Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Q: Mrs Comley, you’ve just had a birthday, when was that, and how old were you?
EC: 20th May and I was 103
Q: Where were you born?
EC: Farnborough, Hampshire
Q: Your father was in the Army.
EC: Yes. He was a regular soldier, and when I was a fortnight old we went with the army to Ireland. When we came back I think we went to Deepcut Barracks. That was the first school I went to. Then we went to Bulford Camp and Tidworth.
Q: When the first World War broke out you lived in Woolwich.
EC: Yes. I went to school there until I left. My first job in gentlemen’s service was Putney, and then after different places, I went to Woolands big shop in Knightsbridge. I didn’t work in the shop, I worked in their house, which was Hans Crescent, I think. It was at the back of Knightsbridge. I was head housemaid there I was in charge of all the sheets and pillowcases, to see that they were all tidy for the bed, and in control of the housemaids. They used to bring their head staff to Marridge Hill, Woolands’ country house. They used to come down in the summer, and that’s how I met my husband, he was groom there, and he used to go out with Mr Wooland hunting, taking the second horse for Mr Wooland to change. He used to go off early mornings, and when he used to come down from Marridge Hill, down that long road before you go down the hill, he used to meet people coming up with baskets from Ramsbury, to pick all his mushrooms, but I’ve been told since that he was quite wrong in making them throw them down because they say mushrooms, blackberries, anything in the hedges is free for anybody. After that the mushroom field was turned into a cricket pitch.
We lived up Marridge Hill in 3 houses up there. We had one cottage at the top of the hill, and Mr Wooland’s mother lived at Membury House.
Q: What was it like up Marridge Hill, was it quiet?
EC: Very. Then we moved further up the drive into the Butler’s house opposite the big house. Gordon started at Ramsbury School. He used to bring his lunch home exactly as he took it, he was so shy, his teacher Mrs Carter said, that he would not open his box.
Then when the war broke out Mr Wooland had to get rid of his horses, that meant my husband was out of a job. We came down to Crooked Corner next to the Hunts. I worked for Mrs McKeon on the Green for 10 years, I had the same money for the whole time, no rise, 30 shillings a week! We moved everything down to Crooked Corner by hand from Marridge Hill. Then my husband was ill, and he died in that house. Then Ian and Carol used to come up, because I could never sleep after my husband died, The house had another staircase and attic, and I was so nervous! Mrs Deuchar lived next door, and she would call in for a cup of coffee, and keep an eye on me. She said when she went along a passage in her house to the bathroom she could see that my bedroom light was on, because I was reading all night. Then Carol decided I should go down with them, so I sold some of my things to Nicky James and moved down there.
Q: You were going to tell me about your husband being in the Home Guard during the war.
EC: Yes he was with Mr Lunn as Captain or something. Then during the war my husband was sent to Lee on Solent where they were bombed out every night in huts which was very frightening. Then they used to come home some weekends. Eventually my husband was helping dig water trenches in the village, and would come home with red raw hands, he wasn’t used to using a spade, as he was used to grooming horses!
Q: You were going to tell me about the First World War.
EC: When we were children in Woolwich, my father was in France and my mother was left with us children. My two brothers went to the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, they were 10 years old and boy soldiers, and then they joined the army. Our street was bombed, not our house, and my mother had a zinc bath hanging on the wall in the garden, and that was riddled with shrapnel. She kept several pieces. These were from very early German aircraft which used to come over Saturday mornings, the children were afraid to go out. Then the first Zeppelin came over towards East Ham, and bombed a big patch in Greenwich. When we were children and we had the raids, my mother used to get us all out of bed, and make us go under the big kitchen table, where we stayed until the all clear went. In the First World War we never had air raid shelters.
Q: What about when you first went into domestic service, was that a lot of hard work?
EC: The first place I went was Putney, then Woolands in Brompton Road, then I came down here with them. Then I met Les. Gordon was born in 1933. Before that I lost the first baby. The children were all born at home, although I’ve been in hospital several times since. The first time I had housemaid’s knee and I still have the scars. I was 19 years old and in the Devon and Exeter Hospital in Paignton. Then later I had my gland out as when I was a child I had bad colds, the glands came up and never went down, so Mother kept taking me to the doctor who kept painting it with iodine, but eventually he said we should take it out, so it was done. Then I broke my shoulder falling over whilst going shopping in the village one day. A lady was coming down the road in a car on the opposite side, asked me if I was alright, I said no, so she went into Mrs Fletchers and phoned Ian who happened to be home that week, and an ambulance took me to Swindon Hospital, where I had one stitch which they took out the day before I came home. Then I had to keep going to Savernake for treatment which was very painful.
Gordon was born at Marridge Hill, and Ian was born at Crooked Corner so that he could enjoy the things in the village. He was six & a half when he joined the band. Les and Bertie Palmer were talking in the garden when Ian asked him if he could join the band because he was always musical. When he was little he would never play with toys like other children, he would play with old cake tins, rattling and banging about. Mr Palmer said come back in 6 months when he had some other boys joining, but some of them didn’t stay. Ian had a few lessons and we would go down to Mr Joe Alder at Neals where Ian would go in with Joe and I would sit with Dolly drinking wine! Sometimes Ian would find it hard but he stuck it, and the first time they went to Reading to a contest he came home with a big cup, which was put in Freddie Palmer’s shop window. I was very proud, and I always went with them when we went away. We went to Pontins, Bream Sands
Q: A good time was had by all.
EC: Yes. And then when Ian started up the Junior band with the boys we used to go down round the pond and listen to them Sundays.
Q: You used to help raise funds?
EC: Yes, in that shop on the corner, Ern Barrett’s shop, and Bob Barnes’ wife Stella, she was the organiser. We used to go there and sell the cakes.
Q: You’ve had a really lovely time in Aldbourne?
EC: I’ve had a happy life with lots of friends. I’ve had lots of flowers & plants for my birthday, and 55 cards. When I was 100 I had 300 cards.
Q: When your father came home on leave from the war he was covered in lice?
EC: That’s true. He had to have a bath. He was in the RFA. He had 3 days leave, that’s all they got. He was in the trenches and he was in the retreat from Mons. That’s where he got the medals.