Sort of life in the 20’s and the 30’s when I was a child and growing up and I think the obvious place to start would have to be at Aldbourne, which is a little village in Wiltshire. Population was about 1,000 people, all of whom knew everybody else, because it was that kind of a little village. It was to some extent isolated at the time when I was a child. There was a bus that ran through Aldbourne on the way from Swindon to Hungerford, and back again, and it went through a couple of times a day but it was not all that frequent; and there was a man named Tommy Barnes who ran a bus, a carrier actually we called it, from Aldbourne to Newbury each day. But I don’t remember, of course, when they started either of them but I suppose as far as my story is concerned, the place to start would be The Blue Boar. My father had been a soldier during the First World War and he had come back from the war. He had been in the Wiltshire Regiment as a private. He had seen action in the trenches. He had been exposed to poison gas, though fortunately not too seriously, and he and my mother married probably, I would guess, around 1920. They took over, my father took over as licensee of The Blue Boar public house and it was at The Blue Boar on October 17, 1922 that I was born. The Blue Boar is situated on the village green, it is still there, and it is just across from the Church, the village Church which dominates the village. It is the largest building in the village, completely dominates the village. It has a spire or a tower which is about 100 feet or more. I know there is about 100 steps to get to the top of it, and it was in the village Church that I was christened on Christmas Eve 1922. Now I don’t remember this of course. My first memories really are of being a little boy in a cottage near the school, so at some point during the time when I was one or two or three, I guess, my parents left The Boar, The Blue Boar, and moved to this cottage and I have a picture of myself standing with a scooter near a welland a well which supplied us with water, there was no running water in the village. Everybody had a well, there were hundreds of wells in the village and everybody had a well and got their water from the well. I have a picture of me at the age of about four, standing with my foot on a scooter at the well. We moved from there into The Butts, and it was whilst we were in The Butts, we must have moved to The Butts when I was about five or just before because my brother, Tony, who is five years younger than I, was born while we were living at The Butts. And my recollection of his birth took place in Swindon. I was born at home but Tony was born in a nursing home in Swindon. And my recollection of going to visit my mother with the new baby when I was five, was hiding, because kids apparently weren’t allowed in hospitals or maternity homes. And I was taken in by my Aunt Rose who lived in Swindon: Aunt Rose was one of my mother’s older sisters. I remember being taken in and hiding behind a rack of nurses uniforms when the nurse came in. So anyway I went in and saw my new baby brother. And we lived in that same cottage in The Butts from the time I was five, until my mother, who would have been about 35, I guess, at that time, until she died aged 69 in 1961.
Now the village school. All the kids in the village attended the village school. And I started there when I was five years of age, they didn’t have kindergarten, everybody started in standard one. They didn’t have grades or years, they were standards, and you started in standard one, and you moved slowly through standard one, standard two, standard three and so on. And the school consisted of two very large rooms and each room had a huge green curtain across the middle. So there were four teachers in these two rooms and a lady named Miss Hawksworth had standard 1, and she may have had standard 2 as well. And on the other side of the curtain was a lady named Miss Stroud, who ultimately became Mrs. Moulding. On reflection Miss Stroud probably had standards 3 and 4, I think Miss Hawksworth had 1 and 2, and Miss Stroud had 3 and 4, so the children of 5 and 6 were with Miss Hawksworth and children of 7 and 8 were with Miss Stroud. And at the end of the four years children proceeded into the larger of the two schools and in there were two other teachers. At the time I was there, they were Mrs. Sharp, and Mr. Jackson who was the headmaster. And Mrs. Sharp had standards 5 and 6 and Mr. Jackson had three groups, he had 7, 8 and 9. And children starting at 5 years of age left school at 14. I don’t remember very much about my time with Miss Hawksworth and Miss Stroud, I do remember Mrs. Sharp. She drove out from Swindon every day in a little tiny Austin Seven which she parked in a driveway at the side of the school. Now the driveway was fairly wide and she parked it next to the school and I do have a recollection of a group of older children on one occasion, she parked it of course long ways, lengthwise, on the driveway and I remember a group of the older children one day lifting this car and turning it sideways. So that it was now instead of long ways on the driveway, it was sideways across the driveway, and Mrs. Sharp had quite a job going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, before she could get her car out. Swindon was nine miles away and she drove out every day and I spent two years with her and in the second year I was 11 years of age so it was at that time the children wrote the entrance examination what they called at that time, the 11 plus, the entrance exam for what is now called high school but what was called in those days grammar school, and the school that we wrote the entrance examination for was Marlborough, Marlborough Grammar School, MGS; and I was fortunate enough to pass and my cousin Ron was fortunate enough to pass. And the two of us never did get into Mr. Jackson’s class. We left school, left the Aldbourne school, and went to Marlborough and that would be in about 1933 or 34.
