|Transcript Title||Anthony, Alex W (O2000.20)|
|Transcriber by||Alex Anthony|
NOTE: This is one of a number of self-recorded personal history transcripts. It is typed directly by the individual and, since it was not conducted by interview, is in a different format to that normally adopted by HOHG
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O2000.20
Interviewee: Alex Anthony
FAIR PLAY AND HUMOUR IN THE GENES?
My father had a great sense of humour and I often wondered where he got it from. He was quite handsome and convincing actor on occasions. Some of it must have come from my grandfather, John Anthony, his father.
John Alexander Anthony was a blacksmith and had his forge in Buntingford down by the River Bunt near the Tannery and behind the "Jolly Sailors" public house. His sense of humour was Victorian and somewhat different from to-day's ideas of fun.
One of his pranks was to throw pennies and half-pennies to children as they returned home from school which was nearby. Before throwing them he heated them up on a shovel over his forge and was highly amused when the children picked up the coins and rapidly dropped them. He then recovered them for another day.
This prank was limited in its use as the children where sharper than he was and came equipped with woollen gloves hidden in their pockets. On their second visit, "Throw us a penny, our John," they chanted and he rose to the bait. "Wait a minute," he replied, "Whilst I finish this shoe," and he placed some coins on his nearby shovel. When he thought that they were warm enough he threw them to the children who promptly put on their woollen gloves, picked up the coins and ran.
He laughed when he told this story. "Those crafty children cost me sixpence today," he said. "I can usually pick up half of what I throw them, my hands are quite hard. and used to heat."
On another occasion, at Christmas, which was usually a gathering.of most of the family, we all sat round a log fire eating chestnuts. This took place after our Christmas Tea and at the age of three I decided I didn't like the noise of the exploding chestnuts. My Aunt Edith discovered that by pricking the shells the steam escaped and they didn't explode and she had spent quite a long time piercing them so that they wouldn't frighten me. Aunt Louisa who was not a real aunt but Edith's best friend was with me. She had a small private school and taught music.
Her contribution was to read a Ghost Story round the fire and she was good at it.
One of my prized Christmas presents was a huge'balloon, which I had with me.
Louisa had reached the point in the story where a ghostly face appeared at the window when there was an enormous bang. The aunts screamed, I cried and my grandfather fell about laughing. He had slowly moved his cigar onto my balloon. I was upset, annoyed and even at that young age, thought that it was a mean trick. I loved that balloon. So I made a big fuss and was petted and spoilt and grandfather got a piece of Aunt Edith's tongue. I think he gave me sixpence, which in no way compensated me for the loss of my balloon.
After my grandfather's death, two years later, my father and his younger brother provided the fun. Their humour was much lighter and I was, of course older and able to appreciate some of their jokes.
Christmas was still a family affair and we all gathered on Christmas Eve and stayed until Boxing Day.
My two Aunts Edith and Louisa had acquired a group of cottages, built in an L-shape around a cobbled courtyard. There was a small garden at the rear and a vegetable plot and small orchard further on. Near the orchard were what once used to be a stable and a smallcoach house and opposite some wooden sheds one of which had been converted into a greenhouse by adding glass to one wall which faced south. The cottages had been converted into a large house by making connecting doors and the stairs were Y-shaped going left and right onto a short corridor and two bedrooms at each side of these stairs.
My cousin Beryl and I were regular visitors so we were taught to play the piano by Aunt Louisa wbo was an L.R.A.M. One of the cottages had been made into a school room, by knocking out the bedroom floor and dividing walls and was in fact simply a large box with windows at the top and bottom and was heated by a round stove whose chimney seemed to go on forever to reach the roof.
Here Louisa had her private school and music room and on Saturdays it was hired out to the Town Silver Band for practice.
With all this accommodation we were able to sleep about twelve people at Christmas and the school room was converted into a Banquet Hall. I think everyone must have helped with the catering. I know my mother did.
It was all great fun, noisy, lots of chattering and a chance to meet some of my cousins, who were then children.
A typical Victorian/Edwardian Christmas. We had games, charades, stories, competitions and music by anyone who could play or sing. I can remember one of the Uncles reciting Stanley Holloway's "Our Albert and the stick with the horse's head handle" - "Albert and the Lion" I think was the title.
As I grew older I was given the job of decorating the whole house and given carte blanc to buy as much crepe paper as necessary. I remember converting the house into a rose garden with brown paper lattice on the ceilings and twigs with paper flowers attached hung among the green paper leaves. Louisa loved it. She was a true romantic.
Having consumed our Christmas Tea, we were 'surprised to hear a knocking on the street door. Edith went hurrying back. There were two tramps at the door asking for some hot water to brew some tea in their "Billy Can". "I've sent them round to the back. Do you think that we could spare a piece of ham and some bread and a few mince pies and a piece of cake?" she asked. Louisa, who was chief organiser, said "Of course, ask them in."
