|Transcript Title||Wright, Ronald (O1997.6)|
|Interviewee||Ronald Wright (RW)|
|Interviewer||Jean Riddell (JR)|
|Transcriber by||Juliet Bending|
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O 1997.6
Interviewee: Ronald Wright (RW)
Date: 30 June 1997
Venue: No 1 Nightingale Court, Hertford
Interviewers: Jean Riddell (JR)
Transcriber: Juliet Bending
************** unclear recording
[discussion] untranscribed material
italics editor’s notes
JR: This is Monday 30 June 1997: Jean Riddell, and I'm at the home this afternoon of Len Green (LG), which is No 1 Nightingale Court, Hertford, and Len and I this afternoon have got with us Ronald Wright of 5 Mead Lane, Hertford, who's going to tell us about his boyhood during...and about being in Hertford during the War and his knowledge of the bombing during the War. Now you started off just now telling me a bit about your Dad, and he had a very important job...
RW: I did, that's right. Actually I was 11 years old, incidentally, when the War started, 1939. My father was in a reserved occupation, was not called up for the Forces, because working for the Gas Company at that time, it was necessary to know, when bombs did fall in the Hertford area, that they weren't near any gas mains et cetera, which of course could cause a great deal of destruction if the gas mains had gone up. This meant that we had privileged information as a family because we immediately knew before anybody else exactly where they'd fallen. The offices that these gas people used at the time were situated in a yard at the back of what was the Gas Showrooms, which are, or were, in Fore Street, Hertford. Their yard had an entrance in Railway Street, which is actually next door to what today is the Friends' Meeting House. This was a very very deep shelter, and...the...men congregated there and had to be on call 24 hours of the day; in fact, we saw very little of my father during the war years, because he was on call, as I say, all of the time, and sometimes we only saw him for a few minutes every two or three days -- he'd pop home to see how we were and then he'd have to be on duty again.
JR: Did you ever go down this shelter yourself?
RW: We did.
JR: What was it like down there?
RW: ...Well frankly I was -- it didn't worry me at all, I felt very safe because I knew there were...that there was about 20 feet of concrete above us. My mother was absolutely -- well, no, I'm sorry, I got that round the wrong way. I felt happier above ground. My mother felt confident to have all this 20 feet of concrete above her, but I had visions -- if the place ever received a direct hit...
JR: Yes [laughs].
RW: ...we would have all these tons of concrete coming down on top of us [laughs]. I was never very happy about it. But my mother being of a very nervous disposition always said to my father, 'Please, please will you take us down the shelter with you.' Now this was actually against the Gas Company regulations -- there should be no members of one's family down there, but my father being the boss made sure [laughs] that we were down there. But it reminds me of a very...humorous incident that happened one night when the sirens had gone and we were on our way to the shelter. Now as I mentioned a moment ago I was 11 years old. My sister was then a baby in the pram, about two years old, and as soon as the sirens went, my mother...father happened to be at home at that moment, and he said, 'Come along quickly, put the baby in the pram, off we go', and just before we set off, we heard a violent explosion which at first we thought was a bomb. A few moments later, there was another equally loud explosion and this rather puzzled us because we knew from experience, that when a stick of bombs is dropped they are either getting louder as they come towards you or they're getting quieter as they go away...
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: ... but what was puzzling us was that each explosion was as loud as the previous one, so after about six, I think, thunderous explosions we were terribly puzzled until we got to the bottom of the road, and Mead Lane where I live runs into Mill Road in which Hertford East Station is situated, and as we went past the station we suddenly noticed outside was a gun carrier, a sort of...I suppose they were called gun carriers, more like a tank really, but it had been towing a big artillary anti-aircraft gun behind it...
LG: Oh yes.
RW: ...which they'd unbuckled, and put outside the station, and of course this was the instrument that was causing all these [laughs] thunderous bangs.
RW: ...and I didn't, what I forgot to mention, which is rather funny too, every time these bangs had gone when we were in the house, although the back door was locked, it immediately [laughs] flew open although it was locked. This was the thing that was puzzling us. But it was, as I say, an anti-aircraft gun, which normally wouldn't be there, just passing through the town, which they'd happened to use. It was one of the things that did frighten people in Hertford at that time, although not everybody was aware of it -- that Hertford was in fact ringed by a whole circle of naval guns. They were situated all over the place -- I know there was a big one at Balls Park, I have a feeling there was one in Ware Park -- and the great worry was that when the Germans came over, rather than be caught with a planeload of bombs, of course they dropped them...
RW: ...and, which meant -- and this is another...fact that we were able to get hold of from my father -- that not many people realise that in the Hertford district, there were no less than 1,400 [one thousand four hundred] bombs in this area during the War, and people don't realise the number because Hertford situated as it is, with spokes of green fields and the environment coming into the town centre, most of the bombs luckily fell into these wedges of green land, of course...
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: ...rather than dropping on a condensed town centre. So Hertford was extremely lucky really. ...One other thing I remember too was that there were two main public shelters in Hertford: one was situated -- big public shelters -- one was situated in what was then the Bus Station, which today would be, I suppose, let me think, where those big modern flats are -- which today are...Birchley Green.
JR: Yes, that's right.
RW: There was a whole area, a big municipal...shelters under there, and there was another equally large area under what were the tennis courts in the Castle grounds. One other occasion...during the War that was a bit of excitement for me -- ...my mother couldn't understand it, because she said I had showed no fear at all during raids, I found them all rather exciting. In fact, I would go running out in the garden to see what the activity was, and usually got dragged indoors, because it was regarded, that if you couldn't get to a shelter, and we didn't have an Anderson shelter, the safest place was under the stairs of a house, and...I used to get quite annoyed at being dragged in, I wanted to see what was happening. And I know on one occasion I was shopping with my mother and sister in Woolworth's, and as we were coming out of Woolworth's into Maidenhead Street, there was a terrible din up in the air, and when we looked, there seemed to be something like 200 aircraft flying over the town, very high up, they were just like specks in the blue -- it was a lovely summer's day -- these little specks in the clouds. And everyone was saying, 'Oh, look at our Air Force, look at the RAF.' What we didn't realise was that they were Germans, of course...
