Aldbourne Heritage Centre

GJ: Off you go. I well, as I say, I was born in the village in Pond House actually so I was a Dabchick, pure and simple. And the thing was in those days that any newcomer had to go in the Pond to be christened as a Dabchick.
Q: Cold!
GJ: Yes, but of course I went to school in the village and when I left I had to join the family firm which I didn’t care for much really as it happens and when I was 17 I joined the Home Guard. I then trained as a machine gunner in the Home Guard with an instructor from the real Army then and eventually joined the proper Army. Let me see, it was in 1942 that I joined up and I went to Colchester. From there I went into Royal Artillery and served my time there and then into the Middlesex Regiment and then I went to Normandy and landed on Juno Beach in the Invasion. Carried on through there and eventually, of course, came back to England, got de-mobbed and got married in Chester, actually and finished off my time in the army came out in 1947, I was de-mobbed. That’s all there is to it really, I carried on back in the firm I left, you know, till I retired so that is really it. There’s lots of things I can talk about really on this list if you want to. I always went to Church all my life. I was in the choir when I was, you know, so high and I was a Church Warden for 20 years.
Q: Was that with St Michael’s Church?
GJ: At St Michael’s, yes. Course, lots of things happens in there since, which I didn’t altogether agree with; but there you go, so they’ve changed it around so much that I didn’t really like it, to be honest. It was bound to be, modern times, I don’t know. That’s what they say.
Q: The changes?
GJ: Change for changes sake, I think, not good changes. I had a happy childhood. A good home, you know.
Q: Did your parents always live in the village?
GJ: Always, yes. My mother lived at Russley Park, I believe. I know she did, well I was always told she did. Yes, I had a good Homelife and as regards to crime, crime was non-existent in the village in those days. There was none.
Q: Very different to the current situation?
GJ: Then, modern life, well in those days we didn’t have any cars, really not until later life actually. Course, working for the firm, it had a lorry and that. I’ve always worked in the village. Well, I say worked in the village, we worked all around the area, you know. The entertainment, well, there was may be pantomimes and things like that you know. Socials we had in the Hall which were great fun – passed the evenings away winter nights. Well every day life was not what concerned me – that’s a housewife’s job.
Q: Did you do Boy Scouts or?
GJ: No, never because in those days there was none because the War came along you see and that ceased and of course when I came out of the army I was too old for that anyway. Well I would have been too old anyway and I didn’t rejoin, of course.
Q: Have the facilities in Aldbourne changed much as regards to the shops and the pubs and things?
GJ: Well, trouble is, there’s not so many shops now is there? There’s only two grocers shops, I suppose, that’s the Co-op and the Post Office. There used to be quite a few. Same as there used to be 5 bakers I believe in Aldbourne.and 5 pubs. We were well looked after. Shops and Pubs were quite adequate. Actually, the village was self-contained really and there weren’t too many choices in those days. Food was made here in those days. You didn’t go to town for anything. We had a blacksmith’s shop and everything was made in the village – no need to go anywhere.
Q: Not like now
GJ: No – Farming – well I don’t want to talk about that really. Holidays – well we didn’t go on holidays in those days – most families couldn’t afford it – well, the usual school holidays which we mainly spent at home on the farm, looking after the horse and things like that. We still go and see the horses now and again. As regards, house values well you can’t compare really. Not to what they were years ago.
Q: Very different
GJ: Yes – gone up lots now, well I hope so anyway. Leisure Activities well, course, I joined the Band.
Q: What instrument did you play in the Band?
GJ: Trombone – well, tried to, anyway
Q: How many years were you in the Band?
GJ: I joined when I came out of the Army 47, 48 until 10 or 12 years, more than that probably
Q: It’s nice to keep traditions on, like the Band
GJ: Yes, of course, that’s different nowadays.
Q: Were family sizes bigger then – were there more children in your family
GJ: Well, there was my sister, Josie, that’s the only one. Just the two of us.
Q: Oh, quite small really
GJ: Well, no others; we had relatives all around of course and in Shefford Woodlands but in our family just the four of us.
GJ: Lost Industries – well a lot of lost buildings – a windmill at the top of the hill, that’s all I know but I wasn’t around then in those days.
Q: The appearance of buildings has changed a lot?
GJ: Yes. Course, there was a chair factory in the village – did you know that?
Q: The ones that were made for the Hall – were they made there?
