- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Hon. Alderman Ronald Sharman
- Location of story:
- Queen's Park, Bedford
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 September 2005
Memories of working in a Reserved Occupation Part Two — ‘Home Front’ in Queen’s Park, Bedford.
Part two of an oral history interview with Hon. Alderman Ronald Sharman conducted by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum.
“There were seven children in our family. I had other brothers, I had a brother that worked at Allen’s. He was away quite a lot on outdoor work. When Allen’s installed machinery in a ship it had to go for sea trials and the engineers had to be on board with it so he wasn’t at home all that much.
I was an ARP Warden and I would patrol and if there was an air raid siren and we saw anybody with a light shining in their windows at all we’d knock their doors and say, ‘You are showing your lights, do you mind putting it right?’ We didn’t do training, not for ARP we didn’t because we only did it after work sort of thing and it was all voluntary, nobody was made to do it but you just felt that you wanted to do what you could to help. We used to meet at Mr. Beckwith’s garage and two of you would be on patrol - be in there most of the night and I’m not sure whether we had a phone in there or not. But we had buckets and spades and a lot of sandbags there. But it was very useful really, interesting.
When I was in the Home Guard there was an incident in where we’d been sitting on the grass, about eight or nine of us with our legs apart, leaning on our hands and arms. We’d got another Home Guard … a rifle was fired off and it had got a live bullet in it! And that went straight between my legs and I felt the little thud in the ground. Oh, I did jump but it was a laugh. An Officer came running over, ‘What is going on? What is going on?’ ‘Oh, it’s just a blank, Sir, I’m demonstrating to the men!’ I had a rifle, it was .303, yes. We used to go to Yielden. There was a rifle range at Yielden, that’s where we used to go. We used to go on a Sunday morning. They would lay on an Army lorry or a vehicle. But Allen’s had their own rifle range in Allen Park. That was very good. There were some men quite a lot older than me in the Home Guard but some of those men were jolly good shots with a rifle, they were really good, some of them.
I believe one of the higher up officers was a man named Deacon who was to do with the Battalion. A man named Lieutenant, not Taylor, I can’t remember his name now, he lived down there off Ford End Road. There was a Sergeant King and a Sergeant West, he lived off Midland Road there somewhere.
Oh, yes we had rifle drill and drill and bayonet practice, oh yes we had a good training. Some of those Officers were pretty good. It gave you an insight into it, you know. It sort of broke you in a little bit and of course it was good for discipline as well.
They used to have dances at the Co-Partners Hall in Queen’s Park but the best dances that I used to go to during the war were at the Dujon. Dances that were mostly run by Mrs. Day and her husband who had Day’s Shop in the High Street and Reg Millman usually, it was his band that played. It was Reg Millman that played most and it was on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They were super dances they were. Different to what they are today. We used to fly round the Corn Exchange and Dujon. Dances at the Corn Exchange and the Dujon every Saturday night. Used to get a lot of the Troops in you know. We used to pop across the road to the Lion and have a drink. I went with other lads from around, you make your own friends. But you know in those days a girl could have walked home from a dance at midnight to Goldington Green and she would have been as safe as houses. Not today! I’ve come home along Bromham Road during the war, perhaps I’ve walked a girl and I’ve come home along Bromham Road and all at once a Policeman stepped out of a doorway, ‘And where are you going, my man?’ They were more alert than they are today.
I think that the women, the mothers and the women, I think really and truly they were wonderful really how they could make a meal out of nothing very often. My father had an allotment and I had an allotment in 1948. I’m still President of those allotments and I packed up earlier this year, my allotment, I couldn’t cope any longer. But by jove those allotments were a saviour to a lot of families.
There would be rabbits and with another man I kept a pig over there which my wife didn’t like when we had it killed. ‘How could you feed an animal all that time and then kill it and eat it?’ I know once when I was in the factory a chap came home on leave and I think he brought some lemons back. We raffled them in the factory and with the money I think we sent a food parcel to the Troops or something of that sort. I know that many, many households were sending food parcels to sons and daughters and to people that they just knew.
