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Life of Granddad Part 1

by BBC Scotland

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Scotland
People in story: 
Herbert Victor
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
01 February 2006


My forenames Herbert Victor were not to my knowledge names which ran in the family and I really do not know why they were chosen unless they came from my mother’s side of the family which is possibly the case.

After I was born the family continued to live in the same house The Rank until I was 10 years of age. The building has now been demolished — I understand in about 1952 — but when standing was situated immediately opposite the turning to The Midlands from the main street and near to the junction of Station Road.

We moved the house several times in the early 1930s. My father could not get work for several years during the recession but eventually took a job as a gardener at a garden nursery growing tomatoes, near Holt railway station, and we moved into a wooden bungalow on the nursery estate. This lasted for about 2 years when my father was again made redundant and we had to move to a house in The Star, in Holt. He then obtained a job with J and T Beavens the local leather factory in the Midlands, Holt, which at the time of writing is still producing leather goods. After 2 more year the family moved again to a much nicer house at 248 The Common, Holt, which was the larger one of a pair of cottages set back about 150 metres from the main road with a large garden and was surrounded by open fields. I lived there from 1934/5 until 1948 when I left to get married. The house is now made into one and is totally surrounded by several housing estates.

The original house in The Rank was in the centre of a terrace of 9 houses, all with floors and served by a single communal path with 3 steps rising from the roadway. There were 3 bedrooms and a combined kitchen and living room. The garden was about 80 metres long with a toilet some 30 metres down the garden. The garden was large enough to provide enough vegetables for the family for most of the year and I was expected to help with the gardening, even at 8 to 9 years old. The 3 old stone steps leading form the pavement to the terrace still survive as an entrance to a newer bungalow built on the site.

All of the water for use in the house had to be carried in buckets drawn from a single tap shared by the occupants of all 9 houses and fitted alongside the communal pathway in front of the houses, washing in the morning was in cold water and all water for use in the house was stored in the house in buckets something which would now be considered unhygienic. In the wintertime the tap would often freeze so we could not get any water until someone unfroze it. Washdays for dirty clothes was always on a Monday morning and was carried out in a communal washhouse sited at the end of the rank. Water was heated by a coal fire and all of the 9 households carried out their washing on the same day.

I slept on the top floor of the house sharing a room with my brother Frank who was 10 years older than me. The bedrooms were not heated and the only heating in the house was from a coal fire in the living room leaving the other rooms very cold. The houses were not provided with electricity and lighting was by gas in the living room only, oil lamps were used in the other rooms and we took a lighted candle to show our way upstairs to bed.

One of my earliest memories was when I was about 5 years old and when I was taken by my mother to Weymouth for the day by train. It was an organised trip with most of the children from the village going by special train with their parents and was arranged either by the Sunday schools or the local Cooperative Retail shop which had a branch in the village, I cannot remember which. The train was a stream locomotive hauling about 10 carriages.

I did not have very many toys as a boy but I do remember a clockwork train set with a simple circular tack about 2 feet in diameter. We generally had to amuse ourselves by playing ball games, either football or cricket, usually in the road. There was not much traffic on the roads in those days, especially in a small village — probably 6 buses a day and not many more cars; all would go well until the village policeman passed. On my own I used to play whip top or chase an iron hoop made by the village blacksmith. In the home I played cards or snakes and ladders. There was no television in those days; it had not even been invented; only an old battery operated radio. It was one of my tasks to take the battery accumulator to the local garage to be recharged every two weeks, twice each week the Walls ice cream man would pass through the village on his tricycle with a fridge compartment on the front. He would cycle from Melksham to Bradford-on-Avon, a distance of over 6 miles and due to the heavy fridge on the front the journey would take him all day. On his return journey we were sometimes lucky enough to buy a hollow lolly — one with a hole in - for half price, one old half penny.

