British History Online - www.british-history.ac.uk
The war memorial - fp.underw.f9.co.uk/bucksrems/memorials/p4.htm
Roll of honour - www.roll-of-honour.com/Buckinghamshire/Ashendon
GENUKI - met.open.ac.uk/genukieng/BKM/Ashendon
Buckinghamshire Family History Society - www.bucksfhs.org.uk
Genealogy archives - www.uk-genealogy.org.uk/england/Buckinghamshire/places/Ashendon
The Pollicott surname - www.one-name.org/profiles/pollikett.html
Church - list of perpetual curates - met.open.ac.uk/genuki/big/eng/BKM/Ashendon/curates.html
Church plans online - www.churchplansonline.org
The John Hampden connection - www.johnhampden.org
Old photographs - apps.buckscc.gov.uk
Pollicott - www.warwick.ac.ukuk
Building the railway - prints.leics.gov.uk
Building the railway 2 - prints.leics.gov.uk
The following pages have images of the original documents. Some of the images are quite large and may take a couple of minutes to download on a slow connection. Please be patient.
Bob Cherry's account of 'Village Life' is divided into the sections below, some of which are quite large and may take a little while to load. It was recorded in 1992.
[I'm in the process of editing this into more manageable chuncks - so there may be a discontinuity of titles at some point - that represents where I have got to in this editing process - Peter]
Life for me in the Village began in the Year 1929 although, to be accurate, I cannot remember much for several years to come. This "Village Life", I am told, was very hard in those far off days, but would get easier for most people as the years, and the story unfolds.
The Village concerned is called Ashendon, and is situated on a hill overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury, at some 500 feet or so above sea level. The clump of elm trees at the very top of the hill were always reckoned to be at an elevation of five hundred and twenty-five feet.
Ashendon had a "Top End", a "Lower End", and consisted of a number of cottages, some of which are thatched, a School, a Church, (St Mary's), a Public House (the Red Lion), a shop, a Post Office, four farms, a blacksmiths shop, and a Village Hall ("The Hut") in the shape of a first World War Army hut. It also had a railway junction (Ashendon junction) which in actual fact was at Pollicot; this was the point where the Great Western and the London, & North Eastern, (Great Central), parted company.
The name Ashendon was always understood to come from the previous name Essendene, meaning "The Ash trees on the Hill”, not that there were many ash trees in my time, and certainly there are less now, but there was a fair sprinkling of ash, oak, and elm, with elm being the predominant one.
A second small Village or Hamlet, Pollicot was close by, this had two farms, but used the shop, school, etc, and was considered to be part of "Our Village". This also had a "Lower part" Lower Pollicot, which had one farm and several cottages. There were no services installed though these would come many years later.
The boundary line covering all three parts ran roughly round the bottom of the hill, and must have covered an area of some four square miles.
The view from any of the three parts of the village could at times be quite spectacular, particularly on those cool summer days when you had no heat haze to contend with. Looking north-west you could see way over the top of Bicester, and in the opposite direction over the top of Winchendon, as far as the War Memorial on Coombe Hill, the woods at Stokenchurch, and Whiteleaf Cross further to the south. During the War you could clearly see the fires caused by the bombing of both London and Coventry. This was more emphasised on the nights when the clouds gave reflections - the Ack-Ack fire was also visible in the case of London. Waddesdon Manor, of course, was visible and the water tower at Mursley, as was the cement works at Chinnor. If a cold wind blew, as often was the case, then it was usually reckoned that "somebody had left the gate open".
There were two Railway Stations approximately a mile away at Wotton, one being main line, L.N.E.R. Great Central, which for all intents and purposes covered Marylebone to Brackley, for the few passenger trains that ran, which of course put you on to the main line going north; and a second being only a "feeder", "The Brill Tramway", which ran from Quainton to Brill. This one closed down in November nineteen-thirty five, while the mainline became a victim of Doctor Beeching some years later - this also removed Ashendon junction from the map, the remaining Great Western section now being only single line working. The journey to either Station would be taken as part of everyday life, walking for most people being the only option. I will try to add more to this later.
We were a Village without a Manor or other large House, so without a "Squire", any "Forlock Touching" or "by Permission of" was not often called for. The nearest thing to "Gentry" would be the farmers, and in this respect we were lucky - they either joined in any celebrations or such, or on the other hand left us to get on with it; either way they would usually co-operate with the loan of equipment such as a horse and cart, and certainly the use of a field or barn.
In my very early days we had a resident Policeman but, when he retired, he was not replaced. The vicar, likewise, didn't live in the Village but had to travel several miles from Wotton Underwood, usually known as just plain Wotton (as oddly enough was the station), to be with us. His car, like all other cars in the area, would be known to us, so if you didn't want to meet him you always saw him coming and kept a low profile - he just might be rounding up recruits for some job or other.
The Year 1929 saw a small "population explosion", six children being born, of which I was the oldest, arriving in January. Even after this increase the total population of both Ashendon, and Pollicot would not be more than one hundred and fifty.
[Next is the village school]
I suppose that my memory really only began to function from the first days at School. In those days we mostly started at four and half years old, but of course it really depended on how your birth date related to the start of term.
This building was of a somewhat drab appearance, and situated in the centre of the Village. It consisted of a single storey, brick-built structure, divided by a wooden sliding partition to form two classrooms, or, when required for some function or other, it became one large room. These rooms had very large - but too high off the ground - windows for us to see out, other than to see some very large horse chestnut trees close by. This was very, very annoying when the sound of the odd aircraft passed over or, later, the more frequent road vehicles passed by and, of course, during the War as the volume of aircraft also increased.
There was a "lobby", running the full length of the building which had two rows of clothes pegs, and a wash basin, also an invisible division between Boys, and Girls, which could only be crossed to facilitate entrance to our respective classrooms. This area would be available for playtimes in wet or otherwise inclement weather but definitely no crossing the line. There was a playground at either end, with the usual "offices", for Boys, and Girls in each. This building couldn't have been very old as my father, along with others, had to walk some two miles or so to Wotton when he started school. The journey by road would add on possibly a further mile, and a half or so, and so it was common to walk alongside the railway track (the Brill Tramway), from Wotton station for the last part of the journey.
One story told by a much older resident, who also had to travel to the far school, was that he was allowed to leave when he was able to calculate the base of a hayrick whatever that may mean. It could of course refer to the setting out of the rectangle, and the squaring of the corners. This education had to be paid for by the parents, the sum of two pence per week (a fair sum in those days) springs to mind, but I can't be absolutely sure.
Our classrooms were heated by a coke burning stove surrounded by a metal fireguard in each room, which served their purpose quite well, particularly if you were "lucky" enough to sit at the front of the class. The coke and coal would sometimes have to be fetched in from the nearby bunker, a task only suitable for older boys, sexual inequality already rearing its ugly head even in those days.
One "spin-off" from these stoves was that on wet days it was the only way for those that had walked some distance (a mile or so across fields), from Watbridge Farm, or about the same from lower Pollicot (by road) for them to get their clothes dry. These would be hung on the fireguard, and in doing so of course the resulting small clouds of steam added interest to the otherwise dull proceedings. The wet coke or coal sometimes refused to burn cleanly and, as the room filled with smoke, you would be able cough at suitable intervals, just loud enough to disrupt the proceedings. I did say "lucky" about sitting by the stoves, but this of course was the area that no one really wanted to occupy due to its close proximity to the Teacher. Any lighting was by paraffin lamps, although due to the hours we spent there, (nine am to four or four thirty), not much artificial lighting was actually needed - also in this respect those large windows played their part. There were two Teachers, one for the infants, and the Head Teacher for the older pupils, prior to the War, and I find it quite difficult to remember the numbers of children at any given time, as someone always seemed to be leaving, a state of affairs that rather "niggled" the younger ones as it was everyone's ambition to leave, and get that first pay packet, (Akeman Street Brickyard seemed favourite for most), and of course new children would join us. I think my first real recollections must have been those early days when we started writing letters of the alphabet in sand trays, before going on to a pencil or pen. Chalk and crayons were also extensively used in the infant room. It didn't half upset the Teacher should anyone be so bold or unlucky enough to spill the sand from their tray. During that first year or so the other children must have joined the class, so there would have been at least six of us, doesn't sound many when the large classes of today are considered, but there would be more joining as time went on, as that "population explosion" carried on for some while after. The noise of an approaching motor cycle would herald the imminent arrival of the Infant Teacher from Ludgershall each morning; this was something that those already assembled outside the school would watch with interest. Dressed like "Biggles" in a long leather coat, and wearing a leather helmet and goggles she would carefully park the motorcycle in a nearby shed. The departure in the afternoons could be even more interesting as it was not always so smooth, the machine sometimes had ideas of its own as to whether it would start or not, this usually brought forth reinforcements in the shape of a man who owned a similar type of bike, all would eventually end in success, with the machine, and rider disappearing in an "Unked", (this word will be explained later), cloud of smoke.
Pens would come when we got "promoted" to the "Big Room”, as it was always known. These were of the scratchy separate nib variety, with the desks containing inkwells in the usual way, only one pupil being allowed to use a fountain-pen if my memory serves me correct. I suppose from that one action we learned that rules were made to be bent if not actually broken. Looking back, life was very easy going though at the time it appeared not to be so, discipline was upheld, or perhaps reinforced is more accurate, with the occasional use of the cane. This was looked on by most of the children as more of a "diversion" than as a punishment, and gave everyone something to talk about, but it was soon forgotten, the pain not being very great as I recall from my several sessions, and the "culprit" would become a "hero" for a short time anyway. There were the odd occasions when parents objected to this "brutal treatment", and would visit the school to make their feelings on the subject known, but again this was mostly a "nine days wonder".
Caning would always be carried out in front of the class, which probably had something to do with the parents' intervention, the humiliation of their "poor child", or some other such reason.
Looking back I believe the Teachers quite enjoyed using the cane, they certainly never seemed to hesitate for long, but really laid it on, and it was certainly not of much use to plead your case as they always appeared eager to get on with it.
A major crime seemed to be being caught in the wrong playground without a legitimate reason, though sometimes it seemed that anything would do. This was the time to have a good excuse, some good luck, and the ability to keep a straight face, but it seldom made much difference.
Of course if the worst happened it was sometimes possible to "angle" your hand down so that the strike had less effect, but mostly this only got you a second stroke, as did a miss which hit the wrist or your arm, even though this was out of your control. One lad (an evacuee) who was a regular "transgressor", had the occasional habit of pulling his hand away at the last moment, this did little to improve the Teacher's temper, particularly if she happened to catch the "follow through" on her leg. Either way a second, usually very severe stroke, was called for, and certainly delivered.
In the infants' room it was not unknown for children to get a sharp rap across the knuckles with a ruler, for any real or imagined transgression. It Hurt! I wonder now if that motorcycle ride on inclement days had anything to do with the severity or frequency of the use of the ruler. There was always a great tendency for the Teachers to issue threats, I don't really think that this worried us too much in the long term, although I suppose if it happened today, there would be a great outcry by some irate parents.
I would always be in mild trouble for using my proper name "Bob" - the infant teacher would never accept this, and on at least one occasion sent for my older sister to confirm that I was indeed "Robert". Some thirty or so years later this same teacher, on meeting my sister, asked, "And do they still call your brother Robert, 'Bob'?”
We would "chant" the multiplication tables in the time-honoured way, and get to grips with our poetry, and arithmetic. I still remember that "In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue", but couldn't it just as easily be 1942 or indeed any other year ending with a figure two? The knowledge that the word "stationery" contains the letter "e" for envelopes, as opposed to "stationary", also still sticks in the mind, it's great to be Educated! One other thing that has stuck, is that there was always a "barometer" standing on the windowsill of the "Big Room", this was made up of two glass vessels, one inverted into the other which had water in the bottom one. To this, occasionally we would add a small quantity of red to improve the visibility of the levels. There was once a short-lived "craze", to make these devices at home using a sauce bottle as the top part; nearly every house had to have one.
With only a piano, a couple of blackboards, and of course, books to make up the teaching aids, there was not much to stimulate interest although there was a large roll of cane hanging on the wall, and the one currently in use would be displayed prominently on the Teacher's desk. Also on the wall was a very large World Atlas, in those days much of it was coloured red, I think because of this, maps, and geography is probably something that I was always interested in.
Attempts to form a Choir were made but the resulting noise was too much to bear, and so it failed, that's my story, but no one could blame me - I was never part of it, as I didn't pass the first audition. It was not too different with the Church Choir, that didn't last for long either.
There were attempts made to add interest, one such being a trip laid on for us, to see the Royal Train go through Ashendon Junction, on the Great Western line. I think this must have been sometime after the nineteen-thirty-six Coronation and because of our age we couldn't make the complete distance across the fields to the side of the track; the next best thing was to watch from some half a mile or so distant. I seem to remember that in the event the train must have been travelling in the sixties, or faster, so even those close to would hardly have had time to shout one "Hip-hip", before it was a small speck in the distance.
One other attempt was the acquisition of a small handloom and this took our attention for a while, though not much cloth was ever produced, but no doubt we all learned something from the exercise.
Silkworms also took our interest for a time, and again not much silk was produced, but as before we all got involved for a short time.
All the class got involved in a painting of the view as seen through those high windows. It was done in watercolours, and no doubt we were quite proud of it, though I doubt that we would have admitted it at the time, as it would be considered to be "sissy". It eventually got finished, but I don't think that we discovered any "budding" Picassos or Constables in the process.
Other happenings to brighten our lives were the Silver Jubilee, and later the Coronation. For these there would be the obligatory sports, and the quite acceptable tea party, with most of the villagers joining in, in some form or other. Usually there would be bowling for a ham, the complete pig being just too much to contemplate, in later years bowling for the whole pig would come into being, with stepping the chain, and various other side shows. There would be a fancy dress competition, and races, run according to age, with small prizes for which there could be some fierce competition. Almost certainly there would have been a parents' race. In earlier times there would have been climbing the "Greasy Pole", but that for some reason or other had completely disappeared. Stepping the chain would almost certainly be won by a farmer who could well have been using this method of measurement all his life.
There was always Ashendon Feast which I seem to remember fell on the second Tuesday of May, a strange choice, as one would have thought a weekend would have been preferable. Not much in the way of a feast, again if my memory is to be relied on, but for some years there was once more the sports, and a Tea laid on, but the coming of the War put paid to this, and like so many other things it is difficult to restart them.
Empire Day, May 24th (I referred to "Pears Encyclopaedia" for the date) was celebrated, but not in any great depth.
At sometime along the way there must have been General Elections, but the only things I remember about them prior to nineteen-forty-five, was a single Conservative poster displayed on a cowshed wall, where it remained until the weather took its natural course. This again according to "Pears", must have been nineteen-thirty-five. Next would come the Polling Day, which meant those old enough to actually cast their vote having to travel to a nearby village (the school, that our parents had previously attended), as we had no Polling Station of our own. This journey could be accomplished in several ways; you could either walk, cycle, or ride in the car provided by a political (Conservative) party. This car would be shunned by most of those having opposing views, or on the other hand could well be used to "put one over on the other side". Rosettes or some form of badge (probably a red flower) would often be worn to indicate Party allegiance. All pretty "childish", I seem to recall thinking at the time. At the nineteen-forty-five election and after, many meetings took place, all parties getting in on the act, and so I suppose our political education began, but although old enough to serve in the Armed Forces we were not as yet old enough to cast our vote - twenty-one was the age in those days.
Local Politics also started in earnest, and Parish Councils with political rivals came into being. There had of course been a form of Parish Council or "Parish Meeting" as it was more commonly known but this had been conducted in a "gentlemanly" fashion, now would come the political argument, which to my young mind kept the actual business of the meeting off the table, but did give anyone who had a particular point of view a chance to state it in public, assuming of course that they could either make themselves heard, or alternatively catch the eye of the chairman.
There was also a sudden increase in the number of posters. By the time I was old enough to vote we had our own Polling Station, so the issue of riding in the cars was resolved, we missed out on much of the "fun and games" by being just a bit too young.
On the rare occasion that the local foxhunt met in the Village we would be let out to see the "off". For the rest of the day of course, we would find it very difficult to settle down because of the knowledge that they would be somewhere close by. The periodic blowing of the hunting horn would confirm this fact, and much Behind hand (or desk lid) discussion would take place as to where they were next "putting in". In those days there were several regular spinneys and woods suitable for foxes to hide.
This is the day when some of the Farmers involved with this activity would insist that their workers take their half days off, this to ensure that there was no watching in the boss´s time, and to be available to open gates or any other task required by the hunt. These Farmers would most probably have more barbed wire on their property than normal to ensure that the hunt didn't perform on their land.
Barbed wire in a hedge or a ditch close by was marked on the relevant hedges by a post with a red wooden "flag", to warn riders of the dangers when jumping over.
It was colourful scene if nothing else and there was always the slight chance of the odd "tanner", or so for holding a horse or opening a gate for them to pass through unhindered. All in all, I found these hunting types to be a miserable lot indeed. They never smiled, but always seemed to shout even at each other, I must say that I was never inclined to want to join them, not that there were any "working class" members in those days.
There were people from the Village employed to "stop" the fox and badger holes, on the night before the hunt was due to take place, and I have certainly seen a fox fished out of a pond still alive (just), and being disposed of by throwing it to the hounds. There were few places for the poor? fox to hide, but on the other side of the coin I have seen the damage done by a fox on the rampage, equally not a "pretty sight", as they seem to kill everything they can reach, not just for food.
Again on the plus side, hunting provided work for many people, both full, and part time, the horses, and dogs always appeared to be in first class condition, and I believe the riders mostly treated their horses with respect. In those days many of the riders would have at least one groom following on with a spare horse, or even horses; these would be changed some time during the day, and so it is probable that most of the horses were never stretched in a physical sense.
I only remember seeing one horse having to be destroyed, (as a result of a broken back) in all the years that I watched, although I am sure there must have been others. There were of course injuries to many horses, and riders during that time.
It has also to be remembered that the rider took the same chance as the horse when jumping this particular hedge/ditch combination, but of course unlike the horse, she did have a choice. The problem in this case was that the ditch was several feet away from the hedge, and so the span was impossibly great, however it was marked with a red flag. In those days it was very unusual to see a lady rider riding other than side-saddle. One point I always found to be of interest was that bad weather didn't seem to put them off in any way. For the next few days after the hunt there would be two or three hounds wandering around, having forgotten to go home.
In later years would come the beagles, these were altogether easier to watch as the hares appear to go round in large circles, although in the process they cover a lot of ground, but if you picked your vantage point with care, you were able to watch the proceedings with the minimum of effort. The hunters of course are on foot, so it seemed to me to be a much fairer system giving both hunter and hunted a more even chance. If you had sufficient energy to spare you could always follow them but this was not easy because, and regardless of the age of those taking part, they covered enormous distances at considerable speed.
To make sure that all animals were not forgotten shooting parties were arranged, and I remember on one occasion acting as a beater. This entailed walking in front of the guns, and sending up or moving on anything in our path. As the afternoon progressed walking in front became more hazardous, as by now the amount of drink consumed by the "guns" clearly began to take its toll, and you would begin to get somewhat uneasy when any fast running "Jack Thistle" got shot while attempting to escape. I personally have yet to see one run, but by the same token have never carried a gun on that kind of party. At the end of it all we would probably get paid something like sixpence, or so, danger money ?
At the appropriate time of year there would also be rook shooting, this normally took place in the evening, and so we could go and investigate. Nothing much occurred to really interest us, but we could always find and collect the empty cartridge cases.
Back in School our time was spent just learning the basics, nothing too difficult was ever attempted, and things went their merry way until September Nineteen Thirty Nine.
There had of course been talk of War for some time, and just before the actual declaration this was emphasised by the sudden arrival of a Searchlight Unit which came, and set up their camp on the outskirts of the Village. It consisted of one searchlight and generator with a sound locator. The men lived in tents pitched round the outskirts of the field. This soon became a popular attraction, as they would allow us to look through their very powerful night binoculars, while sitting in the canvas swivel chair used by the observers. An aircraft would sometimes fly over at night as a target, end we could "have a listen", in the earphones of the sound locator - no wonder children looked forward to a War, they didn't stay long, disappearing just as quickly as they arrived.
A second "Event", was that now someone came to show what actions were to be taken in the then considered unlikely attack by the enemy. Although it was for the benefit of the adults we learned how to use the stirrup pump to put out an incendiary bomb, how to cross a smoke filled room by crawling beneath the smoke, and the thing I remember most vividly, was how to coil the hose without causing kinks. Later would come first aid classes, and we would be used as "patients" for a small fee; I can't remember how much though. There was of course a chance for us to learn the basics, but there were no follow ups to these so we didn't keep up to date, something that really could have been useful.
A more realistic sign came for us on the arrival of some forty-three evacuees with teachers from the Ealing area on the third of September. They came on a double-decker bus - such a vehicle had never previously been seen in the Village, there must of course be something odd about them to use such peculiar transport.
In the long term it turned out that they were not too dissimilar to ourselves, but it took some time for them to integrate into our Village life, some never quite made it, and would return home, while a few came back for a second try when life again became too difficult in London.
At this time our schooling changed quite dramatically, as they brought their own teachers with them, complete with new (to us at least), methods. This also started a long period for many of us of half-day only attendance, due to lack of space, and looking back I truly believe that this was the end of my serious involvement with the Village School. We would alternate between morning, and afternoon attendance, which didn't further the cause much, as you just didn't come to "grips" with anything in particular.
I, as everyone else did, would later go back full time, but the continuity (for me at least), had been broken (an excuse perhaps)? and by now the War had got into its stride so that there was much more of interest outside of the classrooms to occupy our tiny minds.
One thing about those early war years that does stick in the mind, is the memory of being fitted with gas masks, and then after having to carry them to school, having to endure seemingly hours of sitting in them for practice; or was it a ploy by the Teachers to keep us quiet? The penalty for forgetting to bring it was to be sent home to collect it, plus some other form of punishment. One thing is certain we only carried them with us on that part of the day spent in School, the thought of being "gassed", not really looming very large in our lives.
The inevitability of "call up", into one of the Services at age eighteen, I believe also took it's toll, what was the use of getting educated just to waste several years, whitewashing the coal, or indeed anything else that stood still long enough, this was the kind of tale that often filtered back from those already in the Services. Despite all those "horror" stories, I think now that most of us truly looked forward to the great day, when we would swap our civilian clothes for a smart sharply pressed new uniform, complete with polished brass buttons, the question of how they were kept so smart and polished was not really addressed until the "fateful"? day arrived. But of course, as with most things in life, there would be exceptions and a way out for some; for instance, none of the farmers´ sons or many of the farm workers, most of those working for the "War Agg", and some railwaymen, were to suffer such an indignity as being "Called up". After the War many others would get their "papers" prior to the age of twenty-six, after training, apprenticeships or whatever.
There was a scheme during the War for the older children to be issued with a card that enabled us to work for a number of days, or half days on local farms. I am not absolutely sure but I think you had to be twelve years old, and the time allowed was ten days or, preferably, twenty half days. A signature was required from the farmer concerned. I do remember once being called out in front of the entire school to explain why I steadfastly refused to go to work (potato or beet picking), probably for one particular farmer, the reasons were in my opinion very sound. First he didn't ordinarily encourage us to go on his land, (or more probably it was members of his staff), in fact I decide he was positively unfriendly in such matters, as we would soon get chased off if caught, and hadn't he just put an old lady out of one of his tied Houses?
After much "It is our/your duty, the War effort would suffer", type pressure being applied to persuade me to change my mind and to show me the error of my ways, I still wouldn’t give in, as for me there was no other real answer to any of this. At the end of the day it didn't really matter who was right, but just the same I suppose my name went in the "big book" for such indiscipline. The upshot was that none of the other children would go either, I don’t suppose I had ever heard the word "Strike" as applied to such action before, but would hear of it much later in life.
I would still dearly love to read that Big Book; it would almost certainly fill in some of the gaps in my memory.
Physical Training was carried out in the playgrounds, the tarmac, potholed surface not doing much for knees or elbows in the inevitable tumbles, if games were to be played we would go to a nearby field.
With the coming of the evacuees, we could now get complete teams for any sport we fancied, or could we? This, in it's own way, brought more problems than it solved.
They didn't want to play on our teams, preferring to stay with those they knew best, we for our part acting in much the same way, and as there were more of "them", than "us", it often made for some very uneven numbers in the resulting teams, but whatever the problems it always had to be "Us versus the Vaccies".
This state of affairs would last for some time to come, certainly until some more evacuees came, this time from Croydon, and we "grudgingly" allowed some of their biggest and best players to play on our side. Well! you don't want to be too "dog in the manger", do you! ? Some of these evacuees came to stay with relatives, and so didn't quite fit into the normal scheme of things, they would often alternate between being eligible for inclusion into the Village teams, or the "Vaccies", much depending on the mood of everyone at that particular time, or on the necessity to reinforce a sometimes weak team.
Diplomacy of the kind when someone held onto the only bat or ball until they won the argument, may or may not come to the fore in such decisions.
There were occasions when we went to an adjacent field to play "Cricket", under close supervision, though in all truth no-one knew too much about the game, and I think in all truth we were not too happy to be taught such things by Women Teachers, it was then as now Men's work.
The school cricket gear was bought with money raised by a few pupils who ran the school allotments as a small business, and sold the produce, with proper books, and accounts being kept. This gear was not available to us out of school hours, a situation that did not find favour with those of us that had done the work to raise the necessary cash. I wonder why gardening on this plot never seemed to correspond with our half days off school.
The coming of the "Nit Nurse" was a break, and all heads would be diligently searched for possible unwanted lodgers, the method being a rake through the hair with an unsharpened pencil, no very great problems ever arose from these visits however.
The School Doctor and, "horror of horrors", the School Dentist would also make a periodic appearance.
An official photographer would also pay us a visit, but fortunately I don't seem to appear on any of his efforts.
Of course during those years we would catch most of the infectious illnesses/diseases that were in circulation at the time, and in those days you stayed off for three weeks or so for measles, and I think we managed to take the maximum time for most of the others.
Another break occasionally occurred on the arrival of the "Truancy Man", he would arrive on a bicycle, and didn't normally have much business to attend to as we were a law-abiding group, and it probably took him some time to get his breath back after that difficult cycle ride, I seem to recall he came from Quainton, some four to five miles away.
A visit from the "Schools Inspector" would have the chosen/capable ones called out to the front to recite their version of a well-rehearsed poem, or the "Brainy Ones", could well be called on to answer questions on other subjects. My own particular "party piece", was the poem "The Discovery", though I don't recall ever being asked to perform it before such an eminent person, and I most certainly would have great difficulty in reciting it now. My reserve effort, just in case someone did it before me was "The Burial of Sir John Moore", a bit "serious", when I think back
but the reason for this was that my sister, now having left school, had used this as her first choice, and so with family support I found it quite easy to 1earn.
There was the Bishop's Prize for those well versed in the scriptures, but I can't remember much about his visits, and I most certainly would not have been considered for such an honour as to be chosen as the winner of his prize, which was normally a prayer book. My sister had previously won it, small consolation to me though.
One duty that all of the older children wanted to volunteer for, was the twice a year collection of the stationery stock from the Wotton railway station. One of the necessary qualifications for this task was the ownership of a suitable truck or trolley, so for most it was a "non-starter".
On the days when funerals took place or some other good reason occurred for getting us out of the way, we would be sent out on nature walks. These trips consisted of the hopefully unsupervised collection of plants, leaves, etc. from the local woods and fields.
The price exacted for this "freedom", of course was the required essay to explain the happenings of the day, and the handing over of those plants, 1eaves, etc. which somehow, so often some of us had forgotten to collect.
A quick bout of "bartering" or "strong arm" tactics might be necessary with those that had conformed, to obtain the required "Booty", with not always a successful outcome if I recall correctly. Whether a teacher came or not depended on the reason for our "banishment", they could well be involved in the activity that we were banned from, or more likely it wasn't a very popular duty. It was not easy to supervise an unruly bunch of children in the thick woods, such as the quaintly named "Gypsy Bottom", or (The Cover), that we always made tracks for, so I don't think anyone volunteered for such duties without giving it some thought. I seem to recall some of the evacuee teachers trying to stay with us; they either didn't know the routine or more likely they couldn't find a good excuse to stay at the school or, of course, they may have had a genuine interest in the local flora and fauna.
To digress, Gypsy Bottom was a thickly wooded area on the outskirts of Ashendon. It consisted mostly of low bushes the valuable timber having been removed in the First World War, and not been repainted. I have no idea as to who owned it, but it had its uses as far as we were concerned. "The "Cover", an area that did have large trees, certainly until the War, and also thick ground cover was much closer to home, and so was mostly second favourite.
At the end of our schooling, and aged fourteen everyone could read. and write, some better than others, of course, but certainly not due to any "slackness" or failing on the teachers' part.
Most jobs available to us did not cal for much education other than the basic three Rs, so most parents were reasonably satisfied with the result. The jobs that were available were mostly as mentioned before, working on the brick presses at the local brickyards, (Akeman Street being the nearest), or the farms, neither brought in a massive wage, but in those days you needed a job to maintain your self respect, nearly as much as to provide a living. There were occasionally other vacancies, as in my own case a temporary Lad Porter's job at Wotton Station, at the time I seem to recall that I was not too happy at being separated from others of my own age, but it worked out ok in the long run.
I believe that more people smoked in those days but apart from that and getting fitted out with a bicycle, outgoings were not very heavy, we couldn't yet serve in the pub until we were old enough as the landlord new our ages. When we were considered to be old enough to travel alone on the buses of course it was easier to get to the cinema, so more money was required for seats and fares.
The few who were fortunate or skilful enough to pass for higher education would not be able to take advantage of their good fortune because of the distances involved to reach a suitable school, and the total lack of transport available to them.
This transport problem would haunt us for a large part of our lives, and had always to be considered when applying for jobs as it was a five mile cycle ride to get to the nearest suitable bus service at Waddesdon which only took you to Aylesbury, so the choice was rather limited.
Any thoughts of evening classes had to be shelved until we were older, much for the same reason, my own being stopped in the first term after age eighteen, due to the dreaded "call up" for Military Service. For some months prior to this I had left work at Westcott on two days a week at five-fifty, gone home, had a quick wash and some tea, then cycled the first five miles to catch the "ten to seven" bus at Waddesdon followed by a five mile bus ride, then walked/trotted a further mile or so to get to the classroom at Aylesbury Grammar School by seven thirty, I usually arrived a few minutes late. This of course always meant that I lost the first part of the lesson, not very helpful, for either side, but I was lucky in so far as a man who, for some reason, had decided to see what the modern evening classes taught, was able to fill in some of the missed lessons. Adult education didn't come easy for the residents of those remote villages. A further factor was that should you go on to Technical School as I did some years later, it was probable that you would have to give up any thought of further study, after you had passed the intermediate stage exams, only to find that the final part of the course was being run outside of your County.
This happened to me when the then Aylesbury Technical School lost the right to teach the final stages of certain City and Guilds subjects - quite a setback to many of us at the time. To overcome this you would then have to obtain an "Out of County Grant", not in itself always an easy task, but the added distance (some thirty-five miles), or so to get to either Oxford or Watford would almost certainly finish you off. High Wycombe was of course in the County, but altogether too difficult to get to.
I did the same cycle ride to Waddesdon to attend Air Training Corps parades, though this was as much a social activity as anything else, and without doubt the journey was shorter and easier when travelling for such activities.
The Village School was of course Church of England, which to be fair didn't really encroach very deeply into our lives. There was nothing much of note about the Church, other than the local Knight (The Knight of Pollicot), buried there, he had been on two Crusades the experts on the subject say. There was reputed to have been a window of very great age, but I didn't learn much about it, unfortunately (my thoughts now I may add), local history was not a subject covered in any depth at School.
In later years the Villagers or rather those that could be persuaded to mow the churchyard would gather together at intervals, and do the necessary. This churchyard stands some eight feet or so above the road level at the front, and is surrounded by a stone wall, the top of which in turn is flush with the soil level, the paths through to the Church, are some eighteen inches or so below the ground level. Add to this the fact that the Church foundations are also lower, and at the front are separated from the soil by a kind of brick "bund wall" leads me to think that this part of the churchyard has previously been filled to capacity, and then covered over with a further layer of soil to allow a second tier of graves.
One aspect of our Church that I couldn't, and still can't understand was that certain pews were "owned" by members of the congregation, unsuspecting visitors would soon be asked to move out and find a new seat, not that there was ever a problem with space. There was only one comparatively small coke burning stove to heat what was to us at the time, a very large building, and so during the cold spells, you had either to be very keen or otherwise gently persuaded to attend on some winter Sunday mornings. A Sunday School was held in the Church, and later confirmation classes, so most of us were confirmed, but only after having left school proper.
This ceremony took place at Waddesdon, and as for everything else there was an almost complete lack of transport, some of the girls were lucky, and were taken by car, but for the others there was the trusty bicycle. This took place on one of the wettest Sundays I can ever remember, but I suppose there was no great harm done to anyone, as by now we were all at work so quite used to such problems.
It was a beautiful view from the Church roof which was reached by climbing a winding stone stairway, normally not available to us, but occasionally the belfry door would be unlocked, and we would, with permission, make the trip.