What can I tell you about now? I can tell you that the passing the examination came with a sort of a scholarship. It’s didn’t cost us anything for tuition but we did have to buy our own clothes of course. But my recollection is that books were free and we received I think it was £6 per term, and there were three terms, towards our lodgings, because we were far enough away at that time, nine miles, that there was no direct bus service into Marlborough so we went on Monday morning and came back home on Friday after school. And we went, Mr. Barnes by this time was running the carrier into Marlborough, I don’t know if he ran it on a daily basis or not, but he certainly ran it on a Monday morning to get the kids to Marlborough to school and he ran it on Friday afternoons to get the kids home again. So I spent the next five years living in Marlborough and coming home at weekends and studying at Marlborough Grammar School.
And it wasn’t very long after I started there that I had to get some kind of job so what I did I delivered bread on Saturdays. A friend of mine named Les Stacey, his father Bert owned a bakery shop and grocery shop. His mother, Mabel, ran the grocery side and Bert ran the bakery side, and he was a very good baker too. And there was always extra bread to be delivered, and the bread was all delivered around the village and there was always extra bread to be delivered on Saturdays, because of course he didn’t bake on Sundays. So I used to deliver the bread on Saturdays. On a bicycle, with a large basket on the front, and I would load the bread in for a certain street and go and deliver it and go back to the bake house, reload the bicycle again and deliver it. And for that I got paid 2 shillings which was a princely amount; on Sunday mornings, I delivered the Sunday newspapers. I had a Sunday newspaper round. For this I was paid 6d, so I earned, what was then, half a crown on weekends doing this delivery.
Marlborough of course was a market town and a very, very nice town but I only stayed with Mrs. Brockway for one year because her charges were rather high at 14 shillings a week and I was able to get lodgings with a Mrs. Slade. And Mrs. Slade had three other boys besides myself and she only charged 10 shillings a week, so that was a big saving. And she lived over, they had a big, big apartment over the International Stores. Actually it was a two-storey apartment above the store, and very, very big rooms. And the people, the guys who stayed there were Stan Dixon, and myself, and two Stacey brothers.
At Marlborough I was able to get into athletics, we had a sports afternoon every Wednesday afternoon, rain or shine, summer or winter, at school. So we played football, soccer of course, in the winter and we played cricket, mostly cricket, in the summer and we did a fair amount of running and jumping, that was kind of athletics. Oh I should have mentioned a little bit about Aldbourne school. Aldbourne school was run by the Church, the Church of England and the governors were the local vicar, and some of the people in the village and we had an hour of religion every morning, and it was taught by the teachers. The vicar came in occasionally and talked to the senior classes but never the juniors so I never did get to hear the vicar, though I heard him regularly on Sundays because I went to Church. And I continued to go to Church on Sundays all the way through my teenage years right up to and including the time when I joined the Royal Air Force.
