Tag Archives: Woodville

Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

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Stories about my Dad (1) Manchester Lane

Just after the war had ended, in 1947,  there was a horrendously hard winter in England, with huge amounts of snow, and much hardship for ordinary people, with the extreme cold and the continuing spectre of rationing.

Manchester Lane is a tiny country lane which runs between the village of Hartshorne and the hamlet of Boundary. As my Dad, Fred, used to live in Woodville, at either No 9 or No 39 Hartshorne Road (in red), he would make frequent use of Manchester Lane to produce a circular walk around the district. He would walk down Hartshorne Road to the very bottom, near to church with a square tower (cross “+” with a black square attached, and turn right at the Bull’s Head Public House (PH). He would then follow the summit ridge of Horn Hill, a route used since Neolithic times, and walk at last along Manchester Lane itself (in yellow) as far as the water tower (“Wr Twr”) at Boundary.  He then turned right and right again, and returned finally to Woodville along Ashby Road (in green), and then High Street (also in green). You can see his route on this map:

The orange arrow points to Woodville. Hartshorne Road is the red road running to the north east. In those days, it was very countrified…..

When he reached Hartshorne, Fred would turn right past the Bull’s Head, which dated from Georgian times, into Manchester Lane :

He was now in Manchester Lane which he followed for quite some distance. In 1947, this tiny country road was completely blocked by the snow. Indeed, the snow was so deep that the authorities, with the help of the RAF,  improvised an emergency snow plough by mounting an aircraft engine, complete with whirling propeller, on the back of a lorry. They then backed the vehicle into the lane, and it cleared the twelve feet deep snowdrifts without any problems.

This country road had always created a big impression on Fred, and he was forever going off for “a walk round Manchester Lane”. This healthy jaunt was around three or four miles long, and it would take at least a whole morning. It left behind the factory chimneys of Woodville and, once you got to Manchester Lane,  it went right out into open countryside, between leafy hedges and past green fields, with a splendid view looking back towards Hartshorne, Woodville and Midway. Fred never tired of the fresh air and the blue sky, the sun, the wind, the ever-changing faces of the weather and the varying aspects of nature.

Occasionally he would see a remarkable sight, such as one of his abiding memories, an old man well into his eighties, sitting astride the gable of his house roof on Manchester Lane, mending or replacing the broken ridge tiles. This is the cottage today, gentrified beyond belief:

On a darker note, Fred would often tell the tale of an isolated barn, in fields down to the south of the lane, which had been the centre of a deathbed confession by a man in faraway Australia. This macabre episode took place in the 1930s, when a farmworker who had emigrated from Woodville, well before the turn of the new century, lay dying in Tasmania, and asked to make his peace with God. He confessed that, years before, he had murdered a young woman and buried her body beneath the floor of a particular cold grey stone barn near Manchester Lane in far away England. The barn was something like this:

The Australian authorities notified their English counterparts of the man’s confession, and the calm tranquillity of the South Derbyshire countryside was soon  disrupted by the arrival of teams of policemen who dug up the floor of the barn, and indeed, a number of other similar barns in the area. They found nothing, although their researches were extensive. It remains a minor mystery to this day, why the dying man said what he said. Perhaps he just disliked policemen, or alternatively, perhaps he thought that many of them were too fat after all those donuts and needed to work off a little of their excessive weight.

The barn nowadays seems to have been swallowed up by the extended farm buildings at this farm. It may even have been demolished:

Whatever the case, this was a good place  to pause, and to take in the beautiful view. And then it was upwards and ever onwards to the right turn that would take him towards the old Toll House at Boundary:

Originally, the toll house was eight sided so that the toll keeper could keep a wary eye out for people who were approaching from whatever direction.  In addition, eight sided buildings are supposed to be immune to demonic possession, which is nice. Then it’s another right turn so that Fred could follow Ashby Road which would eventually become High Street and take him homewards. But there was more to see yet. A quarter of a mile beyond the Toll House was the Water Tower at Boundary:

Just after Ashby Road became High Street in Woodville, there is a small turn off which used to lead to a tiny farm which nestled among the shops and terraced houses. One day, when my daughter was just six years old, Grandad Fred took her to see the farm. It was lambing time and she was able to feed some of the newborn lambs with a bottle.  She will never forget doing this for the rest of her life. She will never repeat it though, because this is the turn off today. I just love our brave new world. It’s so interesting and so clean:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (5) “Blackpool, summer 1939”

