Interview with Harold Beech. Two

Title

Interview with Harold Beech. Two

Description

Harold Beech could see the activity of several airfields and witnessed stricken aircraft flying back to stations near his home. He also witnessed a crash and describes how he hid in a Lancaster, with the help of the engineer who was billeted with his family and was able to watch the activity of a Bomber Command station closely. His grandmother adopted an aircrew from RAF Faldingworth, but one day they did not come for their usual visit and were never seen again. He describes how the village always pulled together and he described the make do and mend plus the effect of rationing. He also recollects the arrival of evacuees in the village.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-03-02

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:37:39 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ABeechH170302

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

HB: This is an interview for International Bomber Command Digital Archive with Mr Harold Beech. The interview is taking place at ****
HB: Correction H. The, Mr Beech, his birth, his date of birth is the 20th June 1933. Right, Mr Beech.
HB2: Right.
HB: Over to you.
HB2: Well as already stated my name’s Harold Beech and I lived in a village in Lincolnshire called Middle Rasen. It sat on the River Rase and a mile and a half to the east was Market Rasen and two miles to the west was West Rasen. Hence the River Rase gave them three places their name. We also sat astride the A46. It split, the village was split by, from east to west by the road, by the River Rase and by the [Bremmer Brook.] I lived on a farm. My father was a small farmer. He was one of the thirty two farms in the village. It was a mixed farm. We had arable which we grew vegetables and stuff for the house as well as the field er for the animals and we had cows that provided us with milk, cream. Mother made butter. We had poultry that provided us with birds for the table and eggs and we killed a pig for the house. So, [pause] I’ve gone blank.
HB: Don’t worry about that.
HB2: I’ve gone blank.
HB: Don’t worry about that. Sorry, just, what was the name of the village you actually lived in?
HB2: Middle Rasen.
HB: Middle Rasen.
HB2: Middle Rasen.
HB: Right. So we’re at Middle Rasen.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: And we’ve just killed the pig for the -
HB2: We’ve just killed a pig [laughs] right. Yeah. We lived in a rented farmhouse plus outbuildings, large garden, two paddocks and a farm building complex. This was in the High Street of Middle Rasen and that was my home for some time.
HB: And can you remember what the farm was actually called?
HB2: The Vines.
HB: The Vines.
HB2: The Vines.
HB: Right.
HB2: My father’s farm was under fifty acres but the complex consisted of a barn, a granary, biers for the cattle, biers for horses and smaller barns for keeping pigs and calves in and an implement hole.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And we lived off the land and we lived well. In 1938 I started school and I’d been at school for a year and was settling in nicely when 1939 war broke out and upset everything.
HB: Was that, was the school in Middle Rasen?
HB2: Yes. Middle Rasen Primary.
HB: Right.
HB2: And for some, I can remember for some time before war was declared when my gran came to the house or when my father met other people in the village it was occasionally, ‘Things are not looking too good. Things are looking black,’ and I kept asking what these things were and didn’t get an answer.
HB: Right.
HB2: So when war was declared I remember, well a gang of us asked the teacher what these things were and she just said, ‘Unfortunately Germany, people in Germany are now fighting people in England.’ Well we went home for my dinner and as I went back to school I sat on a grassy bank and I thought now where the devil are they going to get a boxing ring big enough for all these people to box, to fight in, because my, my idea of fighting was cowboys and Indians, keystone cops and robbers. And that was it.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Or boxing on the television, on the radio. So that was my idea if I, I just couldn’t understand how this fighting was going on. So anyway I do remember at a time a man called Chamberlain came back and there was pictures in the paper of him waving a piece of paper. What he, what he’d done or what he’d said went right over my head. I’d no idea. Not until many years later. When, when we got settled in the school with the teacher she did, did say again and that’s all she would say about the two countries fighting each other, people in the two countries were fighting each other but we were subdued because we didn’t understand. Now, I was a six year old and I was confused ‘cause when war was declared the government shortly afterwards put out a statement to say they’d taken some powers and I remember my dad and all the adults getting in a bit of a confused state because the powers they’d taken were like dictator powers. They could, they were going to control anything and everything, anybody and everybody and they could send a person anywhere at any time to do any job if it boosted the war effort. Well a lot of people didn’t want, didn’t think much to being shoved about the countryside and living away. Then they said that there would be rationing and that blackout would be imposed and that if you disobeyed the government orders you could get fourteen years hard labour or be locked up without a trial. Well that frit me to death ‘cause I used to look at the bobby and go around the other side of him.
HB: Right. You know at, sorry to interrupt Harold. You know at the time you started school. When you went into school -
HB2: Yeah.
HB: And the war’s been declared. The teacher’s explained it. Did you, did you have any training? Any air raid precautions training? Or was there, were there things that the teacher had to teach you about what to do?
HB2: Not that I can remember. The only thing -
HB: No.
HB2: That happened at school was the strips of brown paper stuck on the windows to stop flying glass.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We were issued with gas masks and we were issued with ear plugs.
HB: Right.
HB2: And we, of course you had to take oh and you had to wear a luggage label with your name and address on because the ID cards hadn’t come out.
HB: Right.
HB2: So I remember going to school and watching, seeing this paper go on but there was a siren was put on the police station tower a mile and a half away and whilst we were at school we had one or two warnings but that was all and I remember one day we were all, it was a wet day and of course we all crammed in to the cloakroom and so teacher kept us in the cloakroom while the all clear sounded. Well of course there was panic then because half of us hadn’t have our gas masks with us. So anyway when we went home and told mum what had happened the parents said, ‘For goodness sake never crowd them in one place again. Let them go into the classrooms where they would have a bit better chance of survival.’ There was a big ditch between us and the farm and the next door and they said, ‘Put them in the ditch.’ Well I can imagine a gang of kids in a wet day in a ditch but that was, they weren’t very well suited but after that I’m afraid our gas masks hung on an internal door for the rest of the war and the earplugs went in a drawer and stayed there and the luggage label well it disappeared along with the identity cards and it wasn’t because of bravado but my dad said when I’m ploughing and I put the gas mask on the hedge I’m at the other end of the field and [laughs] I’m in the soup.
HB: Right.
HB2: So -
HB: Right.
HB2: That’s, that’s how they went on at the beginning of the war. It, we had preparations for the war. Now we had a big house called Willoughby house. It had got a paddock at the front and a paddock in the back and that was commandeered by a troop of cavalry and the men were in the house and outbuildings and the horses were in portable stables. Well that was an attraction for us kids. That was a magnet. We wanted to go and look at the horses in the stables but the flaming army was better at it than we were and they kept us out. We didn’t like that at all but when they went for an exercise, all these chestnut horses, they were a lovely sight. They really were but looking back we thought ruddy hell, charge of the cavalry again and on the, on the gateway they built a pillbox and it was two circles of galvanised metal. One circle bigger than the other fitted inside and the gap between the two bits was filled with concrete and one, one shell from a tank would have sent it into kingdom come. We also lost all our signposts. And as well as the tape on the windows and that was just about it. Then the blacksmith’s shop was taken over and was being turned in to an ARP cleansing station. Well us kids were nosy parkers, kept saying, ‘What are you going to do in here? What’s going to do in here.’ Anyway, nearly completion this man must have been fed up with us ‘cause he said, ‘Come in and I’ll show you.’ So he took us into this room. He said, ‘This is where if you’d been gassed this is where you come. We take all your clothes off you and then we put you through there and we hose you down with some cold water and a big scrubbing brush,’ and he’d got this ruddy great scrubbing brush and carbolic soap. He said, ‘You’re scrubbed clean and then,’ he said, ‘We get some very smelly ointment and smear it all over you, wrap you in a blanket and send you home.’
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: Well after that we weren’t interested in the ruddy cleansing station.
HB: Absolutely. Absolutely.
HB2: But that, that was, that was oh and we had an ARP warden appointed and the school teacher was in the Observer Corps. Now, he was a lovely head man, headmaster but oh dear he used to go to, go home, have his tea and at 7 o’clock he’d go and observe, he’d come back in the morning, have breakfast and a lie down and then start teaching school again. Well the first thing he did was open his desk and take out Rupert the cane and lay it on the bench. Silence reigned I’ll tell you. But he was, he was soon known as Ratty Plowright.
HB: Right.
HB2: ‘Cause he got very short tempered and we, we as kids we noticed that and we didn’t like it, you know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. I think he had reason didn’t he?
HB2: Oh he did. He did and you know the, the, this is something which you had to experience because the change in that man over a few weeks was terrific. And then of course what upset my father and the farmers was there was going to be a War Agriculture Committee in every county that was going to advise but the farmers said no, tell us to what to do and he said they resented being told by broken down farmers who couldn’t make a go of farming and shiny assed clerks [laughs]. Oh there was, there was some opposition but again if they didn’t do as they was told they could have their land taken over by the Agricultural Committee and that would be it and one or two did unfortunately. But another thing that put panic amongst them was there was a sudden stop on all slaughtering of animals. Well that meant that everything we produced like our pig for the house and the eggs and whatever was going to be confiscated and we’d get the scrapings. So harvest was finishing, the corn harvest, the root harvest was quickly dug in and everything was put in clamps or pies or whatever you call it and stored and the corn that was, the corn was thrashed out of the stacks quick. That what was needed for feeding animals was stored well away from the stacks and the rest of it that was surplus they sold and the old pigs got killed and I mean when you got say ten or a dozen people in the village that’s killing a pig around about the same time there’s a bit of a glut but they was determined that what was produced was going to be eaten in the village so friends, relations and close relatives and friends got not only the customary fry or good plate of good cheer they also got a pork pie or some sausages or something else. The offal was quickly disposed of and then when it was time to take the bacon out of curing that was started on straightaway and they weren’t, they were intending on not letting much be confiscated but when the time come there was the biggest sigh of relief because not only was it back to normal it was better than normal because they were encouraging everybody to keep chickens, produce their own food, dig every bit of ground up there was and they even advised us where these, oh they advised us to set up pig clubs and poultry clubs, rabbit clubs and get allotment associations and they would advise us how to get the seed, the food, the coupons for the food and how to house and what have you. How to look after them. They were a real help. That’s, that’s about the only good thing they could say about the war agg. But there was, there was a glut in our village. We didn’t have a selling system. We had a barter system ‘cause somebody would have something. I mean we used to separate the milk to get the cream for the butter and we had a lot of milk spare. Well people would come up with a jar of pickled onions or something like that and say. ‘I’ll swap you. Can you let me have some - ’. ‘Yes. Go on.’ You know. And at times when the cows calved there was three days when you couldn’t use the milk. It was full of cholesterol and it used to make lovely custards so of course again a lot of swapping going on.
HB: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And my father was out one night. It must have been winter time and the policeman met him. He said, ‘Evening George,’ he says, ‘Do you know I’ve come to the conclusion that we must have the healthiest babies in the country.’ So my dad said, ‘How do you make out?’ He said, ‘Well they don’t half like the night air.’ So my dad says, ‘Why don’t you have a look in the pram to see how rosy their cheeks are?’ He said, ‘No George, I’ve got to live like the rest of them.’ And we all knew what everybody was doing, even the policeman so why the hell they had to hide it in prams ‘cause the policeman got his goodies in a bag. A brace of pheasants here, a rabbit or whatever it was hung on his gate. He was included. I mean it was all open but so secretive. But that’s how we lived. We swapped.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And funnily enough a common vegetable like the onion soon became pretty scarce and it was, it was said in the newspaper one day that The Times had an onion a pound and a half in weight and raffled it and it raised over four quid.
HB: Oh blimey. That’s not bad.
HB2: It wasn’t was it? But yes people were very careful. I mean there was plenty of onions in the village but people were very careful. They didn’t let them go too quickly and I mean eggs, when rationing come in were, well they were like gold. You got one egg a week. I mean, we, we used to sit there and my mum used to cook me a piece of bacon or a piece of ham and an egg. Sometimes I used to get a goose egg fried.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And I used to say, ‘How many folks are eating ham and eggs like I am mum?’ She said, ‘Not many. Not many.’
HB: Amazing.
HB2: And another thing that upset the females, the women of the village was the warden could not only go into the house and switch your lights off if there was an infringement of the blackout regulation he could check your larder to see if you’d got more than a week’s supply of food in it. Well the women went up in arms and said, ‘Well that means he’s going to summons the lot of us ‘cause we’ve all got more and when you think of it to kill a pig we had to send our ration books up to have our bacon coupons cancelled. Now, my mum, dad and me could get, on them coupons, thirty nine pounds in weight of bacon per year.
HB: Right.
HB2: And they were all cancelled. We were then supplied with a licence to kill the pig and we’d get a twenty stone, thirty stone pig killed that would produce summat like three or four hundred pounds worth of meat. We swapped it for thirty nine so we didn’t think we’d done too badly.
HB: No. No. Not a bad outcome.
