Compared to the wooden hut, our new hut was a palace. It had an inside toilet - there’d be no more going across to the ablution block on dark nights. It had a bath, and a copper to heat up the water, and there was a big kitchen range in the living room. It also had real walls, no more blankets hanging on string. Yes, this was luxury!
Click here to see a rough plan of the hut we lived in for five years during the late-1940s to early-50's.
Uncle Frank, a few neighbours, and Mr. Kissman moved our now much increased items of furniture up the path to our new hut. We still had our three family heirlooms, the faithful old orange boxes. These had now been painted pink by Mum and had little white net curtains hanging down in front of each one.
Happily we explored the hut and were allotted our rooms. The toilet was tried out, the range was lit and our ornaments were spread around the polished tops. With the whole lot of us mucking in, we soon had everything in place and gradually the hut settled down to its role of a home. Val and I were very tired and so, after tea, we staggered off to bed, saying goodnight to all the helpers who were staying for a cup of tea and a chin-wag.
I lay in bed, feeling that the voices through the closed door of my bedroom were very muffled and quiet after the noise through our blanket walls in the last hut. I was just dozing off when there came a knock on the front door, just beside my bedroom window. One of the ladies on the camp, who usually only waved to us and said hullo, had searched through her cupboards and brought over some useful items in a box. If Mum could use them, she was welcome to have the lot. Mum invited the lady in and soon they were chatting like old friends. I couldn’t get to sleep after the knocking at the door and wondering who this new friend was.
About half an hour later, Mum crept in my bedroom and put the box of treasures under my bed. Seeing me still awake, she warned me not to touch anything then went out and closed the door. I lay there a while longer but my curiosity soon got the better of me. Finally, I hopped out of bed, turned the light on, being instantly blinded by the light and brightly painted walls, jumped back into bed, then quietly leaned over and pulled the box from under my bed. Right on top of the box was a nice silver pot with little holes in the lid. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was half full of something and I tried to twist the lid off. The lid wouldn’t budge so I tried harder, it still wouldn’t move so I applied all my strength. With a jolt the lid twisted off, there was an explosion of dusty material and suddenly my eyes and mouth felt as if they were on fire.
I gave a scream and people came dashing in. I couldn’t see a thing but I was quickly carried out to the sink where my head was ducked under water from the tap. My eyes were forced open under the running water by Uncle Frank and swilled out. This cooled them down a lot, causing me to struggle less. Soon I just needed an occasional eye-bathe with a cold wet flannel. The container had been a pepper pot and I’d copped the lot in the face as the lid gave way under my efforts. After that, Mum said she could have left a million pounds under my bed safely. The pain I felt in my eyes was agonising and it seemed to take days for them to return to normal. We never bothered with pepper on meals until I was about twelve, but that was no loss as far as I was concerned.
Gradually we settled happily into our new home, and it seemed that at last things would get to normal. The weather was warm, everyone was in good spirits and there were lots of good things to do. Then I had to go and get into trouble.
I decided to start up my own adventure tours. A couple of Saturdays after the pepper incident, on a beautiful morning, I called to see if my little mate, David, could come out to play. His Mum told him not to go far and away we went. I asked him if he’d like to go and see where we used to live in the bottom camp. He said he would so we took off down there.
We looked in the hall, then he said he knew a park, just down the hill, and off we went to find it. How he remembered the way to that park I’ll never know, but eventually we found ourselves in Chesham and walked through the streets to the park (Lowndes Park). There used to be an avenue of trees, each side of the road, through the park in those days.
There were swings and slides, a nice garden and a small lake with an island in the middle. We had a great time in the park, then we decided to walk on through to Chesham Broadway. I recognised The Broadway as I’d been to the Astoria cinema there with Mum. We used to catch the bus home from there, that came from the Nashleigh Arms and Ley Hill. I’d never been to the Nashleigh Arms, so we thought it would be nice to go along there and see what it looked like. By asking people the way, we finally found the place and were unimpressed. With no thought of the time, nor the consequences, we started wandering up towards Ley Hill in the late afternoon. Then thirst drove us to knock on a door and ask for a drink. We were given a glass of orange juice by the lady of the house, and she asked us how we had come to be there. After our explanation, she told us to go straight home. Dutifully. we turned and walked back the way we’d come but went through Chesham town centre instead of the park.