The village Church, I mentioned, was a very large building dominating the village and I sang in the choir. I went there as a child; when I was old enough to sing in the choir, I sang in the boys part of the choir, and I did that for several years, seven or eight years I guess. And when I became about 13 or 14 I led the march around the Church. We always sang the first hymn and the choir came in and we walked from the vestry, down the aisle, round and back up the aisle into the choir stalls, which were in the sanctuary part of the Church. The organ was played by Miss Stroud. By now she had become Mrs. Moulding, and it was an organ that required a hand pump, it wasn’t electric, it was pumped by hand. If the person who was pumping the organ forgot to pump, the organ did not play! And it was an old uncle of mine, named Palmer, who pumped the organ. The choir had a practice on Friday nights, and we were expected to attend the choir practice, because it was at the choir practice when we practised the hymns for Sunday. And we had two services, of course, on a Sunday, Sunday morning and Sunday evening service, and we had Sunday school in the afternoon. So we spent a quite a fair amount of time at the Church. And the choir were paid a penny, one penny for each attendance, we got a penny to practice on Fridays and we had a penny to attend on Sunday morning and another penny to attend on Sunday evening. And this was all added up and, just before Christmas, at the last choir practice before Christmas, we were all paid in cash and it worked out that we got, probably 10 or 11 shillings, which in those days was quite a lot of money; and was ideal for buying Christmas presents for members of our family. And I was also confirmed in the Church, in 1933, by the Bishop of Salisbury who came over from Salisbury, and we had a Confirmation Service, and I was confirmed. I have in my possession, still, l a certificate of confirmation which is dated December 13, 1933 and the service was at 6.45 in the evening, and the vicar at that time was Vicar Elliott, J.S. Elliott. I also have mementos from Sunday School. I have a present from Sunday School for going regularly and behaved myself and I have a bible which was presented to me on January 1933 for lessons and attendance, and it is signed by K.M. Purver, who was a lady who was the superintendent of the Sunday School. I also have a crucifix which I received, one year, as a Sunday School prize.
It would be interesting, perhaps, to hear a little bit about life in the village when I was a child. As I said all the kids went to the local village school. It was run by the governors and the Church; but it didn’t matter what your denomination was. You always went, everybody went to the same school. It was the only one. Life wasn’t easy for the children; it wasn’t easy for the parents in the 20s and the early 30s. And there was a lot of unemployment and there was the great depression of course which took place, it affected Britain and as well as it affected Canada. And I recall in the late 20s, unemployed miners from Wales going up to London to try and impress on the government that they needed help and there was no unemployment insurance in those days. They came, a lot of them came through the village in groups of hundreds, literally, and quite often they begged food on their way. And I remember my mother and other women in the village helping to feed these miners on their way through. And this seemed to go on for quite a long time, you know, it probably didn’t but it seemed to be, and my recollection is that it seemed to go on for a couple of years on and off, that there would be groups of unemployed people going through the village. There was never any noise, there was never any ruckuses, there was never any rioting or anything like that, in the village. But these people did come through, and they were helped by the village people, even though the village people hadn’t got much.
My father was a thatcher. I suppose at this time he would be called a roofing contractor. He worked for himself. He wasn’t employed as an employee on a farm. But he did thatch ricks and he did thatch houses and he did it as a private contractor so he would bid on a job and he would reach a price with the home owner or the farmer, and then he would do the work and then he would get paid, if he was lucky. At the time when the depression was on, he didn’t get paid all that often I don’t think; and if he knew a person who needed a roof fixed and was short of money, he would reduce his charges. So that was the way life was, and, as I say, it wasn’t easy and it was at this time, I think, that my father took a liking to alcohol and he used to drink too much. And I recall many occasions when he would get paid for doing a job, and his pay was irregular, it wasn’t a weekly pay or anything of that kind, and he would stop off at the pub and have a few drinks with his friends on his way home. By the time he got home, quite often he was quite inebriated. And this wasn’t very nice for us children because by now Tony was born in 1927, Francis in 1929 so by the late 20s early 30s, I wasn’t the only child, there were the three of us.
