed on to those in Keeball Road were quite long and slopped down to a footpath where the mine landed in soft soil, making a massive crater and taking off the roof tiles of most of the surrounding houses and shattering all of the windows facing in that direction, at the same time another bomb landed on a vacant plot next door to the house where my Aunt Joan lived but failed to explode, a further bomb fell in Knightwood but also failed to explode. North Baddesley was also subject to a number of stray bombs and although the amount of such events was small they were enough to warrant going to the shelter or taking cover when the siren went although some people even slept through some of the raids.

Whilst bombing was either still going on or was likely, our play area was more or less limited to the Green and near by copse and we rarely adventured further a field but one day an excavator and dumper started to dig up our playground dumping the clay soil into the copse, which eventually killed the mature oaks. On our Green they built an aircraft factory making wings for Spitfires, Hursley Park which had belonged to Sir George Cooper had already had factories built in the grounds also to do with the construction of Spitfires. Southampton Corporation buses were used morning and evening to ferry the workers in from Southampton and about a dozen double decker buses would travel very fast up and down Hursley Road swaying quite a bit as they did so. All this resulted in losing our much loved play ground thus we had to find new places to play.

As I have already mentioned that Chandlers Ford was not a target but it was subject to stray bombs, the German planes always attacked from inland, apparently the radar system which was still in its infancy was directed out to sea therefore any enemy plane that managed to cross the coast was the out of the radars range which made them much more difficult to plot, that is one possibly reason and another was that their target was more visible when approached from inland being shown up by Southampton water and the Itchen and Test Rivers with any light from the moon or other source reflecting on the water.

 

 

It's That Man Again

The radio was the main source of entertainment in our house although for the adult population there was the cinema, dances, whist drives etc,. I think that the cinema was dominated by American movies because not many were being produced in this country, I can’t really comment about the cinema because as none of our family ever went. The most important radio programmes for adults was the News, ‘This is the Home Service and the 1 O’clock News with so and so reading it’ which invariably opened with a report on the war, there was also a radio doctor, Doctor Hill, talking about health issues in a very serious voice and commenting on the important necessity of ‘ keeping ones bowels open’. I think he was on every day. There was also a lunch time programme called ‘Workers Playtime,’ which was broadcast from some large factory canteen, the programme often featured some of the top performers of the time such as Gracie Fields, Arthur Askey, Vera Lynn, George Formby with a mixture of singing and comedy and very often, audience participation in the form of a sing-along.

Mum had her favourite programmes such as ‘Palm Court Hotel’ on a Sunday evening with Anna Negal and Webster Booth, which was mainly music, with their signature tune ‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again’ another Sunday evening programme which mum listened to without fail was ‘Hymns’ with all the most popular ones, which she sang along with. During the week there was a number of programmes which were directed at women such as ‘Women’s Hour’ ‘Mrs Dales Diary’ which always at some point in the programme Mrs Dale would say ‘I’m worried about Jim’ there was also ‘The Luscombe’s’ a series set in Somerset, I’m not positive but I believe that ‘The Archers’ ‘The every day story of country folk’ had its beginnings back during the war.

The only a couple of programme directed towards children that I remember one was ‘Listen with Mother’which I never did and the other was ’Children’s Hour’ which was broadcast between four and five, I can’t remember much about it’s contents other than a tune ‘ We are the Ovaltinies little girls and boys’ and ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’ with the theme tune ‘ Coronation Scot’ I also think that there was ‘The Lone Ranger‘ and his side kick ‘Tonto’ with the theme music from the ’William Tell Overture’ I remember both programmes more for the music than their other content. Other programmes which must have been within ‘Children’s Hour’ were ’Billy Bunter‘ of Greyfriars School , Bunter was fat and greedy and most of the stories was the amount of trouble he got into in his pursuit of tuck. The other wayward school boy was ‘William Brown’ in ‘Just William’. William was always into trouble of one sort or another, I think his friend had sister called Violet Elizabeth who would say in a lispy voice that she would ‘Scream and scream until she was sick’ if she didn’t get her way. One important value of radio is that, like reading a book, ones own imagination is stimulated, against films and television were it is the product of someone else’s .