This poem was published in the School magazine, the Nottinghamian in July 1939. It was written by Alan Douglas Fluder Howard, the son of a school teacher. Alan was born on December 1st  1922 and the family all lived at 5 Alpha Terrace, between North Sherwood Street and Addison Street, fairly close to the High School. Alan entered the High School on September 2oth 1934, as Boy No 5845 and he studied there until the end of the School Year in 1941 when he left to go to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge with an Open Exhibition of £40 per annum for Classics and a City of Nottingham Scholarship of £80 per annum. Here’s Gonville & Caius College, or at least, a picture of the entrance to Staircase K:

Alan then seems to have become an illustrator of children’s books such as, for example, “The Pimpernel and the Poodle” and “Limping Ginger of London Town” both of which are still on sale, intermittently, on the internet.

Alan died on Monday April 14, 2008 at the Mount Nursing Home in Shrewsbury. He was the much loved and loving husband of Margaret, the father of Shelagh and Jennifer, the grandfather of Laura, Joanna, Harry, Katy and Zachary and the brother of Marian.

Unlike many Cambridge men of his era, Howard did serve in the war. On October 1st 1945, he received an Emergency Commission to promote him from the ranks of the ordinary soldiers to become a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Signals.

This poem is one of the very best you’ll find in the school magazine. It is set in Blackpool in the very last summer before the war began on September 3rd 1939.

Blackpool was, and still is, England’s Holiday Capital. Its most famous building is Blackpool Tower, jealously copied by the jealous Parisian architects within a couple of years of its completion. There are three piers, North, Central and South, there is a huge Pleasure Beach and Blackpool has literally thousands of things to do. And it also has its problems, as this poem will gradually reveal to you……..

BLACKPOOL, 1939

I like to be at the seaside, the seaside, the seaside,

The jolly, jolly seaside, is just the place for me.

 

I love the bracing sea-breeze, the sea-breeze, the sea-breeze,

The sewage-fish-and-chips breeze,

Down by the sea.

 

Oh, how delightful, beautiful, adorable,

Just to spend a day down on the strand !

Gramophones, deck-chairs, chattering lunatics,

And sand sand sand jellyfish sand.

 

How nice to have a picnic,

All on the seashore,

Down by the briny.

Oh, how grand !

 

Lemonade, sandwiches,

All gone musty,

Bread-and-Butter, hard as granite,

Seaweed, sand

 

With sad, shrill wailing, high above the waters,

The slender white seagulls swoop and soar:

Listen to the salt waves softly sighing,

Listen to the breakers crashing on the shore—

“An I says to ‘er, I says—“   “I wanner sticker rock.”

“Johnnie’s gorn an’ pinched me bucket and spide.“

“Let’s ‘ave some fishanchips.“   “Buy me an ice-cream.”

“Wind up the gramophone.”   “Pass the lemonide.”

 

Look at that fat man,

Playing with a beach ball’

Just like a walrus,

Just like a walrus ;

Look at these chocolate papers, toffee papers, newspapers,

And those broken bottles, pleasant for the feet :

 

Here are the side-shows,

Hark! the showmen softly call—

Giraffe-necked women, three legged women,

Fat women, headless women.

Yonder people half-drunk, two-thirds-drunk, completely drunk.

Not a few hyper-drunk, rolling down the street,

 

Hurrah ! for the sea-shore,

The sand-castles,

(So-called).

Hurrah ! for the deck chairs,

(Twopence a time) ;

Cheers for the deep sea, the green sea, the dirty sea,

Covered with frothy-brown,

Smelly-brown

Slime.

 

‘Ray ! for the beastly rock,

Landladies,

Pickpockets,

Roundabouts,

Sideshows,

Gambling dens.

Ray ! for the bandstands,

Machines to tell your fortune ;

No wonder they call us

Homo sapiens.

All that remains now is to show you just one or two pictures of Blackpool.  Here’s the beach, pier  and tower :

And here is an aerial view of the most famous holiday resort in England:

Here are the attractions in the South  Shore area:

Here’s the North Pier. You’d think nobody had heard of any other seaside resort in England. Every single English family and their dog, has turned up:

And here’s the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens:

And finally, a couple of family photographs, both of them taken at Blackpool. First of all, the rather bored little boy is my Dad, born 1922. He looks about eight or nine to me. The lady with him is his mother, my grandmother. Behind them is an escape convict, blending in very skilfully with the cloche hatted crowd :

My grandad, the one who went to Canada and fought in their army, was the husband of the lady above. His father was my namesake, John Knifton, who seems to have acquired a touch of dementia in his final years. On one occasion, at a rather advanced age, he went up to Dr Love’s surgery in High Street, Woodville, and told him that he had come for the job as a doctor. There was, of course, no job. Dr Love went down to see his son, my grandad, and announced to him that “the old professor has really flipped his lid !”

