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Prisoners of War
The German prisoner that we took on, he had been shot down. You just applied
to the Ministry if you wanted to take a prisoner, and they would issue you with
however many you wanted. We had one German one and one Italian. The German one
used to live in on the farm. He was ever such a good chap to work. In the end I
think we gave him too much freedom and he took to drink and went a bit wrong.
There was no security, they could have just walked out.
There was a German prisoner of war who was shot down near here, and one of the farms took him on. Some of them were quite nice. One of them used to bring us wood, carry it across the fields, because they were wood cutting, you see.
We had three prisoners of war on the farm. You didn't take any notice. When you're young, you know, they were just Germans and that was that. They were billetted at Horam. They were good lads to work.
Old Jock was a nice bloke, the oldest one. He had a rude name for us, though, which we won't repeat in case anyone speaks German! He did the decorating and a bit of patching up. He wanted some horse hair to do some plastering. He kept on about this horse hair, and so eventually my father says, "Well, there's nothing for it, you'll have to clip a couple of those cart-horses out!" So we did, and he put the horse hair in the plaster.
They were good lads. We had to get some cordwood out from Long Shaw. Oak cord word is a very rough bark. We couldn't get in with a tractor or the horses, we had to carry it out by hand. They didn't have any shirts on, and the blood ran down their shoulders, but they kept carrying it out.
They weren't necessarily shot down near here. They could have been captured in France, anywhere. This was about 1944. One of them, August, he told us he got shot down in France. He was in this training plane, and a Spitfire came along, and he went round the Eiffel Tower, because he thought he could get away, but the Spitfire took a big circle, and when he came round the Tower, he took him head on, and down he came! August went to work at Chiswells Farm. The others were probably prisoners from Normandy.
I remember one, Hans; we had some stacks, and he jumped off the top! There was straw at the bottom, but he jumped clean off the top! I'll always remember that.
The Hobdens had one down there, and he came back this summer. He invited them
back, and they've been out to see him.
Our eldest brother was a prisoner for six years, on a farm in Poland. He was taken prisoner in Germany. He did the same as they did over here really, he was on a farm the whole time, and did quite well until the war was over. Then they were down in this cellar, just having a brew up, and there was a hand-grenade or some kind of explosive down there and it went off and took his leg off. That was after the war was over. He's 76 now, and he's giving up work this Christmas. He's a trug maker. He still makes them three days a week. He's got a little shop in Herstmonceux.
I took a licence out to drive on the 1st April 1941. I wasn't going to be 17
until the following October. There was a sale at Chippenham, and the policeman
stopped everybody who was going in. It was the policeman from Rushlake Green,
where we had had a farm before we moved. As I drove in the gate, he said,
"Dear, dear me, " he said, "It doesn't seem that long ago since
you left school, does it!" He knew I wasn't old enough to drive!
My brother and I were born here at Beard's Farm. My father was married at Chiddingly, and he started poultry farming, free-range. They were free range until we had fowl-pest. We gave it up then, and we just let the fields out for grazing.
We went up to school in Horam. I don't know why, because it was a little bit further away. We had to walk, until we got bikes of course. My father had a car, to take the eggs to market, in big yellow wooden egg boxes. Then he went into the RAF and the car was left in the garage. Someone, we never found out who, reported my mother for not immobilising the car, and she was fined £10. You were supposed to take the rotor arm out or something.
We used to have some Land Army girls at the beginning of the war. Hand
picking up potatoes and all that.
We used a lot of charcoal in the Land Army. They used it for the hop kilns. Drying the hops.
I did a bit of charcoal burning, for gun-powder, during the war, up Dern Lane. That was a dirty job. That was for a Government company. It was quite a racket really, because you used to get paid on bonus for the bags, and when the lorry used to bring the empty bags, everybody used to shoot up there because the bags were all different sizes! If you were the last one there you got all the big bags and you didn't get no bonus then! Two of you had two metal kilns. One used to be burning, and one was ready for emptying out.
I used to work there with my dad then. I'd been there a couple of months with him, and he said, "All right, boy, now it's your turn to watch this one", because you had to watch the smoke, to see how it's burning, and seal it down at the right time, otherwise you could end up with just ashes in there. And that's what I did with my first one! Pure ashes! I was 14. I'd left school and I'd been working for a farmer up the road, but I didn't stay there long! So then I went charcoal burning.
