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.