GJ: Yes those for the Hall were but the seats in the Church were not made there. I forget the name, they were called something, the pews that was, there was a name for them, which I should know but I can’t remember it, which they want to get rid of apparently and put chairs in there. As I say, these things will change, I don’t like it too much, but I suppose that’s my age, would it be?
Q: Personal opinion, I guess as well, changing times
GJ: Well, they got rid of the organ and that sort of thing which I didn’t agree with after all the trouble they had getting it there. However, that didn’t suit some and that went.
GJ: Organisations – well, we had Meals on Wheels for a time when my wife broke her ankle – they were quite good really. (post 1953)
Q: That was very helpful
GJ: Oh yes. Amenities of the village? What does that mean really?
Q: I guess just how things have completely changed. How do you see the village now to what it was?
GJ: Well, it’s changed a lot. Everywhere does, doesn’t it. New people come in – they’ve got different ideas about how things should be done. Course, we’re in a minority now.
Q: Original Dabchicks?
GJ: Yes. Well I think Medical Care is absolutely perfect, here. We couldn’t do better, could we? Certain Doctors are good, they’re very good.
Q: The Ramsbury Flyer as well?
GJ: And the Flyer, yes. If you can’t get there on your own.
Q: What sort of medical care was available, earlier?
GJ: Well, not as good as nowadays, but a couple of doctors were quite good. I know we used to have the Lambourn Doctor around when I was a young lad. Strange how that worked really because at that time, we had no doctors living in the village, as far as I can remember then Doctor Varvill came along – he lived in the village for a time, but nobody else as far as I can think of.
Q: Was there ever a Doctors facility in the village? A Surgery in the village?
GJ: There was one, yes – you know where the post office was, the Old one?
Q: On the Green?
GJ: Yes, opposite there. That was where Dr Mills used to come over there as I remember it. Had a surgery there which was quite good really.
Q: Handy?
GJ: Yes. Well, school days, as I say, the main thing was school holidays
Q: The best part?
GJ: Yes. We had a good school master, Mr Jackson. He was good. He was a disciplinarian.
Q: That’s what you need
GJ: Yes, that’s it.
Q: Was that in the Old School Room?
GJ: Yes, the Old School Room was pulled down, really, well that’s what I think.
Q: It’s changed a lot now.
GJ: Of course, that Old School Room belonged to the Church then. I suppose School still does now. It used to belong to the Church. The Old School was church aided.
Q: I’m not sure actually
GJ: Yes, it did. I do know that because when I was Church Warden, that belonged to us
Q: I see. Is that where the Sunday club was?
GJ: No, I don’t think so, was it?. That’s up in the room at the back of the school, the small building. Course the big one was knocked down which caused a bit of controversy.
Q: It’s a shame to see things gone.
GJ: Yes, a lot of people didn’t agree with that. They didn’t want to keep it and got rid of it. Like a lot of other things they want to get rid of
Q: And make things more modern?
GJ: Well, yes, that’s right. Change for change’s sake.
Q: Indeed.
Q: Do you know many other Dabchicks in the village?
GJ: Yes, should do.
Q: Is your sister a Dabchick?
GJ: Oh yes. Whether she went in the pond or not, I don’t know.
Q: Did you get dipped in the pond?
GJ: I did – yes of course.
Q: Was it winter?
GJ: Yes it was. Every new lad that came into school, course, they had to go in pond, you know, to get christened.
Q: Join the Club?
GJ: Yes. Transport, well. Not quite adequate in those days, was it. There was only about two or three buses a day I think. Well, we didn’t have to go out, did we. Well, you’ve got Traditions here – well you know about Feast and Carnival but you’ve got all that, haven’t you. Aldbourne Feast, well I suppose that will eventually die out, I don’t know.
Q: It’s changed now, we have a Carnival, don’t we now?
GJ: Yes, but the Feast was a good old really a village thing.
Q: How was it celebrated?
GJ: Years ago, it went on for about a week but now it’s about 2 days, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It was a great meeting place for all the people coming into the village and going round shaking everyone’s hands and all that business – well a really nice get together that was – but that’s died out a bit now hasn’t it?
Q: Yes, they just have the fair now?
GJ: Yes. Carnival, well of course, that’s still going strong I think every year. The charities, well – the Poors Gorse Charity, goes with the Church, well I suppose it still is now. Because that money is paid from the rent made from the Common. On the Common, they paid rent, well, they used to, I suppose it’s the same now.