I mentioned there wasn’t very much money round, and the local shop keepers all seemed to finance the food and supplies, for the people, on credit. I know we had a slate at Bert Stacey’s because I would go down occasionally and I would pick up butter or bacon or whatever, and I never paid for it. Mrs. Stacey put it on the slate and my mother at the end of the week, or the end of two weeks, or whenever she could would go in and pay it off. And it was at this time, I guess, that I started to deliver bread. I was going to the Grammar School or I must have been 12, 12 or even 13. And I started to deliver bread, I mentioned this, on the Saturday, and papers on the Sunday. I needed a bicycle. I didn’t have my own bicycle, I don’t recall ever that there were children’s bicycles, little bicycles around. I learnt to ride on a ladies’ bike which I think probably belonged to my Aunt Edith at one time. The tyres were flat, because it was a ladies bike, it didn’t have a cross bar, so I could reach the pedals, I couldn’t reach the seat but I could reach the handlebars and I could reach the pedals. So I learnt to ride a bicycle in The Butts on the road outside the house by standing on the pedals: not sitting on the seat, just standing on the pedals and managing that way and that was how I learnt to ride, and of course that stood me in good stead later on that I could ride a bike as well as anybody when I was young. Later on when, after I’d gotten into the 6th form at school, (and I will talk a bit about the high school later on), instead of taking the bus every day to school or every week to school and staying in Marlborough, I rode my bicycle and it was nine miles, and I rode it every day. So that saved a bit of money because I was able to ride backwards and forwards everyday to school but I will talk about that later on.
I am trying to recall something of life in the village at the time of the depression. There wasn’t much work; the farmers were growing stuff which they couldn’t sell. The farm workers were working for wages which were desperately low there was no unemployment insurance and things were tough, they were tough for everybody.
I mentioned, I think, that there were no utilities in the village. There was no running water, there was no electricity, there was no gas, there were no telephones, or if there were we never saw them. There was one telephone box outside the Post Office which the village people used and it wasn’t until probably 1930 or 31 that a man, not a large company, but a man installed electricity, brought electricity to the village. Now it was later taken over by one of the utility companies, but my first recollection of electricity was that we had, this man came and installed a light in the kitchen, and a light in the living room, and a light at the top of the stairs. So we had three lights and one power plug which was in the kitchen, and we had two bedrooms and a landing, and the landing at the top of the stairs was big enough for a bed, so essentially we had three bedrooms. And I ran the lighting myself, I knew enough about it I guess, to the other bedrooms. So we had a light at the top of the stairs and I ran wiring into the two bedrooms, and installed a light in each of the two bedrooms, as a child almost because I probably was 12 or 13 or 14 at that time. I must have done a bit of physics at school, a bit of electricity at school, so I knew enough to do this but the wires were all exposed. The walls were solid, you see, so you couldn’t go in between them, there was no studs or anything like that. So the wiring was all tacked onto the exterior of the wall. So it wasn’t very sightly, but it worked. It wasn’t until just before the war when water was brought to the village and there was still no drainage, there was no sewerage or anything like that, but there was water, and it was brought in. And we had one cold tap in the kitchen, one cold tap, but no drain; so when you turned on the tap, if you didn’t put a bucket underneath it, you had a wet floor. So we had one tap, cold water, in the kitchen with a bucket underneath it, that was how we got our water. Mind you it was better than a well, so what I did at that time I took all of the garbage, we had a big shed at the back, and it had accumulated all sorts of garbage, and I will tell you about some of it in a minute, I stuffed it all down this well, and actually it filled the well up with old garbage. Any old garbage I could find went down the well, once we got the tap. Now the shed was quite large and my father had used it for making some things that they called sprays. Now, when thatching is done the straw is laid end on end to overlap, starting at the bottom and working up to the top so that the rain runs off and it all has to be fastened. And the way it is fastened is with strips of wood and then other strips of wood, which are ‘U’ shape, which pass over it and are driven into the straw, to hold it in place. Now these are all made by the thatcher and my father used to make these and he used to bring home bundles of willow, because