HB2: No. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. But then the old pig, it was, it was a Godsend it really was and I remember many years later I attended a illustrated lecture on the home front and in fact the lecturer didn’t give us the lecture. He listened to us on the floor telling him and we went for a meal and two ladies and a gentleman were sitting at this table, ‘Come on. Sit down here my duck. Sit down here.’ And I said, ‘Oh you sound as though you come from London.’ She said, ‘Yes. We come from the East End. What was your war like?’ So I said, ‘Oh East End,’ I said, ‘I daren’t tell you.’ So she said, ‘Come on. We want to know.’ So I told her and she nudged her sister and she said, ‘This bleeding bloke’s living in bleeding paradise isn’t he?’ I said, ‘Compared to you I was,’ I said, ‘Because we never saw a bomb. Not to explode anyway.’ I said, ‘It was tranquil. We went to bed and we slept.’ So she said, ‘Well we didn’t.’ I said, ‘No. I’ve read about you and,’ I said, ‘I’ve learned about it since the war, come across people like yourself,’ and I said, ‘What the hell of a life did you lead?’ She said, ‘Well that’s true. That’s true.’ And by golly.
[pause]
HB2: Right. Now, the blackout. It was imposed very quickly and it caused the blackout material that was for sale to dry up quick so people then had to make do and mend and they made wooden frames, covered it with old cardboard cartons and then pasted wallpaper over the top of it to start with until they could get curtains and what have you properly and that the way it was imposed quickly we thought, right, bombs are soon going to rain down on us. The, the government said you should paint all the outside rim, perimeters of your panes, your glass with black paint and so we said we ain’t going to do that ‘cause we only had one window in the kitchen and if we had cut off out any more daylight off we wouldn’t have seen. So we that was that wasn’t done. That was ignored but they painted the edges the curbs black and white sections, the bottom of poles with black and white rings but as we said in the village we never had street lighting so we could find our way around quite easily. What did cause a lot of trouble there was a lot of reports of accidents going up because of the blackout. You could have, you had to block out your headlights with a circle of concrete, er concrete [laughs], with a circle of cardboard with a two inch slit in one lamp only. Well you couldn’t see where you were going and they was hitting fences and hitting everything. Even people.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So they had to relax the thing in the end. The restrictions on lamps on vehicles. Now I’ve done, I’ve done the farmer’s harvesting.
HB: Did you, did you find at that time as, you know, with the involvement of the restrictions or, you know the change in how you were providing your food did you find that people, it drew people together or did you find the odd individuals that really didn’t want to play the game if you, if you know what I mean?
HB2: Our village turned into just one family.
HB: Right.
HB2: As I said if we were out playing as kids and we injured ourselves, skinned our knees or anything we didn’t run home we ran to the nearest house and they would bandage us up, give us a glass of lemonade and a cake and we were off you’d again or if we were misbehaving we got a clip around the ear.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Pretty sharp so yeah it was they blended well. They really blended well.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And if anybody was sick there was always, well we had a district nurse, she was always coming around but everybody did anything and the old folk they were looked after. If an old, we had several old people who’d got large gardens well they said to somebody else come and, if you want an extra garden come and do it and they would dig their, dig that garden, grow vegetables on it and keep the old folks supplied as well.
HB: Right.
HB2: So -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We were doing very well and the only thing that hit us really was the imported stuff. The dried fruit. We knew jolly well that would be tight but they also rationed coal and you could have a pound a month. A ton a month.
HB: That’s not much.
HB2: It wasn’t. It wasn’t. So thankfully again living in the village with trees and there wasn’t much dead wood laying about I’ll tell you. Even at sales. Farm sales or house sales all the old trash wood would be put on a heap and they’d sell that as, you know for a few bob. Yeah
HB: Amazing.
HB2: Yeah. You’d get old, at a farm sale you’d get implements, old farm implements, chicken hut, hen huts, anything and they’d sell it to you for a few bob.
HB: Amazing.
HB2: Nothing was wasted.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Nothing was wasted. Now the effects on my family. Well, my sister she was directed into munitions. My brother, like a lot of other chaps in the village was called up so from about 1940 the family was split up and I was, I was brought up as an only child. My sister never did come back home. She got married and went to live away and then my brother when he came back was only home a brief time before he too got married so as a family in the early years we never lived as a family. Now, my brother was sent abroad in ‘41 and from that day that he boarded the ship my mother started suffering from asthma, asthma attacks, and they lasted right up to the day he come back and stepped over the threshold. And some of these attacks were, well they used to scare me. And me. I had a recurring nightmare. My father had two fields on a slope. One was arable, the other was grass divided by a big high hedge. The top was full of Germans. The bottom was full of English and we, when it occurred, this dream, this nightmare there was one hell of a battle and nobody got beyond the hedge but this battle raged like hell in my mind and I always ended up in the same, doing the same thing. Running through some streets of a town, I don’t know where, chased by ruddy Germans soldiers with fixed bayonets and rifles. They never caught me but I used to wake up crying my eyes out, shaking like a leaf, probably having wet the bed and wouldn’t go to sleep again. I had, it was regular. I wouldn’t say it was nightly but it was regular and I didn’t’ get much sleep but that thing lived with me for many well if I can still if I set my mind to it I can still recall every action now but it doesn’t have the same affect.
HB: Amazing.
HB2: Now, my father, he was advised or told by the War Agricultural Committee that he’d got to plough a grass field up and he’d be paid two pound an acre to do it but he must grow sugar beet on it. Well, he, he jumped up and down and he didn’t swear but he cursed a bit under his breath because he always maintained that this damned sugar beet crop wanted attention from early spring to late autumn winter and he didn’t think much to it. Anyway, he had to grow it which he did and come November time he used to have to take it up and top it and then wait for a permit to come to tell him which factory to take it to, when he could take it so then he could organise a lorry to come and pick it up and take it off there. I used to love that because I used to go with the lorry driver when we used to get to the factory and before we got anywhere a man come with a scuttle and took a sample off. Now the result of that sample depended on how much my dad got paid because there was a deduction for dirty beet, too much soil on it, too much top or low sugar content.
HB: Right.
HB2: But he was allowed to buy a by-product which was beet pulp for the cattle. Now that come in very coarsely woven sacks and these sacks were snapped up to make snip rugs.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah. What do you call the kind of rug?
HB2: Snip.
HB: Snip rugs.
HB2: Snip. Peg rugs.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Snip rugs.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And I spent many a time in front in front of the fire snipping these, this ruddy, well we had one the size of this mat here and at the end of the winter mother put it on the line to beat and she said, ‘I’m not bothering with that, there’s more holes than a colander.’ Sparks had come from the fire and -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Burnt a hole in it.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But they very useful were them sacks but as soon as dad could he got, didn’t grow sugar beet. And another thing that upset him was he was advised to feed the tops to his cattle. It was very good forage. Well he did and it tainted the milk.
HB: [Ringtone] Oh I do apologise.
HB2: That’s alright.
HB: I should have turned that off. Now. Turn that off. Just make sure this is completely off. I made the same mistake yesterday. I do apologise. So. So, so the forage, the forage was good for the cattle.
HB2: Providing you didn’t sell milk.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: But it tainted obviously.
HB2: It tainted the milk.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: You could still use it but you had to realise that it wasn’t sour, bitter or anything else it was just the flavour of the tops and it wasn’t dangerous so again we had people coming with cans and, you know, carting it off.
HB: Right
HB2: So but oh no he wasn’t he wasn’t too pleased about that. Oh, we couldn’t make butter either.
HB: No. Right.
HB2: He did swear at that. Well, and then we had, another crop that farmers had to grow was flax and we had billeted on us a man who had a tractor and a special machine for pulling the flax. It had to be pulled up by the roots and then dried and it went for, I think the roots went for webbing, something like that so we’d got this chap billeted on us. He didn’t last long because he was making his way around the farms in his area doing his job so he went and that man was replaced by an Irishman who was in a gang working on the airfields laying the runways.
HB: Right.
HB2: And he stayed for quite some time ‘till the, well I think he came for a couple of years.
HB: So when you say he was billeted with you he was given a, he rented a room in the house.
HB2: No.
HB: Farmhouse.
HB2: Well he got a bed in a bedroom.
HB: Right.
HB2: And he got his food at the table.
HB: Right.
HB2: And he did, mum did his washing.
HB: Right.
HB2: So he didn’t have a room.
HB: Right.
HB2: He was one of a family.
HB: Right.
HB2: And then the third man was an engineer, an aircraft engineer in charge of fifteen other men who repaired aircraft and he went, he was working at RAF Wickenby and he was with us for some time. Well ‘till the end of the war from about ’43 so, but he, one day said to me, ‘Would you like to come to work with me?’ And I said, ‘I can’t. I’m not allowed.’ And mum said, ‘No. He’s not going if he’s going to get you and everybody into trouble.’ He said, ‘He’ll be alright. He’ll be alright.’ So after a lot of persuasion mum allowed me to go and he had a motorbike and sidecar and just before we got to the camp I had to snuggle down and he put a coat over me and in we went into the hangar and in the hangar was a Lancaster that was being stripped for bits, spares. Now, he said, ‘You go in there. Don’t show yourself. Don’t start peering out of windows and moving levers that waggle the tail or anything like that,’ but he said, ‘If we shout “hide” you go in the canopy under there and pull these old blankets over,’ well they were all stinky with oil and what have you. Anyway, yes I would. Do you know from about 8 o’clock in the morning till 5 o’clock at night I had one hell of a time in there. I flew everywhere, bombed everywhere, shot everything down but there was one thing, I said, it’s a bit crowded in here for when they run around with their, with their parachutes on and I tried getting in the rear turret but I didn’t like that. I thought my God sitting in a glass bubble here all over, nothing under you, nothing around you and then I struggled to get out. That was me. I didn’t want to go in there. So anyway I said to him, ‘Look. Where do I go if I want the loo? What do they use for the loo when they’re on the flight?’ Well I suppose they’d made arrangements for me ‘cause they’d screwed a five gallon drum with a lid off to the floor and I said, ‘Is that it then?’ So he said, ‘Yeah. Use that. That’s the loo.’ So I said, ‘Well I hope to God they don’t fly upside down very often then,’ [laughs] but I could look out, there was holes in the fuselage and I could look out and see what the men were doing and in the distance I could see trollies with bombs on them being moved about. I never saw them being loaded on to aircraft but they was there and then I were watching them repair these holes. Now a hole about the size of a tea plate this chap had some, looked like shiny paper and he did this with a spray and then he stuck it over the thing and then he got something else and sprayed it, I suppose that was the paint and then he went inside and did something else inside and I heard an airman come in and he said to this chap, ‘That’s it Ben,’ he said, ‘Put plenty of paper on it,’ he said, ‘The bullets don’t ricochet so bad.’ And I thought egads you’re running about in this confined space and there’s bullets coming through. Well of course they would be wouldn’t there? Could be.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And I thought oh my God I don’t want to fly. I’m not going to fly. I want to join the air force but I don’t want to fly. Anyway, I as I said I had this whale of a time in there and when I got home I was really dinged into me you don’t speak to anybody, dire consequences. Well by the time I could tell anybody nobody was interested.
HB: Yeah. So the chap who took you in there was, he was a civilian.
HB2: He was a civilian charge hand in charge of this gang of men that repaired the aircraft and if he said, ‘I could have three on the runway for next afternoon,’ he had to have three there. I didn’t know it until after he’d gone home but mum said he used to worry. He used to worry about sending the aircraft out and hoping to God everything worked and if they didn’t come back was it his fault. What had they done right? I said oh I didn’t know, you know. He didn’t show it because he never talked about his work.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But you know everybody was affected differently.
HB: Yeah. That was, that was at RAF Wickenby.
HB2: Wickenby.
HB: Right. Right.
HB2: Wickenby. Nobody could, I might have said had to make radio silence but nobody could tell anybody but nobody could take the joy of that day from me.
HB: Oh no. No.
HB2: Oh and another thing that was started was the V for victory sign.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Churchill was encouraging people in occupied countries to go out and chalk up victory signs. Well we kids took that literally here and I remember somebody said that they expected it to take off in this country. Well we did our best. We sprayed everywhere. In fact the poor old police constable used to come to school and say, ‘Enough’s enough boys, you know. Don’t do it anymore.’
HB: Oh right.
HB2: So we had to limit it to the pavement [laughs] but we, we did our best.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Now, again, in the fields, in my dad’s fields if I went to the highest point I could see aircraft leaving. They used to come up from one direction like flies, get to a certain point and then all turn and fly off and in the morning if I got up early enough I could watch aircraft come back limping and I remember getting up there one summer morning and this aircraft come in and there was a whacking great hole between the front end and the back end in the fuselage and I thought oh God that’s going to crash and I listened and listened and listened. No. There was no bump so I assumed it got down alright but to see them come back with bits hanging off and short tail, short wings.
HB: Which airfield was that that you could see?
HB2: If I went and looked in the east I could see Ludford and Binbrook. If I went we’ll say at 11 o’clock or 10 o’clock I could see Wickenby. If I come a little bit further it was Faldingworth and Waddington, Lincoln things. A bit further around to the right Hemswell and we’d got one right on the doorstep, Faldingworth and Dunholme Lodge so there were, in actual fact I think there was about I think there about were eight airfields within about ten miles of the, of my house.