So, here’s the Old Professor:

The lady with him was his second wife, a rather vinegary lady who my grandad and his brothers hated with a will. They would eventually finish up walking down a gangplank onto the docks at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, because of her.

And finally, did you spot him? Staircase K ?

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My Dad, Fred, and the Hollywood cinema of yesteryear

When he was a little boy, perhaps around ten or twelve years of age, around 1933, my Dad, Fred along with some friends, walked the mile or so to nearby Swadlincote, to go to the cinema. Here is the cinema:

That’s not the best of views, so here is the “Empire” but in later years:

Swadlincote has always had two cinemas but never at the same time. The sequence is usually

Cinema 1 open

Cinema 1 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 2 open

Cinema 2 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 1 is reopened by over-optimistic idiot

Cinema 1 goes bust

Cinema 2 is eventually reopened by another over-optimistic idiot

And so on

Anyway, Fred and his pals, all around ten to twelve years old, weren’t there to see any old film. They were there to see Boris Karloff in “The Mummy”, one of the most frightening horror films of that decade. Feeling extremely brave, they sneaked in and settled down, waiting to be frightened:

Fred was not, of course, like the modern child, immured to fear by hour after hour of relentless television, and he came out chilled to the core by Karloff, completely terrified by the whole film. And so did the rest of them.

There could be no sharper contrast, however, than that between this Karloff chiller and Fred’s favourite, and funniest, Laurel and Hardy film. The latter was “Fra Diavolo”, which, again, he would have seen at the cinema in Swadlincote:

One other tiny detail that I can remember my Dad supplying, which must have come from this era, was how, when watching silent films at the cinema, however old you were, you were expected to read the words of the dialogue for yourself. Nobody would help you. If you asked for assistance, you would be told contemptuously, “Learn to read !”

Overall, Fred must have been very interested in the cinema. His collection of old magazines, kept for thirty or more years in the glass fronted bookcase in the front room of his parents’ house, contained ones which featured German expressionist cinema of the 1920s, including both Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”. The stills featured included Rotwang’s house, Maria the Robot and the somnambulist Conrad Veidt carrying his victim high above the rooftops.

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On one occasion, Fred was actually able to meet a real, genuine Hollywood star. Just after the war ended, he was in Brighton for some long forgotten reason. He decided to visit a very distant cousin who worked in a local cinema, and who may well have been one of the Sussex branch of the Knifton family.

At the time, this particular cinema was the centre of all attention, as it was being visited by Charles Laughton, the world famous English and Hollywood film actor. Laughton was there to give a little publicity to one of his less famous films, a rather unloved feature entitled “The Beachcomber”, made with his then wife Elsa Lanchester in 1938. All of the cinema employees lined up to meet their famous guest, and Fred, at the urgent bidding of his cousin, joined on to the very end of the line, thereby managing, eventually, to shake hands with the great man:

Years earlier, of course, Fred had watched the inimitable Laughton in the 1933 film, “The Private Life of Henry VIII”. In common with countless thousands of other cinema goers, he had particularly vivid memories of the greedy king eating a whole chicken with his bare hands, and then throwing bits of meat and bone over his shoulder to the waiting hounds:

Who said that table manners were a thing of the past?

But, please be aware. Restaurants of all types seem to frown on throwing bits of meat and bone over your shoulder, and there are very seldom any waiting hounds to tidy up the mess.

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part One, the Legend

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England.