willow is the best stuff for doing this, and he would sit for hours with a thing called a billhook and split these woods, split these sticks, and point them and bend them, twist them and bend them, so they had a supply of sprays and other wood for to put the straw in place. Well the accumulation of bits of wood over time was enormous and all of these eventually went down the well, and gradually filled the well up. We were glad to fill it up, quite frankly, because I thought, always thought, wells were dangerous and there were instances of people falling in, and even people being drowned by falling into wells; and as I say, there were hundreds of them in the village, we had one outside of our front door. The adjoining house had one, which was about the other side of the wall but not more than about five yards from where ours was. And at the back of our house there was another one which was used by people in the little row of houses behind us. So within 10 or 15 yards of our home, of the actual house itself, we had three of these wells. And they all supplied water until the utilities brought the water in. But we still didn’t have any gas and I don’t think we had any gas until probably after the war; and sewage, we had no sewage I know right up ‘til the time that my mother died there was still no sewage in the village. There were, I suppose, by then, a few septic tanks and that kind of thing; but most of it was a toilet in a building and they were wooden seats with a hole in and a bucket underneath which had to be emptied every week or so, and buried and that was the way it was done. It was very primitive. So it was a lovely little village but there were a lot of disadvantages in living in it. It is still a lovely little village but it is a lot bigger now than it was then, so, so much for the village.
I just realised I didn’t mention the sort of commercial aspects of the village. At the time I was a child, there were five public houses, they were The Blue Boar, The Crown, The Bell, The Queen Victoria and The Masons’ Arms. The only ones left now, I believe, are The Blue Boar, The Crown and, possibly, The Masons’ Arms. I think there are three left, the others have closed down for one reason or another. And there were, in the village itself, there were one, two, three, there were three major grocery stores, Palmer’s, Stacey’s and Charlie Barnes’s, and there were – oh, and Barretts, so there were four. And there was a sweet shop, sweets and newspapers, there was, there were two bakeries as well as the bakery that was part of Stacey’s, and the bakery that was part of Palmer’s, so there were four, four bakeries which supplied all the bread the village needed. So that was about it. Everybody shopped in the village because they couldn’t go anywhere else but they would go along to Swindon to buy clothes. There were no clothing shops in the village, though Barnes’s had some clothes, had a little sort of department of clothes. But, by and large, people had to go out of the village to shop so they would take the bus into Swindon to get groceries – to get clothing and stuff like that, but of course, nowadays, everybody has a car so hardly anybody shops in the village, and the village shops have gradually closed down, so there really isn’t too much left now, which is a great pity because the little village shops were very nice.
The Church was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and the Domesday Book was written, I think, in 1089 so there was a Church there at that time. There has been a Church there for probably longer than that but it was mentioned at that time. And it was the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Now St. Mary Magdalene has a patron saint who has a saint’s day at the end of July, actually it is July 22. And the Church was renamed when the tower was added, the tower is about 99 feet and it was added in the 14th or 15th century, probably the 14th century. It was entirely remodelled in the 15th anyway, and I think the tower may have been added at that time. When it was added, the Church was rededicated to St. Michael and All Angels and it has been ever since. But is interesting that the Feast, and the Feast, originally, was one ordered by the Church, not the village Church, but by the Anglican Church, the Church of England, to celebrate saints days in all parishes throughout the land and the one which was chosen, of course, was St. Mary Magdalene because of the time it was the patron saint of the Church and it was still the patron saint, if you like, of the village Feast, Aldbourne Feast, which takes place on the weekend closest to the 22 July. So I thought you might be interested in that. The Church has, housed in it, two old fire engines at the back which are called Adam and Eve and they were, in fact, the fire engines that the village used in the 1800s to actually fight fires, and they are hand pumped and have a nozzle on the end. They are really relics, works of art I suppose too. So I thought you might like to have that little bit about the Church.
