- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr Brian. Solomon, Stephen John Solomon.
- Location of story:
- Rodmell is a small village between Lewes and Newhaven.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 July 2005
Children in Wartime Rodmell
This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Jas from Global Information Centre Eastbourne and has been added to the website on behalf of Mr Solomon with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
Rodmell originally had two farms, a public house, a village shop, a Post Office, a petrol forecourt and a blacksmiths, and a village school.
Our family consisted of ten boys, two of whom were my brothers - the rest being cousins. We all lived in a block of flats opposite the pub.
We attended the village school, which our parents had also been to some thirty years before. All the children in the village played together and we all went to school with our gas masks over our shoulders.
We had daily tests on how to use them. They had a horrible smell of rubber and got all steamed up, so you could hardly see out of them.
Our teachers were a Miss Rix and the Head Teacher, Mrs Donithorn, and boy - anyone who misbehaved got the strap from Mrs Donithorn.
The playground was very small and we did not have a field at the back to play in. We dare not play in the churchyard nearby as that was out of bounds.
Once a month we went to the bottom of Church Lane to Charnes Cottage, where Miss Emery lived. We would all sit on the lawn and listen to a programme on her radio and the next day we would have to answer questions on what we had heard - some of it went in one ear and out the other!
Virginia Woolf came to the school one day and this is what she wrote in her diary when comparing us to London children:
“There is no echo in Rodmell, only waste air. There is no life in these children and they cling to us. This is my conclusion; we pay the penalty for our rung in society by infernal boredom.” Bored. Never! We had a great life when we were kids, with never a dull moment.
On Sundays we went to church three times: the Morning Service, Sunday school and Evening Service. Every other Sunday evening we went to Southease Church. Southease had its own rector, who was Father Thomas and if it was too cold in the church, we had the service in the Rectory.
Rodmell had its own rector, Father Ebbs. Mrs Ebbs, his wife, was also the Guide’s Mistress ... and very strict she was. We liked the hymns and bible stories, but we didn’t like it when Father Ebbs got up in the pulpit.... did he go on and on.
Once during a Sunday Morning Service Mrs Ebbs was dressed in her Guide’s uniform and she had our brother, David, by her side. She made him sit by her so that he would not fidget and she kept a tight grip on his hand.
Father Ebbs was up in the pulpit, when David suddenly reached over, grabbed Mrs Ebbs whistle and blew it as loud as he could.
It stopped the service and David was sent out of church. He must have been the only child ever to be sent out of Rodmell Church.
There was another time when we all went to Morning Service. We all had sixpence for the collection, which we put in the collection bag.... plus one sticky bud Nothing was said in the church at the time and we thought that we had got away with it.... that was until we arrived at school on Monday morning, when Father Ebbs turned up with a handful of sticky buds.
Mrs Donithorn made us all line up in a row and then we had the strap three times.
When you think back now, it never did us any harm and made us respect our elders, which is something a lot of children don’t do today. A little bit of discipline never hurt anyone.
We were playing down the bottom of Church Lane one day when we heard that Virginia Woolf had drowned herself in the River Ouse.
We did not like her very much as she seemed a bit odd, but we liked Mr Woolf. He always brought apples to the school for us and he would always stop and talk to you.
At Christmas time Mr Woolf took all the village children to Brighton by bus to a pantomime and treated us to tea afterwards. This was one of the highlights of the year and we did not have many.
In the summer we used to spend a lot of time up the hill with our aunties having picnics by Notts Bushes and by the dewpond near Breaky Bottom. It was so peaceful.
Sometimes we would go down to the farm and see Mr Frieth. We called him Chippy as he did a lot of odd jobs on the farm. We would ask him if he was going to Lewes or Telscombe so that we could have a ride on his lorry. We had to wait for an hour sometimes before he actually left.
We used to stand up, holding on to the top of his cab. It was the only ride we had, other than the bus. In what is now known as Martins Field, stood a building known as the Shelly.
This was a big building like a ranch house. It had a clock and you could walk right around the top. We got chased off lots of times because it was unsafe, but we still used to go back again.
However, we always kept an eye open for Mr Collins, the village bobby, as you would soon get a thick ear from him, if he caught you doing something you should not be doing.
We did not have flush toilets in the flats where we lived. The toilets were up the garden in little sheds, with big wooden seats and a bucket underneath.
Aunty would put a smaller seat on for me in case I slipped in. Outside the toilets there was a high flint wall and one of the games we played was to put small pieces of rolled up paper in the wall and one piece would have a cross on it, while the others were blank.
We then had to find the paper. If you have never played this game, try it! It’s very hard to find a small piece of paper which is stuck in a flint wall.
When we played this game, if you were lucky enough to find the piece of paper with the cross on it, you had a prize. The prize was a nice big pear.