Derby was the home of an important Rolls Royce factory which made Merlin engines, the powerplant used by important World War Two aircraft such as the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Mosquito and the Lancaster :

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, steps were taken to protect this important Derby factory from enemy air attack. Immediate measures included the installation of a large calibre ex-naval gun on the western side of Hartshorne Lane, on some grassland near the public footpath, just beyond the site where the Dominoes public house was to be built shortly after the end of the war. Look for the Orange Arrow, my hearties!! :

This naval gun, probably taken from a scrapped old battleship, was extremely powerful and extremely noisy. Every time it was fired in practice, it made all the cups rattle on their holders in the pantry at my grandparents’ house, “Holmgarth”, at No 39,  Hartshorne Lane, some half a mile away :

One evening, probably in the second half of 1940 or early 1941, a lone Heinkel III bomber was caught in the searchlights over Derby. This spectacular event was the signal for the Hartshorne gun to fire its one and only shot in anger of the entire war :

Needless to say, the shot was a successful one and the bomber was duly brought down. Later in the evening, the Home Guard was to capture the pilot, who had descended by parachute from his stricken craft. Another slightly different version of the story relates how the pilot was dragged semi-conscious from the wreckage of his aeroplane:

The pilot was subsequently brought to Hartshorne and then marched up the hill to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate. He did not speak any English but seemed happy to rave loudly to himself in German. This gentleman was seen by the locals as being a typically arrogant Nazi, who believed that the war was already won. He was even smoking the Player’s cigarettes which had been captured in such large quantities at Dunkirk in June 1940. I couldn’t find a picture of this particular gentleman in Woodville, but the world at this time was not particularly short of arrogant Nazis:

The pilot was locked in a police cell overnight. This may well have been to his benefit, as the mood of the angry passers-by as he had been brought up Hartshorne Lane had largely been in favour of lynching him. Indeed, the crowd’s evident hostility had done much to quieten the pilot’s rantings on the long slow walk up to the police station.

Here’s the police station, in Edwardian sepia. If you look to the right of the police station, (which is right in the middle of the picture), there is a very tall chimney which is now long demolished but which, then, was the chimney of the Outram’s factory which made sinks, wash-basins, toilets and such. To the right of that chimney is a very stout looking house with two chimney stacks. The further one of those two is the chimney stack for my Mum and Dad’s house, “Clare Cottage, built 1890”, They lived there from 1949-2000 and 1949-2003 respectively.

So what? you may ask. Well, I know that with a little bit of luck, my instructions will be followed by a lady from India, a gentleman from Australia, my American friends from coast to coast, and citizens, perhaps, of other countries across the globe, as well as my valued readers in this country. I wonder what the newly married couple would have thought of that, when they moved in to what was then a semi-derelict house,  more than seventy years ago. People across the whole world looking at their chimney stack :

At the time the Heinkel was shot down, Fred, as a young man of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, was still awaiting his chance to go into the RAF. He had therefore in the interim become a young member of the local Home Guard, or L.D.V. (the Local Defence Volunteers, or as Fred always interpreted the initials, “Look, Duck and Vanish”). Neither the Hartshorne Home Guard or the Woodville Home Guard ever had as many rifles as these mean looking killers, though:

This episode, before he went away into the armed forces, was in actual fact the only time that Fred was ever destined to meet a Nazi in person. Indeed, in later years, Fred was to say that this was the most dangerous moment he was to experience in terms of being directly face to face with the enemy. The even greater irony was that the very real threat of violence inherent in the situation was provided exclusively by the English civilians, and not by the Luftwaffe pilot himself.

Conceivably, this particular Heinkel bomber was the same one which was later to be put on display in nearby Burton-on-Trent in an effort to raise funds for the war. I have been unable to trace an exact date for this occurrence, other than the fact that, with the decreasing frequency of Luftwaffe raids on England, it was more likely to have occurred sooner rather than later during the conflict.

I was told this story about the naval gun more than once by my Dad, Fred. It seemed so far fetched that I began to think that he was suffering from false memories. I thought that perhaps my Dad had confused 1940 or 1941 with a very famous episode of the comedy “Dad’s Army”. But he hadn’t. Fifty or so years after I first met him, my oldest friend revealed that his mother, as a young girl, had been in that crowd at Woodville Police Station and had seen the arrogant Nazi smoking our Player’s Cigarettes.

