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Digging gravel by night and avoiding air attack

by salisburysouthwilts

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Chris Andrews
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22 September 2005

The River Wylye was deepened and the gravel put on the southern bank and concrete pyramids put in to stop the tanks. The locals were told the Germans would cross the English Channel and come up to the River Wylye and say `Oh dear too deep' and go home again. The long term effect has been it has caused a porous bed in places, which leaks water, which makes the river too shallow so that the swan/ geese pull the river weed out, which makes the river even lower.

The gravel pits, which was just a small horseshoe lake up until then, was started up again to supply concrete for an army camp in Grovely Wood. The hut foundations are still there today. The only trouble was that the gravel was dug out under water by drag line. This was compounded by the authorities saying it had to be dug at night - without lights. This proved nearly impossible until my Grandfather came up with the idea that he would get his friend in Portsmouth to phone him when the planes flew over on their way to Bristol via Salisbury Cathedral. He would then flash his bedroom lights on and off to warn the crane drivers to switch off their lights (his house overlooked the gravel pits). My Father, Warden at the time had to close a blind eye to this bending of the law!

My Father managed to buy an American tractor but was very annoyed when the head gasket broke and he could not get another. Eventually he heard of a scrap merchant with one. On enquiring the price he was told £640. He was told it was that expensive as it was already in an engine. “How much for the engine?”
£640' he was told. But the engine was in a bren gun carrier.' How much for the B.G.carrier?”
“ £640” he was told.
The locals were very bemused by my Father doing his cultivation work with a
B. G. carrier.
The M.O.D. were going to fill in the reservoir that supplied their army camp in Grovely after the war. But my Father and Frank Bucknell (farmer/ water engineer) managed to buy it from them for Salisbury Rural District Council to supply water for this part of the Wylye Valley. The Ministry were convinced the idea would not work because the water pressure would be too great. But our Moonraker duo managed to outwit the authorities and convinced them it would be a good idea to keep it open in case there was a World War 3. They bought the reservoir and pipework for £100 and it supplies the valley to this day, thanks to Frank's engineering skills.

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