Sunday 5 June 2016

The farmer gave us a big bag of eating apples and the sun was shining

The text in italics is a memoir of family holidays handwritten on three sides of notepaper by Winifred Butler, found a long time afterwards. Alan Butler, her son, comments and adds his own recollections. As told to Mike Butler II (Winifred is my grandmother, and Alan is my father).  

Another day, we were looking for a site by a stream [this is how it starts, so this is evidently a fragment of a larger text], it started to rain and the little stream became a river, we had to move to the roadway. Frank went in one direction, Dad for a British Legion Club and was told he could sleep under the billiard table. Frank came back. He had found a farm which we decided on. The farmer was most kind. He had a little table, a lantern and told us to be very careful. We hung our wet capes and coats on hooks. Two old bedsprings were laid on the floor, a pile of clean sacks and a big pile of straw, and we soon had comfortable beds, all in a row, four adults and five children.

It was our second holiday in the New Forest. This would be 1947, I think. See now, I didn’t want to go. And so as an incentive for me to go, she said my pal could come with me. I could invite my friend along. I would be about 13. They said Les Watford could come, and so Mike [brother] said I want my pal. It was David Eames.

Alan had Les Watford and Mike brought Dave Eames. Frank had made a good trailer and Alan’s bike was the only one suitable [to pull it]… 

Uncle Frank had made this trailer, and taken a trial run in it and he didn’t like it. So my dad bought it from him. And I was towing it. We’d just set off, and because it was laden – it had three tents in it plus all the kitchen stuff and it was really piled high – part of the trailer broke. 

What happened, see, you had two bicycle wheels. There was a bracket on the box side, an angle bracket, with a hole in it where the spindle went in. But the other side, you had to have a band that went round the edge of the wheel – do you follow? – to carry the other side of the spindle. Well he’d made it at work, in the shipyard, and it was only ever light metal, it wasn’t very thick, and the weight was too great, and it snapped. And so we had to dismantle it and then Dad and I went back to Beaulieu, which was about four or five miles away, to the blacksmith there. And he did a really good job and he didn't charge my Dad that much. It was only about two pounds. But the blacksmith made the hole too small for the spindle, and so my Dad and my Uncle Frank sat there on the edge of the road with their penknives reaming the steel out to make the hole bigger for the spindle to go in. And they did it. 

Mike and Alan as boys, or boy scouts 

And we’d left our first campsite, and set off for the other side of the Forest, and then it started to rain.

Frank went in one direction, Dad for a British Legion Club and was told he could sleep under the billiard table…

I’d forgotten about the British Legion actually, but we continued and we came to this farm. And, as she says, it was pouring with rain, and so my dad asked this farmer could we go in a barn? And so he said yes. And so we went into this barn, and, as she says, we all bedded down in our sleeping bags in the straw there. And it was dark when we went in, see. We had to use a torch because the farmer wouldn’t give us a lamp with the straw. Any rate, we all managed and bedded down because we were all shattered, and glad to get into a nice, warm sleeping-bag. And in the morning the chickens woke up. We were in this barn, see. Well of course, they didn’t know we were there, and there was a cockerel. 

To my surprise a magnificent cockerel looked at us from the rafters, surprise on his face, and opened his beak. “Cock-a… cock-a… cocka-doodledoo” at the third attempt.

The cockerel started his morning chirp, ““Cocka-cocka-doooo!” Because he had the shock of seeing all these people laying there. That is completely true. This cockerel. ““Cocka-cocka-doooo!” At the third attempt actually. That’s how the bird went. It wasn’t full thrust. He just made the “doooo”. That’s what happened. It was in the morning, the crack of dawn. It would be daylight, round about five o’clock or something like that. We were all lying there in our sleeping-bags. I’d forgotten about the mattresses, lined with springs, so some of us had some comfort, with us youngsters on the straw.  

[And, just to set it down straight, the party consisted of Win and Henry (parents), Frank and Nell (uncle and aunt), and (junior division) Alan, Mike, Reg, Les Watford and Dave Eames.] 

What big appetites Les and Dave had. Our breakfast was a billy can of porridge followed by fried bread sausages, eggs or anything we had. The boys took turns in having the frying pan for a plate. Every day the slices got thinner and marge just a mere scrape.

It was the bank holiday, and of course we’d all eat a lot, and so I had to go with Aunt Nell and Mum, and me with the trailer, into Beaulieu and fill up with loaves. 

Henry, Win, Nell and Frank outside 14 London Road, September 1959 

One place there was a baker, lovely bread, on a bank holiday weekend we ordered six big loaves. They filled the trailer. 

The whole trailer was nearly full up with loaves. And not sliced bread in those days, just ordinary loaves. And my mother, she used to cut a loaf, she used to slice it, that way [gestures horizontal direction]. My mother always cut it that way. And those slices were pristine. They were three-eighths of an inch thick, and straight right the way across. I’ve never seen anyone else cut bread like my mother used to cut it. And she was quite quick at it as well. 

Les’s mother gave us extra rations. It was still ration books and Dave’s father worked on buildings and got extra rations of cheese which were very welcome. 

Mrs Eames’ husband worked on a building site, and they were given an allocation, more cheese, to make themselves sandwiches, see. And the Watfords kept pigs, but they could not give the meat away. When a pig was slaughtered, there had to be an inspector there, and then the pig was butchered, and part of it was given to them and their next-door neighbour (who was in with them). But they could not give any meat away. That was one of the regulations. But Mrs Watford gave my mum a big gammon. Does she mention that? No, she doesn’t. She just mentions about the cheese.  

