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From 1944

A Memory of Bearsted

Memories from that long ago tend to stick in the back of the mind until an association brings them out. Being a small child, the village green at Bearsted seemed gigantic and the village pond was just a pond. We used to paddle in the pond up to the top of our wellies, hoping that the water wouldn't run over the top and give us wet feet. The green was a favourite gathering place for a lot of children. One particular place was the village pump. There was no pump, only accomodation which looked like a church lich gate with seats around the inside. As kids we had a lot of freedom to wonder the local fields and the golf course. We even went as far as the hills where there was a ruined church/castle. In those days we didn't appreciate the archaeological value of a castle built of flint stone which had fallen into ruin and was largely buried, even tho' there was a standing wall with an arch.
Another of my favourite places was a pond just inside the fringe of the golf course. On summer days, during the school holidays, we'd go to the pond and catch a newt in a jar get some frog spawn. From there we'd wander through the woods and into long grass looking for snakes, lizards or slow worms.   On other occasions we'd walk along a lane called Malling Lane, through the railway bridge, along the railway bank to a stream. Sometimes we'd walk all the way along Malling Lane to the big manor at the top near the Pilgrims Way. There had been a big fire so only the outer walls of the house remained. To me, as a child, it seemed strange to look into the house and see three fire places at different heights on a chimney stack, with no floors between.
As lads we could choose to go in any direction from the village green. Just after the war when food was still rationed, we would somehow obtain a loaf, a bottle of water and, naughtily, pinch a couple of fags and a few matches and make off to the hills. The bottle would be passed around for each to have a drink. Between each drinker the top would be wiped on a sleeve to remove what we'd call germs. Eventually there would be loads of bread crumbs laying in the bottom of the bottle. Contrary to current ideas, most of us had a knife in our pocket which we'd use to cut a stick and then carve a pattern in the bark. We never thought of hurting anyone with a knife. It seemed that most of the time we'd wear wellies and would have red rings round our legs where the wellies rubbed. If we came across a stream we'd dam it to make a waterfall.
I enjoyed being in the village church choir. We'd have rehearsal once in the week and would attend church three times on Sunday - twice in the morning and once in the evening. On one occasion we were transported to Canterbury Cathedral, along with choirs from other areas and we all sang the Hallelujah chorus.
There was a fairly strong class system at work in the village. My father, as village butcher, would pay attention to orders for meat from what he called 'big houses'. On one occasion I became friendly with a lad called Mark Litchfieldspear. It was said that his father was captain of HMS Vanguard. My father called a halt to the association saying "Know your place my lad". and Mark's mother called a halt to it saying to Mark "Stay away from those dirty village boys". What she didn't know was that at the back of her property we were raiding her chestnut woods and going away with pockets full of large ripe chestnuts. I once ventured from the wood closer to the house and noticed a horse drawn sled in a large garage.
During the winter of 1947 when deep snow was the norm, my father had a sledge made for us by the local blacksmith. he used water pipes for runners which made it a high speed sledge wanted by everyone.
However, I have special memories of the war years and long army convoys going through the village. The lead truck carried a red flag and the last truck carried a green flag. The vehicles in between were; large guns, tracked carriers, supply trucks, radio vehicles, in short a good mix for a young lad to watch. On one occasion a whole convoy pulled up on the village green needing fuel. This caused a lot of excitement among both the village children and adults alike. I was not allowed to get into a gun carrier, but two of the soldiers did pick me up and threw me from one to the other and back again. They called me snowball because of my light blonde hair. Refuelling was slow because the fuel pump at the local garage was hand operated. Some of the trucks were so heavy they left big ruts in the green.
One of the big attractions of the village was the yearly fair held on August Monday. Attractions included; a rolling horse, archery, coconut shy, swings, pin the tail on donkey plus many others, and a big tent for tea and beer and, since our garden backed on the village green, we were asked to supply the water. A hose pipe was fixed to our tap frequently during the day of the fair. Living in a village meant that, at the time, I knew nearly everyone in the village. Living behind a shop helped in that respect. It seems hard to believe that the lads I knew then are now over 60 years old, some over 70. I suspect that many of the fields we roamed across are now housing estates and there will be a car or two in each drive.  

A memory shared by Beverley Simmons , on Sep 15th, 2008.

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