My first bicycle was a single geared ladies old upright type, very rusty and with very high handlebars. My father obtained it second hand needing lots of attention and even from the beginning I got it working and maintained it myself. Father had no time to spare for repairs — he was working all day and would take on extra part time work in the evenings. I taught myself to ride a bicycle at between 8 and 9 years old. It was considered a very serious offence to ride on the pavements and this was rigidly enforced by our own village bobby.

Looking back on my younger days, one of the funniest things I recall is when I was a cub scout, or rather a wolf cub in those days, aged about 9 years old our scout master decided that we as troops should build a hand cart for use when attending weekend camps and local jamborees. Most of the materials were second hand and were carried in bits and pieces into the scout hut for assembly. After several weeks we made a good job of it — or so we thought — and it was assembled ready and painted, but we could not get it out through the doorway so we had to take it all to pieces and start all over again. The only person not laughing was the Scoutmaster.

I did not receive regular pocket money from my parents — there was no money to spare in the family. From around the age of 9 to 10 I delivered several magazines each Wednesday for a small village paper shop, I was not given money but could choose 2 ounces of sweets, costing 2 pence in old money. In order to obtain just a little pocket money I sometimes helped my father in the evenings gardening in some of the posh houses in the village. He was an excellent gardener and his advice was sought after by many in the village. When I helped I would be given just a few pennies by the owner of the garden, but part time work in those days was not easy to obtain.

On my birthday I would usually have a party, despite the poverty of my parents, and would have sandwiches, cake and jelly shared by five or six friends — mostly neighbours. Christmas day was a time for other families to visit but I would only receive one present from my parents.

The only holiday I ever had with my parents was at the age of 14 when the family went to stay for one week at a guest house in Weston Super Mare. We stayed in Locking Road travelling to Weston by steam train. Weymouth and Weston were the only seaside places I visited until I started work. The highlight of the year was Trowbridge Carnival held each year in August when my parents would take me on the bus to see the procession. So many people then used the buses — as that was the only mode of travel — most people just could not afford a motor car. Nearly all of the buses were single deckers as double deckers were almost unheard of with the result that the single deck buses were nearly always full by the time they reached our stop and we would have to wait for a relief bus to arrive which would take up to one hour. After the carnival procession was over we would go to the fair and if I was lucky I would have one ride on the bumping cars which cost three old pence, so some things have not changed over the years other than the prices.

In Holt village there were two schools, on Church of England and the other one attached to the Congregational Church, I attended the second one. It was a very large cold stone building of two floors with one large classroom on each floor, infants downstairs and the older children up to 11 upstairs. I think I started school at the age of 5, there were only three teachers in the school and they had to be flexible in their subjects. The headmaster was an old misery, he had his favourites and I was certainly not one of them. I enjoyed the games most of all but these were restricted to a very small playground and ball games were limited because of the stained glass church windows which formed the boundary on one side of the playground.

From the age of eleven I attended Adcroft School for boys which was situated at the top of Timbrell Street in Trowbridge about 3 miles away from home. Travel to school was by steam train for which we had to walk about 1 mile to Holt railway station and another mile from Trowbridge railway station to the school. There were not so many subjects taught at school but then I was quite good at most and generally enjoyed them. Probably my best subject was Mathematics, English, Geography, Art, Woodwork and Sport. Chemistry, Physics and advanced Maths were not taught at secondary schools. We were not given homework except on very rare occasion. I vaguely remember taking my 11 plus entrance examination but could not have been selected for grammar school — I was never told the result. Only one child was accepted from the local school to attend the grammar school in my year. We were required to take part in music and singing as compulsory subjects but I was not really interested although I did teach myself to play my brothers piano accordion for my own amusement.

I excelled at sport, being made captain of the school cricket team and played in the school football team winning the Wiltshire shields for schools. This was a knockout football competition against other schools in the country. In athletics I won the 75 yards hurdle event at area level 3 years following, also the 80 yards sprint, the relay and the long jump.

Although I made plenty of friends at school there were only 2 or 3 close ones who also lived in the village. I kept in touch with them for several years after leaving school but two of them were killed early in the 1939-45 war and I lost touch with the others, being away from home for several years while in the Royal Navy.

