Tag Archives: Woodville

1937: The Clouds of War (1)

What must have been among the most magical moments in my father, Fred’s, long and eventful life, came one day, or rather one evening, around 1937. In a long golden English summer, he and three of his childhood friends decided to use their knowledge from the Wolf Cubs and the Boy Scouts and to go off camping. Those three other boys were Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty. Here’s my Dad, with his bicycle. Behind him, there is nothing but fields. Nowadays, there is nothing but houses:

AG with bike 1930 8

The boys all went by bicycle down Hartshorne Lane, into the village of Hartshorne itself, past the Georgian coaching inn and the haunted old Elizabethan house. Look for the camouflaged orange arrow which points at Fred’s house. The boys rode into the top right hand corner of the map, towards the church with a square tower:

journey 1

They cycled resolutely past the old Saxon church of St Peter:

Hartshorne_Church_web

Then they took the road westwards out towards Repton. The next orange arrow on the map below points to Hartshorne Church.

Repton, off to the west, was the village where, in the winter of 873-874 AD, the Danish Great Heathen Army, led by the reputedly nine feet tall Ivar the Boneless, spent a few months resting up and slaughtering the locals:

Fred and the boys ignored these ruffians, though, and they turned off to the north, the top right corner of the map, towards the villages of Ticknall and Foremarke, home of Fred’s ancestors from the days of the Stuarts:

journey 2

At the very top of the hill, though, by now high up on the horizon, they turned yet again, eastwards along the yellow-marked Coal Lane, before they turned for the last time into Green Lane, indicated by the orange arrow. They followed this grassy track for a good distance until it joined the steep orangey road towards Pistern Hills:

journey 3

Just look how many features on this map refer either to types of tree, the shape of the landscape or the name of a long forgotten landowner.

Just before the road junction, they put their bikes in the hedge and made camp.

journey 5

Green Lane, originally, formed part of an ancient trackway, dating back perhaps to Stone Age times. I don’t have a photograph, but this is what it would have looked like in that more countrified era:

green 1xxxxxxx

No insecticides then, or petrol powered machines to cut back the homes of the bee, the butterfly and the wood mouse:

green-lane-narrowing-11xxxxxxxxxxxxx

In a word, it was a countryside paradise. We’ll see who plays the part of the Serpent next time.

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Filed under Bomber Command, History, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

A good man doesn’t stand by (1)

Some time ago, I showed you a picture of the England football team all making their Nazi salute at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on May 14th 1938:

England-Germany 1938 nazi.xsderftgyhb

They were not the only foreigners to greet the Führer with a cheery “Sieg Heil”. Here, just a year later, is the Republic of Ireland football team engaged in pretty much the same behaviour:

Ireland-Germany-1

Let’s just leave that for a short while, and move westwards to the English Midlands. To South Derbyshire, and more precisely, the little village where my Dad, Fred, grew up.

During those long sunny summers and cold snowy winters after the Great War, Fred’s home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. The house was called “Holmgarth”, and it was the very last house in the little village of Woodville as you went down the hill towards the neighbouring village.

After Fred’s house, the only dwellings were just a couple of very large detached houses set well back from the road, either side of a small, shared, lake. This was just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge, which carried the old passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards the neighbouring town. Here it is, being demolished in the early 1980s:

demolition

Hartshorne Lane in the 1930s was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible for boys to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys, including Fred, regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the soft surface of the road:

hart road 2 START HERE

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in 1929, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in fear. Fred though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just deserts.

Fred’s father, Will, used to work at either Wraggs or Knowles clayworks, a couple of miles away. He would finish his working week at lunchtime on Saturday, and then return home immediately to make sure that he did not miss the football match at Derby, which started at three o’clock:

aerial 1

First of all, though, he would always strip to the waist and wash off all his grime in the kitchen sink.

When Fred was too young to accompany him, Will would walk to the match at the rather strangely named Baseball Ground in Derby. His knowledge of shortcuts, and his willingness to walk over the fields, meant that he could reduce the usual distance by road of twelve or thirteen miles to a walk of only some ten miles or so.

