CHIDDINGLY ORAL HISTORY  P8

Introduction     Page 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12

The War Years - 1939-1945

You see, all the men were in the forces, I was in the RAF, you didn't have a young life. Not during the '40's.

Evacuees

In 1939 I left on the first convoy from the Mersey. I spent the war years in the West Indies. I had married a planter out there, and had gone back and forth. I took out a whole lot of children who were at school here. Their parents wanted to get the children away from the war. I was 25 years old then. We just risked the journey.

My sister was chosen to have some of them out in India, in Bombay. They chartered a plane for her to come to England, but it could only get as far as Naples. She managed to find her way through to Paris, but the Germans were there. Anyway, she managed to get over to England.

We had a cottage in the Grey Wood, and we collected all the children there with their luggage. We had about five children each. We went up by charabanc to the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. We got onto the boats, and my sister went out to India and I went across to the West Indies. I was on an old tramp of a boat, and we were put to lead the convoy out. But we couldn't, because the boats behind kept nearly bumping into us. The next morning, we found that we were on our own, so we crossed the Atlantic alone. And those two boats, when they came back, both were sunk.

The children grew up, got married and all went their different ways in life.
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1940, I came to Chiddingly. I was an evacuee. I lived in Croydon. I'd been in hospital, I'd been caught in the raids, but that's a different story. My milkman came, and he said, "I thought you'd been evacuated."

I said, "I wish I could be evacuated." I'd got my daughters, one was about 10 months old, and one was seven. He said, "My wife is evacuated to some friends in a little village called Chiddingly. And she's got a friend who's looking for someone."

I said, "Well, I wish you'd speak for me, then." I wanted to go privately, you see, I didn't want to part the two children.

One day I went to the door, and this chap was there. "I'm Mr So-and-so" he said, "I'm from Chiddingly and Mrs Smith (my milkman's wife) has come to stay with my wife."

I said, "It would be nice to come to Chiddingly."

Away he went, and a little while after, he came again and said, "Mrs So-and-so would like to have you." I think what they did was, he came to look me over, you know what I mean? And then he went back and told her, "She's a nice person!"

This man used to come with his lorry full of stuff, bringing wheat and barley and oats to a big place under the ground at Beddington in Croydon. And then he would go back empty. So he took part of my home to Chiddingly in his lorry. Another chap charged me 4 to bring down the rest of my home and me. When they went to put the bed up, they found that the frame that you put the mattress on had been left behind! My husband came down on the bus, and they let him bring the frame on the bus! But we couldn't put the bed up, of course, until he came!

I loved Chiddingly. The first thing I remember about Chiddingly - I can see it now - I was taking my baby up to Robinson's shop, and as we went back to Willett's Farm as it is called now, in the ditch, there were some primroses. I can see those primroses now. They were in bud. I thought they were wonderful. I thought, "I hope nobody touches them". I used to go up there day after day to look at those primroses until they grew. That was the first time I'd ever seen primroses.

I always remember an incident, and I was very upset about it. No disrespect to anybody round about. We were poor, my husband and I, but we'd brought our daughter up nicely. I'd always been in service all my life, I was parlourmaid at a place where there were 20 servants. My daughter had a little biscuit bonnet, with buttercups and daisies on it, and white gloves which she always wore on Sunday when she went to Sunday School. She was a pretty little thing. I told her she must go to Sunday School down here. Well, the first time she went, she came home and said, "I don't like it up there, mummy."

I said, "Why not?"

"Well," she said, "they make fun of me. They call me Little Miss White Gloves. So I'm not going to wear those gloves any more."

Anyway, the next Sunday she went, with the gloves. When she came back she hadn't got any gloves on. The village kids had taken them, and pulled her hat off, and pulled all the daisies off!

So I said, "Well, if that's how it is, that's how it will have to be." But I had been so proud of the way she looked.

Unfortunately my husband died and I was left with my two children, and from then on I more or less earned my own living. I only got 10 shillings [50p] widow's pension, 5 shillings [25p] for one child and 3 shillings [15p]for the other, so I only had 18 shillings [90p] to keep us all. I had to go to work. And I don't think there are many houses in Chiddingly where I haven't scrubbed the floors! 6d an hour. I took my little girl with me. I used to go washing at Place Farm. I worked from 8 o'clock til 12 o'clock for two shillings. And I helped with the babies.

