Happy Days In Latimer - a Memory of Latimer.

It was only two years or so, from 1959-61, aged 6-8, but it still seems as if the happiest period of my childhood in Latimer was one long, endless, glorious summer. My dad was in the army, in the King's Own Scottish Borderers, attached to the Joint Services Staff College there, now Latimer House, the conference centre. I don't know what my dad's job was, but his office, behind the married quarters and since demolished, was later (fortunately after we'd moved to Scotland) bombed by the IRA. Dad's secretary, Aunty Edna as we knew her (wife of Chick Allen), was injured in the blast.

Chick and Edna had a grey alsation called Smokey. She seemed gigantic to us kids and would let us ride on her or rest our heads on her flank as she lay in the sun. She followed us when we played, and guarded us, nudging us off the road when a rare motor vehicle came along.

Talking of 'aunties' - my brother Peter (2 years younger) and I sometimes had 'Aunty' Vi, in the WRAC, as a babysitter. Probably in her 70s or 80s now, if still with us, I remember her as being stunningly beautiful and recall deliberately messing about so she'd come up to the bedroom, chide us gently and tuck us in again. She smelled lovely too. Thanks, Aunty Vi. What a 'gal in uniform'!

We lived up the hill from the village, at 41 ORMQ (Other Ranks' Married Quarters), now re-named The Ridings. The village itself is unchanged after 50 years, although the sweet shop is no longer there, and not too much is really different in the 'army' area either: the motor pool on the Flaunden road is gone, as are the single soldiers' barracks, but the tennis courts are as they always were, as is the raised field next to them, where the Duke of Edinburgh arrived by helicopter to present medals to some of dad's ex-colleagues a year or so after we'd moved. (It was the only time we returned to Latimer as children.)

Bordering this field was Needham's Farm (as we knew it) and the track leading to the farm from ORMQ is still there. We'd walk along it, through the 'bluebell woods' and into the crop fields where we played kiss chase. We played kiss chase a lot, when I think about it! (Ah, Sue Crockford - you'll always have a special place in my heart!) From the field we could cut through to the Flaunden road where we'd pick blackberries and hazelnuts. Also along the road was an area we called the Happy Hunting Grounds, one end of which we named Yardley Wood End and the other, Silver Birch Point. We played cowboys-and-indians there.

The area of the bridge over the river, by the weir near the junction with the Chesham-Chenies road below Latimer is absolutely unchanged to this day! Going there is like time-travel. We used to make rafts out of giant water cress-type plants and float downstream.

Pete and I attended the wonderful Chenies School, the kids travelling to and fro in a Bedford van driven by a little old man with horn-rimmed glasses, a grey moustache and a checkered cloth cap. We used to queue up in the mornings under a car port at the end of ORMQ which was full of jeeps and 3-ton trucks - replaced now by new housing. (The army barber we used to go to was somewhere there as well.) I've never forgotten Miss Reddit, our headmistress and my first guiding inspiration in life. You can still see my initials scratched in the brickwork on the front of the school. Apart from the permanently installed play apparatus, Chenies School is almost exactly as it was in our time and a sheer delight to visit again.

The woods between ORMQ and the Officers' Quarters have been thinned out recently, but the pine trees we used to climb and make dens under are still there, as are the "bread trees" as we called them - are they redwoods? They look as huge to me now as they did as a child. We had our own cemetery in the woods where we buried any dead birds or creatures we'd find. New houses now stand at the junction of ORMQ and the Officers' Quarters; back then there were swings - also where we played kiss chase!

Too many memories to summarise in 1000 words: I'll have to do a 'Part 2'. I loved Latimer - still do, and always will.

John Sayer (58)

A memory shared by John Sayer on Mar 22nd, 2011. Send John Sayer a message

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