Q: War Time Memories?
GJ: It’s quite exciting really because when the troops were stationed in Aldbourne, they were Americans.
Q: Are they the ones that returned? That come back?
GJ: They came here before they went overseas.. They were stationed in the village on the football field. After the English troops first, then the Yanks came in after. Course, they were real hell-raisers. They used to go round you know, the things on the telephone poles with white cups used to be in those days and they hit the cockerel, the cockerel on the church tower once. Oh that was tipped up like that for a long time – shot it when they were stationed in Hightown in the stables. I think they had some quite hectic dances in the Hall when the Americans were there. A few fights broke out I believe.
Q: I can imagine!
GJ: Course there was a searchlight camp along at West Field. A searchlight camp up there – that was British troops there and if there was an event in the Hall, whether it was by choice or what not, I don’t know, they’d drop the searchlights right down over the village. Of course, you could see everyone walking round like ghosts – terrific light they gave off, shone right across the village.
Q: Good strong lights!
GJ: Cor, yes, I’d say. Course you couldn’t look at them, they’d blind you.
Q: Like the sun!
GJ: Yes.
Q: Were they the American troops that return every so often here to have re-enactments?
GJ: Not the re-enactments, We’re in touch with one even now. One of the Americans who was stationed here. He was my sister’s boyfriend actually. She never married him and didn’t want to go back to America with him. He phones up usually every fortnight, I think it is, to have a chat. He keeps saying he’s coming over but he never does.
Q: Ah, it’s always the way, say one thing and it never happens
GJ: Yes, that’s right. We had no danger from the War as far as I can see. A few bombs dropped close up by Dr Dalton’sError! Bookmark not defined. place. That was the only ones we had.
Q: Being in the country made it a lot safer?
GJ: We didn’t do too bad here cause as I say, with all the troops round here, it was a bit hectic.
Q: Was there many evacuated children here?
GJ: Yes, a lot. Then, I believe, they used to have a school down in the Chapel as well, if I remember rightly. Well, they came from London, mainly London, I suppose, course the nearest place to come to was Aldbourne. A lot of evacuees, well I don’t know if any of them married here or not, or if anyone married an evacuee or not. Poor devils. When I was home, we had two at our place, living with us, course they were Jews, I shouldn’t say that though should I?
Q: That’s fine
GJ: And they’d only eat now what won’t they eat, now. What’s the animal they don’t eat the meat of, like other people? I don’t know. They wont touch that, it was against their religion, I suppose, but we had two, only little lads, fortunately but we had one girl, I believe, but I didn’t know her then, because I wasn’t here but I think she went on to drugs in the end. Well, we heard she did after she left Aldbourne and we used to have some come to visit sometimes; they were coloured people. Only, I don’t think they settled with us very well.
Q: Very different world over here
GJ: Different way of going on, life, and all that
Q: Definitely, even now I feel different compared, to if you go to London from here, very different.
GJ: That Winter of ‘47, I was still in the Army then. I just came out, that same year, I believe. I was up in London at the time but there was another, about 60 something would it be? I was home then and we were completely cut off in Aldbourne and you couldn’t go up to Baydon or out of the village and on the Sunday night, the Army came and cleared the road up to Baydon – dug it all out, the snow, you just couldn’t get out of the village.
Q: Get nothing like it now.
GJ: No. In 1939, we had that big frost and all the telephone wires cut through down and broke the poles off and struck the trees and everywhere. And terrific floods then – I expect you’ve seen pictures of the floods, have you, in the village. Must be some around – I remember that. (1941)
Q: We still get floods at the bottom of Kandahar
GJ: Yes, all along the road up the pavement – you could never cross the pavement further up the road, where Bill Stacey lived, you know right across there, level with that pavement.
Q: That’s deep enough in the winter here, anyway
GJ: We’ll have to have boats.
Q: What’s the very first thing you can remember about living in the village – your first memory?
GJ: Oh, that’s a question. I just don’t know – that’s a good few years ago. The very first thing I can remember was playing, up with the people who lived in Pond House after we left, the people there were Everett. I used to play and there with my cousins that came down from Newbury – that’s about all I can remember, to be honest. Mind you, things have been changed in the village and you can’t really remember it all now. My memory goes back to school days of course. I can remember my mother and my aunt they used to walk over to Ramsbury with a pushchair. I remember that, walking over to Ramsbury. That’s one of the first memories I can think of.