HB: Right. Right.
HB2: But oh you know I used to sit there and think good God how they, where have they been and how long has it taken them to come back?
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Then we had the military movements in the village to start with was, well it was regular. We would have lorrys loads of convoys of men, with men in towing guns and God knows what and then we’d have men march, troops of soldiers marching through the village. We couldn’t understand where the hell they’d come from ‘cause Lincoln was fifteen miles one away and there wasn’t a camp in between us and them and where they going? There was no camps between Market Rasen and Grimsby so we just wondered what the hell they were doing ‘cause if they’d got to Lincoln they could get on a train and come to Market Rasen. Anyway, we loved it because they used to have the Irish Innisskillens used to have a pipe band and of course the Scots with all their kilts and things oh man they had pipes and bands as well. We loved it and we used to we could hear them coming down Lincoln Lane and we used to rush to the junction and then march through the village with them.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. It was great but that, that didn’t last too long.
HB: Did you ever find out where they were or why they were coming?
HB2: No. No. It was a mystery. We, my mum assumed that when they went to town they marched through town to the racecourse where there was plenty for them to shelter but, well nobody camped there. There was never any official camp.
HB: Right.
HB2: So we just didn’t know where the hell, so whether it was just training. Route marching. I don’t know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But we didn’t think much to that if they’d walked from Lincoln.
HB: Yeah. I can see that.
HB2: Any shorter numbers like you’d probably get two or three vehicles come through. They’d pull up for a smoke or you’d get a half a dozen vehicles and they’d do the same thing. Wherever they stopped in the main street people would come out with pots of tea and sandwiches and give them a feed and if if them in the front giving their stuff away was backed up by other people in the village giving them -
HB: Right.
HB2: Stuff.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: It was, this is how they pulled together. I mean we used to, off the main road there used to be a ford where they used to sit and watch the tanks and Bren gun carriers and we used to love that because they used to let us get in to the Bren gun carriers and play around.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: The tank, the tank commanders were a bit different. They didn’t want us anywhere near.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But yeah oh yes we used to have some fun and as I say that’s how they went on. There was, there was always something to drink and something to eat.
HB: Right.
HB2: And it’s marvellous how you can supply that when you are on ration.
HB: Yes.
HB2: But these housewives were masters in the art of making something out of nothing and stretching things. They were all damned good cooks.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And their main aim in life was to cook a meal that was tasty. Whatever else it was it had to be tasty and oh I’ve been to, I’d go to my mate’s house sometimes and go oh mum can we have some of that and Columbus discovered America at one old boy’s house. His mum said to me one Saturday morning, she said to me, ‘I’m making some potato scallops. Would you like them?’ Well, not knowing what a scallop was and not wanting to miss anything I said, ‘Yes please.’ Well they’re slices of potato dipped in batter and fried. They were lovely. They were lovely. I even do it now for my two grandsons. ‘Can we have some scallops dad, grandad.
HB: Yeah. Lovely.
HB2: Yeah. Oh it was so simple.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Mother never made chips. She always, whatever the size the potato was she sliced it and fried it.
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: And oh it used to go brown and crisp and oh you put your salt and vinegar on and they were heaven.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They were heaven.
HB: Yeah. I can imagine.
HB2: Then, oh our Market Rasen station lost its roof.
HB: Right.
HB2: It was taken down to go to King’s Cross to repair the damaged roof there. Well the locals were up in arms about that.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. Yes they robbed Peter to pay Paul and the thing is Market Rasen station never got another roof back and now the signal box has gone. It’s virtually a dead station.
HB: I would, I mean I presume it was pretty busy and you know quite a busy little place.
HB2: Oh yes it was. It was. Because to start with they’d got a coal, the coal yard, the coal operators were in there and you used to have to go, you could go in there with your pram and get a bag of coke or bag of something like that. Oh there was always, always a trek. There was always people going in and out and as you say, it was easy to get on there and go to Lincoln. I think it was about a penny. One and a penny return or something like that and so you got the traffic. It was a convenience. Easy to go and easy to get there.
HB: Yeah. And did that supply the military as well? Did the military, did the military use that -
HB2: Well -
HB: Route?
HB2: Wickenby had got a station of its own.
HB: Right.
HB2: Snelland was next door to it. Langworth was Fiskerton and, yes you could. You would get them supplied by the rail but not at Market Rasen.
HB: Right.
HB2: I wouldn’t say never at Market Rasen because they would. Ludford. The Ludford and Binbrook people would come down to the station. That sort of thing but as you went up the branch the other side to Grimsby, the stations would do the local, the local stations so yes there was access there. It was busy. It was busy.
[pause].
HB2: Oh now from, from the outbreak of the war we were bombarded with information to be on guard against strangers. Now, we kids were going to do our bit because we’d, it had been dinged into us not to speak to anybody so we didn’t know anything, we didn’t know anybody, we didn’t know where anybody lived and we didn’t know which way you went to anywhere [laughs]. And if we saw one of these house to house salesman we used to go running to the post office to tell the warden. Now whilst he was very polite and we often think you lot are a pain in the bum [laughs] but he never said so.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Now, one day, I lived up a surfaced lane, a road surfaced lane but I lived off a little ash track and up above us about a half a mile was the big farmer had bought a farm so he was making use of the buildings but the house was empty. Now in the garden there was some lovely fruit trees so this particular day we decided we’d go and rescue some of this fruit. So pushed our bikes up, going down the side of the house, around the corner, we got to an open door and there was voices coming out of this door so we listened and couldn’t understand what was going on and one of, one of my mates said, ‘Ruddy Gerries,’ and we’d gone, zoom, gone on our bikes pedalled like hell back home shouting ‘Mum. Mum. Mum.’ She said, ‘What on earth’s the matter?’ ‘Oh Mrs Beech. Mrs Beech,’ he said, ‘There’s Gerries in the Naylor’s house.’ So, ‘Get off with you.’ So we said, ‘There is.’ She said, ‘What do you mean there’s Germans?’ We said, ‘Well they don’t speak our language. We can’t understand what they’re saying.’ So she said, ‘Well that’s strange.’ Now, I didn’t know it at the time but about a mile the other side of Market Rasen on the eastern side they’d commandeered a big house and used it as a prisoner of war camp. So it was the thinking then that they’d escaped. So of course she went down to the warden, post general and said to him, ‘Look this is it.’ So he got the policeman and he went to investigate and he came back. He said, ‘Now rest assured Mrs Beech the Germans haven’t invaded. These Germans are prisoners. They’re released to work on the farm and the big farmer who owns the house has let them go in there on wet days and meal times to light a fire and make a drink and what have you. So,’ he said, ‘It’s all above board.’ Well when we saw these devils come out I mean they got big yellow diamonds on their back, they’d got round patches on their hearts and legs what the hell’s all that for. Well that was if they did escape that was where to shoot at. We didn’t think much to that at all. Germans. Oh dear. No way. Well then when I got to the secondary modern school we were released from school on a blue card system to help with the harvest or help with the crops so it was potato picking time and I got time off to go potato picking so I went to pick on this big farm and lo and behold sitting in the ruddy heap of straw was three Germans. So if they come on that side we went that side, me and this other lad. We weren’t going near them.
HB: How old would you be then Harold do you think?
HB2: Eleven. Twelve. Twelve.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Twelve.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And I wasn’t going there.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Anyway come dinner time, I used to take my dinner and I sat having it there and I looked at these Germans and they were tearing a loaf of bread to pieces and I said, ‘What are they eating?’ So one of the foremen I think it was said, ‘Oh they’re having a bit of bread.’ ‘What. Dry bread?’ ‘Yeah. They’re washing it down with cold tea.’ So I said, ‘Oh all right.’ So never thought any more about it. I went home and told mum. I was full of this having to work with Germans and I said for dinner they only had this, whatever they had. Well the next morning when I went there was a pack. ‘Take that to the Germans.’ I said, ‘I’m not taking them to the Gerries.’ So I said, ‘What are they?’ She said, ‘Sandwiches.’ There was one apiece. So I said, ‘I’m not taking them.’ She said, ‘You jolly well are.’ So of course I took it up there and my mate, his mum had done the same thing. So I said, ‘Well are you going near them?’ ‘No I’m not. Get Mr Fawcett to take them. He’s the foreman.’ Well he wasn’t going to take them. You had to take them yourself. Well we wouldn’t go. In the end he got between us hand on each shoulder and said, ‘Come on I’ll take you.’ So we took them and when one lad opened his thing he wept. So it didn’t, it didn’t endear me at all that didn’t, you know, he could weep his eyes out as far as I was concerned but I went home and told mother and I said, ‘Why do you send them?’ She said, ‘Look. Your brother’s in the army and I would like to think that if he was in the same condition somebody would do the same for him.’ Well I couldn’t understand all that. Giving them. No way. But anyway I took it you know and in the end she was right. That was somebody’s son and after, after the war there was a lot of these prisoners had worked on farms, were still working on the farms and they never went back. We couldn’t understand it but we realised then they were in the Russian platoon, the Russian sector and they weren’t going back.
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: And they, they stayed and they married local girls. Some of them married local girls which didn’t go down to well with the lad that were coming back. On one occasion, prisoners used to walk into town and stroll in the streets. It was a regular occurrence as far as we were concerned. They didn’t do any harm you know. Well six load of Belgian soldiers come and they parked on the market square. Gordon Bennett there was riots. They were out them trucks. They were beating them up, they were chasing them back to camp. There was hell on until we could get a lot of our army lads in to quell it down but by, didn’t them lads, a spokesman give our residents a right pasting. They were disgusted that they should allow them there. ‘You want some occupation,’ he said, ‘before you allow them to do things like that.’ God they didn’t half wipe the floor with them. And the newsagent, poor chap, he could speak, what is it, Flemish or whatever it was and he had to be acting as interpreter. Well he didn’t know where to put himself because the language was a bit, a bit rough.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But he said they got the message across and it was ages and ages before the prisoners would come out again. No way.
HB: And that was just after the war.
HB2: No. That was during the war.
HB: That was during the war.
HB2: During. Right to the latter part. But they weren’t having that. Oh dear. We were educated in warfare.
[pause]
HB2: Now, as we know rationing began in 1940 and gran was heard, when she come to visit mum one say she said, ‘Oh dear I hope it’s not as bad as last time.’ Well she wasn’t really saying about the rationing because rationing started in June and finished in November in the First World War. She was talking about the fighting but anyway I took it that she thought rationing but it wasn’t that because rationing started immediately more or less and lasted fourteen years and got worse so but she we first of all we got four ounces of butter and twelve ounces of sugar and four ounces of bacon. If it was cooked you got three and a half ounces. Why the difference I don’t know but that was it. Tea and meat come in later and meat was rationed by price. You could have one and ten pence worth per person so me, mum and dad could have five and six penny worth of meat a week which when you come to think of prices in them days you could live pretty well. I mean it topped up. We could top it up with a chicken or something like that but in them days you could get decent meat. You could get three pounds a neck of lamb and that sort of thing. Offal wasn’t rationed but it was rationed by availability.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Because you could only get so much offal off an animal and the cheap cuts but the things you never hear of now such as brains and feet, calf’s head, calf feet, cow heel, well it’s not allowed to be sold and but as I said it was, it was rationed by availability. Now, I know we used to get orders put in. Mum used to put an order in when she got one week supply she’d order another. She didn’t always get it but she got something and we used to often have bullock’s heart for Sunday dinner because that was always good meat, plenty of it and Monday washday cold meat and sliced potatoes or bubble and squeak but it was all, it was all good stuff and then I remember when we killed the pig and made sausages mum and I would have a day out at Hull market. We used to buy, she used to buy while she was there fresh marjoram to put in the sausage meat to season it and I was in, we were coming back one day down this street and we were passing a butchers shop and I went by and then I went back again and there was thrushes, starlings blackbirds and sparrows hanging on the butcher’s rail and it was hanging over this dish with something green on it, greenish, and I was shouting to mum, ‘Come and look here mum. What’s this then? What’s this?’ And another lady was coming up the street she stood to me and she said, ‘Don’t you know what it is?’ I said, ‘No. What is it?’ She said, ‘Its whale meat.’ Oh dear. It looked ghastly.
HB: Yeah. I bet.
HB2: It looked ghastly. Well after that it was being pushed as, you know, meat to eat. Well it was described as a lump of cod liver oil.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: It took ages to get the smell out the house.
HB: Did you ever eat it?
HB2: Never. Never. No.
HB: Your mother never cooked it.
HB2: Oh no there was none. I don’t think the butchers were allowed to bring any in the village. They got enough aggro.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Sausages. We used to make our own sausages when it was pig killing time and I have never seen anything like these in the war. They were salmon pink were some of them.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And the ladies in the things, ‘What’s in these today then butcher?’ So he said, ‘What’s that?’ She said, ‘What do we call them now? We can’t call them sausages.’ So some of them would call them bread in battle dress.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: Or the butcher’s dustbins.