There was a knock at the back door. Two filthy looking tramps stood there holding out an enamel can. "Just a drop of hot water," said one of them. "With perhaps a little "makings" (slang for tea) and a drop of milk and sugar." The other one chimed in. "An 'as it's Christmas a splash (whiskey) would keep the cold out!" Louisa became flustered. ''We don't keep much in the way of spirits here," she said. "Well," said the smaller one "A drop of Gin would do the trick, an' I know Ladies likes their Gin." He grinned a toothless grin. "So you must have some." Louisa blushed and became even more flustered. "Well you'd better come in - now sit there on those wooden chairs and I'll see what I can do," she said.
They sat with their heads bowed and I saw that one was shivering, or was it a supressed laugh? Edith appeared with the food. ''Here you are," she said. "And don't make a habit of it by calling next week!" She was not uncharitable by nature but I could see that she thought she had been taken for a ride. "I know you don't I?" she exclaimed. "You came round last month with a woman." "Not me mam," replied the taller tramp. "Don't hold with 'em." Suddenly she gave a little yelp. "It's Alex," she squeaked, "and Fred. You fools!" Louisa gasped and blushed, no doubt she didn't like being accused of being a gin drinker. And then everyone laughed.
The two brothers had not been noticed in such a crowd and had retired to the sheds at the bottom of the garden where they had "blacked-up" with coal dust. Alex had removed his dentures and Fred had found them some old gardening clothes and a Trilby hat. They both looked and acted the part right down to the convincing "Billy Can" which they had found amongst the junk.
As boys Alex and Fred had been known pranksters. There was a pig next door, kept at the bottom of the garden behind a wooden fence in a rough sty. Fred climbed the fence and manoeuvred the pig against the fence, tail towards it. Alex and Fred then managed to get its tail through a knot hole in the fence and then tied a knot in its tail so that it couldn't get away. There was much squealing, the boys fled as the pig pulled half the fence down.
Aunt Lizzie lived next door and was in her 80's, when I knew her. She had been a seamstress to the Lady in the Big House and was plump, round, very refined and quiet and would do anything for children. She, when younger, still lived next door before Edith and Louisa bought the cottages so had moved with them to help organise and cook a little.
When my father and his brother were teenagers and they lived in the terraced cottages in the High Street they were always going into her to have minor or major repairs done to their clothes. She always had a spare pair of trousers and had been known to run up a pair in an afternoon whilst the culprit remained out of sight until the new pair replaced the torn pair.
Unbeknown to her they borrowed her black cotton late one night and tied all the door knockers, to and fro' from house to house and across the street. They then banged the first door knocker and ran when the owner came out. The result was remarkable. The first door opening had a "Domino" effect on all the other doors and soon most of the residents were in the street asking each other what they wanted. The boys had crept into their beds and were fast asleep (?) before the rumpus exploded.
Talking of explosions reminds me of a story my father told me. They had been learning about Guy Fawkes at school and the "Gunpowder Plot". Somehow they had managed to get the formula for gunpowder and had decided to experiment. Having, hopefully, made the right mix they decided to try it out. Drilling a large hole in a log they stuffed it with the powder, capped it with a wooden plug and placed a fuse of saltpetre and paper in the small hole drilled in the plug. They lit the touch paper and retired rapidly. It worked. There was an almighty bang. People came out of their houses. "It's a bomb" said someone. "The Trotskies are here". The Police (both of them) were called to enquire and eventually the culprits were found. A visit by Police and lecture on the dangers of gunpowder were sufficient to deter the boys from further experiments.
I will admit to doing a similar experiment when I was a teenager and produced Chlorine Gas in a test tube in our cellar. I had a bad chest for weeks and my mother never knew it was not Bronchitis but a whiff of the lethal gas that made me ill.
Quite often on a Saturday, the aunts and other members of the family would come into the County Town of Hertford from the village and outlying small towns for a shopping spree. They would all descend on my mother to rest their tired feet and have a cup of tea, before returning on the evening bus.
The 'cup of tea' turned into a full tea and my mother spent most of the mornings cooking sponges, scones and making sandwiches ready for the onslaught. The usual spread was laid on. Aunts, cousins, and an odd uncle who was a Scout Master turned up. He was tall, athletic and quite young in comparison to the others and always hungry.
.We sat down and soon most of the sandwiches were consumed and it was time to try the cakes.