RW: ...and...we didn't realise this until, a few minutes later, we suddenly saw other aircraft, which were fighters, diving in and out of them, and we heard the sounds of machine guns...
RW: ...and so of course all the people that had stood in the road watching in admiration then suddenly dashed for cover...
RW: ...and I was so fascinated by all this that when I did lower my head to look down to look for my mother, she was right at the end of the street, where Boots used to be, and where Hind's is today, the jeweller's, with...grabbing my sister by one hand, and dragging her, so she was always off her feet, in her hurry to get down to the public air-raid shelters on...at the Bus Station [laughs]. ...But...Hertford didn't usually have such large numbers of aircraft fly over, particularly in the day.
LG: That would be in the summer of...1940, wouldn't it.
RW: It would, very early in the year, that's quite right, Mr Green.
LG: It was...I remember, I remember that -- other planes going over, and hearing that the...
RW: You heard them too? Yes.
LG: ...you know, the machine guns...
RW: That's right, it was quite a common thing of course, wasn't it, for us in those days. But I know the most tragic night for the family was -- I think the month was September -- and that must have been 1940, I'm sure it was 1940 -- without looking at the newspaper clippings now, I'm pretty sure it was then -- when the land mine floated down over Hertford and I am told that in fact it was headed for the County Cinema which was packed with people that night, I believe the cinema held about 1,500 [fifteen hundred] people, and I've been told by an eye-witness that when it was about 10 to 15 feet above the cinema roof, a sudden gust of wind lifted the land mine so that it floated...further along Ware Road and then came down into gardens at the back of Tamworth Road, and in actual fact it fell in my grandmother's house. She had a...oh what's the word?...detached house in Tamworth Road, so that unfortunately when the land mine...again I'm told that it actually landed in a tree in Grandma's garden. But the weight of the thing caused the branch after a short time to break, so that it fell onto Grandma's lawn, and her house being, as I say, detached, it got the full blast from the land mine.
JR: So it was loaded when it went onto the lawn?
RW: Oh yes.
JR: Nothing happened when it was in the tree?
JR: I see.
RW: But no one could get to it or do anything, you see, before the thing fell.
LG: There were fins that...operate the explosion when it hit the ground...
JR: Right, yes.
RW: ...to trigger it off, that's right.
JR: Though hitting the tree wouldn't have been enough impact for it to go off...no, no.
RW: No, well I think it was actually, you see, the parachute got caught in the tree.
JR: Ah, right.
RW: The mine itself didn't hit the tree.
JR: Oh, they're on parachutes?
RW: Oh yes, they floated down on parachutes.
LG: The thing was, they...they won't have penetrated far, so they created the maximum damage by spread...
RW: That's right.
LG: ...of the explosion.
RW: Yes, I'm sorry, I should have mentioned earlier it was on a parachute, of course, which was the reason the gust of wind of course lifted it and blew it further along the road. Unfortunately there were four deaths as a result of this, two in our family. My grandfather died a week later, my young aunt who was just over her 21st birthday...also died within hours, and my grandma and three other aunts who were in the house at the time were all very seriously injured. The entire house collapsed and there was such havoc actually that when next day we went down in daylight to try and recover what might be left, the only things that we could pull from the wreckage that hadn't been destroyed were a small coffee table and one chair. And even these of course were terribly scratched. But everything else had been smashed to boxwood [matchwood/like matchboxes]. All the furniture, everything seemed to be covered in blood or dust.
JR: Oh dear.
RW: Glass was everywhere...the houses on either side of my grandma's house were both really totally destroyed, as my grandmother's house had been, and one occupant in the house on either side of Grandma's also died, so four people died altogether...with quite a few injuries as I say, really. Also, the neighbours next door had had an aviary in the garden. Mr Brett, I remember, lived next door, and it was Mrs Brett that had been killed, and he'd had a very large aviary with about 200 beautiful budgerigars, and it was so sad, because when I went down next day I managed to get some shoeboxes, I remember, and I was collecting these lovely little bodies, dozens and dozens of them, and they were strewn everywhere, all over the wreckage, these beautiful little birds. But I know, Grandma's lawn, not a single blade of grass remained on the...
RW: ...lawn. All the grass had been blown out of the ground, and the crater itself was deep enough to put a double-decker bus into.
RW: Oh yes, it was that deep.
JR: That's enormous, isn 't it.
RW: It is. It must have been 20 to 30 feet deep...
RW: ...an enormous depth of crater. And of course it was about 50 feet across, a huge crater, and what was so amazing was, many many weeks later, when much of the rubble had been cleared from above ground level, because we were looking for money, all sorts of things that had been in the house, of course -- jewellery and things like this. But it took us many weeks to sift through the rubble, even the dust with big wire sieves, and...when we did manage to get into the cellar, Grandma's cellar, what had been so amazing was that in those days of course everything was on rations, not just clothes but food, and my grandma had been saving eggs -- she had had hens, chickens -- and so she had been putting the chickens' eggs in what in those days we called water-glass...
RW: ...which was a form of paste. Now she had about 200 eggs down the cellar. The astonishing thing was, with all this havoc above ground, when we looked at the eggs, not one of them was cracked!
Jean/LG: Yes [laugh].
RW: Isn't that astonishing?
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: It really is, isn't it.
RW: But that, as I say, for our family was...was the most tragic incident.
LG: Was your grandmother badly injured?
RW: Very badly injured, and my...another daughter, my grandma's daughter, lived in Raynham Street, which is at the top of Tamworth Road, and she had managed, in the darkness, to claw her way out of the rubble, and she had crawled on her hands and knees to her daughter's house in Raynham Street, banged on the door, so that when the daughter came, of course, to open it, she found her mother...