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: It got, it got really rich.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And I remember gran giving a basting to the butcher. She said, ‘Where the devil did you get that last bit of meat from that I had last Sunday?’ So he said, ‘What did you have?’ She said, ‘Ruddy jump dike. It had jumped every damned ditch in the country. God it was tough,’ she said.
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: That was, that was your bit of mutton. But this is it. You had to eat what you got and everything went in.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I mean I don’t ever think, you know a cow’s stomach it’s covered by a thin bit of flesh and skin. Well that used to be cut off and they used to sell, make meat pies out of that. Oh stews and mind you it got put on the old pan on the hob from about 6 o’clock in the morning till 6 o’clock at night -
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: To cook it but it was cooked.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yes. You turned it out. That was the thing about having it on the hob or put it in a stew jar in the oven. It was long and slow and it was cooked and it was tasty ‘cause I must have eaten some things, you know [laughs]. The only, the only head mum ever used was the pig’s head.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And she used to, they used to cut in to half. Top half and bottom half. Bottom half was cut in half again and that was called bathchap. They used to cure it with the salt and then cook it as bathchap and the head you just put that in a pan and boiled it until all the meat fell off. The ears you could leave in as well, chop them up, mince them up or you could cut them off having been boiled you could then slice them and fry them until they were crisp and eat them like scratchings.
HB: Right.
HB2: Oh aye. I mean you offer somebody a pig’s ear now [laughs]
HB: Well yeah.
HB2: Well.
HB: You’d get a different reaction I suppose.
HB2: Yes. I was I was in this supermarket and they’d got pig’s trotters and this well he wasn’t an old chap but he was mature and he said to his wife, ‘What they hell are they selling them for? What can you do with them?’ So I said, ‘Well if you’re like me you’d eat them and enjoy them.’ ‘Enjoy them?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well what would you do with them?’ I said, ‘Well you’d boil them, leave them till they were cold, sprinkle them with vinegar and then eat them.’ ‘Well there’s no meat on them.’ I said, ‘No it’s all gelatine.’ ‘Oh my God,’ he said [laughs]. I said, ‘I’ve had no end of them in wintertime.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I said, ‘They’re lovely.’ ‘Oh hell,’ he said, ‘It’s fat.’ I said, ‘No. It’s gelatine.’ They weren’t having that. Oh yes the government come out with a thing. Lemons had gone, you’d missed all the lemons and they said that by sprinkling, by sprinkling it with vinegar and adding some sugar it was quite, quite tasty [laughs] I mean, now, my mum had been in service from school leaving in the big houses. She said, ‘We never had vinegar and sugar on pancakes before,’ she said, ‘We’re not having it now.’ ‘Course we had homemade butter didn’t we?
HB: Oh sorry. I’m with you. So that was like come Shrove Tuesday or whatever.
HB2: Yes. Yes.
HB: You’re doing pancakes.
HB2: That’s right.
HB: Instead of your lemon juice.
HB2: Vinegar and sugar.
HB: Right. And was that, did your mum get these sort of leaflets that the Ministry of Food put out and you know like they used to distribute them through the Women’s Institute or something like that.
HB2: Well I was going to say they were available.
HB: Right.
HB2: I don’t think she had many.
HB: Right.
HB2: I don’t think she had many. I don’t think many of the housewives in the village did.
HB: Right.
HB2: Because they’d been brought up on the old recipes. The stodge. Oh my mother used to make, you know how you make dumplings with suet and what have you.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Well she used to make a pudding, put it on the tea plate, put it in the steamer, and let it steam and she’d have half we’ll say with liver and onions and the other half sprinkled with jam or treacle and she used to call it her dual purpose pudding [laughs] When I was visiting my aunt once a lady across the road, a very refined lady, she came across and she said, ‘Harold, something smells very good. What is it?’ I said, ‘It’s liver and onion.’ ‘Can I have a look?’ ‘Of course you can.’ So she looked in the frying pan that was sizzling away there and then she said, ‘What’s in that pan?’ I said, ‘Oh madam that’s a secret that is. That’s my dual purpose pudding.’ And she looked at me. She said, ‘You’re kidding. What are you, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Have a look.’ So she had a look. So she said, ‘Well it looks like a suet pudding to me.’ I said, ‘That’s what it is but it’s dual purpose.’ ‘What on earth you do you mean by that?’ So I told her. Savoury and, oh she went out giggling, ‘I must tell my husband. Dual purpose pudding.’
HB: Lovely. Lovely. I like that.
HB2: Yeah the old rations were going up and down. Milk used to be a terrible thing. At its maximum it was three and half pints a week. Well it used to go down to two pints or two and a half pints. It was always like a yoyo that was. How the hell some of them managed I don’t know. There we are having a mug for our supper and going to bed on. A mug of milk and all the milk we wanted.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. It’s fantastic really when you think back as to just how some people did live.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. You can imagine yeah. It’s difficult.
HB2: And then when they brought out dried egg. Oh dear. You could get a tin. One tin a month plus your one egg a week. Well mum tried it. Mum and gran tried it for baking. Well the Yorkshire puddings wouldn’t rise and the cakes were useless. They used to, sponge cakes were useless so they used to use that in the dishes that you could mix it in with that didn’t -
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Didn’t show too much.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh no and dried milk was more of a favour than than the dried egg but one thing we did like and that was now what did they call it? It’s spam. Supply Pressed American Meat. Spam. And we used to love that dipped in batter or just plain fried. That went down a treat.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: The old spam fritters. Even in the air force we had spam fritters.
HB: Wow. Did, did you, did any of the small farms around you did they actually supply any of the airfields direct?
HB2: Not that I know of.
HB: Or it all went through the ministry I suppose.
HB2: Well I think it all went through the ministry because there was bacon factories, egg factories, potato marketing board, apple marketing board. Everything had to go through a board but I think a lot of it might have ended up there because, but it didn’t go direct from the farmer.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: Prices were fixed at what a farmer could buy and sell at.
HB: Right.
HB2: So it would be possible for them to sell it if they got sort of permission but I just don’t think many did.
HB: No. No.
HB2: Fish was never, fish was never rationed but that again was availability because the poor old trawlers used to get sunk and whilst we, whilst we got a supply of fish, the fish and chip shops were never open regularly. Only when it was available and the wet fish man on the market sometimes he was there and sometimes for weeks he wasn’t ‘cause he just couldn’t get the -
HB: Yeah
HB2: He just couldn’t get the fish but oh and we had, we had a fish in a tin called snook.
HB: Right.
HB2: Barracuda.
HB: Was it?
HB2: Now funnily enough it had got a rotten name but it didn’t taste too bad.
HB: Right.
HB2: No. We only, we had very little of it but what I had I wouldn’t turn up my nose at it again. I do remember that but we didn’t eat, we didn’t have much tinned fish. We didn’t. Mum used to, when it was available, get a bit of fresh fish, batter it and fry it herself but no, we didn’t have a lot of fish.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: As I say we stuck to the stodge which was sometimes repetitious but it was still good.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: You know if it was a case of having a dry crust and a plate of meat and potato we’d have a plate of meat and potato. You know, it was stodge.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And we ate what we had. If we’d had it yesterday it didn’t matter.
HB: Yeah. Did you ever, did you ever have evacuees in the village?
HB2: Yes. We did. We had nine.
HB: Right.
HB2: From Lower Wortley, Leeds and these were dumped at the school one dark evening and as one lady described it dished out like prizes at a whist drive ‘cause you couldn’t refuse to have a evacuee. If you did you got fined fifty quid.
HB: Blimey.
HB2: Now the nine kids that come to our village were in that school looking very bewildered, very frightened with a ruddy label attached to their coat collar and the gas mask hanging around the back of their bum. Poor little sods. And they were doled out to these people in the village who never should have had them. They were all houses that had got toilets, running water, mains water but the people that lived in them were, two of them in particular were old couples, house proud, never had any children. Now, one lived, two of them lived in a bungalow at the bottom of our lane and they crossed the road from our lane end. Now, the girl, she wasn’t too badly treated but we couldn’t go, we could go and call for her to play with but we couldn’t play in their yard, their garden. No you had to go out. The other lad, he was a saddler, this bloke that had him. He was house proud and no children and he was a sod. I remember one night we’d gone to Scouts and we was a bit late coming out and he’d come to meet him and he started going at this old boy because he was late and I said, ‘We were doing things. That’s why we were late.’ Anyway, it was none of my business and as I ran off I heard Bob shout, ‘Ouch that hurt.’ Well I run into an RAF sergeant. He said, ‘Where are you going in a hurry?’ I said, ‘I’m going home.’ He said, ‘Is somebody chasing you?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Who just shouted “ouch that hurt?” ’ I said, ‘Oh that’s Bob.’ So he said, ‘Well what’s Bob got to do with it?’ So I told him. He said, ‘I’d better go and see.’ Well I earwigged in a woman’s gateway in the garden and crept along the side of this hedge to listen and I heard this sergeant say, ‘I’ve a bloody good mind to give you a thrashing with that.’ What he’d done was he’d hit Bob on the back of the legs with a plaited riding crop, a leather plaited riding crop. Anyway, I run home and told mum and oh didn’t the villagers let rip but the authorities didn’t, didn’t contact mum to fetch him back again. He was there for quite some time after this incident. I mean we could go and call for him but he had to come away and he didn’t have to get dirty, he didn’t have to get dishevelled. I mean mum’s used to spruce him up. Would clean his hair, wash his face, his hands, clean his shoes before they sent him back and if he, if we’d been fishing or anything he had to leave everything with other kids. Oh this bloke. Well he was a wrong one.
HB: What sort of age would Bob have been?
HB2: He’d have been the same age as me. Ten. Twelve. But as luck would have it if and when his mum found out they fetched him back.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But it must have been, it must have been towards the end of the ‘43 ‘44 type because the evacuees, as soon as things started to get easier I mean Leeds, Leeds was getting bombed but it was nothing like London so mum’s were fetching them back except for one lad. He came in the village with his two sisters. Now, funnily enough they got put with a family of three boys. The two sisters. They’d got a big family already what did they want, but they had a good time, they were alright. The brother, he got billeted with a farmer and his wife and he was, the three of them were brothers and sisters of Ernie Wise.
HB: Really.
HB2: And the brother, he went through agricultural college and went into farm management. So -
HB: Wow.
HB2: He did alright. Another girl called Mary she was stationed with the traction engine man. The contractor, who was an old couple. No children. But she landed on her feet. They were good to her and she, she did exceptionally well. She won a scholarship to the grammar school but for some unknown reason she finished up with me at the secondary modern and people couldn’t understand that. If she’d got a scholarship she should be there. So anyway things began to boil and they used to get on to the big farmer who’d got a finger in every pie there was, you know. He was one of these sat on every committee and got a say on everything that went on. ‘Why is it that your daughter’s gone to grammar school and she never passed a test? Why doesn’t she go?’ Anyway eventually she went to grammar school did Mary and she did well. She even stayed back with the couple until she finished her schooling.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And then, I think she finished up in Canada.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So she did alright and as I said the other, the two twins, well, that came they they sort of hit the chair and bounced off again ‘cause their mum couldn’t bear them being parted and came and fetched them so they’d gone but no poor old Bob got the short straw.
HB: Yeah. Sounds like it. Sounds like it.
HB2: But we had, we had a teacher come with them. Thank God we did. She was a lovely teacher. She was a granny type teacher. You know. Loved by all us kids and she acted as interpreter.
HB: Right.
HB2: And we were out in the field one day, village kids playing football this two or three lads lined up and, what do they want? So we said, ‘What do you want?’ [Can we [lay it with the casey?] ‘You what?’ [laughs]. Can we [lay it with casey]. So by using sign language they got the message across so we said, ‘Yeah come on in,’ and then when we started playing at marbles [can we lay it with the cars]. Oh my God. So again sign language, ‘Yeah come on.’ We fitted them up with marbles and away with them and they taught us a little ditty –
“we’re right down at cellars oil, with muck slats at windows, we’ve used all our coil up, we’ve started on cinders and when the bum bailiff comes he’ll never find us, ‘cause we’ve got mud splats on windows.”
HB: Oh right [laughs]
HB2: And when you’re confronted with that type of talking.
HB: Yeah and the teacher was the interpreter.
HB2: And the teacher was the interpreter oh and would they hell as get used to getting milk out of a cow? There was two of them with me one day. Dad was milking. ‘What’s he doing?’ I said, ‘Milking his cow.’ No he’s not. That’s not milk.’ ‘It is. Do you want a cup full?’ We got a cup. No way were they going to drink that. If you put it in a jug on the table they’d have it out the jug on the table yes, but not that so it took us ages before they accepted it. Once they did I mean once they were drinking milk till it was coming out of their ears.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But it took them ages to that and then one day they would go around and collect the eggs and one hen had just squatted and dropped her egg. They wouldn’t touch it. It had come from the chickens bum. It was dirty.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Course we don’t think of that do we?
