Without fear of ridicule, I can quite happily tell of this incident now in these enlightening years of the nineties. I usually think of this incident as a ‘maybe experience’ due to the fact that, although the events are perfectly true, they seemed so stupid and ‘corny’ afterwards. Nevertheless, I have included the story as an interim interest, but relevant to the theme, hoping that it will not lower the tone of the main subject. This is another incident shared with my friend, Tommy.
The days of living on the old Beech Barn army camps had passed as the local council gradually re-housed all the families. A few of those families moved to other towns and villages, but most of us were re-located to the Quill Hall Housing Estate near Amersham. My old friends from the camps, David and Tommy, and another friend, Mick, were also living on that housing estate, as was my best friend, Alfred. With a real house to live in and my friends still nearby, I had no complaints whatsoever.
But first, for a while, I lost touch with my friends as I lived away from the Amersham area for a few months, then spent a year at a school in the town of Rickmansworth. That school closed down and I was forced to attend a local Chesham school where I met up with Alfred and Mick again. Finally, a new school was built beside the Quill Hall Housing Estate for us local children (we called it ‘The Raans Road Secondary Modern School’ in those days).
On the opening day of that new school, Alfred, Mick and I were milling about the playground in utter confusion as the teachers tried to sort things out. I began to hear my name called quite a few times and gradually found that many of my old friends, some from the camps, were also there that morning. Our friendships were quickly re-established and I settled down to continue my happy life.
Photo courtesy Tom Ramage.
One of those old friends was Tommy and the rear of his family's new home (in Grove Road) actually backed on to the perimeter of the new school grounds.
It was two or three weeks later, towards the end of the English summer in the year of 1956, that this particular incident occurred.
Tommy and I had planned to go camping down in the nearby Chess Valley for the weekend. But, Tommy’s mum wouldn’t allow him to camp ‘out in the wilds’ (I was thirteen years old at the time but Tommy was probably eleven or twelve). In the end, we decided to camp at the bottom of Tommy's back garden and pretend that we were ‘out in the wilds’ of the Chess Valley.
We made our preparations through the preceding week. I had an old cotton tent, some army blankets and a pillow. Tommy had some army blankets, a pillow, and his mum would supply the food. With candles (made out of string rolled in dripping and stuck into the centre of tobacco tins) spluttering out a weak blue flame, we settled down in the tent for our first night of camping together.
We hadn’t been settled for long when Val, my sister, came rushing to the tent and said that mum wanted me back at home. With a groan to myself, I raced the mile or so back home with Val struggling to keep up and me urging her to hurry. I didn’t want to miss out on a minute of the camping weekend. But, the summons home turned out to be to my own advantage.
Mr. Clarke, one of our local St. Vincent De Paul friends, was at home waiting for me. He was the Manager of a Chesham boot and shoe manufacturing company, and that company wanted to introduce a strong working shoe and boot onto the market for industrial use.
To my delight, Mr. Clarke told me that I had been chosen to help test the new type of shoes. He went on to explain that I had to wear them everywhere and polish them each night. He would come once a week to see how they were standing up to the strain.
Full of thanks and gratitude (mum couldn’t afford to buy me new shoes in those days), I put the shoes on and raced back to the tent. Soon I was settled down with Tommy again and happily explaining how I came to have those wonderful new shoes. But, that happiness was about to be shattered.
As we chatted and giggled at each other in the weak light of our home-made candles, there came the most blood-curdling scream from the direction of Tommy’s house. Although I went cold with fear, I just had to look out of the tent to see what had happened. Quickly, I handed my candle to Tommy, pushed the blankets off, untied the tent flap and poked my head out. What I saw will always be etched in my mind.
Tommy lived in a semi-detatched house and there was about fifteen metres of bare lawn between the end of the house and the fence at the start of the next row of houses. We were camped down the back of the lawn, beside a concrete path that led up the side of the house and round to the front. Another path turned off the main path and went along the rear of the house to the back door. The rear of the house was in darkness but, we could see all the lawn area quite clearly due to the light from a high street light out in the road.
As I looked up the path, all I could see was the clothed, lower-half of a body coming down that path towards the tent.
In sheer horror, I looked harder, thinking that maybe I was being partly blinded by the glare of the street lamp out in the road. But, there were definitely only the trousers and shoes in sight.
Although the lower half of the body was walking down the path, I could hear no sound of footsteps. The trousers flapped oddly, as if someone had hung them out on a line and they were blowing in the wind. The sight caused me to suddenly lose control of all my senses. I dropped the flap and shot right back into the far corner of the little tent. We were trapped by the ‘thing’ and I was terrified.
Naturally, my terror rubbed off onto Tommy, who had heard the scream, but had been too scared to look out. He became very frightened as well and crushed up beside me in the corner of the tent. His quick whispered questions, asking me what I’d seen, were left unanswered. I couldn't talk, my mouth had opened and shut, but no sound had come out except for a couple of gasping whimpers. Tommy was still holding the two candles and, in the feeble light cast by their weak flames, we watched in utter despair as something outside began to tug at the tent flaps.
I felt extremely vulnerable but I couldn’t take my eyes off those flaps. I saw a part of the trousers as the flaps opened up a bit. My heart was pounding like mad with the fearsome terror that I felt. As I pushed myself further back into the corner, Tommy pushed harder, as if he was trying to hide behind me. The tent was beginning to collapse as the pair of us struggled to get as far away from those front flaps as was possible.
Suddenly, with a jerk that almost made me shoot up through the roof with fright, the flaps were whipped aside. Framed in the opening was the kneeling form of those trousers, and a grinning face was just visible in the gloom above them. To my greatest relief, I recognised Tommy’s Uncle Tony, who had popped in to see how things were going.
As we all sat around the table having supper later that evening, I told everyone what I’d heard and seen. At first, Tommy said that he had heard a scream as well, then he changed his mind and said that he had heard nothing (probably because he didn’t want to frighten his younger brother and sisters). I was told not to be so silly and to stop playing stupid games.
But, I knew that I wasn’t playing a game and I’m still puzzling over the incident. I definitely heard a scream and saw just the lower half of a body walking down that path. I was a bit upset when Tommy denied hearing a scream. I was relying on him to back my story up. He had reacted at the sound so I knew that he’d heard it. I don’t think that either of us ever mentioned the incident to each other again.
Tommy and I stayed firm friends up to 1974, when I moved away and we lost touch, until I traced him in late-1996.
Next story - The Moel Eilio Experience.
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