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Grasmere and the Home Guard - D Scott 1/3

by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers
People in story: 
David Scott
Location of story: 
Grasmere, Cumbria
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 January 2006

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Janine John of the Cumbria volunteers on behalf of David Scott and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions. David kindly met with me to share his memories of the war, both locally and with the army abroad and these form three stories that follow in chronological order. The first of these stories follows:

My first memory of the war was after I left St Bee’s School in 1939 and came back to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Grasmere which was where I was living at the time. We had our own hotel farm that was looked after for the Rothay Hotel, The Prince of Wales and the Dale Lodge and we also sold to the local people who used to buy their milk, eggs and things from us. The original farm was unique for the Lake District in that it was set up to provide mainly dairy products and we didn’t have sheep; it was, of course, a unique thing not to have sheep in the Lake District. We used to have them in wintering time because we had fairly big hay fields. There was a wonderful word which came up on the television programme, ‘Call My Bluff’, ‘jistment’. What did a ‘jistment’ mean? A jistment was what the sheep farmers would pay those who had fields but didn’t have sheep and they wanted to put their wintering hogs, as they called them, on them. They are my first memories of being involved with farming and the wartime.

I went to work on Howe Top farm which belonged to my mother; my father died in 1927 so I didn’t really know a lot about him. The farm went with the hotel and it’s still there in Grasmere but I don’t think it’s connected to any hotels now. We provided milk and various things for the hotels and I used to trot round with a horse and trap. The horse was called Thistle and had originally been a 1914-1918 war horse - he’d still got the WD arrow in his hoof. He was still there, thirty three years old, trotting around Grasmere village with a milk float and taking milk around the village. People used to come with their milk kits, little metal containers with a tight lid. I used to scoop with this big scoop, fill up these things and they’d pay me tuppence or thruppence a pint, whatever the milk was at the time. Because we were trotting around with this cart it kept the milk stirred up so that the cream didn’t settle on the top. If it stood for a while you had to have a big thing to stir it because the cream always came to the top.

I also used to go around the hotels collecting pig swill to feed the pigs and we had our own bacon. We never butchered them, but just grew pigs because of the availability of pig swill left over from the hotel businesses. The pigs were slaughtered elsewhere and we used to get the bacon and things come back to us. They were always so particular about the pigs being right because people talk about pigs being a dirty animal but they’re not a dirty animal, they’re very clean really. They don’t like lying in their own muck. They respond very well and I used to wash them before they went to market as the farmer said you’d get a better price at auction for them if they were all nice and clean. They used to say to me,

“What you doing washing pigs?”

I’d say we would get better money for them when they were clean.

Working on the farm at that time, the war had started and the news from the war was getting more and more depressing. We wondered whether we were ever going to survive it as we felt we were going to get invaded because of the way that things were at that time. The farmer was saying,

“I don’t think we’ll put any crops up now. It’s no good planting potatoes — it’s only for Hitler we’re doing this for. It’s looking bad.”

Churchill came on the radio that night and he said ‘We’ll fight them on the beaches, we’ll fight them in the hills. This will be our finest hour,’ and all the rest of it and when I came back up to the farm there was a completely different attitude.

“Come on lad we’ve got to get stuck in. We’ve got to get on with this.”

A lot of people have talked about the speech that Churchill gave then, but I had absolute perfect evidence of how it changed the opinion of an awful lot of people. Overnight. Just like that. The farmer used to say,

“We’re buggered. We’re going down. We’ve no chance.”

The next thing, it was,

“Come on lad. We’ve got to get stuck in and get things doing. We’ll show them.”

“Come on, we’ve got to get stuck in. We’ll sort him out.”

It was amazing. That was a tremendous eye opener to me. The ability of one man to give one speech on the radio at night-time completely changed the feeling and the attitude that people were developing. They were getting very pessimistic that it was all coming to an end.

