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15 October 2014
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Conscientious Objectors meet the Inniskillen Dragoon Guardsicon for Recommended story

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ken Baker, John and Rita Noton, Cecil Panther and Starry Starsmore. Also, Ron Wilson (the Demon Barber), ‘old’ Billy Underwood and ‘young’ Billy Underwood. Stan Seamark.
Location of story: 
Denton Wood Lodge, Northamptonshire
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by David Baker at Dorking Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Ken Baker with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

This is an account of a friendship that grew between a group of conscientious objectors working for the Forestry Commission and a platoon of soldiers.

After leaving the bank and working for a while on a farm, I managed to get a job working with the Forestry Commission in Northamptonshire. Quickly, I found myself with a new group of lively friends operating over a vast area of Forestry land. The first people I met were John Noton and his wife Rita in whose half of the semi-detached farm building, Denton Wood Lodge, I was to live. In addition to me, there were two others living in the lodge, Cecil Panther and Starry Starsmore. Our small gang was supplemented by a wild youth called Ron Wilson, known to us as the Demon Barber because of his peacetime occupation. Our ganger was ‘old’ Billy Underwood whilst our area foreman was ‘young’ Billy Underwood.

One very hot summer day in about 1940, we were clearing a new area for planting and, by lunch time, we were very dirty and sweating profusely. As we made our way back to our haversacks for lunch, we found we were being watched by a platoon of soldiers. We got talking to them and soon we were sitting together in the shade of a tree. We explained that we were pacifists and told them how we came to be doing forestry work, whilst they told us that they were in the Inniskillen Dragoon Guards and were encamped nearby on a training exercise. When we were called back to work, we wished them farewell, told them where our cottage was and said they would always be welcome to visit, although we thought that would probably be the last we would see of them.

But one evening, a few days later, to our surprise, there was a tap at the door and we opened it to find three soldiers taking up our offer and bringing with them a packet of tea and some sugar. Over the following weeks, the visits became more and more frequent, but not always from the same three, although never more than three came at a time. They seemed to have an informal understanding of how many we could accommodate. Eventually, they even began to keep some casual clothes with us and seemed to enjoy changing out of their uniforms when they could. In the evenings, we would sit and talk without inhibitions about the war and the current situation. In addition, they told us some amusing stories about the Dragoon Guards. It had once been a cavalry regiment and, although they now moved about in tanks, they still wore spurs and wound their puttees on upwards rather than downwards. On other occasions we just sat and drank tea while Rita played the piano.

Later we introduced them to our friends, the Seamarks in Northampton and that became another centre they could use. They even brought their wives to stay with the Seamarks and Stan Seamark found a push chair for them to take the children out.

One day, they informed us that they were moving on and the visits would have to end. Before they left, an officer called and thanked Rita for the hospitality his men had received, but we were never sure whether he knew the entire situation. We missed their visits, but had learned a great deal about tolerance and the possibility of having real friendship despite having fundamental differences of opinion.

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