Any excuse for a bit of Dad’s Army:

That moment has won more than one award as the funniest moment ever on BBC TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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The place where I grew up, Woodville, in World War 2

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue “The Orange Arrow” :

The village used to be called Wooden Box because of the large wooden box occupied by the man who operated the toll gate on the toll road between Ashby de la Zouch and Burton-upon-Trent.  The name Woodville first appeared in 1845. Nowadays, there is a roundabout where his box used to be, although the location itself is still called “Tollgate”. Here’s an old postcard of the “Tollgate” :

My Dad, Fred, told me that the majority of the people in Woodville were pretty much unaware of the existence of World War Two. It had comparatively little impact in this mostly country area, where rationing was offset by the inhabitants’ ability to grow food for themselves, and even to raise their own pigs and chickens. Food, therefore, was relatively freely available, if not abundant, and the war seemed to be very distant. Woodville seemed to be an unchanging pastoral paradise:

The twenty year old Fred despised the comfortable lives of the older people in Woodville. They would live out their humdrum lives without any risk whatsoever, while he was laying his life on the line pretty much every single day in Bomber Command:

The contempt he had for the inhabitants of the village, though, was perhaps a measure of his own fear at being asked to fly over burning Bremen or Cologne, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target :

Young men, of course, went away from Woodville and from time to time their parents were duly informed that they would never return:

It was only too easy, though, for others to view that profoundly sad process as similar to that of the young men who might have moved away from the village for reasons of employment, or even in order to emigrate to another country.

Occasionally, enemy aircraft would fly over Woodville, identifiable by their particular and peculiar engine noise. On one dark night, on November 14th 1940, many local people, Fred included, walked up to the Greyhound Inn near Boundary :

Everybody stood on the opposite side of the road from the public house and looked south. The view from that spot stretches thirty or forty miles or more into the southern Midlands

As they stood and looked, they were able to see the bright glow in the sky as Coventry burned, a city whose centre was almost completely destroyed by the Germans. There was, though, very little direct effect of German bombing on the local area around Woodville.

On one occasion, a Heinkel III night bomber, panicking about where he was, possibly pursued by a night fighter and perhaps worried that he might not make it back to the Fatherland, jettisoned all his bombs over the nearby village of Church Gresley. Look for “der fliegende orangefarbene Pfeil” :

The bombs all landed near Hastings Road, not far from the school where Fred would teach immediately after the war. They demolished an entire row of houses which backed onto Gresley Common, and all the inhabitants, almost thirty unfortunate people, were accidentally killed.

Years later, in the 1990s, Fred was able to explain these events to a man digging in the garden of his new townhouse, built recently on the site of the Second World War disaster. The man could not understand why the soil was so full of broken bricks, bath tiles and so many smithereens of old fashioned blue and white patterned crockery:

The only other direct connection with World War 2 was the unfortunate soldier and ex-prisoner-of-war who finally returned to Woodville in late 1945 or early 1946, having spent years as the unwilling guest of Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese Imperial Army.

The poor man was unbelievably gaunt, and he had lost so much weight that his clothes flapped on his body like sails on a mast:

He did not receive as much sympathy as he might have done from the citizens of Woodville, though, when they found out that he had actually eaten snakes in his efforts not to starve to death. “Really ! Snakes ! ! ” Here’s snake soup, a delicacy in China but not as highly prized as bat and pangolin, apparently:

Fred, of course, had a view of such events very different from that of the average native of Woodville. Almost sixty years later, when I cleared out his house after his death, there was not a single Japanese electrical device to be found. Everything came from the factories of Philips in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

 

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The place where I grew up (4)

Last time we were walking through my home village of Woodville, down to the school and the church. Now, though, we return to the High Street, the most important street in the village. The first shop on the left was Ormes’s. Here they sold boiled ham, crusty bread, ice cold milk and cream cakes. Hot ham hocks were delivered to the shop, I think, on perhaps a Monday or a Tuesday, and there were also special arrivals of savoury ducks, which were very large meatballs, on a Monday and a Thursday. The manager here was Eric Boss, a man who could out-flirt and out-innuendo even the Co-op butcher. Here’s Ormes’s. As you can see, it too is nowadays derelict:

There’s one Eric Boss story that I cannot not tell you.

“On one occasion, my grandfather, Will was pushing his huge old fashioned wooden wheelbarrow up Hartshorne Road towards the Toll Gate at the top of the hill. It was full of clay, and weighed a colossal amount. This, of course, was of little concern to Will, who was extremely strong, having spent his entire adult working life carrying huge quantities of wet clay on his back at Knowles’s and at Wraggs.

Down the hill came Eric Boss, the manager of Ormes’ grocer’s and cake shop, and a middle aged “Jack the Lad”, a man with a great eye for the ladies. He was always chatting them up as he served them. When he met Will, he obviously saw it as a chance to show off, for he said to him, “Hold on there, old man, I’ll give you a hand.” He reached down to grasp the handles of the barrow and take some of the weight off my apparently frail old grandfather.