On a Saturday night there was a programme called ‘In town tonight’ a kind of chat show opening with the words ‘We stop the mighty roar of London’s traffic to see who is in town tonight’. There was of course lots of variety programmes, again with well known stars, with lots of derogatory jokes about Hitler, and when the Americans arrived quite a few jokes about them as well. One well liked comedy programme was ‘ITMA’ [It’s That Man Again] with Tommy Handley as the top comedian, it was not to mums taste and targeted the younger generation, I don’t believe she understood half of the jokes.

Another programme was targeted at the older generation, called ‘Down your way’ with Wilfred Pickles where a member of the audience had to answer very, very, simple questions which more often than not they got wrong but they still got the magnificent money price of ‘five bob’ [five shillings] with Pickles saying ‘giv’em the money Barney’ even at my then age I thought it a very patronising sort of programme. Mum did not like classical music or operatic music, particularly women singing arias, which she called ‘screeching’ and would turn the radio off. I quite liked arias and what one calls ‘popular classics’ but mum did not see any of this as in anyway educational.

Music was very important as a moral booster, with lots of sing-a- longs, there was ‘Forces Favourites’ with Vera Lynn where wives and girl friends would write in with a request for a loved one serving overseas, with the signature of ‘We’ll meet again’ and it was almost certain that she would sing ‘There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’ another popular musical show was Bill Cotton with opening of ‘Wakey Wakey’ A lot of the songs were left over’s from the WW1 and pre-war variety theatres such as ‘It’s a long way to Tippery’ ‘Daisy Daisy’ ‘My old man said follow the van’, one such variety show was the ’Crazy Gang’ with Flanagan and Allen with songs like ‘Underneath the Arches’ and ‘Any Umbrellas’ and ‘The old lamp lighter’ ‘ Run Rabbit run’ other popular songs were ‘A nightingale sang in Berkley Square’ ‘ Mad dogs of Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun’ ‘On the Road to Mandalay’ ‘A soldier is a soldier’ ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ ‘ I like to climb up apple trees’ ‘Roll out the barrel’ and George Formby with his ukulele with songs like ‘ When I’m cleaning Windows’ and ‘ I’m leaning on a lamp post on the corner of a street’. Gracie Fields like Vera Lyn was a real favourite, singing ‘Sally, Sally pride of our alley’. These are just a few of the many stars and their songs that I remember that were top in the early years of the war and before the Americans joined in, in fact I made a list of the names of all the personnel I could remember from that period and it is over thirty.

The cinema was also a top for entertainment, although none of our family ever went, the ‘Daily Echo’ devoted one whole page to advertising their programmes for the week and I remember almost all the names of the cinemas that were shown covering Southampton and surrounding districts, there was the Odeon, Forum, ABC, more than one Ritz, the Classic, Rialto, Plaza, Regal, The Royal, Picture House and the Gaumount the largest which had been a theatre and has since become one again under the name of The Mayfair. Some of these cinemas were quite small, often called ‘bug hutches’ and some had at one time had been variety theatres. I don’t think that a single one was hit by a bomb although some were left with hardly a building still standing around them. As for the films that were shown I don’t have much idea but one thing I do known that 90% were made in black and white with colour being a rarity and like most things during the war you had to queue to get in.

Like music, comedy was extremely important to keep up morale and here again I remember a lot of wartime programmes from that period but not exactly what year that they were broadcast, some I think were around for the whole war. I’ve already mentioned ITMA but there were many more like ‘The Glums’ with Jimmy Edwards which also feature June Whitfield, another of his programmes was ‘Wacko’ in which I think he was headmaster of a school., yet another was ‘The Navy Lark’ with Kenneth Horn and Richard Murdoch, there were a number of other shows like them, which at this moment the names escape me but I can think of a great many stand up comedians that were mainly in the variety shows such as Max Wall, Tommy Trinder, Vic Oliver, Bernard Mills, Arthur Askey, Will Hay, Cyril Fletcher, Arthur English and Max Miller who got banned from the BBC for using, by modern standards, a quite mild and common swear word, there was also one or two women who were popular acts such as Elsie and Doris Walters, Peggy Mount, Joyce Grenfield, Margret Rutherford, Beryl Reed and several others which although I can visualise them and hear them, their names escape for the moment.

Within the range of variety shows there always seemed to be acts like ‘tap dancing’ a ‘ventriloquist’ someone playing a harmonica like Larry Adler, or the xylophone, even whistling and very often a chap mimicking bird song and farm animals, as you can imagine tap dancing and ventriloquism required a bit of imagination on the part of the listener as to most people they are more visual acts but there again almost everything that was broadcast required the listeners own imagination particularly, plays and serials.