HB2: No. And then and what they did like was we used to get a slice of bread, mother used to spread it pretty thick with butter and then we’d go out in the spring and pick the hawthorn shoots, the green buds of and stick it in there. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Its bread and cheese.’ ‘You can’t eat the hedge.’ ‘Yeah you can. Come on.’ Well when they got used to that, I mean every time they come they wanted a slice of bread and butter.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And goosegogs.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Used to top and tail the goosegogs and if they got golden drops which were sweet oh they loved that. They’d pick them up and stick them in and eat them.
HB: Brilliant.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But we used to, they balked at eating carrots pulled out the ground. I mean we used to pull the carrot out of the ground, go to a bit of grass and wipe it on the grass and then rub it in your hands and [click click].
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Nothing. Or swede. We taught them how to peel a swede with your teeth. Well they thought we were absolutely filthy.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. But of course that’s, I mean their experience was totally different.
HB2: Oh God.
HB: Coming from Leeds.
HB2: I mean, the first thing we asked them was, ‘What were the Germans doing in Leeds. Have you got Germans up there?’ ‘No.’ And then we used to say, ‘Why don’t you eat that?’ Because they were amazed at the food that was presented to them. What the hell they’d eaten I don’t know. It couldn’t have been varied much but we used to say to them, ‘Well it’s food. This is what we eat.’
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: I mean bread and jam. They’d have eaten that till it come out their ears.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And cakes. I don’t think they’d ever seen a cake or pastry and because we’d got plenty of fat, I mean the old fat bacon used to get rendered down for lard and we, mum used to cook pastries as she did before but all you know they used to like the egg custards. Oh they loved them and the curd tarts.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. But in the end I mean they used to tuck in. None of them went home any lighter than they were before they come. They all went home pretty well stuffed.
HB: Yeah. And did you ever see them after the war?
HB2: No.
HB: Did any of them ever come back?
HB2: Never saw, except Gordon. The farmer. He used to be in town, he used to play cricket for the town.
HB: So that was that was Ernie, one of the Ernie Wises brothers?
HB2: That was Gordon Wise. Gordon Wiseman -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Was his name. Ernie Wise.
[pause]
HB2: We had, just after the evacuees arrived we started school dinners and we used, at the infants, at the primary school and we used to get a third of a pint of milk a day and I think it was more or less compulsory and I used to say, ‘Mum why do I have to drink milk at school? Don’t I get enough at home?’ She said well at halfpenny a time it was tuppence halfpenny a week for the five days and then they started doing school dinners. They converted the church hut into a kitchen and that was sixpence a day. Half a crown a week. Well of course when it started I had to be in to start, you know, it was something new so I had to be in there and they were, they were nice but before they got the canteen they tried serving them up in the cloakroom and they’d got these ruddy great big oval steamers and pans on a cooker next to a Belfast sink and they used to cook nothing but parsnips and mutton and I, oh I got to the state where mum couldn’t, couldn’t have a joint of mutton because I couldn’t eat it. I used to be sick. And that lasted, that lasted until I joined the air force at seventeen and a half. Now I enjoy mutton like the rest of them.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But oh dear. When I used to go to church on a Sunday, evensong and as the vicar was coming down the aisle to go to the pulput to sermon I was going to the vestry to be heaving. In fact mother thought I was up to something. She come out and found me there and when she saw I wasn’t she was a bit surprised.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. I was allergic to mutton. Now whilst we were at my grans one day -
HB: Sorry. That was one thing I did want to ask you. Where did your gran live?
HB2: Newton.
HB: She lived in the village of Newton.
HB2: Newton. Right next to the church near the village pond and if you went across the road through like going from here to the other side the road there, across his garden you were on the airfield.
HB: Right. Right. It was as close as that.
HB2: On the peri. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. And one day we’d gone to see gran and we heard these, these aeroplanes in a bit of a hurry and then we heard a burst of gunfire so of course we were out and stood under a big elm tree that gran had in her garden and a chap shouted, ‘Get in your shelter.’ ‘We aint got one.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘In that case,’ he said, ‘In that case I’d better join you,’ so we stood there and the road and the ground slipped away in a dip so it was panoramic and obviously a German plane had followed one of our lads home and he got to the bottom of the valley and he’d got a bomb he didn’t want so he dropped it and demolished a little spinney. If he’d gone to the left a bit he’d have hit the searchlight unit.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: But anyway he disappeared in the distance, the next minute the pair of them came roaring back. The English plane was chasing him across and back and when this old chap who’d said get in your shelter shouted, ‘Send for the bloody Poles,’ he said, ‘They’d get the bleeder down.’ Anyway, they did get him apparently towards the east coast.
[pause]
HB2: We had, in our little cottage, we had, it faced more or less east to west and in one end was the bedroom window which overlooked Immingham and Grimsby and we could see Immingham docks getting bombed or if we looked out the other time we could witness poor old Coventry going up in smoke. It was an eerie sight. ‘Course I used to say to my mum, ‘Coventry? That’s a long way away from there.’ ‘Yeah and that’s how big the blaze is.
HB: So that was the night Coventry was bombed.
HB2: Yeah. Oh yeah. But -
HB: Well actually that is a very, yeah I suppose you would see it that far away yeah.
HB2: Well there was a glow in the sky.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: A very vivid glow in the sky and that’s what it was put down to.
HB: Ahum.
HB2: But we thought, we thought that we would be getting bombed because not only of the airfields but there was Scunthorpe Iron Company and things like that. Immingham docks and around that way but you know we didn’t really know. It was all in the distance. We never got anything locally and then we, enterprising youngsters that we were, we decided we’d do waste paper collection so we found a ruddy great big old wooden crate and I’d got some cast iron wheels off a [hen hut].
HB: Oh right.
HB2: We were only little and we put this on a piece of a wood, made, got axles on it and then we put two handles and we had to put two ropes on the front for someone to pull it ‘cause it was too heavy when we got anything in it to manipulate and we used to go around the village collecting waste paper and scrap metal and rags and anything like that and take it to the local carpenter whose yard, he’d got several little sheds and he used to have waste paper in one shed and rags in the other. Anyway, we used to go in there and we used to spend a lot of time in the waste paper sorting out comics and colour magazines like Illustrated News and Post and comics. Cor blimey. And paper that had only been written on one side ‘cause we were short of paper to draw on and the carpenter’s wife come out on many occasions. She said, ‘I’m sure you take home more than you bring in.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Then on another occasion we had to collect, we was asked to collect conkers to use them as a dye.
HB: Right.
HB2: And of course we, we loved that ‘cause we used to keep the big ones out for conker fights.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And that -
HB: So where did the conkers go? Did they just go to some central collection point?
HB2: Well yeah. Carpenter’s shop.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: He put them in a, in a sack in the shed. Somebody used to come and collect them. And we used to go around collecting rosehips and oh that used to give us an excuse to go on the farmer’s fields and they tolerated us. They tolerated us. Telling us not to climb on gates and makes holes in hedges but they, they tolerated and for our sins we got, we got once got a free bottle of rosehip.
HB: Wow.
HB2: We thought we’d done great guns there. Then we had news of a complaint made by the banker’s wife in town against the airmen going home from the pub singing bawdy songs. So she reported it to the sergeant, the police sergeant who said, ‘Yes Madam. I’ll come around and see you.’ So he went around there, ‘Now madam what did you say they were singing?’ ‘Bawdy songs.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘But I can’t stand up in front of the magistrates and say these men were singing bawdy songs because he’d turn around and say, “What were they singing?’’ Anyway she stuttered out about the first verse but when she got to the chorus and they had to whip certain garments away she kicked him out and reported him to the inspector who then went around and said to the sergeant, ‘You did it all wrong. I’ll do it right this time.’ So the first thing he said was, ‘Yes madam. Before I can stand in front of the magistrate giving evidence against these brave men who risk their lives nightly,’ he said, ‘I want to know what they were singing.’ ‘Well there’s the door. Get out.’ Now for some unknown reason and we don’t think it was the fault of the sergeant or the inspector but this tale got out.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And for many many lengths of times afterwards the locals when they left the pub serenaded the lady.
HB: Oh.
HB2: She wished she hadn’t mentioned anything.
HB: I’m just going to check the battery on this -
HB2: Right.
HB: Harold, ‘cause I’m just getting. No. No. We can keep going for a while. Keep going for a while.
HB2: Right. As I said my sister worked in munitions but she was relieved because she suffered badly from dermatitis.
HB: Right.
HB2: And she went into, into a job in a hotel, the Oxford Hotel in Lincoln as a general dogsbody and in the same hotel was a man who had a haulage business and he was managing his lorries going from local quarries to the airfields carting materials and they met and got engaged and got married in 1943 and it was, we were all determined, the village and the family were determined that she should have a proper wedding. So coupons were pooled to buy the dress for her and the bridesmaid and mum would cater for the reception. Well muggins here had to go in the washhouse and scrub the copper till it shone so that we could boil the ham.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: The whole ham.
HB: Ok.
HB2: In there. Well first of all I had to spend a week turning it, soaking it, getting the salt out. Then we put it in the copper and it had to be gently boiling so we got that done and then we lumbered it out, put it in a dish and put it in the pantry ready for the day. The next thing was I had to scrub the cart out, the old horse and cart, line it with newspaper, put sheets on it and then put the food in there to take it the half mile down the road to the church hut.
HB: Right.
HB2: Anyway, we got it all there and laid out, the wedding went off alright and then these people I think there was over twenty came into the reception. Now, all his side come from Leeds and, ‘cause I remember the best man turned up in his lorry piled with gear so I said, ‘What have you brought the gear for?’ He said, ‘Your dad wants it.’ I said, ‘Does he?’ So he said, ‘Yeah.’ Anyway, left it at that but what he’d done was he’d loaded it up with this with what dad wanted because he had to have his petrol, he had to have an excuse to do the journey.
HB: Oh right. Yes. Of course with petrol rationing.
HB2: Anyway, he come and he took his overalls off and there he was in his best suit with a button hole. And he said, ‘Have I come wedding boy?’
HB: Yeah. Oh dear.
HB2: Anyway, the wedding went off and the reception went in and when they got in and saw what was laid out ‘cause the villagers again had come with cakes, pastries, bread, butchers with potted meat and what have you, mother with her ham and the people with salads. It was April so we got salad stuff and these people from Leeds just couldn’t, just couldn’t understand how mother had put the spread on that she did. So she said, ‘Well it would take a long while to explain but just sit down and enjoy it.’ Well enjoy it they did. I mean a whole ham for twenty odd people and it went.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: What they didn’t eat they took home in doggie bags.
HB: Well yeah. Yeah.
HB2: There was, there was the cold ham, there was the salad, there was cakes, fancy cakes, there was trifles, there was jellies, there was blancmanges and there was wine. Oh and I fell out with the best man because he wouldn’t give me any, any wine.
HB: How old were you then?
HB2: I were ten. I said, ‘It’s my sister’s wedding and I can have some wine.’ Anyway, I went crying to mum and she said, ‘Oh for God’s sake give him a drop.’ Well when I tasted it I wished I hadn’t. [laughs]
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But being a good lad and what was in my glass I had to drink.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So I tipped it back, swallowed it back. Well I thought I was going to burn the back of my throat out.
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: Yeah. But that was, that was, that was the wedding.
HB: So boiling up the ham, the copper that’s, that’s the laundry copper that the washing used to be done in.
HB2: Oh yeah. Washday copper.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Make sure there’s no soap in it.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Lovely job.
HB2: Laxative.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But that, that’s the sort of thing that went on you know. For occasions like that the people in the village turned up trumps, you know. They did. They really did and you know to us the spread wasn’t, well normal run of the, it was a bit exceptional but it was things that we always had. We hadn’t given them up because of the war. I mean you could still buy jelly and we had enough milk to make custards. You could get custard powder.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: So that was a jolly good, a jolly good spread out because everybody thoroughly enjoyed it and absolutely amazed at what went on. Now gran as I said lived at Newton and she had a little cottage in which she sold, she had a bit of a shop. Sold the essentials like firelighters and plasters. The baker left his bread there, orders of bread there and she sold lemonade and one day an airman came in for a box of matches just as gran had made a pot of tea. So she said, ‘Do you want a drink of tea?’ ‘Oh yes please.’ ‘Well, here, have a cake as well,’ and they had quite a chat and she said, ‘That’s it old lad. Cheerio. Come back again when you like. Bring your mates.’ ‘Do you mean that ma?’ So she said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got six more.’ So she said, ‘Well it’s not a very big cottage but bring them,’ and that’s when this crew turned up and made her, they didn’t come every night or every weekend but they come regular. Turned it in to a little oasis. They would come and first of all they wouldn’t eat or drink what gran offered them and she was a bit annoyed and she said, ‘What’s wrong with my food?’ ‘Nothing’s wrong with it.’ Ma they called her right from the start. ‘Nothing’s wrong with it ma.’ She said, ‘Yes there is and if you can’t find room to eat it then don’t bother to come.’ ‘Oh don’t be like that ma. You can’t do it. You just can’t do it. It’s rationing.’ ‘Look,’ she said, ‘if I couldn’t do it I wouldn’t offer.’ So anyway after a lot of arguing and umming and erring she won the day and she brought out the fat bacon sandwiches and whatever. Well these old boys they were amazed to think and each time they come there was tea and something to eat. Again the people in the hamlet used to come with a twist of paper with some tea in it. A twist of paper with some sugar in it or gran would put some sugar to one side and she said, ‘This is why we can give you the meat. Because we kills pigs.’ Oh right well that was alright. Well then they started coming with bags of sugar and bags of tea they’d nicked out the mess and gran got really worried. She said, ‘Don’t you lads get into bother,’ she said, ‘Because we can manage.’ No gran. ‘No ma you’re alright. You’re alright.’ And they, sometimes they’d come and have a chat, sometimes they would go in the front room and just sit around the fire on the floor leaning up against the chair going to sleep. Gran often said, ‘Look at them poor devils. Tired out.’ Anyway, when they found out she’d got a piano oh didn’t they used to have some singsongs there. Then one night gran put her foot in it. She turned around and she said, ‘Where’s Taff Lloyd tonight?’ Pregnant pause. Shoulder went around, arm went around her shoulders, ushered her outside, come back tears streaming down her face. He hadn’t made it back and they’d said, ‘Look ma if there’s a face missing don’t ask. Just don’t ask.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: After that it was plain sailing until like I said the time come when they just didn’t appear and it was the hope and praying of the village that they’d been posted and not -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Lost in battle but that was the one thing that -
HB: And this was just the one crew.