On leaving Chesham, at the junction of Waterside Road and Amersham Road, and on the right, were some ornamental gardens beside the road with a few seats scattered around, and a small square pond with a fountain in the middle (the pond has now been filled in). We reached these gardens so tired after our, so far, six or seven mile walk that we decided to stay there for the night. It must have been about eight o’clock and the sun had just gone down.
I badly needed to go to the toilet but could see nowhere on hand except some laurel bushes behind the seats in front of the fence. They were skimpy bushes and I didn’t want to go there as someone might see me pull my trousers down. I hoped that I could wait until darkness. In the end I had to go and, grabbing a piece of paper from a nearby rubbish-bin, I ran towards the laurels.
As I ran behind the bushes and looked out to see if anyone could see me, I saw some cyclists pull up beside David. Uncle Frank was amongst them and he looked very cross. Suddenly I had to go desperately, but I couldn’t get my trousers down quick enough, then it was too late. Now I was in a real mess.
Meanwhile, half the population in the area had been looking for David and I. The police were patrolling roads and back-lanes, people were out searching on their bikes and motor cycles and in cars, and walkers hunted through the woods near the camp. Our descriptions and names were put out over the radio, and people were asked to look for the two little boys who had just seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. They were trying to find us before it got dark.
Uncle Frank had been searching all the afternoon and evening. Most of his searching was done around the two camps, nearby lanes and woods with no results. He decided to spend the last hour of daylight looking along roads a bit farther away. He and the other cyclists spread out and, as it was just getting dark, he rode into Chesham with a couple of mates and spied David beside the road.
After he’d established where I was, he told David not to move from the spot while he raced to the police station to let everyone know we’d been found, and arrange a ride home for us. As I walked back to David they rode off towards Chesham police station. Then a horn tooted and there was David’s father in his car (and, incidentally, the only car owned by anyone on the camp). David’s father was furious and told us both to get into the car straight away. He turned the car around and we headed up the hill to ride the last mile home.
He didn’t utter a word for a couple of minutes, then suddenly he quickly wound the window down. He looked all around then asked what the terrible smell was and I told him it was me. This must have seemed an insult to injury to the poor man and his fury became intense. He hissed at David to wind his window down and I’m sure he was wishing that he had a faster car. We swung into the camp entrance, almost on two wheels and, when we reached the square (parade ground?) I was told to get out and go straight home to my mother.
At that time there was no track around the green (grassed area), only a path, and David’s father used to drive his car straight across the green to get to their hut. He must have been relieved to get rid of me and the smell.
If David’s father was furious, it was nothing compared to my Mum. I went indoors and was sent to bed with a good hiding and no tea, and lucky to get off so lightly.
The very next weekend I did it again, this time with Val. We went off after breakfast and I took her to my school where we played in the playground (where else?) all the morning. Then I took her over the field to look at Chesham Bois church. We had a scout around and found a flight of steps going down a hill in the woods. After playing on these, and the Chesham Shuttle railway line for a few hours, we walked back to the school. Val was very tired by then and it was late. We walked back to Chesham Bois as it got dark and I decided that we’d sleep in the bushes behind the War Memorial for the night. We were starving and Val cried a lot.
Early the next morning we were found and taken home where I faced the wrath of Mum again. I wasn’t allowed out without her for a month and I had another hiding for good measure. Once again there had been a big hunt for us and messages had gone out over the radio.
But no punishment seemed to deter me from my desire to see what was over the horizon for, while I was still under orders to stay in the camp area, I took off with Kay, Uncle Frank's eldest daughter. We were eventually found, after the usual hue and cry and much searching by the local folk, near my school again. I only saw Uncle Frank get cross with me a few times - and this was one of those times. He warned me not to take off with any of his children again or I would be in 'real trouble'. After another good hiding and more threats from Mum, I had wondered what Uncle Frank's 'real trouble' would be like!
Then I was expelled from that same school two weeks later. I clearly remember the events that led up to that expulsion and I wonder how I, who had been brought up proper so far, could have done such a thing.
