14. WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT ON AGAIN..... Peace and the Class of ’45 - Part 2
Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children


by John Riches. 2004.  

Two weeks after the General Election; just before the end of the summer term; Farnborough Junior School’s first Sports Day since 1939 was held on the Recreation Ground “up Tugmutton.” The four houses Shaftesbury – blue; Livingstone – green; Gordon – red and Dickens – yellow, fought keenly for the cup that was to be presented by Colonel Kirkhope.  My house Dickens came last with Shaftesbury winning comfortably.
Back in 1945 the school summer holidays lasted two weeks into September so that the harvest could be gathered in. In those days before the advent of combined harvesters, lots of mothers from Farnborough village earned a few extra shillings gathering the bound sheaves of corn spewed out by the reaper/binder and then balanced them upright twelve sheaves together to form a stook. We children helped. After the ears of corn had dried we would watch as local men and members of the green uniformed Women’s Land Army pitchforked the sheaves onto a large four wheeled Kentish wagon constructed almost entirely of wood and pulled by two huge most beautiful “Shire” draught horses complete with highly polished brasses on their harnesses. 

Brothers Alf and Fred Geal were in charge of North End Farm at that time. As the loaded wagons rolled down the hill towards the rick yard situated alongside Shire Lane close to its junction with North End Lane, the brothers would supervise the building of large stacks. When harvesting was finished the stacks would be thatched and a low rabbit wire fence erected round the perimeter to keep the rats out. Then during the winter, when a contractor’s threshing machine became available, the sheaves would be fed through and the grain extracted. The power belts from the threshing machines used at North End were linked to the flywheel of a powerful tractor, although “Tipper” Gibbs who owned an agricultural contractor’s business located in a yard at Crabbs Croft now Chatham Road close to the junction of Gladstone Road and the High Street, still had steam traction engines available for this work. Children would watch fascinated as these beautiful machines trundled slowly past the shops that still line the High Street. I was always envious of Tipper’s daughter Ann as she could have a traction engine ride any time she wanted to.  

'Tippe Gibbs owned an agricultural contrator's business located in a yard at Crabb's Croft"  Picture produced between 1935 and 1940 of Maurice Tipper Gibbs driving a crawker tractor and his brother Ned. The field is now occupied by Broadwater Gardens and in the background is a large house called Bassetts.  Photographs provided by Ann Gibbs now Eddleson.

When most of the sheaves had been fed into the threshing machine and the remaining rick was very low, watching boys would be offered stout sticks and asked to help kill the rats that had inevitably nested in the corn. Arthur “Dookie” Collins was, I remember, a champion at this.

That summer of 1945, now that the war in Europe was over, German prisoners of war awaiting repatriation to their fatherland, volunteered to help with our harvest in the fields around Farnborough. It was a good way for them to get away from the confines of the camps and meet ordinary people. With only a notional unarmed soldier guarding them they set to with vigour. They were lovely people all with families of their own back in Germany. Willi, Fritz, Jurgen, Hans and others whose names I have forgotten, showed us photographs of their loved ones. My mother was known to them simply as “Mum,” as when I arrived down in the harvest fields bringing water from home I would yell out “Mum.” Thus began a personal love affair with Germany that lasts until the present day.

On 6th August 1945 whilst the harvest in the fields around Farnborough was in full swing, the news broke that a new weapon of mass destruction called an atomic bomb had been dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, to be followed four days later by another on Nagasaki. 70,000 Japanese people were killed in the first blast and a similar number in the second.  It seems strange now, but our universal reaction was to cheer and celebrate. We were told then that the bomb was only the size of a golf ball and I clearly remember a cartoon in The Daily Express showing American airmen playing catch with one of these most hideous weapons. A few days later on 15th August Japan surrendered and although there was rejoicing in Farnborough, it was much more subdued as the reality of what had happened sunk in.  

Even then I was mad keen on Geography and cycled alone or with friends as far as Westerham and Sevenoaks recording details of local industries in a note book carried in my saddle bag. Today’s parents would be horrified at the thought of such activities, but in those days there was very little traffic on the roads and what there was, was slow and predictable. If we had a puncture or needed a running repair, that was not usually a problem as our Dads had taught us how to cope. If something was too difficult then one of the many passing cyclists would stop and help. Strangers were people who would help you in those days, not someone of whom children should be wary.  

The Autumn Term began in mid September and Farnborough Junior School’s newly appointed Head Miss Dyke introduced a lot of new ideas. One was called “Free Activities,” where pupils could follow and develop their own interests. That suited me fine so I produced a booklet about my bicycle explorations and was awarded a book prize for my efforts. I have proudly kept it to the present day. Another thing Miss Dyke introduced to the staff was Turkish cigarettes. Their smell, that was considered quite sophisticated in those days, wafted along the corridors after we came in from break times.  

