- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Roger Webb, George Needham
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 January 2006
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Roger Webb, and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
NIGHT SOIL AND THE PINK GUN
Village life in Derbyshire in the early 1940s seemed far removed from worldwide conflict. The milk came via a horse and cart each day; the Co-op brought the rations and the coal supply and the Night Soil man came twice a year to empty the midden.
We became bored with the waves of aircraft overhead and the Bren gun carriers which continually drove through the village, but we chatted to the sentry who manned the pole barrier at the top of the lane and the soldiers who dug big holes in the field at the bottom of the lane.
One dark night, George Needham took them a bowl of chips cooked by his wife. "Halt, who goes there?" came the challenge. George remained silent. "Halt! Who goes there?" came the challenge once again, this time accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of rifle bolts being engaged. "Man with chips, Man with chips," George yelled. "Advance, man with chips," came the laconic reply.
The big gun came and was positioned on Hodgkinson's farm at Ingmanthorpe. We went to have a look; it was painted in pink primer. The top brass came with one round and the gun was pointed at an old cottage on Woodnook Lane, about 1/2 mile away. Days went by and then, with the villagers held back by white ropes and lots of shouted instructions, the gun was fired and the cottage disappeared. We yelled ourselves hoarse with excitement.
We must have looked a strange sight - threadbare coats, old flying helmets (mine was painted silver), wire framed spectacles and wellington boots covered in patches from old car inner tubes. Mittens were secured by a long cord connecting them, and threaded up both arms and across the back.
Pigs were killed on windy nights to hide the screams of illicit slaughter. A couple of days later would come a soft knock on the door which, when opened, allowed a blood stained newspaper parcel to be delivered - the whole transaction carried out in total silence. A favour would be called some time later by way of payment.
Our lives were taken up with bird nesting in summer, sledging in winter, wood gathering throughout the year and, in my case, fetching the recharged accumulator for the wireless and the paraffin for the primus and the lamp every saturday. No water closet, no electricity, no gas. Just hot water bottles, 'Aladdin' lamps and feather beds to complement our simple lives.
A few bombs dropped: a cow had its tail blown off and a bull went mad with 'shell shock' and had to be shot, and a landmine was dropped in Monk Wood. I saw my first banana in 1945. We watched the recipient eat it and I then bought the skin for 1p, ate the pith off the inside of the skin and then sold the remainder for 1/2p My entreprenurial skills were established!
VE day and we could look forward to a few 'Standard' fireworks, Lyons 2p ice creams in 1" chunks cut from a long tube, and a second hand bike after passing the 11 plus. What was all the fuss about?
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