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Gifts in my Garden

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Geoffrey Barnes
Location of story: 
Hythe and surrounding area, Hants
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Catherine Blandford and has been added to the website on behalf of Mr Geoffrey Barnes with his permission and he fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
We lived in a bungalow near the railway line in Hythe. There was a steep bank outside the house with the road running alongside it. There were Americans based at the Beaulieu aerodrome then, and two of them would drive past the top of the bank in a jeep and throw down food parcels- tinned meat, chicken, fruit, cigarettes, all sorts of goodies — and they would roll down the bank. We would find them the next morning in the garden — like treasure.

Sergeant Ken and his friend would come and take my oldest sisters to the dance. They’d give my mum big steaks and tomatoes to cook up and we’d feast on them all together. There was always so much laughter. But my 12yr old sister Jean fell in love with Ken and has never forgotten him. All she ever wanted was to be older and be taken by Ken to the dances with her sisters and even now, if she talks about Ken, you’ll see the girl in her again — and she’s more than 70 now. She never felt that way for the Australians. They used to take Con and Win to the Drummond Arms Hotel and toss them up in a blanket when it was their birthday. You had to drink the beer out of anything in that place — there was a shortage of glasses then.

Con and Win caught the eye of the ex-Arsenal goal keeper George Swindon. He was stationed at an army barracks in the Forest between Ipley crossroads and Beaulieu Road Station as a PT instructor. But when he visited us at home Con and Win toppled him down the bank because they knew it was all stinging nettles at the bottom. It was all harmless fun then.

Con and Win looked so similar: they both worked as waitresses at the Westcliffe. They were always complaining that one would do the serving but the other would get the tip — people couldn’t tell them apart you see.

We got up one morning to see a balloon on fire in the garden. Combined RAF forces were billeted at the Westcliffe Hall Hotel — it was a right posh place then- and they had a barrage balloon floating above the shoreline, above the hotel, and in the night the Germans had come and shot it down. It travelled a quarter of a mile, its cable trailing across the railway line, to land in our garden all ablaze. That caused a bit of a stir first thing, before army personnel came to put it out.

Sometimes German planes would fly over and drop leaflets. Well we couldn’t read them could we so we never knew what they were trying to tell us. But the planes flew so low we used to look for the pilot in the cockpit. They flew at eye level. You never had to look up. We’d watch bombs coming out of the planes and dropping on the Spitfire factory and the docks at Woolston. It was something to do. We could be so close the shrapnel would fall around us. We didn’t think it was dangerous. Not sure if my mum knew where we were though. Once they bombed a factory full of stored fats — stork margarine and the like — it burned for a week or so, guiding the bombers to the docks for the next several nights.

After the big air raid on Southampton we caught the ferry over from Hythe. The High Street was flattened, fires still going, you could smell the bodies burning still. Woolworths was gone, all the big stores. We were stopped from going any further as it was too dangerous, buildings unstable. But I often wonder — was it all dug out properly before it was covered over? Are bodies still in their cellars? That’s where you went during a raid.

It was a funny thing about the bombs. The doodle bug, you know, they always said when it stopped whining it was going to explode but it wasn’t always like that. My dad was riding his bike home one night from Hythe Social Club where he was the steward. It was about 11pm. He had just crossed the railway line when he heard a doodle bug overhead, very low. It suddenly cut out so he knew it was falling. He jumped off his bike and threw himself into a ditch — terrified he was. Well he waited and waited, his face in the earth and arms over his head but nothing happened. That bomb got all the way to Marchwood before exploding.

That Hythe Social Club, it was a good place. Marchwood Priory was a rehab centre for burnt and damaged pilots then. They would come to the club to play snooker, all nationalities, their faces burned and scarred. It was terrible to see. They were brave men.
Marchwood had a magazine — gunpowder and machine guns — it was always being bombed. Now there’s Magazine Lane nearby.

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