RW: ...on the front door, but of course as I said earlier, my father always knew where these things had dropped, and...he had been at the Gas Company offices that night, but a neighbour had come round to us, my mother and myself and sister, to see and make sure we were all right, because it was such an enormous bang, we knew it had been very close, in fact it cracked all the ceilings of our house, although we're some distance from Tamworth Road. And this neighbour happened to say to my mother, 'I'm ... I think you're going to have some bad news later on.' He obviously had some idea of where it had dropped...
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: ...but didn't want to say anything to upset us. It was only when my father came home, really, in the early hours of the morning, to check on things, and make sure we were all right, that he told us his sister had been killed. He had pulled her out of the rubble, and...gone up to the hospital -- in fact she was so badly...mutilated that it wasn't until he went to Hertford County Hospital later, and was able by simply looking at the survivors in the ward he was able to deduce which was his sister -- her poor face, although she had been still living at the time he pulled her from the wreckage...was so mutilated he wasn't sure which of his sisters it was.
JR: Right. Oh I see.
RW: She died later on the way to hospital. So that, for us, as I say, was our...our personal tragedy.
JR: Yes. What about the other sisters who were injured? Are they...?
RW: Well, luckily they are all still living today.
JR: Oh yes.
RW: My grandfather died a week later from his injuries. My grandmother recovered, and she died -- oh about 10 or 15 years later. They all made good recoveries, I'm pleased to say. And of course the surviving sisters now are all into their 80s.
RW: They're three quite old ladies. There had been two sons, but luckily one of those was...in the Navy, and the other one happened to be in the County Cinema that night, so the two boys weren't at home, it was just the daughters.
JR: The girls, yes, yes.
RW: The other, of course, big...large amount of damage that was done in Hertford was done by a doodlebug on Mill Bridge...and I cannot remember, I don't know whether you can, Mr Green, whether that occurred during the day or during the night.
LG: It was a Sunday morning, I believe. I wasn't here, but I...I understand it was on a Sunday morning.
JR: It was about...it was something...either about 6 o'clock in the morning or about 8 o'clock.
RW: That's right. I think it was 8 o'clock.
JR: There are two different versions of this.
RW: Oh yes?
JR: But somebody reported, on the tape actually, it was Thora Blake, that she was in the early morning service at St Andrew's when it occurred. Now whether that was at 8 o'clock as it is now...
RW: Of course.
JR: ...whether it was earlier than that I don't know.
RW: No, but at least it pinpoints it to a Sunday morning, doesn't it...
Jean Yes, yes.
RW: ...which I couldn't remember, I couldn't remember the day, but I know I had a young cousin who worked in a...what was then a florist which was on Mill Bridge, so in one way it was lucky that it happened on a Sunday, otherwise she might have been in the shop. And of course I suppose the fact that it happened on a Sunday was the reason there were no casualties, which was a lucky thing too.
Len/JR: Yes, yes.
RW: But I understand that the doodlebug actually fell in the water, didn't it.
JR: Yes, I heard that too.
RW: ...and so of course that stopped the blast from being as severe as it might have been, but of course it did destroy our lovely cinema, the Castle Cinema -- and we did have three cinemas in Hertford in those days -- but of course that was damaged and was closed for quite a while, wasn't it.
LG: It was...yes...it was opened again, wasn't it, after the war?
RW: Yes, it was later on, but it was closed for a short time, and it destroyed the mill of course, that stood between the cinema and the river, and the brewery which was on the right-hand bank, and of course, the...a number of shops that were also on the bridge.
LG: I think the brewery of course wasn't working.
RW: No. I think it had been closed some time.
LG: That closed about...1936.
RW: That's right.
LG: But...there was still the little brewery tap, the pub. That suffered...
RW: That's quite right.
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: But it was thankful that...it hadn't been a weekday, or there would have been more deaths. And something of course that touches Mr Green was the bombing of Longmore School.
LG: That's right.
RW: [laughs] It's rather funny, because the...one of my neighbours next door but one who used to, like myself, be a pupil at the Longmore School, had said only the day before, because I think there was a particular lesson that...he wasn't looking forward to the next day...
RW: ...'I wish a bomb would drop on our school'...
RW: ...and lo and behold -- one day this prayer was answered [laughs], and he couldn't believe it, when after hearing the explosion he was told that it had fallen on the school, well not actually on the school of course, it fell in the playground between the...historic...
LG: Between the old Elizabethan building and the new...four-room block...
RW: ...which contained your class and the...
LG: ...and the science room...
RW: ...and the science room of course. ...It did mean of course we had a short holiday [laughs] until things could be put right and we...
LG: I was in the Army by then.
RW: You were, yes. So you missed that little bit of the excitement.
LG: Were you at Longmore School a year before this happened?
RW: I was, yes.
LG: That's right, so you hadn't just come to the school?
RW: No. I had been there, as you say quite rightly, about a year before that happened. Two other bombs I remember falling were -- and of course as there's nothing to show for them people forget these -- but there were two bombs that fell just by the side of...St Leonard's Church, the historic little St Leonard's Church.
JR: Oh yes?
RW: When I say by the side of the church, that's not quite right, because the church itself stands on the hill of course. But...down the slope, below the church, is the lovely old house which I think is Old Bengeo House, I believe it's called, which I imagine at one time must have been the old vicarage, I suppose, and today there is a field by the side of it in which I notice people keep horses -- one usually sees a couple of horses tethered there, and...on the other side of the field are two little cottages, one of them is a very picturesque thatched cottage. Well, these two bombs fell in this field, between the two cottages and Old Bengeo House. And this was early, I think on a Saturday morning, if I...my memory serves me correct, and again it's rather amusing because this same boy, George, George Brace, who had wished for a bomb to drop on the school had been in bed that morning...
RW: ...he was late, rather late getting up, and we knew that this plane was circling around, and the fear of people who lived in Mead Lane in those days was the fact that we lived very close to the gasworks. They're in Mead Lane...
JR: Yes, yes and the station too.
RW: Yes. We...in fact, our little group of houses -- there are 40 of them -- in Mead Lane, what today is called Marshgate Drive, but was then called Gashouse Lane and Spencer Street, they constitute an area of 40 houses. Now we were surrounded on one side by the station, as you've rightly said, on the other side, the other side of us we had the BP petroleum depot with its highly-flammable petroleum.