My father offered the last sandwich to Aunt Edith, "Do have the last cress sandwich," he suggested. "It won't keep and it's a shame to. give it to the birds." She took it and ate it and I watched my father. He was waiting for something to happen but it didn't. "What's in the sandwich?" I whispered. "Paper shavings and salt," he replied. "And she's eaten the lot!" He offered an iced bun to Uncle Edger - the Scout Master. 'Try one of these Edgar," he said. "They look nice," replied Edgar. "I will". He reached out and took the bun, as he grasped it - it squeaked. He jumped and flung it across the room. That prank had succeeded.
My maternal grandfather William Totman1 was a story teller and being a Gamekeeper/Farmer had many exciting stories to tell. He was also a good singer and could recite and sing ballads. Most of his stories had a moral to them and I remember going to see him just after I was married and presenting him with our wedding bouquet as he lay ill in bed.
He told us this story. "Marcia and Henry had just finished mending their thatched roof. To keep the weather out they had placed a tarpaulin over the damaged part and roped it on. "Marcia" said Henry "will you help me get this rope off?” "Sure I will" she replied and she tugged and tugged but couldn't move it. "Come you round my side and pull," said Henry. "You're pulling against me."
Now marriage is like that, to be happy you must both pull together.
His remedy for a bout of 'flu was to go to bed with a warm brick wrapped in a sock, take half a bottle of Whiskey and a bowler hat with you. Place the hat at the foot of the bed on the bedpost, pour some Whiskey into a glass with a little warm water, drink this and repeat until there are two bowler hats at the foot of the bed. In the morning you may have a headache but no 'flu.
As a Gamekeeper he was always alert to poachers but the Fox family were a constant problem to him. This large family with many children were poor but like their namesake were wily and crafty to the extreme. He knew that they were poaching his game but whenever he caught one and took him to Court he had an unshakeable alibi. The reason became obvious when he discovered that two of the brothers were identical twins. He devised a cunning plan and visited the family in their home. "Look," he said "You can have as many rabbits as you can catch, but pheasants only four during the Season. Any more and I will see to it that only one of you twins is able to poach." He had a great love of children and could sympathise at the hardship of rearing a large family.
He was on easy terms with most of the "Landed Gentry" in the locality, knew the Police and some of the Judges and was once asked to join Scotland Yard. One of his daughters, Irene, served as a Policewoman for a time and the family was respected for their straight-forwardness and honesty.
He bred and used Springer Spaniels and was once asked to "board" a black Labrador dog belonging to Admiral Beaty. He took the dog in. It was a nuisance and had not been trained. One day it got among the pheasants, and caused havoc, killing some. Without another thought he took it out to a field and shot it and buried it. "What will the Admiral say?" questioned his wife. "We'll wait and see" replied grandfather. In due course the Admiral returned from sea and came to collect his dog. "I'm sorry to tell you Admiral that your dog was a nuisance and untrainable. It caused havoc with my birds and I have shot it." "Damn it man you've done what!" roared the Admiral. "Shot it!" replied my grandfather. "Hmm" replied the Admiral. "You know what I would have done with a rating like that who ran amok?" "What?" asked William. "Strung him from the Yard Arm, you can't house a wrong 'an and you did right."
They remained great friends and I believe the Admiral bought a dog from grandfather, this time a trained one.
THE EASTER EGG
One Easter, when I was two, I was taken to visit my grandparents at Patchendon Farm near
Stapleford, Hertfordshire, where I was born. I can remember being given an Easter Egg. It was silver in colour but when I picked it up a piece of the silver paper fell off with a little help. Underneath it was brown and shiny. The shiny brown stuff smelt nice so I took the egg from the table, ran down the garden to the vegetable patch where there were some fruit bushes, and hid. I ate the egg. It was wonderful, something delicious that I had never experienced before, but to my horror I was found out.
My wily mother had seen me toddle off and wondered why and where, so followed me.I howled
because I had been found out. This was my first, but by no means last, brush with sin. To my surprise nobody did anything! Mother returned to the house leaving me where I was -
puzzled. Soon my father returned with her and I did not know what to expect.
He took a photograph and they both laughed which made me feel worse, especially as I was given a thorough wash.
This is a snap of this disastrous event.
It was June, it was hot and I was hot and I was three and a half. Hot, and with a sore throat. I lay in the big front bedroom overlooking the gravel road and the orchard at the front of our houses. The big bedroom was hardly ever used and then only by visitors. Why was I here? I didn't know or really care. My mother kept coming in to look at me and tried to give me drinks of milk or lemonade but I didn't want any because it was hard for me to swallow.
I slept and then woke in the afternoon to see a cheerful red face of a man I didn't know peering down on me. "Now what's all this?" said the red face. "You are hot." I said nothing. “Open your mouth," he said as be placed the handle of a spoon on my tongue. ''No, it's not an aspirin stuck in his throat," said Dr Williams2. "I'm afraid it's Diphtheria, knew it as soon as I came in the door - could smell it - always can!"