Increasingly as the war progressed more and more American comedians and their shows were broadcast such as ‘Jack Benny and his servant Rochester’, ‘George Burns and Gracie Allen’ ‘Bob Hope’ and a lot of ‘Big Band’ music with the likes of ‘Glen Miller’ ‘Benny Goodman’ ‘Duke Ellington’ and crooners such ‘Bing Crosby’ with a fair amount of memorable music from films with Judy Garland singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and songs from films such as ‘Easter Parade’ and lots of hit songs from Fred Astaire films that he made with Ginger Rogers.

 

 

Ignorant country folk

The Japanese attacked the American Fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on Dec 7th 1941 on Dec 8th America declared war not only on Japan but Germany and Italy who had a pact with them. In Jan 1942 American soldiers started to arrive in this country, Northern Ireland being first, from then on there was a massive influx of not only GI’s but also USAF. I’m not sure of the date that I saw my first American soldier. During 1942 the British and Commonwealth Army, known as the 8th Army or ‘Dessert Rats ,‘were pushing the German and Italian Army back across Libya towards Tunisia. In November 1942 an Allied Force invaded French North Africa of Morocco, Algeria and Tunis with the object of speeding the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa, although it was supposed to be an American offensive, more than half were British and Commonwealth troops, At first the Vichy French troops opposed the landing, and fought the Allies but after several days of opposition they surrendered and the joined forces with the Allies.

Before the War, Gamekeepers appeared to me to be as powerful or maybe more powerful than the police in their own domain and anyone passing through their patch had to stick closely to their rules. The width of a footpath was no wider than ‘one man and his dog’ and they made sure you kept to that for nothing but nothing was allowed to disturb their precious game of pheasants and partridge. Andrews was our local gamekeeper who lived in an isolated ‘Keepers Cottage’ in Flexford Road, now replaced by a large private house, it had a lot of ground some of which was used to rear game birds. We sometimes met up with Andrews with his broken 12 bore shotgun in the crook of his arm, when out for our Sunday walk, he and dad would exchange a few words before we continued our walk. Sometimes we would get the smell of dead creatures long before coming across the carnage wrought by Mr. Andrews gun, rooks, crows, magpies, squirrels, stoats and weasels were hung and strung up on a barbed wire fence and left to rot away, pigeons and rabbits were also a target but they ended up in the kitchen.

It was within the power or a gamekeeper to shot any free running dog but foxes escaped his gun only to be persecuted by ‘the unmentionables chasing the inedible’ the quote Oscar Wilde, pretty much the same group would also blast the life out of the pheasants and partridge,
which Andrews had killed so many other creatures to protect. Suffice to say Andrews was called up, I don’t know if he landed up being shot himself but there would have been some sort of justice if he had. With the end of shooting from that time on and the absence of the gamekeeper opened up a huge area of woods and fields to our gang which would otherwise be denied us.

Rabbits were persecuted by any number of folk, farmers and gamekeepers shot them, farm labourers and some villages snared them and poachers netted them, using ferrets. There were a number of rabbit warrens around Chandler’s Ford some quite extensive with many interconnected burrows, nets were fixed over as many holes as could be seen with a couple left for ferrets to be introduced into the warren, as the rabbits tried to escape the ferrets they ran full tilt into the nets where they were killed one way or another, never-the-less many still managed to get away through undetected holes hidden under shrubs with those that escaped ready to recolanise the warren.

From quite a young age, against the trend of most of the adults and most children at that time, I hated the shooting of the birds and fox hunting, maybe I was partly or indirectly influenced by my father who had absolutely no time for the ‘ruling class’ who the were the main exploiters of these pass times, at the same time it was ordinary country folk who supported fox hunting, who opened farm gates to allow the fat and old riders who couldn’t jump the hedges and fences to keep up with the hounds, it was also the same country folk who would be employed as ‘beaters’ to drive the pheasants and partridges towards the waiting guns by walking in a line through the woods and copse beating the undergrowth with rods and poles to frighten the birds into flight, very few birds managed to escape.

