Recollections by Hector Crawford



Recollections by Hector Crawford


Hector's stories about growing up in wartime Edgcott. His family moved there in 1941 when he was 10. He covers his school life, working on his father's farm, mock fighting, playing on a bombing range, working as a cowman, tractor work, working in a brick factory then finally as a caretaker at a school.







Three typewritten sheets


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By Hector Crawford
In 1941 when I was 10 years old my family moved to Lawn Farm, Edgcott. My father rented the farm of off [sic] the landowners and farmed around the vicinity of Grendon Hall during the period of time that the War Department was there. You could access Lawn Farm by way of Lawn House Lane in those days, but the farm is no longer there and the lane is a dead end.
I attended Grendon Underwood School until I left at thirteen and a half. We didn’t go onto Waddesdon School then, you would stay at the same school for all of your school life. To get to school I would either bike or if I had a flat tyre I would have to run – because I was always late! We would take dinner with us or come home and eat. If we came home we would have to eat fast and then get back to school quickly. A typical days lessons during the war years would be learning about aircraft – the difference between the enemies and ours (our drawings of aircraft were hung all around the classroom), scripture, arithmetic, dictation, history and gardening! Mrs Ruth Dawson was the headmistress and it was up to us children to maintain her garden. One way of getting out of lessons was to leave your gas mask at home – you were supposed to take it everywhere with you, if you didn’t have it you were sent home for it. I used to leave mine in the hedge on the way to school – it worked every time!
I would work on the farm to help my father and one of my jobs was to take the shire horses to the blacksmith in Grendon. I would think nothing of riding one while leading another three, the roads were much quieter then. The only vehicles we would get through were army vehicles on manoeuvres. One day I remember riding a horse round to Grendon and I heard this loud rumbling, round the corner came a tank. Well it spooked the horse and I was left hanging on for dear life while this horse bolted. It eventually calmed down as they do. During the war while the War Department was in Grendon Hall some of the F.A.N.Y.S (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) would hire our shire horses to ride them.
As youngsters we would have to make our own entertainment and on a cold winters night when there had been a snow fall and a good frost, a group of us from Edgcott and Grendon would go to Mill Hill with our home made sledges and have races to the bottom. Due to the lack of drainage in the fields then they would flood in the bad weather and then freeze over so we could safely skate as well. We could ride miles on our bikes or make camps in the woods. For bonfire night we would go round the village collecting wood with a trap. Someone would get between the shafts and pull it along while another person would sit on the top to hold it all down. We would have a good bonfire in the field next to No 1 Buckingham Road.
The war years were a very exciting time for us youngsters – at one time the army was camped in Grendon Wood and were having practise fights in the surrounding area using blank ammunition. There was also a practise bombing ground over towards the A41 where they had an old Bristol Blenheim and a mock up submarine for target practise. They would use 14 lb bombs and we could watch them from Edgcott. This area was under guard but the guards used to fall asleep and my friend and I would sneak in and play in the aeroplane that was used for target practice. One such night we were pretending to fly this plane when all of a sudden they started one of their practice bombing raids – you’ve never seen two boys run so fast – it scared the life out of us!! Another time a British aircraft crashed in a field near to the practice ground. My friend and I ran over to see what it was only to find that the crew had set the plane on fire – they thought that they had landed in Holland because the land was so badly flooded. They assumed they were behind enemy lines and had lost their way.
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During the war the pub was shut a lot because there was no beer available, there were also no cigarettes or tobacco, people would travel miles to try and find some. The pub shut at 10 pm at night and all day Sunday in those days. On VE and VJ nights there was a massive bonfire outside the pub and every one was celebrating with a drink or a few. My dad would send me down to Old Finlays shop in the village to buy him 3 double Woodbines when they were available. I was allowed a penny to spend in the shop and Old Mr Finlay would serve someone with paraffin and then put his hand in the sweet jar for my pennyworth – they did have strange taste!
At the end of the war the Army moved out of Grendon Hall and it was used as a finishing school for wealthy, middle class Polish girls for a while and then by the National Fire Service. The land my dad rented was bought up by the Home Office and in 1961 Springhill Open Prison was opened, amid much debate amongst the village.
When I got married in the late fifties I got a job as a cowman for Tim Benfield at Rectory Farm. We lived at No 6 Lawn Hill, these were farm workers cottages then. I worked with Sammy Gibbons, the Goodwin brothers and Alan Young. I would walk down to Great Ground and call the cows. Then I would just walk back up the road with the cows following in single file to the milking parlour. You didn’t need to chase them from behind – they knew their routine. The milking parlour was an Alpha Lavelle and we would milk 50 cows. The milk would go into 10 gallon churns and be put on the milk stand that was at the end of the barns at Rectory Farm. It had to be there by 8.30 a.m to be collected by Nestles. We always had a can of milk for our own use. When my son Richard was about 2 or 3 years old he saw some milk bottles on someone’s doorstep and didn’t know what they were. It took a fair bit of explaining by my wife Jean to convince him of what they were.
