- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr. John Payne, Mr. Dick Payne
- Location of story:
- Corsham, Wiltshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 January 2006
A Wartime Childhood — Recollections of John Payne — Part Three
The best time however was after school as we had to wait until about four-thirty for our train home, it was a Swindon to Bristol local and its normal motive power was a Class 45xx but it seems this train was often as a running in turn for locomotives recently out shopped from Swindon Works, although we never had a ‘King’ we frequently had a ‘Saint’, ‘Hall’ and occasionally a ‘Star’ and I think once a ‘Castle’. Several of the newer ‘Halls’ were unnamed with just the words ‘Hall Class’ in small letters on the centre wheel splashers, these were of the 6959 Class a Hawksworth development of the 4900 Class. There were always other trains to be seen including a regular Bristol to Paddington express which went through very fast with whistle blowing, it was quite a sight. This train was always hauled by a ‘Castle’ class engine, often numbers 4088 ‘Donnington Castle’, 5035 ‘Coity Castle’, 5069 ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’ and 5085 ‘Evesham Abbey’. I can’t remember the exact date but it must have been 1944 because I was still travelling to and from school by train and looking up at the railway bridge to the immediate south-west of Chippenham Station I saw a locomotive of a type I had never heard of, let alone seen, before. The locomotive was immaculately turned out in lined Great Western Brunswick Green at a time when, due to war conditions, engines were generally not very clean and certainly not lined. It was a 4-6-0 with, what I later discovered was a double chimney and a continuous splasher over all the driving wheels and it had a tender different from those with the flared top sides on other GW locos. It looked the same size as those on ‘Castles’ and ‘Halls’ but it was flat sided and embellished with a new logo of ‘G crest W’. The engine’s number was 1000, but it had no name, the very first of what was to become the ‘County’ Class.
As I didn’t arrive home until after five o’clock I was frequently quite impatient for my tea so I would sometimes buy a small Viennese loaf from the baker near the railway bridge. Even with no butter of jam it was delicious and I have never lost the taste for crusty new bread. One afternoon before going to the station for our train to Corsham I bought a copy of ‘Red Star Weekly’. I wanted this issue because it had a double page map of the battle front in the Soviet Union, now fighting back against the Germans since the latter were encircled and heavily defended at the Battle of Stalingrad. I pinned the map up on my bedroom wall and with the aid of little flags on pins, marked up the Russian advance, the names of some of the Russian commanders still come readily to mind, Zhukov, Timoshenko, Koniev, Rokossovsky as do the many places of battle, Kursk, Kharkov, Smolensk, Orel and Rostov.
In, I think, September 1944 the Education Act of that year came into force. It had two immediate results for Mum and Dad, firstly secondary education became free at least to the extent that there were no more fees to pay and secondly and perhaps more importantly for them they no longer had to pay for a railway season ticket. Unfortunately it meant I lost the day to day contact with my beloved trains. At the beginning of my second year at Chippenham I was promoted to the ‘A’ stream and commenced Latin classes, I was quite chuffed to be with the elite! On a lighter note I recall very clearly writing the 4/4/44 in my exercise books. It was around this time that there was a build up of American troops in the area - this was part of the ‘D-Day’ preparations - although of course we didn’t know then. Many of these American Servicemen used our school playing fields for baseball and the like, it did restrict our games periods somewhat and sometimes we were directed to weeding in the school kitchen gardens, there was little or no supervision of our efforts so it became a good skive. I did however have my first swimming lessons, our class trooped off to the River Avon where a part was sectioned off by three long poles floating but anchored to each other and forming a rectangle with the riverbank as the fourth side. Even though it was summer it seemed very cold, we only went on two or three occasions so we didn’t get far with our lessons. It was also during 1944 that one of the schoolmasters, Mr. Billy Gee, became Mayor of Chippenham.
I recall that on one occasion the whole school gathered in the hall where we were treated to a performance of Macbeth played by an all-female cast. Despite this apparent handicap it was, at least to my unsophisticated mind, well performed. I also recollect that on another occasion we were gathered in the hall with the girls all on the right hand side and the boys on the left to receive our first formal sex-education lesson complete with projected pictures in colour. I assume we were segregated from the girls to avoid immediate experimentation! I remember too with some embarrassment, writing a note to a female classmate telling her of my ardour for her, I think I did it because other boys were doing it. The girls at 11 and 12 were more mature and told us idiots not to be so daft.