RW: There was also the North Met electricity plant, the source of all the electric power in the town area, ...the gasworks, ...there was a factory which had come down from...London, at least they were occupying what had been once the Columbia Records Factory, it was a firm called Glover Webb & Liversidge who had been bombed out of the Old Kent Road, had set up a factory in Hertford to produce 50 Army lorries a week. ...We had a big tar works, and a cement factory, not that the cement factory was much worry to us, but of course we were extremely worried by the petroleum, the gas and the tarmac, all highly flammable things. And so this morning, when this plane was circling over, it was so low, people were able to see the markings on the plane, and we realised it was a German plane. And all at once we knew by the noise it was making that it was diving, and apparently it was a dive bomber. And of course we all rushed indoors, thinking 'Oh heavens above, he's going to bomb the gasworks', but he must have been rather a bad shot, because he missed the gasworks and the two bombs sailed across the meads and, as I say, landed in the field between...the old...what I suppose had been the old vicarage and the cottages at the foot of St Leonard's Church. It did blow some of the tiles off the old church, luckily not the original ones on the...little...steeple, but it did take off the near-side tiles. They had to retile part of that, but again luckily no one was hurt.
LG: Do you remember anything about the...the mine...the land mine that was held in a tree?
RW: I...I don't remember that myself. I only recall what...someone had said -- I think that they'd been in their garden at the time and saw it, but just were unable to get to it to do anything.
JR: Where was that then?
LG: Was it in Ware Park?
RW: Oh, I beg your pardon, I thought you were talking about...
LG: A land mine, with the parachute caught in a tree.
RW: Another one in Ware Park, was there?
LG: I believe...I believe it was Ware Park.
JR: But there was definitely one in Goldings, because Reg Purkis...
LG: In Goldings, yes.
RW: Two people were killed there, I believe, too, weren't they, I seem to recall, in Goldings.
JR: Were they? I don't remember him saying that...
LG: I think that land mine was made safe.
JR: ...but I know...he had to guard it, didn't he, for a bit, somebody had to guard, it may have been him, he had to guard it, I think, or had to stay fairly near it till the bomb disposal arrived, and he wasn't very keen.
RW: The rumour in the town at that time, we all knew of course that it had fallen into Goldings, but we had heard, whether rightly or wrongly I've never been able to confirm, that two people had been killed there.
JR: Right, yes.
RW: Of course, it's a funny thing, but there were less fatalities in the Second World War than there were in the First, because I believe about eight people were killed in Bull Plain, weren't they, by bombs dropping.
LG: There was four in Bull Plain, and then two in North Road.
RW: Ah, so that was six.
JR: Yes. That was the same stick of bombs.
LG: Do you remember at all?...when you moved back to the Cowper School, you moved back to the Cowper School, after the bombing at Longmore...
RW: I did, yes.
LG: ...you couldn't go back straight away...
RW: No, that's right.
LG: ...because there was a bomb in Park Road...
RW: There was. You're quite right.
LG: ...an unexploded bomb in Park Road.
RW: Yes, I'd forgotten that, but that's absolutely right. Yes, I do recall that now you mention it. Yes, that's absolutely right. But bombs seemed to fall all over the place in Hertford. I do remember...two falling in County Hall. When I say County Hall of course it's built round a courtyard. Today of course the County Hall is much bigger, it's extended, I'm talking about the old original building. But apparently a bomb dropped, so I heard, in the courtyard in the centre of it, didn't go off, but it was taken up to Brazier's Pits, and thought they would let it off safely there, but in actual fact it did more damage there than it did where it landed in County Hall, because it took off roofs of nearby houses. But again no one was killed. The one night that Hertford could have been obliterated, and I don't know whether you recall this, Mr Green, but Lord Haw-Haw -- now what was his real name? I cannot...
LG: Yes, I can't remember now, but I know the man.
RW: But Lord Haw-Haw had been educated at Hail...Haileybury College...before the war, and he mentioned Hertford one night on...in fact, I heard it...on the radio, sort of 'Germany calling, Germany calling', and he had had such an unhappy time apparently at Haileybury, he threatened that Hertford was going to be wiped off the map. And there was one night when it quite possibly could have happened, because it was the habit of the Germans in those days -- and in fact something else I must just mention -- I know I'm going on to another subject at the moment -- but Hertford is situated something like 21, 22 or -3 miles north of London, and when Hertford, sorry, when London was being bombed, in the evening at night when it was dark we could always see when London was having a hard time. You could hear it very faintly. If it was a quiet night you could hear the dull thuds of the air raids in London, but you...if you looked south towards London you could always see this glow in London, and you would say, 'Oh dear, poor old London's getting it tonight.' There would be this glow from the fires, and of course everywhere being blacked out this is why it showed up so much, because people today don't realise that as soon as there was an air raid you put your lights out, and you put up your blackout curtains at the windows...
RW: ...and there were no street lights, cars mustn't show lights, and...on this particular night when we thought there really was going to be some trouble... The Germans used to come over in two main waves. They would send over their...the...a series of planes which would drop fire bombs, and the idea was to set areas alight on the ground, so that later on when the heavy bombers came over with the loads of bombs they were hoping of course the area would be well alight, so that...
JR: ...yes, they could see...
RW: ...they could see where to drop the bombs.
JR: Yes, I see.
(RW: Is it still running all right? the tape?)
(JR: Yes, we're OK, I'll tell you when it's...)
RW: But I know on this particular night, I couldn't understand it, when we were going down to the shelter, the gas shelter as we normally did, as I mentioned earlier, to see that there was a big glow, not in the sky south of Hertford, but there was a big glow in Hertford itself, and not far from our house. And...suddenly the rumour went round that what had happened was, there is an area -- I'm just trying to think of the name of the streets and I meant to look this up before I came here, but quite close to Tamworth Road...not Raynham Street, it's the street in which the Hertford Glass is today...