Q: How old would you have been then?
GJ: Ooh, if I had to be in a pushchair, I couldn’t have been very old, I couldn’t have been at school, could I?
Q: No.
GJ: I couldn’t have been at school then, I’d have walked if I’d been at school then. I must have been 4, 4 years old probably, something like that. We used to take picnics over to the Common, a great day trip that was. They cooked picnic tea right along the side of the common. Yes, beautiful. You couldn’t do that now, could you?
Q: Course, it’s so different now, safety wise, with children, and things, you have to be so careful these days.
GJ: I always remember about one funny thing just before we joined the Army. I used to be very friendly with Des . He was a cousin, you know. And his father worked up at Liddington Warren; I don’t know what his job was up there really. Anyway, we went up to see him one day on our bicycles and before we left he gave us each an egg and we put them in our pockets and we were riding our bikes and we got just before the Manor, we collided and we sat in the middle of the road, and there was no traffic about those days and I said to Des, “By the way”, I said, “is your egg all right?” He put his hand in his pocket “Mine’s all right.” I said “so’s mine”. So no eggs were broken and we sat down and had a good laugh then. Course, poor old Des, he went down on the Hood in the Navy. HMS Hood, the one that was sunk, he went down on that. Yes, played with him all the time really. Poor old Des.
Q: It’s amazing who you can remember and things.
GJ: Yes, things stick in your mind. ‘Course, Home Guard was a bit of fun really, more than anything else, a great relief to have a gun to shoot.
Q: Especially that age
GJ: Yes, 17 years old. Kids of 17, they’re still at school now, aren’t they?
Q: Yes, you can leave at 16 or you can stay on until you’re 19
GJ: We left at 15. Course I didn’t go on to Grammar, I could have went, I suppose, but I didn’t go. When I was 17 I was training as a machine gunner. 17 years old!
Q: They wouldn’t let 17 year olds anywhere near a gun these days, would they?
GJ: No. Mind you, we had the gun but no ammunition
Q: That’s a safe way of doing it.
GJ: The ammunition must have been in the village somewhere, if we needed it, I don’t know where it was. I used to ride around the village. Wars only happened Sundays, then, in those days. Always had wars on a Sunday. We used to ride around in Tommy Lunn’s camouflaged Ford V8 car, we used that as our patrol car, the machine gun in, we must have been mad, I think. Probably were, I suppose.
Q: Different entertainment then.
GJ: That was for entertainment, that was. Actually, I was in the rifle team, thinking about it. We had a 25 yards range up West Street, above Captain Brown’s and had a shoot off one Sunday and I got top score and it didn’t suit some of the, you know, older people, because they couldn’t aim the thing. But I finished up in the rifle team and that was it. By the time I joined the Army I was fully trained, more or less. Actually, I was a wireless operator, a signaller, when I went in. I got trained as, anyway. And the strange thing about it was I was in the Middlesex Regiment in the 51st Highland Division.
Q: Oh right
GJ: Crazy isn’t it?
Q: Mad!
GJ: Yes it was mad.
Q: To chappies who work out that sort of thing.
GJ: At that time. Anybody who’s been to Colchester. Doug Barnes, you know Doug Barnes, he was at Colchester – he’ll tell you about Colchester as well. What a place that was. 6 weeks we had at that and we were put out to Regiments then. Our feet never touched from morning ‘til night, you know. Course, I was fit then, I think – not now.
Q: Has the use of The Square in Aldbourne changed from then and now. The way it was used, I mean.
GJ: Not really. ‘Course the pond’s not the first in the Square, really, is it. It was always a natural spring that pond was and during the Summer, it dried up. But that’s another story isn’t it.
Q: Oh dear, was that a reasonably hot summer?
GJ: Yes, the water level went down and no water in the pond and the old farmer used to bring his cows, when the water was in there, to drink from the pond before he took them up the hill. But the Square, no. I believe at one time my uncle had the butcher’s shop there, when the butcher’s shop was there on The Square. Chap named Waite, Mr Len Waite. Actually, nothing else has changed much in The Square as far as I can think.
Q: Average meeting place, I guess
GJ: Yes, it was really on a Saturday night, I suppose, yes.
Q: Good night out!