It was playtime at school and I wanted to urinate. Instead of going into the toilets, I started to do it in the playground. Some of the young girls, quite naturally, were disgusted and said so. Immediately I chased them, trying to wet them down (dampen their ardour?) by aiming the stream their way. The teacher in charge of the playground saw all this, chased after me and I was quickly 'nobbled' for my crime. I was told to sit on a tall, three-legged stool and that’s where I stayed for the rest of the day, until Mum came to collect me that afternoon, when she was told the story of the wicked events that had ended in my expulsion. We didn’t stop to look at the church that day and, once again, I was in the dog-house!
on the right.
The following Monday I was unleashed onto another unsuspecting school. This time it was The Amersham Common School (St. George’s School now). This school is situated by Black Horse Bridge, in White Lion Road, roughly the same distance the other side of Amersham from the camp. Pat Wilkes, one of the older girls from the camp, had the job of delivering me safely to the school and we had to go there and back by public bus. This was great and, after a couple of days I detached myself from Pat and rode with children of my own age - I suspect that Pat was glad to get me off her back!
That first day I arrived to find there were deep trenches right outside of the school where workmen were laying pipes or something. There were no backhoes for digging in those days. The men, using shovels, were filling large buckets, that were hauled up out of the trench by little red cranes, and the dirt was tipped onto the pavement. At playtime I went outside and looked through the fence to watch the operations when, who should I see working there but Mr. Kissman. I waved to him and became an instant celebrity with my new classmates when he handed me a scalding tin mug of tea which I shared around.
Mrs. Cruickshank was our teacher and the classroom was an old tin hut painted green. She was a lovely woman and she kept us amused with paints, crayons, numbers and letters. She also knew a lot of games and always seemed to be on the go trying to make things interesting and exciting.
A person who needs a mention here was our `Lollipop Man’ (in those days the ‘School-crossing Man’). I’ll always remember Mr. Griffin. He was a tall, thin, kindly old man with a big silver moustache. He always wore a black suit and trilby hat. He was always happy and his booming voice was very loud as he joked with us. This was enough to make us children adore him but he went one better. He never failed, daily, to have a big bag of Dolly Mixtures and made sure each of us had one as we crossed the road, regardless of how many of us there were, or the length of time he kept cars waiting. In return, all we had to do was obey his road rules and signals. He was a wonderful person.
Back at home, Mr. Kissman decided to build a duck pond in the garden opposite the front door. It was about two metres long by one and a half metres wide by thirty centimetres deep. It had a ramp so that the ducks could get in and out easily. Soon we had little yellow baby ducks squeaking all around the pond.
One morning in the early summer Mum got us up very early. It was still dark and everything seemed quiet and strangely muffled. We had breakfast to the monotonous tone of the radio’s coastal forecast, grabbed our bags and cases that Mum had packed the night before and went outside in the cool, misty dawn. We walked out to the main road and waited about ten minutes, then a cream-coloured tipper-lorry came along and stopped.
This was Mr. Kissman’s works lorry, the same one that picked him up for work each morning and brought him home each night. Mum, Val, and I were helped up into the tipper body and, hanging on tightly, with the wind blowing through our hair and dust going into our eyes, we careered down to Amersham station. This was all very exciting for me. The lorry stopped outside the station, we were helped down, and the lorry drove off with the workmen and Mr. Kissman waving goodbye. Mum purchased the little green train tickets and we struggled onto the station platform with our luggage, to wait for the train to London. Then Mum told Val and I that we were going for a holiday to the Isle of Wight. I was suddenly nearly sick with happiness and excitement.
In the distance, the dirty, black, London Transport steam engine appeared through the haze with six light-brown varnished carriages in tow. It clanked into the station amid great clouds of hissing steam and billowing smoke. With a final squeal of brakes, it stopped and the noise changed to a quiet burble and the slamming of doors. We hopped into one of the single compartments, threw our luggage up onto the net racks, Val and I bagged window seats and, as the guard blew his whistle, the train jolted into motion.