It was reckoned that from there, with the appropriate binoculars, you could see the Bristol Channel. I personally find this hard to believe as the distance must be approaching a hundred miles.
When the airfield at Westcott was being built, a Roman Catholic Church was provided at "Gypsy Bottom" for the use of the Irish labourers and, later, for the R.A.F. After the War it was transferred to Westcott Village, and is still there today.
For many years there had been the "Open air Service", laid on by the Methodist Chapel? They would also have a "Free Tea" once a year in the chapel at Aylesbury for children, with a coach laid on. So for many years your religious leanings were well catered for, even in such a remote spot. A tarmac footpath ran between the Top and Lower ends of the village, and later a steel barrier was built to prevent anyone stepping directly off the footpath onto the road. This worked well until we learned how to vault over it. The second point about it was that the wooden fence that had previously completely blocked the rest of the exit now disappeared, which by restoring the old outlet did little for the safety aspect, although the flow of motor traffic was not very heavy.
Further down this path was a wooden gate. On very dark nights we would often tie a cord to this, so that with a pull just as someone reached it, it would slowly open by itself, despite the darkness, I don't remember anyone ever being frightened by this trick, as the path was mostly used by men only at night, any women usually being escorted by a man or travelling in groups. We would also most probably be hiding behind a bunch of nettles, and so someone would shout out at the crucial time when they fell or were pushed deeper into the "hide", with dire consequences. The other ghost trick, that of attaching a button on a long piece of cotton and pinning it to the shop door, had just about the same success, or more properly lack of same.
In the Village there was almost a total lack of doorknockers, and so the use of cotton for this purpose was rather limited. As the Shop, the Pub, and the water pump were in this lower part the path was much used.
Some days, most probably weekends would see a "flurry" of unsupervised activity on the Cricket or Football field, which just happened to be any piece of ground that was flat enough or reasonably free from "cow pats", or it might depend on the whereabouts of the bull. Prior to the arrival of the evacuees one other problem to forming a team for any sport had been the lack of prospective players, there were seldom enough children including girls to form one side, let alone two. This left rather a lot of ground to cover for the fielding side at Cricket, which by now would consist of both teams less the two batsmen in play, - complicated to the watcher no doubt but well understood by the players. There might be accusations made as to the dilatory actions of some of those fielders who were actually members of the batting side when the ball crept over the boundary for four runs, or a catch was dropped which in the opinion of the fielding side should have been stopped or held. In such games the younger children might just be allowed to play, but this mainly meant that they would only get to fetching the loose balls back when someone had taken a particularly heavy "swipe", particularly if they happened to land in a neighbouring garden, and some delicate act of recovery was called for. It was not always a good move to let the owner of the garden know that there was a large groove cut into his carefully prepared onion bed, and the smaller the child's footprints the less likely that there would be any serious repercussions afterwards.
Often only rounders or some form of "home made" game was left, the teams for which would consist of a rather wide age range, playing to rules that were changed frequently as the "game or battle" progressed. Rounders would normally only be played in one particular place, this had the distinct disadvantage of lack of space, and meant that you could only hit the ball in one direction (to the left), due to the surrounding gardens and the road, good for the fielders but not good for left handers. Also there was the little matter of a footpath that inconveniently crossed the middle of the pitch, when passers-by caused many a possible good run to be curtailed.
After the arrival of the evacuees, as previously explained, this situation changed, but one other problem we would always have to consider was the lack of sports gear, that which belonged to the school still being mostly "out of bounds" to us.
The school had just had a delivery of new sports gear, including some rubber balls, about the size of tennis balls, but unfortunately they had a desire to leap the low fence, and land up on a neighbour's seedbed; "sidbed" to be more precise. Quite understandably he was never amused by this, and after protracted negotiations regarding the return of the said balls, he agreed to do just that, we were all assembled in the playground one day when he reached over the fence with his digging fork, neatly skewered on each tine was one now very sad looking ball. He suddenly, and for some time to come became our least favourite neighbour.
The coming of the evacuees largely solved our shortage of players problem, and to some extent made it worse, as now we were often faced with too many. Each team would now consist of half the children available regardless of numbers. The reasoning behind this was that, if you only have one football or cricket ball, you can only have two teams.
To add to the confusion we often played "last man in" at cricket, as there could of course be odd or differing numbers in our teams, due to our bargaining of two small players for one older, and so on. This could also be a way of prolonging the innings, or it was sometimes dictated by the fact that we could only muster one bat, and so we would have three wickets at one end, and a single one at the other, with almost certainly no bails. This last aspect also led to many disputes when the player or fielder(!) disputed the decision of the now multiple umpires who in the shape of the rest of the teams freely gave of their decisions.
There was always the question of rules for any of the games we played, mostly because we had no one to teach us. In those days there wasn't the large number of books circulating, and of course only limited radio and no television to advise us, the newspapers not helping much, they tended to report on sport only and unlike now, they did not give forceful opinions.
We did have help in this respect for part of the war as a flight sergeant now living in the village, and based at Westcott airfield would often act as referee at football, a very stern one at that, which could only have been good for us, though I doubt if we appreciated it at the time.
On the first of May would come the "May garlanding". What this represented I never actually understood, but it was always carried out regardless of the weather (it nearly always seemed to drizzle).
Somewhere in its origins I feel that there must have been religious connections, as the first song to be sung at each call contained the words "so take the Bible in your hands, and read the scriptures through", but in spite of that there was never to my knowledge any input from the Church. One other line went something like "We wish you all both great, and small a merry, merry, month of May", totally ignoring the rest of the year.
The significance of the chair is also something of a mystery to me, and the doll that rode in it.
The other strange thing about our way of celebrating Mayday, was that no other Village in the vicinity seemed to have the same ceremony, some having Maypoles of course, but without doubt some form of celebration was carried out, the one aspect common to all seems to have been that a collection was an essential part of the proceedings.
The ceremony as practised by us went basically as follows: after much argument, or discussion, a May King and Queen would be chosen. Whatever this choice I don't ever remember it being popular with all concerned. It should have been "my daughter - her son" or something along those lines; or perhaps the children would have different ideas, particularly if they wanted to be chosen themselves.
Of course as the ceremony only took place annually the chance of any one child being chosen was not very great, you could be too "young" one year and too "old" the next. There was also the problem of the King not being "compatible" with the Queen or vice-versa. mainly because, at most of the older inhabitants' houses, there was the inevitable request that the King and Queen kiss, not very "macho" to some of our young minds, though that would hardly have been the word used in those days. There would then almost certainly be a request for a second song, which would have to be "In the Merry - Merry Month of May" as that was the only other one known to us.
It has to be remembered that as it only came round once a year, the words were very easily forgotten, no rehearsals were ever held, also it would be the first time that some would have taken part, add to that the need for us to get on, (home before dark), no-one actually conducting the singing, and we were also weary after a day at school, then this was often a very poor rendering indeed, but as it was an "event", everyone appeared happy to see and hear us.
There would often be much discussion, most possibly of the "whose old boy be you then?" variety as to which family a particular child or children came from, all made more difficult by the now rapidly failing daylight, and the questioner's failing eyesight, the close scrutiny often a adding to the child's embarrassment.
I see now of course that this was the most people some of those older residents, perhaps with limited mobility, and living in isolated houses, (such as those at Lower Pollicot), would ever see in a year, and as a result would of course want to keep us there as long as possible. They might well only make the journey to the village on very important occasions, their pension, or whatever being collected on a weekly basis by relatives or friends. From our point of view it would probably be the only reason .for us to pay them a call - you certainly see things from a different angle as you grow older.
Back to the ceremony -a small chair (owned by my family, and by courtesy of the now long defunct? Mazawattee tea Company coupons), would be decorated and then carried in front of the King and Queen, by now dressed in their Sunday best, and decked out with sashes.
Once again there must have been some strange history to the whole ceremony as oddly enough these sashes would be kept during the rest of the year by one family only, and, also as far as possible the chair would be decorated by the same people each year, and to the same pattern. The flowers were collected from residents' gardens, with such flowers as Crown Imperial lilies being fastened to the uprights of the chair back. People would always look out to see if their offerings were present as it was considered to be something of an honour should your flowers be used, therefore someone taking part in the walk would have to know the secret, as one flower looks very much like any other to most folks, but not necessarily to the grower.
The resulting effort would now be carried in turn by those not otherwise involved in the proceedings to as many houses in the entire village as could be covered in that one evening.
Several miles would often be travelled, including crossing fields, and footpaths, the chair getting heavier by the minute.
By the end of the trip there would often be less than in the original group as some of the younger ones in particular would drop out through sheer fatigue. This added much to the "fun" because as a collection was made, this often caused further friction as to how the "spoils" should finally be distributed.
On a wet day it was sometimes a rather dishevelled group that finally returned to "base", the chair and its floral decorations not always surviving the passing over fences, walls, and other obstacles encountered on the journey too well.
School outings to the seaside came and went but I was always too young to go on any of the annual coach trips (Wookey Hole in Somerset seemed to be favourite) and due to the war they had ceased by the time I was old enough.
One other outing that I missed was the annual trip to a nearby village (Bishopston)? to gather "Fraucups" (Fritillaries)? These are flowers only found in quantity in one field in the area, but the practice had died out by the time I was old enough to go, due to the field being "ploughed up" for food production during the War.
It was always reckoned that these flowers only grew where Blood had been spilt, this you would have thought gave them plenty of scope, as battles must have taken place over a wide area at some time or other, but be that as it may they were found in quantity in that one place only.
We would walk some considerable distances to find violets - these were quite common in certain places in those days under hedges or in the woods on the edge of the Village.
Bluebells also could be found in the same kind of place, and excursions would be organised to collect them, the nearest spot for picking was about three miles or so at Wood Siding, or probably better known as Wotton Woods so once again the younger ones were excluded.
Primroses could also be found in much the same areas, and excursions to find them were mounted in much the same way.
Conkers (horse chestnuts) came and went their merry way; this one was always a "short season". I think the collecting was more exciting than the playing of the actual game.
Marbles were introduced by the evacuees but didn't last long either, I have no idea why; probably being wartime there was a shortage of replacement marbles.
A spate of making windmills came, and went, there were many designs on the go at any one time, the most popular was probably made using two crushed tins, or just the lids mounted on a piece of wood to form the vanes, which pivoted on a nail. The hole for this would most likely be "drilled" with a steel knitting needle heated up in the fire, and held by a cork to prevent little hands being burned. The "tail" or rudder would also start life as a tin, or again could be a large lid. No thought of balancing them entered our heads, so they were not particularly efficient, but they served our purpose without a doubt when they revolved, turning the tin containing a few pebbles or the "clicker", or whatever else was provided to make a noise. There were more sophisticated versions which had propellers carved from solid wood. I seem to recall that willow was they easiest to carve, but not necessarily giving the longest life. They probably worked because there was very seldom a shortage of wind despite the lack of height of the post on which they were fixed. Holes for the body pivot would probably be drilled by trial and error that is until the whole device decided to rotate into the prevailing wind.
One very popular place to visit in our early years, particularly on wet days, was the Blacksmith's Shop. What a place to behold! This had consisted of a brick built house with the Blacksmith's stone built shop attached. The actual shop was comprised of two separate rooms, one for shoeing, with large wooden doors and a side window of wooden shutters to admit some light while actually being used. Then inside was the place of real interest, the forge itself. This part had a very low roof, four very tiny barred windows, and round the walls were pictures of "The Pilgrim's Progress". Tools also hung round the walls, held by webbing straps, these in turn being nailed to wooden racks. The anvil being the centre of operations and certainly of greatest interest to us, this of course could take a seemingly endless supply of tools, from chisels for cutting the iron off to length to formers for shaping and forming, all fitting neatly into square holes in its massive body.
The Blacksmith, a comparatively small man (not the large village blacksmith usually portrayed in books), would take the piece out of the furnace and work up a rhythm with the hammer before striking the horse-shoe or what ever job was in hand - pure joy to watch, and hear then the hiss as he dipped it in the water bath.
He could well entertain us with coloured sparks made by throwing iron filings into the blazing hearth. He might allow us to pump the bellows, or we might just watch him making horseshoes or some other job on the anvil. Horseshoes were, as with most other things, made as required. People would take their pots and pans, kettles, etc. t o be mended. He would solder them - "Sodder" it was always pronounced - another process we liked to watch.
I truly would still like to be a village blacksmith, if there is such a person left.
Water for everyone had to be fetched from the pump, of which there were two, made of cast iron in Ashendon itself. You might have to prime them by pouring a small quantity down through the cap at the top of the pump before any water would emerge, and I doubt that this was very hygienic, but no one appeared to have any ill effects as a result. Many and varied were the containers used for this water fetching, most people having a favourite system. This could well be two buckets on a yoke, with crosses of wood floating on top (this device was to prevent spillage), or perhaps no yoke, much depended on the distance you had to carry the load. It is surprising how far you can stretch a bucket of water when you have had to carry it a quarter of a mile or so. This water for internal use was kept in large earthenware pans covered with a cloth, and it remained remarkably cool even during the hot weather. These pans would have a second use at the time of wine making when they would be filled with parsnips or whatever was to be turned into a splendid brew.
Sometimes during the summer the pump would fail to draw any water up, so then a trip to the spring was called for, this not only meant further to go, but also you then had to join the queue and wait for the slow trickle of the spring to fill the bucket. I seem to remember that Pollicot had the same problems but I have no idea where their spring was.
The main spring incidentally rose from a point in the churchyard, I understand that this is a feature of many villages, as was the yew tree. Pollicot pump I seem to remember had a wooden- casing end a lead spout, but it could have been anything under the casing.
A time when much water was required was at planting time. It usually meant that plants such as cabbages would only be watered once. This I believe is still the case for most gardeners, even though water is more easily obtained nowadays. There were many different ways of planting, some people would leave their plants laid on the ground for several days to go yellow before the actual planting, others would literally screw the tops off leaving the poor plants looking like a bundle of sticks.
Of course there were many wells around the area, and dire warnings were given regarding the dangers of playing close to them. Some had only wooden lids which could be easily opened, but I think we all had a healthy respect for them. Water was drawn from them with a bucket hung on "bull pole", presumably the name comes from the pole that is used to handle unfriendly bulls, these, the poles that is, having a spring clip that attaches to the ring in the nose of said animal.
The bulls in actual fact were mostly controlled by the simple act of putting a "rickpeg" through the ring, and lifting its head parallel to the ground thereby making it difficult for it to see where it was going. Simple means first getting your bull to co-operate by allowing you to do the necessary with the peg. A "rickpeg", is a stick two feet or so long, usually made from willow and used to peg down the thatch on ricks, and sometimes used by us as wickets to ease that shortage of cricket gear.
That previously mentioned school "lobby" was now our assembly point for air raids, and in the event of the siren sounding some ten miles away in Aylesbury we would take up our positions in great haste, and sitting on the floor would practice singing "Waltzing Matilda" and "Run Rabbit Run" - always these two songs, easy to learn, and sing possibly, also they were the "in" tunes of the time.
We had a "vantage point" on the opposite side of the road to the blacksmith's shop, from where we could see for miles to the East and South. This consisted of a low stone wall under a large elm tree - we would sit there for hours, particularly when we had measles or some other good reason for not attending school, just talking or more accurately arguing, and generally "messing" about, while keeping a wary eye open for military vehicles to come into view or something to take our attention.
On one occasion from here after school we watched two large high explosive and two oil bombs explode on the outskirts of the village about a mile away at "Chearsley Furze". The oil bombs were fitted with organ pipes or "screamers" of some kind which made a considerable noise, and after due consideration we decided to head for the "shelter", it was of course locked. The weather was very overcast, and so we didn't actually see the aircraft, but judging by the running time of the "screamers", I would think he was very low at the time - it wasn't until the bombs actually exploded that we realised what all the noise was really about. This was probably in November nineteen forty. No damage was done, only two very large craters, and two small burnt areas to show as proof that we had actually been bombed. Children being children, many visits to the site were made but no conclusions as to why Hitler had a particular grudge against us were ever reached.
Quite early on in the war a large parachute mine was dropped in a nearby village, (Winchendon), I was always led to believe that it landed in the proverbial "dung heap" - it failed to go off and was later brought to Pollicot Ford, which is on the outskirts of Ashendon, until it was collected by its new owners, most probably the Royal Navy. It was transported to this site on the local Council lorry, dumped in a field, and guarded night and day.
During this time I managed to persuade my Uncle (the local special constable) to take me in to see it.
If I remember correctly there really wasn't much to see, just a long grey cylinder domed at one end with "handles" sticking out of the sides, but I suppose it satisfied my curiosity. It was finally removed by the Royal Navy, and was reputed to have blown up when being dismantled, but like with most happenings of the time there was never a shortage of rumours.
In November nineteen-forty some bombs were dropped on the outskirts of Ashendon at Watbridge Farm, to Wotton area, this was at about eight thirty in the evening, then about midnight that same area was again saturated with hundreds more bombs.
Most of these were incendiaries, with a few small high explosive ones. The total sum of the damage done was one horse hit by shrapnel (not serious), and a barn set on fire, also not serious. Rumours were that the incendiaries came from the so called "breadbaskets", but they could clearly be seen passing over Ashendon, having been released on the West side, and landing to the East. We didn't find any carcasses or frames to support this theory, but someone always had a new theory or rumour on the go. The high explosive ones were much smaller than the two mentioned previously, and scattered in a line covering about half a mile distance, mostly being close together in pairs. The incendiaries were scattered over the same basic area, although from two separate attacks on that same day, or rather night. A further odd thing that came out was that, although they landed on both sides of the road we only found one that actually landed on it, again not doing any damage, but just burning the tarred surface.
The great thing about it for us was that we could go round searching for the fins and heads of the incendiaries, and if one had fallen in a boggy area then it would nearly be intact - in fact one was in mint condition. It was kept hidden for some days before the Police found out, and came to collect it.
The "new owner" was told to produce it, and so he reluctantly fetched it from its hiding place, but instead of handing it over, slammed it down on to the blue bricks with which the girls' playground was paved. This was probably one time when no one wanted to be in the wrong playground, but in the event nothing untoward happened. Several rumours went round as to why this area was hit twice in the same night, one being that the site was being surveyed for an airfield that day - strange - one actually opened for business just under two years later!
The area bombed was on the outskirts of where the airfield would be built, but if it had happened two years later then certainly the R.A.F. dispersed living quarters would have been totally wiped out. A second story was that "Lord Haw-Haw" had hunted with the local foxhounds and therefore knew the area well. You takes your choice!
At some time we also had a leaflet raid. This was mostly in the Pollicot area, but there certainly was a lot of them. As they were printed in German, and the photographs showed dead German soldiers on the Russian front we could only assume that some allied aircraft had dropped them somewhat wide of the intended target. Oh why didn't I keep some?!
This was probably typical of village shops in general, but it was the only one we had so it was much visited. To anyone looking in from the outside it must have looked something like Aladdin's cave, stocking everything from foodstuffs, sweets, through hardware to paraffin, all stacked, and stored in what looked to us like total chaos. The owner had something of an off-putting manner, certainly when dealing with children, so after you had plucked up courage to enter, and asked for the article required he would go straight to it without hesitation, so there must have been, a master plan if only in his mind. On the rare occasions when the item was out of stock he would collect it from Thame or have one sent from the wholesaler in double quick time - it was not good business for him to lose a sale. He could also arrange the supply of such things as bicycles or other larger items.
I seem to remember that for a time the pub also had a small shop, and the post office also sold cigarettes and sweets.
You always knew when summer had begun as he (the shopkeeper), would always don a straw hat and a linen jacket.
Sometimes, on a Sunday, we would gather halfway down Brickwell Hill just to watch him drive his car down. This he always did out of gear and, as he was a creature of habit, for this piece of entertainment you always knew where and when. Incidentally there had bean a brickyard there in some previous time, hence the name.
There were also several mobile shops that came from local larger villages, and as far away as Bicester, and Aylesbury, and I seem to remember one coming from as far as Woburn Sands in Bedfordshire, each week no doubt to provide added choice, or perhaps competition might sound better. These carried much the same as our local shop, plus some carried clothing or other items, much depending on their owner. They would all carry those things deemed to be necessary to maintain life, including a tank of paraffin, plus some luxuries such as toys.
How they found the whereabouts of the stock carried is a bigger mystery than that of the local shop, how they got it all on the vehicle is not easy to fathom either.
There was also a man with a tradesman's bicycle, who came from Waddesdon. He would detach the wicker basket from the bike and carry it from house to house, things like "Cherry Blossom" boot polish, reels of cotton, and clothes pegs would be his main wares.
He was always looking for things to buy. My best army uniform (in magnificent condition and complete with its two stripes) fetched a penny - an old penny at that.
Meat would come by either horse and cart or the more modern butcher would have a van. One with a horse and cart came from Brill, and would take the spare accumulators for charging by a local garage. These were essential to the running of the radios of course and he would bring them back on his next visit. There were several others who came from different villages, and on different days.
Bread was brought in the same way, also on different days. Because of the frequency of their visits the question of keeping either in edible condition hardly ever arose.
The butcher and baker would most likely issue a calendar at Christmas to their regular customers, as would some of those other traders.
A Greengrocer came twice a week, from Chearsley, but of course most people in the village had large gardens, plus an allotments, so his value would lay in the fact that he brought produce not normally grown at home or when it was out of season. Oranges and bananas were favourite with the children but most household budgets didn't run to such things on a regular basis and of course during the War such things were in short supply, nevertheless he still kept coming regardless of the weather as did all of the regular Tradesmen. On the advent of winter he would bring fresh fish, boiled cod or haddock being a real treat.
He would call at the houses of his regular customers, chanting out in a very quick and loud voice a list of wares carried on that particular day. He normally used a Model "A" Ford van, which carried a set of scales, and its double rear doors could safely be left wide open while he delivered or canvassed for orders elsewhere. At sometime previously he had used a horse and cart, because I clearly remember him putting a nosebag on it when making a longer than usual stop, the "Pub" springs to mind. The Cart had four wooden wheels with iron-shod tyres and a roof, with open sides, which in those days would be perfectly safe, just like the van, pilfering not even being considered. I just seem to recall him using this method of propulsion at odd times during the War. He would always vault that previously mentioned barrier when not carrying his basket of goods; I feel that it was partly due to his influence that got us into similar bad ways.
At one time an Ice Cream Man on a motor cycle and sidecar used to pay us a visit, he came from Aylesbury. The ice cream would be kept in "Dry Ice" and some amusement came from the cloud of "steam" that would issue forth each time he took the lid off the box. We were warned not to stand
close to his exhaust pipe as the great blast and resultant heat could take your leg off.
Later a van also selling ice cream started to come on Sunday afternoons, this came from Oxford, and kept on coming for many years, even after the War.
Thursday night would be fish and chip night, the van with it's smoking chimney could be seen while still a long way off, this first sighting would soon bring everyone out, as sometimes he had very little left, and it really was first come first served.
We "kids" would end up with a halfpennyworth of "oddbits", this of course was the residue from the bottom of the fryer and consisted mainly of very well fried batter, but still, with some vinegar it made a welcome change.
These would always be served in cone shaped paper bags and we must have been some little "horrors ", as I well remember that we used to try, and keep the vinegar in the bag until the chips or whatever had gone, and then suck it through the bottom. The van might first stop some way out of the village to "fry up" ready for the rush, this could be good for some of the latecomers, as many of the busy people who were previously heading the queue would not have the time to wait. It was a busy life for some. I believe the "Fishman", came from Tingewick near Buckingham.
Coal also came by Lorry from railway stations in nearby villages, Quainton or Ludgershall, mostly bagged at the Railway Station before he brought it. As they came on Saturdays we might get a trip on the back of the lorry to and from the station, a real treat.
Some people would join together and have a railway truckload brought to the Wotton Station. This "Do it Yourself" system of course meant a horse and cart being borrowed from a friendly farmer and pressed into service to collect same from there.
First it had to be loaded and weighed, or measured in some form or other to ensure "Fair Play" between those participating. Next the horse/horses had to be persuaded to do their bit up the steep hill, before unloading could take place. The hill to "Lower End hill”, known as “Church Hill", was very steep, so after climbing up from the station you had to go down and up again.
The path to the council houses was also very long, and in places quite steep, I remember carrying sacks of potatoes, explained later, along this path when I was about fifteen. This was doing it the hard way, and required "all hands to the pump" to complete. At sometime it would have to be transferred into sacks or wheelbarrows to enable it to be taken to the waiting bunker, no doubt at the end of the day it would be considered to be worth all of that effort.
Later on in the War trucks of "pig potatoes" would come the same way, these were dyed purple and declared unfit for human consumption. They were ready bagged, but much the same hard work was involved to get them home.
Once a week would come the Draper, and he could also supply suits made to measure back in his shop some five miles or so away at Waddesdon. If such an item was required, a trip on the bicycle for fitting was called for. I remember going for a new suit for that previously mentioned confirmation, oddly enough I also remember that this was the day that an R.A.F. funeral took place in Westcott churchyard, there being several New Zealand airmen buried there.
One day the drapers van decided to go home without him, suddenly running off down the steep road until it turned onto a high bank, ending up on it’s side blocking the road. Not being very heavy it was only a matter of rounding up some willing helpers to put it back on it’s wheels and all was restored to normal.
There were two other Tailors who were also Postmasters, one in Ludgershall and one in Waddesdon, they dealt in high class handmade suits, and each had their names engraved on the buttons used. These buttons were reputed to be guaranteed that they would not come off during the life of the garment, which in turn had a life that would see most of their owners "off". The purchase of one of these would require several trips for fittings, and in those days they would be made to be worn with gaiters, the height of fashion indeed.
This building had been used since just after the First World War having been acquired from some government body, after seeing service at Gypsy Bottom, I believe by the "Timber Corps", it was now administered by a committee. The building consisted of a large room with a timber stage that could be dismantled and easily moved. There was a second small room where food could be prepared and a toilet.
The whole building was heated by a temperamental coke-burning stove but, apart from the school which could be used on odd occasions, that was all the village had so the best possible use was made of it.
Over the years all kind of functions had been held there from wedding receptions to children’s tea parties, and during the war things hotted up as the various organisations laid on whist drives and beetle drives. It was used by the Home Guard. We tried to run a kind of youth club but as so often happens, the adults formed most of the committee, and instead of guiding us, tended to run it in their own way. For whatever reason it didn't survive for long.
Probably it’s finest hour came during the wartime functions. They would mostly be well attended particularly the dances after the pub either ran out of beer or closed for the night. Now would come the really "athletic dancers" and the tempo would soon increase. This in turn could cause a new problem. dust storms. The hut had a double floor and over it's many years much dust had accumulated between them. With the increase in violence that these people brought, then this dust would rise. Add to this the uncertainty of the stove which would smoke, particularly each time the door was opened and shut, you then had the basic requirement for a good evenings entertainment.
I think anyone ever complained, it was all part of the fun and nothing was going to be allowed to spoil it. At one time there had been a billiard table, but that was long past use by the time I was old enough to be interested in the game. Like many of the others of my age group, the Army was able to complete our education in this respect.
There was a piano, but I believe it took the local Ashendon dance band to get it to really perform up to standard. I don't suppose it was ever tuned but it didn't matter too much for the kind of tunes that were hammered out on it, "give me five minutes more" and "she'll be coming round the mountain", seem to stick in my mind the most. One other popular instrument much used at these functions was the musical saw.
While these dances were going on we would either be banned or not interested, so would have to look for something else to do.
After watching the arrival of the dancers we might turn our hand to a bit of bat catching.
The "Blackout" was now part of life, so we would start off by telling stories pertaining to bats, how they stick in long hair, (for the girls benefit), and any other evil tales about these rather pleasant creatures. We would next get some long tree branches with plenty of leaves, form up in two ranks under some sycamore trees, then as the bats flew underneath attempt to knock them down. Attempt is certainly the right word as I never actually saw one brought down in this way, like most of our animal catching exploits, fortunately doomed to failure. We did also try to bring them down by shining torches on them, but this didn't seem to work either. One thing that is almost certain was that animals and birds fared much better in our day than in the past. On the outskirts of the village there is a hedge which in effect is double with a path running up the middle, and the purpose of this hedge was to catch "songbirds", or indeed any bird foolish enough to perch there.
The practise as I understand it was to allow the birds to settle down for the night and then by casting the nets over the top to prevent them leaving, it was a simple task just to walk along the now covered path collecting the birds with ease. No doubt hurricane lamps would have been used to give sufficient light, or they may have waited for daylight. I can just about remember this being done but was much too young to have been involved.
How many were caught this way, or how they were disposed of, or for what purpose I have no idea. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie now seems to have been a reality or at least a possibility. We did on occasions set up crude bird traps, but I have to say with very little success. These consisted of three bricks arranged in a three-sided square with a fourth brick supported by a piece of stick over the top. The theory of this was that as the bird went inside it would disturb the stick which would in turn let the top brick fall on to it’s end thereby trapping the bird inside but unharmed.
The reality of this was that the stick being sufficiently strong enough to support the top brick was by now much too firmly stuck into the ground to be knocked over by any bird that we were likely to encounter. Many a blackbird has taken the bait and had a meal at our expense.
The County Council employed a "Road Man", and he would travel from boundary to boundary with his wheelbarrow, keeping the culverts free of debris, and in general keeping his "patch" very neat and tidy. You could have set your watch by him as he travelled to and from work, although he worked unsupervised, his "boss" arrived on pay days by car and no doubt to check that all was well. The traffic of course did very little damage to banks, I use the word "banks" as opposed to "verges", as it comes more naturally to me, could it be a local thing?
The work was of a very different nature to that, which would be required today, though in point of fact it is now only done spasmodically. The fact that he would know the places where trouble such as flooding might occur and put it right, must have been of enormous value. Probably in my very early days one road crossed through a ford, "Pollicot Ford", but a bridge was later built, certainly if not before I was born it would be sometime before my memory began to function.
In the case of deep snow reinforcements in the shape of those that couldn’t get to their normal place of employment would be taken on to dig out the deep drifts. For this you would need an in date insurance card and plenty of energy, as at times the snow nearly reached the telephone wires. Particularly on the Pollicot to Ashendon road, where the snow drifted between the hedges, though at the same time it might be only a few inches deep in the adjacent fields. In those days it was not unknown for these outlying villages to be cut off for a week. The last time I remember this happening was in March Nineteen Forty-seven. I joined up on the sixth and had difficulty walking to the station, which as the trains on the L.N.E.R. Marylebone to Wotton were not running it meant a walk to Dorton Hall to catch the "Puffing Dart", to Princes Risborough. The snow was certainly waist deep in places, both on the road to Wotton, and then on the road to Dorton. It was considered impassable when the milk lorry or later the buses were unable to get through. In later years, such as nineteen sixty-three, the roads were never allowed to get so bad, as by now there were applications of salt, limited local snowploughs and when required the Ministry of Transport heavy snowplough which could cut it's way through several feet deep.
One snowy day we decided to ambush the Road Man as he came home from work. Unfortunately for us he was accompanied by his son in law and a wheelbarrow load of snowballs. We were just slightly outclassed.
Until this reminder I had totally forgotten this quite important part of our local transport system at the beginning, so will include it at this point.
Dorton was on the Great Western line which ran from Ashendon Junction to Bicester and the small trains that stopped at the Halt travelled between Princes Risborough, and Banbury.
They consisted of small units comprised of a carriage, with a guardsvan/goodsvan pulled by a small engine, and were variously known as "'The Puffing Dart" or "The Motor", but in point of fact were very useful to some people as it gave you the added chance of going to Bicester or Banbury, though the walk to Dorton was probably all of two miles. The guard would issue tickets, and so no station staff was employed.
There was a "Club" at Dorton which was often used by the Ashendon people on summer Sunday evenings. This being considered to be a reasonable distance to walk, so perhaps it was also reasonable for travellers to walk this same kind of distance.
Back now to the daily happenings, no artificial entertainment, or boredom for that matter. Just the problem of finding more hours in the day.
Virtually anything going on would entertain us if only for a short time. One day some men arrived and concreted posts into the ground at two points in the village. Soon after signs were fixed to them, one on each saying "school", and on the same posts saying, “bends for a quarter mile". We must have arrived on the map at last.
A puff of smoke on the horizon could herald the coming of the road tarring gang or the threshing box, either of which could send us into fits of activity just watching the proceedings, or in the case of the threshing box, some rat catching was allowed. We didn't always have great success at this, not because of any shortage of rats, as they would emerge at high speed, heading for the nearest building in droves, or if they were lucky, to an adjacent corn or straw rick to live in luxury until that one also came to be used. There was occasionally a chance to do small jobs, but this rather depended on your age. For instance you had to be at least fourteen years old to feed the hopper on top of the threshing box normally known as the "drum". This box would shake constantly, and your job was to pick up the sheaves fed to you from the rick and cut the string while holding it over the top of the hopper. Even with the safety precautions taken, the number of possible accident sources was virtually unlimited, as all belts and pulleys were unguarded.
These belts were all flat and joined together with a kind of "buckle" that facilitated adjustment, running on flat, or slightly crowned pulleys. The speeds varied enormously, from the heavy fast engine, to box the slow ones driving other parts.