There is one other thing that I should mention very quickly and that is the bells. There is a peal of eight bells in the tower and most of them were made at a bell foundry in Aldbourne over the last two or three centuries. And they ring out for all sorts of things, they toll for joy, they toll when there is a funeral and they ring a full peal of eight prior to Church services on Sunday evenings and they make a very, very delightful noise.
We walked to school and, in the village, it was customary for all the kids to go home for lunch; so we walked four times a day. We walked in the morning, home for lunch, back again for the afternoon session and home, we didn’t get homework but we did go to school from 9 till 12 with a 15 minute break and back again at 1 o’clock till 4. So we had six hours basically of instruction each day. The lessons were English, well in the Primary grades, of course, it was mostly just learning to read and write, and to add and subtract, those were the main subjects of English and arithmetic. And it wasn’t, I guess, until we got into Mrs. Sharp’s class that we did anything very much other than that and at that point we did some geography and history. So there were four, I suppose core subjects, which were maths, and the maths consisted of simple arithmetic, and English and we learnt to read and write; and we did study some books but I don’t really recall what they were, and history. And the history of course was British history, and geography. I don’t recall that it was world geography but I dare say that it was geography of Britain and perhaps Europe and the history, of course, would have been European history, as well as British history. So that was basically all we learnt in the village school. And it wasn’t until I got to Marlborough that we started to expand on the education and learn lots and lots of other things.
So lets talk a little bit about Marlborough. Marlborough Grammar School was founded by Edward VI in 1550. It was given a Latin, not a Latin name, but a Latin motto, I guess, which was Non Nobis Solum, which translated means ‘not for ourselves alone’. I think I mentioned that it consisted of five forms; first form, second form and so on, until we got to the Oxford School Certificate and then having passed the Oxford School Certificate, a few people stayed on in the sixth form. So we started in the first form, and in the year I got there, which was 1934, we had 70 new kids from all over the district, most of whom lived in Marlborough. But they were brought in, as I was, from all the surrounding villages and the 70 kids were divided into two groups, two classes of 35. So we were form 1A and 1B, 35 children in each class. I mention this for the benefit of any teachers who may hear this and who think that they are over worked when they have 20 – 25 kids in their class, we had 35. And the subjects in the first year that I recall were English, and now we divided English into English Literature and English Language, history, geography, and mathematics was now divided and in the lower grades, or the lower forms we did arithmetic and geometry, which was expanded to algebra in around the third form and trigonometry at about the fourth. So, finally, before you wrote the Oxford matriculation examination, you were exposed to arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Only one year of trigonometry, but it was enough to have an examination on it. Now in the first year, I recall doing art and at the end of the first year, I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to continue with art or study Latin. So I chose Latin, so from the second year on, second, third, fourth and fifth, I did Latin four years of Latin and wrote the examination, the Latin examination. This was a subject which I really felt was worthwhile and I felt that all my life because all of our modern languages, at least the romance languages, French, Spanish, English and so on are all based on Latin so, if you have a knowledge of Latin, it is much, much easier to understand the meaning of words in English or in French, I guess, for that matter. When I reached the fifth form, one of the aims that we had was that we were able to translate The Odyssey from the original. There are lots of good things that we learned. The other thing was, of course, that we always had Wednesday afternoon for sports. And in the winter we played football and in the summer we played cricket, or we ran or we jumped. We had tennis courts at the back of the school, so there was tennis available for those who wanted it. We did cross-country running in and around Marlborough and we were very fit and very active, and, hopefully, very well educated.