Amersham station slipped from our view to the muffled chuffing of the engine as we built up speed. The smell of the steam and smoke wafted into the window to mix with the aroma of stale cigarette ash. There were no corridors on the train and we had the compartment all to ourselves. I remember how sickly ecstatic I felt. There was a thunderous roar as we rode over Black Horse Bridge and below on the right, was my school looking strange seeing it from the high embankment for the first time. But my attention was soon diverted by other things as we hurried on down off the Chiltern Hills towards London. At Rickmansworth, the black steam locomotive was changed for a red electric-powered locomotive and we click-clacked on up the line.
On nearing London, we rode through long grimy tunnels and only saw daylight now and again through gaps between tunnels and buildings above. The lights came on inside the compartments but were dimmed to nothing by the great blue flashes caused by the brushes as the train picked up the electric power from the third line.
Sometimes the brushes would go off the line at points and all the lights would go out, leaving us in total darkness for a second until they hit the next length of third rail. What an adventure this was! We arrived at Baker’s Street station (or was it Marylebone?) in London, and got off the train. The electric locomotive looked very quiet and placid for something that had just rushed us the thirty odd miles to London.
We joined the other passengers in the walk along the big platform towards the underground station, myself swapping the heavy bag from hand to hand as each arm ached with the weight. I’d never heard the sound of so many feet tapping and slapping on the floor like that before and the big area of the station seemed to make the noise louder. There was a continuous echoing noise of announcers, slamming doors, whistles, and trains.
Suddenly the people dropped away in front of us down a very brightly lit tunnel. We were at the top of the first escalator I can remember. It seemed to vanish into the very bowels of the earth. Mum showed us how to step onto the moving staircase and my heavy bag nearly pulled me off balance in my lunging efforts to do it right, but we all got safely on and the stairs took us down. The handrail moved as well, amazing to my young mind, and I leaned on it and looked down towards the bottom.
The lights seemed to get dimmer down below and I'd realised that there was a smoke haze. I look back now and think of the fires of hell. The wind from the fresh air system was like a gale and blew my hair all over the place. Then we were down and Mum quickly showed us how to jump off. It seemed funny to be on firm ground. I looked back up the escalator tunnel and the lights seemed to get dimmer up the tunnel now and those down where we were shone very brightly. I hadn’t expected that, but it was all a part of learning - I wonder if the modern-day London Underground traveller still sees the same effect now that steam trains are long gone!
We stood on the underground station platform and waited a few minutes, then there was a noisy rush of air on the right and a red train burst with a roar from the dark mouth of the tunnel and squealed to a stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the doors of the train opened on their own, I almost left my bag behind in my wonder. We stepped aboard, the doors shut, and off we went into the tunnel with, what seemed like to me, a tremendous burst of speed. The station vanished in a blur of lights through the window to be replaced by the blackness of the tunnel walls. There were large dirty cables along those walls and they sagged between supports, the lights from the train shone on them as we rushed along and those cables seemed to go up and down. What a strange new world!
It only took a few minutes to travel between stations so there was plenty of variety to keep my young mind interested. We passed under the River Thames (although I didn’t know it at the time) and soon the train stopped at a station and we all struggled off. There was another ride on an escalator, this time going up, and I looked for the dim lights in both directions. The hop-on and hop-off was managed with ease, Mum telling us when, and soon we were up in a vast station with many platforms and a dozen green trains waiting for the 'off'. If I had thought that other station was noisy, this one was worse and the place was crowded with people going on holiday or about their business.
This was Waterloo Station. Mum asked a porter the way to our next train and soon we were walking down the platform beside that long train looking for empty seats. Near the front we found a compartment with a small family already occupying it and we climbed in with them. Once again Val and I were lucky and got a window seat each. It seemed ages before the train moved, but finally we looked out of the window and saw the platform quietly gliding past.
Once away from the platform there was a lot of jolting and banging as we rode over countless points and crossrails. I’d never seen so many railway lines placed side by side, but soon we were swaying at a good pace down through south London and out into the country and we settled down to watch the ever-changing scenery. A couple of hours later the train stopped at another large station.
This was Portsmouth and once more we joined a crowd of people hurrying along a platform. We went through a barrier and onto another platform in the open daylight and there, right in the front of us, was a ship and Mum steered us towards the gangway. I could hardly believe that all this was happening.