I saw my father standing behind my mother which was strange as he was usually at work in the afternoon. A look of horror crossed their faces and I felt afraid. "Six weeks isolation3 and you'll have to have the house fumigated4. I'll report it." An ambulance arrived, a big white box with doors at the back and a bell. Neighbours stood around at a distance and silently watched as we bumped down the road. I remember clutching my teddy bear hard as we travelled.
At last I was taken out of the ambulance into a long high room with beds all down the sides and high windows above the beds. The room was full of children of all ages, boys and girls and I though that Imight find someone here to play with. I felt tired and I remember someone washing me with very cold water, probably because I was hot. There were lots of young nurses (younger than my mother anyway.) Some were quite pretty and kept coming and going with little sticks which they put in our mouths after giving them a good shake. They were always washing us in a bed which I didn't much like.
One night I had a horrible dream. Wolves were chasing me and I couldn't run fast enough - they kept getting nearer and nearer and I woke up hot and wet. Holding my hand was a pretty nurse who smiled and said, "It's all right, only a bad dream." I heard someone say, "It's the crisis, get him over this and he'll be alright, those thin ones are usually very Wiry,” and I wondered where my wire was. I woke next morning, it was bright and I was very, very hungry. Next to me was an empty bed where a little boy called "Tommy" had been the day before.
After a few days and many washes I was allowed to sit on a woolly mat and play with some toys,
teddy came with me. He had been a good pal and hadn't left my side since I left home. Strangely I didn't miss my parents. I suppose that there was too much going on and it was sometimes noisy when the other children were getting better. I quite enjoyed myself.
One afternoon I was told that I could stand on my bed on a pillow and look out of the tall window, an unheard of activity. Outside was my mother and father and I was quite surprised to see tears running down my mother's face. She looked white. There was only one thing that bothered me at the time. I wanted to pee, badly and didn't like to ask as I knew that my parents had come to see me. I couldn't hold on any longer. I wet myself and howled and howled at the disgrace of it. I don't think my mother ever understood why I was so tearful, I'm sure it didn't improve her feelings that afternoon.
On a rainy afternoon, one of the little girls, a red head, decided that she would clean everyone's teeth. I wasn't very keen, but anyway she was older and bigger than me, she was four and a half', so I surrendered. She re-infected the whole ward and I had to stay in hospital for another six weeks. I was not ill this time and quite enjoyed myself. When I finally got home I was given a brand new teddy with a blue bow. He was yellow and furry and nothing like my old teddy, who was grubby and had a bald stomach. His eyes were glass unlike my old bear who had black woollen darned eyes which made him look blind but I loved him. I never saw him after I left hospital. Years later I discovered that the hospital burnt all toys that could not be sterilised.
The disease was thought to have arrived via the Barracks as soldiers there had recently returned from the Middle East, but this was never proved.
My father was happy at his work with the Builders' Ironmongers [Botsford's] in Hertford though poorly paid. He became buyer and Manager for the firm and his job brought him into contact with some famous people, film stars, Judges and criminals as he was in the centre of the County town. Here he met Jack Hulbert and his brother Claude both film stars (and about as wet as they appeared on the screen he mused), Cecily Courtnedge, their sister famous on stage and films. Tom Walls and Will Hay - all as famous as today's pop stars. Elstree Studies were not far away and I believe that my father once demonstrated a lawn mower to Bemard Shaw and his gardener.
On many occasions he had to attend the Courts on identity parades. He once asked me, "Where was I yesterday evening?" "I don't know," I replied. "You'd be no good as an alibi, son," he said. "I was here having a cup of tea. with you and that is the sort of question they ask in Court." He told us how the Judge had arrived in a Rolls Royce, dressed in scarlet robes with a wig on, preceded by Heralds with trumpets. I once saw this procession and was immensely impressed.
He had a fund of amazing tales to tell of happenings at work. One I well remember. A young man brought a watch into the Ironmonger's shop. "I say," he said "don't suppose you could get this thing started, can you?" "Well sir, I'll try," replied my father and took the watch into a back room. Here he set up a flat iron on the bench out of sight of the young man, and banged this with a large hammer (the iron not the watch).
The horrified young man shouted, "Stop it". My father retumed with the watch intact. "I think that you should take this watch to a watchmaker, it is overwound," he said. The white-faced youth tumed to go. "That will be 6d," said my father. "But you haven't done anything," he said. "Oh but I have!" said father. "I've told you what is wrong with it and where and how to get it repaired." He received his 6d.