As I mentioned earlier we started travelling to school by bus, these buses were just for the school pupils, the general public did not use them. There was one bus from Box that came along the A4, picking up at the ‘Hare and Hounds’ pub. This was the bus Spadger and I used, there was another which picked up from the centre of Corsham and possibly one other from our area.
These ancient buses were supplied by the Bristol Tramways Corporation, those I remember particularly were, three Leylands and two AECs, other buses, usually ‘Bristols’ were used but the five mentioned were our favourites, number 131 being reckoned the best at hill climbing. On the way home all the buses left at more or less the same time and in addition to the three which went to Corsham and beyond there was one that went to Melksham, this was a Western National bus and not an old but as we had. Usually the bus and driver continued for the whole week, accordingly each Monday morning we waited impatiently to see who and what bus we had and who was driving the bus. On the bus’s arrival it was greeted with either cheers or groans for we would encourage our driver to pass any of the other buses that were in front of us. Journeys to school were largely uneventful, the fun came in the afternoon as the buses left at more or less the same time, if we were close enough to the Melksham bus we would encourage our driver to overtake it. If this were to be achieved it had to be done before the Melksham bus turned off the A4 on to the Melksham road and under the railway bridge near Thingley Junction. The best place to overtake one of the other Corsham buses was on the longish climb which starts shortly after the Melksham turn, here the buses would grind slowly up at the grade at 20 mph or less. If we could not pass there the opportunity was lost because shortly after reaching the summit the other Corsham buses turned off at the Cross Keys for the town centre, while we continued past Spadger’s Dad’s garage to the ‘Hare and Hounds’. Here we got off but the bus continued to Box. Whenever we did pass another bus we waved derisively to the kids on the other bus and gave a great cheer. The only driver I can recall we quite a big fellow with curly hair, his nickname was unsurprisingly, Curly. The drivers had, it was rumoured, a kitty to which they each paid a weekly sum to be used to pay any fines incurred by any one of their number for motoring offences, Curly was thrown out of the club because he incurred too many fines!
With the loss of journeys to school by train my opportunities for train watching were greatly reduced but I often spent some part of a Saturday at Corsham Station. Corsham is on the main line from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads so, whilst many trains passed only a few local passenger trains and pick up goods trains stopped there. One Saturday morning I was alone on the up platform, when the signalman called to me and invited me into his box. I was thrilled and dashed up the steps to enter this holy of holiest everything was fascinating. Whilst I was there the fireman from a 57XX pannier tank, which was shunting in the goods yard came to the signal box with blood pouring from his head. Apparently a large lump of coal had fallen on him from the bunker. The signalman patched him up and he went back to work on the engine. I must have been in the signal box for a couple of hours or so, several trains came through and I watched the signalman’s operations and listened to the various bells with great interest.
During my time at Corsham I saw a good many locomotives of most GWR classes. Towards the end of my time in Corsham I also saw three or four of the American 2-8-0 locomotives sent over to Britain and used, at least on the Great Western until such time as they were sent to Europe after ‘D-Day’. The local passenger trains were hauled by ‘45XX’ class 2-6-2 tank engines whilst the Box to Calne autotrains used ‘48XX’ class 0-4-2T locos shortly afterwards to be renumbered in the ‘14XX’ series as the ‘48XX’ series was used for the short lived conversion of several of the Churchward and Collett 28XX class 2-8-0s to oil burning. I only saw a ‘Bulldog’ class 4-4-0 when visiting Melksham or Red House Farm where Auntie Blanche’s future husband, Bill Golledge, lived with his mother. There was an occupation crossing at the farm on the Thingley Junction to Westbury line. I would sit on the gate to watch the trains and sometimes see one of the later square framed ‘Bulldogs’ named after birds. Once or twice I tried to ‘convert’ a ha’penny into a penny by placing it on the rail for the train to run over, but as they came past at speed each time the coin was tossed away never to be found again.