The ship, although only a small paddle steamer, looked enormous to me and I’ll always remember crossing The Solent to the Isle of Wight that day. There were many warships out on the water, including a large aircraft carrier on which I could see aeroplanes with yellow paint on the propellers. We left our luggage in a corner and Mum helped us explore the vessel from stem to stern. As we looked down into the water we could see thousands of little fish darting away from the ship’s wake. The paddle wheels had me almost hypnotised as they forced the ship forward, creating plenty of white froth as each blade dipped into the water. The swishing and splashing of the water was very loud. At the stern it was comparatively quieter but the smoke from the high funnel wafted down and the smell was similar to the steam train smell we’d been sniffing most of the morning. Mum took us below and I remember that she showed us a window below the water-line. On looking through that window, all I could see was green water with a few bubbles going by. The green was light as I looked up, but very dark as I looked down into the depths.
The mainland receded into a thick, irregular blue line through the haze and the houses and countryside took shape in front of us. Soon the boat slowed down and was manoeuvred to finally tie up at the end of a long pier. This was Ryde pier. We collected our luggage and once again joined the crowd. Down the gangway we struggled, onto the pier, then climbed aboard a small green train for the ride along the pier into town. As we rumbled slowly along the track above the sea, I looked back and could see the white paddle steamer, with its yellow and black funnel, quietly berthed beside the pier. I believe that steamer was actually named `Ryde’ after one of the resorts it plied between, the resort we were now standing in.
Our next form of transport in this exciting hectic day of travel would be a bus. We headed for a line of them after stepping off the little train and found one that would take us to Freshwater on the opposite end of the island. We piled our luggage into the luggage area under the stairs and hurried up to the top deck to get the front seats. These were already taken so we sat half way down the bus and I was allowed to sit by the window. We left the line of green buses and rode out of the town into the beautiful green rolling countryside heading for Newport. Val and I were both tired now and it wasn’t long before the slow and steady progress of the bus caused us to nod off. I awoke a bit more refreshed at Newport and managed to stay awake for the rest of the journey.
Carrying on, we eventually reached Yarmouth. There was a car ferry berthed at the quay and many yachts in the harbour. The bridge over the river there has quite a hump in the middle and it was a great feeling to be up high over the water with our bus struggling to get up one side, then suddenly speeding down the other. The sea was visible on the right and the high downs in the distance on the left. There was so much to see. Finally we arrived, all very tired, at Freshwater and there was Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob to meet us. We were to stay with them for our holiday.
Auntie Eun was my Nan’s sister. Uncle Bob, her husband, was a shepherd at one of the local farms. Their family name was Grimes. Once more the three of us shook off our ever-increasing fatigue and there was a joyous minute of cuddles and greetings. Then, with Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob helping with the luggage, we set off to walk the one and a half miles to their home at Afton. I don’t remember much about that walk but we arrived safely just on darkness and I had the time to record the fact that the house was lit by oil lamps before I was led upstairs to a spotlessly clean bedroom with little windows. I was put to bed in one of the softest beds I’ve ever been in and quickly snuggled down. Contentedly I fell into a deep sleep, still thinking about the journey we’d just completed, the excitement and how it had taken from dawn until dusk to reach our destination. The whole journey was probably no more than one hundred and twenty miles (less than two hundred kilometres), but to me it had seemed a very long way.
Whilst on the island for that holiday we were absolutely spoilt by Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob. Each morning we were given an early breakfast before we’d set out to explore the countryside or visit some of our island relatives. I remember one foggy morning, when we packed up a picnic and walked from Afton to Freshwater Bay to spend the day beside the sea. We could hear the fog horn of the Needles lighthouse on the western tip of the island and I begged Mum to take me to see it. Mum said that the lighthouse was on the list of places we were to look at. I could hardly wait.
Freshwater Bay has a pebble beach but we had a wonderful day there exploring the rock-pools and splashing in the cold sea of the English Channel. In the evening of that day we visited a family at Norton Green nearby. I remember the water that came from their tap was very salty and when the lady (I can’t remember who the family were) kindly offered us a nice big red juicy apple, she washed them under the tap, then had to wipe all the salty drops off before we could eat them.