HB2: Just the one crew.
HB: Just the one crew.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. And so they’d lost a crew mate.
HB2: Yes. Yes they had.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Oh and I was dinged, I hadn’t to question them as what they did.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I was not to question them what they did.
HB: What sort of time would this have been 44ish?
HB2: Well, it was, it was must have been 44ish and I think it was after Christmas because the nights were still dark and I can’t think that we were leading up to Christmas so it must have been after Christmas.
HB: Right.
HB2: But I know, I know the nights, the nights were dark when they arrived. I mean they didn’t stop till midnight. 10 o’clock and they’d gone.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And they would always say, ‘Ma see you on such and such a night. We might be a bit busy.’ So once she knew what night it was then the villagers used to drop off. The butcher used to drop off potted meat. The baker used to drop off some cakes or scones or a loaf of bread.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Looking back it was, nobody asked. It was done.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. And that, and that sort of follows this supportive trend through the village -
HB2: Yes.
HB: With everything else.
HB2: Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh God yes I know gran used to benefit no end by it. The farmers used to drop her off a bag of logs or a -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Few spuds.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: You know. She was well taken care of.
HB: And they, so they were obviously flying operationally.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: They were all English crew I presume.
HB2: Except for the Welshman.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah but they were all English.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yes.
HB: Yeah that -
HB2: And I know, I know one was a gunner ‘cause he got air gunner, AG is it? The other was a navigator because he got N and the other had got two wings so I presumed he was the pilot.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But we didn’t, I didn’t dared ask.
HB: No. No. I understand that. I understand that.
HB2: Oh and they used to dress me in their coats, put their coats on my shoulders and their hats on. I thought I was the bee’s knees you know. My God. ‘Look at me mum. Look at me.’
HB: Yeah. Yeah I mean ten eleven year old would be.
HB2: Yeah. Oh God yes.
HB: You’d be all over that.
HB2: And in them days, yes because I was more of a child at that age then what kids are today.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. Absolutely delightful that. And then just one day.
HB2: They went home at night. Never seen again. Never seen again. Not even a word. Just gone.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh, that, that did grate with the villagers not knowing what had happened to them.
HB: Can you remember roughly when that would have been? Would that have been, you know what period of time they would have been visiting do you think?
HB2: Well I think, I think it must have been January to March because as I said I don’t recollect getting excited about going up to Christmas so it must have been after.
HB: Right.
HB2: And -
HB: So just two or three months then.
HB2: It was only two or three months. Three months would have been the most. But in that time they’d made several visits, regular visits, you know. Sudden bursts and there they were happy and singing and jumping about and then next minute just gone.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Another thing in the village the teenage girls. Makeup was scarce.
HB: Right.
HB2: And so were stockings. There was all sorts of substitutes sort of made up such as olive oil and bees wax for skin softener, bird cork for mascara and a mixture of soot and something else for an eyeshadow and they used to, we could get a liquorice sweet. It was a piece of liquorice soaked in like an icing that used to turn red and they used to use the red for the lipstick. Or beetroot juice.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And we used to shout out after them, ‘sugar lips.’
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: And the best of it was we used to have to run because some of these girls could run and when they caught you they could thump and all. ‘Sugar lips’ or beetroot, ‘beetroot lips’ and then they, my sister was one of them. She used to paint her legs with gravy browning.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: And then her mate used to have to put a seam down with a big leaded pencil and we used to shout, ‘Your gravy’s gone lumpy, your gravy’s lumpy,’ or ‘Your seam’s slipping.’
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: That was it but then, then they brought out a thing, some liquid called silk toner. Liquid stockings. And there was enough in the bottle for twenty four applications. I mean. Can you imagine just painting your ruddy legs with it?
HB: Right.
HB2: And another thing is if they got the start of a ladder they nearly always carried nail varnish and they’d put a blob of nail varnish at the top of the ladder and at the bottom to stop it running.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Stockings were treated like gold. Some of these poor women used to be darned heals and sewn up ladders. I mean patches were worn with honour.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I mean men used to have patched knees and elbows. Oh God yes.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Now they don’t bother to patch them now do they?
HB: No. That’s true.
HB2: Yeah, poor, yeah, that was it, gravy legs. ‘You’ll be in a mess when it rains.’ [laughs] ‘Look there’s a dog following you.’ [laughs]
HB: Cruel.
HB2: And I went to school in short trousers made out of mum’s old great coats or men’s greatcoats, shirts out of her dresses. Things like that. You see these housewives were masters at needlework and cooking and what have you.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh yes. The old jumble sales did a roaring trade. Knitted, knitted garments were soon picked up and pulled down and recycled.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They used to, they used to wear little woollen bibs instead of collars the men working in the fields.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Instead of scarves in the winter.
HB: Right.
HB2: Oh used to fit down front in the V of the jackets.
HB: Oh that’s, yeah.
HB2: Then then they started, the ladies started making coats out of candlewick bedspreads and out of black out material for other things because blackout material wasn’t rationed.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Oh God and if you could get hold of a blanket, an army blanket, a coloured one oh you’d have a coat out of that as quick as lightning.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And hats weren’t rationed and there was no end of tips how to make felt hats into a pair of slippers.
HB: Yes.
HB2: Yes. And how to titivate it up to make it look more expensive.
HB: How did they find this out? Was this through newspapers or -
HB2: It was the -
HB: Leaflets?
HB2: Greatest tip provider was “Home Chat.”
HB: “Home Chat”?
HB2: A woman’s magazine. “Home Chat.”
HB: Right.
HB2: I mean nearly every magazine covered tips of some kind or other. If it wasn’t recipes for food it was how to revitalise a drab dress or something like that.
HB: Yeah. That’s, yeah, I’ve not heard of “Home Chat” before but, yeah.
HB2: It was 1940 ’41.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: When that was on. Now food on the table. I can’t recollect eating less in the war than other time.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: It remained the same. As I said my mother’s generation and grandma’s generation were masters in the art of making something out of nothing and they could cook and it was tasty.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: They used to make dumplings. Now, the variety of dumplings. There was parsley dumplings. There was dumplings with, we called green dumpling. Now these green dumpling could have little juicy spouts off the hedge, some bits of growing corn or dandelion leaves chopped up in them.
HB: Oh right. You’d pay a fortune in a posh restaurant for that now.
HB2: Yeah. You would. You would. But most of the food was provided locally. You know. It was grown locally.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And we, my father had a house with, we moved in to a house with two large gardens so that was providing us with veg of all sorts, shapes and sizes and extra potatoes and stuff like that were grown in the fields.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So we got plenty of that sort of thing and around two fields we had ten apple trees, crab-apple trees, all of different varieties.
HB: Right.
HB2: And in the middle hedge was Bullace trees. Little, little blue plums. So we’d plenty of fruit in season in the hedgerows.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And a big pear tree stood in the bottom field. And a Coxs. Not a Cox. An apple tree stood in the garden.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So we, and again the apple used to be floated around. Nobody wasted an apple. It was swapped then or turned into jam or something like that.
HB: You know just taking you back a bit Harold you know you mentioned about going with the girl who stayed, the evacuee girl who stayed to go to the secondary modern school.
HB2: Yes.
HB: Obviously the war was still going on
HB2: Oh yes.
HB: When you went to the higher school.
HB2: ‘44 yes. Yes.
HB: Where was the secondary modern school?
HB2: Market Rasen.
HB: That was in Market Rasen.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: So how did you get -
HB2: Oh we had a bus.
HB: Did you?
HB2: Oh yes we had a bus.
HB: So you got from this, from Middle Rasen.
HB2: Yes. Yes.
HB: To Market Rasen.
HB2: Yes.
HB: By bus to go to school.
HB2: Yes.
HB: Right.
HB2: Mind you I think it went our as far as West Rasen.
HB: Yes. Yes.
HB2: To a catchment there but yes we went by bus.
HB: Yeah. So obviously as you move in to the secondary modern school and you meet some of the older pupils and kids obviously some of your attitudes must have to change do they?
HB2: Oh yes. Yes they did. We were a bit more grown up.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: You know. But we were governed then by female teachers when I first arrived there up till ’45. Then when the male teachers came back they didn’t mess about. They weren’t harsh but they’d got the military discipline hadn’t they?
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And when we say jump you jump. I remember a kid at the back wasn’t paying attention and he got a board rubber thrown at him and he threw the rubber board rubber back at the teacher. Oh God.
HB: By the shirt scruff and -
HB2: He give him a dressing down in front of the class and made him stand at the side of him, at the side of his table until he said he could go and sit down. No. They weren’t, they weren’t cruel.
HB: No.
HB2: But by God they were, you know, you’ll do as you’re told and I don’t think any of them gave them the stick.
HB: No.
HB2: No. They just I mean they wouldn’t allowed it today physically yanking them out or grabbing them by the ear and pulling them out of the front. That was sufficient.
HB: Yeah. So by, by that time when you were at the secondary modern the Polish squadron would have moved into the air base, the air field. Did, did you because I think you said to me on the phone there wasn’t an awful lot of contact between the Poles and the village.
HB2: No. There wasn’t. There wasn’t.
HB: But I mean at any time did you ever go to any sort of social dos or you know invitation dos at the airfield.
HB2: Oh yeah. We had a tea party.
HB: Right.
HB2: We had a tea party. It, all the, all the scouts, local scouts, guides, brownies, cubs were invited to a tea party there and oh what a day that was. We were shown some aeroplanes and then we were taken into this long room where the table was set and we were sat down to tea. Now, on my plate in front of me was some ham cured by Polish methods, some chicken seasoned by Polish methods and then there would be if I said a spoonful, a tablespoon full of chopped tomato and cucumber with a dressing on it. There was something like curds or cheese with bits of fruit in it. There was grated carrot and grated cheese with a dressing on it. Everything had got a dressing on it. There was what we call now today potato salad and there was coleslaw and all these were on a dressing and I mean nearly everything was a first to me and my eyes used to look a bit suspicious at it and think, what’s that? What’s that? But oh and the lettuce was chopped up, sliced up thinly with a dressing on it and we ate, it was neither a biscuit nor bread but it was soft so it must have been a type of bread or bread cake to eat with it. Well we didn’t have anything on it but by gum it was good and so of course with my fork I’m there tasting this and tasting that and thinking this is not too bad and my plate was clean like the rest of, the rest of the other kids.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: It really was and then when they come out with the cookies oh our faces must have been a picture. I mean we’d never seen anything like that and as most of the kids had been told to eat what was put on their plate there wasn’t much left.
HB: No. No.
HB2: And it was all washed down with a fruit cordial.
HB: Right.
HB2: Oh that was memorable was that tea party. That was memorable.
HB: So who was serving the food? Was this the -
HB2: The WAAFs and the men.
HB: The WAAFs and the men.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: And they were English.
HB2: No. They were Polish.
HB: They were all Polish.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Right. Right. And they, so how did, I mean obviously they could communicate.
HB2: Oh they could speak better English than we could speak Polish.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: No problem. I mean kids could speak naturally don’t they?
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And they had no difficulty. Maybe with the dialect but no, they understood what we said ‘cause we said, this was dinged in to me and dinged into the others, ‘You remember your manners. Please and thank you costs nothing,’ so it was, ‘Please’ and, ‘thank you,’ a thousand times over.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. How many, did that only happen the once or -?
HB2: Just the once.
HB: Right.
HB2: Just the once.
HB: Was that early when the Poles came or was that after they’d been there a little while? Do you remember?
HB2: Oh I think they must have been a bit established a little bit there because I think it was even quieter. The war was going better than ever.
HB: Right.
HB2: You know.
HB: Right.
HB2: They was in there.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But oh yes. But that was a day to remember that was.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I mean I can, well it must have been for me to remember the details today.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. It’s obviously stuck in your mind.