I remember the long summer holidays with great pleasure. Most of the time would be spent playing with Dick and Spadger, sometimes if we saw any soldiers in town we would try to cadge a regimental badge. The large Scottish ones were the most prized. Dick and I often went over to Melksham to visit Aunties Blanche and Margaret (always referred to as ‘Mag’). They earned their living by taking lodgers and I particularly remember two railwaymen who had been with them for several years. Andrew Baden and Des Chilcott, a Great Western Goods Guard who later married cousin Peggy. Des was younger than Andrew and was good fun. There were some interesting books at number 64, two in particular were full of photos of Edwardian London which fascinated me, I would spend hours on a rainy day with them. My aunts usually gave Dick and I a few pennies to pop to the shop round the corner for an ice-cream. These seemed to have been to have been made with custard and they always had lumps in them, but I suppose in wartime proper ingredients were not readily available. My aunts and Mum and Dad would often go to the Constitutional Club on a Saturday evening and Dick and I would be left in the unlicensed room with a glass of lemonade and a packet of Smiths crisps. In those days unsalted with a small amount of salt in a twist of blue paper. Far more customer care in those days for one could adjust the amount of salt added to the crisps to suit one’s own taste. Very often the girls of the Salvation Army would come in. The younger ones looking pretty in their bonnets, they would offer their magazine ‘War Cry’ and on those boring evenings I welcomed something to read.
I followed the course of the War with great interest and there was great excitement when on 6th June 1944 (‘D-Day’) the Allied Forces landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of Northern Europe. At this period there were lots of military vehicles on the roads and also unusual freight trains, carrying tanks and other armoured vehicles. Some goods trains were hauled by the American 2-8-0 locomotives before going to Europe as the Allied front advanced through Northern France. By 1944 Germany had started to use its V1 flying bombs, these were rocket propelled gyroscope guided aircraft with explosives packed into their noses. Being rocket powered they were fast and the fighters and anti-aircraft batteries had a job to shoot them down before they reached their London target. Fortunately for us in the West, we were just beyond their range and as the Luftwaffe was busy trying to stem the Allied advance, there was little chance of bombing by conventional aircraft.
One summer cousin Peggy came from Swansea to stay with us for a few days, she was accompanied by her friend Joan, a beautiful petite blond. And I, a shy, gauche 12/13 year old was really smitten, I hope I didn’t gape too much! Joan and Peggy would go off in the evenings to a local dance — there would have been no shortage of partners as there were many men from all three Services stationed around Corsham in addition to the large number of civilians engaged in war work. All too soon their short holiday with us was over and Joan and Peggy returned to Swansea.
I also became friendly with a Swedish lady who lived across the road from us. I think it was she who started my fascination with European ladies. I regret I cannot remember the lady’s name, she was I imagine married but lived I think alone, at least I never saw her husband. Thinking about it now, she must have had someone else there as she did not seem to work, at least not full time and she lived in a Ministry of Supply bungalow similar to ours. I don’t think she would have been allocated one as a single person. The lady was very attractive, I suppose in her middle to late thirties with a fair complexion and very fair hair. I ran various errands for her and often spent an hour or so there drinking tea and listening to her tell of her time spent in China. I was fascinated by her and I suspect in my very shy, adolescent way, I was in love with her. She once gave me some mint Chinese stamps which I think I still have. Perhaps she had been a missionary but she didn’t really fit in with the impression I had gained of missionaries from Sunday School at the Congregational Church which Dick and I attended on Sunday afternoons.
In the main the Sunday School was boring. We often had lantern slides showing missionaries at work in darkest Africa, the only images I can recall are of the bare-breasted native ladies! On one sunny Sunday afternoon I decided to go instead to watch the cricket at the Recreation Ground, Corsham had a good side and before the War had produced ‘Big Jim Smith’ who had gone on to play for Middlesex. However, I arrived home late, with no explanation as to why I still had my threepenny piece intended for the Sunday School collection. I made sure that on future occasions I put the money in the cricket collection box. One of the Corsham players at that time was an elder brother of Bob Mines, one of my classmates at Chippenham.
One winter the Sunday School performed a play at Corsham Town Hall, in those days I was far too shy to go on stage but I was inveigled to take the part of a member of the audience and be pointed out by a member of the cast peeping through the curtain before it went up. Even that I found totally embarrassing and cringed in my seat, probably as red as a beetroot. I haven’t the vaguest idea what the play was called or even what it was about and, apart from some home stuff at Bath, it was to be many years before I again became involved in amateur dramatics.
There were celebrations all over the country when Germany unconditionally surrendered in May 1945. Hitler and Goebels had committed suicide a few days earlier leaving Admiral Dönetz as the leader of Nazi Germany.
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