This was the pattern of that wonderful holiday and the adventures never seemed to end to a youngster like myself. We went to Colwell Bay and made beautiful sand-castles on a stretch of golden sand that seemed to go on for miles. There was a sea wall on the right with an old fort at the far end that looked very interesting. I didn’t know then that I’d have a real adventure in that fort a few years later. We went to Totland Bay, and we went to Yarmouth, where I spent most of the day watching the car ferries come in and out from Lymington on the mainland. We went shopping in Freshwater town, and I remember that Mum bought me a small truck with a tiny fairground merry-go-round on the back, as I pushed the truck along the merry-go-round turned, throwing the swings and little chairs out just like the real thing.
One evening we had a visit from Auntie Eun’s and Uncle Bob’s son and family. The son’s name was Albert, and his wife’s name was Dorothy. As usual, we had to call them Uncle and Auntie respectively. Bert and Doll (as I would call them when I grew up) had a daughter named Sheila, and she and I played happily together with the little truck while they were there.
I hadn’t forgotten about the lighthouse, but neither had Mum. One morning we walked into Freshwater, caught the bus to Alum Bay, climbed to the top of some cliffs and there, across the small bay below, was the lighthouse, perched on the end of white chalk pinnacles of rock. It didn’t look very big out there but, I was happy to see it and amazed that such a small thing could make the loud, very mysterious noise that I’d heard that morning through the fog when we were going to Freshwater Bay.
Alum Bay itself was very interesting. After climbing down the cliffs by a steep and slippery path, we crunched along the pebble beach and I could see people climbing up the face of those same frightening cliffs we’d stood on top of a while ago. Mum pointed out that the cliffs were made of compacted sand, and the sand had veins of colours running through it. Those people were climbing up the cliff face with bottles, to try and reach each different colour so as they could scrape a layer of each colour into the bottle. The effect was quite good, just as if someone had painted pastel-coloured rings around the outside of the bottle.
Years later, due to the undermining of thousands of people collecting bottles of sand, the cliff face gradually becoming dangerous, and people being injured by falls of sand from overhead, the technique would be done by experts and the public banned from climbing the cliffs for their own safety. Now you can buy all manners of glass ornaments with amazing patterns of coloured sand inside. But at the time of my story people climbed up and filled their own bottles. Even my adventurous nature stalled at the thought of climbing all up those cliffs and I turned my attention to the sea, the lighthouse and the scrumptious picnic that Mum and Auntie Eun had brought along.
And so our holiday continued until it was time to go home. The whole journey to that little cottage in Afton was reversed with the same excitement, crowds, noise, and changes of transport as we’d done at the start of that glorious trip.
We arrived home just as it was getting dark but, although Val and I were tired, we wanted to go out and play for a while and Mum let us go for ten minutes while she made the tea. We dashed out towards the path around the green. Then, suddenly, through the gathering darkness I saw a white line showing clearly against the dark background of the now almost black grass where the path should have been. It looked like a low fence rail. We stopped and tried to distinguish what it was. Finally, I walked over to the feint light line and tried to step over it, raising my legs high so as not to be tripped up. But, there was no fence. It was a white guide line down the side of a newly-tarred track that had replaced the path around the green. The council had built this track while we were on holiday. The next day we found that they’d also re-surfaced the square and entrance road into the camp.
About this time, Auntie Joyce gave birth to a third child. This time it was a boy and they named him Brian.
I slipped into hospital to have a small operation. I remember Mum coming to visit me in Amersham Hospital and myself pulling the bedclothes down and telling her that the blankets there had made me very sore. I didn’t realise that I’d had an operation as I had been anaesthetised.
While this was all going on, Valerie had been quite ill and the doctor said that a few weeks by the sea with other people might do her good. He suggested a convalescent home in Hastings. Mum packed her clothes, bathed us both earlier than usual and put us to bed straight away. As soon as she did that, I knew that I would be going on the trip the next morning as well. I was so excited that I couldn’t get to sleep, I lay awake for hours.