Shooting is still practiced, although deer hunting with hounds is entirely band. Fox hunting is banded in a ‘half cock’ way supposedly replaced by drag hunting but a lot of anti hunting people which is the majority of the population think that it still goes on. I can appreciated and understand that a great deal of the attraction of hunting is being able to ride at speed across open farmland, jumping fences and hedges which is only possible during the hunting season but the excuse for killing the animal in such a horrible way that it is with hunting, is that foxes are vermin and that hunting with hounds is the only effective way of controlling them, which is of course complete nonsense, after all the old song goes ‘A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, we’ll catch a fox, put him in a box and then we’ll let him go’ in other words it’s not that difficult to trap a fox, admittedly, foxes can be very destructive if they manage to get into a hen house and will probable kill all the birds but to me it is up to the farmer or other keeper to ensure that their hens are properly protected.

Country folk were to my mind, pretty ignorant and often downright cruel when it came to the understanding of wild life, birds nests were often ‘ragged’ in other words ‘destroyed’ even if there were babies in the nest, frogs suffered from having a straw or grass stem pushed in to their anus which made them swell up, newts were caught and imprisoned in to jam jars where they nearly always died within a couple of days, bluebells were pulled out of the ground rather than picked thus destroying the bulb and song birds were trapped to become caged, birds such as the Linnet and Goldfinch in particular.

Jackdaws were another bird that suffered this fate as they could be made to talk like parrots, the family that lived next door to grandma, the husband being the local copper, had one kept in a small cage next to their kitchen door, there was a tall but thin private hedge between the properties through which the cage could be seen. The Jackdaw would say ‘Hello Rodney’ when ever my brother visited grandma. Snakes were another creature which was killed at every opportunity, that included the harmless grass- snake and even slow-worms which are in fact legless lizards would be killed because they looked like a snake.

 

 

Egg hunt

As I have already mentioned apart from Don, who was much younger than myself, there were no other boys near my age to play with and as I always came home lunch times I never really made any close friends at school and even if I had they would live to far away for me to play with, thus I had rely on Pat and occasionally Rod for play mates, at the same time I do not remember feeling particularly isolated as a result, being a bit of a loner anyway, however that changed when the Newton family were evacuated from Southampton, their house being severely damaged from a bomb.

The Baker family who lived three doors away in a similar house to ours, took the family in Mrs Newton who had three children, Marion, Frank and Allen was already a widow, her husband, who was in the Merchant Navy had died in South Africa not from enemy action but from a nose bleed that could not be stopped or that is how I understood it. I can’t remember exactly how long they stayed at the Bakers who themselves had a young daughter but Don and I quickly became friends with Frank and Allen. My first knowledge that this family had arrived was when I was playing our back garden, there was when a mighty scream which came from Bakers garden where I saw a white haired boy being lifted up by an adult his hair rapidly turning to red where he had split open his head on the corrugated metal above the opening of an Anderson Shelter.

Mrs, Newton became very friendly with Mr, Hatley who owned a saw mill in Baddesley Road and an engineering works at the bottom of the garden of the bungalow he lived in on the corner of Hursley Road and Cockoobushes Lane. I don’t know what was the basis of their friendship but it lead to the Newtons moving into old Ma Wallaces house four doors up the road from home. Old Ma Wallace as we called her did not seem to like kids, she used to come across the road where there was a small but climbable oak tree, whenever we climbed this tree she would come out of her houses and across the road and try to dislodge us with a clothes prop without success, all she ever got from that was a lot of cheek and laughter as climbed out of reach. Ma Wallace must have either moved or died, I suspect the later, for the house to become empty, the garden had become very over grown by the time the Newtons moved in and they did little to reverse that, so the garden became a great play area for the ‘Ramalley Gang’ as we called ourselves.

I liked all of the Newtons, Frank in particular, he was about eighteen months older than me, with Allen about two years younger, Marion was the oldest. If any of my friends called for me or I called for them, they or you would never be invited indoors, you had to wait on the doorstep but not at the Newtons you were always invited in. Frank and Allen, probably with funding from Mr Hatley, were given identification books on birds, butterflies, moths etc., showing how to collect eggs and preserve and mount the butterflies but at the same time emphasise the need for conservation with a strict code in protecting a nest and depending how many eggs were in the nest determined whether an egg could be safely taken without the adult birds deserting the nest.