Should maybe talk a little about the teachers. Some of them stand out. The Latin master was named Whitehead, he was tall, very good looking, about 26 or 27, and it turned out, when war broke out, that he had communist tendencies; and he was ushered off somewhere, when the war started. We never did see him again! There was a Mr. Cattan who was the science master. I didn’t mention learning about science but we started with chemistry and physics, I guess, we did biology as well, but chemistry and physics were the two main ones. And in my case, physics because maths and physics were my subjects of course, and there was maths and physics that I used as a navigator in the Air Force. And Mr. Cattan was a man who didn’t want to fight in a war, he didn’t want to wield a gun; so he eventually went into the Army as a stretcher bearer and I think he probably saw more action than most of the people who did carry a gun. Mr. Stevens was the maths teacher. We reversed the letters in his name and called him Snevets, which was rather fun at the time. Mr. Stedman was the head master. He was a very, very intellectual kind of person who wrote books and wrote articles on the Bible and he was the first person that I ever heard who tried to divide the Bible into fact and fiction. It was interesting because quite a lot of the Bible stories, he felt were fiction; but he was a very, very bright man. There were ladies as well. A Miss Wyatt taught English, she was a rather attractive lady, that I recall. And there was a French teacher named Miss Colby, who all the boys thought was rather an attractive girl. We were 15, 16, 17 and these women were ten years older than us; but the hormones were racing, we all thought they were gorgeous things. Geography was taught by a Mr. Clayton and Mr. Clayton had been in the First War and he had been in the trenches in the First War and he talked to us about surviving life in war torn France and he paced. And he didn’t stand in front of the class, he paced up and down, backwards and forwards, in front of the class, while he taught geography. And he was the very first person that I ever recall, this must have been around 1935-1936, who suggested that one day we might instead of having a meal, of roast beef and Yorkshire and so on, have a pill. He would say that we would take one beef pill, and one potato pill, and one cabbage pill and a glass of water and this stuff would bubble up inside us and fill us as though we had had a full meal. But we still haven’t got there, I don’t think, we do have an awful lot of packaged food now which is almost to the position of being a pill, small things. And for those people who camp and who hike, there is all sorts of stuff available now to which you add water, dried food to which you add water before you eat it. Well, Bill Clayton used to think you could add the water after you had eaten it, but it was quite fascinating.
I mentioned briefly sports activities in school, what I haven’t mentioned up to now is the school teams. The girls played field hockey, so we had a field hockey team; and the boys played soccer, so we had a soccer team, football team, and we also played cricket, so we had a cricket team. So we had three basic teams which participated in competitions with other schools and at the age of about, I guess, 14 I was good enough at football to become a member of the football team. I played for the school football team for about three years, played regularly on the school football team. I also played occasionally on the school cricket team but I was never that good at cricket. After one or two years as a player, as a member of the school football team, you were awarded what was called your colours which was a badge that you were allowed to wear on your football shirts to show that you had been awarded the colours. The colours was just a sort of an honour for people who had performed well over a period of time, so I eventually was awarded my colours for playing football.
We were also divided into three what we called sets, A set, B set and C set, and in other schools they were called houses. And each set had colours and A set had red and yellow, red was the school colour, the school blazer was red. A then was red and yellow, set colours, B set was red and green and C set was red and blue. All throughout the school we had inter-set competitions at just about everything. And eventually one rose through the ranks as it were and eventually my cousin and I, Ron Wilkins and I, became the captain and vice captain of A set. And that didn’t happen until we reached the 5th or even 6th form, we went back to sit the School Certificate examination, the Oxford University School Certificate examination, in July of 1939 and went back into the 6th form whilst we were deciding what to do. Now my original intention was to stay on, of course, and go to university but the war broke out in September of 1939, so that put paid to any thoughts that I might have had at that time of going to university.