I was also in the Home Guard at the time, waiting for my call up as I knew this was inevitable. We had a roadblock on Dunmail Raise and we had to go there and man the roadblock, swinging a lantern, to stop anybody that came and check their identity cards. They’re talking about identity cards now but we had them then. We often used to have a few smiles about the number of people who were coming along in the car - farmers and other people.

“That’s not you is it?”

“Oh I just gave them a lift as they were coming from Keswick,” and all the rest of it.

We used to roll with laughter at things that went on. Then we were told that they were starting to bomb Barrow. The blast could be felt on the esplanade at Ambleside. The hotels on the esplanade were mainly private houses and bed and breakfast places and they had leaded lights above the doors. The blast from the bombs pushed the leaded lights in and the compression of the air was felt when they were bombing Barrow.

They said you could always tell a Jerry aeroplane when it was going over because it used to make a noise like, ‘wo-or, wo-or’. We had a bit of a laugh because we were young lads in the Home Guard and on the other side of the scale were the old 1914-1918 war people who were also in the Home Guard, farmers that had been in the previous war. At St Bee’s school I had learnt the drills of the modern army at that time and of course, all the old soldiers had been forming fours. You lined up in two ranks and then you shouted ‘form fours!’, click, click, click and they made four ranks. I was having to train these old men on the new army drill as well. It was good fun.

These old chaps used to come on guard with us - lovely old men - and they’d tell us all sorts of stories about the war. We played a joke on them because they were all full about these Jerry aeroplanes that you could tell made this noise. We had an old workman’s hut up on Dunmail raise which was the Guard Room and it had a tin roof. We used to have two hours on duty and four hours off and when you had four hours off duty you went and had a sleep in the hut. In the early morning I was on the last duty and they were all in the hut having a sleep. I had my own car up there at the time and I was revving my engine up and down, ‘wo-or, wo-or’. The other lad had a handful of stones and he threw them up in the air. There was a clatter on this tin roof and they all came flying out. They thought we were being attacked! We were typical young lads.

Another time, when I was working up at the farm the church bells starting ringing in Grasmere. When the church bells rang it meant that parachutists were dropping as the church bells were silent through the war. Apparently there was a report from the Borrowdale Home Guard that parachutists had been seen landing in the fells. I jumped on my bicycle and we went roaring down to the Drill Hole in Grasmere. I was still in my wellies and smelly farming gear, milking cows and doing things like this. We went tearing down and picked up these rifles that we’d had issued. We went charging off up to Easedale Tarn because that’s where they’d been seen, over that way, got up to Easedale tarn, puffing and panting. We were stopping anyone who was about asking them for their identity card and we’d seen nothing and heard nothing more. We were having a counsel of war, as it were, by the side of Easedale Tarn and it dawned on us that we hadn’t taken any ammunition. We’d carried these rifles all the way up there and nobody had thought of taking any ammunition for them. The policeman had come with us and he had his service revolver so that was all we had to confront these parachutists if there had been any. Of course the old anticlimax was that it had been a weather balloon that had come down. They had had some weather balloons that had been flying, checking the weather.

The weather was top secret. It’s strange when you think about it now but we never had weather forecasts and we never talked about the weather because, if the Germans knew what the weather had been they would know that their meteorological forecasts had been correct; they hadn’t got anything like they’ve got today. There has been a very big improvement in communication and weather. They wanted to know what it was like in England if they were going to come over to bomb it so it meant it was quite important.

When you wrote letters to soldiers or out to anyone you knew in the army, you didn’t mention the weather in case the enemy got hold of it. You were told you should just talk about how family was and all the rest of it. It was rather interesting what was top secret and hush hush. You were not supposed to talk about a lot of things because enemy ears were all around you. There were these adverts, ‘careless talk costs lives’. It was like that when they set up the Sunderland Flying boat factory on Windermere at Calgarth; we were not supposed to talk about that as it was very quiet and hush hush. They must have kept the secret fairly close to their chest because we never really got bombed. It could have been quite a legitimate target for the enemy if they’d known this big factory complex was on the Lakeside shore in amongst the trees. Building Sunderland flying boats. There were always cartoons of some character with his big swastika on him, listening away. It was quite an interesting aspect of the war. It did bring a lot of people very much closer together.