This all came to an abrupt end, though, when Will began to take his young son Fred to the match:

AD with grandma 3

Everything had to change. They would both stroll the short distance down Hartshorne Road until they reached the so-called Lovers’ Walk, a path, complete with romantic tinkling brook, which ran as a well-known short cut, up to the end of Station Street. From here father and son would take the train together from Woodville Station to the Baseball Ground at Derby, hiding away in the middle of a thousand terraced houses.

baseballground_ssssssssssssssssssssssss

Sometimes, though, they preferred to catch the ordinary bus in Hartshorne Lane. There was, in actual fact, great competition between the train and bus companies, with occasional, but regular, price wars. The usual fare was one shilling and a halfpenny, but first one, and then the other, company would knock the halfpenny off in a bid to steal a march over their rivals.

Whatever method of transport they used, Fred and Will always left for the match around one o’clock or half past one.

In the early 1930s, Derby County’s goalkeeper was a man called Jack Kirby. He came from Newhall, a mining village just the other side of Swadlincote from Woodville. Kirby had joined Derby County, a professional soccer team in the top division, from a little amateur team, Newhall United, in April 1929. He made his debut for Derby at the top level in the 1929-30 season:

kirbhy

In those days, footballers did not assemble for a pre-match meal at some prestigious hotel. Indeed, Jack used to travel to every Derby home game on his bicycle from his terraced house in Newhall. This was a distance of some thirteen or fourteen miles.

On alternate Saturdays, therefore, Kirby would come slowly past Fred’s house on his bicycle at around one o’clock.  He still had, perhaps, an hour and a half to travel the twelve or so miles to Derby. Fred and his father Will would watch out for him, have a quick chat, and invariably joke that Jack was going to miss the start of the game. Kirby never hurried, though, keeping always to what Fred and Will both considered to be a worryingly snail like pace.

There was more to Jack, though, than just banter about the speed of his cycling. Jack really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing, so that evil might prosper. For now though, here is Jack in action against Newcastle United:jfk0072211209 - Copy

The English First Division could be a really rough place in 1934:

jfk0072210208

Jack was a handsome devil, and like all proper goalkeepers, his doting old mum always knitted him a nice warm pullover:

jfk0072210208 - Copy

He was very good at latching on to the heavy, invariably wet football of the era, with hands as big as buckets:

jfk0072209207

The secret was practice, practice, practice. Even if people in the house next to the ground keep spying on you as you train:

jack again

Soon, we will all hear the story of how Jack proved to the whole world that he really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing.  Jack was not prepared to let evil prosper.

 

 

 

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Off to the Great War (Part Two)

I wrote about my grandfather, Will Knifton, in a previous blog post:

A1 hard man

When he first joined the Canadian Army in Toronto, he was soon sent across the Atlantic to receive his initial training in England. He started at  Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent, learning how to be a Canadian soldier from late July 1916 until the end of November. There was a Canadian Training Division at Shorncliffe and I suspect he was stationed there. Will seems to have enjoyed his stay in Kent, the so-called “Garden of England”. I have already shown you some of the post cards he sent to his fiancée, in an article imaginatively entitled “Off to the Great War (Part One)”.

At this time, Will’s fiancée, Fanny Smith, lived with her family in Woodville, a little village in South Derbyshire. Will sent Fanny many postcards. This one is of Sandgate, a little seaside resort in the area. It shows the High Street East:

sandg high st

The message reads:

“Sandgate is about 5 minutes walk from Ross Barracks. Love Will”

five mins ross back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ross Barracks were themselves part of Shorncliffe Camp.

This next postcard was posted at 10.00 am. on August 4th 1916. It shows the low cliffs in this small village near Shorncliffe Camp and close to Folkestone:

sandgate cliff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the back of the postcard:

baxk of snadgate c;liff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads;

baxk of snadgate c;liff eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Once again, Will is able to retain an almost surreal quality in his writing:

“It has been so warm today and we walked 18 miles. Send me lots of news dear. Love to all. Yours Will”

This postcard was franked at 11.00 pm, on August 20th 1916, and had been posted in Folkestone, perhaps after a visit by train to the famous cathedral, only some twenty miles away in Canterbury:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the back of the postcard:

back cathedralzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the message enlarged:

back cathedra jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

The message reads, as far as I can decipher it….