Suddenly, it was morning, I had finally dropped off. Instantly, I was fully awake and ecstatic with joy at the thought of the coming journey. The whole process of getting up to London was almost the same as when we had gone to the Isle of Wight, except that we caught a bus down to Amersham station instead of the lorry.
This time Mum decided to take us on one of the big red London buses instead of the underground tube train and we walked out of the station towards the bus stop. It had been raining but the sun was now peeping through blue patches in amongst the white clouds. Suddenly, a lorry came racing along the road and, before Mum could do anything, it drove straight through a puddle, almost drowning Val in the great splash of water. Her little pink suit was ruined and I could see that Mum was very sad and upset.
We reached Hastings with no more problems and Mum took us to the beach for a while. We could see the castle through the foggy mist, perched on the top of the cliffs with the lifts going up and down the cliff face from the bottom to the sea-facing entrance, way up high amongst the stone blocks of the castle.
We left Val at the home and returned to Amersham. I believe that it was on the return trip that we rode on a London tram. Mum now says that she rode on so many London trams before they were withdrawn that she can’t recall if we rode on one that day or not. But I can clearly recall riding on a London tram with her and I have always connected it with that trip.
It seemed funny without Val, but, a month later, Mum and I did the whole journey again to bring her back home.
Shortly after this, Mr. Kissman was looking after Val and I and we had both gone to bed although it was still very light. I cannot now remember what I did, but he came into my bedroom, pulled me out of bed and laid about me with a large, thick, rippled sole off a shoe. He thrashed me from the back of my neck to the back of my knees until I fell to the floor in numbed shock. He then went out and left me to it. Later, I crawled into bed wishing my Mum was home and finally drifted off into a pain-racked sleep.
I didn’t hear Mum come home (she’d been to work) but I can remember the shocked look on her face when she came to wake me the next morning and saw me, still laying there on my stomach, with the swollen bruises and weals from that ripple sole all over the back of my body. She didn’t say anything to Mr. Kissman, she bundled me up in the sheet and blanket, told Val to follow us and we went out of the camp, caught the bus to Amersham, and went straight to the doctor’s.
Doctor Howell was our doctor and a wonderful friend to us children on the camp. We adored him and so did our Mums. Not only was he a good sport and doctor, he was handsome with it. He owned a big, maroon Standard Vanguard car and, nearly every day he’d be up at the camp for someone or other. He always leaned cheerfully out of the car window to wave to us children if he saw us around. Doctor Howell’s surgery was situated at Oakfield Corner in Amersham, in the corner of Rectory Hill and Chesham Road and it was to this surgery that Mum carried me that morning.
I can only remember stripping off in the surgery, twisting round to look at my buttocks and seeing some of the red, purple, and blue wheals across the lower rear of my body. Goodness knows what my back must have looked like! Then I can recall nothing, until, what could have been the same day or a week later, we were home again and Mum and Mr. Kissman were fighting.
I remember how he lifted my Mum up by the throat and forced her backwards over the sideboard to try and break her back. Both Val and I rushed at him. He smashed Val in the nose, causing blood to spurt everywhere, and kicked me across the room. My back was still painful and he was a big brute, we needed reinforcements. I ran out of the front door as hard as I could. Soon I was running in again behind Uncle Frank and he quickly restored order. Auntie Joyce had run up behind us and set to work bathing our wounds and bandaging us up. It must have looked like a field dressing station on a film set of the first world war. Mum had terrible cuts and grazes on her back and cuts everywhere. Val had a black eye, swollen nose, and face. And I had further bruises and cuts added to my body. All this was caused because he’d decided to give me a thrashing.
Chances are that I had done something bad enough to be punished and things had got out of hand. Mr. Kissman packed up and left us for good that same day. But, I would bump into him again as I grew older, and we would eventually become friends.
The Amersham Historical Museum has a Beech Barn Camp section (including Hodgemoor, Piper’s Wood and the other temporary housing camps) on their so wonderful and interesting website. Please, if you have any stories or photographs that you feel could be added for the interest of future generations, don't be afraid to get in touch with the good folk of the museum who are making every effort to ensure that as much as possible is recorded. Click here if you would like to visit the website.
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