I've had some very sad times here, and some very happy times here. But everything has been an eye-opener. When my husband died, I lived at Muddles Green. Mr Ellis was the milkman. Two pails on a bicycle. He said, "I do wish you'd come and work for me, "

I said, "I don't know", because he was a grumpy old bloke.

He said, "I want you to come and live in my place, rent free."

So I said, "Oh, all right, then."

A friend moved me. He had pigs, and he had a cart he used when he cleaned the pigs out. Well, he scrubbed the cart out, and they took what bits I'd got to Laurel House. In the front there were two big monkey trees. My little daughter walked beside the cart, carrying a big dolly somebody had given her. We had a piano and all.

Then my sister who lived in Liverpool, her husband was abroad and she was going to have a baby. So she came to live with me, and her son was born in Laurel House.

Mr Ellis was a grumpy old man. A starling got into the kitchen one day. He put his hand up and he got this starling. My daughter must have been about nine or ten; she thought he was going to open the window and put it out. But he didn't. He wrung its neck. He was a cruel man. I'll always remember my daughter crying.

He had a couple of cows, and he used to go up the path to the cowshed to milk them. Well, there was an old cockerel over there. When you went through this gate you had to take a bat with you, because even if he was the other end of the field, he'd have you! Mr Ellis was coming from the shed with his yoke on him, with his two buckets, and he's got leather leggings on. As he came on the cockerel came dashing towards him, baiting him. And old Ellis was standing there, and he was swearing! I don't know whether he did it, or the cockerel did it, but the old cockerel's beak went through the bucket. He was swearing something terrible, and there was all this milk coming out! And I thought "You're being paid back, because you're such a wicked old man!"

The cockerel used to live in the old waggon shed. And you know what the old man did? He went into the shed and caught the old cockerel and chopped his head off!

Mr Ellis died - I nursed him, and he died. I moved from Laurel House into another house with the District Nurse. We were too busy to notice the war. I slept under the stairs. But there was always so much going on in Chiddingly. There was the choir, and the WI.

There weren't that many other evacuees. There was one who lived in Nash Street with a lady. She came from East London, with her three boys. She's in Australia now. She went in '52, and I've been writing to her ever since.

There were some evacuees at Golden Cross. As I knew it, they came down by coach and assembled at the hall at the back of Golden Cross, and were distributed out from there. I think there were some who were at Hilders Court.
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We had evacuees on the farm during the war. And of course, first thing anyone from town wanted to see was the cows being milked. That was the first question they normally asked - "when are you going to milk the cows?" They hung around, waiting for me to go and get the cows in, and then tie them up. And one young girl, she was about 9 years old I suppose, she said, "Can I have a cow?" I said, "Yes, of course you can." I got her a particularly quiet cow that I knew wouldn't do her any harm.

I said, "Right, here you are. " And I got her a three legged stool.

She said, "What to I do?"

I said, "Stand the bucket underneath the cow."

She said "Now what do I do?"

I said, "Well now you pump the cow's tail."

She pumped the cow's tail, and nothing happened.

"Oh," she said, "I can't get any milk out."

"Well," I said, "you're not pumping fast enough!"
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The evacuees came from Ramsgate. Being on the coast, I suppose. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The children went to Chiddingly School, and fitted in very well. They didn't stay on here after the war. They went back to their home town. Some of the family came back a few years after the war, just to see us. What happened after that, we don't know.
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The evacuees used the Village Hall as a school. I remember them well! We went to the main Chiddingly School in the morning, and the evacuees used to go up to the Village Hall, and then we used to swop over in the middle of the day. When they were coming down the road and we were coming up, they always had a mouthful of biscuits. And as we passed them, they'd always spit them all over you! They'd come from London. Bermondsey. We didn't mix with them. I didn't like them!

I was at school for about four years during the war. There were about 100 or 120 evacuees who used to take over the school either morning or afternoon. That was quite fun, really. The evacuees were all right really, but they tended to be a bit rude when we passed! Called us names.

One of them said to me, "Cor, what do you think I've found in the ditch? I've found a cow's nest!" And when I went to look in the ditch, it was a lot of milk bottles!