JR: Oh, Talbot Street, isn't it?
RW: Talbot Street? It's on a corner, isn't it?
RW: Talbot Street and...I can't think what the other road is, but the Hertford Glass stands on a corner at a junction of two streets. Well, during the war, where Hertford Glass is today, it was a timber yard.
RW: And the fire bombs had fallen on that timber yard that night.And of course the whole timber yard was ablaze.
RW: And this was the great fear, that they would not be able to put the fire out before the heavy bombers came over.
RW: Well, as I said, we were on our way to...the Gas Company's deep shelter, and I must admit, it was probably the only night in the War that I was particularly perturbed, because I thought, 'Oh my goodness, if they don't get that fire out in time, Hertford is just going to be erased off the map.' But I waited to hear all these dreadful bangs. We heard the planes coming, you could hear them coming in the distance, and of course we were all praying to God that...the fires were all out, and we heard this heavy droning getting louder and louder and louder, and we knew they were overhead but...when the droning started to get quieter and quieter, we knew of course thankfully the fire must have been put out and they had just flown over Hertford and...
JR: ...not noticed it.
RW: Yes, that they had no fires, all the fires had been put out, and they were obviously on their way to bomb poor old London again. But that was certainly a very fearful night. The other thing too I mentioned earlier on -- oh I've already mentioned that though about the ring of naval guns around Hertford, which did cause unfortunately a lot of planes to drop their bomb load when these guns let fly at them because they were fearful of getting hit with a plane- load of bombs, and so of course it was only natural that they should drop them...
JR: Do you know anything about the spigot mortar at all?
JR: Spigot mortar...at the end of...Welwyn Road?
RW: No, I don't actually.
JR: I just wondered if you were...do you know where I mean?
JR: It doesn't matter, because it's in North...the junction of North Road and Welwyn Road...
JR: ...and it's in the bushes, near where those mobiles are for the British Rail.
RW: Oh yes?
JR: Do you know where I mean?
RW: I think I do, yes.
JR: Yes, yes, I just wondered if you knew about that.
RW: No, I can't say I do...remember that.
RW: But...certainly, as I say, when you think that in the Hertford area there were 1,400 [one thousand four hundred] bombs, in fact probably more than some big cities have had on them really, but as I say we were so fortunate really because of the green environment surrounding us. Something of course that a lot of people aren't aware of today, because the barracks are no longer there, that this was a garrison town of course during the War. It had been a garrison town before the War. ...It had housed the Herts and Beds Regiment in London Road...but that's all disappeared now of course, and it was situated roughly where the modern Fire Station now stands. And...various regiments passing through the town on their way to different fronts would occupy the garrison at different times during the War. And we also had in Hertford of course Italian prisoners of war, and they weren't far from my home. They had taken over a large house, Dicker Mill House -- the old mill had been destroyed long before the War, disappeared -- but there had been a large house which had been bought I think by the Roman Catholics and it housed some nuns, it had become like a nunnery, and they had moved the nuns out during the War, I'm not sure where they moved them to, and they used it for these Italian prisoners of war. And actually the local people got on very well with these Italians, because although they didn't have a very great love of the Germans, we all felt that...the Italians were...more friendly, and... they seemed rather an amusing crowd, because they got very friendly with the people of Hertford. In fact it wasn't unknown to go to Hertford County Cinema and see several of them sitting in the audience! They were actually allowed out to go to the cinema...
RW: ...and they were a great favourite with the children. And...I remember at one time they managed to get hold of...some aeroplane fuel-tanks which were shaped something like...torpedoes. And they amused all the local children because they...cut pieces out of these fuel-tanks and used them for little rowing-boats, and they gave them...
RW: ...to the local children and it was quite amusing because the River Lea in those days, and where the...what we called the wide water...today which is the marina area, was more like a boating lake, and there were these Italian prisoners and the children all rowing up and down [laughs] in these little hand-made boats which were old used fuel-tanks...
RW: ...so it was quite amusing.
RW: And as I say they did build up a good relationship with local people and I know quite a few people who asked them into their homes and sort of gave them meals and...got on very well with them, they really did. And...it's nice to think that sometimes there was this cooperation, I feel...with the enemy...well, what were considered the enemy anyway in those days.
JR: What about the Americans? Did you have any Americans around?
RW: Oh yes, there were quite a lot of...Americans used to come to Hertford. ...There was a camp, quite a large camp, situated at Colliers End -- I'm just trying to think of the name of the pub -- very close to the St Edmund's College. There was a huge area of ground which had been taken over by the military, and they had built huts all over it. ...Sometimes British troops were there, but for quite a while I believe there were American troops on that site as well. And of course they took the opportunity to come into...Hertford and Ware for their entertainment. But yes, American troops were a very common sight in Hertford. Really it...it was the only time you saw young men in Hertford, because remember above the age of 18 they were all in the Forces. So really the only men to be seen in Hertford were under 18 or sort of in their 50s and older, so there weren't many young men in Hertford in those days, unless they were troops coming in for a visit or...soldiers on leave or something, but...and of course they made themselves very popular with the ladies of the town, because they were so short and the Americans when they came in with their bars of chocolate and their nylon stockings were amazingly popular...[laughs]
Jean/LG: [laugh] Yes.
RW: ...much to the annoyance of the English troops very often who weren't able to get hold of these little luxuries...[laughs]
RW: And of course...the Americans also were able to get hold of...fruit and things like this, which as children...the younger ones had never seen. I mean, I know of young children, my sister for example, who was only two years old when the War started. She had no idea what a banana looked like, or an orange -- she'd never seen one, and so when we spoke of these things she had no idea what they looked like, and really it was some years after the War...because you have to remember that once the War was over things didn't get back to normal straight away, it took several years.
LG: Rationing didn't stop till...19...51.
RW: Oh yes, that's right. The economy, the ships had to bring these things from abroad, the same with clothing, wasn't it, Mr Green...
LG: Oh yes, yes.