I left school at the age of 14 which was the normal leaving age then at secondary school, work was very difficult to obtain and I was fortunate to get a job immediately after I left school. Due to the shortage of work children had to accept any kind of work available unless they were lucky enough to be offered an apprenticeship to learn a trade and in 1937 as soon as I left school I started work in a grocery, provisions and off-licence shop in Trowbridge — J.E. Evans and Son in Fore Street next door to the then George Hotel. My wages were 8 shillings or 40 new pence each week out of which I had to pay my parents for my keep. I really did not know what sort of work I wanted to do at the age of 14 and school careers advisors had even been thought of then. I did attend a book keeping class in the evenings but did not complete the course, I chose that subject because my father was anxious for me to obtain some form of qualification.

When working in the shop I would cycle from home to work to start at 08.30 then cycle home for lunch and back to work until 6p.m. in the week and 8p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The distance was 4 miles each way which I cycled four times each day. I found shop work very boring and without challenge and did not like it at all, although one advantage was that I worked there during the very early part of the war when food supplies were getting scarce and I managed to obtain some things for my parents which were in short supply. It is probably not known by the younger generation that items such as sugar, butter, cheese, jam and many other items were strictly rationed and only available in very small quantities for which ration books were issued to all families and continued until several years after the war had ended. In all I worked in the shop form late 1937 until 1941. Apart from food rationing, clothes and petrol were also rationed and available only with coupons which were strictly controlled.

Before joining the Royal Navy, but after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, the L.D.V. — Land Defence Volunteer Force — was formed as a volunteer civilian force in case Adolf Hitler invaded the British Isles after the German forces had overrun France and most of Western Europe right up to the French side of the English Channel. The name L.D.V. was later changed to the Home Guard and became the story of TV’s Dad’s Army. The force consisted of older men above the conscription age, younger men who were not physically fit enough for the armed forces or were in a reserved occupation and young lads like myself who were not quite old enough to be called into the armed services. All younger men if fit were liable to be conscripted into the forces but were not given the option of which branch of service they wished to enter. I was not really old enough to join the L.D.V. as I was only about 17 years old, but questions were not asked and on joining I was given an arm band with L.D.V. printed on it and a cudgel. During the early days following the Dunkirk evacuation the unit had to be formed at a very short notice and uniforms and rifles were not available.

Our headquarters were in the Courts at Holt — a large manor house and estate in the village which now belongs to the National Trust. The group which I belonged to were on duty each Friday night through until Saturday morning and our duties were to patrol the area around Holt village on the lookout for any signs of an invasion which was fully expected at any time, but which we now know never happened. We were gradually allocated equipment to eventually include a complete uniform, rifle and 5 rounds of ammunition. How we would have fared against trained and well equipped German parachutists I shudder to think. I was among several younger members who formed a signal group to communicate with L.D.V. groups from other areas using the Morse code and radio telegraphy and Aldis had signalling lamps. General training took place each Sunday morning and it was jus as well we were not invaded because the unit contained similar characters to Captain Mannering, Sergeant Wilson, Corporal Jones and Private Pike of Dad’s Army fame. Forming a signal group was one way of keeping clear of the doddery old men.

My friends, most of whom were just older than me were called up for war services in the army in the late 1942 and I realised that I would soon be called up too. However, I did not want to serve in the Army or the Royal Air Force so I volunteered to in the Royal Navy before reaching conscription age so that I could join the service of my choice. Those who were conscripted did not have a choice. I was accepted and reported to H.M.S. Raleigh in Cornwall, just across the river Tamar opposite Plymouth, right at the beginning of 1942. In the recruiting office in Prewett Street, Bristol I was given 2 shillings — now 10 new pence — and told to get to Cornwall by train. I spent 3 months at H.M.S Raleigh in Torpoint, Cornwall for my initial training and then trained to be a torpedoman on H.M.S Defiance in Plymouth Sound. This was a very old wooden ship crawling with cockroaches and must have been resting on the bottom, otherwise it would have sunk.

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