Imagine then his embarrassment, when he could not even lift the wheelbarrow legs off the ground.”

Next door to Ormes’s was Taylors’ newsagents, run by Albert Taylor and his wife. As you can see, it too is nowadays derelict :

Among many other products, Taylors’ sold magazines from America such as “Famous Monsters of Filmland”:

And I well remember having to go up to Taylor’s to pre-order my copy of the new British comic for boys, namely “Victor”, complete with free gift, a plastic presentation wallet full of postcard sized photographs of the great football and rugby teams of 1961-1962:

Next on the left was Renée’s fish and chip shop, with her fabulous fishcakes, made almost exclusively of potato, and her special batter, imported daily from Derby by special van in special plastic buckets.
Here is Renée’s today:

After Renée’s fish and chip shop, with her fabulous fishcakes, came the Viking Coach Company which took clubs, societies and just ordinary passengers all over the country. A holiday in Scarborough. A fortnight on the Isle of Wight. A visit to a show in London or off to Birmingham to see “Godzilla: the Musical”. Alas, the Vikings are no more. They are now a flower and furniture shop where business is so good that they are closed at eleven o’clock in the morning on a Friday:

Opposite Albert Taylor’s newsagents, was, I think, a dry cleaners, As you can see, it too is nowadays derelict :

Next door was Charlie Fowell’s barber’s shop.  Strangely, it is also closed this fine Friday morning:

Further up on the right hand side of the street was Ashmore’s, a second newsagent’s. As everybody has now forgotten how to read, it is now a curry shop:

Then there was Whyatt’s the greengrocers. Today, it is a Vape Shop, whatever that is:

I can remember though, the days when this greengrocery business was further up the street, on the left, until it had to be demolished to construct an important car park, and they had to move their premises. Here is that vital car park today, keeping the commerce of the area ticking over:

Whyatt’s original shop was at the side of a little road which ran away to the north from the High Street, on the opposite side from the Queen Adelaide public house. Whyatt’s always had boxes made of bright, thin, cheap orange wood on the pavement in front of their shop, where they displayed their fruit and vegetables. It was in this part of High Street that the demolition of a number of buildings occurred and, in the ruins of an ancient terraced house, a vast tangled rats’ nest was revealed in the ceiling of the back bedroom. It must have been ten or twelve feet across, and the product, one supposes, of generations of work on the part of countless hundreds of rats. As seven year old children, we always stopped to look at this natural wonder as we walked up to the Infants’ School at the top of High Street.

Opposite these shops and houses, on the other side of the High Street to Whyatt’s the Greengrocer’s was Woodville’s third newsagent’s, namely Jones’s, perhaps the least successful of the three. Nowadays it has been converted to a vitally needed fast food shop, one of forty three million  in the country:

Back in the day, the shop was a fine source of what we called “shilling war books”:

There was at least one other shop in this block, but I cannot remember exactly what it was. There are vague memories, perhaps, of a TV repair shop. As you can see, though, it too is nowadays derelict:

Further up on the opposite side was Smart’s shop, which was divided into two halves, both equipped with bright orange cellophane sheets in the windows to protect their goods against the sun. The right hand half of the shop sold, if I remember correctly, wool, knitting patterns, knitting needles  and sewing requisites, while the left hand side contained ladies’ dresses and other clothing. It was a marvellous shop for middle aged women to visit, to buy everything they needed for their hobbies.

Here is the knitting shop today. It was converted into a vitally needed fast food shop, one of forty three million  in the country:

And here is the clothes shop. It’s used, I presume, to store the uncooked ingredients for Kim’s Kitchen. It’s very pretty, though, and I take my hat off to the architect who came up with that conversion of the original shop, after only seven years of study:

Next time, my attempts to get Woodville twinned with Florence.

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The place where I grew up (3)

Last time, we finished Part Two standing in the middle of Moira Road with our backs to the traffic, hoping that Woodville, my natal village, did not yet have anybody with a silent electric car. First on the right is the Junior School that I went to, now closed down and fenced off, and used by Derbyshire  County Council as a Youth & Community Centre:

My Dad went to the Junior School in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and I went there in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My Dad then worked there, and, in fact, taught me in what would one day be Year 4. I was also taught by Miss Cartwright, Mrs Burman and Mrs Simpkin. All four of them were excellent teachers and tried as hard as they could, even though their classes had around forty five to fifty pupils.