I once saw a lad get his thumb or finger caught in a slow one, there was nothing else to do but wait for the offending digit to emerge at the end of the revolution, any attempt to have stopped the machine would have made matters worse as it took some time for the machine to stop after the mower had been disconnected. He was not badly hurt and would return to rat catching or whatever.
A time to make yourself scarce was when the driver released the large belt at the "close of play". He would do this by forcing it off with a crowbar while it was still running. It could cover a considerable distance in its "death throes".
This was presumably done to stop anyone interfering with, or running the machine in his absence. He would damp down the fire and cover the chimney before leaving each night.
Some of the other work didn't involve much thought or skill, but was important to the smooth running of the job.
The emerging straw had to be quickly moved, it would probably be built into a rick. "Cavings", the by-product of the now threshed heads of corn would come out from somewhere underneath and certainly had to be moved quickly or a mighty "jam up" soon occurred. This was hard and very dirty work and consisted of raking or sweeping them into a large wicker basket, "cavings scuttle" and dragging it to a new heap.
The job of watching over the emerging threshed corn required both skill and strength. It had to be monitored for quality and the machine, "the drum", adjusted to give the optimum output.
The corn comes out down a number of channels, or chutes, which are controlled by a series of shutters; these are opened or closed to send the corn into the correct sack. This corn emerges in varying size and degree of cleanliness, the dirty, small stuff known as "tailings", would be used later for animal feed. Obviously the operator has the final say as to what this standard is and the profits are very much governed by his performance. The sacks would have to be weighed, two and a quarter hundredweight being the order of the day, with wheat other cereals having different weights per sack. It was also important that as soon as a full sack was removed that a new empty one was put in its place. One place that we were always given stern warnings about was the Granary with its open topped corn bins. Corn stored in this fashion is dangerous because corn in a large volume acts in a manner similar to quicksand, anything dropped in quickly sinks to the bottom, and these bins were quite deep.
Having completed the job the machine would move on to the next farm, a somewhat ponderous business on occasions, particularly if it had been wet. These Traction Engines were not the most agile or manoeuvrable vehicle, being very heavy, and the iron wheels not providing much grip. In the event of one sinking axle deep into the "Mire", then a number of plates known variously as "Spuds", "Grousers", or by the more descriptive name of "Biters", could be bolted onto the wheel rim. These acted like snow chains and provided enough extra grip until normal progress was resumed, when they would be removed. I recently spoke to the "Crew" of a steam ploughing outfit, at a steam rally I may add, and they told me that the correct names are, "Spuds" on a steam Engine, "Grousers" on tracked vehicles and you take your choice as to when you use the term "Biters".
Having taken my life in my hands by casting a "Slur" on these great machines, I have to say that at the time they were probably the only one capable of doing the job. Later would come heavier tractors, though not till late in the War. These would have differential locks, many gears and winches, the only real problem being a lack of weight, with the box and sometimes towing a baler and trailer as well. The overall load would be much heavier than the tractor causing problems when travelling up the steep hills particularly on a hot day.
I remember the R.A.F. crane from Westcott being confronted by such a catastrophe on Lynch hill when returning from Wotton station, the driver was able to tow the entire load clear to the top without any damage to the road.
The road Tarring Gang would arrive with their steamroller, caravan, horse drawn "Tarpot" and some strange looking wheelbarrows for spreading the Chipping’s. Their arrival would have been preceded by the appearance of heaps of stone Chipping’s, see who could run or cycle over the top, for us then the work would commence.
First the road would be swept by hand, or sometimes by a horse drawn sweeper, then all potholes or cracks would be filled in.
The hopper of the "Tarpot" would now be filled by the simple act of rolling a barrel of tar up to the hopper of the machine, the fire lit underneath and now with the horse, usually with nosebag in place, pulling slowly would pass over. Mean while a team of men with brushes attached to the "Tarpot" by hoses to feed the molten tar would spread it over the area to be covered.
Now would come the men pushing the spreaders, first having filled them at the nearest heap, they would carefully join up each new pass and any "weak" spots being filled in by hand.
Then would come the mighty steamroller all it's metal parts shining in the sun, which if we are to believe everything we are told, always shone in those days. Taking his time the driver would cover every inch of the road several times before moving on. This would then finally be swept; any loose stones being picked up for further use. No risk to any vehicle windscreens in those days, had there been any vehicles that is!
At night the driver would damp down the fire, cover the chimney and close the side curtains on his engine, if as was most likely it had a canopy, he would normally live in the caravan. The horse would be tethered to a suitable area of the bank to graze. On completion they would slowly move on to the next place of action.
Part of the allotments down the “Lower End" suddenly got fenced off as a building firm from Waddesdon arrived and set up their watchman’s hut. After cutting down part of the hedge and the tree fellers arrived to cut down several elm trees, the builders started to dig holes and trenches for the footings for six Council Houses. At last something to get our teeth into. We could now learn the art of building, or at least get in the way, but the workmen tolerated us with good humour. We were allowed to lay bricks, mix concrete, dig holes or more or less anything that took our fancies. The houses were finally finished, with our help, the height of modern design, and the new tenants moved in. There probably hadn't been such a mass move in living memory now the houses vacated would also have new residents, so no-one knew where anyone lived anymore. It took ages for everyone to come to terms with it.
Tree climbing was favourite at certain times and looking back I again fail to understand why there were no serious accidents, particularly taking into account the fact that this activity usually corresponded with the trees being heavily weighed down with leaves. It was not unknown and was in fact quite a regular happening for elm trees to shed a branch or fall down completely at this time, even though the weather was fine and still.
Such a happening would soon bring the "Mob" out in full force and much later it would disappear in a spree of "Wooding".
"Wooding" was the name given to the business of collecting wood, a job that was always on the go. It took several forms and a flurry could be set off by several happenings. The tree mentioned above, though this would only normally contain a small amount of dried rotten wood suitable for quick use. A rotten tree would almost certainly be "devoured" in hours.
The coming of the "Tree Fellers" who might chop down just the one or several at a time. In any event there would soon be a convoy of old prams, pushchairs, and handcarts hurrying to the scene. Having loaded up the journey home might not be so fast, as perhaps due to overloading, axles broke, wheels came off or the load just decided to shed itself all over the road.
Tears, cussing, threats and promises would all be shouted as those who didn't suffer any problems deserted those who did in the rush to get a second load before dark, or just to get home in daylight.
The wood could well be chips cut off by the fellers axes, small branches broken off by hand, or for the more ambitious/better organised, it might be large branches having been cut by saws, that they just happened to have with them. Having got your wood home the next job would be to cut it into manageable pieces before finally splitting it with a heavy splitting axe. The one we had at home for this purpose didn't have a sharp edge in the accepted sense, but just needed to be lifted well above head height and gravity would complete the job.
A second and much more interesting way to split the wood, before it had been taken from the field, was to "Blow" it with gunpowder. This could be "tricky" partly due to the operator's lack of knowledge and partly because of the condition of the wood. The first thing was to bore a hole at right angles to the grain with a large auger, the depth was sometimes governed by how hard the wood was, the softer the deeper. Then a quantity of the powder would be poured in, a fuse fitted and a bit more powder added. Next a wad of paper to seal in the powder and now brick dust smashed to a fine powder would be rammed in to form a pressure seal.
Now light the fuse taking care to use a "Match Fuzee" and retire to a safe place. For the uninitiated a fuzee is a match that doesn't break out in a flame but merely smoulders brightly, this is to prevent a spark prematurely lighting the fuse. We would up till now have been allowed to swarm all over the job, but now they would resort to all the safety rules, hence the match.
What could go wrong? First after the loud bang the wood is still intact, on looking closer the pressure has sped down a hitherto unseen crack, which is now black and all too obvious. Not enough brick dust or not rammed in tight enough, equally not enough powder. The tree disappeared, now only matchwood, too much of the black stuff used. It was seldom a good way of doing the job, but it did amuse "us" children.
The "Tree Fellers" always gave good value to "Us Watchers"; first they would cut a ring round the bottom of the tree, then cut a deep wedge out of the side that the tree is to fall. They next cut through the tree using a crosscut saw until it begins to shake and crack, then speed up with the saw to prevent splitting, step back, and another tree has "Bit the Dust". They might just attach the tractor winch to the trunk to force it to fall in the right direction if working in a confined space or during high winds. This would normally require the use of a ladder to attach the cable high enough to give sufficient purchase.
The tractor and trailer would now come and collect it; this was the interesting bit for me personally, as these tractors were very advanced for their time. The ones made by Latil in France had four wheel drive, four wheel steering which could be altered to two wheel steering for on the road use, built in "Grousers", the aforementioned winch and a winch anchor. The regular ones that came were originally fitted with petrol engines, had charcoal burners fitted during the War and later after the War had diesels fitted. These vehicles were about as far removed from the traction engine as it was possible to get, but although now working side by side as it were, they were completely from a different age. They would winch the timber on to the trailer, before setting off up those steep fields back to the public road. At sometime during the journey back onto the public road, they would most likely use their winch, this in turn would mean the road being crossed by the cable for some considerable time and so a sharp lookout would have to be kept for approaching vehicles.
I remember once that a motorcycle could be heard in the distance and the cable being lowered to the ground in double quick time, certainly before the machine came over the brow of the hill.
Could the failure to complete this in time be the reason that all of our local apparitions are headless, particularly those on horseback, although it is unlikely that the Roman Centurion met his end in this fashion. He reputedly walks the path from the Bicester direction across the airfield at Westcott towards Ashendon bathed in a bright light. I have heard of several people being more than a little worried by his presence, sightings seem to have increased since the War, but the fact that there are now many more people in the area at night could account for this.
Other Ghosts rolled barrels down the hills "Lynch Hill and Cuckoo Pen" in particular, on the road between Westcott and Ashendon according to the locals. But I have travelled those roads at all hours of the day and night, on foot, bicycle and motorcycle but was never privileged to meet anyone in that state. "Legless" might be a different question as I used to travel past the camp set up for Irish workers and was often threatened. Though looking back I don't think seriously by them. "Fetch that Galoot off his bike Paddy" or some such friendly call could well be the shout. It was something of a problem when coming up behind six or so spread out across the path, the old Brill tramway between Raghall and Westcott, with a high hedge either side, whether to ring my bell or not. I think on balance I was more frightened of them at the age of sixteen/seventeen, than any ghosts I might encounter later along the same road. Although they used to fight amongst themselves I don't ever recall them attacking anyone else. By using this path as a “Short Cut”
you saved some two miles or so and as a consequence it was much used by the travellers, I don't think it ever occurred to anyone to take the longer route. The only exception to using this route for me was to watch the aircraft taking off or landing much depending on the time of day.
I have been told by some dog owners that their dogs have great difficulty in passing certain points on the Westcott to Ashendon road. Particularly at the top of Lynch hill even in daylight, apparently their hair literally stands on end, but I can find no real explanation for this. When it has been discussed the former site of a gallows has been suggested but I find this unlikely, as my understanding is that such devices tended to be placed at cross-roads, though being at the top of a hill and some miles from the nearest cross-roads. Chearsley, Winchendon, Ashendon, Cuddington at the top of "Ogleys Lane" might just make this idea feasible. Perhaps our forefathers were not so law abiding as we would like to believe? A point against this is that here the road has left the route of the old Roman road but perhaps there were "Felons" in the intervening years. The roads catch up with each other at the top of "Cuckoo Pen hill".
A local farmhouse, Muskhill farm at Winchendon, was unoccupied, it also had the windows boarded up and so gained the reputation of being haunted, we usually gave it quite a wide berth when moorhens nesting or blackberrying. A further story attached to this house was the sighting of a man bathed in white light appearing at night in a gateway close by, he was reputed to have been a former occupant.
The lamps used on bicycles in those days were very poor, probably worse than the previously used carbide ones and it could be quite unnerving if someone suddenly loomed out of the fog or darkness walking late at night, particularly if they didn't speak, which always in my experience seemed to be the case.
It can be surprising when you are travelling alone and on stopping for whatever reason someone turns up at the scene.
I remember one night quite late when returning from Aylesbury on the motorbike I came off at some speed when rounding the corner at Fleet Marston farm. I travelled along the tarmac road, which ground it's way through my heavy riding "Mac" jacket and trousers, I finally ended up crashing into the milk-churn stand, which was close to the side of the road. The bike chose a softer passage and travelled on the soft bank, of course after first grinding away much of one footrest and the end of one handlebar in a very bright shower of sparks.
The point of this is that although I wouldn't normally see anyone on that stretch of road, a man came running up just as I decided I was still in the land of the living, he didn't seem to be so sure though and certainly he didn’t expect me to be.
On one other occasion I went over the handlebars of the bicycle at some speed after finding a "Pothole " near to the side of the road on "Cuckoo Pen" hill, it being very dark. I was just sat there in a daze trying to find out what was running down my face in torrents when a friend on a motor bike appeared, as if by magic, and by his headlight we were able to see that it was only water from the inevitable puddle. It would appear you may not be alone even when you think you are.
I always felt that fog, when on both the motorbike or the bicycle, was a strange experience, heavy falling snow could also give a strange effect. First it is deafeningly quiet and secondly distances seem to change from minute to minute. I remember not being able to find the turn to Ashendon on the A41 at Westcott despite being totally sober and on the motor bike, finally I had to get off and walk along the side of the road before getting back on course.
Back to Ghosts
There is a reputed ghost who walks alone, he follows the Oxford to Aylesbury footpath and is dressed in olden day farmers clothes. So I decided that he would hardly be walking on modern day roads, though the old and the new do coincide at the bottom of Lynch hill and this was the place that I would normally pass him. I often wondered if this was him and would always speak on such meetings, but as at other times I don t recall getting any reply, it was always much too dark to decide on his standard of dress.
I have still got an open mind on this subject, not being sure that there is not a rational explanation for all of these happenings. Probably the nearest I came to being convinced that ghosts do exist was during my Army Service at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire. I spent a short time on security there, the strange thing being that during the hours of daylight we would patrol in pairs but during the night we would go solo. As you might expect there were many ghost stories circulating and one road in particular, Hoare road, was the focal point for most of them. This was the time of the "Spiv" and as there was plenty of valuable and attractive items in the depot which at night, apart from our single patrolman, was totally deserted. We were told never to allow anyone to get too close and so bearing this in mind and only armed with a “Hellison lamp” I usually walked, "Should I have marched?”, down the centre of the road between the buildings.
As the "Boots Ammunition" made plenty of noise on the hard road, I would stop suddenly at intervals to hear if there was anyone about, the footsteps after a couple of echoes in the walls of the metal clad buildings would normally die away.
At about four-thirty a.m. on this particular night/morning and in the road previously mentioned I stopped, the footsteps definitely did not, but just carried on in a measured tread, I sometimes think I can still hear them. I later made enquiries as to who could have been in the area, but was assured that it was not a place that people chose to go at night, unless pressured into it for official reasons. There were Police patrols operating in other parts of the Camp, these consisted of two armed constables and if the footsteps belonged to them, then they were certainly near enough to have heard me and almost certainly would have come looking, unless they too didn't relish entering Hoare road at night. The Camp Cinema only seemed to show "Dracula" films which added to the fear perhaps.
The one thing that at that time I particularly hated was when a door that had previously been locked for the last few weeks and was not being used, suddenly opened to my touch and you feel duty bound to go in and check. Also one night when locked in the N.A.A.F.I. canteen in total darkness we would arrive after dark and be ushered in through the back door then with no talking allowed would stay until released in the morning. This action was designed to catch cigarette thieves. We would hear the Military Police and the Police patrols walk by trying the doors usually talking to each other and I am sure they would have been more than a little upset, had they have become aware that there was someone inside. But on this night, probably between three and four o'clock, I am suddenly confronted by a white face looking in. He (it?) obviously couldn't see me sat in my dark corner and as he went round the outside I went round the inside. This “Tom and Jerry type” chase carried on for a while until there was a loud knocking on a window and I was confronted by somewhat irate and very keen Major (Ours), who had somehow quietly crossed the loose gravel surround in a vain attempt to catch us both asleep. No chance! It is a saying in my family "You don't catch old birds with Chaff".
I have had strange experiences while riding the bicycle, one was a human sounding cough just at the point where I usually ran out of "Puff", halfway up Cuckoo Pen Hill, and would normally dismount due to the steepness of the hill and in those days I might just stop to light a cigarette. After several nights of this I plucked up enough courage to investigate, eventually I decided it was a sheep, whether live or an apparition I never actually discovered.
One other strange incident while cycling was an enormous and beautiful owl, he would travel with me for some considerable distance, usually from the old Gashouse at Westcott to Gypsy Bottom, flying to the next post and waiting for me. He would do this until, I decided, he must have reached the limits of his territory.
When on the motorcycle he would sometimes and only sometimes, without any hesitation attack me with some force, just flying straight in like a missile, when reverting to the bicycle again he would escort me as before. On some nights he was missing and I felt quite sad to think that he had probably met his end, nights or even weeks later he would re-appear just as if nothing had happened, he would be waiting for me and would go through the same motions as before.
I suppose it could be argued that he was the soul or spirit of someone who passed on before the age of the motorcycle.
A happening that can give you a nasty shock is sometimes, particularly on a bend, when you pick up in your headlights seemingly dozens of small bright lights, dancing in the air, they will almost certainly turn out to be cows eyes.
Many animals of course have the same effect, though apart from rabbits are usually seen on their own, but those such as foxes don't wait about for long. Of course coming through the woods at Wotton, Wood Sidings, you could well meet a deer head on and when it has happened to me I never knew who was the most surprised as such animals tend to stand their ground.
Flying Saucers were quite common on my travels and it took some time and effort to track them down, they sometimes appeared as several very bright and shiny discs in the sky. Often being in perfect formation and almost perfectly round in shape, at other times there would only be a single one, always apparently stationary and always in my experience on cloudy nights only.
Sometimes after what could seem ages they would move off, changing shape as they went, this movement could sometimes be quite fast. After much sitting and thinking, cycling is a good place for doing both, I came to the conclusion that they were the result of the moon shining through holes in a top layer of cloud and projecting onto a lower layer. The speed and change of shape being due to the layers of clouds moving in slightly different directions or speeds. No doubt there are as many explanations for this occurrence as there are numbers of sightings.
I have seen red and green lights flash across the windscreen or the motorcycle, really travelling at high speed and diving at the same time. So vivid and quick was this on the first occasion that I stopped at the top of the next hill and looked back to see if there were any signs of a plane crash, there not being any I travelled on. On later occasions I considered it more deeply and eventually put it down to the reflected lights of an aircraft travelling high above and behind me, the dive and speed being accounted for by the curvature of the screen. The roof of a car would prevent any such reflections happening in the same way. It is perhaps just possible for spectacle wearers to get the same effect.
In the Village there were many superstitions over and above the normal ones, such as walking under a ladder. One was that should you see a magpie you must always speak to it, saying something like "Good Morning Magpie", your good luck would then remain intact or be enhanced.
To see one crow or magpie is bad luck anyway, two being the opposite, according to the old rhyme, you could of course always find a crows feather, spit on it and stick it in the ground, this in itself was supposed to bring good luck.
The rhyme covering such things goes on to say that "seven is a secret never told", but what that actually meant I was not to find out, that secret certainly remains intact.
Three lights in one room, this was sometimes interpreted as being three candles or flames, were not allowed. Red and white flowers were not put together in the same room, knives were never left crossed, a family row being the outcome of this. Presents of knives or any cutting tool required a small payment, a halfpenny would do, to be made to the giver, the failure to do so having the same result as crossed knives.
Artificial flowers were not very popular in some houses, nor were the mixing of children’s Christian names that had fruit or flower connections in any one family. Rose, Lily or May being the only ones coming to mind at the moment, but different families had totally different ideas on this kind of thing.
One death would always mean that there would be three, but of course this must always be so, as where or when do you start your count from.
To take a third light from a single match when lighting cigarettes was just too unlucky to contemplate, this almost certainly came from the first World War, when it was reckoned that an enemy sniper had time to line his sights in that short amount of time.
The Gypsies would at some time pay us a visit, usually an elderly lady attended by several small children and carrying a wicker basket, selling clothes pegs and I seem to remember "Lucky Heather", door to door. I can't remember how they travelled to and from the village. I feel that they must have walked from the bottom of the hill, it perhaps being too steep for a horse and caravan. It was certain that her palm was unlikely to be crossed with silver too often.
One story always told to us as children was that sheet or summer lightning had the affect of ripening the corn, not as most people think that the sun is responsible.
The sound of a screech owl was a sure sign of impending death and as they were quite common near my home we heard them nightly, but the total population didn't markedly decrease as a result.
I am not sure if weather forecasting as practised in the village counts as superstition or what, but I do remember that the farmers tended to set great store by their barometers.
The workers had much more technical methods, these could range from a joint that ached, to the behaviour of birds and animals, through changing wind directions, to cloud formations, sunsets and sunrises, all no doubt having sound reasons for their use. My own favourite weather forecaster was that on bright sunny days if the distant hills, the Wendover hills to us, looked close and clear, then it would rain within a day or so, normally in hot weather they would be shrouded in a covering of haze.
One guaranteed item for keeping Rheumatism at bay was the wearing of a Nutmeg close to the skin, this would most likely be carried in a vest pocket.
Thermogene wadding was another favourite cure for bad backs, of which there were many.
One thing that used to amaze us as children, was the sight of a "Whirlygig", almost certainly a thermal, these would travel across hayfields at considerable speed, picking up the hay as they passed and lifting it into the air in a spiral. We would often give chase and when very young would avoid actually standing in their path for fear of being picked up by this strange force. They seemed to occur in some fields more than others and so many people explained them away as being caused by the way the trees stood in a given field, the wind passing between them causing an "Eddy". Are they the cause of the modern phenomenon of the corn circles? and, if so, now why not then, except of course that we now have holes in the ozone layer and there are many more magnetic fields. One further point to consider might be that the types of corn have changed to give shorter weaker straw, plus the fact that many of the fields have been enlarged by the simple process of cutting down hedges, which must make some areas more open to the winds. Plus of course the fact that most of the trees will have gone anyway.
One other happening that caused some of the older inhabitants to forecast that the "End of the World was upon us", was the appearance of the Northern Lights, "Aurora Borealis", more properly, this was when I was quite small but I can remember everyone standing in the "Close" by the Church to get the best view.
There was reputed to be a tunnel between the pub and the church, but we never found any evidence of this. If this is in fact true then it must be very deep, as when they dug the trenches for the water pipes they ought to have exposed them, particularly as the road at the point crossed, known to us as Short lane, runs in a deep channel.
Before moving on I had better mention the "Wart Charmer". He would be a shepherd and even the local doctors have been known to advise people so afflicted to seek such a person out. My Grandfather was one, but unfortunately did not pass the secret on and so I am unable to advise on that branch of alternative medicine.
A last happening and one that I have never seen, but am assured that they do occur, is the "Will of the Wisp", or marsh gas igniting spontaneously in wet or very damp areas, the blue flame travelling parallel to the ground, similar to lightning. I have certainly looked out for them in the area of the brooks at the bottom of the hills.
I will just go back to trees.
When the airfield was being built many trees were felled to give a better approach to one of the runways; in fact anything showing above the skyline got cut down. The Telephone cables were put underground as well. This felling spree later extended to any sufficiently large tree to be of use for timber, so the main spinneys and woods largely disappeared.
This action brought a new group of "Fellers", who we "twelve or so years old experts", considered were no where as near professional in their approach to the job as the old stagers had always been. Not now the speeding up of the sawing at the end of the cut to prevent splitting, it just didn't seem to matter as long as the tree came down, the direction in which it fell was no longer important, some even coming back over the saw.
But for us it provided more entertainment and wood for collection, this work went on for many months.
Further entertainment was provided when an approach lighting system was installed, these lights all mounted on posts decreasing in height as they got closer to the runway.
The cables were mostly pulled through by a winch mounted on a very large traction engine, a former ploughing engine, and mole plough, these cables being fed from a trailer towed in turn by the plough, a further technique for us to come to terms with. Soon all this activity would end and we would have to revert to making our own entertainment again.
Certain games were declared too dangerous and as a result were banned by the teachers and parents; this seldom stopped them being played, but just made us more wary as to where or when.
Sometime along the way a new searchlight unit moved in, with two lights, one very large and a small one, they had huts with concreted bases etc, as though they intended to stay, which they did. As time progressed a new canvas building was erected, this having "horns", and it was soon decided that this was "radar", and although they would allow us to visit the rest of the site and perform much as we had done on the previous site, this building remained firmly "Out of Bounds".
As the War progressed the large searchlight also grew "horns" and our thoughts on the subject were thus confirmed.
We were once invited to a children’s party held on the site and I clearly remember having my first lesson on the .303 Lee Enfield Rifle at this. It was there that I also gained a taste for having condensed milk in tea.
It is probable that they had the first fatal road, motor, accident inside the village boundaries when two vehicles crashed head on at night, and on the narrow track, formerly the Brill tramway, which lead to the post.
To defend themselves they only had rifles and a "Lewis" gun on a post surrounded by sandbags, but no heavy anti-aircraft guns, or as far as I am aware were there any in the immediate vicinity. During the raids on
Coventry these units would sometimes search for the enemy aircraft passing over, and in this case it was not unusual to see one picked up momentarily in the beam, but of course without guns no action could be taken against them.
The logic of having searchlights, of which there were many in the local area, without having any big guns escapes me now, just as it did then. Later in the War these lights would form cones in the sky, I believe the purpose of this was to guide returning friendly aircraft home.
An all black Defiant nightfighter was in residence at the nearby Westcott airfield, but I never heard anything of it being used at night, however it did occasionally fly during the day.
Early in the War members of the Canadian First Division came in large
numbers to the neighbouring village of Wotton Underwood, this of course soon claimed our attention.
They set up their tents all over the village and hid their vehicles under trees and camouflage nets; they didn't seem to mind us joining in the War with them.
I have a vivid memory of many of them spreading blankets on the tarmac path across the village green and with large "wads" of paper money on show played cards.
The aspect that probably surprised me the most was that, should anyone be walking on the path, officers in particular, then they had to go round the card players.
I felt that those Officers must have had a hard, if not impossible job to control them.
The men themselves were very courteous towards the local people and friendly towards us, they would if allowed borrow our bicycles to have a short ride round the green. Like some of their strange, to us, language, we couldn’t understand their baseball, which seemed to be not unlike our "rounders". They played amid the tents, which must have somewhat curtailed their game, many threats were thrown out when a loose ball made heavy contact with a tent, one of the passing soldiers, or indeed on the card players blanket. Never the less, they always seemed to be in a good humour.
They eventually moved on and later a more permanent camp was built, this became a training camp, the assault course apparently became notorious
among those who came to use it.
As the War progressed many different units would arrive including Americans, who stayed for some considerable time. I remember that one of their "trucks", lorries to us, tried in vain to climb a chestnut tree that stood on a triangular island where three roads met, it apparently was being driven by a fugitive from the American Service Police at the time. The driver escaped from the scene into the nearby wood and later "borrowed" a local bread van, without the owner’s permission I may add. The tree was very badly damaged and gradually its condition deteriorated until it had to be removed.
By now I was fourteen and employed full time at the local, Wotton, railway station and so the contact with these Americans was on a working level, I like many others had certainly hurriedly come to terms with the American way of speaking.
The last Troops to use the camp that I remember were a Mountain Assault Unit who spent many hours climbing the wings of the railway bridges, twenty feet approximately, they carried massive shoulder packs, which were reputed to weigh a hundredweight.
Their technique for this climbing was to stand on each others shoulders until one made it to the top, and then with the aid of their rifle slings pull the last ones and all their equipment up.
Probably the last people to use the camp were Italian Prisoners of War who seemed able to come and go as they pleased, a bit more on that subject later.
To return to School Days.
The chasing of rabbits and the setting of snares was considered to be a suitable pastime, but like most of our other attempts to catch animals or birds, mostly doomed to failure, although much time and energy was spent pursuing these activities.
At the right time of year there would be expeditions to look for birds nests, in particular to try and find a moorhens nest and steal the eggs, which would then have to be placed into water to see if they floated.
If they sank it was reckoned that they were suitable for eating, the only remaining problem was to retrieve them, as often the water chosen was deep enough to swallow up the eggs forever.
It was not very clever to wear a school cap on such trips, no cap no risk, as by wrapping the cap round a stick and tying it on with a handkerchief or a piece of string it made an almost perfect scoop. The problems usually arose when you tried to get it back along the bough that moorhens seem to favour for building their nests. By now you should have an egg or hopefully several nestling in the peak/scoop and your focus will probably be on the egg, not the small side branch on which the cap is now most likely caught, causing the loss of both.
A rescue operation would be attempted as that cap had to be recovered at all costs, but I have to say, only mixed success regarding the eggs. It would normally require someone trying to crawl along the aforementioned bough, most likely the owner would volunteer?
There were many varieties of implements for reaching the eggs in the nests, ranging from a spoon on a long thin stick, to bent wire mounted in the same way. The failure of these "specialist" tools often had the same effect as above, meaning that the eggs were lost long before they got to the shore thus saving us the bother of doing the "fitness" test, but never the less still depriving the poor bird of its eggs.
Most birds’ nests were considered "fair game", one egg only, except moorhens, being taken from a nest, so that the bird didn't miss it, at least that was the theory. Back home if any arrived intact, they would be pierced with a needle at both ends before an attempt was made to remove its contents by blowing. This was not always a successful operation, but if so, then it would join others of a different kind on a string and be shown as trophies. A return trip would often be made to see if the bird had returned, or had totally forsaken the nest, in the event I feel that the latter was the most likely, the benefit of hindsight.
A further superstition was that if you took a robin's egg you would end up with a crushed finger. I can assure you that not many robins’ eggs were taken, too risky!
Swans and their offspring were usually treated with more respect, possibly because they could fight back, you always knew if you were unwelcome because they would "attack" anyone going too close to the nest.
This mention of eggs reminds me of why I don't trust eggs that are called "free range"
Often as children we would collect eggs that had been laid on the farms that were in favour at that particular time and it was not unknown to discover a clutch of twenty plus, all neatly laid in the straw. These eggs would mostly find their way into the collecting basket, but I would doubt that all of them would qualify as fresh. Most probably, or hopefully, before they reached the consumer, the eggler or someone would have discarded the bad ones.
In the early part of the summer there would be swarms of bees, these we treated with respect and apart from standing well back and throwing small stones at them to get them moving, the only activity left was to call the local bee keeper and watch him do his work from a much greater distance.
At about four-thirty in the afternoon there would be a procession of people going to "fetch the milk" from the farm of their choice. This would almost certainly provoke a contest as to who could swing their "can" the fastest, or the most times, or with the lid on or lid off. Not that this aspect made the slightest difference to the outcome, it just looks more dangerous. This "game" would often result in an accident and as they say "It's no good crying over spilt milk". I remember one of the younger evacuees trying to score points off us, by saying how backward the villages were, as in Ealing the milk came in bottles and was left on your doorstep. Before he went back home he would learn the "facts of life" regarding milk and milking.
Let us look at Milking.
I believe that this was possibly the dirtiest job I ever got involved with on the farm, having got recruited to take over some of the cows normally milked by my father. He by now had become deeply involved with the Home Guard and the only way he could attend the weekend parades was for me to act as substitute.
I would only be called on to do the more docile ones, but would have to take over some of those from the person who now took over the "wild ones".
The cows know when it is time to come in, except for the odd contrary one, and then the dog came into his own. It may be raining, in which case they are dripping wet; they may have come through mud up to their stomachs, so there is an even chance that they will be very dirty.
They will normally go into their correct stall, woe betide the one that doesn't, the regulars will soon push it into line, they are then locked in with a wooden bar. This bar will hold the head in the manner of a "Toggle", there will be a quantity of food in the manger, so for a time they will be happy. The next thing was to wash the udders and the serious business can now begin.
This consists of sitting on a three legged wooden stool while holding a bucket between your knees, it was considered "sloppy" to allow this bucket to touch the floor during the proceedings, although on some farms it was considered to be the normal way. The legs of the stool would probably protrude through the seat and if not adding much to the "comfort" it must have prevented anyone sliding off. These like many things on a farm had been produced generations before and had been subjected to much "make do and mend".
Next you would take up your position under the cow and force it to place its legs where you wanted them to be, often a pious hope.
This position it's left leg forward and it's right leg back allowed you to keep your right knee between them in a kind of locking mode, this was designed to stop the animal getting into a "kicking" position. You would keep your head pressed firmly into it's side, not forgetting the weather, or that the cow had just previously been laying in something unpleasant, then the milking proper could begin.
Setting off with great "gusto" the cow may or may not agree to co-operate, if not, then you could whistle or hum the latest "Bing Crosby" number.
Cows were not fussy about the standard of the performance or the actual tune, but did without doubt respond favourably to some music. Years after, of course, would come the actual playing of records to the cows, although altogether too late for my participation. This "noise" may please the one you were milking but the one behind may have other ideas and it was not unknown for them to kick the stool from under you. You would first learn about this when the said stool hit the nearby wall, this then left you sitting on a cushion of fresh air, some twelve inches from the ground until gravity took it's natural course.
You would then find yourself sprawled in a somewhat undignified way under the offending animal and in anything that happened to be on the ground at that point. The real crime in this was if you actually spilt the milk. Milk would penetrate overalls or any piece of clothing worn, leaving a thick film of grease. That plus the previously mentioned wet and dirty cows sometimes added up to a very pleasant Sunday afternoon.
