Village Childhood

By Rita Gerrard

In December 1940 from Southampton’s noise and fear
A Father and a Mother with their four children dear
Escaped the city’s turmoil the sirens, bombs and planes
And set their sights on Bramdean: her fields, her trees, her lanes.
Ah, this would be their haven –
A spot where they could dream
Of peaceful days,
Of happy days,
Of freedoms yet unseen.
Their little creamwashed cottage with bedrooms one, two, three.
Just right for Father, Mother, two boys and sis and me.
Ground for growing veggies lots of room to play.
We had it all, or so we thought ’til others came to stay!
Great grandad and great grandma, two cousins joined the nest.
Then up from Portsmouth Alan came
With Label pinned to chest.
Our rooms were small and crowded
No bathroom graced our floors;
The loo outside:
A pump beside, to feed the taps indoors.

And peace was slow in coming to brothers Dave and Ron,
For even in the country the war was going on.
A parachute descending made young hearts beat in fright
Was friend or foe a-dangling there? Were they within his sight?
A dash for home was called for
But just in time to see
The plane come down in field next door
And soundly strike a tree.
A ditch delayed its progress
The wheels stuck fast and tight;
The engine, made of sterner stuff,
Continued on its flight –
Across the road it skidded
Into the notice board
Outside the policeman’s cottage
And soon the flames had soared
And eaten up the notices, the board, the hedge and flowers.
The parachutist? He was fine
And he was ‘one of ours’.

Even in those troubled times adventure’s to be had:
Another crash one Sunday inspired the local lads
To pedal off to Cheesefoot Head, excitement high – What rapture!
Trophies of the rarest kind were there to seek and capture.
Canon shells and bullets were gleefully extracted
But where to safely store them ’til their own wars they enacted?
Each found a little hidey-hole in which to store his plunder.
You know the copper Mum once had? you lit a fire under,
Well, one bright spark, (I’ll name him not)
Decided this was ‘it’
And so he stashed his little lot
Where coals were meant to sit.
But Monday must be washing day
So Mother she got going,
She lit the fire to boil her load
And soon the coals were glowing….
I’ll leave you to imagine
The surprise she must have had
And words she spoke – when speak she could –
To her darling little lad.

Humour, too must still be found when (days are long and drear
And children often do not see the dangers lurking here.
Our road was far too bendy for big wide loads to pass
And with D-Day now approaching
They had to sort it – fast.
The workmen came in dozens
With lorries, diggers, chains
To make a super-highway
From meandering country lanes
So that lines of heavy traffic
Could safely reach the coast
And swiftly cross the Channel
To places needed most.
The machines were not as streamlined as the monsters of today.
And warning signs not so audible if you got in the way.
Poor Jack was busy digging – his mind on other things
When from the sky, away up high a mighty bucket swings;
The excavator driver with precision sealed by fate
Dumped the flying missile on Jack’s unsuspecting pate!
He fell in black oblivion
To children’s laughing cheers.
It happened opposite the school
Remembered there for years.

To childish minds the straightened roads
Brought other, different dangers
The khaki convoys with their loads
Of noisy, shouting strangers.
Yet friendly was their main intent
And cheerful was their greeting.
To Margaret, on her way to school,
‘Twas not a welcome meeting.
Of timid heart and bashful mien,
She found it hard to swallow
Though sweets and gum were tossed her way
No smiles nor thanks would follow.
Instead, a sudden burst of speed
Propelled her in a scramble
Up bank, through hedge and into field
Or even into bramble
And there she’d stay ’til all had passed
Like ebbing waves of thunder –
Whilst Jewel and Flower (who pulled Arf’s carts)
Chewed on in wide-eyed wonder

But sunny times and happy hours were never far away
And village life became the norm for every passing day.
We had two stores in which to buy our rations when we could
And coupons saved for sweeties, 2 oz ‘If you’re good’.
A school for infants, flint and stone, with toilets round the back
With wooden seats, well scrubbed each night, and holes so deep and black.
The Post Office sold papers, also patterns, wool and toys
The village hall was called ‘The Hut’ and shook when full of noise.
At each end of the village a cobbler plied his trade
They both sat at their windows whilst shoe repairs they made.
A trek to Bramdean Garage was frequently endured –
The accumulator must be charged to hear the spoken word
On radio – for Children’s Hour, The News and Uncle Mac;
Paul Temple, Snowy, Jock and Jet, The scary ‘Man in Black’
The Church and Pub have stood their ground and weathered all the storms
Their walls encompassed fellowship in many different forms.
And what of things our centre lacked? The butchers, bakers, milkman?
Why they set to and came to us – we surely bid them ‘welcome’.
There was Doodley in his Morris 10 with milk churns perched behind him
He peered straight through his steering wheel so small you’d hardly find him.
The bakers, Ben and Stingy took turns to bring our loaves
And Bishop Bros. van came round stacked high with family clothes.
Livingstones and Hasteads brought tasty cuts of meat –
They all were there to serve us and none their wares could beat.
But Friday nights were magic, and we could hardly wait
For ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ with Stingy’s lardy cake!

But many are the memories of leisure time well spent
The roaming of the fields and lanes
The shady woods and tracking games.
No ‘PRIVATE’ signs to bar our way
An endless world in which to play
The trees we climbed; the ponds we fished
For tadpoles, newts and frogs and toads;
We jumped the ditches as we wished
And cycled miles along quiet roads.
We helped to stack the sheaves of corn;
Had family picnics on the lawn;
Collected hedgerow fruits and nuts
Heedless of the scrapes and cuts;
Sailed our rafts on flooded pits –
Oil drums tied to wooden bits!
And Oh! the joy of falling snow;
Whizzing down the Park we’d go –
Toboggans greased and running fast
Bedtime curfew long gone past;
Trekking home with frozen toes,
Stiffened coats and glowing nose.
Moonlight sparkling, diamond bright
Strong black trees to guard the night.

Though childhood passes from us all
Our memories will remain;
They are taken out and dusted well
Then gently stored again.
And yes, we found our haven
We had happy, peaceful days
In Bramdean’s loving bosom;
Her fields, her trees, her lanes.