HB2: It has and I mean even today we’ll try, you know, the Poles did it this way so we’ll chop up our tomatoes and cucumbers different. What the dressings were I don’t know. Didn’t get them out but they tasted good.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: That was the first time I’d had slices of apple, raw apple and raw pear on a salad
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: I thought.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I thought oh God. Apple? With a salad. It went down.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: It went down.
[pause]
HB2: Now then we had, we got bombarded with make do and mend and waste not want not.
HB: Right.
HB2: Now, clothing, as I said, second hand clothing was turned into all sorts of things from snip rugs to short trousers. And the food. Well, nothing was wasted. It was not wasted at all.
HB: No.
HB2: And some of the things would make them stare today because, take for instance growing broad beans. The tops are nipped out.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They weren’t thrown away. They were cooked as a vegetable.
HB: Oh right. Right.
HB2: Pea vines were nipped out and tender shoots took out and boiled out as vegetables. The tops of Brussels sprouts was always cut out and used as a veg and the tops of them newly spouted tops on swedes was done the same way and when we grew spring onions, when we grew the normal onions from a bulb or when we grew celery the tops were cut and chopped up to put in stews and soups as seasoning.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We had, always had a row of chives to put seasoning in so there was plenty of seasoning going on and when we, when we had a leek we took the leek up out of the ground, cleaned it off, cut the mushy root off, took the pair of scissors and snipped the brown tips of the leaves off. Then we cut the blue from the white but we chopped the blue up, put it in a pan and cooked it five or ten minutes before we put the white in.
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: So that wasn’t wasted.
HB: No.
HB2: And when we, when we cut, cut a cabbage we used to cut it within the tops of the first set of leaves, trimmed the leaves off to about this much stalk, split the stem into a cross and then a new shoot would come out where the leaves joined the -
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: The thing. And the cauliflower, we’d always cut that off and use all the leaves around it. We’d strip all the leaves off to get the bare flower first of all and put them in to cook first.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And then we’d cut the florets off the stalk and chop that up finely and put that in.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And the top half of the Brussel plant or a cow plant, something like broccoli plant we used to cut that off ‘cause it was soft and chop that up and put it in a stew or the thing.
HB: Right. Yeah.
HB2: And I remember getting in to awful bother in the supermarket when the broad beans come in ‘cause I was picking them up about as thick as my little finger and this old boy with his wife come to me and said, ‘Why are you doing that for boy?’ ‘Because I want them.’ ‘Well they’re no damned good,’ he said. I said, ‘They’re exactly what I want.’ ‘What do you mean? What are you going to do with them?’ I said, ‘I’m going to top and tail them and cook them in the coshes.’ ‘Come on misses,’ he said, ‘This bloke’s gone mad here.’ And off he went. But we did. We used to cook the beans. Now field beans are tough old things aren’t they?
HB: Oh yes. Yeah.
HB2: Well there were so self sets up the top here. I went up there one day and they were there were just forming, the beans, I pulled them off, topped and tailed them and cooked them and I went up there one day and as they were just forming I pulled them off, topped and tailed them and cooked them and you couldn’t have better tasting beans in all my life.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And my wife’s grandfather kept a shop and he had one lady used to go in and ask for the broad bean coshes and she used to trim the edges up with the scissors and then cook the rest.
HB: Yeah but it’s a skill learned -
HB2: Oh my God, yes.
HB: In adversity.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: And it’s seen you through the rest of your life.
HB2: That’s right. And we used to cook bacon. Slice of bacon in the frying pan or a joint. Well the skin used to come off. The rind used to come off and it used to be minced up and put in a stew.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: Or a soup.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Oh yeah. And when, when we had a carcass of a chicken or some big marrowbones when they went out and got thrown away they were white. They’d been boiled and boiled.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So as you come, as you’re coming through now you’re sort of eleven, twelve year old, you’re heading towards the end of the war really. What, did you as a boy then, as a young boy did you notice a change in people in the village and around, in the fact that you know we’d had, I presume by then we’d had D-Day and were starting to, you know, make inroads did you notice a change in attitudes with people or were they still pretty well set, you know we haven’t done the job yet. That sort of mentality?
HB2: Yes I did because rationing hit them. Rationing in peacetime was worse than rationing in the war.
HB: Right.
HB2: I mean for instance bread was rationed in peacetime. It was never rationed in the war. And the cheese ration went down to an ounce and milk went down to two and a half pints a week or two pints a week sometimes. We had first of all there was the end of lend lease and so the food that was available had to be eaten then and it wasn’t plentiful. Then they had a world shortage of dollars and that was a thing, another thing that we had to pull our belts in, tighten our belts up and then there was, we had to, now then, meat went scarce or something because we had to feed the Germans which didn’t go down at all well so there was reasons. Oh there was a world financial crisis and that caused us again to cut down on rations. So in, all in all the feeling was that the war was over but we’re still on rationing.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We were still paying.
HB: Did you, did you have, did, I mean you lived in a relatively small village compared to Market Rasen, did you have, did you have your own VE celebrations or -
HB2: Oh yes we had our street parties.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We had a bigger celebration for VE day than we had for VJ day.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Because that was I’m afraid a long way away. When we was at school and Germany, Dunkirk had occurred mother met one local lad whose family she knew well and he’d just escaped with them and I remember her coming home and crying her eyes out. She said, ‘that poor devil escaped with what he stood up in,’ so that’s how it hit her and then having, having the Dunkirk thing happened that, that, that had a very gloomy effect on the village and there was little things like that that sort of reminded them that they hadn’t finished with it yet.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: They, they, they did relax at the end of the war when we had our celebrations but not completely because we had a reminder. Two lads come back having been prisoners of war of the Japs and one of them had suffered very badly. He lived in a row of little, four little cottages where we used to play marbles outside his house. Well when he went for a rest oh he used to scream his head off and he used to frighten us kids to death. How long it took him to get over it, if he ever did get over it, I don’t know.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But he had a rough time and as I said then there was the lad from Dunkirk who presented that side of it and so we knew what was, we knew what was going on.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I mean the gloom on the village when Dunkirk happened was, was noticeably, even me as a kid noticed what it was like.
HB: So as you come into the end of ‘45 and into 1946 what were your, what were you looking forward to? Can you remember what you were looking forward to? ‘Cause the war’s, the wars almost over but it’s not quite over. You’re heading towards, you know there must have been a point when you realised there must be some kind of peace coming. What were you, what were your expectations?
HB2: I, my one thing I was thinking about was my brother coming back.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: What he’d be like because I hadn’t seen him for five years.
HB: And I mean very early on in the interview you just said that your brother went abroad. I mean -
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Where did he go? Do you know?
HB2: He went to India to start with and then picked his way over into Egypt and up the toe of Italy to the German border.
HB: Right.
HB2: Then they sent him all the way around by sea home again to send him across the sea to finish off his service in Germany.
HB: Right. Right.
HB2: So yes and I didn’t know until I’d started my job, left school and started my job we had a relief signalman and he said to me, he says, ‘Are you the brother to Jack Beech?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘How do you know him?’ ‘In the army.’ He said, ‘I was long range desert patrol and,’ he said, ‘I come across him and a bunch of his buddies just standing in the desert.’ So I said, ‘What do you mean standing in the desert? He was a driver.’ So he said, ‘Yeah the front line had moved up and down and where it was safe before for them to go the Italians had been stood waiting for them,’ and he said, ‘They just took their vehicles and left them what they stood up in.’ He said, ‘And as luck would have it we come across them.’ I said, ‘Oh is that why he doesn’t like Itys?’ It was always those damned Itys. I could understand it but he never spoke about it. We never got to know about that.
HB: No.
HB2: No.
HB: What age were you when you actually left school Harold?
HB2: Fifteen.
HB: So, so you were there at the secondary modern through to fifteen.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: From ’44 to -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: ’48.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. And so, as, as the war is ended and you’ve touched on the rationing. All the guys who had been away who had survived and been away they’re come back what was happening on the airfield? Was that, did you notice that winding down or -?
HB2: When I got my job I did.
HB: Right.
HB2: I left school at fifteen in ’48 and got a job as a lad porter at Snelland Station and Snelland Station serviced Wickenby airfield.
HB: Right.
HB2: And Wickenby airfield was getting rid of all the old ordinance and scrap vehicles so they were constantly coming down to the railway station to dispatch vehicles and these ruddy great bombs and didn’t [Sabu] the crane driver get me going ‘cause there he is swinging five of these ruddy great bombs and putting them down on, in the wagons saying, ‘Be very careful when you’re nailing the chock don’t make a spark because you’ll be going up in smoke.’ [laughs]
HB: What were these? Were these like the big oil drum type bombs or -?
HB2: Yeah. We had an open wagon, railway wagon and five would get in nicely that we could scotch them.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Five in a truck and they were the width of -
HB: Scotching obviously being putting the wooden wedges in. Yeah.
HB2: It was a wooden wedge.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And don’t you cause a spark. Well me and my mate were frit to death. I remember us sitting on these bombs one day when we’d scotched them and we said how the hell could a spark set this lot off? And then we came to the conclusion they weren’t live, well live enough but you know.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They were pretty safe.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Egads we used to have to spend so much time building a wooden frame so they wouldn’t roll because I mean if them five had hit the end of the truck they’d have been gone.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But touch wood we never had a complaint about them being littered up on the line but they were going up to Stranraer to be dumped in the sea.
HB: Were they now?
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Right.
HB2: I think the vehicles were going to a depot to be to be scrapped and -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Broken down as scrap.
HB: So that, so that would have been the bombs that would have been all the way to Stranraer that would be all on the railway then.
HB2: Oh yes.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh yes. Boxed wagons had got the smaller ammunition.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And the low, the low wagons had got the vehicles.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh for a fifteen year old I were busy. I was really busy.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Me and my mate from the next station.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: We really were and I mean we were both young and inexperienced and yet we’d got a responsible job of making sure nothing fell off.
HB: Absolutely. Absolutely. You wouldn’t want one of them rolling off anyway.
HB2: You wouldn’t. No.
HB: No.
HB2: And it was a, it was a real experience being working as a lad porter ‘cause as I said at fifteen I was responsible for keeping all the lights in the signals and the other little things on the line alight.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: ‘Cause when they put, well they had dollies that used to turn and I mean they had to have a light in there. They had to have lights on the gates, lights on the platform, lights in the signals.
HB: And what was, what was the source of light?
HB2: Paraffin.
HB: All paraffin lamps.
HB2: Paraffin. Oh and what did stop, when you got, I don’t know, three quarters of a mile away from the station to the distant signal and the ruddy lamp blew out and you were trying, down the bank trying to shelter it with your coat to light it again and you’d get up to the top and the damned thing had gone out again.
HB: So you’d have go up the ladder and put it in the, in the signal.
HB2: Yeah you had a lamp that was stuck on a spike -
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And put it in and sometimes I’d go back the next morning and get down to that signal. The light’s out.
HB: Yeah
HB2: Oh dear. Primitive.
HB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Primitive.
HB: But did it work?
HB2: Oh it worked. Yes it worked.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Yeah. And we had a pony delivered by passenger train. It come on the end of passenger. Well if you’d seen the rigmarole of that. The signaller pulled the line so the lines went over and I had to run over with a G clamp and clamp the ends so they didn’t open again.
HB: Sorry what’s a pony?
HB2: Riding pony.
HB: Oh. Riding pony. I’m with you. I’m with you.
HB2: Come in a horse box. Behind the -
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And I had to shunt it across the line. I had to put this G clamp on the end of every section that opened.
HB: Oh right. Blimey.
HB2: There was a delay of the passenger train I’ll tell you.
HB: Yeah. I would, yeah they wouldn’t be very happy would they?
HB2: No.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh and you had to shout out the name of the station.
HB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
HB2: One day I was in an impish mood and I said, ‘Anyone for here. This is it.’
HB: You’d get away with that?
HB2: Yes.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. How long were you there at the, sorry what was the station I’ve forgotten?
HB2: Snelland.
HB: Snelland. That’s it.
HB2: Fifteen to seventeen and a half. Two and a half years.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: To ‘51. ‘48 to ‘51 because I’d made up my mind bringing bringing the ordinance down the RAF police would come down -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: To supervise and I used to talk to them and they said, I used to say I want to join the air force and they said oh you go in the police [you’re big and awkward?] you go in the police which I did. I got the police and I got the air force.
HB: Oh right.
HB2: So -
HB: Right.