I'll always remember we'd just got to work one morning, it was a foggy morning you know, and there was an old doodlebug coming over. All of the sudden you could hear a fighter coming up behind it. Do you know, he opened up on it, and there I was standing, and I thought "Where's everybody gone, then?" Bing! Bing! he was firing on it. I soon joined every body behind the trees, didn't I!"
Then in about 1944 the charcoal burning finished. They'd cleared the woods
and moved out.
I've never had a holiday. I've had the odd day off. I've never been away. The only holidays I've had were leave from the Army. We came home from Germany and came home from France. We didn't come home from Egypt or Greece or Italy or North Africa. It was too far.
At the end of the war I had a few days off and then went back to work. Really
and truly speaking, we didn't come out of the Army with any money, and I had
already got married, so I started working to earn some money.
I think I'm right in thinking that Miss Dayrell started the W.I in Chiddingly during the war. The Mother's Union was going long before that.
If you knew what the village life was before the war... We were a big family, eleven of us, and we always kept together. We were a very close knitted family. Five of them used to ring the bells here. I myself would have been a bell-ringer but the war broke out and I went into the services. Things were never the same after the war.
During the war we went to Hailsham to the pictures. We used to queue up the side. But I remember towards the end of the war an aunt was taking us to the pictures in Lewes to see Errol Flynn in 'The Seahawk', but the bus was stopped somewhere near Earwig Corner. We hadn't got a pass, so we couldn't go into Lewes - it was due to the Normandy landings. So we never saw that film until we saw it on television!
As teenagers, we cycled up to Horam, left our bikes and caught the bus to Hailsham, Lewes, Brighton. We were always out, every week. And it was mainly pictures. And village dances of course.
We used The Gun. There was the searchlight just up the road. And then that one left and went over to Hawthbush Farm. The vicar, I think it was MacGregor, he held services either at the searchlight or in The Gun. Mostly hymns and what-have-you. In addition to the church, that was. I think it was mainly to get the searchlight boys involved, as they probably wouldn't get round to going to church.
After the War 1945-1990
The war changed everything. Everything, completely. All aspects of life
changed. You never sort of recovered the ways of before the war, after the war.
It was one terrific change. For a start, one could almost say that radios became
a common place. Then electricity was put on. Everybody was having mains radios.
And then television was coming in.
In the fifties, next door to Westgates was Store Cottages and there was a crippled man in a chair on one side. Further down was Batts House, and there were five families living in that. In the School House there was Oswald Sturdey who had been the schoolmaster for about thirty five years. He was a real character.
When we came here after the war, there was a great big iron air-raid shelter, but they came and collected it, to make razor blades, they said. Solid steel shelter it was.
Children and entertainment
By 1945, by then I was ten or twelve, I used to catch the 92 bus to school in Eastbourne. You had to go down the old road into Eastbourne; I think it's called South Road now. If you wanted to go to Brighton, you caught the 18. I was always trying to get away, to be quite honest!
Then at the age of thirteen I was actually caught holding a girl's hand at the bandstand at Eastbourne, something one was supposed to be extremely ashamed about at that time, but I thought it really quite a score! I was caught by a Master. I wasn't actually expelled, but it was thought that I perhaps I wasn't quite the material they should be having. Brighton was risque, but Eastbourne was so right-wing you used to get stopped and told to pull your socks up! I remember a woman doing that to me in Eastbourne.
You could leave school at fourteen then. So I actually joined the army as a
boy, and I got my first motorcycle, and that of course got me everywhere.
Motorcycles were my first introduction to freedom.
My two children were born at home. The midwife came to help; she used to live down Place. I had a bit of a bad time, I think. The Doctor allowed me to get up for my birthday, but I'd been in bed for a fortnight before that. I was in bed for ten days with my second one. I don't think I even got gas and air. Certainly there were no injections to help you. I can't remember, because I passed out when my first child was born.
There used to be a tremendous puddle outside the pub, I remember as a kid, that's in the forties and fifties, that you use to ride through. The water used to lay about in the village rather heavily.
At the end of the war there wasn't so much going on in the Village. And then one of the local
ladies got me into the Flower Show. And from there I got to know people in
the Village. Before then, I hardly knew anybody, being new to the Village.