RW: I mean, clothes rationing went on for quite some time after the War, and we were so poorly dressed...our mothers would cut up all sorts of things to make clothing with, and...I mean, even the colours of course were so drab in those days, it was all khaki, blacks and browns, wasn't it.
Len/JR: That's right, yes.
RW: We didn't know what colours were...until we...really... until we got into the late '50s and the early '60s.
LG: That's right. And power cuts were...were very common, weren't they.
RW: They were, weren't they.
LG: I'm not so sure...there was no electricity or very low power in electricity.
RW: That's quite right. And in fact a lot of houses...of course...didn't have electricity, and in...it's a funny thing, but only last week I was going through my mother's old tin -- I was looking for some...documents...birth certificates, death certificates -- and I happened to come across a...receipt for the installation of electricity in our particular house, and I was amazed and amused to see that we didn't have it installed for example until 1955, we'd been on gas until then...
JR: Oh yes.
RW: ...and it cost us the grand sum of...£29.50 to have it installed on three floors, putting in all the points and everything. I wonder what that would cost today...
JR: A lot then, isn't it, a lot?
RW: It was a lot of money in those days, £29.50. I know my father in those days was earning £2.50 a week, and that was considered a lot of money, and I know when I had my very first job for example, at County Hall -- which was just after the War, I went to work in a drawing office there -- no, it was just before the war ended, at the end of the war with Germany but a year or so before the end of the war with Japan of course, which went on for quite a while. And I remember...I received the princely sum of 15s a week, which is 75 pence...
RW: ...new money, and my mother allowed me to keep 7s 6d [seven and sixpence] of that, and she had the other...
JR: 7s 6d.
RW: ...7s 6d to buy food and this sort of thing with. But imagine you going for a job today, and [laughs] being told your wages were 75 pence a week. [laughs]
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: It just shows how incredible...everything has...multiplied, hasn't it, you know?
LG: Well, inflation has...well...
RW: It's incredible, isn't it?
LG: You can almost multiply by 100.
RW: You can, more than that in many cases, can't you.
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: Because when you look at housing, I remember my father being offered the sale of our house -- oh this was long after the War, many years after the War -- for one hundred pounds!
RW: Now our houses today fetch something like £84- and 85,000, and what a vast mark-up, isn't it?
RW: One hundred.
LG: That's right, yes, well it's housing particularly, though, it's more than a...hundred times.
RW: That's right. Because, of course if you rented a house, as we were renting houses, they were something, oh 10s was considered quite a lot of money, 50 pence a week, especially if you see out of...£2.50 a week. And I know my grandma...my grandparents -- not the ones who were in Tamworth Road, but Mother's family, who lived at Puckeridge, on the A10 on the road to Cambridge -- their little cottage was 5s a week, which...they had no lighting and no water, and this again was quite common in villages...the villages didn't have any gas or electric mains, so your lighting in the villages consisted of oil lamps -- oil lamps or candles, and even...I lived in Byde Street for the first 11 years of my life -- Byde Street, Bengeo, I was 11 years old when we moved to -- the same year that war broke out -- when we'd moved to Mead Lane. And when we lived in Byde Street, we had no gas there, no lighting, it was oil lamps and candles. And even when we had more 'modern' accommodation in Mead Lane, we only had gas lighting on two of our three floors. The bedrooms had to be lit by candles. I don't know why gas had never been put into the bedrooms, but it meant...taking a candle up to light your way in the bedrooms. And, as I say, in cottages during the...before the War, there was no...water either, you had the old village pump, or a pump which several houses would have to share, and it would be a case of going with a pail several times a day to get your water to... do the washing in, or to wash yourself with. Although most houses when it came to washing clothes would have a...a water-butt outside of the house to collect the rain-water...
JR: Oh yes, yes.
RW: ...and this was beautifully soft water, of course.
LG: It's much better for washing, the rain-water.
RW: Oh it was. In fact, my grandma had a wonderful complexion, which everyone used to compliment her on, and they always used to say she had a peaches-and-cream complexion, and they would say, 'Mrs Lodge, what do you put your secret down to?' And she'd say, 'Because I wash in soft water.' [laughs]
JR: Out of the rain-barrel. [all laugh]
RW: Oh, but they were happy years, they really were, and it...worries -- no not worries, that's the wrong word -- but it disappoints me when I look at Hertford today and I think of the early years before the War, and the War years really, the early years, to see how Hertford has changed from a little quiet country town. In those days the population was pretty steady, it was more or less 11,000 population during the War...before the War. I suppose today, what, it must be approaching 30,000 now, but in those days it was quite a common sight to go down into the town on a Monday and see flocks of sheep being driven through Fore Street, herds of cows...
LG: Oh yes, the market at the back of the Ram Inn...
LG: ...well, that's the entry to...by the side of the Longmore School, wasn't it, because...
RW: It was.
LG: I...I can remember on Mondays...
LG: The noise coming from the cattle...
RW: You could hear them all, couldn't you.
LG: ...and the sheep and so on...
RW: That's right.
LG: ...by the side of the school.
RW: In the class, because it was situated between the school, of course, wasn't it, and the Ram pub. But, I mean, what a lovely thing to think that the streets were so quiet that what few cars there were would stop to allow the cattle and the sheep to come through. On occasions it used to be amusing because perhaps a poor old cow would break away from the herd and go charging past Graveson's and down Maidenhead Street, and you'd see the farmer rushing after it and people running into shops so that they didn't get trampled on as they made their efforts to catch the poor old animal and bring it back to the rest of the herd. [laughs]
JR: Yes. A bit of excitement though for the locals, wasn't it.
Ronald Oh it was, it was, yes. But Hertford was a lovely town, it still is a lovely town, and in some ways of course it has improved -- I'm not saying that Hertford has deteriorated in every way. I think the improvements they're making to places like Salisbury Square and Parliament Square are lovely, the introduction of trees, and the fountain, and -- it's becoming a lovely town. Perhaps if we had a little more pedestrian ways it'll be even nicer, but certainly Hertford holds many happy memories for me. It has its sad ones, but more happy than sad.