 “Sunday 1pm

I didn’t get my pass yesterday so couldn’t see Stacey. (name slightly illegible) May go next week. Trust you are alright. Fondest love, Will ”

This postcard shows the Lees and the Shelter at Folkestone:

folstone colour

The message reads:

“Yours to hand love (?) A letter is coming. I wish I were too. wont be long Fondest love Will”:

back folkstome colour

Here is the message enlarged. This seems to be in his more florid style of handwriting:

back folkstome colour enlarged

 

In retrospect, this next postcard may perhaps seem a little insensitive. Just a few short weeks after being asked to join the blood soaked antics of the Western Front, and due to depart on November 17th for the trenches, Will sent his fiancée a postcard of the large convalescent home in Folkestone. Presumably, the lone soldier on the seat is the only one left after “The Big Push”:

convalaecscnt home

This is the reverse of the card:

back hospitasl

Can you decipher the message, written in best quality pencil?

Here it is enlarged:

back hospitasl wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

And notice too, how the young prototype Canadian, once again, says “I will write you”, rather than the more usual English of “I will write to you”. In actual fact, the message reads……

“I will write you again tonight. Trust you are well. Love to all. Fond love to you. Will”

The postmark of 9.oo pm on September 5th 1916 reveals that Will could not have been convalescing at the hospital, as he had only just arrived in England from Canada on July 25th 1916, and he did not set off to join the Great War until November 17th 1916.

I am fairly sure that this was Will’s last card before he moved on in his Canadian Army career. I suspect that it was sent from Folkestone in Kent, just before Will embarked for France and the Western Front. The reverse, unusually for Will, is blank. Perhaps what faced him in the future was enough to take away his inspiration temporarily:

old sldier channel

The inscription on the front of the card reads:

“Crossing the Channel was quite a thrilling thing. But an old B.E.F. man rather spoiled the trip by swanking without his life belt, and otherwise showing everyone that the entire thing was far from new to him.”

On November 17th, Will left Shorncliffe, Folkestone and Kent to sail for France and the “3rd D.A.C.” He was “taken on strength” with the “3rd D.A.C.” on November 23rd, and could now be considered a fully fledged soldier.

Like many soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War, Will was shot by a German machine gun on at least one occasion. He had two wounds in the legs, and I believe that he may have gone back to Kent to recuperate. The position of his wounds was doubtless because German machine gunners were trained to sweep their guns backwards and forwards close to the ground:

a23_world_war_1_german_machine_gun_1

They were told to try and imitate a man cutting down grass with a scythe:

giphy

Germans, machine guns, bombs, mud, trench foot, sudden death, whatever. Will survived it all:

old age

 

 

 

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Four

I wrote a previous article about the, sadly, rather typical loss of an Avro Lancaster of 103 Squadron, based at Elsham Wolds. The aircraft took off from north Lincolnshire at precisely one minute past midnight on February 20th 1944. It was on its way to bomb Leipzig, a very, very long trip lasting eight hours, most of it over the Third Reich itself. This raid involved more than 900 aircraft with the highest losses of the war so far, 78 aircraft destroyed, a loss rate of 9.55 %.  The previous worst total was the 58 aircraft lost over Magdeburg on January 21st-22nd 1943:

300px-Royal_Air_Force_Bomber_Command,_1942-1945__C5083

I was saddened to see however, during my researches into the fate of PM-I, JB745, that, on that very night, an even more tragic incident had occurred, not over Germany, but over the airfield itself. As they returned unscathed from this rather unsuccessful raid on Leipzig, therefore, two Lancasters collided with each other.
One was the Avro Lancaster Mk III, JB530, PM-F. The aircraft had taken off at 11:22 pm., and was preparing to land. Given the timings of the raid, this incident must have taken place at around 7.00-8.00 am. I would have thought that, at this time of year, it cannot have been absolutely pitch black, and, even though it was February, there must surely have been some light. Lancaster JB530 was heavily damaged in the collision with the other Lancaster, but the pilot, Flight Sergeant H.Gumbrell used all of his skills to bring the aircraft down without serious damage to the members of the crew. These were Sergeant T.V.Shaw, Flying Officer H.J. Hearn, Sergeant F.Osborne, Flight Sergeant J.Seward, Sergeant D.W.Evans and Sergeant R.A.Boulton.
The second Lancaster Mk III, ND334, PM- unknown, did not fare quite so well. This aircraft had taken off a little later at 11:50 pm., and was also preparing to land.  The pilot, Warrant Officer JC Warnes escaped with injuries, as did the Mid-Upper Gunner, Sergeant S.Clapham, but everybody else was killed. These included the Flight Engineer, Sergeant D.H.J.Cunningham, the Navigator, Flying Officer R.H.Fuller, the Bomb Aimer, Flight Sergeant C.Bagshaw,  the Wireless Operator, Sergeant E.S.Gunn and the Rear Gunner, Sergeant A.O.Haines:

halifax wreck
Searching in more detail on the Internet, I found the following information on an archived page from the older of presumably two, DCBoard Forums of “RAF Commands”. It was written, from what I can make out, by “Greg” a guest on the forum in December 2003. Clearly, Greg has been able to access the official accident report:

