The Blitz started with the Sirens wailing in the early evenings, to warn of the approach of enemy planes. Then complete silence for quite a long time as we waited with mounting apprehension in the passage way, mother, myself, Dennis and David with father watching at the front door, John would not get out of bed for anything.
The drone of approaching bombers heralded the beginning of the air raid. Then the thunder of anti-aircraft guns, and the clink of shrapnel, falling in the street outside. We could see the brilliant glare of the silently falling magnesium flares, shining through the skylight over our stairs as they lit up the City, and knew that the bombs would soon follow.
First we would hear the whoosh of falling incendiary bombs that would start fires in the timber yards, factories and dockyards. Then the whistle of bombs coming down that would end it terrific explosions, shaking the house if they fell close by. Some nights we would go to the top of the street where an underground air raid shelter had been built in the timber yard, and meet with all the other people from the area, where we could stay until the "All Clear" siren sounded, usually just as it was getting daylight. There were wooden forms for the older people to sit on, but we children had to lie on concrete shelves at the side of the shelter, and try to sleep, but the concrete was very cold in the winter, and very uncomfortable. My brother John was still in bed when we arrived home again. Then one night when we were up at the shelter, an incendiary bomb fell through the roof of our house, into our parent's bedroom, but luckily the young lady next door (Hilda Paddick) heard it fall and went into the house with a bucket of sand, and extinguished it, so saving the house and brother John at the same time, had it been an high explosive bomb it would have flattened the whole street. After one particular long night of bombing, we emerged from the shelter at about four o'clock to see a bright orange sky from the burning city, and our Church, Holy Trinity Hotwells, a mass of flames shooting 60 or 70 feet into the air, with the clock tower silhouetted and all the tall windows lit from the fires inside.
One day at school the teachers told us that we were going to be sent to the country away from the bombing, and parents were told to pack up our clothes, and bring them to school with our gas masks. When the day came for us to leave, the three younger ones of our family, (John was left at home) presented ourselves at the school with carrier bags full of our clothes, and the gasmasks. I am not sure what happened to the gasmasks after that.
The teachers then pinned luggage labels on our coats with our names and addresses, and we were marched down the hill to Dowry Square where the buses were waiting to take us to the station. There was a great deal of excitement going on, and I was looking forward to the train ride. At Temple Meads station in Bristol I managed to keep the three of us together as we boarded the train. The station was like a mad house, with some kids crying, others laughing with excitement, and all milling about getting into the carriages. It was a very long day as the train was routed right through to Bideford station in Devon, where we arrived sometime in the afternoon. We were then taken to a church hall close by and given tea and cakes, and loaded back into busses and driven out to various villages. The village that my two brothers and I were sent to was Buckland Brewer. There we were unloaded at the Church Hall, and met the local People that were waiting to take care of us. The three of us stood together until a lady came up to us and asked if we would like to go with her, but that she could not take three, just the oldest and youngest, so poor David was left out again. Any way another lady said she would take David, so we said goodbye, having been assured that he would not be far away. Then we followed the lady, who said that we should call her Auntie, up through a Lych gate across the church yard to an old thatched farm house at the back of the church, and were taken into a flagstone kitchen where a wood fire burned in the long black range. There was a long table with an oilcloth cover, and a two burner paraffin lamp standing in the middle of it, two easy chairs, a couple of kitchen chairs and a long form for us kids to sit on. There was a door to the stairs that led to the bedrooms, a large one, and a small one, where Dennis and I were to sleep in the double bed. As we sat absorbing this new and strange atmosphere, and the lovely smell of wood smoke, a man came in with a new born lamb to warm it by the fire, and we were introduced to our new Uncle. Then after supper we were taken up to the bedroom with a candle, and climbed into bed.
No Sirens! No Guns! No Bombs! Just complete silence, except for the night breeze rustling the thatch that reached out over our bedroom window. Also the strange sound of what we learned was an owl. So began one of the most wonderful times of my younger years.
Uncle, Mr & Mrs Prance and their daughter Phyllis who was 14, the other three sons and daughter were living away from home. The other half of the house was occupied by a Mr & Mrs Brock, their son Sid, daughter Lenny and baby Bobbie. Sid was my best mate, and took me rabbiting Saturday afternoons with him and his father Tom and the two dogs, Joey and Cheeky. The house itself had been a farmhouse at one time and had a cobbled yard, old cob and thatch barn and several out houses, kitchen garden, and pen for a flock of hens. There was an earth closet around the back of the out houses next to the field that was rather draughty, if the wind was in a certain direction. A big leaden hand pump in a corner of the yard produced ice cold crystal clear water. There were two pigs kept in one of the outhouses that were killed in the summer. One salted down in a tin bathtub, the other was sent away by the ministry of food.