Our “Class of ‘45” blossomed. It seems incredible today that all our Primary education except the final top junior year was during wartime. Although I’ve forgotten the names of most of the people I mixed with at Secondary School many of the names of classmates from that class of ’45 in Farnborough School have resonated down the decades. We’re all now around seventy years of age and with the help of Pam Ife, Donald Curd and others, many of our former classmates are remembered. Pam’s Dad came to Farnborough at that time to take over as farm manager at Chapman’s Farm that is now known as Viners. They lived in farm cottages amongst the woods where Lakeside now stands. Sheila Bras her best friend now lives at Northiam close to Rye. Keith Grant captivated us with his excellent cartoons and drawings – something he still does today. Jean Dadswell’s Dad worked at the big High Elms House and they lived in the bungalow at the junction of High Elms Road and Shire Lane.
  Tony Thornell’s parents went on to keep The Woodman pub. Clive Oates and his neighbour John “Tug” Wilson lived in Gladstone Road not far from Raymond Thompson and one of the Whiteman family. Peter Tubb lived above Homesdale Stores in the village – a shop still kept by his brother Dick. John Palmer’s Dad kept a bike shop on Mason’s Hill in Bromley and I’m still in contact with his sister Jocelyn who lives in Canada.
Robin Bowyer, the first scout recruited by 1st Farnborough after the war and Cecily Bourne all lived up Starts Hill. Robin sadly died back in 1970 when his yacht “The Trophy” capsized in the Fastnet Race. Derek’s Williams and Rider surely lived in Darrick Wood and Noeline North in Hilda Vale Road. Ethne Keenan, David Pucknell, Rodney Griffin who died in 2004 and is buried in St Giles’ churchyard, plus John Cranley who emigrated to Australia, are still remembered, whilst Maureen McLaren still lives close to the place of her birth. It was difficult to tell twins Esme and Shirley Witham also Peter and Frankie Whitehead apart. Graham Holcroft and Eileen Dillon are yet other names remembered. Alan Carver lived in Starts Hill Avenue and surely I remember that both his parents worked at the Farnborough Engineering Works at the end of his road? That’s twenty-nine names remembered in total. As classes in those days were invariably much larger than today’s statutory thirty, no doubt others will be able to remind me of the remainder?  

It seems incredible now, but boys wore shorts until they were thirteen and well into secondary education. After winter snowfalls we dragged our sledges through the village to Chalky Luggate with Wellingtons over long socks but of course with bare knees. We were almost eleven years old before we remembered tasting fruits such as bananas and oranges. Slowly but surely, these appeared in the greengrocers’ shops of Farnborough village.

At Doutch’s close to the Green, at Bob Goodchild’s alongside Tye Lane in The Square and at Mr Tapper’s new greengrocer’s that replaced Mr Clacey’s bike shop close to the Woodman where the Insurance Brokers now stands.   

My Dad, now that he no longer had to help construct new airfields, went back to work for G.R.Amos & Sons, small jobbing builders in Simpsons Road close to Bromley South Station. There was a great demand for builders who could repair bomb damaged buildings. Reg Pucknell, one of our neighbours up the alley, returned home in uniform complete with kit bag to be mobbed by his wife Emily and children Geoffrey, Peggy, John, David and Carol. They were so delighted to see him after he’d spent so long away. My friend Don Curd’s Dad called Arthur  – after serving in Northern Ireland for most of the war, returned home in his brand new Demob Suit.

Bill Symonds, Esme’s dad from Pleasant View Cottages, was demobbed from the Royal Air Force where he’d been driving a roller repairing airfield runways in Belgium and immediately played in goal for Farnborough Old Boys Guild Football team.

He resumed working for the Kent County Council as a steam roller driver helping to repair local roads that had received scant attention during the six long years of warfare.

Bill Simmonds is second from the left by the roller, and back row fifth from the left in the football team. Photographs Esme Simmonds, now Coates, and her grandson Terry.

Rose Norman who lived in the tiny cottage at number 30 High Street opposite the end of Orchard Road left the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in which she’d served since 1941 and rejoined her Mum and Dad who was nicknamed Bunker, plus sisters Beat, Lily, Joan and Betty and brothers Jack and Wally. Rose must have felt that Farnborough was very quiet after having survived through the Blitz whilst on service in London.  

Sadly some did not return having been killed in action. Don’s uncle Frank was killed at Salerno in Italy in September 1943 when Allied troops landed on “the soft underbelly of Europe.” The scouts lost at least four former members – Gordon Surridge, George Coombes, Fred Mace, “Tubby” Eagle and Fred Watson who was shot down over Denmark. Although we didn’t know any of them personally, we knew all their families. My friend Keith Burchell’s Dad was released from a German prisoner of war camp and Keith rapidly left his grandparents’ home next to The Woodman and returned to Maidstone never to be seen by us again.  

In July 1946 the wonderful members of that” Class of ’45,” due to the secondary school selection lottery known as the “Eleven Plus,” were divided up – a process that still causes rankle almost sixty years later. Some children transferred to separate boys and girls secondary schools in Orpington, others to schools in Sidcup and Chislehurst and yet others to maintained and private schools in Bromley. As we left our beloved Farnborough School in the summer of 1946, perhaps we sang the chorus of one of Vera Lynn’s popular songs of the day?  

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”  

Now sixty years after the events described here, wasn’t it wonderful that on 22nd April 2004, some of the Class of ‘45 met again at the 100th Birthday Party of our beloved teacher Mrs Gladys Moat?

“It is with much sadness and regret that I inform you that Gladys Moat passed peacefully away on 19th October 2004. She will be deeply missed by all those who knew and loved her.”

Mike Lowe – Friend and executor of Mrs Gladys Moat.

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