- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr John Meiklejohn
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 February 2006
As war broke out I was evacuated from my home in Gravesend to a farm in north Suffolk owned by Mr Cook who had a fish shop in Lowestoft, I was billeted with the farm bailiff Mr Gower.
Unfortunately the Gowers had to move as Mr Gower got another appointment with another farm, so he left Manor Farm at Ship Meadow in Suffolk and went off to another farm but still in Suffolk. I was worried about where I would end up as schooling was still going on, the lady at the village shop Mrs Denny let me go and live with her and her husband and daughter and my friend Ron.
Rationing was in the eyes of the beholder, everyone gave their rationing book to Mrs Denny and then came and helped him or herself to whatever they wanted, including ice cream. Mr Denny had cows, he would put the milk in trays and skim off the cream and I would cycle into Becles — 3miles away — come back and we made ice cream with real cream — wonderful!
There was a character in the village called Meek, he had retired from fishing, he was 70 but he was au fait with everything in the countryside, he would take us out and show us how to catch pheasants with nooses. Another classic example was babbing for eels; he would come along and say — ‘Goodnight for babbing, make you some babs’.
We would go down the garden to dig for worms in soil which was very rich as it was ‘night soil’ - the toilet waste was put on the garden. (The toilet was a 3 seater —you would be sitting there and Mr Denny would decide to come and join you, which was odd!). We would catch these huge worms in the rich soil and get some Worcester yarn from Mrs Denny and an old bodkin type needle. The worms were threaded onto the yarn until we had 4 or 5 feet of big juicy worms threaded through. We would coil it all up and put an old rusty nut at the centre and tie it on a bit of string on an old ash pole — this was the bab.
We would borrow an old rusty iron bath and off we would go - Meek, Ron and I. We would go to the marshes on to one of the big dykes where there were bridges across made with railway sleepers. We would settle on one of these bridges, float the bath on the water and tie it up to the bridge. We would let our babs go down into the water into the leaves and water plants until we felt the strong tugging and we would gradually lift it up and put the eels into the bathtub — the eels were over 2 foot long. If you got it over the bath quick enough they would drop into the bath. Once we caught 180 eels the 3 of us - the following morning we went to see Meek. He would chop off their head and nail them to a board and then nick the skin and then pull the skin off. Eventually we would eat them but most of them would go to Mr Cook’s fish shop in Lowestoft. The skins were very tough and you could make a rope of the skin if you tied them together.
We would spend a lot of time illegally coarse fishing. We would leave a line with a hook on it tied to a bridge and the following morning we would find large roach or perch. Chubby the farmers son and another farmer’s son would go off netting for fish with Meek, we were not supposed to go as we were too young but of course we would go and watch. The idea was to put the nets across the big dykes and then go along the water’s edge and beat the water with ash poles to move everything down to the nets. Meek would be in command of the operation — pulling out the nets and sorting hundreds of fish. Huge pike which was delicious to eat. He would keep the large ones and send them off to market. The water bailiffs came along one night, the boys heard them coming and ran off but Meek didn’t want to leave his nets so he was caught and had to go to court. He came and saw Mr Cook the fishmonger who paid the fine and bought new nets and so it went on!
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Diana Wilkinson of the CSV Action Desk at BBC Hereford and Worcester and has been added to the site with Mr John Meiklejohn’s permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
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