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.