I only know of one tractor in the village at that time, a cast-iron radiator Fordson, and only one or two cars that were rarely seen because of petrol rationing, the work being done largely by Horses. I was sent to school in the Methodist chapel close by the village green, (that because of the wartime increase in Village population was mixed). Dennis and David went to the proper school at the lower end of the village, and the older children went to the Church Hall. At weekends Uncle would take me across the fields to Mr Tucker's farm “Borough” on the Bideford road where he worked, and let me try my hand at milking. The cows were very quiet Jerseys, but it made my wrist ache after only doing one. Then I would take some of the milk in a bucket to feed the calves and let them suck the milk through my fingers. There were four horses at Borough I think when I was there, and Uncle would put the harness on one of them and back it into the shafts of one of the two wheel carts, then we would load it with dung from the heap in the yard, take it up to the field and I would lead the horse, while Uncle would spread the dung from the back of the cart with a prong. Saturday afternoons our next door neighbours, Tom and his son Sid would take me rabbiting with the dogs and ferrets. We would go to a field where Tom had already bought the rabbits from the farmer, then put nets over all the holes we could find except one, and put the ferret into that hole, and wait.
Suddenly either one or two nets would erupt with a rabbit, or a rabbit would find a hole that did not have a net and take off across the field with the dogs after it, or nothing would happen and the ferret would come out of a hole and we would have nothing for our trouble. We would have our dinner sat under the hedge, eating pasties, and drinking cold tea from wire stoppered milk bottles. Sometimes Sid would take me out of an evening shooting plovers and would let me have a go with his single barrel shot gun, but it was a bit heavy for me to hold up, and hurt my shoulder. We were in a field one evening, and Sid said "Do you want a gun boy?" I did not understand the question, but said yes anyway, so he walked along the field to a point in the hedge, put his hand in and brought out an old fashioned double barrel shotgun, how he knew where to find it I don’t know, he must have put it their sometime, when in danger of being caught poaching. It was nearly the same height as I was, and I was the only kid in our gang that was running around the village playing cowboys and Indians, with a real gun. I suppose this demonstrates the rather casual attitude country folk had towards guns, in those days, now long gone. Another job I had to do with Sid was fetching the meal for the Pigs and Chickens, at the water mill a mile or so away, in the valley below the village, although this was a long walk I loved watching the water rushing over the turning wheel, and seeing the machinery at work. We were expected to go to church on Sunday mornings and Sunday school in the afternoons, where we boys took turns to pump the Organ. The Vicar was the Reverend Mr Beamish, I believe in 1940 he was eighty three, and would have been born when Queen Victoria was very young. Our only source of income was odd jobs, one of which was potato picking, hard work if it was raining and muddy, and although a penny was worth a lot more then, it was poor wages for a whole sack of Teddies. There were two general shops, and two butcher's shops, Mr Babs, and Mr Mills in the village, but we preferred Miss Cornish's village shop opposite the church yard, with its pinging doorbell smell of paraffin, candles, and soap, and best of all large sweet jars. Mother came to visit us twice I think while we were at Buckland. The first time to see how we were, and bring me a camera for my eleventh birthday, a Kodak Box Brownie that I kept for about twenty years. Auntie would go to Bideford once or twice a week on the bus, to sell her eggs and chickens, in the Pannier Market. Sometimes she would take us with her for a day out, and we would have Fish and Chips at a small Café in Mill Street. One day in the middle of summer Uncle Ken borrowed his boss Mr Steer’s car, and took Dennis and myself, plus Auntie and Phyllis to the seaside at Peppercombe, where we played on the sand and collected Limpets for a pie.
Uncle Ken and Sid from next door, who was seventeen, and waiting for call up, was in the Home Guard, and would assemble in the kitchen on certain nights, waiting to be taken to Bucks Mills on the coast for guard duty. Then came corn harvest, it began with the horses pulling the self-binder around the corn field, then we had to stook the sheaves, and help take them to the rick yard, where the horse elevator lifted them onto the rick. At threshing time, the contractor would arrive in the Village with his great steam traction engine, towing the threshing machine and his living van. The kids of the village would then descend on the rick yard with sticks to chase the rats and mice that came out of the corn.
I found out one day that my best school friend Graham Stacey, was billeted on a farm a couple of miles away, called Buda. So off I went one day, with Cheeky the dog leading the way, to see him. The Hayward's who lived there made me very welcome, and as I sat in the kitchen by the fire the farmer's wife was doing her daily baking in the bread oven. First she broke up some small sticks for kindling, added some of the embers from the big open fire place with the fire pan, and with a pair of bellows blew up the fire until it was going well, then partly closed the oven door. Next she finished making the cakes and pasties on the kitchen table, then scraped all the embers out of the oven and put them back on the fire, placed the food in the hot oven and closed the door. When we sat down to tea later after going around the farm I thought the food was lovely.
It was sometime in the autumn that David was very unhappy with the people he was billeted with, so our parents decided to bring us all back to Bristol, and the sad day came when we had to say goodbye to Auntie, Uncle, Tom, and Mrs Brock, from next door and Sid, not forgetting the two dogs, Cheeky and Joey. I am not sure how we got to Bideford to catch the train, someone may have provided a car, but I can't remember I was too miserable to notice. Even the excitement of a train journey could not take away the sadness of leaving Devon and all my friends.
A memory shared byon Aug 13th, 2012.
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