Next to the school is the church of St Stephen:Nowadays it’s a lot more dramatic as St Stephen the Martyr, but we all knew it as St Stephen’s. After going to the school next door and standing in the playground  as a little boy and watching the swifts nest under the eaves of the church, Fred had his funeral there in  2003.

The next building was the Church Hall where our School Choir, District Champions, gave a concert for the Old Age Pensioners in 1962:

I think it’s just being repaired rather than being derelict. Next comes the only shop in the road, namely Hopper’s, which always seemed to sell the coldest fizzy drinks and ice cream, when we returned from playing sport at the Recreation Ground. Hopper’s had a door which clanged with a mechanical ringing effect and this unique sound was emphasised by a grey, metal grille on which customers were supposed to wipe their feet as they entered the shop.

Here is the shop today, alas:

Between the Church Hall and Hopper’s is the house where Fred, my Dad, was born on November 30th 1922. No blue plaque as yet. It’s the house with the three windows in the roof:

Right at the very far end of Moira Road was another shop which was close enough to the Recreation Ground to provide cold fizzy drinks and ice cream for young children playing sport up there. I have forgotten the name of the shop owners, but they were much more like a convenience store with tinned vegetables and canned fruit for sale. Here is the shop today. It’s as good as derelict if you’re thirsty from a good game of football:

Next time a trip up High Street, or, as my Grandad would say, a trip “up Box”, using the old expression for Woodville, taken from the man who took the toll money in the eighteenth century. We’ll see Albert Taylor, Reg Ashmore, Renée and her chip shop and Graham Fowell, who left his Dad’s business to become a minister of the church.

 

 

 

 

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The place where I grew up (2)

Last time, we looked at the pretty little village where I grew up. It was called Woodville and it is in Derbyshire, England.

The school I went to was down Moira Road, one of the five roads that met at the Tollgate. Much more interesting, though, was Donald Ward’s scrapyard, where we would call in hoping that we would be given metal ball bearings to use in our schoolboy games of marbles:

Occasionally the metal ball bearings would be thrown at us, but none of us were too proud to reject any projectiles that came whizzing our way. Legend told of an immensely strong gentleman of Ukrainian heritage, who worked in the scrap yard, and who was so strong that he could lift a length of railway line off a lorry without any outside help. Here’s his brother, as I could not find any pictures of a man carrying a railway line. He’s just bought his lunch at the takeaway:

Inside the scrapyard was a traditional bottle kiln, which is still there to this day, because it is a Listed Building:

My grandfather, Will, spent a great deal of his adult life working in a bottle kiln. It was hard physical work, which required an enormous physical effort. Grandad was immensely strong and, although he was only a small man, he had huge slab like forearms and muscles made powerful from years of lifting heavy objects. He worked in the pipeyards at Wragg’s and then at Knowles’s. Both of these companies were near Swadlincote, and they manufactured underground pipes, mostly for drains and sewers. During the 1920s and 1930s, because of the severe physical strains of his job, Will was a relatively well paid employee, earning at one point some 42/- per week (£2.10):

Will’s job was to carry a tray of soft, “green ware” which would have weighed around a hundredweight, perhaps some fifty or so kilos. He took them from the place where they were made from moist clay, on a large wooden carrying tray, into the bottle kiln, to be fired and hardened. The bottle kiln, in an effort to retain heat and to economise, was slightly recessed into the ground. It had a very small door, so that Will was obliged firstly to slide down a gentle slope, and then to dip down so that he could enter through the tiny, heat conserving, door. Finally, Will had to lift the heavy tray with its cargo of wet clay objects upwards onto the racks inside the kiln.

Here, of course, inside the kiln, it might be immensely hot, and stories were often told of how men, stripped to the waist, would drink a whole bucketful of water to slake their huge thirst. They always wore sacking on their feet. Newcomers who arrived wearing a pair of shoes for their first day on the job would find that their footwear barely lasted until finishing time at the end of the first day. When he finally retired in 1964, my Grandad was replaced by a fork-lift truck.

Continuing down Moira Road, on the right was, firstly, the Junior School, and then St Stephen’s Church and then the Church Hall. We’ll look at them in more detail next time, but for now, here’s a glimpse. When I was a child, of course, the younger generation were so clever that they did not need to spray paint the names of the roads on the asphalt:

 

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