Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Q: Now John, most people in the village know him very well, going around and people see him on his bike walking round and mainly chatting about football, don’t you John? John, I think, is rather unusual, if I can put it that way, without any disrespect to you John, because your background. Where you came from before you moved to Aldbourne is quite interesting, so perhaps can you tell me where you were born and how it was that you came to live in Aldbourne?
JF: I was born in Punta Arenas, Chile.
Q: How was it you were in Chile, John?
JF: Well my father was a sheep and cattle ranch foreman at Estanzia Rio Cullen on the Argentine section of Tierra del Fuego.
Q: That’s right down at the bottom?
JF: Yes. We were about two miles from the beach. We used to do…where the tide came in we used to pull a net across from the Barankas, Barankas is cliffs, and catch the fish in the net. I think it was 48,000 sheep we had and many cattle, and now at this time…they are getting oil.
Q: So they are drilling for oil?
JF: Yes.
Q: So how long after you were born was it before your father gave up that job.
JF: My father went out to Patagonia, the mainland of Chile, in 1897 and from then on after a few years he moved across to the island of Tierra del Fuego and Estanzia Rio Cullen estate. He became sheep and cattle ranch foreman under a manager. The manager was a Mr Spooner. He lived down Cirencester way somewhere, when he retired, and we had ever such many things there. We had lagoons full of flamingos. We had the guanacos. We had the guanacos, the young guanacos used to be caught trapped round the feet with bolaeardos.
Q: What’s a guanaco?
JF: A guanaco is like a llama. And we used to catch em and the peons used to skin em and lay em out and dry the skins and they made beautiful rugs. In fact we brought one home but its gone now.
Q: Why did your family come back.
JF: Well my father just found in 1937, he’d done 40 years, and the saying is “An Englishman always comes home to die.” That was the saying. My mother, she was known as the ‘Queen of Tierra del Fuego’.
I. Are you known as the King of Lottage or something?
JF: I go and see people, Fred Mackrill and that. He can’t get about a lot. I generally call out. You know, Mayor of Lottage, just joking.
Q: So right, you were back in Aldbourne by when?
JF: June 1937.
Q: When did you meet and marry Anne Fisher, then?
JF: That was, I think, 1954.
Q: How old were you when you came back to the UK then?
JF: I was eleven on the boat, coming home on the boat, the Ionic Star. She was a freezer and carried about twelve passengers, and one of the Spanish islands off there, we called in, and father traded one of his suits for a load of unripe bananas and later on, we were chased by a Spanish destroyer, you know, and Franco; it was the Civil War.
Q: So you had a really exciting War?
JF: Yeah.
Q: OK, so you were coming back from Chile.
JF: We got to London Docks, I think it was the 5th June, 1937 and there on the quayside was my two sisters, Mary and Gladys, waiting to greet us.
Do you want me to go on from there?
Q: How did you get from the London Docks to Aldbourne? Or why Aldbourne?
JF: We went to Southall, where my two sisters lodged, and spent about a week there. Then we came down to Ramsbury and got lodgings, if you like, at the Windsor Castle at Ramsbury, Windsor Castle, that was a pub at Ramsbury, and that was for about two months.
Q: Why Ramsbury? What was the association with Wiltshire?
JF: Well, my mother’s parents were from Ramsbury, and in 1913 my Father married Mother at Ramsbury. I started school at Ramsbury, after the summer holidays in 1937, under H.G. Ludlow, Mr H.G. Ludlow and our school mistress then was a Miss Pitt. She used shout and holler out loudly and, after that father, bought 26 Lottage Road for £600 and the meadow next to it on which my house is built, for £50, £650 overall and its now worth I suppose toward £300,000 on Aldbourne prices.
Q: Both plots would be…; but you don’t own 26 now. Right, so you come from Chile, you moved to Ramsbury for a short while and then you come to live with your parents in Lottage Road, so at that stage you would have been changing school presumably going to Aldbourne?
JF: Yes.
Q: Let’s hear a bit about Aldbourne School at that time.
JF: Well, I went there and I became monitor of the bees. Mr. Jackson he was called “Puffer” Jackson, that was his name then, because he always used to rush to get back in time.
Q: Why were they called “bees”. It wasn’t because there were little bees?
JF: No, bees in their hives.
Q: Oh right, sorry. I’ve got the wrong sort of bees.
JF: And a….. I used to look after the hives and I got stung summat terrible sometimes, but there it was, and that lasted while I was at school there. That was until I left; became of age.
Q: At that time I think the school was covering quite a longer age range than it is now?
JF: Yeah, yeah, the children used to walk from Upham and Dudmore Lodge and all them places; they all used to walk, no transport to bring em and take em home.