After the initial shock of being at war sort of wore off a little bit, most of us, I guess, who were in the 6th form decided that the best place for us was the Air Force. And it’s interesting that, of my sort of relatively small group of friends, Burt Flippance from Oare, Ken Allan from Marlborough, Ron Wilkins (my cousin) and myself all became air navigators, and the reason we were told ultimately was because we had a very strong background in maths and physics, this was exactly what you need, or needed at that time, to navigate an aeroplane. One or two others that we knew, of course, became pilots.
I just mentioned that Ron and I survived; Ken Allan and Burt Flippance were killed during the war. So on January 31st, 1940 I left Marlborough and Aldbourne, and headed to London to join the Air Force. From that point on, Aldbourne was really a place that I visited on leave. My family was still there, my mother was still there, my kid brothers were still there, but I was now away and I recall that my mother at one point, and this would have been probably in 1940, took in two little evacuee boys from London. And a lot of people in the village, I believe at that time, were taking in evacuees from London. And my mother had two boys, Derek and Desmond I think their names were, they were about 6 or 7, I suppose, at that time, and they had been evacuated from London to Aldbourne and they stayed with us.
Whilst I was waiting to undergo flying training, the Air Force in London at Ruislip in Middlesex, taught me how to be a clerk accountant and then sent me down to Old Sarum. This was in the summer of 1941 and I practised the art of being an accountant there for about a year, just over a year, and at that time I met a young lady who was to be my wife and she was also in the Air Force, Mary, and we became engaged and we became married at Marlborough at the Town Hall in a civil ceremony on the 1st of September, 1942. Now I was expecting, at that point, to go to Canada or to South Africa to be trained and it turned out that I was sent to Scotland, so she was able to come up there with me. We did the training and I went from there to a place called Finningly, in Yorkshire, and ultimately became a bomber command navigator, and in 1943 we were there and I trained with a bomber command crew and we joined a squadron in September- October time 1943. I had a rather nasty abscess which needed to be removed and whilst I was in hospital, in October, I went into hospital in October of 1943, and my crew went to Berlin on a bombing operation without me, and they didn’t come back. They were all killed so I became a sole survivor. In January of 1944 I was waiting to crew up again, and Mary had been able to come with me on some of these postings, and on some others she hadn’t, by now she had left the Air Force, and I crewed up again in April 1944 with a new crew and, by this time, Mary was pregnant so we thought the best thing for her to do was to go to Aldbourne and stay there whilst I did my tour of operations, and this is what she did. So she went to Aldbourne, and by now the little boys had moved on. I guess they had gone some place else or gone back to London, I’m not sure; but Mary came down to Aldbourne and stayed in our cottage at The Butts with my mother and my brothers, who were still there, and I went off to do my bit, actually fighting the war. So she carried Keith our eldest son, she carried Keith at Aldbourne and Keith was ultimately born in Savernake Hospital on October 12, 1944.
We left Aldbourne when Keith was about three weeks old, and we moved to Scotland and subsequently to various other places as I was posted around in the Royal Air Force, and we didn’t return until 1948, I guess it was, about four years later when I was posted to Hullavington, and at that time we rented a cottage in Aldbourne, and I commuted on a daily basis to Hullavington. It was in the cottage in Lottage where our third child, Gillian, was born in 1948. Subsequently we left again on another posting when I went up to Lincolnshire and that was the last time that we lived in the village, we didn’t return any further though we did visit from time to time, because family were still there. My mother lived there until she died in 1961, and my father in 1968, but by that time, of course, we were in Canada; we left for Canada in January 1956. So the last time we visited Aldbourne, when we had relatives there and with our children, who were quite small, was Christmas 1955, before we left for Canada. We have been back since, but not as a family, we have been back individually, and collectively. The children have been back individually, Mary and I have been back; and we still do occasionally return, it’s some years since we were last there. My daughter Janet, who is the youngest of our girls, the second youngest of our five children, has promised that, when I pass on, she will bring my ashes over and I have asked her to scatter them from the top of the Church tower on a windy day. But I don’t know if that will come to pass or not.