Money got scarcer as the Depression continued and one day I found my mother crying in the scullery. She was trying to cook by juggling two saucepans over a small gas ring. She wouldn't tell me what the trouble was but next evening when I was in bed I heard her discussing "H.P." with my father. It seemed that this was something that the Gas Company had just introduced called "Hire Purchase". My father said that it was a means to get into debt. My mother said that it was a means of getting a gas oven by adding 2' 6d5 to the monthly gas bill for five years. "Five years is a long time," he replied. "Well we can pay it off with extra payments when we can afford it," my mother suggested. And so we had our Gas Cooker and I can still remember the radiant smile on my mother's face as it was delivered.
She scraped and saved, made teddy bears which sold on the W.I. stall in the market and paid it off in three years. Father spent his weekends making chicken coops and water troughs for my uncle who was just starting up a chicken farm and managed to thus supplement his wages for a while.
Nobody could afford a holiday away but one day my Uncle David arrived. He was a handsome man and liked the ladies and was always assured of a good meal when he visited us as my mother was an excellent cook (now that she had her gas cooker). He had a haulage business at Bishop's Stortford and was full of ideas which were not always practical but he knew what he wanted and often came to my father when he wanted something made. His idea was well ahead of its time, in fact he invented one of the first container transports (in 1933). The flatbacked lorry which he used to carry coal, coke, seeds and bricks he wanted to convert into a removal van by building a large box with doors and bolting it onto the lorry's back.
My father could see sense in this but asked, "How are you going to get it on and off your lorry?" "By means of a gantry and pulley," he replied. "I shall back the lorry under the box after it has been raised by the pulley." The "gantry" was an inverted steel girder U set in concrete with a hand operated pulley in the centre at the top. It was a slow job hoisting it because of the low geared pulley system, but it worked and my uncle was now able to expand his one man business into removals of furniture.
My father could also see other possibilities with this new contraption. The previous summer we had been able to afford to hire a small caravan for two at Holland-on-Sea6 on the seafront near Hazlemere Road on the proceeds from the chicken coops and troughs. Father had made a tent also so that he or I could sleep outside. This was made of striped bed ticking which he had painted duck-egg green with surplus paint from the Builders' Yard. He must have put on half a dozen coats and it was waterproof but so stiff that it almost stood up on its own without guy ropes. It smelt like a paint factory and as I suffered from Asthma, I was not allowed to sleep in it.
Uncle David visited us at Holland and slept in the tent with my father who threatened him with the danger of explosion if he lit a cigarette in or near the tent. One night we had a violent storm. The caravan rocked and there were screams in the night. When dawn came most of the tents were flat, except ours. The caravan still stood and my father had a wonderful time helping all the young ladies to re-erect their tents. Most were still in their nighties and my mother brewed tea for them whilst keeping an eye on my father. Uncle David was also in his glory but didn't do much tent erection. He did enjoy the short holiday by the sea though.
Later that year my father had a bright idea and approached Uncle David with it. "You enjoyed those few days holiday at Holland-on-Sea didn't you?" he asked. "Yes indeed, I did" replied David. "Well," said father. "How about a free holiday next summer," and he presented his plan. "Your removal box could be converted into mobile holiday quarters.” (Now called a mobile holiday home). "How" asked David.
"By cutting windows in the side with interior sliding shutters on the inside to protect the glass when using it as a removal van and with steel flaps on the outside to cover the windows with your name sign written on the reverse when covering the windows." "You could take the thing down to the coast and the whole family could rent it for their holidays during the summer and you could have a free holiday yourself with Ethel (his wife, my aunt)."
The idea was accepted. Two put-u-up settee beds were installed in the van and a tarpaulin tent attached to the side as a kitchen, washroom and extra bedroom. The whole contraption was moved down to Holland-on-Sea for the six week summer period and used by the family. I thought we looked like gypsies but it was a holiday that we could never had afforded otherwise, and there were few restrictions in the 30's.
In 1938 there was great activity in the area. Behind our houses was the Barracks. At the bottom of our narrow gardens was a high brick wall, about six feet high, but as the houses were built on a hill there was a drop into the Barracks of about ten feet. The living quarters were built around the Parade Ground but just beyond the wall was a narrow passage giving access to the rear of the living quarters. We could climb over our wall easily, and drop over to the other side by hanging by our fingertips. "Going over" was a great dare as getting back was more difficult but our activities in our passage, where we played Birdmen, had taught us how to "chimney climb".
This we could do between the end wall of the living quarters and our garden wall. Sometimes we encountered the children of the soldiers who always seemed to be rougher and tougher than us when it came to a fight, which also taught us to be pretty nimble at wall climbing back. If they followed we were able to repel the invaders by tapping their knuckles as they appeared at the top of the wall.