Having got the milk safely into the bucket it would next be poured through paper filters into a large hopper, from there it would travel down a cooler, in practise like a radiator in reverse, it having cold water passed through it, then finally into a churn. Next morning the milk lorry would come and collect the churns and take them to London, presumably to be bottled and possibly find its way onto the doorstep of our young friend from Ealing.
Let us now have a short rest from Work.
Fishing was a waste of time as only minnows or sticklebacks survived in any of the local brooks or streams, but there were "crazes" just the same.
Tadpoles also took their turn during the relevant season, which meant frogs everywhere after they had hatched out, but no one minded, frogs being looked on as beneficial creatures.
Mushrooms might also be found on these expeditions, but normally any decent ones had been collected very early in the morning and so it would be unlikely that you would find enough to be really practical.
Later in the year there would be blackberries for the taking and sometime during the week the blackberry-man would come round and buy them at a price decided by him.
He would always come round after dark and by the light of a lantern and with the aid of his assistant, weigh the proffered containers. If they were suitable for hanging on his scales, both full and empty, call out the price to be paid to the individual concerned and then tip the contents into large tubs. Due to the bad lighting conditions and the sometimes poor weather!, these weights did not always correspond with that weight previously decided on by the "Picker" at home. So some would feel a sense of being cheated, probably not the case at all, but human nature, being what it is there was always room for doubt.
This state of darkness allowed some of the older/bolder spirits to take it that he was "fair game" for a "bit of a fiddle" and something akin to half a brick, or a pint or two of water could find their way into some of the larger containers before weighing. This extra surge of juice or the loud thud of the brick when tipped into the tubs would alert him to the fact that all was not as it should be.
The water of course did not mix with the juice very well, so I doubt that he was very seldom caught out, if ever, but it made extra entertainment in an otherwise dull dark evening.
Some of these larger containers would be washing trays or other items difficult to weigh so problems did sometimes occur when the contents were being transferred to something easier to weigh.
The resulting profits made from these activities would most likely find themselves being used to buy winter shoes or same article of clothing otherwise out of reach of the normal budget.
He would also buy apples and sloes and I seem to recall that during the War he would buy "rosehips".
When engaged in this collecting there were several things to be taken into consideration, first the farmer might not be too friendly, although this may not be down to the farmer in person, but rather to a member of his staff. A state of affairs that would almost certainly change towards haymaking/harvesting time, as he could well need some very cheap labour.
Secondly not all animals were friendly and might decide to eject you, thus saving the farmer the time and trouble. The best fruit was always in the most inaccessible places, stinging nettles, very wet ground or some other reason, often preventing the easy raising of much needed funds.
I clearly remember finding two quite large snakes, of the grass variety, I have no doubts now, though not so certain at the time, winding their way through my chosen blackberry bush. That particular bush was left with its fruit untouched for some time to come, none of us were very brave when it came to such reptiles, as they were of course always "adders". In truth I doubt that they ever were, as the area consisted entirely of the so-called "Oxfordshire Clay", which I would think was much too cold for such creatures.
One animal I always found friendly was a large bull. I would be about five years old at the time and clearly didn’t know any better, but he would allow me to go up to him and hold his head down while I rubbed it, I believe this to be due to my absolute lack of fear.
It was not unknown for him to decide sometime later to eject with authority those foolish enough to decide to play football or cricket in the same field.
I will interpose a second "bull" story here. Some years later, I would probably be about sixteen years old, long after I had left the farms, when the following happened. Myself and an elderly colleague were employed to fix a single strand of barbed wire fence supported on stakes round a field containing a very large bull. We had nearly finished when the animal decided to help and after much shouting and waving of sticks we persuaded him to go back to his grazing.
He had originally been fitted with a metal mask to obscure his vision because of his violent nature and had by now broken the main straps, so that the mask now hung round his rather ample neck like a necklace.
Suddenly I heard my colleague shouting and saw him disappearing behind a convenient building, I turn back to see about one ton of meat travelling towards me, head down, tail up, at very great speed and definitely with evil thoughts on his mind.
I am by now "rooted" to a spot some five or six feet from our new fence on the other side from him, but also on the wrong side of our tractor and trailer, there being no-where for me to run to.
My past life didn't flash before my eyes as it is supposed to do, but just as I had given up all hope he skidded to a halt, certainly within two feet of the fence, just looked at me, then with total disdain hooked several of our new stakes out with his horns and marched off.
Had he been human and had hands, I can see him in my minds eye making a rude gesture as he marched away, we finished the fence rather hurriedly, one keeping watch while the other worked.
Back to basics.
Bows and arrows came and went each year, all of the "bowmen" having their own ideas as to what materials made the best equipment. After much searching we would nearly always end up with poplar, elder wood or willow for the arrows, this because of its "straightness" and availability. It had the unwelcome property of breaking on hitting the ground so some would soon become rather short; they would often be bent anyway so it was never a precision shooting match.
The fins would most likely be folded "Woodbine" cigarette packets once again easy to obtain. Most anything that might bend would be brought into service as bows; hazelnut wood if available, but willow would suffice. The string used could well contain several knots and consist of as many different thicknesses.
The targets would most likely be any large tree or with luck a cardboard box, something at the time that was in very short supply, not much risk of doing any damage and not much of a threat was ever posed to any potential raiders I’m afraid to say.
Catapults also had their "crazes", in the same way and again the question of materials had much to do with the final design and building of such a weapon. First there was the "stick" to consider, hazel nut wood for preference, but often elder, the latter would often break with dire results, it could be painful when the elastic came towards you rather than go in the expected direction. The "pouch" would probably be a "tongue" taken from an old shoe. That word elastic was one to conjure with as you had to be "old enough”, an age decided by the shopkeeper, or if you looked eighteen you could to go into the shop and buy it. Our ambitions were not helped much by the hard fact that our local shop did not stock such dangerous material.
Perhaps because of it being required for the production of catapults should more properly be described as material. The required size would be either three/eighths or a quarter inch square and some eighteen inches long, the price of this could well make serious inroads into that hard earned blackberry money, if of course any actually remained. The problem of suitable ammunition then arose, pebbles being favourite but in somewhat short supply, although the Council gravel heap would be raided, any small stone would be used.
The targets also had to be considered; birds and rabbits were often chosen, but they either flew or ran too fast and I truly believe their lives were seldom in danger.
If someone had been lucky enough to go to the cinema then our version of Cowboys and Indians might take a turn, but mostly it would have a short life span as you would have to rely on the "lucky one" to gain any real inspiration or knowledge of the subject. The odd book or comic paper might set us off in the same way.
There were very occasionally film shows in a neighbouring village, Chilton Club, laid on for the benefit of the Evacuees; these would be of the "Popeye" variety, with the odd Cowboy thrown in for good measure. We, the locals, would normally be invited if there was spare room and a bus would be provided to transport us, always a bit of a noisy business.
The makings of a bicycle came our way at one time and these were soon put to good use, consisting of a frame, wheels without bearings, tyres and many of the spokes, no brakes or pedals, no saddle, so perhaps a Velocipede would be a more accurate description. However after fixing the wheels to the frame with plain metal bolts, it would certainly run down the steep hills of some of the fields without problems.
The problems began when you wanted to Steer or stop, and although we had Handlebars, without the wheels being fixed rigidly into the Frame, and the lack of Tyres, it sometimes develop a mind of it’s own as to which direction it wanted to go. The other problem with steering was that it mostly had a Crew of two, who also were trying to steer in different directions at the same time, the grass would perhaps be wet, all adding to the "Fun". The lack of brakes was overcome by jumping or falling off, or as on many occasions the front Wheel would drop into a deep rut or hole bringing the journey to a sudden end. This Machine was in service for some considerable time, and I seem to recall it finished it's useful life when the Front Axle snapped through excessive wear, and we couldn’t replace it, Bolts being very scarce.
Once again no serious injuries to anyone occurred, and considering the Terrain, the overall surfaces of the Fields and in particular the ruts through the gateways it must have been little short of a miracle.
The flying of Kites was of course prohibited, so our "skills", in this area were never really tested, I did make one based on a "Boys Own Paper", design but it didn't perform very well, certainly not due to a lack of wind, a commodity never in short supply.
Air Guns likewise had a short life, as only a couple of people had such weapons, and secondly there was no ammunition available. Any use of them consisted of firing into a cardboard box filled with straw or some other soft material to try and save each pellet for further use, sometimes it worked other times not.
A very strange "Craze", came, and went quite quickly, this consisted of making Bomb like Missiles, and seeing who could throw them the farthest. They were made of wood, and had Cigarette Packet type fins, very much differing in their size, and weight, but some evenings would find us all standing in a line throwing with all out might.
I can't begin to even think where this one originated, but it must have come from Bombs and bombing as now it would be around the time of the "Blitz", or perhaps a follow up to the Spanish Civil War. This one probably ended because the same people always won due their size, and strength, it's not really much fun always being a loser.
A second strange "Craze", that springs to mind was that of digging holes. Again, I have no real idea where this one sprang from, except that it could have been from a book being read in School at the time, but the fact remains that many gardens suddenly had deep holes dug in them by the older Boys of the family, presumably the object of the exercise was to go deeper than anyone else. There were both square, and round ones, all seemingly without a purpose; they were eventually filled in, having exposed more of the "Dreaded Clay", this not making our respective Fathers too happy if I recall correctly.
During the winter, the Brook which was basically the Boundary between Ashendon, and Dorton would flood in a rather big way. This meant Acres of shallow water which froze into a solid block, the only dividing line being the Brook itself. You could never be quite sure where the load bearing Ice began, although the colour was a give away, but as there was plenty of available space we would mostly run up on the Ice itself, it might also be covered in Snow which could mask the edge. I say run up because the only option open to us was that of "Sliding", as very few people had access to states. Of course you could not control the direction that. anyone wanted to travel in, which did sometimes cause collisions to occur.
One great advantage of these floods was their lack of depth, probably only some three feet or so at their deepest, unless you were foolish or brave enough to try the Brook itself. Here the water ran continuously under the Ice therefore the thickness of it was uncertain, as was the depth of the water, otherwise the safety aspect appealed to most, not least to Parents. The only problem with Parents was that in their opinion it was too far to go at night, and so it was mostly restricted to Saturday or Sunday, this would of course change as we grew older but then the desire to go would most likely recede.
A form of Ice Hockey was sometimes played, to rules made up at the time, and with "Sticks", formed from anything that came to hand.
The Puck would be a round of Wood, and the resulting "Carnage", would end with many bruises, and cuts tied up with the ubiquitous handkerchief, but nothing too serious, certainly not in my time.
The alternative to these Areas were the local Ponds, these could be both "Tricky", and dangerous as often the depths were uncertain, the steep banks spoiling the approach, and not least because of their sometimes sheltered sites the thickness of the Ice being anybody’s guess.
Tobogganing became a regular winter sport from about nineteen-thirty-eight, and this lasted for many years as a major entertainment. As with sliding, many cuts and bruises would be collected, crashes and collisions occurring regularly. It always seemed that no one wanted to get out of the way at the bottom of the Hill or they insisted on walking up the prescribed downward run.
The route of the run was often dictated by the depth of the Snow, and so would be formed by the Toboggans being run repeatedly in the same track to form a miniature "Cresta type run". As it was quite difficult to keep up on the ridge of the "Ridge", and Furrow", that most fields consisted of, the track would drift into the deeper area of the furrow that caused most if not all of our problems. This system normally worked quite well when the runners were made to the same gauge, but left much to be desired when they were not.
Many strange devices were pressed into service as Toboggans, some had crude steering systems, others were just a sheet of Galvanised Iron bent up at the front as far as possible to let it slide at all. These were not a great success as they tended to go forwards, backwards or sideways, much depending on where you sat, and as there was nothing to hold on to, it could mean you soon found yourself sitting in the snow.
Many had the Metal Slats taken from old Bedsteads, and rescued from the Rubbish Dump, (the Stonepits), nailed to the runners which got honed to a fine cutting edge during the action. The fact that it could be pitch dark for most of the time did not help the safety aspect much. As some of the furrows were quite deep, and sheltered from the direct sun, on the north side of the hill tobogganing, and the under mentioned large snowball making could go on for some considerable time after the main snow had melted
The R.A.F. Personnel from Westcott joined us in this activity for a short time but their device was too well engineered to work, it having not enough runner area to support the load, and they gave up when it finally broke in half.
A further activity at this time of year was making very large snowballs. For this you needed a long run of Snow, usually a furrow would be best, a steep field, plenty of willing hands and you were off. These either would melt very fast indeed or would hang on for days after the other Snow had melted, there never seemed to be much consistency to this, but one thing is sure, and that is that where the snowball had melted there would now be a small heap of dead long grass, this having been picked up on it's journey.
We did on many occasions attempt to build Igloos, but as the temperature was not really low enough, and the snow not being deep enough to allow us to compact it they failed miserably.
The local Police Sergeant in his car, or the Constable on his bicycle, (now looking a bit Red Faced from his exertions, and as a consequence known to some as "Beetrootface", both from nearby Villages (Brill, and Kingswood Respectively) might pay us a visit.
This would mostly pass off with a caution, not aimed at anyone, or anything in particular, but just to show us that the Law existed, and had to be upheld. There were occasions when they came to the School, and this would usually mean some specific accusations of "Scrumping", "Unlawful Trespass", or some other heinous crime of which we were naturally totally innocent. At other times the Police had to check the Sheep-Dipping, Dog Licences or more possibly lack of the same, and so they were often in the area.
At such times their likely possible presence was well known to us, and as a result we could make ourselves scarce, or when confronted it cost nothing to show a respectful attitude whatever the reason for their visit. During my Motorcycling days, one Policeman would always stop me at night, on the same stretch of road, and roughly at the same time of night. He would step out of a gateway, hold up his hand, ask for my Driving Licence, where I was heading, and any other question that would delay me.
Of course when riding such a machine, and swathed in the appropriate dress, it is difficult to reach said Licence so it did nothing for my temper particularly on wet nights, and as he knew quite well who I was, and where I lived, it seemed to me to be a totally pointless exercise, but looking back I now think he was just lonely, and anyone to speak too was better than no-one, but having said that, he at no time tried to make conversation, but kept it strictly to business. Perhaps he kept a league table of those stopped? On occasions there would be exercises held to look for imaginary escapees from the local Prison at Grendon Underwood, this would almost always result in me having to stop, and go through roughly the same routine.
Very occasionally the accusations regarding Sheep worrying would arise, but of course no-ones Dog was ever responsible, and it would all soon die down.
Once a whole group (Ten or so) of Sheep were Killed when Lightning struck a barbed wire fence, those actually touching the wire being affected. It was not unknown for Trees to be struck killing any Animal sheltering underneath. We Children received varying advice as to whether we should stay under trees or head for the open; it's difficult to know what to do for the best under such circumstances.
The Vexed Question of Farm Animals straying onto the Public road, arose occasionally, but this was mostly a waste of Police time as the Magistrate would almost certainly be a fellow Farmer, and almost always "Someone had left the gate open", despite the fact that a pane of railings was missing or there was a large hole in the nearby hedge. If anyone had the misfortune to collide with such an Animal it was mostly a case of "You shouldn't have been driving on the Road anyway". This was not really a problem in Ashendon as of course there was very little through traffic, although I do remember on one occasion stopping the motor bike with the front wheel under the belly of a stationary cow, that was neatly parked in the middle of a very muddy? piece of the road, which somewhat increased my braking distance.
Holidays and Weekends might find us "Working ", on the Farms, or at 1east making a nuisance of ourselves, in some way. There was quite a 1ot that we could do on those Farms, which of course could not be done today because of modern Regulations.
One Saturday morning job was often "Grinding", "Cow Cake". This material either came in quite large slabs, and had to be broken down, or came in sacks of large "Pellets". The slabs were fed into a Chute on a machine not unlike a Mangle that had teeth on the rollers; it was turned by hand with the result that the slabs were cracked down into small pieces which fell through a second chute into a container. Tricks played consisted mostly of pushing more than one slab at a time through the intake, or closing down the adjustment to its minimum setting, either would increase the effort required to turn the "Manage" handle.
Horses were the only source of Motive Power in those days, but later the Tractor would arrive, a much more interesting state of affairs, altogether less work involved in looking after them.
These Horses in my later days at School would have to be taken some five miles or so to the then nearest Blacksmith, our own Village one by now having retired, and not been replaced.
First catch your Horse of course, could be easy, or hard much depending on everyone's (Including the Horses), mood. Mostly this would entail a trip to the relevant field complete with halters, then with much calling, some good luck, or chasing about you might just be lucky enough v to get the halter on at the first attempt, with that accomplished the business of the day could start.
These trips to the Blacksmith entailed the fitting of a ridding saddle, and reins to the most docile of those to be taken, whilst the more lively ones were 1ed on halters. I f you didn't have a saddle e, t hen 1egs clad only in short trousers could get very sore indeed, particularity if the Horse worked up a sweat. A heavy Carthorse is quite wide across its pack, and so although the ride was not too uncomfortable it could be a bit of a strain to sit for an hour or more for this somewhat difficult journey, with the other Horses having minds of their own and wishing to go in different directions.
The other main difficulty was that should you lose one of the haters or have some other reason for dismounting, it was almost impossible to get back in the saddle unaided. Although there would be two of us involved.
Problems did occur however, and I particularly remember s Steam lorry causing one such when the Horses or meeting it, decided to take matters into their own hands, and the halters out of ours, running off after the Vehicle, but this being our lucky day the driver slowed down, and with much arm waving managed t o send t hem back in our direction. We would as far as possible travel on the banks, and here again you could suddenly be confronted by a deep ditch or some other obstacle lying across your path.
By the time we reached the Blacksmith Shop we could have well done without his remarks, as made on one occasion, when after looking at the Animals involved, (One was just a bit "Fractious"), never having had its back feet shod f or t hi s very reason, he told us to take them aI1 back Home, even though he had previously been told by telephone that we were on our Way, and what Horses were involved.
After some long discussion using words that due to our sheltered upbringing we had not heard before he finally agreed to shoe the others, plus the front feet of our difficult one.
Our next job was then to hold the front end of the Horse being shod very tightly indeed, so that it could not turn it's head round, and take a quick bite of his rear end, or move in any direction.
This was not always an easy task and we could never quite get it right, but eventually after much cussing, and swearing, the work would be completed, and we would be sent off in the Homewards direction.
The problems encountered on the return journey would be normally no more or less than those on the outward, except that the Horses would now know they were going Home, and as a consequence would be in a bigger hurry.
The smell of the burning Hoof daring the shoeing always returns on my not too frequent trips to the Dentist, where the smell of the drilled tooth is similar.
Harnessing the heavy Horses would normally require two of us, both the collar, which was put on upside down, and turned on the Horses neck, and the saddle being very heavy, the height involved would normally be above our heads. The girth strap would be easier as the friendly ones would let you walk underneath them to pass the strap under. The tightening up of this strap could be difficult if the Animal decided to be uncooperative, a quick dig with the hand would have the offender draw it's stomach in so that the tightening could be completed, it was important to get it tight otherwise all sorts of problems could arise.
The fitting of the collar, and bridle could be made more difficult if 'he Animal decided to toss its head, this lack of height on our part could a well find one of us trying to balance on t he manger, holding on with one
hand while at the same time trying to persuade the offender to accept the "Bit", and let us fit the bridle over its head.
The next action would be to get it between the shafts of whatever "
Implement was to be used. Basically there were two ways of doing this, you could first lift the shafts so that they remained above the Horse, and lower them when the Horse was in position, or do it the more normal way for us, and that was to reverse the Horse between the shafts, and then lift them up to the required height, the second way was favourite for us because of the difficulty of lifting this heavy weight above our heads. Once again here was a task that required two of us to raise the shafts, and fasten the chain, one important point to remember when hooking up the trace Horse chains was that the hooks had to be entered open end up, a failure to do this would almost certainly result in one or more of these chains becoming unhooked when the Horse suddenly "Backed Up", or just plain stopped.
This would most likely cause the chain to "Whip", and throw the hook out of the staple, you can imagine the shock it gave both Horse, and handler when taking the strain in a great rush, and only fresh air intervened, you could very easily get trampled on if the break was on the far side, meaning that the Horse came rather quickly in your direction. We
had our own saying as children locally "Always Ook an Ook uphill"
I have read that Buckinghamshire is probably the only County that always runs its teams of Horses in single file, whether this was the case or not I really don' t know, but it certainly was the practice locally. There was the odd occasion when someone would try to run two trace Horses side by side, but as the Horses were not used to it, it probably caused more problems than ft solved. The one real exception apart from Mowing, and Binding which doesn't really count because of the pole, was Harrowing, both chain, and tine (or Drag), harrows were worked with Horses side by side.
To digress a bit, chain harrows were used on fields being prepared for mowing, these fields are "Shut Up", and in the old days the gates would actually be fastened, even to the extent of nailing a piece of wood across, and all fallen Trees or other obstacles, low branches, or indeed anything within reason being cleared.
Tine harrows are used to break down the cultivated soil for seed planting, and will later be used to cover the seed after the drilling, in which case they may be attached to the rear of the seed drill.
Harrowing was a tiring business as they didn't have seats, and the horses could keep up a good pace with ease.
A further machine used to break down the ploughed field was the "Scuffle", or cultivator, this to its credit did have a seat.
To return to the Story.
I have been involved with a string of six (Just to get them home, when bringing the last load of the day up those very steep Hills, and always in this formation, this of course being the easy way to bring all the Horses up in one single go. On a normal team of three Horses it was seldom necessary to have anyone guiding the leading one as the calls of "Come Ere", and Gee Off" along with the horses name would normally suffice, these commands meaning come left, go right respectively.
As you can imagine the length of three Horses plus the Wagon is considerable, so the last thing that you wanted was for that lead Horse to take any short cuts across the corners. It was very important to go through the gates in a controlled way as the width of a Wagon, as for most other implements was close to the width of the gate.
In the Horses defence it has to be said that only a few would be regularly used during the winter months so each spring some would be very oat of practise, and would more or less have to be "Broken In", as would a new recruit. This meant that for the first few days at the start of the season life could be somewhat "Hectic", with trace chains breaking, and some wild rides particularly on some of the Lighter implements.
A further factor to consider at this time was that the machines had also been "Laid Up", for the best part of a year or so, and could as s result also prove to be somewhat temperamental, and would only come "Good" with use.
A wide variety of machines were called for, depending on the season, but all would require the use of force by the operator at some time or other.
We were all reasonably strong, but nearly always if possible worked in pairs with both machines or Horses, although I do recall at the age of ten, taking loads of hay from the field to the elevator at the rickyard site across level ground with one Horse unsupervised, although there would be someone at both ends of the journey to take over if anything untoward had happened, and to do the close manoeuvring at each end. Every second or so many loads would call for a bottle of beer to be sent back on the empty wagon for consumption by the loaders.
I was not included in this last action, just having to make sure I didn't forget to deliver it, my ability to control the Horses might well have become impaired had I have been allowed to join in, the loaders of course sweated it out, and it had very little effect on them apart from quenching their thirst, it could be very dry, and dusty on hot days.
From the age of about ten (Me that is) it became a mixture of Tractors, and Horses this could make life harder or easier much depending on the job, or part of the job, that you were concerned with.
A case in point that of loading hay, at night when everyone was tired, so were the horses, unfortunately the Tractors didn't suffer in the same way, OK for the driver, but not so good for the loaders.
It was the usual practise to share the work of loading, and driving, but quite a number of the older men didn't take to the driving too well and so it didn't always work in their favour.
One advantage that the Tractor had in this kind of job was that it did not stop, and start suddenly snatch forwards, take a step backwards, or bolt when upset, as the Horses were prone to do, this of course, gave a much better ride for the loaders or operators of any other machines.
The sometimes slow transition made by some of the newcomers to the Tractor age did not always result in good steady driving so the difference was perhaps not always as great as it should have been. There were many stories circulating about the Tractor that failed to stop when the driver called "Whoa", but I never actually saw any such happening myself.
One haymaking job that required much staying power, if little skill, was raking the "Back Swathe", always pronounced "Swarth". This was carried out with a wooden rake, and consisted of doing a complete lap of the mown area while raking the Hay/Grass into line but away from the "Heel"
(Driving Mechanism) of the cutter, it was not unknown for a number of teeth to be missing, a fact that did not help to make the task any easier.
The object of all this hard work was to allow the mower to run in the reverse direction to that previously, without grass jamming problems, so that all of the field up to the hedge (The Headland) would be cut. Once again it was a job that required little thought but it was certainly easy to work up some first class blisters.
Nothing would be wasted in those days, and certainly the outside of cornfields would be cut by hand so that the Binder would not lay the outer ring or headland down, making it almost impossible to reclaim that part of the crop. With the coming of the Tractor many of these practises stopped or gradually faded away, as speed became the order of the day, and of course in the longer term the machines became more efficient, and the tractors probably laid down less of the uncut grass than a pair of Horses.
After the mowing came the haymaking proper, jobs for us, much again, depending very much on your age, could range from driving or loading to taking the tea to the workers. This tea carrying routine would involve carrying a Milk can of tea, plus a basket of food for a considerable distance over fences ditches, not forgetting the barbed wire, and at the same time remembering the latest cricket test score, this last item being very important, as radios were not very portable in those days. A number of items would be carefully packed in large red handkerchiefs with white spots these would then be used as "Tablecloths", and either spread out on the ground or used to cover knees.
The tea at the end of the journey, and the accompanying, (Hopefully for me), raspberry sandwiches would have to be tasted to be believed, there was just something special about either the actual food or perhaps the venue.
The rest of the Haymaking would go roughly as follows, -
As mentioned before, the grass, is cut, into swathes, again "Swarths", to us, and after some drying, "Put In", and then is either "Fluffed" to further speed up the drying process with a haymaker ("Tedder", Locally, then "Put in", again to rows with a siderake, for the wagon, and hayloader, ("Pitcher", Locally), to pick up. This teddering could, of course, be done before the first “Putting in” much depending on the thickness of the grass.
The loads are now taken to the rickyard site for the elevator to lift it onto the rick. The base of the rick would be carefully pegged out, and a bed of straw laid, before the actual building could begin. They would mostly be built with a double-pitched roof, roughly in the shape of a House, and later will be thatched.
People had different ideas as to what constituted the "Proper", rick; some even building round ones, the size was usually, down to personal taste.
A Penalty for not allowing the hay to dry sufficiently was that it could heat up, and if left long enough could actually catch fire. The action to stop this was to drill a hole down the centre of the Rick, and insert a wooden chimney to allow the heat to dissipate. Some rick builders even went to the trouble of pulling a sack of straw up the middle of the Rick as they built thereby leaving a hole to prevent such overheating.
These Ricks had to be built to a high standard to survive. If not done right they could suddenly bow out at the sides, and a form of avalanche would occur, of course they naturally sank as the hay compressed, and some would have to be built up to restore the pitched top before thatching. Sometimes ricks were built in fields that would later have grazing animals in, and being only surrounded by a strand of barbed wire it was not unknown for the two to get together. This resulted in the Cows eating into the rick until it took on the proportions of a large mushroom before finally collapsing in an unseemly heap.
The thatching was done by men skilled in the work, it was a wet cold job at the best of times, as it would be done long after the end of haymaking to allow the rick to settle, some making good in the form of reshaping would normally take place.
The straw had to be pulled out, straightened, and wetted, (Known as Yealming) though normally Pronounced "Yolming", locally, it would then be carried to the Thatcher already on the rick.
When the time for use of the hay came, it would be carved into manageable lumps (Rough Bales) with, (At least to me), a strange hand propelled knife.
Sometimes ricks would be cut by the "Haytier" - he brought a baler or Tying machine - and this hay would most likely be sold.
The long and very heavy one-piece wooden ladders used to reach the tops of the ricks were both difficult to raise up, and to transport. The raising usually required "Al1 hands to the pump", and the transporting to the site would normally require the use of a wagon in the case of the longer ones, or perhaps would be tied on to a two wheeled cart with plenty of overhang at both ends. These ladders were as difficult to lower as they were to raise up, if not more so.
To finish the Haymaking-
The final job in the hayfield would be to rake up any hay remaining into rows, with the "Horse Rake", and then pick up as before. It was almost a point of honour to rake the rows into such good order so as not to require a second use of the siderake.
I will try and describe the various machines: -
Usually pulled by two horses, harnessed side by side, and divided by a single wooden shaft. The machine itself was really very simple, consisting of two metal wheels with treads cast into the outside to give enough grip to provide a drive for the long cutter. The actual drive was made by connecting rod, which turned the rotary motion into a reciprocating one. This rod was made of wood to give a weak link effect in the event of something, (A Piece of Wood or Similar) getting caught in the knife, thereby causing serious damage. Very wet long grass could be a serious problem. The knife was made up of many triangular knives joined to a steel bar , which had to be kept very sharp to be efficient. This knife ran through "Points", or fingers which combed, and held the grass for cutting, this could all be lifted up by means of a long lever, to stop the actual cutting, but there was no way of easily stopping the drive.
The knives themselves would have to be kept sharp, this was done by individually filing each triangular blade while having it clamped to a bench made for the purpose, these blades were riveted to a main spine. The rivets had a habit of working loose so this also had to be taken care of at the time of sharpening. This aspect of haymaking would often be taken care of by an older retired Farmworker. At the end of this beam, which could be five feet long, was a board set at an angle to deflect the last nine inches or so of the cut grass to prevent the driving mechanism getting tangled up on the next pass. Ratchets in the wheel hubs allowed turning, and reversing, at the corners, without locking one wheel, different people had different ideas regarding this turning action, but most would opt for square corners which gave less chance of jamming the cutter.
This was one machine that we as Children did not get to use as it was not a very heavy pull for a pair of powerful Horses, so they could sometimes be rather difficult to control.
We would of course become involved after the conversion to Tractor power. Although having said that, it was sometimes very difficult to lift them up at the corners of the field, but this aspect would markedly improve when the proper tractor mower came on the scene. My last involvement with such a machine was with a six foot cut (Albion), which not only required two people to hook it up to the tractor because of the weight on the drawbar, but was also known as a "Knife breaker", as it certainly had a penchant for doing just that. You soon learned to always stand behind the beam when Horse drawn for the sake of your feet, and legs This machine had quite a comfortable cast iron backless seat mounted on an arm behind the axle,which when in use would almost certainly be covered by a hessian sack, this could be kept dry, and also added to the comfort. It has to be remembered that many hours would be spent sitting in these seats so some degree of added comfort was very welcome. Most of the machines would have a similar seat.
The Swathe Turner.
This was a machine for turning the swathes of hay for drying, and would leave the hay in a "Fluffed", up condition, and in rough rows. It had two sets of "Rakes", spinning on an axis at right angles to the ground, and would be drawn by one Horse.
Mounted on three smooth cast iron wheels, this was drawn by one Horse, and consisted of a frame carrying two large revolving discs, which in turn carried a number of toothed rakes, consisting of steel spring tines. These were mounted at such an angle, that as they rotated they swept the hay to one side, and were driven through gears from one of the wheels, this entire unit could be raised or lowered by the operator. Any jamming into the ground or other problem would simply cause the driving wheel to lock, and skid, a state of affairs sometimes encountered on those ridges, and furrows. These wheels would become incredibly smooth and polished after a few days in the hayfield. A similar seat to other machines was usual; a hard ride was normally the case.
The Horse Rake or Hay Rake.
This was pulled by one Horse, and it consisted of a row of semicircular tines mounted between two smooth cast iron wheels. At the point decided for the row, you would pull a handle, which lifted the tines clear of the ground tipping the hay into neat rows, (I very much doubt). There was a version called a pony rake this was very light in weight, and had foot pedal which was connected to the tines through a drive from the Wheels, thus making the work of the operator easier, the Horse actually doing the work. A further version (Expanding Rake), could be jacked up, and the tines opened out to increase the width after passing through gates. Once again it was important to run at right angles to the ridges, and furrows to keep the tines in close contact with the ground, particularly with the expanding version. These tines would be locked up for travelling to, and from the fields.
The Hayloader. (Pitcher Locally).
This was attached to the rear of the wagon as you would a trailer, and it was driven, again by two smooth iron wheels with a pair of castors at the rear to allow turning and setting the required height from the ground. A three-sided slatted wooden box extended from ground level to a point just above the load height, the hay being lifted by several rakes, running the height of the machine. These were driven from the wheels by eccentric Arms, (Crankshafts in Modern Parlance), which imparted a rising falling motion, thus sweeping the hay to the top. 0nce again freewheels were fitted in the wheel hubs to allow turning without problems.
A further version had rakes mounted on chains at right angles to the direction of travel, like tracks on a tank, these also being driven by the wheels. Difficulties with this device were that they had a habit of being just that bit higher than the tree branches you wanted to go under, a failure to appreciate this fact might well mean uncoupling, and some hard physical effort by those present, the chances of getting several Horses to go backwards was hardly worth the trouble.