“JB530 was struck in mid-air by ND334. The report is a little unclear, but it looks like permission by the Flying Control Officer (FCO) was given to JB530 to land first, and then permission was given for the other aircraft,ND334, to land, BEFORE JB530 had actually touched down on the runway. The Court of Inquiry suggests that this was due to a lack of flying discipline at the airfield, and also added that crews must keep a better lookout. The report also has the Air Officer Commanding’s comments, to the effect that Flying Control Officers must not depart from the normal procedure for landings. The report states that the accident was caused by the Flying Control Officer departing from the normal procedure.”

If this is true, then it is, quite simply, disgraceful. Five young men lost their lives because of a careless mistake. This wasn’t the fog of war. This was what should have been standard procedure for the Flying Control Officer.
In the early days when my Dad was first in the RAF, he told me that, when he had looked at the idea of becoming an Officer, the first question he was asked was “What school did you go to?” He said to me that “As soon as I said ‘Woodville Secondary Modern” (where all the pupils had to leave at thirteen) I knew I was wasting my time.”

wvilleupper

If only my Dad had been able to say “Eton” or “Harrow”, they might have promoted him:

eton-college xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

All I can say is that I just hope the Flying Control Officer in question did not get his job because of who his father was or which university he was educated at. To me, a mistake as basic as giving two different aircraft permission to land on the same runway at the same time is just stupid incompetence. And yes, I know that “these things happen in war”, but only if you give crucial jobs to people who are incapable of doing them.
Sergeant Donald Henry James Cunningham was aged only 19 when he was killed and his death must have been a catastrophic blow to his parents, Mr Geoffrey Joseph and Mrs Alice Maud Cunningham. The family all lived in Hounslow, Middlesex. Donald was buried in Brigg Cemetery, only four miles from the airfield:

brfigg cemetery
Sergeant Anthony Oliver Haines was 26 years of age when he was killed. His grieving parents were Mr Francis Henry Claudian Haines and Mrs Florence Ethel Haines, who lived in Bristol. Young Anthony was also buried in Brigg Cemetery, along with Donald Cunningham and 48 other young casualties of war.
Flying Officer Ronald Harry Fuller was only 22 years old when he was killed. He was the much loved son of Mr Henry James Fuller and Mrs Florence Fuller. The family all lived in Marylebone in London. Young Ronald was buried in Cambridge City Cemetery where 1,007 other young casualties of the two World Wars all lie:cambrigde vity cem

Flight Sergeant Charles Bagshaw was also only 22 years old when he was killed. He was the beloved son of Mr Charles Garrett Bagshaw and Mrs Sarah Bagshaw, of Urmston, a small town in Trafford, Greater Manchester. He is buried in his hometown cemetery where his grave bears the inscription, “He died that others might live”. He is with 59 other casualties of the two World Wars in this little town of only 41,000 people.
Sergeant Edward Sandilands Gunn was only 21 years old when he was killed. His parents were Mr Edward Sandilands Gunn and Mrs Bessie Gunn of Glasgow. Their son was returned to Scotland and now lies in the Glasgow Western Necropolis with 479 other young casualties of the two conflicts:

cemet

Edward’s brother David Sandilands Gunn was also in the RAF as a member of 612 Squadron, operating as a General Reconnaissance unit within RAF Coastal Command. David was killed on March 26th 1941, while flying an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley:

Armstrong_Whitworth_Whitley_in_flight_c1940

You may wonder about the name “Sandilands”. As far as I can ascertain, this was a Scottish clan name, here used as a first name.

Two things to finish, firstly a question. Was this the only catastrophic collision of two Lancaster bombers from 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds? Well, what do you think?

And then one final word. All of the websites I have used can be reached through the links above. I could not have produced this article, however, without recourse to the superb books by W.R.Chorley. Their detail is almost unbelievable and I would urge anyone interested by the bomber war to think seriously of purchasing at least one of them. The books bring home just how many young men were killed in Bomber Command during the Second World War. When the first book arrived, my daughter thought it contained all the casualties for the whole war, but, alas, it was just 1944.