One thing that the war did have an effect on, was that it made the communities much closer because, I would say, we had a common enemy. It was his wish to invade our patch and come in so we all stood together. We had lovely social evenings and various things because there was very little entertainment during the war so we produced our own. We used to have social evenings and dances and one of the early discos was known as Ernie and his music. It was Ernie Armer who used to run the bike shop in Ambleside and it was linked up with Alec Gibson’s radio shop. He had the equipment there, very basic stuff, but he had an amplifier and 78” records. He had a kit of drums and that was the band we used to play to, Ernie and his music. The music was on the records but he used to put the beat in with his drums so we could dance. We used to have the Paul Jones and the Palais Glide and all these things. There was very much a great togetherness at that time.

With petrol being rationed we all had to go on foot or on bicycles. Bicycles were very sought after. Everyone wanted a bicycle when they found they couldn’t drive their cars anymore. It came that unless it was really necessary you just didn’t have a car going for a short period at the very bad time. By that time I was in the army and away but my sister told me all about the time when the only way they could get petrol at all was because we had the farm and we were given special allowances for the fact we needed to go to Kendal market occasionally and take our car. We had an ordinary saloon car and we used to take the back seat out. If we’d taken a calf to market we’d truss it up and put it in the back of the car to take it to market. Then we had a bake house under the hotel, the Prince of Wales Hotel, and we used to take bread round because we used to bake bread. That was before bread became rationed. It’s amazing to think that bread was rationed. Nobody has a conception of what it was like to be rationed. The amount of butter you got was the size of two or three sugar cubes put together and that was your butter ration for a week for doing everything. It was absolutely impossible.

The farmers were allowed to have a market because they were growing things and it was realized that vegetables, lettuces, tomatoes and all these various things could still be grown and they were allowed to sell them. Bacon and eggs, of course, were rationed. We used to laugh about it because we’d say,

“How do the hens know there’s a war on?”

We couldn’t understand why eggs were rationed as the hens were still laying eggs. It was only when you got away out of this area that you realized how the food rationing really hit the people living in the cities and the towns. They hadn’t got the local farmer round the corner that they could pop in and get a lettuce from.

They used to have this farmer’s market, which is still going, in Kendal. There was always butter, cream and milk and a bit over because you don’t know how much a cow’s going to give exactly. It’s a very difficult thing to say if you’ve got so many cows that you’re going to get so much milk. It doesn’t work out like that. If the cows decide they’re not going to give you as much milk then they don’t. We had our churn and you used to make butter. Anything that was over — and the farmers used to get quite a bit over — went to the farmer’s market. If you knew the people that were there, you could say,

“I’m coming up next week. I’d like a spot of butter and a bit of bacon and a few eggs.”

“OK, we’ll sort it out for you.’”

There were Ministry of Food ‘snoops’ as they called them, working for the Ministry of Food. They were always mingling round with the crowds to see what people were buying. I remember the proprietor that used to work for my mother at the Dale Lodge Hotel in Grasmere had a friend who came up from the south. They would go to the farmer’s market and got used to talking about it. This lady had gone and was supposed to be getting some eggs which were underneath the lettuces. She had this box of lettuces and the Ministry of Food snoop came up to her. They were talking so casually about it - they’d been doing it for a good few months by then — that when he said,

“What have you got in there?”

“Eggs,” she said.

“There better hadn’t be!”

He went off laughing, thinking she was making a sarcastic comment about the rationing. She realized she’d said the right thing at the time. That was the world we lived in at the time. Everything was ‘can I buy this?’ and ‘can you swap that?’ It was a world like that really.

If someone had a bit of a back garden, they could grow a bit of veg and make a little money themselves but nobody had a lot of money in those days. Money has lost its value now. In the old days you could put it in the mattress, under the bed or in a pillowcase and it would be worth just as much in a few years’ time. Now money loses its value all the time.

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