HB2: Seventeen and a half when I was taken into the air force in 19’, February ’51. Whilst I was in the air force I got in to awful trouble at RAF Benson with this messing sergeant. I’d gone up as you usually do with your plates and they dished out the spud, the veg, the meat, pudding and the custard and I, the pomp ‘No thanks.’ The cabbage. ‘No thanks. The custard. ‘No thanks.’ And the sergeant said to me, ‘When you’re finished your meal I want to see you in my office.’ So I said, ‘Right.’ So I went in her office and there was the WAAF catering officer there who had just taken over and so catering officer there who’d just taken over and so the catering sergeant said, ‘Oh hello corporal. What do you want?’ I said, ‘I’ve been asked to attend here by the sergeant.’ ‘What’s he done wrong sergeant?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘He refused the potato, he refused the cabbage and he refused the custard.’ So she was a wily old cuss was this sergeant, she was lovely. She turned to me and she said, ‘Well what’s your answer?’ So I said, ‘Well first of all I was told and brought up that if I didn’t want anything and I wouldn’t eat it I didn’t have it on my plate.’ ‘Right,’ she said, ‘So what was wrong with the potato?’ I said, ‘It was pomp.’ ‘What was wrong with the cabbage?’ I said, ‘It was dehydrated.’ ‘What was wrong with the custard?’ I said, ‘It was made with water.’ Well the sergeant’s face was a picture so the sergeant stepped in, she said, ‘How do you know it was made with water?’ ‘Because it was blackish. It’s very dark and blackish.’ So the old WAAF officer she turned her head away. I think she’d had a quiet smile. So the sergeant then said, ‘Alright corporal, are you some sort of a chef? Are you in the food trade?’ I said, ‘No. I’m just a farmer’s son living on a small farm.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘Well explain yourself.’ I said, ‘Well I live on a small farm that produces milk, plenty lot of it and the custard that they make is nowhere near what you’re making there so I assumed it was made of water.’ Well she didn’t say it was and didn’t say -
HB: No.
HB2: It wasn’t and I said, ‘I don’t like, I’ve tasted and don’t like the pomp and the dehydrated cabbage. So the old WAAF sergeant said, ‘Fair enough corporal. Fair enough.’ She said, ‘I can see you’re a man that’s had an upbringing that’s different to others.’ I said –
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I said, ‘Well’ –
HB: Yeah.
HB2: ‘It might be simple but,’ I said, ‘It’s good.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And she said, ‘Well alright. Off you go.’ Well then we used to take the swill of the messes and feed pigs ‘cause they’d got a pig farm on there and send them off to be processed for bacon and the general public. She said, ‘Stop that. They’re coming in the mess.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh we used to have some lovely dishes. Yeah.
HB: Right.
HB2: ’Cause she did say after that she used to come around, both of them used to come around the mess and say, ‘Is anything alright?’ And mean it.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: If you’d got a complain you said so and I know I said to them one day I said, Look, I do patrols through the night and I come in to the mess for a sandwich,’ I said, ‘And it’s usually the time when the joints of meat come out of the oven I said and they don’t taste anything like what we get at 1 o’clock.’ ‘Oh?’ I said, ‘Well let’s face it you’ve got a thousand odd men. How do you keep slices of meat warm from 2 o’clock in the morning till middle of the day?’ She said, ‘Well there’s the snag. What’s wrong with them?’ she said. I said, ‘Well they’re like cigarette papers aren’t they?’ I said, ‘It’s tasteless.’ Anyway, she did something about that.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And I said, and she said, ‘What about the eggs?’ I said, ‘Well they’re like rubber. They hit the wall and bounce around the camp.’
HB: Oh right.
HB2: She said -
HB: Right.
HB2: She said. ‘Well again unless we have somebody frying them and dishing them out, then we’ve got a bit of a problem there.’
HB: Yeah.
HB2: So I said, ‘I understand,’ I said, ‘It doesn’t stop me eating them.’
HB: Yeah. But it’s different.
HB2: But it’s different. So, she, she it was a, it was an ex-naval man that was the thing before, messing officer before and he just got what was easy. Of course -
HB: Yeah.
HB2: When she took over we had to eat what was in the stores.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: To clean up but after that she got it going.
HB: So what, you know as obviously we’re coming towards the end what do you think, it’s not an abiding memory that’s, that’s the wrong phrase but what, what do you think your experience of being a boy in the countryside and on a farm and near an airfield, what do you think your experience has given you for the rest of, you know, for your adult life.
HB2: It’s, I had the opportunity on occasion to see the rough side of war. I was messing about at home one day when I heard an aircraft that was making a funny noise and I saw it hit the ground. It crashed on the other side of the village and I jumped on my bike and got over there and I was going up the yard and in the implement hole was a mate of mine, Bob and I said, ‘Are you alright, Bob? What’s going on here?’ And he never answered and when I went up to him he never moved. So I said, ‘Are you alright?’ And he never answered again. Anyway, an ambulance man was going up the yard and what are you two doing in here and I said, ‘It’s my mate. I can’t get him to talk,’ so he come in and he said, ‘Oh has he been hit?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So he picked him up and carried him out to the ambulance and he, I stood waiting and he said, ‘It’s alright. He’s suffering from shock but what he’s done I don’t know.’ So he says, ‘I’ll take him home.’ So they took him home and I wended my way into the field. Where the crater, you couldn’t get anywhere near it. There were people busying about so I went up the other side to the hedge and watched them and there was men on the corner of a blanket, four on a corner, on each corner of the blanket metal things picking and I thought what on earth are they doing? Well as they came around the outskirts of the crater it was remnants of bodies, flesh. And then I started wandering around the outskirts and I found a boot with a foot in it and I thought oh God yes they’ve been blown to bits haven’t they? Well by the time more police had arrived, more ministry people, more air force people had arrived and there was keeping us further and further away from the wreck so I went through the hedge and damn me if there wasn’t bits of body in there so I came back and the chap’s coming near me I said, You’ve got some more out here.’ ‘Oh come on then show us where.’ And I spent some time showing them where in the other field. Eventually I went home and the next day I went to school, come back home and my mother said, ‘I want a word with you.’ So I said, ‘What for?’ ‘Well what have you been up to? Where did you go yesterday?’ I said, ‘I went down to Hankins farm.’ So she said, ‘What did you do there?’ I said, ‘Walked around a field.’ So she said, ‘I’ve just had a policeman and the district nurse here.’ So I said, ‘What for?’ ‘Well they told me you were interfering.’ So I said, ‘I wasn’t. I kept out of the way.’ Course she’d suspected I’d done something wrong and they weren’t telling her the truth so I said, ‘No. I hadn’t done anything wrong.’ So she said, ‘What did they mean by asking questions of me if you’d slept alright and did you eat your breakfast this morning?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about.’ Anyway, it come out that Bob had been in the field at the top when the aeroplane crashed at the bottom and he saw this thing coming for him wherever he went and he just froze but eventually managed to get in to the hovel and hide. Me? I’d witnessed too much.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Which was gruesome so they wanted to know if I was fit and well. Now me and the two lads from across the road who were there as well never had any effect on us at all.
HB: No.
HB2: No. It was strange that.
HB: Never came back to visit you.
HB2: No. No. It was something that was being done and I couldn’t visualise the bodies with that in the blanket.
HB: No.
HB2: I knew what it was but I just couldn’t visualise that that’s what had happened so I saw that side of that. I saw the German prisoners of war. I saw the rationing so I, oh and I saw the Lancaster. I was in the Lancaster and saw what they had to put up with so I got a good insight, only briefly, but a good insight on the other side of the war.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And you know watching the aircraft coming back and going out.
HB: Yeah that’s yeah I mean that obviously came through your character. Helped, you know well I wouldn’t say helped, it didn’t help but it came through your character after the war then.
HB2: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Oh yes.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I mean when we went, when we went to secondary modern school we were still collecting paper there. We had a baler in the girl’s things and we used to bale it up and send it off and we got something like eighty five tons in five years and we were, there was reports and letters saying how essential it was for us to do this and what was doing so I got another side of what was helping on because paper was important.
HB: Yes.
HB2: And the war effort could be made. I mean I couldn’t associate with making a shell about a piece of paper or anything like that but this is what it taught us.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And we we had a memorial service ‘cause we lost three, three old pupils. One lad come from our village and he was nineteen, an air gunner in a Lancaster and he got shot down and never returned. And another lad was a sailor and he never returned. So we lost two in the village.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And then we had the two men troubled by the Japs.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. A significant time.
HB2: Oh yes. Yes. We, I can understand there was hardship but ours wasn’t hardship it was an inconvenience.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. I see where you’re going. Yes. Yes.
HB2: I mean when, after I got out especially when I joined the air force and saw some of these lads that had come through the war and were still in the air force oh you got a different story out of that altogether.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: And I mean as I said before I just used to sit back and think what sort of men were they to do that? How could they do it?
HB: Yeah.
HB2: You know and here they are as happy as sand boys.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They’ve weathered the storm and this is it. I mean we had one chap, a flight lieutenant and they used to say to him oh he’s a surly so and so yet he wasn’t. He’d spent six months in the jungle and survived and was now an expert in lecturing others on how to survive in the air force. He’d been shot down and survived and I used to sit there and watch him marching up and down, walking up and down and think what a chap you are. You know. God. Could I have done that?
HB: Yeah. Again towards that time you know you’ve come to the end of the war and the sort of year at the end of the war ’46 ‘47 can you have you got a memory of how your mum and dad sort of reacted when it was as it, well it was finished then. The war was finished.
HB2: Well mums best reaction with my brother.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: My father’s reaction was getting rid of the war agg.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: And being able to do what he wanted to do.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But dad never said much about anything.
HB: No.
HB2: He, a grandfather and four uncles one of which didn’t returned had all served through the First World War. Now you couldn’t get an old soldier in the village to even mention anything.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: They wouldn’t talk to you. Especially to us kids.
HB: Yeah. So, yeah I mean your dad very pragmatic then, you know, he can get back to his normal farming as he would phrase it and mum has had chronic asthma.
HB2: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: Like you say your brother walks through the door.
HB2: That’s it. Everything was -
HB: Everything was fine.
HB2: Just like waving a magic wand.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Oh I know she used to walk to town, a mile and a half. She’d come back she could hardly breathe sometimes.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Used to frighten me to death.
HB: Was your family much of a church going family?
HB2: Oh mother was.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: I was a choir boy.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Dad didn’t.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: He was too busy milking cows at church time.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: But he would go on special occasions.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: Like harvest festival or something like that but no he wasn’t a church or a chapel goer.
HB: No.
HB2: But as I say I was a choir boy and mum was a cleaner and stoker of the stoves in winter.
HB: Yeah. Do you think your mum got some sort of comfort?
HB2: Satisfaction out of it.
HB: Comfort from the church?
HB2: Oh yeah. I think so. Yes I think so.
HB: Yeah.
HB2: She wasn’t deeply religious.
HB: No. No.
HB2: But you know that’s she had, she had her feelings.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: But oh God how, how many times did we urge these Christian soldiers onwards and sing for them that was in peril on the sea. Oh dear.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: Well that’s just coming up to quarter to two Harold and I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to that. It puts, it puts a context on it.
HB: Yeah. So I think what we’ll do unless there’s something else you want to tell me about, something you’ve been hiding you know I would close the interview down now I think and thank you very much for what you’ve, what you’ve given us.
HB2: I don’t think I’ve missed much out. No. I think I’ve covered it pretty much.
HB: Yeah. And you’ve got the bits out that you wanted to -
HB2: Yeah.
HB: To bring out.
HB2: Oh yeah.
HB: That’s good. That’s good.
HB2: It’s, it was not all milk and honey but as a kid it was an experience.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB2: At times it was frightening but at other times it was pretty interesting.
HB: Well I’m going to turn the tape off now.
HB2: Yeah right.
HB: Harold.
HB2: Right.
HB: It’s, so it’s quarter to two. Thats lovely. Thank you very much.
[machine paused]
HB: This is a continuation of the interview that we terminated at quarter to two. Mr Beech was just telling me a little bit about his experiences with the Home Guard and what was going on in the villages so I’ll let him carry this on so we’ll have this as the second part of the file for this particular interview. Right, Mr Beech, it’s running.
HB2: At the beginning of the outbreak of war there was a home, there was a look, duck and vanish brigade which was commonly known as the Local Defence Volunteers but which was later were renamed the Home Guard now, made up of locals, usually the farm labourers and these farm labourers used to meet at the pub and exercise in the two paddocks, and train in the two paddocks but they were always eager to go on night manoeuvres. Now night manoeuvres covered a multitude of sins because the biggest part of them were poachers and they used to have, used to have great coats which was usually a World War One great coat that had a big, a skirt inside that used to get sewn up into two pockets. Ferrets in one and nets in the other and off they’d go across the fields and do a bit of rabbiting and some clever devil could also get a pheasant or two but no one seemed to tumble the reason why they wanted so many night manoeuvres but it was pretty obvious. Many a good dinner was obtained through the night. But another they used to train was camouflage and they held an exercise in this farmer’s field who’d got big bushy hedges and big chestnut trees and they were hiding. Well us kids used to go around and say, ‘What are you doing down there Mr Caps?’ Or he’d start to climb a tree and somebody would tell you in no uncertain terms to clear off. ‘What are you doing up there?’ So, in one, in one instance we were ushered out the field.
HB: Oh dear.
HB2: So, [laughs], as kids I think some times in the war we were very much a pain in the backside.
HB: Right. Well, yeah thanks for that. I do think that’s worth, worth just recording particularly getting the old rabbits and pheasants for the pot so we’ll just terminate this particular one at 1.55. Thanks again Mr Beech that was really interesting.

Collection

Citation

Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Harold Beech. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/2508.

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