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Off to the Great War (Part One)

I have already mentioned in a previous blog post that my Grandfather, Will Knifton, emigrated to Canada in an unknown year before the Great War. Conceivably, he was with his elder brother, John Knifton, or more likely perhaps, John went across the Atlantic first and then Will joined him later on. I have only two pieces of evidence to go on.

Firstly, it is recorded that a John Knifton landed in Canada on May 9th 1907. His ship was the “Lake Manitoba” and he was twenty three years of age. His nationality is listed in the Canadian records as English.

On the other hand, I still have an old Bible belonging to my Grandfather, which says inside the front cover,

“the Teachers and Scholars of the Wesleyan Sunday School, Church Gresley, given to him as a token of appreciation for services rendered to the above School, and with sincerest wishes for his future happiness and prosperity. March 26th 1911.”

Whatever the truth of his arrival, Will lived at 266, Symington Avenue, Toronto. He then worked as a locomotive fireman on the Canadian Pacific Railways, between Chapleau, Ontario, right across the Great Plains to Winnipeg. He also talked many times of the town of Moose Jaw, although he never supplied any details that I can remember:

cab paint

Will joined the Canadian Army on June 12th 1916 at the Toronto Recruiting Depôt. He sailed from Canada for the Western Front on July 16th 1916 on the “S.S.Empress of Britain”:

ss_empress_of_britain

For many years, Will had courted a local English girl called Fanny Smith, the daughter of Levi Smith, a labourer in a clay hole in the area around the village of Woodville, in South Derbyshire, where they all lived. Will wrote to her from Canada and then, during his time in the army, he sent her regular postcards from France. During his leaves from the front, he always returned to see her and they married on July 15th 1917:

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I still have quite a few of Will’s postcards. He had clearly bought this postcard just before he left Canada for England and the Great War:

montrealbxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He used to speak enthusiastically about Montreal and especially about the famous Hôtel Frontenac:

Château_Frontenac_02

On July 25th, Will duly arrived in England, and was taken on strength into the army at Shorncliffe in Kent. He posted his postcard of Montreal soon after he arrived at Shorncliffe Camp in Folkestone, Kent, at 7.00 pm on July 27th 1916. Here is the back of it:

shrncliffe campxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads:

Englands shores   Dearest, arrived safely on the Empress of Britain, a pleasant voyage was free from sickness will write you later fondest love Will”.

Notice how Will is beginning to become a Canadian with his unusual lack of a preposition in “will write you later”.

Shorncliffe Camp was where Will, and many other young men, were to train for France and the Western Front. Having mentioned the idea of being sick in his previous postcard, Will continues the romantic mood with a picture of the men and horses of the Canadian Field Artillery drilling hard on the parade ground:

canadian cannons sepiaxxxxxxxxxx

The reverse is here:

reverse of shoercliffexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will manages to make a charming juxtaposition of “men and horses at drill with the big guns” and “Fondest thoughts” to his true love. (And she really was his true love.)

Will began his training at Shorncliffe on July 27th and he remained there until November 17th 1916. The schedule for basic training makes interesting reading nowadays. This particular week was the one ending June 5th 1915, and it is difficult to imagine that Will would have done anything substantially different just over a year later:

Monday 

(6.30-7.00 am)                          Squad drill without arms

(8.00-9.00 am)                         Physical Training

(9.00-9.30 am)                          Bayonet Fighting

(9.30-10.00 am)                        Rapid loading

(10.00-12.00 am)                      Company Training

afternoon                                 as for morning less ½ hour squad drill

Tuesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Night March

Wednesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                 Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Thursday                                  all day                      Battalion field training

Friday 

morning                                    as for Monday

afternoon                                 as for Monday

Saturday 

morning                                   as for Monday, less afternoon (holiday)

(If this were a restaurant, you would only go there once, wouldn’t you?)

Will’s next postcard continues the hearts and flowers theme with a photograph of the men’s tents.

Will’s own tent is marked with a cross:

tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is the reverse side of this postcard. Firstly, as Fanny received it:

back of tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And here is the message enlarged:

back of tent2xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will remained at Shorncliffe until November 17th. He sent his girlfriend, or perhaps by now, his fiancée, some more post cards before he left. We will look at them in the near future.

 

 

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Hallowe’en Nights (4) Three ghosts from my past

My father was called Fred Knifton. He lived from 1922-2003, for the most part in Hartshorne Road, Woodville, which is to the south of Derby and Nottingham, in the East Midlands.