GJ: We used to play round houses when we were kids, like you do, usually. We used to play what was called, I reckon we used to call it something when you’d hide and had to be found, and that was our entertainment, you know, nights. We couldn’t go to the pub, we weren’t allowed to. We weren’t old enough anyway. Fun at nights with the street lamps.
Q: Hide in the dark, can’t be found.
GJ: Yes, that’s it, yes. All sorts of games. Caused no damage, no trouble to anybody.
Q: Good, clean fun
GJ: Yes, that’s what it was. We used to go, what they used to call Catching Sparrows on thatched roofs and a chap with a torch would go up to a roof with a stick and chase the sparrows out. We used to have some fun sometimes round the farm, you know the stable with the hayloft above, well there was usually a trap door in the roof then, ‘course there was hay above and if there was a London kiddie come down to the village, we used to take him up there to catch an owl. Course, they thought it was great fun, catching owls.
Q: Never seen one
GJ: So, this kid was made to stand on something under the trap door and someone was up there with a bucket of water. So, here it comes – splosh – you’re drenched!
Q: Good trick!
GJ: So, Londoner’s initiation to Aldbourne! All sorts of things like that went on. Knockers on doors, you know, a bit of cotton between two knockers, knock on one door then when they opened the door, there was nobody there. Then a tap on the other one – nobody there.
Q: Hours of fun!
GJ: Harmless, again, you know
Q: You’d get chased down the street for that now
GJ: That’s a fact, yes.
Q: Definitely
GJ: We played all sorts of games like that, we used to. I remember when Tony Gilligan lived in The Square, he formed a sort of gang
Q: As you do.
GJ: Yes, as you do. Had some fun in the village, course, Tony was always a bit of a guy really. And he called a meeting one Sunday and said, “Look we want to split up into two parties, one go up West Street and one down on the Hungerford Road. We stopped all the cars and stopped them going through the village, detour them round and charged everybody a couple of bob, I think it was. We wanted to make a couple of bob, which we did.
Q: A nice bit of pocket money?
GJ: That’s all it was, really, a bit of pocket money. People used to think we were a bit mad, I suppose. Just wanted to pull a fast one. Four o’clock and we used to go up Palmer’s Road (Oxford Street?). When the ponds were frozen, we used to go up Ford Road, sliding on the pond with candles around the pond. Good clean fun. Nothing else to do really. And now, kids don’t do that, do they?
Q: They want to go to the Ice Rink. It’s a bit more expensive, probably
GJ: It was great on nice frosty nights. On a moonlit night we’d walk up the field there to the top of the hill (Baydon Hill). Pond was frozen over, the dew pond, you know. Put the candles round and slide across it.
Q: Did you used to go sledding as well when it was snowing?
GJ: Yes, oh yes.
Q: Tin trays?
GJ: I’ve got them here somewhere. Father’s building yard was just down there. Now let me see. Just down there, it was.
Q: No houses there then?
GJ: Nothing there, no.
Q: A nice big hill?
GJ: It was, yes. In the summer we kept some of old tyres. I collected them myself. We’d take them up the top of this hill and let them run down. They’d go straight – you know where Kandahar entrance is?
Q: Yes
GJ: Dead opposite that it was. They’d go straight across the road. Course, you couldn’t do that now – you’d kill somebody nowadays if a car came along but no cars came along in those days. You bounced off the walls.
Q: Good fun
GJ: That’s the trouble really
Q: You wouldn’t do it these days, would you?
GJ: No.
Q: Not many open spaces
GJ: No. As I say, you made your own fun and that was it. Course, we went on bike rides, I suppose, occasionally. I believe the first bicycle I had I did a paper round to buy that. And that first bicycle I had cost about £6.10s in those days.
Q: You couldn’t get anything for £6.10s now
GJ: No. I had that for a long time.
Q: Things were built to last?
GJ: Well this was a Raleigh, good bike this was. When I went in the Army, left it and that was it.
Q: And you might as well make use of it.
GJ: Lots of things we did, to amuse ourselves. Took long walks all round the fields and that.
Q: What, open countryside walking?
GJ: Yes, nobody wondered where we were. We were quite safe and all that, we could go anywhere really.
Q: Have you finished, or is there anything else?
GJ: I can think of quite a lot more stuff. That’s the extent of what I can remember back in school days, I think. Be lots of other small things I could think of, you know.
Q: OK? Is that all right?
GJ: Yes, OK