I think people got on with most Americans very well. Americans were very kind to children and they always gave a party at Christmas to the children in the villages. I believe they took lots of children to Staughton and Chicksands, all those bases where they where, they really did look after the children very well. They stole a lot of our very nice girls! Laughter!
Great sight during the war to see the Squadrons of aircraft stacking up over Bedford before they went off on a raid. But you know you didn’t just see one group of nine or fifteen or whatever it was you saw dozens of groups. I suppose they were going round and round and stacking and then all of sudden — off. We were amazed at first, it was something to see so many aircraft but then one became accustomed to it. Then of course the sad part is when you see them coming back and they weren’t in complete groups, you knew that some planes were missing or you’d perhaps hear them coming home on one engine. I knew a number but I knew one in particular, an American Air Gunner, he did his full stint and then he volunteered for some more and then suddenly I didn’t see him anymore, he must have been shot down. And then you see our boys were just as brave, they were flying Lancasters and all sorts.
I played a lot of rugby. I Captained Queen’s Works for about four seasons and one of those seasons we had our best season ever. We went through undefeated. We drew one game and won the rest and we were lucky to have drawn that game because I can always remember it, a centre three quarter broke through and all he’d got to do was to run about half the length of the field and touch down. And of course we carried on chasing but we’d got no hopes and he looked around to see who was following and he tripped himself up! Laughter! So, we were saved. We used to play Chicksands, Royal Airforce, Henlow, Waterbeach and we played two matches against an Army team, we liked to play the Service teams because we felt we were playing a part in more sense than one.
We had Nobby Clark who lived in Bacon Street, was the Secretary and he was a very fine Secretary. His wife used to wash our jerseys she washed our jerseys every week, charged nothing - she did it for the Club. So the Clark family were very prominent in Queen’s Works Rugby Club circles. Then we had a man named Geoff Smith he refereed matches, week after week after week, no payment, all for love. But they were great days. We had a Pavilion up at Allen Park where we always entertained visitors to a meal afterwards. We even on a couple of occasions had to get down to just having sit down sandwiches because we couldn’t get the food.
Of all the sports I played, I played a lot of table tennis, lawn tennis, I played hockey on Sunday afternoons and rugby on Saturday afternoons, that was hockey if I didn’t get injured! But you could run your bruises out on a Sunday afternoon.
In those days Queen’s Park was not as big as it is now, I mean there was no estate up by Allen Park, there was no buildings all down there beyond there where Cox’s Pit is. There were no houses up here at the top of Hurst Grove, at the back, those new houses none of those where there. I can remember when at the top of this road where a part of Allen’s factory was before they built the houses, there used to be Allen’s tennis courts. And on the corner of Cutliffe Grove with Bromham Road up here, where there is a house now, that was a private tennis court owned by the White family, J. P. White’s. Now I’ve asked hundreds and hundreds of people if they knew where Louise Place was and only one person was able to tell me and that was a lady that used to work at J. P. White’s. Three parts of the way up Bromham Road bridge on this side there was a roadway that led down to J. P. White’s and there was just one house down there that the caretaker lived in and that was called Louise Place. It went off the bridge and sloped down.
I helped to house a lot of evacuees. I went round with the Headmaster, Mr. Johns, who in those years lived in Dudley Street but he was Headmaster of Queen’s Park School. I went round with him and we had to house a lot of these people and I always remember we had one little boy left and we took him up to the cottages up the other end of Queen’s Park and a dear old lady came to day and she said, ‘Come in, my little dear!’ And she stood at the door signing the papers and that and the child had gone into the room and all at once there was an almighty crash, he had only pulled the aspidistra down off the stand, they were on long legs those little stands, the aspidistra on top! Laughter! Not a good start.
I had two ladies wrote to me a few years ago and asked if, they said they’d been billeted in Westbourne Road and did Mrs. Somebody or other still live there or was she still alive? Could I arrange a hotel for them for a weekend somewhere nearby they’d like to reminisce with people in Queen’s Park. I did, I fixed them up in a house in Hurst Grove and they came for a weekend and they met other people that lived nearby, they met some of the girls who were girls when they were. Ever since then I’ve always exchanged Christmas cards with them.”
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