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Woodville at the time was a village of some 5,000 people. It was exactly on the edge of  a geological fault line, so to the west, coarse, heavy clay was mined in opencast quarries, and sewer pipes and drainpipes were manufactured. To the east there was no clay, but instead there were open green fields with Friesian cattle and tall hedges of hawthorn.

SLD_Herd ddddddd

Although as far as I know he never experienced any of the RAF’s many ghostly occurrences, Fred once told me that there was a well-known haunted hangar somewhere out there in East Anglia, possibly in Norfolk, where mechanics as they repaired aircraft late at night, would often hear dance music, even though of course, there was no orchestra within miles.

A modern day equivalent may well have been the occasion when I stood at the bathroom sink one summer’s morning, a good few years after Fred’s death, looking out over the roof tops of Nottingham. I was listening to “American Patrol” being played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra on a CD.

This moment suddenly gave me probably the most distinctive feeling of “déjà vu” I have ever had. I have wondered ever since whether my father had perhaps done exactly the same thing on some airbase in Lincolnshire on a long forgotten day some sixty or so years previously.

Strangely enough, for a man who always had so many tales to tell, ghosts and phantoms did not feature particularly highly in Fred’s repertoire, and I would struggle to think of any direct reference he ever made about the afterlife, although I am sure that he was aware of the alleged haunted house down near the Bull’s Head Inn in Hartshorne.

As a native of nearby Woodville, Fred would certainly have heard all the tales of the phantom attached to this large black and white timber framed Elizabethan house which stood between the old Georgian coaching inn and the Anglo-Saxon church in the middle of Hartshorne.

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Apparently, the story was often told of how….

“A brave group of people, made curious by the many ghostly accounts of bumps in the night, had gone up into the attic, unvisited through many decades of neglect, and found furniture piled up across the entire room. On the inaccessible far wall of the room, there was a delicate but obvious print in the centuries old dust, the unmistakeable impression of a ghostly human hand. Nobody could possibly have penetrated the great mass of tables, chairs and rubbish stacked across the floor. It could only have been the work of a phantom. ”

In 1970, I experienced an extremely strange happening when I accompanied my father, Fred, down to his parents’ house at number 39, Hartshorne Road. Fred’s parents, Will and Fanny, had both recently died recently within a few months of each other in hospital at Burton-on-Trent, with Fanny remaining mercifully unaware of Will’s demise after more than sixty years of marriage.

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Fred was paying regular visits to the property, presumably attempting little by little to clear the house out so that it could be resold. At the time, as a teenager of some sixteen  years of age, I was unaware of this, although, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been, and I could perhaps have stopped Fred from throwing away so many of his father Will’s Great War souvenirs, such as his complete Canadian Army uniform, his German soldier’s leather belt and his extensive collection of German guns and ammunition.

We entered the deserted house through the front door, and as I walked along the hallway towards the kitchen, I distinctly heard the upstairs toilet flush. I turned round and asked Fred, who had been following me into the hall, how this could have happened, and who it could have been, given that we both knew that the house was locked up and empty.

Fred gave me some non-committal answer at the time, but afterwards, perhaps when he had regained his composure a little, he told me that, as he was some way behind me, he had been able to look up the stairs when he heard the sudden noise of the toilet being flushed. He had distinctly seen his recently deceased father, Will, walk out of the bathroom, across the landing and into the front bedroom.

My father Fred certainly knew the story about how an aging Mrs.Edwards had sadly passed away. This old lady had lived in the village a hundred yards further down Hartshorne Road from Fred’s own house, in a Victorian house next to the entrance of a factory making drainpipes.

Her old  friend, and our own family friend, Gertrude Betteridge, went down to Mrs.Edwards’  house to pay her respects and offer her condolences to her daughter, Margaret Edwards. The latter greeted Gertrude and showed her into the front room. Margaret then invited her guest to sit down on the settee while she went into the kitchen to make “a nice cup of tea”.

After a couple of minutes, as Gertrude sat there quietly and politely with the sunlight streaming brightly through the front windows, the door opened. It was not, however, Margaret with the expected tray of tea and biscuits, but Mrs.Edwards herself, exactly as she had been in life, who came in. She walked across the room to Gertrude completely normally, and quietly and calmly said to her, “Tell Margaret not to worry. I’m all right.” Then she turned and walked away, opened the front room door and disappeared back out into the hall, never to be seen again.

 

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