LG: I think the trouble is that...with the out-of-town...shopping and the supermarkets in the town, the little shops have gone from the town.
LG: It's just not Hertford...the same...
LG: ...in other places as well.
RW: It's absolutely true, because there used to be this wonderful rapport between the shopkeeper and the customer, wasn't there? You could go in, have a little chat, go into Walker's Stores, pick out the broken biscuits! -- there used to be tins of them along the front of the counter -- pick out the cheese and...the butter, they would pack the butter up in front of you. And...to see all these things done by hand, it was all so lovely. And of course, one of the great and exciting things -- we haven't mentioned this -- and the great excitement for the people of Hertford, of course, was the Saturday market!
LG: Oh yes.
RW: And of course something which doesn't happen today was the fact that shops would open, I can't think what time they opened in the morning, but I suppose about 9 o'clock in the morning. Some of them didn't close until 10 at night. I know the big supermarkets stay open late now, but even the little shops used to stay open late in those days. And we have to remember...as I say, that wages were very low in those days. All we had for entertainment were the three cinemas, and -- something else I have forgotten -- what we did have in Ware Road, which disappeared many years ago, and before the War, was a roller-skating rink! I wonder how many people in Hertford remember that -- very few -- but there was a roller-skating...
LG: That's right, there was. I...I never went there, but...
RW: It was...
LG: I do remember it was there.
RW: Yes. Well actually I believe there...if you look...at the building that stands where it was today I believe the roof of the old building is still there, because today it is a car showroom. It's where the...Caxton Hill, as you go up Caxton Hill...
LG: That's right, by the...
RW: ...on the left there's a car showroom or something. Well, if you look behind the brick frontage, sort of look around the side of it, there is a corrugated roof, and I'm sure that is the same corrugated roof that covered the old roller-skating rink.
JR: (I must) go and have a look, yes.
RW: ...which had a concrete surface to roller-skate on.
LG: Was it ever in use, do you remember? Did you ever go there?
RW: I was never a skater, but I knew neighbours who used to go there. I believe my father went roller-skating.
LG: I...remember it being there, but I don't remember it being in use. I came to Hertford in 1933...
LG: Whether it was in use or not, I don't know, but I know...
RW: Yes, I heard my father talk about it. Now he may of course have used it before I was born, when he was a young man, but certainly I know he used to roller-skate there. But apart from the cinemas of course we only had the radio and...they weren't radios like you have today either. These were...with huge 120 watt...volt batteries, do you remember those?
LG: That's right, yes.
RW: ...these huge great batteries!...
LG: ...the accumulators you had to get recharged every week...
RW: That's right. [laughs] These big accumulators that you had to take into the shops to get charged up, which meant that the radio set itself had to be really quite big to accommodate...
RW: ...both the...this huge battery plus the accumulator. So it did mean, you see, apart from the radio -- there was no such thing as television -- television had started in 1936. And in fact an actress friend of mine was the first actress ever to appear in a full-length play, on television, and this was in 1936, and I remember her telling me she had to paint her face green, in fact everybody had to paint their face green to appear on television. [all laugh] But there were only about 2- or 300 sets in the whole of this country prior to the War, so it did mean that people, people's main entertainment was...were things like pageants in the street, fetes, and of course the main thing, the Saturday market! And this was a regular feature for most families on a Saturday night. After tea on a Saturday, Mum and Dad would take the kids on a tour of all the shop windows, because all the shop windows were alight. Another interesting thing really is that amazes me, most cities and towns in England have lots of neon lighting or electric light bulbs, electric signs. I don't think there's a single electric sign in Hertford, or there may be just one I think in Fore Street. But Hertford in those days had lots of neon lighting, shops had neon lighting, and I remember there was a great area of it opposite the Green Dragon, the Green Dragon Hotel. On the other side was the Coopera -- I can't say it -- the Cooperative...
RW: ...Store. And on the corner of their building, if you look today, there's a blank area that was all covered in neon lighting at one time...
LG: Was it?
RW: ...all different colours, and all going on and off.
LG: I don't remember that.
RW: Oh I do because as children we loved to see these lights.
LG: Oh I don't think I went in...in the town much, particularly on a Saturday night.
RW: No, but to us as kids it was a great delight. And of course again, to light the stalls at night they had -- do you remember these great things? -- they were like...they filled them with oil, petrol or something, and they made a furious noise...
RW: ...and they would hang on these stalls...
LG: Naphtha, they used, didn't they?
JR: Naphtha? Yes.
RW: I don't know what they were.
LG: I think naphtha was the stuff they used.
JR: I think it was, yes.
RW: But they used to amuse us with this great roaring rush of these lights, and the market-stallholders calling out their wares, the...it used to be so amusing and...so lovely really. ...This was our treat on a Saturday, going round -- it didn't matter that you'd seen these shop windows a dozen times before -- to see them all lit up -- and it was the excitement of the lights which appealed to everyone, and the cries of the stallholders, so it was a very exciting...exciting time.
RW: Is there...anything else that you would like to ask?
JR: I wonder whether you...we've got about...I don't know, five minutes or so. Can you tell us anything about...the Cowper School, when Len was away during the War, what went on. He missed part of it, didn't he, when he was...
RW: Yes, you did, didn't you, unfortunately.
LG: Yes, well I...September 16th 1940, they decided they needed me.[laughs]
RW: Yes, that was rather sad, because...you were the youngest teacher there actually, weren't you.
LG: That's right, I was indeed, yes.
RW: There was Mr Budgen, I remember, of 2A, there was Mr Reed in 3A, Mr Marks in 1A. I went through all the As, as it happened, which was unfortunately in one way why I wasn't in your class, although I used to come to you of course for science instruction, and...we were all rather sad when you went into the Army because you were part of our family, weren't you.
LG: That's right. Do you remember there was a...do you remember Mr Bull?
RW: Now Mr Bull...that doesn't...ring a bell. Mr Booker?...
LG: Yes yes... well he...Mr Bull came...from, I don't know, teaching somewhere, I believe, in Tottenham.