I could see into the Parade Ground from my bedroom, and one day noticed that an enormous hole was being dug right in the middle of the square. When completed this was lined with steel plates and curved low roof attached. I asked my dad what it was as he seemed to know all things. It's an auxiliary water tank in case of fire. If there's a war the mains may be blown up.
I went to School at the other side of the town and nearly always ran. It took me about twenty minutes - through the "Twitchel" which was a "lovers' lane", past the Junior and Infants Schools, through the Churchyard, past the Police Station and then I was almost there. I had to walk up the long drive to the School as it was a punishable offence to run or misbehave in front of the School [Hertford Grammar School]. I had once had "six of the best" for misbehaving (a rough and tumble defending the family name) and didn't want to risk another dose.
As I set off one day I was approached by a strange man, though I knew where he lived which was on the London Road next to Colonel Beurke, whose orchard we regularly scrumped. Rumour had it that he was a technician or chemist working at the Toothbrush Factory (Addis). We never saw him, or his family and he was German. "Boy," he said, which was an insult as I was almost thirteen, "What are they digging for in the Barracks?" ''I don't know" I replied as warning bells rang in my head and added "Maybe for coal." When I came home from School and we were all sitting down for tea, I told my dad. He didn't say much but after tea got his bike out and rode off. "Where's he gone mum?" I asked. "I think he's gone off to see Sergeant (Wilson?) at the Police Station,” she replied.
Of course I was curious but all she would say was, "Wait until your father comes home!" I couldn't contain myself but eventually he came home. I heard him tell my mother, "They're going up to question him tonight" he said. A week later I heard that Mr Kaufman had been interned. I wasn't quite sure what that meant but we never saw him again and I think I was instrumental in catching a spy.
A.R.P., O.T.C., A.T.C., C.D AND ALL THAT
I returned from my Aunts at Buntingford at the end of the summer holidays in 1939 to find everyone busy preparing for the War.
My father was busy organising the A.R.P. and had managed to make the house at the end of our road the H.Q. as there was a telephone installed - an essential Item. My mother was put in charge of communications - telephonist really - as she was the only woman Warden in the group and had to log all messages. She had been on a short course at County Hall to learn the methods and routine required to report "incidents".
I was made messenger as I had a bicycle but was not old enough to be an Air Raid Warden and was issued with a black steel helmet with "M" painted in white on the front and a cycle light on which "M" was cut out of a metal disc to replace the glass which gave a little light for nightwork. All vehicle lights were masked with slots to reduce light in the blackout. I also had a message pouch and a civil gas mask. As a messenger I had access to County Hall H.Q. and Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Services.
We had all been to First Aid lectures, my mother and father to Red Cross and I, to be different, to St. John Ambulance. On passing the exams, which were quite strict, we were allowed to display on our arms the appropriate badge made of fabric and were given a certificate. I always carried a First Aid Kit in my cycle bag. This was during the early "Phoney War" when nothing much happened. Sandbags were everywhere and we had exercises and mock Air Raids at weekends during which I often had to play the part of a casualty.
On other occasions I had to take reports to and from the Warden Post and H.Q. and the various Services to simulate a breakdown in telephone communications. At 15 I felt very important as once again I was doing a job. When the siren sounded a "Red Alert" we all had to meet at our Post and remain on duty until a "Green All Clear" was sounded. Sometimes we received a "Yellow Alert" which meant that enemy aircraft had been spotted but were not headed in our direction.
There were seven of us and a Duty Roster was made up. Two Wardens had to patrol the Sector every night on four hour shifts. My father delighted in taking one of our nervous Wardens round the churchyard on the midnight shift, but where they expected to find lights there I didn't know. It was very much like "Dad's Army" and we went round shouting "Put that light out". I had heard one of the Wardens call my dad "Little Hitler" after he had told him off for turning up late for duty.
We had been issued with whistles, police-type, handbells, (for gas warning) and football clappers (for mustard gas warning), several stirrup pumps and buckets and sand. The stirrup pumps were simply a hand operated type of cycle pump on a supporting stand and a hose with a variable nozzle to give a spray or jet. The hose was only three feet long, which meant that one would have to stand quite near to an incendiary bomb to put it out. We had practised on real bombs and they were quite hot and about the size of a milk bottle.
The bigger fear was poison gas and we all had to have a course on this, plus an exercise, which took us through a gas chamber full of real gas. We were dressed in oilskins, which were incredibly hot, and most of the Wardens were unenthusiastic about this exercise.
I was still at school and became a member of the O.T.C. (Officer's Training Corps). We were given uniforms, ex. 1914 - 1918 issue which were too large for us boys and with Puttees, which we had to wind round our legs. If not done properly we ended up looking like Norah Batty with wrinkled stockings. Lee Enfield rifles were issued which were very heavy. We looked ridiculous and felt so too. The only good thing that came out of this training was the instruction in Arms Drill and the experiences of Field Manoeuvres, which stood me in good stead when I joined up. Live ammunition was used and I wonder what would be said today if put into the hands of 15 year olds.