It was just sometimes possible for those on top of the load to raise small branches clear with their forks while you travelled gently underneath, whatever the outcome you would be very unpopular for the next few minutes, at least until the next crisis arose. A second problem arose when hitching up, you had to persuade the Horse to reverse the wagon close to the drawbar while some "Brave", person stood holding it up until satisfactory contact was made. Sooner or 1ater it would become your turn to be that brave person. This machine would be transported to and from jobs by fixing the drawbar in such a way that the castors were held clear of the ground. This had the added effect of lowering the overall height. Working on top of the load was very hard work, as you had to keep the hay moving, this to maintain forward progress, and to keep the loads coming, there was always some rivalry between the two teams. There was also some rivalry between Farms, so if you could see the neighbour’s rate of progress, you would almost certainly want to beat it, with more and bigger loads.
These were principally made of wood with wooden wheels, larger at the rear, all being shod with iron tyres; these vehicles were both heavy, and wide. There were varying versions of these wheels, some having one piece tyres, and some having them made up of segments, and fixed on with 1arge metal square spikes. Normally painted yellow they would have the name of the Farm, and the Owners name painted on the front. The timber part of the wagon was quite complicated, having wooden "Pegs", down the sides to reinforce them, and iron bars, at either the wear points, such as where the wheels made contact with the body or at other points that were more heavily stressed.
The braking system consisted of the Horse laying back in the shafts, or a chain device to lock the back wheels, (Either or Both), to prevent them rotating, (Fields only), if used on the road a considerable flat was quickly worn on the tyre so treated. A skidpan was usually carried for roadwork; this was just an iron pan connected to the wagon body by a chain. The wheel being simply run into it, and riding inside, so with no contact with the road it didn't rotate.
These pans would have to survive years of use but, as hills on the road are not usually too long, no problems normally occurred.
There was also a "Drop down", bar (A kind of Spike), underneath the rear, which when lowered would prevent the wagon running backwards, by just digging into the ground, necessary when Horses were used, but not needed b the tractor, although sometimes used for parking in the fields.
It was normally trailed when working in the fields, and so you had to remember not to try to reverse when it was lowered as an empty wagon could overrun it, and a loaded one could simply break it. A nice soft spot in the field could soon render it ineffective by just digging in, so it did need some care in use particularly on those steep hills that we were accustomed to.
The bed of the wagon was quite narrow, starting from the front, waisting in at the centre, then widening again at the rear. This narrow "Waist" allowed the front wheels to have at least a limited turning circle. The front wheels were mounted on a wooden "Forecarriage", which allowed some movement between the axles parallel to the ground, but added little to the overall stability particularly when on full lock.
Over-the wheels ran a form of ladders, not dissimilar to full length mudguards, this arrangement allowed a much larger load to be carried, but did bring the width close to that of normal gates, calling for some care on the part of the drivers, particularly when several Horses were used. Probably these "Mudguards", would have originally been higher than the gateposts, but as the wagons wore deeper and deeper ruts, this advantage disappeared.
For hay-work a ladder device was added at the front, "The Foreladder", (I understand that this action turns it into an Oxfordshire wagon, this overhung the Horse, thereby much increasing the available load area. Also "Raids", would be fitted, these consisted of a removable post held in an iron socket at each corner, joined along each side by a "Net", of ropes. When unloading, these "Raids", could be untied, and lowered, and as there was a proper method of tying-the ropes for this, Woe Betide! anyone getting it wrong. It was a bit of a "Mess", if it came untied during the run home, shedding the load in all directions, and it was just as serious a "Crime", if it couldn't be untied at the rick site. These "Raids", extended outside the normal width of the wagon which didn’t improve that passing through gates in any way, and like the "Pitcher" were very prone to catch on to any low branch, or other obstacle. The tailboard would be lowered, also to increase the load area; this was normally supported by a pair of chains.
At least two Horses would be used during the "Picking Up", operation. So the overall length was considerable, things like the terrain, (That Ridge, and Furrow rearing its ugly Head again), the fact that there was a limited amount of lock available, soft ground, those previously mentioned low trees, and keeping on the row, all had to be taken into consideration when driving.
To overcome the dual use of horse, and tractor, the shafts were left in place, and a cruciform shaped drawbar was used for tractor work. This was a long wooden pole with metal attachment points at both ends, and a crosspiece of metal to support the shafts firmly, thereby forcing them to move in unison with the tractor. This device whilst probably being the best solution at that time to the dual use problem, had the effect of making the overall length somewhat unmanageable on some of the tight corners encountered.
On top of the Wagon would normally be one or two men, (One Man, and His Boy sometimes), working very hard, depending on the thickness of the row, if this was too thick then the loaders would suddenly be swamped, the person responsible not being very popular. The speed forward, was also a contributing factor.
The loader's job was to build up the load as neatly as possible, so first the maximum quantity could be carried and more importantly that it was safe, and wouldn't shift on that so often rough journey to the Rickyard Site.
Horses had one advantage on this job, you could hear the loaders shouting, and accordingly would heed/ignore what they said, the Tractor was much too noisy for this. Think! All that good advice going to waste.
Sometimes before the start of the season, these wagons, or perhaps just the wheels would have to go back to the wheelwright for repairs, this was a very interesting place, probably on a par with the Blacksmiths shop, but too far away for us to visit regularly, here of course you could see both metal, and woodworking going on side by side.
The nearest to us was at Chilton, so when we were, young this was a trip very much 1ooked forward to, but the problem was that if the wagon was left at the wheelwright's then you had to walk back home, along the footpath across the fields or, if not too many, an Uncle Tom Cobbley type ride might follow.
One other spring task was that of greasing the wheels on the wagons, and indeed on several other machines. Normally this would entail the removal, of said wheels, greasing the exposed axle with heavy grease and replacing. I have seen a kind of wooden jack capable of reaching the chassis of these vehicles but it was common to employ a long wooden pole, using an empty oil drum as a fulcrum, then with plenty of encouragement or possibly "Words", having that effect, the wagon would be raised, and the task would be completed. The construction of these wagons was such that apart from the axles and the rungs of the ladders I can't recall there being any other straight piece of wood used.
Reading this back, once again I marvel at the fact that we didn’t have any serious accidents. The nearest Medical attention available to us was some five miles distant, so it had to be quite serious before you made the journey, or called the Doctor out. Depending on which one was called they could make the journey on foot, (In ear1ier Times), Pony, and Trap, or Motor Car.
This was the "Big One", being much longer, and probably heavier than any of the other implements. It would be towed to the site by several horses, depending on the terrain encountered on the journey, and then gently manoeuvred into its working position with its wheels resting on timbers to prevent it sinking into the ground, and to keep it level, it has to be remembered that it could be stood there for some considerable time. Next would come the hard work of unfolding it to increase it's length/height, and then raising it up to the required height, both these operations being accomplished by winding two large handles. It would be raised periodically during the building of the rick, always just high enough to c1ear the bui1ders heads. If it was raised too far, then on a windy day the hay would be blown off course as it fell a hurdle or sack might be hung at the top to try, and prevent this.
When it did occur it could either be blown over the side of the rick or the builders would have to move it over the length of the rick. It was quite difficult to walk on the loose hay, it would only become compressed as time went on, and so you had to be very careful not to get too near to the edge. We as young children would not normally be allowed on to the ricks at this time, despite our earnest desire to do so.
The working parts of the, elevator, consisted of a series of rakes attached to chains, once again similar to the tracks on a tank, the Hay being fed into a hopper at the bottom. This task was easier from the wagon, than from the ground due to its height, so every effort was made to prevent any hay falling onto the ground also any hay trampled on the ground would make the surface very slippery indeed.
Two main methods of driving the elevator were employed, one was small petrol driven engine, and the second was by a Horse. 'This way had the Horse travelling continuously in a limited circle, while being attached to a wooden shaft, this shaft in turn being attached to a kind of gearbox which drove a rotating shaft that in it's turn drove the elevator.
A distinct advantage to the workers was that the horse also got tired as the day wore on, not the theoretical case with the engine.
It was prone to plenty of stop, - go, which provoked much shouting, and threats to it's well being, it would of course get a rest while the wagons were being changed over.
The engines were not without their faults either, usually being more than a few years old, and when a problem did occur they were often rather more difficult to restart than the Horse, being water cooled they also had a tendency to boil up in the hot weather, partly due to hayseeds collecting in the cooling tank, and blocking the system, and as a result might, need time to cool down, as did the Horse, and the workers, certainly towards the end of he day.
Once the work had been completed it was time to lower the elevator, this could sometimes require a lot of care, as now it would be at its full height, and as a result could be somewhat unstable. It also had to be pulled clear of the rick before the lowering process could begin. The usual method was to make sure that the wheels ran on timber supports to prevent any sinking into the ground occurring, and winding it down as it was slowly pulled forward. Some rickyards were paved which of course made this task easier, and safer.
This vehicle was sometimes the best way to transport those long ladders mentioned previously, as normally they would be going to the same place, and both were of a similar length, the problem being the weight of the 1adder, and the height it had to be 1ifted, as even when folded down the elevator was quite high.
In the early days they were standard Fordson, and comparatively easy to drive, having only one pedal which operated both clutch, and brake together. To park you merely hooked it down with a hook on the floor, which released as you next put your foot down on the pedal. You would almost certainly leave it in gear, when starting because as the vehicle got older the efficiency of this system rapidly declined, and it became very difficult to get it back into gear, without much grinding of same,
But already being in any gear would with some force allow you to change into the required one.
The problem of stopping also increased, particularly when fitted with pneumatic tyres, and travelling on the road with a trailer, or other heavy device. The only way to be safe when descending any steep hill was to get into a low gear well before you got to the top as none of the trailers or implements I ever encountered had any braking system fitted. This would be put right in later years of course.
The engine speed was controlled by a hand throttle lever; there were three forward gears and reverse. Some had a high top, not really suitable for pulling but just for travelling light. They all ran on paraffin, after starting on petrol, and changing over when warm. As they got older and more worn it was best to keep them close to boiling, because there was a tendency for the plugs to "Oil Up". When new they had a built in radiator blind, a bit crude but reasonably effective, probably made of' heavy cotton, which as it aged became quite prone to tearing, particularly if it got caught on the odd piece of tree or hedge, a folded sack hung over as well re-inforced your intentions. The radiator cores would also become clogged with hayseeds or other debris, so sometimes they ran hotter than you intended.
The overall system worked well when the owner gave you enough petrol for the job in hand, but so of ten was the case t hat he preferred to use the said petrol in his car, and if you stopped too long for "Dinner", then you could be in trouble, as the temperature would neither be hot or cold, but just awkward enough to add to our re-starting problems.
Once again we as Children (Twelve), onwards would have to pair up to swing the engine, there being no self starters fitted, once having got going the other one would return to duty elsewhere, so you quickly learned not to stall it. If you were unlucky or careless enough to stall then you right just get it going alone if it was hot enough and it would start with just a pull up. None of us were strong or tall enough to turn the starting handles a full turn on our own, and would have to use both hands just for this.
These early tractors were fitted with manual advance, and retard settings, which in short meant if you advanced the ignition too far you could, get a quick reminder when the very large starting handle came back
In quite a big hurry, though not as sharp as the smaller one on a car, they made up for it by being heavy, and large, more of a problem when there were four little hands to get out of the way, and made worse by the fact that the handle would almost certainly rotate freely in this reverse direction several times. They were not removable, but when running they were clipped up, you would be reminded of this when they fell out of the clip by the horrible "Clicking", sound that arose as a result, caused most likely by running into the hedge at a turning point thereby unclasping t hem.
The seat for these was made of pressed metal, and mounted on a long steel multi-leaved spring; these springs could snap under certain conditions.
Mine happened when I was travelling on the road after previously towing a set of seven gang mowers, and as I was standing up at the time, no problems occurred, but a bit of a shock nonetheless. The spring leaves probably being previous2y cracked, and with the bouncing, due to it carrying no weight, although on pneumatic tyres at the time must have just sprung out, the first indication that I had was when I heard a strange noise behind, which of course was the seat bouncing merrily on the road surface.
Originally these Tractors would be left in the field, and sheeted where they were being used, you had to wait until they had cooled down before sheeting, but the practice soon grew up whereby they were brought home at night.
This had several advantages, first an adult could help start them in the morning, secondly it saved taking the paraffin, which was carried in two gallon rectangular cans, accompanied by a large funnel that allowed a can to fit into the top, plus the oils, grease guns, and all the paraphernalia required, out to them, and thirdly, if say rain or some other reason forced a change of task for the new day then it was close at hand. It probably saved time, as the time taken to walk those quite long distances would soon add up.
The rear wheels had "Spuds" to provide grip; there were various types of these, and as later models came out, they changed considerably. All had one thing in common, they gave a very bumpy ride on the road, or any other hard surface, (It didn't half get the Wheels Clean), and, so .you would travel along the banks as much as possible to avoid damage, to the road. This of course meant that unless the bank was particularly wide and flat you were unable to tow anything behind. This improper use of the banks would not be too popular with the roadman, I would imagine, as it tended to drag mud onto the road, and of course did little to, improve the condition of the said banks.
In those days the grass or whatever on the banks was kept short. As time went on there were many different devices to overcome these road going problems, ranging from wooden bands, bolted between the spuds, which would be left on for light pulling back in the fields, and would probably be left in place for the haymaking, and harvesting, to metal bends.
These "Road Bands", bolted onto the outside of the wheels, these were for road use only, as their name implies, and again meant that only a light load could be towed behind. When travelling in top gear it was advisable to watch out for loose "Spuds", as apart from the horrible noise made, they had a nasty habit of flying off with some considerable force. The early tractors had mudguards that covered the wheels completely but as the War progressed they became smaller, and smaller, we were able to ride on the early versions with some degree of comfort, and safety, but the later ones were not nearly as good, but of course riding was always preferable to walking safety could be considered some other time.
Much later would come the pneumatic tyre, I would guess towards the end of t he War, and t hen f or a 1ong time only on t he rear wheels. The accuracy of the steering left something to be desired, but not really a problem as most of the use was in the fields where the flanges could sink into the ground, also there was plenty of space available. When pulling something like the disc harrows, they had a greater tendency to go straight on even on full lock, this was partly due to the soft cultivated surface, and also the fact that under heavy load the front end became rather light, later would come tractors with independent wheel brakes to overcome this problem.
I would think the reason for allowing Children to do such work was principally, that we were very eager, we didn't have any "Hang Ups", regarding the use of "New Fangled", machines, and it was probably much easier for us to learn to drive, than for an older man to learn new skills.
I suppose it could be argued that we came cheap, and at that age did not require the "Dreaded Insurance Stamp", though I doubt if that was the reason.
Driving the Tractor was usually the easy part, it was the implement it towed, that really had to be understood, and controlled, for this you spent most of your time looking over your shoulder.
The arrival of this vehicle caused many problems as most of the Horse drawn machines now had to be crudely converted for this new way of life, as of course many would have to be still drawn by Horses as well as tractors.
Some of these part conversions worked quite well but most had to be used very much as before, which meant someone having to ride on to operate the raising, and lowering or whatever adjustment was needed.
Some machines that were converted for tractor use required two of us "Kids", to operate the levers, that being a further reason for us to do the driving, leaving the older/stronger person to do the heavy work, and make all the decisions. I remember in particular the Australian Sunshine seed drill, although designed for tractor use, it had to be raised, and
Lowered at each end of the rows, by this massive lever, which would require two of us riding on the long, very narrow footboard, to operate.
Just imagine a wet day, the board is covered with "Basic Slag", or whatever is being drilled, which makes life more difficult, as first the coulters, (The Discs), that "Dig" the furrow for the seed or whatever have a habit of "Clogging", up, and quickly have to be dealt with by scraping with a paddle, the footboard is getting muddier, and more deeply covered in slag by the minute, and you may be trailing a set of harrows. School must have been more pleasant than this. To have slipped off would have been something of a "Harrowing experience", No! Sorry!!, I couldn't resist it. It was probably said at the time though.
Different times of the year would see us deeply involved in other processes. Something like disc harrowing could prove difficult as they required a great pull to propel them, this would, sooner or later see us stuck in a "Boggy", patch up to the tractor axles.
It was no use shouting for help, as you were strictly on your own, and anyway you just didn't ask for a tow which could only come from a neighbouring Farm, (You would never live it down). If luck was with you it was sometimes just possible by reversing the tractor to alter the setting of the discs, (by narrowing the angle), with that accomplished you were then hopeful1y away.
One towed device that could prove tricky when passing through gates was the ring roller, it was used to roll grass fields, or cornfields after planting, and consisted of a series of rings loosely mounted on an axle. The fact that the rings would "Do their own thing", in the field didn't really matter, but if they decided to change sides just as you reached the gatepost then problems occurred, and a large sliver of wood could well disappear off the post. I well remember having my first cigarette, or more accurately half a "John Player", when riding as a passenger on such a machine.
It was not uncommon to attach two implements together for the ride Home after the jobs were completed, this not only made it doubly difficult to get through gates, but it made the journey on the road quite exciting. As have previously said Horses, when facing home, always want to get there in the quickest possible time. One day having safely negotiated the gates, with a siderake, and horserake tied together the crazy Horse decided to make good time on the road, going over the brow of a short hill we are confronted by a City of Oxford bus going about it's lawful business, this leaves me nowhere to go except into the hedge, with a shallow pond on the other side.
In the event the horse did not agree, and still without slackening pace we somehow managed to avoid everything, and thus continued on our merry, perhaps terrified is more apt, way. On reaching "Home", the Horse just stopped, and behaved as though nothing untoward had happened.
It was not unusual that after haymaking, and harvest there would be posts and gates "Missing", or damaged, so a further job that had `to be regularly kept up to data was "Mounding", which was the local word for replacing fences, and gates.
This was a bit boring (No Mechanical Devices), and it mainly consisted of digging a series of holes, making sure there were no "Crumbs", left in the bottom and then "Planting", posts in same. After these had been rammed in tight, making doubly sure, they were absolutely upright, a gate or railings would have to be fixed, this meant some knocking in of nails had to be done, unfortunately this was considered to be a job for adults only.
Hedge cutting was once again a job for experts, as in those days they were cut, and laid by hand, but you might just get invited to help pull out the long brambles that were used to tie the stakes that "Pinned" the component parts of the hedge down.
For this you wore very thick gloves (Hedge cutting Cuffs). There was a prize for hedge cutting, as part of the annual Thame Agricultural Show so some of the Farmers would enter their employee's best efforts each year. This would be judged by strangers, and so a very high standard was the order of the day.
Ploughing, and milking were other skills covered by competitions, these would be similarly treated.
The next job would probably be the ditches these sometimes were very deep or could be just a gentle depression in the ground, either way it was a job for someone who understood the business because at the end of the day it was important that the flow ran in the right direction. All done by hand in those days, there were a few Contractors who handled this type of work plus the "War Agg", as there was for most other Farm work.
A further job g that came our way was "Jack Thistleing", this consisted of removing all of the Jack Thistles in a given field or fields, by the simple act of chopping them out with a hoe or other tool supplied. Some of these implements were better than others for the task, and considerable argument would take place before work commenced as to who should use what.
I know that I once worked a full week at this "Pleasant Task", for the "Princely", sum of two shillings, (Ten Fence, nowadays>, a big secret, only two of us were paid this special rate the others getting sixpence (Two, and a Half new Pence). The blisters after a week of this activity had to be seen to be believed, but at least we got the cash.
Often it was a promise of apples, in lieu of money, these at best would be windfalls (Pick them up Yourself), and such promises were easily, and reasonably forgotten in the fullness of time.
To make a change from all this talk of work
Sometime along the way the Telephone came, for several years there was only one which was located in the Post 0ffice, later would come a telephone kiosk, and of course there would be more as the Farmers found them essential for business. Probably as with many other devices the War speeded things up, in particular people would want to speak to the "War Agg", but at the time we were amused by the comings, and goings of the telephone men. After the War of course, phones became a necessity, and spread like the proverbial "Rash".
Originally, if my memory serves me correctly this number was Ashendon One, and later became Waddesdon One-Three, both of these early instruments being upright with the separate "Ear Trumpet". When the dialling system was introduced after the War, it had to have three digits, and so became Waddesdon Three-Seven Three. I do remember that the poles. and wires came up the Pollicot to Ashendon road and sometime in the dim, and distant past we had been Ashendon near Thame, the mail being delivered from there.
A bus service started, the City of Oxford Bus Company began running their Buses from Oxford through many Villages to Aylesbury. This service only ran twice on Wednesdays, Friday afternoons, and several times on Saturdays. Nevertheless the freedom it gave to visit a variety of shops the Cinema, and not forgetting direct access to the main Railway line at Aylesbury must have come as a pleasant "Shock", to many people, not previously accustomed to travelling in such comfort.
When people got used to this way of travel, and then later, during the War in particular, they would have to add a relief bus, sometimes more than one to cope with the numbers using the service.
I don't really remember the exact year but I think it was nineteenthirty-nine that the mains water was finally connected up. For some long time the local Water Board had been digging trenches everywhere, and at the very top of the hill they built a covered reservoir. This took most of our attention during the period of action, but there wasn't much for us in the way of participation.
We would crawl through the long cast iron pipes left in stacks at the side of the road, (It would be a tight fit for me now I fear), and we would use the discarded steel bands off the pipes as hoops, and when we got tired of that we would leave them where they ended up. A further trick was to throw them as far as possible in such a way that they would spin, and roll back in our direction.
After School we might follow the trench that had been dug that day to see what the machine had thrown up, mostly we would find blue/grey shells, and in one particular spot there were literally thousands at quite a shallow depth, this must have been the dining hall for some bird now long gone. One find we decided was a cannon ball, and if in fact it was then at sometime it had hit something with some great force as there was rather a large dent in it, this had clearly not been put there by the excavator. This ball stayed with us for many years being used to crush anything that we decided required such treatment, it did have one strange feature however and that was a hole through the middle.
Round about nineteen-forty the electricity came, you could have three lights, and one power point, if my memory serves me correct, for a fixed price, this meant that it was in the range of most people, so a rash of new poles, and wires appeared. The meters were mostly of the shilling coin in the slot variety, and were mounted on plywood, that appeared to be the favourite food of the Woodworm, at least the one in our House was.
This new activity took our attention for a short while, not the least bit of interest being the way the men climbed the poles. They didn't use a ladder, but having spikes fitted on their shoes, climbed them like Monkey. I think the only activity that stemmed from this was the rolling of the empty cable drums, not very "Upmarket", but any "Port in a Storm" at a time when there was little else to do. The cut off pieces of wire came in handy, not for any real purpose, but again just because it was left behind. The next antic was of course to climb the stay wires, at least up to the insulator that was situated near the top.
Back to the War.
At the start of the War like all other Villages, and Towns, a Local Defence Volunteers Unit was formed, later to become the Home Guard. Most of the original volunteers were older, and had fought in the First World War; they took to it like a duck takes to water.
Later would come the compulsory "Recruits", mostly the younger men awaiting their "Call Up", into the regular Services, they didn't have the dedication of the older ones. Contrary to the many derogatory stories told about this force in general, I believe they would have given a good account of themselves if they had been called on to do so. Apart from their previous active Service, they knew the area intimately, and couldn't wait for the call to come. In no way would they compete with a Regular Unit for smartness, and discipline, but their weapons training, and practical work was treated as a necessary part of life.
The Rifles were originally First War, Short Lee Enfields, which were later changed to Canadian Ross, they also had some Grenade throwing Rifles; the name "Boys", springs to mind. Picking up two Rifles tested the proof of how strong anyone might be, this was accomplished by grasping the end of the barrel, one in each hand, and raising them to shoulder height, a bit beyond us I have to admit.
This is a Machine used to cut the Corn and bind it into neat Sheaves with string fed from a large ball. The operator sitting at the back has to watch for sheaves coming out untied, which can be as a result of running out of string, a somewhat serious offence to those present, or more hopefully for the operators sake the Mechanical Knotter has decided to take a rest, over which you have little or no control. In either case he has to make the Tractor driver hear so that not too many untied sheaves are produced. In earlier days he would have had to control the Horses, although there most probably would have been someone leading the trace Horses, much depending on the number in the team.
Thinking back this was also a case when the rear Horses were run in pairs separated by a pole but normally with a single trace Horse. Once again we see that the tractor/implement combinations of those days normally required as many men to operate as with horses.
The main saving on manpower would be that there was very little preparation required, basically you just had to start it up and go.
The build of the Binder is not unlike a much larger and more refined Mowing Machine the cutting bar being arranged in a similar manner, but with the aforementioned Canvases, running behind, and parallel to the Knife, these carry the cut Corn to the gathering and tying device.
All of this is Driven by a large "Spudded" Wheel which also carries the bulk of the Machines weight, this could be raised, and lowered by a rotating handle, and would control the Machines height from the ground. A limited amount of control is available to the operator, while on the move.
This was a Machine that due to its width would have to be transported sideways between jobs, and through gates which necessitated a considerable amount of setting up on site before use. First you would jack it up using the height control handles, then remove the transport wheels before fitting the drawbar, and you could get started, this procedure would have to be carried out just to move to the next field, unless as in some fields a wide gap had been left in the hedge.
There was a set of wooden "Sails", running over the Knife to force the Corn back so that it could be cut, and to lay it down on the Canvases, the cutting bar could be raised, and lowered by the Operator. All straight forward; what could possibly go wrong? One of the main problems was that the Corn might have been blown down by a storm sometime earlier, and as result the Binder would not be able to cut it, because the Blade would run over the top, and the Sails would be unable to pick it up. Add to this the Fact that, in that area, both Corn and ground would probably be very wet, which even if you could cut it, it might well cause the entire "works" to jam solid.
To try and overcome this the operator, riding on the back of the machine would carry a "Poker". This was just a long wooden handle with a wooden peg sticking out at right angles at the business end. When a problem looked like occurring with the way the corn was entering onto the canvases you would "Poke, and Puggle" with this device hoping to defeat the jam before it stopped the machine. On one occasion I was doing just that when the end of the "Poker", caught in the rotating sail, the other end unknown to me was pointing at my midriff the result was that I was very sharply and neatly deposited on the ground. Before I was removed lifted me over the raised back of the seat and fortunately apart from a few bruises only my pride was damaged.
To digress, in earlier days these patches plus any other uncut Area would probably have been cut with Scythes, or again might fall prey to the "Gleaners", or "Leasers", both being terms to describe people who went round the Farms with permission to gather any odd Corn left after the Farmer had finished Harvesting.
The people involved would most likely be women who kept some Hens and/or Pigs. They would mow down any Corn left with Scythes or "Fagging Hooks", the local term for small hand held cutters (Sickles), and Thresh it by hand. The Scythe was to me a strange device, I suppose that I was never exposed to one for long enough to really tailor it (Set the grass nail) to suit my requirements. They were very much a personal tool, but nevertheless very efficient when in the right hands. I have seen my Father mow the cricket table with one but I also think that this implement disappeared from the farming scene quicker than anything else I can remember.
Getting back to the Harvest:-
The Binder would travel round the Field in the form of a rectangle, or probably it would be better to say that you would start off following the shape of the field hoping that as you progressed the shape would improve. This normally meant stopping and reversing at each corner, or in some cases turning a full outward circle to clear the cutter bar, and to bring you back in line with the standing corn, any sharp turn made while the cutter was actually working resulted in a "Jam up", the uncut area getting smaller of course as the day wore on, eventually there would be nowhere for the Rabbits, Foxes, Rats, Mice, etc. to hide and so the people involved or visitors to the Field would gather round to see what emerged and to try and bag a "Tasty" Rabbit. A less tasty Dish I personally have yet to try. Rabbits have very great difficulty in running over the stubble left by the Binder, but it was not always easy to catch one.
They would sometimes hide in wide cracks in the ground, and although I have seen several pulled out of one such crack, and rapidly despatched, it does take a bit of nerve t o put your hand into the unknown. A Rat, a Stoat or something just as unpleasant might just head the queue waiting to get out and their bites are not very pleasant.
Of course the Lads would be at a suitable Vantage point keeping a wary eye on which team were getting close to the end, so that a rapid dash could be made to the scene of any impending action.
Having cut and tied the Corn it would now be built into "Stooks", or "Shocks", (More likely Locally), which means standing each sheaf on end corn heads upwards in sets of six or eight in the form of small tents to dry. There was a proper way to do this as the sheaves are tapered at the bottom, and so will only remain standing when this is correctly placed.
We Children could do this, as well as anyone, but there was one lesson you soon learned, this was that it was not very clever to work with your Sleeves rolled up. First there was the inevitable Thistles and secondly the Corn itself was very abrasive and by nightfall you had some pretty sore Arms. It was the kind of job that at the end of the day you knew you had been at work, because mostly you would have walked some distance, plus those problems mentioned previously. When finished you would also be "Judged", by your Colleagues and/or your Competitors as to how straight your rows were and by how many of you: "Shocks" fell down unaided. "The Wind was to blame"? was not usually an acceptable excuse.
Later came even more hard work when it was time to load it for transporting to the Rick yard. Much depended on how the Binder had been set as this determined the size of the sheaf and without a doubt the bigger the sheaf the heavier it is to "Pitch" onto the Wagon. This really was hard work. It is done using "Pitchforks", which are rather bigger versions of the Hayfork, necessary because of the height that you have to toss the Sheaf. You do this by only just piercing the sheaf with the tines so that as you swing the Fork in an arc you can release it and gain an extra foot or two of height.
On top of the wagon you would mostly handle the sheaves with your hands, those thistles once again being particularly unpleasant.
The Skill of "Tossing the Sheaf", was sometimes tested at Village Fetes, when a straw bundle representing a sheaf would be tossed over an adjustable crossbar usually supported by a couple of scaffold poles lashed to gateposts, the highest throw winning a prize.
A second variation to this was that sometimes a sack of straw was used, this did present problems if you pierced the sack as it would often cling onto the tines of the fork, with the result that the fork went too. One sure way of gaining some elbow room.
Back in the Field, that competitive element would again rear it’s ugly head if you could see how big the neighbours loads were, or the acreage cleared, you just did not have to be beaten.
On top of the load could be a dangerous place with Pitchforks flying in all directions while you were trying to arrange the sheaves into a decent looking safe load, like most things to do with the Farm you had to keep your wits about you at all times. When the loading was complete it would be taken to the Rick yard, and sent up the Elevator in much the same way as the Hay before it.
The site of the Rick yard had probably been decided years before. It would be close to the Cowshed if Hay and have to be easily accessible to the Threshing Machine if Corn.
The self propelled Combine has now of course coming into it's own along with the baler and the people required for any given job has decreased considerably. Much of the straw is now burned in the field, although this practise will soon be outlawed, the remainder being baled for feed and bedding use.
You might next get involved with the "Top" Job in the Farming Calendar, "Dung", "Manure", or just plain "Muck" spreading. This again was hard work, plenty of Muscle, but not much brainpower required, a time to think? This was also the time to work off any frustrations; you could really let yourself go.
It would go something like this:- First you would load it in to Horse drawn tipping carts at the Farm, or at a previously built heap in or near the field. You would then take it to the Field and tip it into heaps the size of which depended on the amount per acre that you intended to spread at.
There was a kind of long handled Fork with the tines bent at right angles to form a "Drag", this was used to pull the "Dung" out of the cart as it was sometimes reluctant to exit unaided. These carts could only be tipped completely, there was no half measures, so alternately and equally helpful it would all come out in one large lump. This was a job where it was easy to get some first class blisters as the "Dung" had a habit of spreading itself onto the handles, drying out and thereby acting like an abrasive. No one that I can remember ever wore gloves. Next would come the actual spreading which just consisted of throwing the "Stuff" uniformly all over the place.
The "Dung Cart".
This consisted of more or less rectangular body carried on two metal shod wooden wheels similar to the wagons, the Horse supporting roughly half the weight. The tipping device was basically a hinge mounted at the rear of the shafts, held from tipping by a wooden bar reaching across the width of the cart. The operation was simple; you just withdrew the bar and gently reversed the Horse. There was no control over how far it tipped, so it was mostly all or none. There was a removable tailboard and so sometimes with loads like "Dung", you might leave the board in place hoping this would retain some of the load at least. To return the body to the level position you would insert the locking bar into a convenient anchorage point, urge the Horse to go slowly forward while at the same time pulling down on the bar. You then had to get the locking bar into position before the Horse stepped back and tipped it once more. The terrain could play a large part in the successful or otherwise operation. The carts, like all of these type of vehicles, were made to a very high standard of finish indeed.
The Hygiene situation was not at it's best when working in the Fields as washing your hands in ponds or ditches of stagnant water would result in them becoming dirtier than they were already, so in practise you just didn't bother, other than a quick rub on a suitable looking patch of grass without thinking too much about what may previously happened to it. That "You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die" was always the saying. Like most other jobs on the Farm this "Muck Spreading" and loading is now done entirely by Machine. After this was completed the whole cycle of cultivation could start all over again. I do remember one incident in particular that occurred while doing this work. The Baker had told everyone just previously that the next delivery of Bread would be made with "National Wholemeal Flour", it was! I also remember the Sandwiches that first day, first of many, when we compared the consistency and the colour of the new Bread to the loads we were dealing with, of course now such bread would be considered as "Healthy eating". Food of course would have to carried with you, complete with flask of tea or bottle of home-made lemonade, (made from Eiffel Tower Crystals if I remember correctly). You would hope to find a cool spot to leave your "Dinner Bag", a Tree, or some other safe place to hang it away from Cows or any other curious Animal, Jackets would have to be treated in the same way. Farm Workers like many other outdoor people got extra tea, cheese and I think butter rations, as of course there were no factory canteens to go to.