LG: You know, when schools were evacuated during the War, the beginning of the War, I think that's when he came to us.
RW: Did he take over from you then, Mr Green?
LG: No no no, he...actually I think he was called up before I was.
RW: Ah. ...I know there was a lovely old woodwork master, wasn't there.
LG: Mr Sharp.
RW: Mr Sharp, yes that's right, I couldn't remember his name, but when you think of sharp instruments, I should have remembered that name, shouldn't I?
RW: A lovely old man, he...with this lovely fluffy white hair, I can see him now. And Mr Budgen, he had a finger or two fingers missing.
LG: That's right, he was, he was...wounded in the First World War.
RW: Ah, I didn't know how he'd lost his fingers.
JR: Oh, right.
RW: But he used to drive a little Standard car, I believe.
LG: That's right, yes.
RW: And I believe he came from Hoddesdon, am I right?
LG: That's right. His...his father had some nurseries there and he...he used to help in the nursery...some...greenhouse you know.
RW: Oh yes.
LG: ...and...he used to help there.
RW: And of course Mr Stalley was our headmaster, wasn't he, but of course I had a few happy years at...Cowper School, as well as Longmore. And of course Cowper had been my father's school actually, when he was a boy.
LG: Had it? Oh yes?
RW: Yes, so...had both schools been running...running, he would certainly have wanted me to go to Cowper School, really, in preference to Longmore. But of course when I started at Longmore, Cowper had already closed, hadn't it.
LG: That's right, yes.
RW: I think...wasn't that being used for girls to learn...cooking instruction? I seem to remember...
LG: Well, it was used, it was actually used for evening classes.
RW: Oh, was it?
LG: Yes. It was...there was a man named Alton at the Grammar School, as it was then, who was in charge of evening classes, and he used that as his... headquarters.
RW: Oh really? Oh that's interesting.
LG: He used the classrooms for evening classes.
RW: Oh really? And of course after it had been used for...school purposes, it was used for Further Education later, wasn't it, I believe the Art School had...had classes in there before it closed.
LG: ...It was used...we moved out in 1957, Whitsun, and then in 19...September 1958 it was brought back into use again because our new buildings weren't big enough.
LG: We used both the Longmore School and the Cowper School as annexes to the...
LG: ...school in Balls Park.
RW: So did you go to Balls Park School for a while then? You were there?
LG: Oh yes, I was there, I went in '57, retired in '73.
RW: Really? I didn't realise the school, the Balls Park School, went back that far. I didn't realise it was as old as that.
LG: Well, it opened in '56...
LG: ...for First Years. It wasn't finished...
LG: ...The...the First Years went there because there was no room for them anywhere else.
RW: I see.
LG: And...they went and finished the school after we moved up in...after Whitsun '57.
RW: Because it's such a modern-looking building, isn't it, I don't know why, I imagined it had been constructed in the '60s.
LG: Well, it's had two extensions since it was built.
LG: And of course the Sele School was opened. So many more children were in the town than there were before the War that...
JR: The baby boom, yes, yes. Was...Sele was opened, what, about 1958, '59?
LG: No, '64 it started.
JR: Oh '64, right, that's...
LG: We...between '57 and...'64, when Sele started, we were very overcrowded. We were using both...
JR: Yes, yes.
LG: ...Longmore School and Cowper School buildings, and we had almost 1,000
[a thousand] children altogether then.
RW: It is a lot, isn't it. Good heavens, yes, it is a lot.
LG: And then of course when Sele opened, within two or three years we were down to about 3- or 400. Then it built up again, when I...
JR: Yes, yes.
LG: ...when I retired it was somewhere about 800.
RW: Gosh, because the old Longmore and Cowper School only held, what, about 200, 250 [two-fifty], or something like that?
LG: That's right, well...
RW: ...small numbers by comparison, weren't they.
LG: You see Cowper School, there were only...there were six usable rooms there...
RW: That's right, and about 40 pupils to a class.
LG: ...and two of those were pretty small.
RW: That's right, they were, come to think of it. Yes, that's right.
LG: So even if you have 40 in a class, that's only 240 [two-forty] [laughs].
RW: We were talking about the War years. Something that's just gone into my mind -- and I suppose people, a lot of people knew about it at the time -- but you know there is a very long railway tunnel between Hertford North and... Watton -- you go through quite a long tunnel and the Royal Train at one time with the Royal Family in was put into there when London was being very heavily bombed...the Royal Family did come out and live part of the time in that tunnel.
LG: The Mole Wood tunnel.
RW: That's right. They spent quite a bit of time in there.
RW: But I don't think people sort of generally talk about that much. People tend to think that the Royal Family were in...in the Palace during the...War years all the time but they weren't, they did move around a lot, and I suppose whenever they were in the area, that was the safest place to be of course, but...
RW: Oh yes, they're days we look back with nostalgia and...a good deal of happiness, aren't they, really.
LG: Oh yes, yes, yes.
RW: I think, as I say, they were happy years, sad in a way, because like myself, I mean, from 11 years old to the age of about 15 or 16, that's...part of your youth all gone, isn't it really...
RW: ...but it didn't matter, we had to...this is life, we were lucky, not in one way to have been conscripted and gone through some of the terrible things that many youngsters did go through. And I feel so sorry for the youngsters who went and lost their lives. I know just opposite me in Spencer Street there were two young lads I went to school with who were killed within the first couple of weeks of the War.
LG: Were they?
JR: Yes, yes.
RW: Yes, it was terribly sad. And both only sons, as it happened.
RW: And in fact the mother of one never did get over it. You know, even to her dying day about 10 years ago she was always talking about her son. She kept everything in his room exactly as it had been left, his cycle was in the hall exactly where he'd left it before he had gone into the Army, the poor woman never did get over it. So it's dreadful where only sons were lost, like that. And in fact in our own family, I had an uncle who...was a Second Lieutenant, and he was killed within a month of the War starting, which again was a great sadness, but...this is...that was war, that was war.
LG: That's right, yes.