I wanted to join the RA.F. and fly and in order to improve my chances I joined the Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) where I learned a little of the navigation maths, the Morse Code, aircraft recognition and of course more drill on the Parade Ground. We were all given a uniform of air force blue with chromium plated buttons (unlike the R.A.F. brass buttons these never needed cleaning).
We went to camp at Hatfield to the De Haviland Air Field and were given some instruction on how to fly a biplane and promised a flight with an instructor.Dressed in a voluminous flying suit, leather helmet and goggles, I was then presented with a parachute, which was as large as an armchair cushion. This was attached to us by webbing straps which cut into the most tender parts of my body and shown where the "rip-cord" was which would open the "chute" and the release button for the harness. Situated over my navel and like an armchair cushion it hung below my bottom to be sat on. This was a most frightening experience and I felt more like a deep-sea diver than an airman. The instructor arrived and looking at me in my misery said "Don't wony lad, (sorry Aircraftsman), if the engine fails these Tiger Moths will simply glide home". (Thankfully it was dual-controlled). I didn't believe him.
To my horror I was told to get into the front seat nearer to the radial engine and the instructor nimbly got into the back seat. I could not imagine how he could see to take-off or land as I could barely see out of my cockpit. We bumped along the runway, the engine roared and I kept my sweaty palms off everything. The wind increased, the engine quietened down and I heard a voice behind me say "Aircraftsman, you can take over now". My heart thumped and in a squeaky voice I said "Yes, Sir". I looked over the side and saw the tiny houses and fields moving below me and above, a bright cloudless sky.
We turned to the left, "Port" and kept on going round in a circle. A voice bellowed behind me "Aircraftsman take your right foot off the rudder bar, we keep going round in bloody circles". I had not got my feet on the rudder bar at all so I suppose we were drifting as the wind took us. I said "Yes, Sir" and promptly clamped both feet on the rudder bar. We flew over my home town, Hertford, and I could recognise the Gas Works and the road where I lived near a square which was the Barrack Parade Ground. A voice bellowed in my ear, "Well, Aircraftsman, how do you like flying?" "Wonderful, Sir" I lied, but I can say that at that point in my life it was the biggest thrill I had ever had.
Bigger "thrills" were to come had I known! We landed quite smoothly, and I thanked the pilot who looked pleased. I was shivering with cold, I think and it took me a long time to get out of the flying kit.
As the War progressed things hotted up. The A.R.P. was re-named Civil Defence and became more organised. Bombs began to drop, followed by the quiet land mines on parachutes. These drifted silently down and caused enormous damage as they landed lightly and the blast covered a much wider area than bombs which were partly buried on impact and sent their blast up rather than sideways. I watched one of these mines float gently over the treetops of our orchard, lit by searchlights. The parachute was green and it landed about half a mile away, in Ware Road I think, destroying a large number of houses and their occupants.
We, the Civil Defence, were now seriously involved in getting people into Shelters and reporting damage. A restful night was a luxury and we slept half-clothed most nights. I now had my third uniform which was a dark blue battledress, steel helmet and service gas mask.
(Lottie) Communications (and Alex) "Little Hitler"
My mother and father's A.R.P. identity photos - note the A.R.P. badges
THE UNEXPLODED BOMBS
Things began to hot-up in October 1940. The German bombers were dumping their bombs as they overshot or avoided London and we were' receiving them.
An extract from my father's log -
Warden's Post B7/8 1940 - 1945 reads -
"20.10.40 Red Alert 19.13 hrs.
Colbourne, Anthony, Anthony, Childs, Hale, Penny, Hammond, Clipsham and Messenger Anthony on duty.
22.20 hrs. Unexploded bomb in Ash Street7
22.43 hrs. Reported panic in Rooks Alley Shelter
22.51 hrs. Ambulance sent for
23.27 hrs. Reported exploded H.E. bomb in garden of 33 London Road
02.22 hrs. All Clear
05.17 hrs. Bomb in Ash Street exploded. Damage to gas and water mains.
These Reports were concise, to the point and barely told the story.
This is what really happened at 7.13 p.m. on October 20th. Two Wardens Clipsham and Colbourne were on night patrol. My father, mother and I were sitting round our heavy circular mahogany pedestal table having supper - cheese, pickle, bread, butter and a cup of tea, not much of anything, as rations were meagre. The Air Raid Sirens sounded a Red Alert but we continued with our supper and would report for duty shortly. We had become used to raids.