Having found a nest, say for instance a blackbird, from the book it would illustrate the look of the nest and show what the egg looked like and it’s size and shape and the maximum number laid by that particular species, it the case of a blackbird it was usually considered safe to take one egg from a clutch when the nest had five without upsetting the birds and it was probable that another egg would be laid to replace that which was taken. Once we had taken an egg it had to be ‘blown’ to empty the egg of the yolk, this was done by making a hole at each end of the egg and blowing air in to one hole thus forcing the contents out through the other hole, this could be quite a delicate operation with tiny eggs as small as a bluetit’s but it was important to know how long the eggs had been laid, if it was it was to long then the egg could well contain an embryo. Once we had added an egg from any one species to the collection, that was that and no more eggs of that species were taken, that was the code and we stuck by it, although we would still hunt for all nests.

Butterflies were caught using a net, in our case a homemade one’s, but again once we had caught and mounted a particular species the rest were left alone. However there was one butterfly which was regarded as a pest and that was the ‘Cabbage White’ who’s caterpillar caused massive damage to, as it’s name implies, cabbages, at one time children could earn money by collecting the caterpillars in jars and even buckets but I don’t remember what the going rate was as I never took part, even though I squashed hundreds of the beasts.

After D- Day and when almost all the troops had left the village we suddenly had thousands of acres of allsorts of places that we could roam unchallenged, we would wandered miles and miles looking for nests, this you had to do in the pursuit of different species, for instance you had to find fair sized stretches of water to find Moorhens, Coots or Mallards nests, there were plenty of eggs and butterflies that we never got, simply because the different types of habitats were well out of our range. One thing you had to be was good at tree climbing, once you had climbed and reached a nest and it had an egg that you required, then you had to come down the tree without breaking it, this often meant putting it in your mouth and hope that nothing happened on decent to cause you to break it, which did happen.

I remember on one occasion we discovered a Sparrow hawks nest at the very top of an ivy clad forest oak tree, the lowest branch was a good thirty feet up, if not higher, we thought it was unclimbable but as it was an egg that we did not have and we were determined to get one. First we cut down a birch about 3” in diameter and made a pole which was lent against the oak and which I monkey climbed up as far as I could and then used the ivy to reach the first branch, thus I managed to reach the nest, in fact there was two, at which point I was attacked by the birds, never-the-less I took an egg, to get that one down unbroken also presented a problem, it was too big to put in my mouth, to overcome that a jacket was attached to the end of the birch pole and by Don standing on Franks shoulder and stretching up as far as he could the pole almost reach the lowest branch and by hanging more or less upside down I managed to reach down to the jacket and placed the egg in what I thought was a pocket, unfortunately it was the sleeve, the egg made a rapid decent straight down and splattered on to Allen’s upturned face. That was one occasion that we broke our code and I climbed up again to get another.

 

 

The Yanks are here

Throughout 1942 and up to the Allied landing in Normandy there was an ever increasing build up of soldiers in and around Chandlers Ford, a small detachment of French Canadians set up camp on part of what had been the brick field in Common Road and at about that time a rifle range was built at the bottom of Camels Hump with the butt being built into the rising ground on the edge of Knightwood, I think there was only two or three at most, targets. The range was built by the Home Guard but the Canadians also used it using a tracked Brengun Carrier to reach it, via a track through Ramalley Copse, They gave our gang a ride on the carrier through the copse on a number of occasions.

We got on very well with them in fact they arranged a party in Ritchie Hall for the village kids. Each invited kid was taken by one of the soldiers, I remember being picked up from home by a very good looking Canadian but I quickly decided that he would rather have taken a girl, I can’t remember much about the party nor what the entertainment was but there was almost certainly a conjurer at some point, I don’t think I hardly said a word to my host nor him to me, but I was not a party lover anyhow, so our lack of communication was almost likely down to my reticence. The sad thing was that most of the Canadians camped in Common Road were killed in the first hours of landing on the French coast.

Other indications of military build up was that more and more convoys of army vehicles came down Hursley Road, I never saw one going up, these were empty lorries on training exercise’s, the first vehicle was a Standard car with a red flag and an officer stood up in the passengers seat directing operations and it would be followed by roughly fifty 5 ton Bedford lorries, the first vehicles were going no faster than about ten miles per hour but the last ones were going nearly fifty. Apart from vehicle convoys there was infantry manoeuvres and route marches where fully equipped soldiers passed our house in groups of about twelve soldiers with a sergeant alongside each group, each group was placed alternatively on each side of the road. It took ages for all the troops to pass, they looked absolutely exhausted, their faces grey with fatigue, Pat and I stood outside our gate and offered them apples as they passed but we had very few takers, for the most part they did not seem to even have the energy left to make an effort to eat on the move but I’m quite sure that this very hard training held them in good stead in the long run.