In Edgcott at this time there were 6 farmers who had milking herds, these were Brooms at Lower Farm, Curtis’s at Yew Tree Farm, Benfields at Rectory Farm, Drapers and Barrett’s at Manor Farm and Rawlings at Perry Hill Cottage – these last three were council farms. Eventually the council built a new farm house at the bottom of Lawn Hill for Rawlings to move into, where Don Edmans is now.
Other jobs that I did on the farm included ditching (this was done manually with a spade) and hedge laying by hand. Each field would have its own pond for the animals to drink from and during the winter when it was frozen over we would have to cut a large square of ice from it and push this under the rest of the ice on the pond so that the animals could get a drink. I would also do some ploughing and drove a Fordson Standard tractor. It had a starting handle and the tractor would start on petrol and then you would have to turn it over to paraffin to keep it going. I would pull a 2 furrow plough and it would take about a week to plough an average sized field. We had to dress up warm then as there was no cab on the tractor so you were exposed to the elements.
During August and September I would be on call 24 hours a day for calving and the same during the spring for lambing. Haymaking was hard work, you had to pitch the hay with a fork, and you would be doing this all day. At about 8.30 pm we would finish as it started getting damp and we would all go down to Marsh Gibbon to the pub for a few beers. In the spring we would be sheep shearing, Edward Benfield would bring us down some beer and we would have one after each sheep – after 10 we would be happy!! I would take the wool to the field opposite the Horse Pond, farmers would come from all over to have their wool graded here. The company would take the wool away with them.
In 1962 we moved to Buckingham Road and I continued farming until 1966 when I started work for London Brick Company at Calvert. I went to Calvert because the pay was better and the hours were less – I had weekends off only having to work every other Saturday morning. Jean and I would borrow her dads (Mr Taplin) Morris 1000 and go to Aylesbury shopping on a Saturday. I would cycle to and from work leaving home at 6.30 for a 7.00 start, and finishing at 4.30. If you were a 1/4 of an hour late you would lose £5 of your wages, and if you had more than 3 days off sick in a year you would lose a weeks holiday.
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The work was very hard and dirty. We were outside in all weathers. freezing [sic] and wet in the winter and very hot in the summer. It was very bad when it was windy – brick dust blowing all over. you [sic] had to be fit, strong and healthy, but the pay was very good. We were on peace work so the harder you worked the more you earned. My job was blocking which was stacking the bricks and grading them. At the end of the day we would be covered in gritty brick dust. Showers were provided for us to use, but I preferred my own bath. At this time during the mid sixties Calvert was running at its peak, lorries were waiting for loads and there were no bricks standing around. The drivers were not on peace work to begin with and would all go out in the mornings. By mid afternoon they would all be parked up in lay-bys waiting for each other and then they would all drive in a huge convoy back through Edgcott at about 4.30. The company then started up a bonus scheme based on the number of loads they could do in a day, then the lorries were rushing backwards and forwards all day. they were hand loaded then and if they were not loaded correctly they would throw their loads in to the ditches as they negotiated the bends through the village. Other drivers would stop and help to reload the bricks, but invariably the lorries would arrive at their destination without the correct number of bricks on. At Dunmead Turn by the prison playing field, Eric Jackman (farmer at Fox Farm) driving his tractor and trailer met an LBC lorry. The lorry lost its load all over Eric’s tractor and trailer.
LBC were a good company to work for, they paid well, they provided overalls and boots (for which we paid a contribution), there was a good club and family events were held at Christmas. They always bought the children a Christmas present. It was also a strong union company, you had to join! In the summer if the temperature went over 70 degrees, we were given a glass of orange squash. A union man and a works man would watch the thermometer and we only got a drink if it went over 70, at 69 degrees we would go thirsty!
There were fabricated houses and a hostel there that were provided for displaced persons from other countries after the war. There were a lot of foreign people working there and also most of the working population from the surrounding villages were there. This was due to the mechanisation of farms, therefore needing less labour, and the growth of industrialisation. Many men who 10 or 15 years before would have been farming were now at Calvert. They were a good lot of men at Calvert, very good company.
In the mid 1980’s LBC sold out to Hanson Trust and it then started going downhill. House building was slowing down across the country and cheaper bricks were being imported from Holland. There was a spate of gradual redundancies, in 1911 [sic] took my redundancy and changed my job.
I started a very different job as a caretaker at Grendon Underwood School. To start with I found it strange as the pace of life was slower and less physical than the work I had been used to. Gradually I started to enjoy it more, I kept a lot of my own tools there and would do repairs around the building. Twice I had the honour of being Father Christmas for the children’s Christmas party and by the time I retired in 1996 the staff got used to my teasing and leg pulling.
Hopefully this shows how the pace of life has changed over the years in the village and how occupations have also changed.
Hector Crawford January 17th 2001



Hector Crawford, “Recollections by Hector Crawford,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 30, 2024,

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