One said to me, "We don't get our milk from cows, ours comes in bottles!"
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During the war, I could go right through the village, to the Six Bells, with my father and perhaps another one of the locals, and nobody'd know me. Because during the war all the evacuees came in, people kept moving out and others moved in, and Chiddingly completely changed. I was stationed in Charing, in Kent, and everybody I met there was calling me by my Christian name. I used to go the pub, and all the whist drives and all that. To me, that was very strange; not to be known in my own village where I'd lived all my life. To be known somewhere else better than I was known in my own village.
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Bombs

The first bombs that ever fell on Chiddingly Parish dropped on Chiswells Farm - our farm. If I remember right, it was round about 10 o'clock on a Sunday evening. There was this terrible explosion. It sounded as if all the tiles had literally fallen of the roof. I had just got into bed, and I flew out of the bed and dived under it. I waited there for a few minutes, and then when all the noise had died down, we went outdoors. We could smell something like fire, but there was no fire anywhere to be seen. Anyway, we sat indoors and spoke about this experience for a little while, and then went back to bed.

In the morning, it was my job to feed the chicken, because in those days there was chicken all over the farm, and we had to shut them up every night. As I was going down across the field that Monday morning, I noticed that there were some chicken coming up to meet me! I thought, "Hello, this is very strange", knowing full well that I'd shut them up the night before.

As I got lower down the field I noticed a black area on the ground. I walked up to it, and it was a bomb crater - only a very shallow one. I could see my father on top of the hill. I shouted to him, "There's been a bomb drop."

He shouted back, "I'll go and ring the police." Because this was the procedure in those days.

As I went further down the field, I could see another dark patch. That was another crater. And just over the hedge there was another one.

Now, we had a beautiful white carthorse at this time, by the name of Flower. I looked down into the ditch, and there she was. She'd been blown about 15 yards, and the shrapnel had blown her clean in half. She lay there, dead. There had been another horse with her, and I went and found him. He was all of a tremble, really nervous and frightened.

There was a deaf and dumb man who worked at Holdens Farm which was opposite. We knew him well, and he was the carter for the farmers of Holdens at the time. He was very, very fond of horses. His boss had told him, and he came down, and he cried when he saw our horse. He was in a terrible state.

News soon spread around the village about these bombs. And the whole of the day there was literally hundreds of people coming to see those craters. They'd never experienced them before, you see. I think they were what was called "Daisy Cutters". It was the shrapnel that did the damage. I think I'm right in saying that a few weeks afterwards someone picked up a piece of shrapnel in Grey Wood, which would have been a good mile or more from one of those bombs.

They reckon they were trying to bomb the search light, which was at Stone Hill.

My two brothers were older than me. You were allotted by the War Department so many acres per man. I was the next one down the list. I was 18, and of course you had to register when you became 18. There wasn't enough acreage to cover me to work at home. In a way, I was pleased that I was called up. I thought I could get out of the traces and get a bit of freedom. Well, father was a bit hard. He was a good dad, but you had to work for your money. We weren't really allowed to do just as we liked. When we were courting we had to be in by quarter past ten, or else we had to give a reason why! I was called up and on 13th February 1943 I saw service abroad; I landed three days after D-Day and went through France, and Holland and Germany.
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There was a plane crash, a Wellington in the wood. And a Spitfire came down at Stream Farm. They just recently dug it up. Five or six years ago, these Volunteers spent several weekends digging it up. And Stone Hill House was burnt to the ground. They re-built it with almost identical material. That was fourteenth century.
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We'd shelter in the cellar, or underneath the dining room table. One family dug a shelter in the garden. It collapsed! There was too much water, and it just caved in. It was up where the pond is now, in a sort of valley.
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I was too old for the Forces, so I had a choice - I could either go in the munitions, or the Land Army. So I went in the Land Army. I could stay at home then. I did milking - had to be at work at half past five for the milking. That was a bit spooky in the winter, coming down from Parsonage.

There was quite a lot of bombs around here. There were five of us milking, and the one who finished first would go outside and have a listen to hear if there were any old doodlebugs coming.

There weren't any shelters for us. There was one at the school. There were air-raid sirens in Hailsham, and we could hear them. It was frightening. The blackout was bad, because you couldn't have any lights, torches or anything.

We had just finished washing up after the milking, and we'd loaded the milk, the churns were on the old brick stand. We were just coming away, and we heard an old doodlebug coming. We ran out into the ditch and laid there. That one fell up in Scroggins field here. Not the cricket field, the next one down. That one was frightening.

