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15 October 2014
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Boyhood in the Weald during WWIIicon for Recommended story

by john corscaden

Contributed by 
john corscaden
People in story: 
JOHN CORSCADEN
Location of story: 
HAWKHURST. KENT
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2916551
Contributed on: 
13 August 2004

My first memory as an eight year old boy at home in Hawkhurst in the Weald of Kent is of Sunday 3rd September 1939. It was a glorious hot sunny day and I was playing in the garden but was aware that something of great importance was taking place as my parents and our neighbours were gathered together listening to the radio. I then remember hearing the announcement by Neville Chamberlain that we were at war with Germany. Soon afterwards the air raid siren in the village sounded and my father called me indoors.After a while whilst we were all waiting for something to happen the All Clear sounded!
Either just before or just after the declaration of war, I cannot remember which, we had a visit from some officials who wanted to see the top room in our house. It was an end of terrace, three storeys and a semi basement house half way up the hill into the village. As the view from the attic room was so extensive we were told it might be used as an observation post or to house a machine gun if necessary. In the surrounding countryside concrete blocks were erected some 3 foot cubed in lines across fields which were to hinder tanks in the event of an invasion.Outside of our home two large concrete blocks some 8 foot high and 4 foot square base were erected, one each side of the street. There were holes in these block into which girders spanning the road could be inserted.