In the Village the distribution of "Woolton" pies took place just as for anywhere else. I seem to recall that there were also sausage rolls but the fact that we have since learned that there was no meat in either comes as a bit of a Shock.
Sheep shearing would be done at the appropriate time, this being men’s work and not much for us to do. We might get involved with the moving of the Sheep, (Unpaid Sheepdogs) and perhaps help with the rolling up of the Fleeces. On some Farms the power to work the machine clippers was provided by hand, and so someone had to keep the handle turning, but in most cases the Stationary Engine, as used for the Elevator would be used.
The cleaning up of the Fleece at the rear end of the Sheep would be done with hand clippers, before shearing, a process known as usually "Dagging". The resulting "Revolting" product of this operation would be dropped into large containers filled with water, a five gallon oil drum with the lid removed usually being favourite, where it would be regularly stirred, ready for use later as a very high standard liquid Manure, very beneficial to Sweet peas or Peas of any kind. Shearing was a very dirty job as the Oil from the Wool would travel through any Clothing and I was never sorry not to get more involved. Of course just as with most other things we would have a go at it plus making attempts to throw a sheep onto its back, the way sheep are usually held for shearing.
The Fleeces were shorn off in such a way as to give the largest single piece of Wool possible. It was then rolled up for collection by the Wool Merchant, I believe he came from Thame.
At some time during the year the Lambs tails would be cut. They would later be skinned and fried, imagine a tiny solid fat filled Sausage with a Gristle filled centre and you’ve got it. Others had other parts of their anatomy treated likewise.
The Sheep would be marked as proof of ownership, although a good Shepherd knows his Sheep, as they are all different in some small way. My Grandfather was a Shepherd and discovered that two of his charges (Small Lambs) were missing. Furthermore he had a good idea that they had been "Borrowed" by a neighbouring Shepherd. He also knew the most likely place to find them so after taking a discreet look inside a nearby shed he later, and now accompanied by their Mother, paid a visit to this site and there sure enough were two Lambs who rushed to greet her. Nothing was ever mentioned regarding this incident by either side, but I am sure the message got across.
My Grandfathers way of carrying Lambs always amused me He would just wear them round his neck like a collar, holding their legs in front of him. Some Lambs can be quite heavy. His Collie was trained to work with Sheep and would only show an interest in them. Our Dog on the other hand was trained for Cows and so would ignore Sheep. As with many Dogs used in the Field ours went Blind, it was always reckoned that this is due to Pollen and Seeds in the Grass.
One thing about these animals we had at home I have never understood. Our cat would normally not have anything to do with the Dog but at night would go some distance down the field to meet him coming home from work. She seemed to know the time. Two of our cats, both female, killed and brought home stoats, probably fed up with a diet of rabbits.
Back to our involvement with the farm.
The feeding of Orphan Lambs can be interesting. They are usually fed with a bottle fitted with a teat, very much as for a Baby. Calves are fed in a totally different way, a small Bucket is used and is filled with the made up food to be given. You then dip the Calves Head into this Bucket, put your Fingers into it's Mouth. and allow the Animal to suck the Juice passing between your Fingers as if using a straw. It could get quite hectic at times if several calves wanted to be first in the queue. Animal feeding was a job much sought after when we were finally let out of School. Animal "Ringworms" were not totally unknown in those days. A sad sound was after a calf had been taken away from its Mother. Then the Cow would "Cry" at least all through the night. It was something of a mournful tune.
The inevitability of Birth and Death came quite naturally to the Village Children as you could see Animals giving Birth and equally see Dead Animals being disposed of. The use of a rope to aid the difficult Birth of a Calf was not unknown and we might be invited to give a gentle pull.
A truly beautiful sight is a newly born Foal; there can hardly be a more handsome creature than a Foal, those first hesitant steps being very pleasing to watch but you do have to watch out for it's mother, as it may be watching it's offspring instead of where you are.
Young Lambs are of course also very interesting, particularly when they gather to "Play" in groups as of course are Chickens being hatched, first the emerging Chick breaking out of the Shell, then the small ball of "Fluff" beginning to move about, they also seem to favour Groups.
A dispute that might happen in any of the Villages and could sometimes get out of hand was the ownership of fences and ditches some of which never do get completely sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction. Maps ancient or modern only ever show part of the story and there is always someone’s failing memory to contend with.
To finish with work, I would say that many of those from my age group, if leaving School at a suitable time (Such as Easter), would most probably work full time on a Farm until the end of the Harvest season. This would give them time to look round for more permanent employment, of which there was very little at that time. One aspect for which we all had to be grateful was that the Farmers in the village always kept our Insurance Stamps up to date when we became eligible for such things. This did not always happen in the surrounding Villages as the local Newspapers regularly reported Court cases of non-payment.
To many it will appear as though work was all we did, but that wouldn't be strictly true. Village life in general was not too unpleasant for most people.
Once a Fortnight or so the County Library Van would call at the School to deliver boxes of Books which were kept in the School for our consumption, the "Library" being opened on one day a week. The business of choosing the Books would mostly be done by the Ladies as many of the Men would be at work, any Volume that wasn't carried on the Van could be ordered, and hopefully would be delivered next time round.
What about the actual Living Conditions?
Many of the Houses were tied to Farms, not a very pleasant system in my opinion and I suspect the same goes for most of the people living in them but it a was policy supported at the time, apparently by all Political Parties the Labour Government of nineteen-forty-five being among them. In all other respects these Houses were pretty much the same as Houses anywhere, most had an outside Earth Closet, the new Council Houses having a Septic Tank.
These houses were cold, and I do mean cold! As a treat or if we could persuade Mothers that we were so ill as to need additional comfort then either one of the cast iron slides from the ever warm oven or a brick suitably wrapped might be put in the bed prior to going ourselves. This would be removed (Much to our disgust), as soon as we arrived, it being decided that Chilblains would almost certainly be the outcome should the heated article be left in overnight.
The average Families were not now as large as they had been in previous times, how they ever fitted into them I shall never understand. The Heating would most probably be by an open Fireplace, complete with an Oven, some later would have Kitchen Ranges fitted, and at the same time would have had Bathrooms built on complete with Septic Tanks as well but this modernisation would have to wait until after the War. Later still would come the Main Sewer.
Before the arrival of the Mains Electricity the main Lighting and centre of the "Universe" at night, for us at least, would be the Aladdin Lamp. This gave out a fantastic amount of white light and also a considerable amount of heat.
This source of heat was much missed after it had gone, they burned Paraffin of course, and had to be kept trimmed in the way of such devices. We were a Family of readers and so that Lamp was very important to
us. The very large Glass Globe looked to me like a Wedding Cake. A smaller Lamp would be used to travel from room to room and of course the Candle was much in evidence. Some other houses would use the "Tilley" or some other form of lamp.
The coming of the Electricity to the Village also of course improved life on the Farms as now instead of having to carry a Hurricane Lamp everywhere you went, there could be light at the touch of a Switch, though in truth not all Buildings were connected.
A further benefit was that now many Pumps and other Machines that had formerly been driven by hand could now be run off the new Power lines. There was no Street Lighting and none needed despite the poor
conditions of the footpaths or, perhaps, lack of footpaths would be more accurate. I only really became conscious of the need for artificial Street Lighting when later in the Army I met Lads who claimed they had never been outside in the dark before and as a consequence did not relish the thought of being sent out on Patrol alone.
At Home we might listen to the Radio for a short time (I.T.M.A.) was very popular during the War. The news was mostly doom and gloom for the early part of the War, but would brighten up as the "Tide", began to turn in our, the Allies, favour. We might follow t he fortunes of the War but would soon drift back to the books. Most any kind of book would be considered good reading, much better than going to School. The favourite reading when young was "Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby" or most any of the "Uncle Remus stories". Any ward or object not fully understood would mean the trip to the cupboard that contained our ancient copy of "Pears Encyclopaedia" which would be the final arbiter in all disputes.
I mentioned earlier "Eiffel Tower" lemonade crystals a quick run through the Prominent People section would inform you that the Tower was situated in Paris, and was built by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel or indeed many other pieces of "Essential", or useless information that we were interested in. A further source of knowledge was a set of Odhams' reference books but these had to be used under parental supervision as they were considered to be too valuable for our solo use.
The Draught Board might also get an airing as might Solitaire, or some other form of Game. Cards were an occasional "Thing" but never became popular at Home with the exception of "Patience", "Snap", and the occasional Game of Whist. We had several Jigsaw Puzzles, which also got tried at times when there was no one else to play with, Marley's Ghost was a favourite along with the Liner Queen Mary, one of which had one piece missing. Where do bits of Puzzle go? No Vacuum cleaners in those days to take the blame.
Main Meals would be cooked in the Oven, and Snacks such as Toast with Dripping Beef for preference made in front of the open Fire. For just Heating it would be a case of burning Wood, but for cooking it would most likely be Coal.
Of course the Chimney had to occasionally be swept, the local Sweep arriving on his bicycle quite early in the morning carrying the Tools of his trade, or occasionally Brushes would be borrowed, and a spate of Do It Yourself was the order of the day. On one occasion this was not a total success when the Brush came off the Rods and refused to Budge for anyone. After some very careful measuring and estimating a hole was cut on the inside of the Chimney and surprise, surprise there was a Sweeps brush.
On very hot summer days a kind of trivet would be set up outside and the vegetables cooked in that way. At this time meat would be eaten cold. Supper was something of a ritual. Bread and Cheese with Cocoa being favourite, although Cold Sausage Meat Pie was never refused if on the menu.
Every House had a Garden and most Families had an allotment as well, the size of these very much depended on the numbers in the Family and in particular how many budding Gardeners could be persuaded or "cajoled" into doing the work. There must have been as many different ways of doing these allotments as there were actual Plots, but the results would not be all that far removed from each other. For some people certain plants and Seeds had to be planted on certain days, others would ignore this doctrine, and do it in their own way.
Most would use conventional Digging Forks; others would use four pronged long handled "Dung" Forks, to me these were absolutely impossible to use for this purpose. Plenty of the aforementioned "Dung"
was always available and once again a Horse and Cart would have to be borrowed to transport it to the allotments, this activity would normally be reserved for the "Half Day" off, as often it had to be moved off the road or away from some such, before nightfall, causing much use of the Wheelbarrow. This activity would almost certainly be accompanied by the evergreen question – what’s got one wheel and flies? Answer - a wheelbarrow load of dung.
The digging up of the potatoes would be a very hard time. It could well "Clash" with a busy time at work, but nevertheless had to be done before the Slugs became too interested. Having dug them up, dried them, bagged them, dragged them home, you then had to be sort them over before they could be stored.
In the early part of the year some potatoes would be separated out from the main stock, carefully placed into shallow Trays or Boxes to be used for seed. Only a very small quantity of new, if any, would ever be bought for this planting, although some swapping with other gardeners may take place. "
Later would come the new varieties such as Home Guard, and then only in small lots as people bought the minimum amounts, and shared for economic reasons. No serious Potato diseases ever came to light that I can remember.
A further task was that of drying. and sorting runner, and broad beans, with possibly a small quantity of peas for seed. These, again, were items that were seldom bought annually. The buying of other seeds would most probably be done in bulk from the Seedsmen’s Catalogue such as Suttons of Reading, or Carters, much depending on how the previous generation had performed the same duty. Many hours in wintertime would be spent poring over the current catalogue, a fair amount of loyalty being shown to the family’s recognised seed supplier.
On occasions s visit to Woolworths or some other shop in Aylesbury would be the chosen method, and a limited number was stocked by the local shop.
Onions would be pulled, dried, and stored by hanging them in "Ropes", or sometimes called "Plaits".
Apple and plum picking was another job that had to be completed quickly - certainly before the. birds, wasps or whatever, had more than their fair share. Most families would have a mixture of fruit available, masses of rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries, likely, would be grown.
I can't remember anyone growing tomatoes prior to the War. Perhaps this was due to the fact that there were no suitable varieties of seeds: available. Cucumbers, also, came onto the scene about this time.
One crop that some people did start to grow on the allotments was a small quantity of oats. These, of course, were to add to the rations for the pigs. One older resident occasionally used a horse drawn plough to "Dig", the larger plot required for this crop, and it must have been a tribute to his skills as a "ploughman", that he could work in such a confined space. Many gardeners would only pick vegetables such as Brussels Sprouts and parsnips when the "proper" time arrived - they would have to have had a frost on them, and then not be eaten before Christmas Day.
The digging of the first new potatoes of the season would often be treated in the same kind of ritualistic way. The people who didn't abide by these rules seemed to fare just as well. Such was the power of this idea, that some farmers would only plant (if at all possible), their seed crops on certain "specified" days.
The allotments was the place to hear the most up to date news, as someone would know the latest local rumour or national/international news having just arrived home from work; or they may have just heard the latest radio broadcast. A journey to the "pub" was not unknown following a spate of "allotmenting".
Since the start of my story there have been many changes, not necessarily for the better, though this will depend very much on the individuals point of view, and without doubt only those still living in the village can really know. The transition into the twentieth century will have been slow by some standards, but there has been plenty of change. The number of houses has increased by about two-thirds, and most people now probably own their own.
There are now people living in some of those former old barn that have now been turned into luxury homes. The Council has built both old peoples’ bungalows and more Council houses.
The population will have increased considerably as, first, some of those who went off to war brought home new wives and settled down. Some of the local girls will have met and married servicemen stationed locally. They will also have found jobs and settled down to a rural life. The new houses will have attracted some newcomers.
Nothing much seems to have happened in the, now often discussed, area of leisure except for the fact that those allotments have now been mostly taken over for a sports field – though I understand that the members of the modern sports team come from all round the area there still not being enough budding “Gazzas” to form a team.
Work is still a problem for the village people. The difficulty of travelling, as I have mentioned before, is still there for some.
I believe the coming of the tractor was the beginning of the end of village life as I knew it – and there have been many other contributing factors since.
The horse now having been dispensed with, no longer would the carter have to go out early in the morning to catch and harness the horses ready for the other workers to join him after milking. In fact, there was no need for a carter – and so it went on.
Now the farm could be run by the farmer and his sons. Anything they were unable to cope with could be done by the many contractors in the locality.
The practice of hand milking would be taken over by machines as now much development work had been carried out on them, and the need for that previously tedious "hand stripping" had ended. Soon would come the hydraulic lifts on tractors, the hedge cutting machines, which meant the need for the large numbers of farm workers disappeared quickly. The supply of one commodity has radically changed. I refer, of course, to milk. It is now left on doorsteps in bottles. Although produced locally, it is now sent away to a dairy to be processed. At last the village has caught up with Ealing in one respect.
For those who had left the farms, some had gone to the local brick works but would have to find their own way to and from. This meant cycling several. Miles - not so good for those getting on in years. Both of these have now closed down. Some would have gone to local building firms - they would be provided with transport.
With the cutting back of the rai1ways a further avenue was c1osed. This, too, had formerly been very labour intensive and, in similar fashion to farming, son had followed father, particularly into the platelaying jobs.
A factory in Aylesbury making hats provided jobs for some, although much of their capacity was for the Armed Services, and would gradually recede as the needs of the forces lessened.
Fortunately for many, in nineteen-forty-six the local Airfield at Westcott was turned into a Government Research Establishment which provided employment for many loca1 people. This opening coincided with the closing of firms such as E.K. Cole, a big employer in Aylesbury. There were jobs for housewives, who probably hadn't considered working since getting married, drivers, skilled workers, apprentices and building trades. There was also one advantage for many as they ran transport to places as far afield as Wendover, Buckingham and Thame. The work here has now largely disappeared, as has the work in the Aylesbury factories, and that, now often heard, word "redundancy" is as common in the village as anywhere else.
When I left school in nineteen-forty-three the problems were very much as they are today. The choice of jobs was very limited although, it would be true to say that there was a job for most people, but that transport "spectre" was much more in evidence.
After leaving the farms a few of the local men would seek work in the Morris Motors or Pressed Steel factories at Oxford - twenty plus miles to go there, and twenty plus back - in the earlier days by bicycle. They would mostly have to work on shifts. They might also have to take their chance on arrival at the gates at six a.m. as to whether or not there was work for them that day.
With the coming of the car, people now travel further to work than ever before. Oxford appears to be much closer and the hi11s less steep. The wages are much higher but the expenses also. The working week has gradually got shorter.
As I said at the beginning, life would get easier in the village as time and the story went on, but in real terms is it better? Certainly the villagers now have a more interesting and fulfilling life available to them than ever before. Surely it's got to be.
There is now some limited street lighting.
That bus service so heavily used in its early days has almost disappeared. I understand it runs on one day only now.
The large supermarkets, such as "Tescos", run buses around the area, but not actually through Ashendon, although there are still some deliveries of items such as bread and meat, so all is not totally lost for those without their own transport. The "Shop", now rebuilt and enlarged, is still in operation, and I understand it is popular with villagers from the surrounding area, neither Westcott, Wotton or Dorton having one of their own.
The school is now the village hall, and the children are taken by bus to a larger school at Waddesdon some five miles or so away. This must cause some distress to the "first day" children, particularly those who don't have an older brother or sister to look out for them, and it must be a long day for all.
The "hut" has been removed from its old site to end its days as a chicken house at Pollicot.
No roadman anymore, but who needs one? The traffic has got heavier and more frequent and the roads are made wider by virtue of the fact that the vehicles are also wider. Those banks are now torn to pieces daily.
Many of the beautiful trees that survived the "tree fellers", have now gone, many became victims of "Dutch Elm Disease" some years ago. Others have fallen victim to the developers but, of course, many would have been too old anyway to remain standing some fifty or so years having passed by.
0n a recent visit to the villages I was so surprised to see how many trees had gone. The field of view from our old vantage point outside the former blacksmith’s shop is now totally different from he point of view of the trees but that overall picture remains much the same.
With the coming of bodies such as the Ramblers’ Association, I would think that "rights of way", and footpaths are contested more now than ever before. In my younger days these were left pretty much as they had always been, or perhaps as they were perceived to have been.
There would occasionally be a few well chosen words said in the pub if a regularly used path had been ploughed up or barbed wire had been put across a certain path or stile. The wire would probably disappear in the dead of night, a new path would be tramped out in the fullness of time, and the row would soon die down being considered part of everyday life.
The local people didn’t seem to stick to paths across but would skirt round the edge of a standing crop without too much thought – or they might just walk across the middle out of sheer cussedness. A large bull or ram would make walkers change to a different route entirely and arguments as to whether such animals should be put into those fields might well arise. On the whole, I would have to say that relations with the local farmers on all such matters was very good indeed.
“Nicknames” were not uncommon in villages, often being passed down from generation to generation. No one would be able to remember where, when or why they started to be used.
As far as I am aware, there is no Buckinghamshire dialect. Take a trip to the Oxfordshire side of the county and you hear broad Oxfordshire. Go to the Northampton side and it is Northampton (Nuthampton) as I understand it, and so on. But (“usn’s” borrowed from the the Oxfordshire language) in the middle, and going on towards London, seem to get saddled with the London tag – at least it was for me in my army days, and on the telephone – although I have never considered myself to have the slightest London “twang”; but probably anyone from south of Watford qualifies for this honour. Now, of course, there gas been a massive influx of newcomers to the district and they will have made their contribution to the local language.
Since starting this story I have dug deep into my memory, and can now see that it must have been very difficult for some of those evacuees for several good (but hard to see at the time) reasons, although I don't doubt that the people responsible for their welfare understood.
First they will not necessarily have come from homes in the same social class. or religion, but may well have had to share “lodgings". This was obvious at the time, as some of the parents came to visit in cars quite regularly while others barely had any visits at all. No doubt the difficulty of travelling to such an out of the way place was a factor, as was the shortage of funds needed to undertake the journey by the limited public transport available. The second major problem, I feel, could have been religion. We were all, basically, Church of England as was the only church and, of course, the school, so it must have made life quite difficult for some, particularly when parents came to visit at weekends.
One thing that has always puzzled me is that it was quite common for the older women of the village to address each other as “Mrs”, completely ignoring Christian names, even though they could well have known each other for the greater part of their lives. The men, on the other hand, would use their Christian names without thought or may even revert to that previously mentioned nickname.
There were certain pronunciations that might have been local to us, and because of pressure by working colleagues (who "dint" understand) being from outside the area, I gradually lost them. I refer to "gew" for “go” and “dint" for “didn't”. The use of “ennit” or “ain't” for “isn’t it” got used as did “mate” meaning friend. "Ett” for “eat” or “ate” was also common. You might also hear "Bummer" and "Bavour" being used by the much older men. By older I mean they would have retired by the time I was eight or so. The dictionary shows such a person to be an "idler". It was used here to indicate the foreman or gaffer, not that there were many foremen about, but this would not normally be used in serious conversation. The word "bavour", was used to indicate food. “Bavour time" was what would now be called a "tea break", but I can only conclude that both these words were basically redundant as, although we used them for a time, they didn't survive for long. This redundancy was probably hastened by the influx of new people to the village and a greater mixing of the residents with "outsiders", much as my loss of words as mentioned earlier.
A few words such as "fings" (“things”) and "Round the Block" to indicate an area of the "Lower End" that we used to run round as children, or just plain "wiv" came "wiv" the evacuees.
The word "unked" meaning plenty. A strong smell, such as smoke, might be considered "that’s a unked smell". (I am sure that silage would qualify. This, of course, is a substance that came popular during the War) as might a loud noise, is most probably local though only very occasionally used in my time, and oddly enough used by my mother who actually came from the Willesden area of London.
An "oynan" was more likely to have made you "weep" than an onion, though I haven't heard it pronounced that way for many years.
That tasty rabbit that I mentioned earlier was usually better known as a "rabbutt". You would go "Rabbutting".
The word THAT I am told is used much more in the locality than elsewhere, but certainly the books used by the Civil Service for exams says on the subject: "If you mean that say that", so how can we be wrong. There was a tendency for some people to use "seemingly" quite often in conversation, but of course this may have been a personal thing.
There were a few somewhat corrupted words brought back from the First World War, mostly French, and later would come more foreign words brought back from overseas as the people returned from Second World War service abroad, and later those who did National Service would make their own contributions.
I have done my best with spelling some of our place names - "Ogleys Lane", "Brickwell HiII" and "Lynch Hill" being three to conjure with. The hill from Pollicott Ford to Pollicott was variously known as "Furlong" or "Furland".
Many fields also had very strange names indeed and I would suggest that the road is most probably "Furlong" while the fields are "Furland". There are quite a number of "Middle Grounds", and, of course, "Closes" or "The Close".
This more or less brings me to the end of my story and, in an attempt to round it off, I have appended a piece outlining life on the railways, more as I remember it than as it is now romantically perceived to have been.
The main problem for me was that, during working hours, I was cut off from my former "schoolmates", a state of affairs that took some getting used to as, when we finally met up in the evenings or at weekends, I found that I had little in common with them. What had taken place during the week at work would often be a topic of conversation and, of course, their new workmates would be total strangers to me. The other point of contention was that everyone was that much older and, as a result, I had to take all the jokes and tricks that were handed out single-handed. These, on occasions, certainly were "over the top" but never with any malice and, looking back, I feel that it would have been difficult to have worked with a better group.
The short journey and the hours were a big plus and you were sure of your money (on a par with farm wages) and the fact that your cards would be stamped each week without fail. It was also a clean job though, being only temporary, I didn't qualify for a uniform.
The hazy memories of a Temporary Lad Porter, 1943 t o 1945.
I joined The London and North Eastern Railway Company Ltd at Wotton Station, Bucks in September 1943, at the tender age of fourteen years.
To be employed in such an exalted post you had to attend a Medical Board in London; Hamilton House, I seem to remember, although where it was actually I can't. However, I do remember queuing for a long time to get into the Gold and Silversmiths' Hall to see the sword that was eventually presented to King George the Sixth by the people of Stalingrad.
The staff consisted of:
|Station Master||- James Rice|
|Signalman||- Gilbert Adams|
|Porter||- Joe Wilkins|
|Porter Signalman||- Don Ayres|
|Porter Signalman||- Johnny Knibbs|
|Lad Porter||- Bob Cherry|
|Ganger||- Fred Dormer|
|Deputy||- Spen Kirby|
|- Ron Tipping|
|- Graham Russell|
|- Fred King|
Wotton station was situated between Ashendon Junction and Akeman Street station on the Neasdon to Woodford section of the L.N.E/R/ Great central Railway. It was built on a steep bank, the platform being some fifteen feet above the office block and entrance. There was a steep gravel path which turned to sleepers some twenty feet or so from the top.
The rail gradient was also quite steep although I don‘t remember the actual figure involved.
The office block, a single storey building, consisted of a booking office, two waiting rooms – one general and a separate one for ladies – toilets and a porters’ room. At the end of the block was a suitable sized coal bunker (it must have held two tons at least). Coal was never in short supply. At the end was a small, windowless archive room.
There were two platforms constructed of sleepers, each with a wooden waiting room, the one on the downside then being used as a „lockup“ for the more valuable items that passed through. As there was a large overhanging canopy over each this didn‘t cause any problems plus, of course, the fact that we would leave any passengers safely ensconced in the lower waiting rooms until the last minute. These platforms were joined by a level crossing also made of sleepers. This meant quite a long walk to get up to the platform.
To complete the picture there was a goods yard with a cattle dock, a loading gauge, a weigh bridge and stationery, hand-operated crane.
This was not too different to offices anywhere, and contained a steel safe, a ticket machine, fitted desks or benches with drawers round two sides, and a letter press.
A quite large fireplace, with a fire to match on cold days, a few chairs and stools completed the furnishings.
There was an internal telephone in the office also being operated from the signal box as a bell; three rings to call the porters up to the platform, for instance, when the "pickup" was imminent, or some other train was due. One ring would call the signalman, with two for the office. I dreaded these, and the reason for this will become clear later on.
In the general waiting room there was a G.P.O. phone which was of the coin in the slot variety; this was used mostly by members of the public or for incoming calls as there was not really much outside contact necessary apart from the box of fish mentioned later. This room had a series of hard wooden benches round the walls and, fortunately for me, no fireplace to keep stoked up or clean. There was a chocolate machine in the middle of the floor. Unfortunately, it was always empty and later removed. The office and this room were, of course, connected by a ticket window. The ladies‘ waiting room did have a fireplace but for economy reasons it was never lit in my time; this room also had those same seats.
The porters‘ room had a table with chairs, a bench with a storage compartment underneath, and a kind of kitchen range with an oven. This, by a strange coincidence, was mostly kept well stoked up. This room was probably large enough to have accommodated most of the station staff on the complete section of the line between Woodford and Neasden. These rooms all had parquet floors and so had to be scrubbed regularly. Windows also didn't have to be missed otherwise there were sudden repercussions.
The up waiting room also had wooden floors but mostly only required sweeping out and the windows cleaned as it was very little used, the only stopping trains on that side being the evening ones from Brackley, one each day only. The down one was nearly always too full of goods to be cleaned. At least, that was my excuse.
Now to the Administration.-
I seem to remember this aspect of the railwayman's life as being simple though, whether I believed that to be the case at the time, is open to question. Certainly, compared to modern ideas, it was. It also appeared to be quite efficient, the files being stuck on "spikes" and retained in the office until the end of the year when they were relegated to that archive room at the end of the office block. Probably all the paperwork ever generated at Wotton since the station opened in 1912 ? was housed in that one small room.
One thing that used to fascinate me was that the daily cash bag containing the "float" could be, and was, hidden in the ticket stamping machine which was fastened to the desk in front of the ticket window, a most unlikely place to look; not that it would have contained much cash, should someone have been so bold as to have looked.
The stationmaster took control of the money, and I have never seen his equal at counting and sorting cash. There were more coins in use, and more denominations, in those days but his speed for that action was only equalled by his speed with the pen; very precise and organised.
The permanent records were kept in large ledgers which required the use of the letterpress, a device with which I had little experience. All I had to do was keep it clean by rubbing the platens vigorously with emery cloth, greasing the screwthread; and dusting it off daily.
I understand that the operation of it went roughly as follows. First the information was handwritten onto paper with ink in the normal way. This was then damped with water. The empty page of the ledger, and this sheet, were then mounted into the press between the platens. The quite large screw was now tightened down and left. After the required time it would be loosened, the pages dried, and normally a fair image (true copy) would have been transferred to the ledger.
My main part in all of this was to ensure that the outgoing trucks had cards made out and attached. by a metal spring clip on the chassis, showing the destination and main marshalling points; something like – R. A. F. Chilmark via Neasden - would be typical. The bare basics only would be shown "No doubt to confuse the enemy", but such was the system in those days that anything sent was almost sure to arrive. I would have to collect and file the incoming cards, those "spikes" coming into use, and inform the customers of the arrival of their trucks. Here the bicycle might also come into play; any use of the outside phone for such purposes being reserved for the Stationmaster. The customer or consignee would have been previously warned of the imminent arrival, as would we, by post, our notification coming through the very efficient internal mail system. For outgoing I would normally dispatch paperwork to the consignor in the same way. The only one I remember in detail was for the army, and it was form G980, which was made up of several sheets of differing colours, each one going to a different person.
I remember that on pay-days - it couldn't have been a very great sum to collect - but someone always had to accompany the stationmaster in his car to Aylesbury to the bank. Normally his wife would go, but at other times one of us would be delegated to be escort. This would also entail a stop off at Akeman Street, and so a large part of the day would be used up in a non-productive fashion.
Each week the ganger from Akeman Street (Jim Figg from Westcott) would walk along to pick up the wages for his gang and any mail or other item for Mr Gassor who lived in the Station House there and, to all intents and purposes, ran the station. I am not quite sure what rank Mr Gassor held, but I believe it to have been station foreman. The actual stationmaster's post was held by Mr Rice. 0n other days I might just get sent on the bicycle if there was important mail or messages. This was a trip I always looked forward to as the railway ran very close to the airfield. I did, of course, come "under fire" from the Akeman Street gang if they were working on that section of the line which could well mean I had to "run the gauntlet" of both gangs in one day.
On one day a week I would have to go to the local Post Office to fetch the employment stamps and, on my return, make sure that all cards were brought up to date.
On the very odd occasion when I was alone in the mornings, I would have to call at the station house to collect the keys, listen to a lecture before unlocking the station. The theme of this lecture by Mr Rice was usually about how people were unable to get up at the same time each morning, completely ignoring the fact that he was still in his dressing gown, and that I almost certainly had woken him up by repeatedly ringing the doorbell.
0n these rare occasions I was allowed to issue tickets, although there was usually a certain amount of foreknowledge as to who would be travelling that morning, and as to their intended destination. This meant that I could be given precise instructions before the event, which had the affect of making me appear very efficient and, what was more important, it preserved the reputation of the station in the eyes of the travelling public.
We got caught out one day, though, when one of those previously mentioned American servicemen came, and asked for a "Roundtrip" to wherever, and I didn’t even understand roundtrip (return) in those days, so no chance; but it all came right in the end.
We eventually got used to Americans as they became more frequent travellers, and more of them arrived at the camp.
I would also, under the same kind of conditions, collect the tickets of those passengers coming off the train as well as any fares from those that had boarded without tickets; again these were regulars, mostly servicemen travelling from home to Westcott, who had left their departure from home to the last minute.
Mr Rice was always in charge of tickets and all administration while he was on duty; and it was quite difficult to learn from him because everything was done so quickly. Whether it was a deliberate action to keep others in the dark or whether it was his natural way I was never quite sure.
To be fair, I must say, when he did decide to teach you something he certainly knew his subject, having travelled extensively through the railway system. His day off was Thursday, and I have to admit that sometimes we made the most of it. A trip to the platelayers cabin or a few minutes early away at night could well be the outcome, although both could meet with problems as, in the former, we were out of touch with anyone calling into the office, and in the latter basically the same was the case. It was a problem to find a suitable excuse when the reckoning was called for on the following day.
0f course, what made things much easier in all aspects of life in those days, was that prices just did not fluctuate in the same way that they do today. I would think the price of tickets had remained the same for some considerable time before I joined, and would remain so for some time after I left.
In general the passenger traffic was very light indeed on weekdays in particular. There was an early passenger train which came down from Marylebone Monday to Friday, arriving at 0805 which departed at 0825, arriving back at Marylebone at 1010.
Not many passengers normally came; a few servicemen who lived locally and had overnight passes from Westcott. The music master from the Blind School at Dorton House was a very regular traveller, but it could hardly have been a profitable run.
However, having said that, as I have previously, there was no other way of travelling in those days to these somewhat remote parts of the county so it was of value to the local population to have this form of public transport, it being virtually the only way to get to London or anywhere else for most people. Cars not being much in evidence during those wartime days the long walk to and from the station would be taken as being part of everyday life, and the fares in those days were reasonably cheap.
The Monday morning departing train would see a few visitors from Wotton House travelling back from a weekend in the country, and a few local people perhaps going to such exotic places as Haddenham or High Wycombe for the day. They would return on the evening train. One journey I well remember making, as so many others of my age group must also have done, was to face the dreaded Service Medical Board at High Wycombe although, in my case, it was 1946, long after I had left the Railway Service. Life in the Army was, in general, much more relaxed than life on the Railway
Most days the guardsvan would contain some kind of package for us and we would have something to send away; a further good reason for the railway being there.