When we heard the bombs go off, we'd go and see where they'd landed. One house, Friths, all their tiles came off, and there was a great big crater there. I don't know whether they ever filled it up or whether it went to a pond, but there is a pond beside the house now.

Rationing wasn't too bad for us in the Land Army. We grew our own vegetables. I still grow all my own now. Almost everything I need. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beans and so on.

Once, during the war when I was delivering the post, I was coming along by Ash Cottage, and I kept hearing this pitter-patter on the leaves, I thought it was raining. Instead of that, it was gun-shots dropping all around me. Our air force was fighting the Gerry. I kept right on.

When there were gun fights, we used to go up in the wood here for the old shells. They were about six inches long. Some of them were unexploded. The Disposal were supposed to be called in, but I chucked them in the pond! It was fun picking up the shrapnel bits.
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Food and the Shop

We didn't go short during the war. Especially with Mr Robinson in the shop. Old Robbo with his black market food!

He used to come round in his car of an evening, to see our father. "I've got a hundred weight of Quaker Oats," he'd say. " Do you think you could do with them?" "Yes," Dad would say, "I'll have them." Or a whole cheese, a big round one, or a whole slab cake. We lived like lords, really, all through the war. No problem!

Once he came in and said "Would you like some sugar?" Dad said, "Well, yes, I could do with some." He thought he was going to get a packet of sugar, but Mr Robinson came in with a hundredweight! He was a rogue!

One time, I remember, he had the shop window full of harness for horses. He'd been up to London and bought all this harness. All hanging up in the shop window!

He phoned Dad up one morning. He said, "I've got a shire horse-cart and harness Thought it might be just right for your hay."

Dad said, "Where is it, Mr Robinson?"

He said, "Well, the cart is in Hailsham coal yard, in the station."

Dad went down, and of course it was a coal cart. No use for his purpose at all! But the harness went in his shop window, of course.

He made Dad a suit once. Because he had been a tailor .
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We didn't go short of food during the war, because we grew everything in the garden . You never wasted a thing, did you? You lived from day to day, and my children never went short of food. I hadn't had a garden before I moved down here in 1940, but I knew a bit about gardening because my Dad had had an allotment. Then there was my friend, the biggest thief there ever was! He brought me a broody hen, and half a dozen eggs and a coop. Another time he brought me some shallots. He was Head Gardener, you see. He'd leave things on the doorstep for me.
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Old Ellis up at Laurel Cottage went round with the milk on a pedal bike, all through the war. He used to deliver with a pint pot either side of his can. Another milkman used to do his own bottling, and had a proper milk bike, with all the bottles standing up front. The milk was collected from the farms on a flat truck, and taken to Horam station. This lorry - well it wasn't much bigger than a pick-up now, it's amazing - a large lorry then was a half-tonner then, not a forty tonner! He used to go round all the farms and pick up these churns.

The churns were so big that they had to have these stands at the farm entrances. 17 and a half gallons. You couldn't lift them. They used to roll them off the stands onto the lorry. The same applied when he got to the station. They had a creamery at one time at Horam but that closed up. I think the milk went to Mayfield. That's where Wincanton and the Milk Marketing Place is.
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During the war, Place Farm had some of the best Guernsey herd in the country. An investment company from Canterbury, they had this herd, and the Government asked them to place them in different spots, so that if there was an invasion, we'd still got this pedigree breed. So they sent two down here. I suppose the two cows went back to the investment company. I do know that one of the cows had a bull calf.

When they had the sale, my father said to his friend Bill, "If you want a bull that will do you a bit of good, you ought to buy it." So anyway, at the sale Bill didn't buy it, so father bought it. So my father says to me, "Take that bull up to Bill's "

I said, "But he didn't want it, it was too dear."

He said, "Well, he's got to have it!" So I took it up there, and Bill said that was the best thing my father ever did for him.
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We did a bit of rabbitting. We didn't have much money. I paid the rent at Place Farm three years running with the rabbits we caught off it. We used to smoke, we used to like a drink, and all through the war on Saturday nights there'd be a dance at Heathfield or Hailsham, so we'd be on our old bikes and away we'd go. We had to have a bit of spare pocket money, so we'd go rabbitting and take them down to the local garage man who gave us 2/3 [11p] each for them. He'd take them into Brighton.