The coming years were exciting for a young lad with many thrilling rather than frightening incidents. The Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies above; watching the dog fights when our Hurricanes and Spitfires engaged the German bombers and their escorting fighters as they flew in wave after wave was exciting. I saw many aircraft from both sides being shot down and often, but not always the pilots parachuting from their planes. I remember on a number of occasions in the early days the Germans shot at our pilots as they parachuted down after baling out. Later our own boys used to circle the parachute to protect them from these attacks. On one occasion the body of a German airman was found without a parachute in the garden of a house in the village. The story goes he was killed in a bomber fleeing back home and was jettisoned to reduce weight. Possible? maybe!
Early on in the War a number of children evacuees from Woolwich arrived and were billeted with local families. We were allocated two brothers named Stretch. My memory of them is limited as soon after they arrived their parents visited and were so disturbed with the fighting overhead they felt the children were better off in Woolwich and they were taken home
In view of the influx of children a drill hall behind the Cricketers pub was taken over as an extra schoolroom to the Moor school. A lady teacher was drafted in who had little or no control over us children. Often my best friend Allan Baldock and I used to creep behind the piano at the back of the hall and out through the rear fire doors which were kept open as it was so hot. We used to wait till after the register had been called and then go fishing in the local ponds for sticklebacks and minnows.
It was about a mile to walk to school each morning and afternoon and at lunchtime. Often the siren used to sound and we would go into the nearest house until the All Clear came. In August 1940 I was out blackberrying with my mother when there was a much larger number of German aiscraft over then normal with extensive dog fights taking place. We sheltered in a barn and could hear the Cannon shell cases hitting the roof above and this was quite frightening. It was the day the Germans suffered their largest losses.
I was a member of the St John Ambulance Cadets and at one meeting we received a large parcel of gifts for children from America for sharing between us. I was given a bar of floating soap!
Another memory- my friend Allan and I started a scrap book in exercise books of pictures and maps from the newspapers. He supplied most as his Daily Sketch had far more pictures than our Daily Mail. We filled 8 or 9 books in all and many years after the war an uncle of mine asked for them.
In 1941 I passed the "scholarship" and went to Cranbrook School about 5 miles away. It was I believe the nearest Public School to the Coast at that time. Amongst my recollections are the ack ack guns on the school cricket field which often opened up during a match when we had to get off the field. Another feature of those days was that as an alternative to detention for a misdemeanour we had to spend time weeding or hoeing the sugar beet which had been planted in what used to be one of the school's rugby grounds.
During the next few years life took on a routine:-shortage of food with the meagre weekly rations supplemented occasionally with a snared rabbit. Next door they kept ducks in the small garden and sometimes we were given an egg, the muddy pool they lived in really stank. Our house was often used as bed and breakfast for members of ENSA entertaining troops stationed in the village. I remember on more than one occasion a Cliff Allen staying with us(or could it have been Chris Allan of the Chris Allan singers?)
In 1943 the 7th Survey Regiment of the Royal Artillery was stationed in the village and one Sunday my father went into the Queens Hotel for a drink and got talking to one of the soldiers Eric Pilkington and invited him home for Sunday lunch. Over the next months he became a regular visitor and often brought a colleague with him. This snowballed until we used to have around 9 or 10 regular visitors. My mother always seemed able to provide them with a meal. She used to make 'the boys' swill pies. These consisted of a pastry top and bottom filled with potatoes and other vegetable with sometimes some rabbit and served cold in slices. They loved it.
Among the names I remember were Eric from Wallasey, 'Stew' from Liverpool, Gordon Brown, Jock, Sam (Kemp?),Ron (Beasley)from London,Jack Bobbitt and Doug who later was promoted to an officer.When they left Hawkhurst soon after D-Day they had a group photo taken for us which I still have.
I remember one Christmas (probably 1943) both Eric's and Stu,s wives came down and they stayed with us.All the boys that came brought something with them-Jock I remember brought some shortcake and there were quite a few bottles of booze. A memorable party took place one night over the Christmas period into the small hours with quite a few members of the 7th Survey present.
A few year,s ago I saw an announcement of a reunion being held for the Regiment and contacted toe organiser telling him of our connection. He made an announcement at the reunion as a result of which Jack Bobbitt wrote to me. We exchanged correspondence for a couple of years until he died last year.
My next vivid memories bring me to just before D-Day in 1944. We were all aware something dramatic was afoot as police from other parts of the country were drafted in and we had a rather large policeman from Lincolnshire billeted with us. Convoys of troops in all sorts of vehicles, bren gun carriers and tanks started going through the village often camping on the roadside for short periods or overnight. My mother was busy making tea and supplying boiling water and making cakes for them and I spent most of the day with the soldiers outside. I developed a taste for their hard ration biscuits!I also used to ask them if they had any spare badges and built up a small collection which I still have. They include many of the now disbanded regiments-Highland Light Infantry, London Scottish, Wiltshire Regt,Royal Sussex,Ornance Corps, Rifle Corps,The Buffs and West Kents.
Soon after D_Day the 7th Survey moved away and we lost touch although I believe a couple of them did contact my parents after the War.
The next major event took place in June 1944 when a number of strange aircraft flew over one night. The noise of their engines was completely different from anything we had heard previously, they flew quite low and we could see the exhaust flame from the rear of the planes quite clearly. The general opinion was that they were'ambulance'planes bringing our wounded boys home. We were soon to learn that they were in fact the first of the Doodle Bugs and we were in the middle of what became known as 'Doodle Bug Alley'.
Day and night a continuous stream of these flying bombs flew over destined for London and again the R.A.F. was overhead doing
their best to destroy them before they reached their targets.In addition to shooting them down they used to fly closely alongside the bombs and then tip them with their wing tips to put them off course or direct them down into the countryside. One fell in the churchyard of the Norman St Lawrence Parish Church in Hawkhurst rendering it a virtual wreck until it was rebuilt after the war.

One Sunday morning I was asleep in the scullery and Mum and Dad were in the adjacent cellar in an Anderson shelter when I was woken by the blackout blind falling down. As it was quite early my father replaced it so that we could go to sleep again. Shortly afterwards we heard a Doodle Bug coming being fired at by one of our planes and then it's engine stopped.My father shouted to me to get under the bedclothes and then although I did not hear an explosion I heard the sound of breaking glass and falling debris. We all got out of bed (I was covered in soot from the kitchen range) and were astonished to find the window glass unbroken. We were wrong of course as it had been so completely shattered as to none at all being left in the frames. The walls opposite the windows felt like sandpaper they being imbedded with powdered glass. The whole side of our three storey house was bulging and had to be shored up with huge timbers until it was rebuilt a long time later. The Doodle Bug had landed in the field across the road and although many houses were extensively damaged there were no injuries to the residents. I still have pieces of that Doodle Bug found in the attic bedroom.
Many other memories after that following the progress of the war in Europe until D-Day which was marred for us by the death of my father. I do recollect that in the front room window of my house which led directl;y onto the street I pasted two large pictures from the 'Illustrated Magazine' of my hero General Mongomery together with one of General Eisenhower.
The end.

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