Q: So lets work this out. How old were you when you went to the school.
JF: I was eleven.
Q: And you left Aldbourne School when, what was the leaving age then?
C Fourteen. I only had three years schooling. I was virtually illiterate.
I. Well I wouldn’t say that.
JF: It was a great handicap all that lost schooling. Grammar was my downfall. You know, I couldn’t pick the grammar up. I could write a letter and that. You would get a person who got along with Grammar is much more……
Q: It was something you were a bit concerned with?
JF: I used to, during the war ring, the peace bell in the belfry at 12 o’clock, that was during the school days. Oh, we used to play football on The Green and play cricket on The Green and …. When we put the cricket ball through the Blue Boar window we used to have a collection then to pay for it; it was only a few pence in them days.
I. Now you left school at a time that the War had started or just about started in 1940/41. Had the War had any impact at that early stage?
JF: When I left school I went up to the Phoenix Works or Apex Works on the Great West Road at Brentford and worked there for a while, but due to the bombing getting from Hayes to Brentford and delayed action bombs and all that, I was always turning up late, so I stuck that for a few months and then father come and fetched me back.
Q: What sort of work was that?
C I was apprenticed to an electrical engineering firm, but that was all stopped. And then, I went to work for A.V. Jerram Bros, the builders and done three or four years there, three years there and then I volunteered, went over to see Admiral at Ramsbury, I forget his name, in 1943 and he got me in the Navy. I joined up at Skegness, spent several days kitting out, then travelled from Skegness to Pwthelli, North Wales; Butlins Camp, both Butlins Camps commandeered by the Navy and done my training there and then back to …. back to Chatham, I went back over to Chatham, done a gunnery course there; and from Chatham I was posted to Belfast, Northern Ireland and drafted to the ship HMS Carolyne, sorry HMS Basely, it was Caroline I was drafted to before I walked down to the ship and, from then on we went on convoys to Naples, in the Mediterranean, also done several Atlantic journeys, Battle of the Atlantic time when it was receding and than we took one convoy towards the end up near Russia.
Q: Right, let’s just come back to Aldbourne. When you came here in 1937 as an eleven year old, what were your immediate impressions of the village? You’d been living in a fairly remote part of the world, a remote part of Chile there, almost as far south as one can go, and this must have been something very new
JF: We were two hundred miles, you see, from civilisation.
Q: What was your first impression of Aldbourne when you came here.
JF: I was wild. I couldn’t help be no other. You wouldn’t think so now, but I was and I used to get into fights every day. I used to fight the boy Lockey, Chips Lockey, and we could never beat one another, it was a draw, and I used to get in all the fights there was.
Q: What was your first impression of Aldbourne. You had come from what was called Chile, but it could be pretty cold at times, and you came here, and there were buildings and green fields. What was your initial impression?
JF: I had to knuckle down and that was it. I got used to it. It was like caging a wild bird really, but I got used to it. I used to have to go home from school and pump a thousand pumps to pump the water up into the tank from the bore hole, a well yeah, at 28 Lottage Road. And then I became friendly with a Harold Barrett and Ken Humphreys. Ken Humphreys is now in Australia, and we used to take a four wheeled trolley and go out to Northfield, to the bottle dump out there and scatter em all about, and get all the jam jars, wash em and clean em up and take em to Barnes the grocer and get halfpenny each for em. That was good money; old money.
Q: Really, between coming to Aldbourne and joining the Navy you were here for three years.
JF: I was eleven and left school at fourteen, I was here three years and then I went up to London, yes. .
When I came out the Navy I went back up to Hayes with my sister and brother-in-law and I worked for four years at the AEC at Southall, that is, they made buses, yeah, right next to Greenford Viaduct, and used to play football, some weeks up in Hayes, and other weeks down here, that was it. I was up at London during the war when they, the Germans, dropped all of them incendiary bombs on East Ham and it lit it all up, you could see it, we were about nine miles from where the docks were.
Q: So when was it that you were permanently back living in Aldbourne, and really got involved with the village?
JF: Four years from 47, 1951/2 time, and although I was interested in the village, I got involved in everything, and it was latter years that I became involved.
Q: As you know John we are interested in people’s impressions of the village in the years before the Queens Coronation.
JF: That was ’53.
Q: So you’ re back in Aldbourne in about 50/51, something like that, on a permanent basis. You’d been visiting your parents on and off during that period but most of that time you’d been away from the village.
C I’d be down here most weekends when I was…
Q: There were many changes in the village during the War. Can you remember the Americans and other things that happened?