To get it, you had to stand on my big brother’s shoulders and reach over Mrs Christians’ garden wall in order to pinch one of her pears. I wonder if she ever wondered why they never had any pears to pick on that side of the wall.
The village Post Office was run by our aunt, and our grandmother before her. We used to help collect the mail from the post box ready for the main collection. The Post Office was in the bottom flat, opposite the pub. On the wall outside the Post office there was a chart showing how much had been saved for the War Effort.
Rodmell won an aeroplane and a ship as a prize - which can still be seen in the Village Hall sixty years on - for having saved more than the other villages around Lewes.
Rodmell had its own fire engine which was kept in a garage up Mill Lane. It was horse drawn. However, I can only remember it being used once or twice. We were all in bed one night when our aunties got us all up, because the whole of the hill at the top of Mill Lane was alight.
Jerry had dropped incendiary bombs on it. It turned night into day, with a bright glow filling the sky.
We were playing up Mill Lane one day on the field called The Gratton, when Mr Skinner came running up and shouted to us to get down.
A German fighter plane which had been hit came over the top us and we dived for cover. The big guns on the top of The Downs brought it down near Lewes.
There must have been a dozen of us there at the time as we always played together.
One day we were down the bottom of the village, in what is now Barley Fields, and we looked over to Mount Caburn and could see the dog fights in the sky above with white zig-zag lines massed together.
This was when the Battle of Britain was in full swing, but we did not know that at the time.
At the bottom of Telscombe Hill, on what is now the C7, the Army dug the road up - wide and deep - so that it could be used as a tank trap or road block.
We sat and watched them digging the hole. I wonder if it’s still there, covered by a thin layer of tarmac: I hope not!
One day dozens of tanks came over the hill and through Rodmell, leaving loads of mud on the road, heading towards Newhaven.
We heard that one tank went over Southease Bridge and weakened it. The Army built another bridge alongside the old bridge.
At that time Rodmell was full of Canadian soldiers and a lot were billeted at Northease. The pub was always full of them at night time and they kept Mr and Mrs Nolder, who ran the pub, very busy.
We used to sit on the pub wall looking through the window and one night they brought a donkey into the pub, into what is now the pool room and filled the poor thing full of beer.
They had to carry it out later, as the poor donkey could not stand up. Even today, you still hear a lot of people talking about the donkey in the pub and we were actually there watching it live!
There was a man who delivered paraffin to the village and one day while he was at the pub someone turned his taps on and gallons of paraffin ran down through the village ...
.. so did we!
In the winter, if we had snow, we took our toboggan and went to the top of Mill Lane by Drawbells to start our run downhill.
We all piled on, about five of us, and came down the hill like a bat out of hell. Many a time we turned the toboggan over.
One such time we came down so fast we did not see Frank Dean’s father coming up the hill with two buckets of chicken feed. He jumped out of the way, but there was chicken feed all over the place.
We did not go back to see if he was okay, because we knew what we would get, if we did.
On Saturdays it was time to go off to the pictures, but first it was bath time and Aunty Lucy had to round us up and get us bathed.
The bath was a big tin one which hung on the outside wall, when not in use. When we were ready, it was one in and one out, so it paid to be first rather than last. Then it was off to Lewes to the pictures.
The bus was always packed full, as it was a single Decker and that was the only way to get to town.
There were not many cars in Rodmell. You could count them on one hand. It was not like today where nearly everyone has a car. Sadly, it was at a time when very few cars were on the road that the poor little Wells girl was killed outside our flats.
She was struck by a car and the door handle, which was pointed, hit her head. We were up the hill at the time with our dad.
When you look at the traffic today on the C7 and the speed that it goes, it’s a wonder that there are not more people killed.
Summertime was go-cart time! A Mr Skinner who lived up the hill made us a go-cart, and we took it right to the top of Mill Lane. We all took turns on it. You could pick up quiet a speed on it coming down the hill.
We would go straight across the main road and down to Monk’s House ... boy did we go! However, if a car was coming, Brother Jim would put his hand up and we would go along to the bus stop opposite the pub.
We nearly wore our shoes out trying to stop.... we felt no danger.
Rodmell in those days was a close-knit farming village and as children we were invited into most houses.
Most of the men worked on the farms - there were no combine harvesters in those days! However, today, nearly sixty years on, there is no village farm, no shop, no Post Office and no petrol forecourt.
Nevertheless, the village school is still full of children laughing and playing, just as we did in our days at the school.
The church is still the same, the churchyard neatly mowed and well maintained. I don’t think as many children go to church as in our day - three times on Sundays, remember.
Now there is only one rector for three parishes, the Reverend Daw. I hope Reverend Daw will forgive us for the sticky buds, but we did put our sixpences in the collection bag - and we got the strap for the sticky buds.
We did not have televisions, play stations, mountain bikes or mobile phones, but we all played together and we were never bored.
As for Virginia Woolf’s “no echo in the village”.... you could hear us coming a mile away!
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