I have previously mentioned the box of fish that came. Another regular was a "pin" of beer from Burton on Trent; no doubt of very great importance to the officers of Westcot to whom it was consigned. This was one article that found favour with me because of the ease with which it could be handled - light in weight and just sitting on a small "sacktruck"; something that otherwise didn‘t happen often.
On occasions we would receive a basket of racing pigeons. These would have to be released and the actual time entered onto the label. There was only one timepiece suitable for this operation and that, surprise, surprise, was the stationmaster‘s gold half hunter watch which left all other devices, including the radio, absolutely stone cold.
The engine for these trains was always a 4-6-2 A 5, presumably to allow it to travel both ways without being turned - a very important aspect to be considered.
The morning passenger train came in on the down platform - engine leading, of course, and, so that it could leave in the same way, it had to be uncoupled and recoupled after running round the train. In normal weather there was no problem, except that of coupling which, incidentally, was the responsibility of the station staff.
However, on very frosty mornings I was despatched to the points at the intersection of the platform and the main line to see if, in fact, the points had completely actuated, which wasn‘t always the case. If there was a problem then, with plenty of arm waving, the signalman would get the message and he would try again until a successful conclusion was reached. I may or may not then be invited onto the footplate for the short journey round the train although I was not really "into" trains but always appreciated the gesture and enjoyed the short trip. The points at the other intersection were looked after by the fireman although this set could be seen quite clearly by the signalman and did not normally give trouble. The most likely cause of this points problem, I would suspect, was their close proximity to the bridge so they were not very well insulated underneath as would be the case for the other sets. The other reason for them to be monitored was that they were masked from the signalman‘s sight by the standing train. Therefore, he could never be sure what was actually happening and, no doubt, the low temperatures would play their part in making the actuating rods contract.
These points would be regularly and liberally dosed with oil during the bad weather to try and improve the situation but, if it helped, it certainly didn't resolve it.
On these unsupervised mornings my next job would be to load the outgoing train before doing the necessary, but somewhat dirty and frightening job for a fourteen years old, of coupling and recoupling the engine. A railway engine, even these comparatively small A 5s, are rather intimidating when you are literally underneath them, and the crew want see how far they could go in the "tricks department"
The uncoupling was, by comparison, easy as the engine was going away and the only thing to remember was to make sure that the brake and heating pipes were correctly attached to the brakevan after releasing both them and the screw coupling from the engine. The correctness of these joints could, of course, only be tested when the engine was recoupled at the other end. Sometimes the brake pipe might need further attention after the vacuum was applied.
At this other end it was a rather different story; and this was the part I was never very keen on, partly because the driver would release large quantifies of steam for my benefit.
I am sure that I was never in any danger although I was not so sure at the actual time he would then have to push the engine forward to compress the coupling to permit the screw to be tightened. He would always carry out this latter operation with me standing between the buffers, and usually he would make the most of it. I can certainly recall having been in much happier places particularly on those very cold dark winter mornings, without lights, when the steam was rather slow to disperse.
He would then have to test the braking system before declaring it to be OK f or use. You would carry out this operation wearing heavy gloves as the joints on the heater pipe could be very hot and the screw coupling very greasy and dirty.
On most occasions the fireman would be standing looking down from the platform or the front of the engine offering much good advice or, in other words, "stirring the pot".
I cannot remember there ever being a serious problem with any of this. I was, nevertheless, always pleased to hear that the train had arrived safely at Marylebone.
The lamps would now have to be resited. I often got the task of changing the tail lamp but the guard always took responsibility for this, and the engine crew for the front ones.
This train would, of course, depart in the "up", direction while starting from the down platform and, it would be true to say that it was travelling very slowly having just started but I was always led to believe that it contravened the rules for a loaded passenger train to travel over a crossover. Presumably, like all other rules, those of the railway system were meant to be severely bent if not actually broken.
One item that came on the morning train - papers for a local newsagent, Cook' s of Brill. We would normally get the papers down to the porters‘ room, if there was time, and cut the wrappers off the packages ready for the people to sort them and take them off to Bicester Camp and the surrounding villages. On some days the wrappers would include the American Forces paper "Stars, and Stripes", which made for good reading at lunchtimes and, as was so often the case, the paper was torn or incomplete which made it far more "interesting", as you can imagine.
To digress, Ashendon was served by a different newsagent and he would only supply those papers he deemed suitable for those residents. I seem to recall that you could have either "The Daily Herald" or the "News Chronicle" during the week and "Reynolds News", or one other that I fail to remember, on Sundays. It could be thought that he might have been somehow politically biased. I wonder!
Back to the story -
A box of fish came every week on the early passenger train; this having to be got rid of quickly as, in those days, it was only packed in ice and soon started to remind you of its whereabouts if forgotten. That previously mentioned phone came in handy, and a call to Bicester 241 fortunately usually got a quick response.
My hours were from seven thirty a.m. to four thirty weekdays and seven thirty to twelve on Saturdays for, if I remember correctly, the princely sum of fourteen shillings and seven pence. Would it sound better converted to decimal coinage - seventy-three pence? Saturday finish usually depended on the arrival of one of the porter signalmen, who may have been at Akeman Street or just starting a new day; mostly they would start the day so were usually on time. His starting time was the difference between going to the cinema or not.
At the weekends and evenings the signalman would, on completion of his shift, set the signals and points to run on the platform line as all weekend and evening passenger trains went through to Brackley, stopping at Wotton in both directions, with just a porter on duty to cover the arrivals and departures. None of these trains would bring many people, often local servicemen and women coming home for, and travelling back to, camp after that, all too short, 48hrs.
If you had to travel through London to this area the best thing to do was to get your warrant made out to Brackley. This would allow you to travel on either the Aylesbury or the Wotton line and, what was more important, there were often more convenient trains back from Aylesbury which would give you that all too valuable extra few minutes at home.
The penalty for sending all trains platform line was that of speed restriction, probably not too much of a problem for those wartime trains, mostly goods. The signalbox could, of course, always be opened at reasonably short notice should the need arise.
The Ashendon Junction to Grendon section of the line was not restricted in the same way (apart from wartime regulations), that Aylesbury was - 60 M.P.H. on that line I seem to remember.
It was said that a Special Train was timed at approximately 90 m.p.h. before the war between those two junctions and one other train, also in a big hurry, chopped a fair size fallen tree in half, without slackening pace, at Akeman Street. Those must have been the good old days of the railways although the pace of some trains did increase after the war particularly the Saturday "Football Specials" and that part of the "Master Cutler" that used that line.
The goods handled by Wotton were, most1y, either for R.A.F Westcot t or for the army at Wotton Camp; from Wotton mostly outgoing soldiers after training, some almost certainly direct to the Continent to war.
Both the R.A.F. and the army did occasionally use a special train when large numbers of men finished courses at the same time but mostly they used the normal scheduled service with, possibly, an extra carriage.
On one very cold morning I remember the incoming train having a burst heater pipe in one of the carriages which had, without doubt, done an enormous amount of damage, including breaking the glass in the picture frames. Yes! There were actually pictures in carriages in those far off days; but luckily there were no passengers in that compartment at the time.
On another day a rail on the G.W.R./G.C joint section broke due to the cold weather, at a point some eighteen inches from the fishplate. This, of course, required the whole rail to be hurriedly replaced and, surprisingly, little disruption to traffic occurred, a tribute to the platelayers of the Ashendon Junction gang. This rail would have had to be transported on their bogie to the site and be replaced by hand.
There didn't appear to be any rivalry between the G.W.R. and the L.N.E.R at working level; in fact, I recall the opposite to be the case. On one occasion I remember the "lamp man" from the joint section coming to my rescue on a particularly windy day, when I was suffering from "lamp lighting problems". I seem to recall that "Lampy", as he seemed to be known by all, but most probably "Mr Lampy" by me, was employed full time on lamp maintenance duties. At the Ashendon end of the Wotton section we shared a common signal post, but the only time we were likely to meet was on these bad weatherwise days.
The Wotton platelayers seemed to share the "fogging" duties at the Ashendon Junction distant. I remember being allowed to place a detonator on the rail at this point under the close scrutiny of Ron Tipping.
This "fogging box" had a kind of remote system for placing the detonators on the rail, apparently without the operator leaving the shelter of his "box", apart from replacing the "fired" ones with new ones at intervals as required. This device appeared to hold six or so detonators attached to arms arranged in the form of a "star", and at each pull of a lever the "star" turned one position thereby placing the next one on the rail.
The detonators for this device were different from the normal ones and had a kind of spring clip which fastened tightly to the arms of the aforementioned "star", unlike the others which had two lead clips, these clips just being pressed (moulded by hand), to fit the rail section. I never actually saw this device in action, so it could have been for experimental use only. However, this was on the G.W.R section of the line so could well have been in regular use elsewhere.
It didn't half clear the mind if you were daydreaming, and failed to notice a nearby detonator before it exploded, as the noise is considerable.
Normally, of course, you would see the man in the fogging box but when they, or any lookout, finished it was the practise to leave the last detonator on the line. This was when you could get badly caught out as they could have been working anywhere along their length.
Another area of this "good relations", was that of receiving coded telegrams, particularly on Saturday mornings when I would often be alone on the station. The internal phone would ring (two rings) for the office, and a voice would announce that "This is Telegrams. I have a message for you", or words to that effect. This was the sign for me to go into a "blind panic" as the actual wording of the message made little if any sense to anyone. These telephone calls were normally relayed through Ashendon Junction signal box and then through Wotton box but, on Saturday mornings, Wotton would often be closed so we would have direct contact with Ashendon and this is where Mr Ayris, the signalman at Ashendon, would often come to my rescue. Mr Ayris, who came from Pollicott, would intercept the message and then relay it to me afterwards, it being much easier to take these somewhat incomprehensible messages from someone you already know, who had considerable experience of these things, and probably even more experience of working the local boxes. Mr Ayris often worked Grendon and Ashendon junctions as well as Wotton and later did many years at Aylesbury. The next action was to try and find "His Nibs" to come and decipher the all-important message with the aid of a codebook, but I fear that they sometimes had to await his return from wherever.
What of these signal boxes? They were places where you really had to be on your best behaviour. The signalman was "king" of his "domain" and one would almost stand in "awe" of him. They all seemed to set a very high standard of discipline and cleanliness. I, certainly, would never have been allowed to clean the signalbox windows (that was no particular hardship I may say) and a visit to the box was only by "kind permission". However, I do remember that the signalmen I worked with would always go to some trouble to show you round their particular box and might even allow you to pull a signal, not forgetting to use the cloth which they always used to prevent hands touching the bare metal levers, thereby preventing rusting of the steel parts, or tarnishing of the brass. The "bell" system I never quite came to terms with, no doubt because I was not exposed to it for sufficient time or, perhaps, I just never ever thought of becoming a signalman. The life of a signalman must have been very lonely at times as the boxes, such as Ashendon, were very isolated; several fields had to be crossed to reach it, although there was always the phone for company.
A somewhat pointless and wasteful exercise, in my then very humble opinion, the kind of thing more suited to the Armed Forces, and something I was to learn more of some three years or so later. I also thought it to be something of waste to retain a special train for such purposes during a war. I do remember that this train was very well turned out, however, very "awe" inspiring indeed.
I will try to describe the goods side:
First the "milkdock"; literally just a gate in the up platform fence at farm cart height originally for loading and unloading milk churns - a thing of the past - and so now it was used to provide a nearly level base for heavy goods taken from the "transit van"; incidentally a very important part of the "pickup".
All stores that could be manhandled were less than a full load or were "attractive" - cigarettes and spirits being a case in point, - would be carried in the "transit van". Sometimes this would be an open sheeted truck, and there would sometimes be more than one, depending on the volume of goods on any given day.
Cigarettes would come in large wooden cases with cardboard linings direct from W.D. and H.0. Wills or John Player. These cases were made up of loose sides and ends; only being held together by twisted wires. The consignee, on receipt, would cut the wires, empty them, and re-assemble the parts which were already labelled for their return. On one occasion we received them in the return state but addressed as usual to the N.A.A.F.I. at Westcott. This brought forth the Railway Police but I don‘t think any conclusion was reached other than the fact that someone, somewhere must have been a heavy smoker. It was very unusual to encounter "pilfering” even in those wartime days.
One item that did cause a "load of bother" was a service revolver left in a kitbag by an aircrew officer that didn't arrive with the bag, I think I heard the name "Smith and Wesson" more times then than in any cowboy film of the time.
The hazy memories of a Temporary Lad Porter, 1943 t o 1945.
From the milk dock position we did manage to drop a barrel of beer between the lorry and the "dock" on at least one occasion, when the said lorry was at a particularly bad angle. Some of the young drivers had great difficulty in getting their vehicles to the "dock", particularly the Bedford "artic". An eighteen-gallon (kilderkin) is definitely not easy to pick up from the ground and raised to lorry height. The recognised technique for picking up beer barrels was to put your heads together and push hard while, at the same time, lifting with only your fingertips gripping the edge at the end of the barrel; not the most elegant or comfortable operation as I recall. We probably cheated on these bad days and first lifted it back to platform level before transferring it to the lorry. I seem to recall that an eighteen gallon barrel weighed something over two and a half hundredweight, (2cwt, 2qtrs, and 8lbs) not too heavy when set against some of the items we dragged, rolled, or somehow persuaded to board these lorries.
On one very snowy day a convoy of Americans turned up (I think from Chalgrove) to collect coke that had previously been consigned to Westcott and now transferred to them. They, as you might expect, did things in the grand manner. First I had difficulty in understanding their word "cars" instead of trucks, the description we were used to, but having got their "trucks" alongside our "cars" the fun started.
They completely loaded their canvas covered Studebaker 6 x 6s right up to the canvas covers, regardless of weight, and then disappeared at high speed in the direction of Ashendon with the loading crew riding on the canvas tops. However, some while later, they returned having failed to negotiate the steep hill to Ashendon because of overloading and the bad road conditions, salt not being used in those days, of course.
We last saw them hurtling off towards Dorton never to be seen again or heard of again so, presumably, the hills in that direction were passable.
There would be a "hotbox" dropped off most weeks, and then a large screw-jack would appear, either on the "pickup', or dropped off by the guard of a passing goods train. A few hours or days later the man responsible for repairs would arrive from Woodford, usually jumping, complete with toolkit, from the guardsvan of a later train.
After a cup of tea in the signalbox, and passing on, and gleaning the latest news or rumours he would jack up the truck, remove the cover, and proceed to grease the offending bearing. When ready for the off the truck would be taken away by the next "pickup", and the jack would also be sent on to the latest "hotbox". On occasions these trucks were important enough for a passing goods train to be stopped to collect them.
Boxvans, and indeed many other trucks, had also to be swept out, depending, to some extent, on what was to be loaded into them. You would have to transfer goods to the other platform ready for the train going in that direction, and sometimes we would recruit the platelayers to assist, the ramps being rather steep and the loads heavy.
This could sometimes be "bit of a nonsense" if they wanted to play you up, as could well be the case when "Porter Joe" was missing. 0n one occasion I clearly remember the four wheeled luggage truck, which was probably drastically overloaded, and which had a rather poor braking system, running away from us, down one of those steep ramps, only stopping after passing through a wooden fence, and burying the wheels up to the axles in the cinders.
The gang stood by, just watching, and there was much panic to put everything back as was, including repairing the fence, before the appearance of the stationmaster. The fence looked the same and survived my remaining time at Wotton, a tribute to the platelayers who actually did the repair work. We might also attempt to take this truck over the somewhat uneven level crossing only to find that we had come to a complete standstill in the middle of the tracks. This usually brought words of encouragement from the signalman in the form of "I hope you realise it, but there‘s a train just come through Akerman Street" or "Ashendon Junction“, this depending on which line we were actually blocking. We didn't ever get completely caught out as I remember.
During the winter the platforms, the pathways and the ramps would be liberally covered with ashes from the fires to prevent people slipping under the trains. These would tread everywhere, and a thaw did little to ease the situation as, no sooner had we got that lot clear and the buildings scrubbed out, then it would freeze again, and it all started once more.
The routine for shunting was roughly as follows:
In those days, just like the farms, there were few concessions made to you regarding age or physical stature; if you were there you were considered to be man enough.
I was, at that time, about the same size and weight as a shunting pole, which I soon learned to use both for coupling and uncoupling loose shunted trucks.
The guard, who may have a (friendly) grudge against lad porters, and the driver who most certainly would want to know how fast you could run, would release as many trucks as was called for at the top end of the goods yard. Your job was to stop them before the end stop and the first truck made violent contact. You soon learned to look for a Great Western vehicle, which would most likely have a ratchet brake. Applying this would take the urgency out of the situation. Once having got that sorted, you had time to get on to the more usual type of brake which, of course, needs a pin to be inserted into a pair of holes. This could sometimes be made more difficult if the brake shoe grabbed, thereby throwing the lever violently up and down.
There was always the little matter of points. It wasn't unknown for the "comedians" to want to send down the trucks in quick succession and, so, the points had to be set correctly or changed during the run. One very important point that had always to be kept in mind was the position of the points operating lever.
This was too close to the track to allow the shunting pole to pass while actually holding the brake lever down so you had to suspend the operation by lifting the pole over the lever at the right time. There was always the short brakestick which, of course, couldn‘t be used to couple or uncouple trucks, so mostly the choice of what to use was made for you. A short time before I joined Wotton Joe had moved the rail end stops with several trucks of bombs. Presumably ratchet brakes were not in evidence at the time.
A third type of brake was the wheel operated one, which required many turns of a wheel on the side of the truck; a very effective device, provided you could spin the wheel quick enough; usually placed in position by the engine rather than loose shunted. This type of brake would normally be fitted to large trucks such as "Warwells", a vehicle for transporting tanks or other large and high loads.
One other problem with this truck was that it had to be loaded over the end because the "well" in the centre did not correspond with any of the dock heights and so the "cattle dock" gained a new lease of life.
One real problem for the driver was the great variety of engines that were used on the "pickups". A "pickup" was the general goods train that stopped at all of the small stations, and the types of engines used had to be seen to be believed.
By using them for this purpose it saved running them "light" back to Neasden or Woodford, this being the section covered by the Wotton "pickup"; good for economy but not popular with all drivers. Some of these engines must have been very difficult to shunt with, as it was quite possible to have a Mogul, an American utility, or even a W.D. utility in front. The most popular, and at the same time the most useful was the J11, "Pom-Pom", an 0-6-0 tender - very powerful but compact. One other problem the big engines caused was that the drivers didn't like going too far into the goodsyard with the engine because of the weight and the radius of the curves. This did make it increasingly difficult for the driver to see during loose shunting.
The way to get the trucks out of the yard was to put the train of trucks in - not very popular with me as it meant coupling up when the buffers met with a very loud bang.
Almost certainly the only way to get the three links over the other hook was by compressing the buffers. This was the part of the process that I was not too keen on, as I did not relish the idea of my poor little arm being crushed between two large railway trucks.
I have listed my pet hates but, despite them, it was this, together with the lamps, the part that I liked best. Administration was a bit boring, to say the least.
At the bottom of the yard was a hand operated crane (5 tons capacity) mounted on a railtruck fixed to a section of rails which were not connected to the system but set close enough for the jib to reach over a truck. I think it was more as a "showpiece" than as a tool as I only remember it being used once (I do not remember what for though). That the platelayers were rounded up to do the hard part I do remember. That this machine did not find favour in that department I also remember.
It was fortunate for us all, and more so for the platelayers, that the R.A.F. at Westcott had their own crane which, incidentally, because of its height, normally had to travel over the hills through Ashendon because of the low bridge (thirteen feet, I seem to remember) at Wotton.
As a result of this, one of the Westcott cranes had some of its ballast removed which had the effect of lowering its capacity from five to three tons capacity but made it easier for it to make the somewhat difficult journey. This didn't have any adverse effect on us, as it was seldom that anything heavier than this arrived and, in the event, they retained a five tons capacity one anyway. 0ne R.A.F. driver by the name of Bert Wainwright could not only get the cranes under the bridge but could also, with "gay abandon", put the three ton "artic" and the forty-five-foot "Queen Mary" into the goods yard, the long one having to be reversed in from the direction of Ashendon, the position of the weighbridge not helping the operation very much. Bert's method for getting the crane under the bridge was quite interesting. He would move the jib until parallel with the ground and then run in the depression on the wrong side of the road. With the occasional "clang" as the jib touched lightly on the underside of the bridge he would slowly go through, lock up the jib, and go back along the old Brill Tramway.
I must say we always heaved a sigh of relief when Bert was in charge. He would also give us a pull with the crane when trucks required moving up the yard, as often was the case with the 1oaded coal truck for Sid and Mr. Bates I will explain later.
One aid for moving trucks, though not much used, was a long wooden pole that had a metal end, not unlike a "Dutch hoe" in appearance. This device could be placed on the rail and, by using a levering action, propel the truck, or even trucks, slowly forward; useful to join up a series of trucks ready for the "pickup" to collect or to move them away from the "vee" end of the goods yard.
The previously mentioned "cattle dock" provided a level "roll on, roll off" surface for "flatbed" trucks and was used mostly for loading and unloading vehicles. On wheeled loads much roping would take place. This would be reinforced by nailing wooden battens and chocks to the floor of the truck. I am certain that nothing ever broke loose that was despatched from Wotton.
Animals (mostly sheep) were very occasionally received, though almost always at night, and by passenger train, of course. These would be collected by their new owner very quickly.
For Westcott the goods were many and varied, beer, spirits and cigarettes being a regular delivery.
One item I remember in particular was beef dripping packed in cardboard boxes, which would have to be moved into the shade, as did beer on hot days, of course. A quick call to Bicester 241 usually, 1ike for the fish, got a quick response – at least to collect the drink.
One very regular delivery was coke for the boiler house and this was moved by a man called Sid (Corbett, I think). Sid worked on piecework for a man named Levy and the firm then, as now, was called Aston Clinton Haulage, a very well known local transport firm, now much larger and under different management. However, Sid could move coke like no one would believe, but his technique was really very simple. He would first take the top of the load off the hard way, by digging into the coke and throwing it into the lorry over the top of the truck. He would drop his tailboard. and reverse tightly to the truck door then, usually with some help if it were available, drop the door onto the lorry which had the effect of releasing some of the coke into the lorry making the clearing up from the ground as little as possible. Even so, there was always plenty left on the ground. Sid used a short wheelbase Bedford tipper which enabled him to get it close to the trucks in that rather unfriendly yard.
Surely coaltrucks could never have been designed for unloading as there really was no way of lowering the doer without losing a large quantity of the load onto the ground and the temporary repairs to the floors made it almost impossible to run a shovel along the floor to pick up that part of the load remaining in the truck.
A few trucks of coal arrived for Westcott. These were moved by Mr Bates from Grendon Underwood. I sometimes see their vehicles around, so they are still in business in the area. He would also take goods for the villages in his capacity as a general carrier.
One other aspect that made life harder than necessary was that the doors had to be closed again. They were quite heavy and much higher than you might expect and you had to get two wedges into slots to hold the door closed. It was certainly of benefit to be tall and strong - a one man. and his boy job for certain.
Another regular delivery was engines and bombs. All kinds of bombs were stored at airfields like Westcott, although not for their use. We would have several trucks at a time of 500 and 1000 pounders which would have to be unloaded by hand.
The usual method was by rolling the bomb off the rai1way truck, and hoping the lorry was close Enoch to catch it. Bombs were often carried in coaltrucks provided they had oilbox axles. The small doors sometimes made them very difficult to unload but the drop down doors had the advantage of forming a kind of ramp, useful because the heights of the two vehicles were quite different, and the layout of the yard not very helpful. We did manage to drop a two hundred and fifty pound incendiary. When this happened it was "all hands to the pump" to get it back to the right level, bombs being completely smooth and not having handles. As you might expect someone produced a tool and unscrewed the end, just to see what it was like.
One day we received a four thousand-pound inert bomb which did cause some concern as to how it could be offloaded. In the event we just rolled it off, in the normal manner, onto the back of the lorry, and instead of it going through the bed as expected, it merely lifted the front wheels some two foot or so off the ground. This one was filled with silver sand. Again, someone unscrewed the end to have a look and, for sometime to come, there was a small heap of this sand in the yard to remind us.
The engines were quite acceptable to us as they were lifted by the crane and only had to be roped and sheeted - though not quite so favourite on a wet day as it was all "scramble", ladders not being much in evidence at Wotton. The unloading could sometimes get you a very "wet shirt" if you carelessly tugged the sheet off before emptying the inevitable puddle that had formed on top of the case.
I have referred to the difficulty drivers had in that yard. The reason is really simple. The two sidings were shaped in the form of a bowlegged vee (not unlike a wishbone) with the sleepers and rails standing proud of the surface, this latter aspect preventing any vehicle running close alongside because their wheels would jam in between the sleepers, but forcing them to approach in reverse.
The lorry used by the armoury for bombs was an Austin six-by-four flatbed, which was probably one of the most unmanouverable vehicles for the purpose. Add to that the fact that some of the younger drivers obviously had little experience, it made for some very interesting days.
The weighbridge was very little used in my time but was a nuisance in so far as it had to be kept clean. The weighing arm, in particular, had to be rubbed over with emery cloth regularly and kept well oiled. One good point was that, along with all the other buildings, it had a fireplace but it was never lit in my time.
At about ten each day "Wagons" (Wagon Control), based at Marylebone, would call up by phone to find out how many trucks we had that were ready, or would soon be ready, for moving out. This meant someone had to be in the office at that time, having sorted out the details the night before.
They would want to know the type of trucks available and, sometimes, "special" ones had to be labelled for specified destinations, those with oilbox axles being particularly sought after.
It was sometimes "politic" to forget to report the whereabouts of some if a need was soon to arise. They would also arrange for that "ex" hotbox to be picked up if urgent.
Sheets were also of great interest and value, being carefully dried and folded to a set pattern ready for reuse by us or sent on the "pickup" going in the right direction. Other depots would call for sheets, and they really were worth their weight in gold. Ropes also merited the star treatment, and were handled in the same way. We would also order and dispose of these items as required officially or there was a working "bush telegraph" system between Princes Risborough, Akeman Street and Haddenham to provide a quicker service. In most cases the R.A.F. would give us plenty of notice if anything out of the ordinary was on the move; for instance aero engines required two sheets to cover the wooden case. This type of valuable load would be loaded into a "wagon" with an oilbox axle. I tend to call trucks "trucks" but mostly they were known as "wagons“.
The "pickup" would take away any empty trucks or would bring any special type of truck ordered by us, "flatbeds" being the most common, usually for vehicles.
There were some twelve signals, eight or so points "dollies" and about two dozen or so platform pathway and office lamps, with that all important porters‘ room light, to maintain.
These lamps all burned paraffin which meant that they all required more than a little looking after - particularly the signal lamps which had a tendency to go out on very windy days - or sometimes the indicators in the signal box, which were used for those lamps out of the signalman‘s sight, would falsely record that they had done so. These indicators were operated by an element inside the lamp chamber on the signal and heated by the lamp which, in turn, gave an indication to the signalman as to the state of any given lamp. On very cold, windy days the wind would cool the element and so the long trek to the distant signal would have to be undertaken just to make sure that the lamp was still burning brightly. Because there was no lamp to carry this might bring the bike into play. Any use of this meant that you had to carry it some distance from the station to get clear of the signal and points actuating rods and wires.
Mostly it was 0.K. but, if it had gone out, then the "fun" began. Would it be best to try and light it up on the signal ladder or bring it down, light it, and then try to get it back up without it blowing out again? I can only say that my decision was mostly the wrong one and there would be several trips up and down the ladder before success was attained.
Often, on my return to the station, I would be informed that the "so and so" had gone out again - but only on the odd occasion did I have go back. for a second try. Often, over a period of time, the indicator in the box would flicker just enough to save a second trip. One other way the signalman could get a false reading was when the glass got smoked up either by the wind blowing the flame about or bad trimming of the wick by yours truly. On these occasions the crew of a passing train would slow down and call out to the signalman that a lamp was out or not showing up. Naturally it was always blamed on the first set of circumstances by me and on the latter by other interested parties. Whatever the reason, I still had to make that journey to clean the glasses, wiping with cotton waste wetted with paraffin being the remedy. On the days that we were short of staff, or we were busy in the yard, it might just be permitted to take a can of paraffin and fill those lamps close to the station on site plus just cleaning the glass.
The signal lamps themselves were simple devices made of brass and square with a window glass on each side which was very loose fitting, this being a prime factor in their penchant for going out in high winds and making life difficult for the "lamp boy", whoever he may be.
A hinged cover joined by a short chain attached to the carrying handle prevented your hands from being burned while carrying them, and this device also caused the cover to open when the handle was released, thereby exposing the heating element in the lid of the lamp chamber of the signal to the heat of the flame.
The "points dolly" lamps were round, but basically the problems, and the cures, were the same. They were very inclined to go out but did have two advantages as there was no great distance and there were no ladders involved.
Some signals had a platform, and then a second short ladder to the actual signal, and these could be very dangerous on cold, and frosty mornings. All the ladders were metal and very cold to the touch on cold days - but I only remember falling once, and then by some good luck I just managed to hold on. I didn‘t drop the lamp.
The only way, of course, to reach these outlying signals was to walk the sleepers - except when it was "icy", or very thick fog, and then you walked on the ash path alongside the track on which, of course, you had to be careful not to trip over the cables that operated the signals and which, periodically, crossed this path.
Although you would always walk against (towards) the oncoming trains it was, nevertheless, surprising to find how close they could get to you, particularly in fog, before you became aware of their presence.
One thing I would say about walking the sleepers and "doing", the lamps is that there can be few places more exposed to the elements than a railway track or the signals alongside them; only the occasional bridge or an upturned "fogging box", to shelter from the, all too frequent, showers of rain. Why did it always seem to rain on the days scheduled for "doing" the distant signals or, indeed, any other lamps?
The distances involved were approximately three-quarters of a mile each way to the distant signals with just one bridge each way, so it was possible to soak up a fair quantity of water on those days.
You could nearly always be sure that the "lamp boy" would get a heavy blast of steam from any slow train he had the misfortune to meet - al1 in good fun though - and mostly you were expecting it. It was not the "done thing" to cycle with the lamps but it was permissible to travel to Akeman Street in that way.
I once travelled to Akeman Street in the leading goods brakevan of two being pushed by an engine - not the usual way to do things - and I think it is one of the worst rides I can ever remember taking as these vans appeared to sway and yaw in a totally uncontrolled manner, but the guard didn't seem concerned as no doubt he had done it all before.
One of my favourite days was to do the "up" distant, which was very close to the western end of the Westcott runway, a first class vantage point to watch the aircraft takeoff - in good weather only, of course. From here you could see the entire takeoff run. On one very bad foggy day I was "doing" this lamp when the gamekeeper? (or was it a good day for poachers?) on the Wotton estate fired his shotgun, presumably at my sound. It was much too thick to see any distance, and the shot hit the metal signal arm while I was actually putting the lamp in the chamber. No harm was done but both Spen Kirby, who was "fogging" at the time, and myself, clearly heard it - obviously, not the best place to be on foggy days. I always considered the "fogging box" to be a glamorous place; making toast on a blazing brazier while sitting in a cosy wooden hut. But now, having had time to consider all the facts, I can't really think of a worse place to be on a cold, wet and foggy night, totally isolated from ail other human beings apart from the cal1 t o return to base, which was a repeated pulling of the distant by the signalman.
One day some oxygen and acetylene bottles arrived and, a few days later, a man with welding gear followed. He proceeded to build up the worn part of the rail intersections and, after smoothing his handiwork down, would move on to the next joint. It was some weeks before he had finished, but it must have been a far easier and cheaper method than total replacement and, no doubt, would have been as a direct result of the war.
Carpenters also paid us a visit, travelling each day on the first available goods train; so sometimes it was rather a short working day. They did all the necessary repair work before moving on to pastures new. The standard of the workmanship, in those days, was always first class, typical of all things to do with the railways. Everything was made to last.
I remember that the regular carpenter wanted to share my apple on one occasion but his interest somewhat diminished after tasting, as it was a Bramleys Seedling, something that I took most days in the spring. I must say that the look attractive.
The days of make do and mend were just beginning - no more or less on the railways than anywhere else - but it must have seemed strange to those brought up in the ways of the system to have to repair rather than replace.
A system of high-speed goods trains started to come through. I seem to remember the aim was to sustain a speed of some sixty M.P.H. between their point of departure and their destination. All trucks had to have oilbox axles and the first six had to have vacuum brakes attached to the engine. The engines were mostly Moguls - incidentally my favourite.
What other happenings might be interesting?
The gradient leading up to the starter signal on the down side was quite steep and this caused many trains to have problems in starting off from rest.
The usual way for coal trains, or those with loose couplings, was for the guard to apply his brakes. The engine would then "set back" against the guardsvan thereby allowing him to start off each truck individually. This normally worked quite well except when the guard failed to release his brakes quick enough, and a coupling would snap - a quick shunt back, recouple, and away. The last trucks on a long train, as you can imagine, would be moving quite fast by the time the couplings tightened, hence the occasional broken one, particularly if the guard had released his brake too early and the last trucks were moving backwards. This was a battle that was hard for the guards to win.