JF: I can remember when the Worcesters were stationed in Aldbourne. They were in Powells yard, by the Blue Boar. There was a big house there. The was a front entrance from The Green and there was an entrance round the back, then you go up the lane, to the playing field. Being a bit of a devil, I had a wooden bit that was shaped like a rifle, it looked like a rifle and I used to go up there and stop the people. I was a devil, I couldn’t help it, that’s how I was born, not my father or mothers fault.
Q: Did your parents ever have a car?
JF: No, My father never drove, and at the time, when I first came to Aldbourne, we used to follow the hounds ; all the lads used to run and Bill Price came across an old fox, it was all decomposed. He shouted out ‘tallyho tallyho’ and all the riders came across. They told us you silly b, get off; so we all had to leave and come back. We were coming down by Dudmore Lodge, when Bill Humphries picked us up in his car and he was doing about 70 miles an hour and that was only about the second or third time I’d ever been in a car.
Q: We’re really interested in the Aldbourne aspect.
JF: One night during the War I was up outside The Crown, with a evacuee from Dagenham, who was called Mickey Walker, when a German bomb was diving down and it was picked up by a search light and it dropped another bomb just the other side of Hugh Dalton’s house, which is now Mr Helliers. We all laid down on the floor, it was a hell of a crash.
Q: Were there many bombs dropped?
JF: That was the only one, we were aware of. There was another time when I was on father’s veranda 28 Lottage Road. And we were looking out over towards Four Barrows when a Wellington started to come down, it was on fire. All the crew, who were Polish, bailed out and the bomber crashed up by the bungalow at New Barn (Brown’s). All the crew bailed out safely by one, and that was the pilot and he jumped from 600 ft and his parachute didn’t open and he broke both his legs.
Q: Didn’t kill him though?
JF: No.
Q: That was very lucky.
JF: The Home Guard, Charles Larken, was in charge of the platoon then, and went up to these guys and confronted these Polish guys and none of them could speak English.
Q: So, although you were away most of the week, working, you were obviously very much involved in village life, certainly over weekends and any other days?
JF: I had a lot of friends in Aldbourne.
Q: Had you been involved with football at that stage or did that come much later?
JF: I played for Aldbourne at Ramsbury as outside left at the age of 13. I played on and off, mostly on, but occasionally when I was in the Navy, it was for them. I played for, altogether, 34 seasons, I retired at 47. I should have retired 20 years earlier.
Q: You have been talking about it ever since.
JF: I suffered with my knees ever since.
Q: What about the number of shops that there were in the village?
JF: I’ve got a list at home of shops who were around.
Q: No, we’ve got those things from other people, remember we’re talking about pre 1953, when a lot of those things changed, but when you came from Chile, there must’ve been quite a number of shops around.
JF: I’ll go first of all with the pubs. There was The Bell, Barney West was the proprietor of The Bell. There was The Queen Victoria, Mr George Dew. The Blue Boar, I think his name was George Dadey, and then there was The Masons Arms, I can’t remember who was there. There were four pubs, then the bakers there was Ern Barrett on the corner, then Frank Wilson where they used to have the hairdresser, Hales on the corner, sold trinkets later. Barnes, where the Post Office is now;
Q: The coach people?
JF: No; they used to do bakery and provisions, different from the coach people. They were here then, but they only had a wooden old thing to take parcels into Hungerford. Tommy Barnes used to run that up to the houses for about 6 pence or whatever, delivering. There was another Stacey next to where the petrol shop used to be. Alsop, he ran the petrol shop, then there was the sweet shop and that was a Mr Tranter.
Q: There were quite a large number of shops for a modest population.
Your family, traditionally, did they go to Church, or chapel?
JF: The Church of England.
Q: So presumably you were christened into the Church of England, somehow or other, when you were in Chile?
JF: Yes.
Q: Was there an English community there, I suppose?
JF: Yes; there were English, Italians, Yugoslavs, Welsh. The Welsh were mostly over in the Falkland Islands.
Then, of course, there were the farmers W Brown Snr., he was also Lord of the Manor, there was Valentine Bland at Lower Upham.
Q: That was Hugh’s father?
JF: No, his grandfather; Gentry at Dudmore Lodge, there was Charlie Hale who also had a milking place at the top of Baydon Hill. Then there was Bert Hale, opposite where Jerrams used to build, he had a milking place, he later moved down to Kandahar, a big house down at Kandahar. I used to clean all his chicken huts out on a Saturday morning. I got 6p old money and it cost 8p to go to pictures on a Wednesday.
Q: So, you’d be quite busy, you got back from London on a late Friday I suppose.
JF: Yes, Barnes’s used to take my mother’s ‘sit up and beg’ bicycle into Hungerford station, and I used to cycle back out.
Q: That was useful,
JF: Got the train to Hungerford, got Mum’s bike and rode back.
Q: Did you do the same on Monday morning?