I’m not positive exactly when the Americans came to the village but one day on my way to school there were workmen working in Valley Road placing used bricks from bombed out houses against the kerbs then the full width of the pavement, was cover in depth with cinders, white lines were painted on the road forming bays each bay being numbered, nearly every side road in the northern end of the village was treated in this way leaving only Park Road clear, additionally all the cross roads junctions were dug up and replaced by thick concrete,

At that time we had no idea what was about to happen but shortly after, almost overnight, all of the bays were occupied by a ten wheeled American army lorries, bumper to bumper. One thing that struck me, apart from all the lorries had a white stars painted on the doors, was that each had an impossibly long registration number painted in about 3” letters along the entire length of the bonnet, there was a mix of hard and canvas topped cabins but mostly hard topped and all the backs had canvas covers. Thus the Americans arrived, a cook house, all under canvas and staffed almost entirely by black Americans occupied a site halfway along Valley Road and ablution blocks were built in various places around the area. Each side of Hiltingbury Road on what had been heathland was given over to wooden huts and metal Nissen Huts with a very large Blister Hanger built on the north side of the road as a massive store.

There was a constant going up and down Hursley Road of these ten wheeled lorries and Jeeps often fully loaded with soldiers, on occasions they had a display of white balloons tied to the canvass support bars, well we kids thought they were balloons but we learned later that they were inflated ‘french letters or contraceptives, having got that information, at that time, as to what a ‘french letter’ was, we were none the wiser as to what they were used for.

By that time, our milkman had been replaced by a milk lady who was quite young and not bad looking, the Americans would often wolf whistle at her and throw cigarettes and ‘K’ rations towards her, very often she failed to pick-up all that was thrown, so our gang would pick them up instead, thus I was introduced to smoking and became very familiar with all the most smoked American brands such as ‘Lucky Strike’, ‘Camel’ and ‘Marlbourgh’ in fact we retrieved more cigarettes than we could smoke so had to find a secret hiding place to store them, unfortunately our chosen hiding place for one batch of sixty cigarettes was not water proof and after one particular heavy storm the whole lot was reduced to a soggy mess. ‘K’ rations were whole meals packed in a form of kaki coloured grease proof cardboard, they were well worth having and often contained ‘cookies’ the American name for biscuits and chewing gum.

American gum was much sought after by school children, I think that our own ‘Wriggles’ gum was way behind the Yanks in appeal, G.I’s were often approached by young boys asking if they had ‘got any gum chum’ and more often than not a soldier would toss over a packet. Oranges were practically none existent to the general populace but one day on my way home from school there was a ten wheeler parked in Valley Road piled high with oranges for the American troops, I sure that I would have been given some if I’d asked but there seemed to be plenty of cargo space on the dangerous Atlantic crossing for them to have oranges but not for us.

Rod had become very friendly with the black Americans in the cook house, and spent quite a lot of time with them, he most have said that we Brits were rationed for meat, one day a very big black soldier accompanied by Rod arrived on our door step with a huge chunk of beef over his shoulder but mum politely declined to accept it, I’m sure that most others would have been happy to take it but not mum who was to scared to. Up to this time I don’t think we had ever seen a back person close up so that was a sort of novelty in itself but it must have been strange for them also, because in their own country they suffered segregation from the whites, which did not exist in this country where they treated as equals, with no barriers.

Although we had all these lorries parked along the roads, we did not see that many Americans near them as they were camped further up the village but what we did get was the noise of generators charging up the lorry batteries which often droned on all night. Soldiers being soldiers spent a lot of time in the local pubs and could often be heard staggering their way back to camp, singing out load and generally mucking about, on one occasion one of the drunk soldiers was dumped in our front garden, his mates having got fed up with handling this legless one, allowing him to ‘sleep it off ‘ but mum was very unhappy with the situation, she had no experience with drink or drunkenness and kept a watchful eye on him and every now and again would report ‘he’s still there’, I think he remained in the garden all night and only left at first light but mum got very little sleep by keeping watch, I don’t know just what mum expected might happen nor what she saw as a threat from the totally inebriated man but she was very nervous that night.