Overhead we heard the drone of an aircraft and recognised the regular rhythm of a Dornier Bomber. Suddenly there was a "whoosh" followed by a loud bang and'then another louder "whoosh" and another not quite so loud "whoosh" but no more bangs. My heart was in my mouth and I thought "that one was for me." We discovered that we had all ducked under the large round table and were on all fours facing each other nose to nose.In spite of being frightened we could see the funny side and laughed.
We'd better get to the Post and start a search for unexploded bombs" said my father who was Senior Warden in charge of operations in the Sector. So we put on our helmets and kit and ran to the Warden's Post. Splitting up into pairs we each patrolled our allotted areas.
There were eight of us in four pairs. I went with my father and took my cycle so that I could report back or take messages from the patrolling Wardens. We arrived at Ash Street which was at the side of the Barracks and were greeted by an agitated fire watcher. "There's a hole down the end," he said. We went to explore and my father shone his torch onto a four foot crater in the middle of which projected, at an angle, what looked like a large cake tin attached to a cylinder. The cake tin had four fins inside it. "Unexploded Bomb, about 5001bs," said father who was about to gently tap the fm with his stick. "I don't think you should do that," I said. "Mm, maybe not," he replied, "but we'd better evacuate everyone. Report in and see if anyone has discovered the other silent bomb."
It was now 10 p.m. and we reported the U.X.B. Two of the other Wardens had reported panic at the Rooks Alley Shelter and I was sent off as a messenger to get a Report. I found a lot of people mulling about and an old lady gasping for breath. "She's having a heart attack," said someone. "No I'm not" said the old lady. "I've got a Goitre." I didn't know what a Goitre was so I gave her some Sal Volalite from my First Aid Kit to revive her, reported to the Wardens on duty, and retumed with a message to the Post. An ambulance was requested and the old lady duly taken to Hospital.
It was now about 10.51 p.m. and we continued to search for unexploded bombs. At 11 p.m. two Wardens reported an exploded bomb at No. 33, London Road. Little damage was done other than shattered windows and roof damage as it had landed at the bottom of a large back garden. The All Clear sounded at 2.22 p.m. and we all went home to get as much sleep as we could. We had still not found the other unexploded bomb but at 05.17 a.m.the bomb in Ash Street exploded and we had to turn out again to report damage.
There were no casualties as residents had been evacuated but there was considerable damage to the buildings and gas and water mains. What a good job we didn't tap that bomb. We returned home and slept until 7.30 a.m. and then continued with our daily work.
There were more raids every night from 7 p.m. until about 4 a.m. for the next week. Three nights after the bomb in Ash Street exploded we were woken at 7 a.m.by the Army. "We have had a report of an unexploded bomb in the orchard of Colonel Bourke and have found one just over the fence in front of this house, about 20 yards away. You will have to evacuate immediately and the Bomb Disposal Company will explode it in the next day or so."
Where were we to go? All our neighbours had found friends or relatives in the town and were hurrying off. We ended up at the Wardens Post. The Army arrived with sandbags and barriers and built up a wall of sandbags in front of the crater to deflect and protect the houses. I wondered if it would work.
At the time I was working for the Gas Company on the other side of the town as a weighbridge clerk. We were told that the bomb would be exploded at 1.40 on11 October 31st. I stood outside the Weighbridge Office and watched a plume of smoke rise as the bomb was exploded at precisely 1.40 p.m. "There goes my home" I thought. When we finally returned the ceilings were down, windows smashed and part of the roof off but we were all alive.
Very little appears in the ARP Log. I think that my father felt he had let people down by not discovering the unexploded bomb and we had all slept for three nights within 20 yards of it. It had dropped just over the gates which I had climbed so many times when scrumping in the Colonel's orchard as a boy.
On looking at a map of the town I could see that the first bomb which exploded in London Road and the third delayed action bomb which exploded later in Ash Street were in a line straddling the Barracks and our unexploded bomb was in the middle almost on top of the Barracks.
My grandfather William Totman was gamekeeper at Woodhall Park, owned, I believe, by the Abel Smiths. I attended the Abel Smith School in Hertford and was taught by a Colonel who I believe was an Abel Smith. I would like to know if this is correct. He had a great influence on my life.
Dr. Williams is the correct name – we were on his “Panel”.
The isolation hospital was at Gallows Hill. I'm not sure if the isolation period was six weeks or longer.
Fumigation was considered as a slight on the family as it was also used for fleas. "They had to have,their house Fumigated" was the cruel whisper that went from neighbour to neighbour.
2' 6d is the equivalent of 1/20 of a weekly wage then - what would it be worth today?
This was my first introduction to Holland-on-Sea and I never imagined that I would end up living within 100 yds of where we camped.
Ash Street was at the end of Baker Street where the Red Cross building is now (2019).