There was one teacher at the school - she was strict! This is after the war. She lived at Muddles Green, the house on the corner. She had a husband, but she was the boss! I wasn't in the choir. She was very particular who she had in the choir. They had to be able to sing. She tried me out once, but she must have thought "No - she's no good!"
My daughter went to the school here for a bit, but then all her friends were going to private schools, so we gave up and sent her as a day girl to Eastbourne.
Our children had the taxi to pick them up to go to the Chiddingly school. They came to measure us up. If we were more than two miles, they'd get the taxi, if not, they'd have to cycle or walk. It was just over two miles from here to Chiddingly School, so they got a free pass. That was until they were eleven, and then one went to Heathfield and one went to Ringmer.
It was a lovely school. It really was. Because it got them on quite well to
go to the secondary school, and it was also very friendly, with the Maypoles and
the Christmas parties. I think it's because it was small. I think small units
are more friendly, aren't they? In a big school you would hardly know anyone.
When our child went to Heathfield, the Headmaster didn't know who she was. He
didn't know his own pupils. It was different at Ringmer.
The first day I spent in Brighton would have been after the war, when I came out of the army. It was a little bewildering, you know, to see Brighton. Places like Hastings and that, you see, very few of the working class went out to those places.
We used to catch a bus to Hailsham, a nine-penny return. But if you stayed until the film had finished, the last bus had gone, so you walked home! It's five miles to Hailsham. We'd even walk back from Eastbourne. When there was a good film on the Luxor, the last bus was ten minutes before the film finished so we'd say, "Oh blow it, let's walk home!"
We used to cycle occasionally down to Birling Gap, Pevensey, Eastbourne.
You didn't get down to the seaside much before the 40s, early 50s. The bus return fare to Brighton was 2/9 [14p]. We used to go down to the Ice Rink. My friend was going to learn me to skate. I spent more time on my backside than I did on the skates! He said, "Look, You've got to have the skates on tight. What size do you take?"
I said, "Nines." He said, "You'll want an eight."
So he got me an eight. I tried to get my foot into the things. "They've got to be tight," he said.
Anyhow, I wedged my feet into these skates and got out onto the ice. He got one side of me. If you were unlucky, or stupid, there'd be two girls who could skate who'd come along and say "We'll learn you to skate!" They'd get one either side, take you along nice and fast and then let you go. Then you would skate, on your backside, anywhere, crashing into the side!
One of these girls got one side of me, whizzing me round and round, when all of a sudden the screws came out of John's skates, and all three of us went sprawling.
I said, "It's no good, John, I've just got to take these skates
off." So I sat in the middle of the Ice Rink, took the skates off and
looked on the bottom. They were size sixes!
In the pubs years ago, you knew everybody, because they were all from the village. You see, we'd play football in the morning, you'd go home to clean yourself up, and then all meet again in the pub. And the first man in the pub got the eleven brown ales or whatever. At fourpence each, it wasn't too bad! Saturday night, especially, men would go in with their wives, and there'd be a sing-song. Sometimes you'd get Bridget with her squeeze-box.
The Aggs used to entertain up at Hilders Court. I remember my mother going up there with the WI. They had a big ballroom up there.
I used to walk my children up to Burt Wood, which is just opposite me. They used to make little camps and have great fun. You used to get lily of the valley there, a lovely patch of it. Burt Wood, between here and Laughton, a lot of it has been sold off now unfortunately, and it's been planted with pine. I don't think there are any lilies of the valley there now. I walked up not long ago, but couldn't see any sign of any. There used to be some not far from Walls Farm, towards Laughton as well. The woods are still lovely to see in the Spring. The one at Muddles Green is beautiful in bluebell time. Snowdrops as well.
Primroses were very much more like carpets of primroses. They're not there now. And the woods which were there years ago, lovely woods, they're not there now. They've all been turned into fields. In the middle of Grey Wood there was a beautiful glade of bluebells, and I wouldn't allow anybody to walk on it for months, because it was a carpet of all blue. It's still there, and takes quite a bit of looking after. If you let blackberries grow up, you lose the blue. I don't own it now. I do ask the people who own it if I can take friends to look at it.
When we went for a walk every Sunday, we never came back empty handed. Everybody, no matter who they were, even if they were my guests, they all brought back a piece of wood, or a branch of a tree, which was thrown in the shed to be chopped up for the winter.