The screw coupled trains were merely pushed back with the brakes applied. This would have the effect of compressing some of the sprung buffers thereby giving him a push, and hopefully he would also be on his way. I do remember that some trains pushed back a considerable distance, even past the home signal, before having any success though.
Odd things come back as I go along - only the points guarding the entrance to the goods yard were operated by the signalman. They also had a very short signal. Those inside the yard were operated by the shunter, and didn't have a lighted "dolly". These were replaced during my time there, when certain other alterations to the yard were made, mostly in trying to provide more room between the sidings.
One place always worth a visit was the platelayers' cabin, when the platelayers were in residence. This had to be seen to be believed. There were sleeping bodies all over the place; and a fire worthy of a power station. The overall impression was of an Aladdin’s cave. There would be all the tools needed to carry out their many tasks, and all forms of "bedding" material you can imagine. No shortage of advice for a fourteen years old lad porter; though whether it was always good advice is another matter. It was very seldom acted upon if I remember correctly.
Late in the day they were usually so fast asleep that it was no problem to sneak up and snatch the door open, which would cause smoke to fill the cabin. This action never failed to raise a flow of threats and bad language totally unfit for young ears. I was never guilty of this but mostly got the blame. Playing cards was totally out of order except on days when Fred Dormer was away, so it was mostly a cross between "discussion" - more commonly known as arguing - or sleeping.
On the odd day when they wanted entertainment, Ron might demonstrate his skill at dropping a hammer onto a detonator which was hidden round the corner, and might take several attempts, but when successful would bring the sleeping residents to a state of wakefulness without doubt.
These detonators, though quite powerful, were never kept in boxes or under cover, but could be found virtually anywhere in the cabin. The tale was told of one falling off the shelf above the fireplace - I understand that all had left before it ignited in the fire.
The method of supplementing their meagre coal ration was quite interesting. It literally fell off the back of a train, with a little help from a friendly fireman, who had piled it up ready to give it a push at the right spot. 0f course, this would have to happen on a day when the stationmaster was away, and it would be "spirited", away in minutes. These cabins were remarkably weather proof, virtually air tight, with just a small window, although only made of sleepers, with a brick or stone chimney, and caulked with tar, with newspapers or anything to hand, to keep the odd draught out. They had a felt roof.
When they were working on the length on lamp days I might get entertained by demonstrations of hammering in spikes with multiple hammers or some other party piece.
It was certain that I could not get by them without some abusive remarks, as there was always an invisible division between platelayers and station staff. Nevertheless, I always look back on the "gang" with some affection. Life was never boring when they were around, and we certainly couldn't have functioned without their help.
Overall the system was very reliable even under wartime conditions; trains ran very close to scheduled times. There was the odd breakdown, of course, and the latest story/rumour regarding the American utilities blowing themselves to pieces was always in circulation.
During the summer, the spring situated in the wood on the hill (Brickwell) to Ashendon, that normally supplied the station with water, would dry up and a tender filled with water would then be stationed in the goods yard. The water was drawn from a large brass tap and had to be carried to wherever it was needed. It was like life in the village; it is very surprising how little water you actually need when it has to be carried any great distance, and if there was any in the pipes at all then that was what was used. Thinking back, the water in the tender couldn't have been very tasty after some weeks in the yard. Not that the spring version, when carried through the rusty pipes, could have been all that much better.
A firm from Princes Risborough (David Way and Sons - gone now, I fear) started to resurface the road from Ashendon blacksmith shop to the station. Each night they would finish off with a well-constructed ramp where their new Tarmac met the old. I would take note of' this so that my speed could build up, only applying the brakes at the last second. In those days the surface was rolled many times, and this improvement must have given me several extra minutes in bed when, after some six weeks or so, this was finished.
What of the people?
Not many left, I am afraid, which makes it all the more difficult to check any facts, but of course it started out as my memories so I had better leave it that way. In the main not bad memories at that. If they had been I feel that there might have been less.
Joe came to the railway rather late in life, having worked in the building trade for many years, mainly for Fleet and Roberts, an Aylesbury firm, and only starting at Wotton at about the start of the war.
He had previously cycled from Pollicot to Oxford (some twenty plus miles) to carry "hods" on the various sites there.
I always considered Joe to be "Mr Wotton" - he was a man of great energy and had learned the ways of the railway in a comparatively short time.
He transferred to Aylesbury as a shunter when Wotton closed and used to cycle the twenty plus miles round trip daily.
Joe finally ended up as a shunter at Westcott, by then a Ministry Research Establishment which had a private siding with their own shunting engine, the system being joined to the British Rail system by a single line from Akeman Street.
Joe was a bit of a dancer and also, at sometime during the evening, would give a rendition of "The Volunteer Organist" or some other "oldie". Those that had close contact with Joe would normally be called "Me Old Mate". This indicated that you had finally "made it" in his eyes. On Wednesday or Thursday someone would have to keep watch for the Hopcraft and Morris beer lorry on its way to Dorton Club from Brackley. A sighting of the lorry meant that it was well worth Joe taking a cycle ride to Dorton, beer being in rather short supply in those days.
Graham Russell would most probably be playing in the band that supplied the music for the dances in that previously mentioned Ashendon hut. He would almost certainly give a solo performance on that also previously mentioned saw.
As a direct result of writing this I have made contact with Don Ayres. He tells me that he moved to Brackley, both to work and live, and left the Railways in 1965 when the line closed. He then joined the Post Office and has since retired. He was able to remind me that at Wotton, on the up side, there was a further starter signal called the advance starter. I had included it in my list of lamps but had totally forgotten what it was called. It stood about a quarter of a mile on the "up" side of the station. It was very short in height.
This must have allowed trains to pull farther forward than normal thereby permitting entry to the goods yard but still be under control of the signalman. I think Don and I are the only survivors from those long gone days.
John Knibbs left Wotton to join his sister in Califonia and to grow oranges. I have not heard of him for years. On a Saturday, late in the summer (I would guess at September because I remember going harvesting afterwards, and clearly remember seeing the R.A.F. ambulance reversing up to the camp mortuary from there) of 1944 a Wellington aircraft taking off from Wescott ploughed into the Akeman Street signal box where John was on duty. He was very lucky not to have been injured. The plane took away a large chunk of the western end of the box before crashing in the field at rear - most if not all of the crew were killed. I, too, was lucky as I had been asked to collect John's lunch from his home at Lower Pollicott. and take it to him as he was planning to stay late to clear a petrol train for the army petrol depot at Waddesdon. However, just before I left, he rang to say not to bother, as he would be finished earlier than expected. My most likely time of arrival at Akeman Street would certainly have been before the crash and the part of the box that was removed was where visitors normally sat and I, almost certainly, would have waited to cycle home with John when he finished.
Ron Tipping was killed in an accident at Wotton in December 1946.
Some of the platelayers would have followed their fathers or other relative - this being a common way of joining the railways - and would probably hope to end up as ganger or deputy before retiring. They would learn the business the hard way. By this I mean they would have to get involved, there not being many training courses in those days. These jobs were considered to be better than the average, which would otherwise normally be on farms or the local brickworks.
The distance to and from work always had to be taken into account as cycling or walking was about the only method of travel. Ashendon Junction, like many others, could only be reached by walking or cycling alone the track. Fred King always walked from Brill.
Only some of those listed on page one were, to my mind, "real railwaymen" - Mr Rice, Gilbert Adams, with, possibly, Don Ayres and Johnny Knibbs; and not forgetting the platelayers.
I think of a "railwayman" as one who started his working life on the railway and intended to stay there until retirement, and who had a kind of dedication to the Company. The Company was, without doubt, always right in whatever action it took; or that was what some people firmly believed.
Looking back, the stationmaster was what would now be called a "big fish in a small pond". He could have his garden dug by the platelayers, his windows cleaned by the station staff, and really anything else he required within reason. He was, of course, a "company man" and, in his eyes, the L.N.E.R. could do no wrong. His gold half Hunter watch was always correct regardless of B.B.C. time signals or any other time indicator.
Some of the R.A.F. personnel that we regularly dealt with were transferred to the army on or about the time of D. Day (6t h June 1944). Little did they think, when they used to "rib" me about being "called up" into the army, not the "cushy number that they enjoyed in the R.A.F.". that they, themselves, would beat me there by some three years.
It was difficult to join the railways and, although I was only temporary, I found it equally difficult to leave as, when I came to give in my notice, I was informed that this was a job of "national importance". This then meant that I had to convince the Ministry of Labour that I wasn't totally indispensable. After cycling to their office in Thame they agreed, and I left in July 1945.
BOB CHERRY. September 1992.
Bob Fountaine and John Edmunds 22/09/04 to 29/09/04
|PAGE CONTENTS||LAST UPDATED: 03/08/2009 21:26:05|
Introduction - Arrival
Thursday 23/09 - Heading for Bari
Friday 24/09 - Campobasso
Saturday 25/09 - Cassino
Sunday 26/09 - Orvieto Military Cemetery
Monday 27/09 - Florence and the Military Cemetery (5 Photos)
Tuesday 28/09 - Viareggio
Wednesday 29/09 - Last Day
We flew into Brindisi on the evening of Wednesday 22/09/04. Ryan air are not only inexpensive, but arrive on time. We followed the directions to our hotel in San Vito de Normani, but were a little confused by their idea of distance and ours, none-the- less, we found our hotel diagonally opposite, what must, be one of the largest prisons in all Italy. In fact the guards directed us to our destination. Very comfortable with a large pool, which we did not have time to use, despite the heat.
We left after a good break fast for Bari. We drove off the autostrada, and journeyed through small towns, miles of Olive groves, and every town claimed to be the “ Town of Olives” or “Town of Olive Oil”. We spent time in Bari, finding the Information office took quite some time. Bob had spent some time in the city during the War. Bari is famous for being the “Second Pearl Harbour” as in ‘ 43, it was badly bombed by the Germans, destroying a great number of ships. Bob’s memory was a little hazy, probably due to the development of his palate for Italian wine at the time. Finding some one who could speak English was not easy, and Johns pidgin Italian was taxed to the limit. When the information office was found they could help us on most things, but not the British Army Leave centre, which I assume had closed by then!! We had to contend our selves with patrolling the “old town “ by car, which brought back elements of déjà vu to Bob. We left Bari on the coastal road, signed for Moletta and Trani. At Trani we must have taken the wrong road as we found ourselves amongst the vineyards that had displaced the olive groves. The road was narrow and pitted. We eventually found ourselves behind a tractor towing a grape filled trailer that stopped that the booms of a level crossing. A long wait while several trains passed, Bob sampled the grapes, and tried to converse with the farmer. We arrived in Manfredonia and decided to call it a day, it was well past beer time. Hotels were not that obvious, but taking advice from a local, he jumped into his car and led us to a new hotel on a new coastal development. We had a comfortable room with an excellent panorama of the Adriatic. At €75 for a double, B&B we could not complain. We ate in the hotel, a good Italian mixed grill, and local wine in a carafe.
Friday dawned, and was greeted with a good breakfast, mainly different kinds of bread with various types of jam. We made our way to the main road out of town and headed for the hills and drove away from the coastal plain. More Olive groves and Vineyards lining the main road the SS 17 to Foggia. By- passing the typical villages we came off the SS17 and drove into Foggia. Chaotic traffic in a large town, where the traditional villas gave way to rows of apartments, what seems to have become typical high-density living. Bob was determined to buy postcards, so John made his way through the horrendous traffic, made worse by the Italians inclination towards competitive driving, and being unyielding. John parked illegally, together with the bulk of Foggias population, and some 45 minutes later, Bob returned with his cards after being directed in the right direction by a friendly “Tabacchi” John was fairly pleased to get the air cooling the car once we had started up, and we found our way out of the “centro” to “all directions” with some help from the locals, all in Italian, then on to the main road to Campobasso. Leaving the coastal strip and driving into the mountains we could appreciate how the Allied advance must have been slowed by the Germans holding the high ground.
We eventually arrived in Campobasso, and pleased to get away from the twisting road, where the locals insisted on passing us on blind corners, blind rises, and at any speed as long as it was over the limit. We found a “hypermarketto”, and bought a bottle of Italian Brandy at about £5 a bottle. Bob found an English speaking assistant and she gave us the names of a couple of hotels. We found the first the “Roxy” after about half an hour of battling our way in the town traffic. We decided on getting a quote from the second. Called our activities to a halt and had lunch in a local bar, just out of the main area where parking was easier. The two sandwiches and the drinks came to the same as a pint in an English local. Finding the Hotel St Georgio tested us to the full, and when we eventually found it, the prices were in the expense account league, so back to the Roxy it was, where we managed some downwards negotiation of the room rate. We were in an attractive part of the town, so walked about, until we found a local bar, where overcome by thirst we had a long glassful of the local brew. Bob bought the previous days “Independent”. By English prices the second glassful was free. The prices in the South are lower than the prices in the Northwest, we established that as we moved towards Rome. Bob particularly enjoyed this stop-over as during the war the British Army had a depot here, and Bob spent a lot of time preparing for the advance on the River Sangro. His major task was trucking Bailey Bridges for the Royal engineers to get the “A echelons” of Tanks and Infantry across. It was most likely the advance of the 78th Division. A good meal in a local restaurant, full of locals with waiting queues lined up outside of the entrance. Bob asked for scampi, which when it arrived, the only similarity with English scampi was that it was a crustacean.
A damp start to the day, which seemed to follow us through the mountains. We left Campobasso in the morning and headed for Cassino. The winding main road was most probably built over or next to the one that Bob drove along in 1943. We climbed up and over the mountains. Spectacular views, and sights of mountain villages unfortunately spoilt by driving rain, and windscreen wipers that were below par made matters worse. Some of the mediaeval hilltop towns were spectacular, despite the rain. Ultimately we dropped down to the vale below the mountains, the rain eased, and then stopped as we followed the signs progressively towards Cassino. We stopped for our customary lunch, and “café Americano “Two for less than the price of one in England (€ 0.68 per cup). Again a busy town, with cars illegally parked in the “Centro” making life difficult as usual. Prepared by our lunch we headed for the mountain, and stopped off for information at the “Tourist I” sign. John parked across a driveway as usual. Bob went in, and emerged with an armful of maps and booklets. We followed the signs to the top.
A curving steep road, but safe with view points en route. We did not stop, but kept going for the summit, where there was ample good parking. We stood at the side looking down into the valley below. I had my binoculars. Bob looked down and ( surprisingly !) saw the River Rapido on the same course as in 1943, he also felt that the railway had not moved much. At the bottom Bob pointed out the area in which he was camped, prior to and after the end of the famous battle. The restored Dominican Monastery towered above us. Once flattened by allied bombs and shells, it sets itself majestically over the town, and awes the tourists. We left the summit and headed downwards to the Polish Cemetery, at the base of Hangman’s Hill, from where the Poles launched their attack against the Germans. Many Poles lie there with a view of the Rock and Building they launched them selves against in an endeavour to oust the occupying Germans. The view from this aspect of the Monastery is most impressive. Downwards we drove to the British and Commonwealth Cemetery. John sought out the South Africans, and L/Cpl B.R Hammond from his Old Regiment the Imperial Light Horse. He paid his compliments, then joined Bob who had started a conversation with some Canadians who were arranging a Veterans visit next year. We also met some Americans who thanked Bob for the role that he played in the quest for freedom from fascism.
We left Cassino and environs on the SS road, winding through the towns. It had started raining again, and after a wrong turn, found a road that would eventually connect with the Autostrada. We decided that we had had enough of cluttered traffic for one day. Immediately off the Autostrada in the new town of Orvieto, we came across three Hotels , side by side. Parched throats told us it was time to stop for the night. We chose one and checked in. A reasonable evening meal, and wine of the house. The beds were comfortable.
We left our hotel after the expected Italian breakfast, by this time we were having with-drawl cravings for an English “Fry-up” and found our way to the Orvieto Military Cemetery surprisingly quickly. Fortunately it was small, but impressive, with a wonderful view of the fortified hill city of Old Orvieto. After standing amongst the graves, looking up to Orvieto, and viewing the surrounding hills, drinking Orvieto wine, will have a new meaning, and will forever, regenerate the memory of this morning. We walked amongst the graves, John paid his respects to the three South African Graves, signed the visitors book, and read the narration of action in the area in the Register. It is tragic to note the ages of the young men, who sacrificed so many years of life for us.
We then drove up the winding road to the summit of the old walled city. Not quite knowing where we were going, we drove on through the gated area, through the mediaeval cobbled streets lined by ancient stone buildings, we drove past the “Doumo” and then down again. The streets were pedestrianised, so we received our fair share of glares, mainly from the throng of tourists, not the locals who were accustomed to car drivers not obeying rules. By the time we reached the parking area below, we realised that we should not have followed that route. However it was fortuitous as it was the only way that Bob could have seen the area, he would not have made the walk.
We stood on the old walls, and admired the panorama that unfolded below, wonderful grape laden Italian hills, and the Military Cemetery amongst the trees below. Viewing over, we followed the road downwards and onto the SS71 en route for Arezzo, through the hills, mountains, and then along the plain. Nothern Italy is that much greener than the South, and cooler. It is difficult to envisage the war that must have raged, the sound an affront to the natural tranquillity, and the scars an assault on the hills. We arrived in Arrezo during the late afternoon, after an unproductive run through town, we found some locals who lead us to a small, spotless and new hotel on the outskirts, not far from the hospital. We struck camp for the night, tongues were parched. At dinner we came across three South African tourists, en route for Florence. After talking across the dining room, we joined them with our carafe, and a long discussion developed.
Omelette for breakfast. New heights. We remained in the hotel until the Monday morning rush hour was over. Driving in Italy off-peak is bad enough. Driving upwards to the old walled city built on the heights, we made a few wrong turns and got a little confused in the one way system, but eventually found ourselves in a parking zone near the magnificent “Doumo”. It is huge and dominates the area, which does not have insignificant mediaeval buildings. We entered the silence of the cathedral, The acoustics were superb, a whisper at the alter could be heard from the back pew. Bob made his contribution to the church by making a purchase of bracelets, for the granddaughters, that we have in common, at the shop counter. We left the Doumo and strolled around the top of the city, looking down on the narrow passages between the ancient stone buildings below. We thought of all the history that has paraded through those streets, photographs taken we headed for the road to Florence and the Military Cemetery, that we had been told, would be found by- passing under the autostrada and following the road to Firenze, it would appear on our left. We drove on, no sign of the Cemetery. We then came across a pair of Carbineri, who were engaged in “Speed trapping” using a radar gun, this we considered a rarity, I guess , so did the motorists who were caught. We stopped to ask for directions, “You are almost there”, one said, “ Four hundred meters on your left there is a turn. You can’t miss it”. We left, they were pleased that we did, as there were major pickings in store” We saw the turn as promised, and to the rows of graves we went. There are a lot, too many brave young men lie there. The Indian section was impressive due to the numbers, the Ghurkhas lie with them. John again took his time amongst the South Africans, a young Doctor, Lt. J. Gluckman SAMC, lay there, only 26, he could not have been qualified for long. Bob found himself in conversation with a trio of English people, from Aylesbury. They were on holiday in Tuscany and one of them had a brother lying there, he was killed in 1945. We again signed the visitors book, read part of the epic of the war in Italy in the Register, and drove on.
A slow journey to Florence on the SS road. Lorries aplenty to hold us up, and little scope for overtaking, unless a born Italian. We plodded on, and spent our time with the view of some three tonner’s tailgate, until we realised that we had entered the City. Following the route to the centre, we did not see all that much, and as we had both visited Florence previously, the debate raged as to whether we spent the night there or not. Bob was reading the map, but not of Florence, but of the surrounds, and shouted out “This is where I want to go”. His finger was on Bourg San Lorenzo, in a valley amongst the surrounding mountains. How to get there was the next problem, B.San Lorenzo did not appear on the signs. We turned off, and drove and drove, not quite knowing where we were, at forks in the road there were some lucky guesses. We stopped several times, to ask the way or check the map. We passed the same cyclist about 4 times. Then we saw the sign. We were about to enter the mountain town where Bob had been based towards the end of his “War”. The town itself was very typically Tuscan Italian Mountain. In the centre we came across two of the local housewives, we stopped to ask them if they would suggest an Hotel. ”Not in this town” one said “Ronta is the place to stay, it has three Hotels on the main road”. By this stage John’s Italian was exhausted, and the lady’s English had dried up. “Follow me” she said, and drove us to the road to Ronta, the sign told us that it was 7 Km away.
We found it, amongst the Tuscan foothills. Surrounded by mountains and forests. We drove into the first hotel. Bob went in to enquire, he came out “It is the owner’s day off, so he said that it is closed every Monday”. We went to the second, Bob did not think it was all that good, so to the third we went. A good price for B&B, an evening meal was available from a set menu, the beer was cold, the wine was local, we checked in. We enjoyed one of the better dinners of the tour. There was a coach-load of Dutch tourists, John got talking to them, practicing his “Nederlands”. They soon (from his accent), established that he was South African. “Do you know Sarie Marias?” one asked. “Yes” John replied. All joined in singing this old South African favourite folk song. Into dinner we went. Then to bed in a huge room with a forest view.
From one of the better dinners (John choose a pasta, a course of tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, Bob had two helpings of Minestrone) to the worst breakfast of them all. A roll, a croissant, jam, and coffee from a machine. A leisurely start, we then wound our way through the mountains until we found the autostrada to Florence. Easy driving, well signposted, we then took the joining motorway to Pisa, and turned off onto the Motorway to Viareggio, where John and Jenny had holidayed in 2003. We pulled into a park on the beachfront promenade at about 11h00. Found a beach bar that John knew, cappuccino. John then walked across to the President Hotel, “four stars”, the concierge recognised him, and John negotiated an “Old Customer’s” price. Bob decided on doing some shopping, and we looked into a Murano glass shop, and emerged with the inevitable parcels, well wrapped.
Our last day of the visit. The Mediterranean sun shone down, we took life easy, a pleasure not having to drive any further than Pisa, less than 30 Km away. We wandered along the promenade, drank coffee in a beach bar. Viareggio was at the end of the summer season and winding down for the Autumn / Winter recess, only a few late holiday makers were on the beach. A great difference to the summer crowds, only a scattering of beach-umbrellas, and no waiting for tables at the bars.
We took our midmorning farewell, and headed for the airport. Our mission to Bob’s World War two memories and nostalgia complete.
Roz Boughton “Triumph at the Horse of the Year Show”
In October 1962 an Ashendon bred horse won the Working Hunter of the Year at the Horse of the Year show at Wembley. ‘Makeway’ was bred by his owner Roz Boughton from a pony costing £25! Roz hunted him regularly with the Bicester Hunt and following his success at the Horse of the Year Show, Makeway went on to compete successfully as a Grade A showjumper. The Bucks Herald reported the Wembley triumph.
Some of these pages contain images that are scans of the original newspaper articles. Some of the images are quite large and may take a couple of minutes to download on a slow connection. Please be patient.
ASHENDON CHURCH - INTERESTING ARCHITECTURAL DISCOVERIES
Ashendon Church, the subject of interesting correspondence in recent issues of the Bucks Herald, was reopened for public worship on Tuesday, the Bishop of Buckingham officiating. Through the unexpected disclosure of architectural features of considerable importance, the church has aroused the interest of experts and increased the affection of the parishioners for an historic fabric that once served as landmark to Saxons and Danes, and the construction of which dates back to at least the 12th Century - possibly earlier.
For generations the walls of the interior had been plastered. This required re-washing, but when an attempt was made recently to do this the plaster began to crumble, and it was decided to strip the walls. For some years the presence of a door in the north wall had been suspected, and the removal of the plaster disclosed it. But none suspected that a few yards away, on the same wall, was embedded in the plaster a solidly constructed “squint” and doorway which at some time possibly gave access to a place where the sacrament was reserved. That a north transept existed is adduced by the fact that a buttress still stands supporting the north wall. Above the “squint” was also discovered an entrance to the rood loft. The chancel roof has been cleared of much lath and plaster, and the oak beams oiled and polished. In the course of this work an attempt at an inscription was discovered, three figures, 166, being clearly discernable, but the fourth, which would have given the year, is indistinct.
The west end has also been cleared of lath and plaster partitions, disclosing walls that have never been seen within living memory. A new door has been erected, and the round Saxon font placed in a new position after being for years partly embedded in a plaster covered pillar in the centre of the church.
Whatever architectural and historic merits may have been claimed for the retention of the covering which has been removed, the consensus of the opinion in the village of Ashendon favours the appearance of the church as it is today. The restoration and renovation work has been well carried out by Mr. W. Figg, of Waddesdon, under the direction of Mr. C. O. Skilbeck, of Bledlow, who was called in as an architectural adviser and expert.
The Dedication of Gifts - A crowded congregation attended the re-opening of the service, at which Rev. A. F. G. Fletcher, Vicar of Ashendon, officiated, assisted by Rev. T. Appleton, Rector of Ludgershall and formerly Vicar of Ashendon and Rev. Dr. Elwell, Vicar of Long Crendon. Ex-servicemen attended, having paraded under the direction of Mr. R. While. The 1st Ashendon Company of Girl Guides were also present in charge of Miss Clemow, and the Brownies were in charge of Miss Michell. After Evensong, prayers of thanksgiving and of dedication were said by the Bishop of Buckingham, who, in addition to the restoration of the church, had in mind gifts of a cross and candlesticks which stood upon the altar, all of which were “in memoriam”. The cross was the gift of Mr. F. Murrell-Wright of Port Said (who has shown considerable interest in the village church) and is inscribed thus on the base: “To the Glory of God, in memory of H. W. M-W, August 17th 1923”. The candlesticks are the gifts of Mrs. Roads of Ashendon. In the course of an address the Bishop said that they must indeed be described as one of thanksgiving for those who lived in Ashendon and its immediate locality, because God had put it into the hearts of many to do their utmost to restore and renovate His House, which stood in their midst always speaking to them of His existence.
“Carry your thoughts back” the Bishop added. “Ashendon took its part in the old Saxon days in those great struggles which existed in this part of the country. It took its part in thos days when this part of the country was subject also to attacks from the Danes, and history has it that King Ethelred was a martyr in the immediate vicinity of the parish of Ashendon. History has it now that there was a Bishop of Dorchester who was present at a great battle near this spot, and that he gave his life.”
That wonderful church was served by the Abbey of Notley. As they looked at it today, changed to a certain extent, it nevertheless brought home to them that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and how God in His mercy made provision for His children all down the ages - a house in their midst to which every parishioner had the right to go, a trusting place between God and the soul. Let not that day pass out of their lives, the Bishop concluded, without it leaving a real impression which would show itself. Let them go forth determined that the dear old church should continue and God’s guidance to be the same living witness, speaking to them of their future towards God and man, and might the up-growing generation find that their betters were setting them such an example that the old traditions of Ashendon might be handed on and that God’s kingdom might be enlarged and His honour and glory testified to by the way in which they tried to live and work as the children of God. As the service closed a collection was taken for the restoration fund. This realised £14 towards approximately £100 - which is still required.
War memorial unveiled - Subsequently Major H. L. Aubrey-Fletcher, D.S.O. M.V.O. unveiled the village War Memorial, a granite cross which has been erected on an elevation near the entrance to the churchyard. It bears the following inscription: “1914-1918 In affectionate and grateful memory of parishioners who fell in the Great War. Albert Lay, O.B.J.I. Dec 12 1915 aged 20 years, Walter Ewers O.B.L.I Aug 28 1918 aged 21 years. Also in honour of all those who did their dutyr from this parish”.
The simple impressive ceremony was conducted in the presence of a large congregation, including relatives of the deceased, and a parade of ex-servicemen, all of whom wore their service medals. Having removed the large Union Jack which draped the Memorial, and declared it unveiled “To the Glory of God and in memory of the men of Ashendon who gave their lives in the Great War” Major Aubrey Fletcher delivered an appropriate speech, in which he emphasised that the men who fought in the War left us an example of cheerfulness and friendship which was essentially characteristic of the English soldier. He suggested that as the people of Ashendon passed by and saw that Memorial they would not only think of sadness, that men had died, but of the characteristics of cheerfulness and friendliness which they and all who served had shown, and would resolve to follow their example.
As a finale to the proceedings buglers from Aylesbury introduced by Mr. J. Prothero, sounded the “Last Post”, and wreaths were placed upon the Memorial, including a tribute of laurels and lilies “in affectionate and sincere memory of the parishioners of Ashendon and Pollicott”.
|TRIUMPH AT THE HORSE OF THE YEAR SHOW|
|A horse owned by Miss Rosamond Boughton of Ashendon Farm, Ashendon, this week captured one of the country’s top honours. On Tuesday ‘Makeway’ aged eight, was judged the Working Hunter of the Year at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley. It was ridden by Mrs. Delia Ecob of North Marston. ‘Makeway’ won the class for small working hunters at Badminton earlier this year.|
|WHERE SPADES WERE TRUMPS|
Mr. and Mrs. Basil Cook left the Red Lion at Ashendon last week where they have been licensees for the past 18 months, and received an unusual surprise gift from Ashendon Gatehangers.
Big Dig: Eight members of the organisation arrived at Mr. and Mrs. Cook’s home in Station Road, Quainton, and dug the garden in about half an hour. The “gift” showed their appreciation of Mr. and Mrs. Cook’s hospitality at the Ashendon public house.
History: Ashendon Gatehangers is an organisation formed many years ago when a gate was hung on the village allotments. Its aims are to help old people in the village and promote sports activities. There are about 30 members, all of whom live or have lived in the village.
|PARISHIONERS GIFT TO VICAR|
A cheque for £100 was presented to the Rev. John Dawson Greaves from his parishoners in Ashendon and Wotton Underwood last Thursday. It was their farewell gift. Mr. Greaves, who is Vicar of Ashendon and Wotton Underwood and is also responsible for Dorton, is retiring at the end of the month. He will take his last services locally next Sunday and then he and his wife will move from Wotton Underwood to Stony Stratford.
About 40 people from Ashendon and Wotton Underwood gathered at Ashendon Village Hall last Thursday to express their appreciation of Mr. Greaves’s ministry and to wish him well in his retirement.
Mr. T. J. Boughton, people’s warden at Ashendon, spoke hightly of Mr. Greaves as a true friend, in and out of church, who would be sadly missed.
Mr. Boughton expressed his sorrow that Mr. Greaves would have no successor in the immediate future. The Parochial Church Council has been told that for a trial period of about five years, the parishes will be cared for by the Rector of Ludgershall, the Rev. C. S. Jee. Mr. Boughton said parishioners must work together and press for a successor to be appointed eventually.
Church people were told that they should not be parocial in outlook, but he felt that if they were not they would lose the right to their own vicar.
The cheque was presented to Mr. Greaves on behalf of both parishes by Mrs. A. Kirby. Vicar’s warden at Wotton Underwood. Mrs. Greaves was presented with a hydrangea plant by Mrs. Boughton.
Mr. Greaves told the gathering he could not hold out much hope of a new vicar being appointed in the near future, but he promised to pray that the parishes would eventually have a vicar of their own once more.
Services would continue as usual for the time being, he said, but as Mr. Jee already had two parishes to care for there might have to be some changes in the future. The parocial church councillors would however, be consulted.
After the presentations refreshments were served by women members of Ashndon Parocail Church Council.
Mr. Greaves was ordained in 1958 in Oxford and was curate at Thame before becoming Vicar of Ashendon and Wotton Underwood 13 years ago. Born in Yorkshire, he was, for many years, a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force. He had travelled extensively and has lived in Canada and India. His wife was brought up in Long Crendon, where her father was vicar. The couple have a son and a daughter, both married, and two grand-children. When Mr. Greaves first became Vicar of Ashendon the parish church there was sadly in need of repair, the windows and fabric being in a poor condition. During the past 13 years about £1,000 has been raided with the help of generous grants and the restoration work is now almost complete.
In his retirement, Mr. Greave plans to devote more time to his hobby of mechanical engineering - he is working on a model car at the moment.
In the foreground of the picture are Mrs. Kirby (left) and the Rev. and Mrs. Greaves.
|ALL READY TO DRINKA PINTA|
When milkman Leslie Jones retired willagers of Ashendon and Westcott turned out to show their appreciation for the three million pints of milk he had delivered in the past 18 years without missing a day.
The villagers of Westcott presented Mr. Jones with a silver tankard, a lighter and money and the people of Ashendon presented him with a watch.
The presentation at Ashendon was very much a village affair. As Mr. Jones delivered in the village on the morning of the presentation he didn’t see a soul, which was unusual.
And Mr. Jones didn’t spot the code signs which were being exchanged to indicate where in the village he was. He popped into his local, the Red Lion, as usual, but when he returned to his van in the car park, he found the whole village waiting for him.
Mr. Jones, aged 65, lives with his wife Millicent at 3 Council Houses, Ashendon. He was born in Wotton Underwood and moved to Ashendon in 1954. After working as a milkman for someone else for eight years he bought the round. He has never taken a holiday during those 18 years and the only day he has had off has been Christmas Day.
He particularly recalls the winter of 1962 when he couldn’t get his van up the hills because of the snow. They had to deliver it on a sledge. A keen gardener, Mr. Jones now intends to devote much of his time to this hobby. But he is sure he will not be able to break the habit of being up and about by six each morning.