My billet lady, Mrs. Florrie Fowler. Photograph taken in July 1943.
- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr. Alan Locke, Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Florrie Fowler, Mr. & Mrs. Warwick, Mr. & Mrs. Lamb, Johnny Stockton
- Location of story:
- Bedford, Bedfordshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 October 2005
Some random memories of wartime Bedford Part Two — My billet parents.
Part two of an oral history interview with Mr. Alan Locke conducted by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum.
“But Bedford I remember really because it was a town that ‘buzzed’ during the war. I know the 8th Air Force christened it ‘the only cemetery with a bus service’ but it was places like Goldings which I loved because I bought all my model aeroplane stuff from there. And Hockliffes Bookshop, particularly the second hand bookshop, which was a wonderful place, which was down Lurke Street and the Arcade with it’s crane machines. And the Granada where at least at the beginning of the war you walked down the side way into what is now the car park and there were windows showing you how the air in the Granada was cleaned continuously with sort of water jets and after a while they covered this up as obviously it used a lot of electricity or coal.
I got on quite well with my billet parents! Mr. Fowler was a butcher. He wasn’t employed by Canvins but someone else in Midland Road who had their own slaughterhouse and he would often come back with a blood splattered apron and a pair of gloves smelling of sheep — of course he’d been slaughtering all day or he’d made pounds and pounds of sausages. I won’t say he was illiterate but the only time I saw him pick a pen up he signed his name terribly slowly as if he wasn’t used to it, and he wasn’t. Mrs. Florrie Fowler had been ‘In Service’. They’d met because the house where she was ‘In Service’ at he was the butcher’s boy. But she was one of the Geary family and the Geary family came from Great Barford. There are still two or three Gearys left in Great Barford. Mr. Fowler had been in the First World War, as had my father. That’s one thing you discovered very early on as a child. You never got anything out of anybody who’d served in the First World War. My father wouldn’t talk about it nor did Charlie Fowler.
What else do I remember? Doing shopping for Mrs. Fowler. I used regularly to come into town on a Saturday morning and queue up outside Lyons for whatever was going. She would give me a couple of shillings to come back with individual fruit pies or whatever they were short of. Being billeted with a butcher and Mrs. Fowler’s sister and her husband, the Warwicks, ran a dairy in Stevington, we never short of much.
But I can always remember they were all keen Baptists. Mrs. Fowler belonged to the Denmark Street Baptist Chapel and I have a vivid memory of a full adult baptism. I went there to Denmark Street about a year ago with my wife and they were just going in on Sunday morning and they said, ‘Oh, are you coming in?’ I said, ‘No I’m not, terribly sorry, but I haven’t got the time. But do you still have that tank under the floor boards that you used?’ ‘Yes, still there’ he said. I can remember singing songs loudly as people in sort of blackout cloth were immersed fully in this tank of stuff before diving into the Vestry to get dried off. Oh, dear! We used to go to the Stevington Baptist Chapel where the Garlicks - my first billet people - he was a Deacon of the Baptist Chapel there. I’ve been back there in the last two or three years, sadly the congregation is down to about 10. Because it’s all been hi-jacked by the big Baptist church in Bromham, there’s a big one there and everybody who is anybody seems to go there whilst Stevington isn’t exactly the hub of the world. People live in Bromham and Biddenham but not Stevington.
We all cycled to Stevington. The bikes were kept in the barn. We called it the barn. Denmark Street is two up, two down and the kitchen at the back and then beyond the kitchen there is where they kept the coal and that is called the barn and then there is a loo at the end. And it is still there like that as far as I know but in all the time that I was in Bedford I never had a bath. I never did. I had a ‘good wash’. There was a bath. It was a galvanised iron bath hanging up in the barn. I can remember two or three occasions when Mr. and Mrs. Fowler had baths but that meant lighting the copper in the kitchen and then dispensing the water by bucket out of the copper into the bath, a tricky process. And you had this damned fire - it was all very hairy. But no, I never had a bath in all that time but I didn’t seem to suffer from it. There was always Newnham baths or the BMS baths if you really wanted to get wet from head to foot.
At the beginning of the war, probably 1940, Mrs. Fowler bought a large tin of fruit salad and she said, ‘I’m not touching that! We are going to have that when the war is over!’ and it stayed in their larder for four and a half years until 1945 when they did have a little tea party in the back garden with Mr. and Mrs. Lamb from next door. They opened this tin of fruit salad and it had fermented — it was delicious, it really was. It was like having fruit in alcohol and everybody got drunk on fruit salad! Really, we finished up rolling about. We had cream with it of course that came from Stevington!
VE Day I remember because of the parades that took place in Bedford. I think that the Bedford Modern Cadet Force opened their armoury and took out all the thunder flashes, as I’m sure did our Army Cadet Forces. The ATC, I mean you couldn’t do anything - you’d only got morse tappers! But they were marching down The Embankment throwing thunder flashes into the crowd or throwing thunder flashes down on the road and putting dustbin lids on the top. They were walking down and banging dustbin lids together to make a good noise. If you put a dustbin lid over a thunder flash it went at least 15 feet into the air and then you had to dodge it coming down. But I’ve got one or two photographs at home of the general goings on in Russell Park, people jumping around. And we finished up having a parade through town, somebody, I think in the school mag there was a photograph of the parade, I remember Johnny Stockton was in it. There was a large white flag with a big letter ‘O’ in the middle that somebody had run up.”
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