Do you remember the glow-worms in the hedges? They used to be beautiful. I don't think they're there any more. I suppose it's due to the spraying and cutting. They used to be all in the banks, beautiful little glow-worms. You can't imagine it - they were like little wee yellow lights. Whenever it was dark they showed up. It's the phosphorus, isn't it?
There was a sergeant stationed, I think, at the Grange, and he came from
Glasgow. He saw these glow-worms, and he thought it was something to do with
I was never tempted to go back to Croydon after the war was over. The children were very happy here. And all my friends came to visit me here and they always went back with a basket of stuff out of the garden.
There was more drinking then. There's less of that now, because of the price! My husband used to drink eight pints a night when he went to the pub, and he went every night to drink. There were sing songs in the pub. A chap from London would play the piano. They'd come down every weekend and camp out in the field, because they liked it so much. They had a little girl, and she hadn't started school when they used to come down. She's a grandmother now!
I remember years ago, when Charlie Kirby used to have the pub, and he used to be sitting in there sometimes, I think he'd had several drinks, and "Oh, help yourself!" he used to say! The local vicar used to serve in the pub. MacGregor. He was a good vicar. When he was in the pulpit he was a different chap.
I was born at Woodingdean, which was a little village then, so Chiddingly was similar to what I'd always been used to. My parents came from Woodingdean to Laurel House in the 1950s. I was about 21. After about a year, I was married at the Chiddingly Church. Then, after another year or so, my husband was out of work, so we moved in with my mother here while we were doing up our cottage at Whitesmith, and we've been there ever since.
My husband is a carpenter. He was with Harringtons, the coach builders down
in Hove for a good many years. That's where he did his apprenticeship. All our
children were baptised and confirmed in the Chiddingly Church. After our wedding
we hired the Village Hall, and Mrs Baker put on our reception for us. She was
the local tea-lady-cum-everything at the Village Hall, and she laid on a super
reception for us. All our visitors from Brighton came up by coach, because a lot
of them didn't have cars.
We used to leave our door open to let the animals in and out. There was the odd bod who'd do a bit a scrumping, but that was about all there was in the way of trouble makers.
In the fifties, even as a child I can remember that the pub was used for charabancs on their Mystery Tours. It was that sort of pub. I remember charabancs parked all along the road, and them singing "Roll Out the Barrel" etc. until three o'clock in the morning, and I mean that time. What you used to do when you went on holiday to, say, Eastbourne or Hastings, was that you paid a certain amount of money, say 10 shillings, and the charabanc would bring you for a drive, with the person saying 'this is so and so, and this is so and so ', and you'd always end up at a pub.
This was one of the earliest pubs to have a music licence. There were less Mystery Tours towards the sixties, because people had more cars, and people were going to Spain and so on.
You would come to the pub at midnight, and the pub would be shut, and you
would throw stones at the window and wake Jack Phillips up and he'd open up
again, because it was so far out in the country that nobody bothered about it!
The pub had a playground with swings on it, and a tennis court. The Kingsleys, who were film directors and producers who lived down at Hilders Court used to allow us to swim - I think it was on a Wednesday. They had a pool and the 'village kids' if you want to call them that were allowed in.
I think also on a Wednesday we used to have the films. We had the pictures at
the Village Hall here once a week, and at the Village Hall at East Hoathly once
a week. I suppose I was most impressed by the Westerns, but it wasn't a kiddies'
cinema - everybody used to go to the pictures. It was usually quite full, East
Hoathly in particular. They had a tortoise stove which used to get filled up
with a bit of coal when the reel was being changed. They only had one projector.
Special treats; one used to go to Hailsham, or Uckfield or even Eastbourne to
There was an old retired Army officer, lived down at Bulls River, and in that wood he had a big pit dug, concrete, and he used it as a swimming pool. It was a private one. I remember we were going swimming down there once, and somebody said, "Mind! Don't fall down there!" It was all brambles, and a deep hole where his swimming pool had been.
My grandson lives in Hailsham. He was clearing out next-door's attic, he came across a newspaper. He came to me, and said, "Gran, what do you think of this?" And he opened the paper and said "That is you, isn't it?" It was a write-up on Chiddingly WI Choir singing at Lewes, with Miss Dayrell and Miss Bennet and all of them, with a picture of us. And it said, "Too Many Mistakes!" at the top, so we didn't get anywhere! It was sometime in the '50s.