JF: No, I used to go up on Sunday night, there was a bus. We went in on the bus. Other farmers were Pembroke, I can’t think of what his name, and he had the farm out at North Farm.
Q: I suppose, because you were only here part of the week, you wouldn’t get involved with village clubs very much because you were working and you came home for the weekend .
JF: I belonged to the Sports and Social Club, and put in a lot of time with them, I’m a life member. The Carnival.
Q: Remembering we’re talking before 1953.
JF: Yes, it’s hard to remember sometime. I didn’t join the committee, but I was asked if I would marshal the parade. I was fit in them days and I used to run from one sort of wagon to another and get it all out by 6 o’ clock. I done that for about 10 to 12 years. Chap died that was President. It was hard work to get that.
Q: Did the carnival tradition keep going through the War?
JF: No, I don’t think so. ‘Course both my daughters have been Carnival Queen of Aldbourne. That is a record, there’s nobody else had two.
Q: You got married in 52?
JF: 54.
Q: So your married life has been beyond the period we’re considering at the moment. Well, John, I think we’ve had a fair old talk through that period.
JF: Every Sunday we had to go to Sunday School in the afternoon. The teacher was a vicar. Vin Jerram, he was Pearl Jerram’s husband, was a youngster and he sat up on the end of the pews and fell backwards, and Bunny Elliott, who was vicar, then said “out Jerram, out Jerram”. Then we’d go some evenings up to the vicarage and used to play simple things, tennis sometimes.
Q: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you can think of?
JF: During the summer holidays, I used to go up Mr Brown’s farm and lead the horses from shop to shop. Wagons they used to up in the corn stoops and stand them up.
Q: Talking about the harvest now?
JF: Yes, and Towser Woolford, he was head carter for Browns, and his son had a slight deformed arm but he still had the hardest shot in the football team. His balance was a little bit dubious.
Q: The opposition might take advantage of one with a dubious arm.
JF: The September when the harvest was, was ever so hot , and we used to bake out there. Another thing I used to do was cycle out from Palmers the bakers and grocers, Freddy Palmer’s, with a special bike for carrying all the bread and all that used to deliver out at North Farm all along that track.
Q: That was partly at weekends?
JF: No, that was before I was working, when I was at school, evenings, could be weekends. On the Sunday that World War II was declared I was in the back of my father’s bungalow talking to Pearl Jerram’s father. It was a beautiful day, 11 o clock, War was declared.
Q: What did people think of that?
JF: They was shocked. They didn’t realise. Before that Neville Chamberlain went to Germany and came back and said “peace in our time”.
Q: It didn’t happen.
JF: People were surprised.
Q: So people, I assume, were not properly informed, or what?
JF: There wasn’t television, and not everybody had wireless. ‘Course, Aldbourne at the time was fairly primitive. There used to be a little hut up The Butts, on the left hand, on over where that chap’s got the nice garage, and a Mr Watts used to sell all sticky sweets in paper bags..
There was, I remember, two Spitfires, fighter planes that landed in cornfields between Northfield and North Farm and the other was a cornfield, one was near Preston, on the right hand side as you turn to go up towards Ramsbury.
Q: A lot of people have talked to me about the glider, a bad crash.
JF: Then there was a bad crash with a glider. That was at Axford, and is commemorated at the pub. After the war ended I went out to Singapore, first of all we called at Colombo.
Q: When did you actually leave the navy?
JF: I left the Navy in 1947. I took passage home on the aircraft carrier Formidable, she had all the inside rigged up with bunks. It was like a passenger ship we got back in Jan 1947, and we had to go in at Plymouth because the Vanguard, the new battleship, was taking the Royal Family out to South Africa. We waited there a day or two and then came down to Portsmouth. From Portsmouth I travelled across by one night to Chatham, I slept on the hard seats. 12 o clock when we got there. Then I got demobbed. I had an old suit. Probably was glad to get out of the uniform.
Going back to Singapore I used to run the football league on the Fleet Air Arm, and we used to run that and have a lot of time off. There wasn’t nothing else much to do, the war was over and the trials at Changi Jail being enforced on the Japanese traitors. We used to spend every Wednesday, go up the Cotatings in Malaya in the lorry to a place called Catatugi waterfall, it was beautiful. Walk as far as you could up against the waterfall.
Q: Did you ever go back?
JF: No. While I was out there I met Stan Dickson and Ron Perret, two local boys, one was in the Navy and the other in the Army. Stan Dickson took me up to his barracks at Fort Cannings in Singapore. Got me sozzled being as I was the only Navy man up there and then they put me in a lorry and took me back.
Q: Put you to bed?
JF: No, I put myself to bed.
Q: I think that with those memories we will call it a day. Thank you John.