Rationing finished with the Coronation, that’s 1952. Sweets was the last thing to be rationed. We had it really bad after the War. We were getting Lease Lend from America, and when the war finished that stopped. We were harder up then. My father bred rabbits. He gave a rabbit to each of the family, and that was their Christmas dinner. There were no chickens available. Eggs! 1941, my mother is expecting Reg. It’s the back end of the year, December. Because she was pregnant, she was allocated one egg. One egg! [An interjection: per week?] Nooo! [Per month?] Nooo! Because she was pregnant, she was allocated one egg! So what she did, she got this one egg, and she scrambled it, and she gave half to Mike and half to myself. And when I told Reg this story (because my mother, she’s the one who told me this story), and when I told this story to Reg, he said, “I feel deprived. I should have had that egg!”

When we went camping with just our boys we took a small spade. I found a quiet spot, toilet roll under one arm and we were always careful to leave the turf well patted down.

In those days they gave you instructions. You could camp anywhere in the New Forest but you had to be so far away from running water when you had to use the toilet, which is understandable. And so my father – we’d taken this canvas – and he’d put up a little cover, and there was a hole. I dug the hole. Dug a hole quite deep – it would be about two foot plus deep (they told you what depth to dig the hole) – and a pile of soil beside it. Two posts got knocked in with a board. And so you perched yourself on the board, and did a number two in this hole. And then when you’d finished, you got the spade which was beside there, a folding up spade it was, and you got the spade and you sprinkled some soil over, to stop the flies getting to it. And then when you finished, you filled it all in, and turfed it over. Put the turf back over the top of it. 

Any rate, me Mum was always a bit embarrassed, because she was the only lady at this particular time, amongst all these lads, five boys and the father [oh, what happened to Aunt Nell and Uncle Frank?]. And so she went early in the morning and there was a little hole in this canvas and she was peeping out of this canvas there, and lo and behold, a kingfisher landed on the branch right where she was watching. It was the first time she’d ever seen a kingfisher bird. And then he dived out of sight, and then came back with a fish in his beak, and he went to that branch and bashed it, the fish, knocked it unconscious, and flew off. Now I’ve never seen a kingfisher. It’s the one bird I’ve never seen. 

Another day, we were really low on food, there was a sign ‘Post Office’. We went in the house, the front room was a big room, a log fire burning, two armchairs by the fire, two huge beautiful cats asleep in them. We asked if there was anywhere to buy food. They said, “A van comes round each week…” Each week! The local shop! “… and a bus comes once a fortnight…”  

Oh blimey! What is the name of the place? The other side of Kirklevington. Ahh! The Ship is there. The Ship. Worsall. There was a friend of your mum’s there in the choir. He lived the other side of Worsall. He’s coming one day into Yarm (he was telling us this story), and there was this man (it was during the week) standing at the bus stop there. And so he stopped. So the man said, “Oh, I’m glad you stopped,” he said. “Can you tell me when the next bus is?” He said, “Yes, Saturday.” This is true, this. He said, “How far is it to the nearest town?” “Oh,” he says, “it’s about four miles away.” He said, “Get in the car, I’m going and I’ll give you a lift.” His lorry had broken down, and there he was wanting to get into town, you know.

A bus comes once a fortnight. Once a fortnight! Blimey, that’s worse than this bloke. Well we cycled on and we were down to some lard and bread and runner beans. We went on and found this van in one of the villages. It carried everything, shelves well stocked with 2 big cans of paraffin hanging on the back on the back. We were then well stocked up and in another village was a fish and chip van. What a lovely smell, and they were very good. 

There was another story too, a bit different. We were out cycling one Sunday and we were at Titchfield, down in Fareham there. And there was this fish and chip shop, and there was a big sign up outside, just in chalk: ICE CREAM.  And we went in there. And Dad said to us, “Would you all like an ice cream?” See, so he went in there and bought these ice creams. They were about threepence each, something like that. And they were gorgeous! My father wasn’t one for chucking out money, but do you know what he said? “Would you all like another one?” 

We all said yes, so he went back into the shop and he bought us another ice cream. So we had two ice creams. Gorgeous! Oh, gorgeous they were! 

When the war was over, we went to London by coach. 

There’s a lot missing here. Now she didn’t mention the first holiday. The first holiday was, I think, 1945. We went to London by rail. We had to go into Waterloo, and then come back again on a local train. and we went and stayed with relations of my mum, second cousins. When you think of it, her father had 16 brothers and sisters, so there were plenty of cousins to go around. As I say, they were kind, and put us up for the week. They gave a break for my father and a bit of excitement for us. My brother can’t remember their names either. But Mike remembered that the two of us had to sleep in a shed. And Mum, Dad and Reg would have had a bedroom in this little terraced house. I’ve got a feeling we weren’t there a full week. It might have just been five days. We arrived on the Monday and left on the Friday. 

And then the next year we went by coach, as Mum quotes here. The first time the coaches might have not been running. Directly after the War, they suspended the Express service to London, and then re-started it. So that could have been the next year. And we stopped in a bed and breakfast near Victoria Station, not far from Westminster Cathedral. It was so strange, because the day we went hunting for Westminster Cathedral, we started in the Westminster Abbey area and got direction after direction, and when we eventually found it, it was only a stone’s throw from our bed and breakfast. We went to Mass, when she found out it was so close, at least once or twice.

That same time there was a very strong gusty wind blowing in London, and we were all walking along a street, and my father was typically smoking a cigarette, and a piece of hot ash blew off the tip of his cigarette and went into his eye. Now you remember that my father wore glasses, and so it went under the glasses and into his eye. It burned straight into his eye. He tried to ignore it, but it must have been agony, and the next day, I remember, he called on an optician. And this optician, he cut the top film of the eye, and removed this piece of ash that was embedded in my father’s eye. 

Oh and I got up early in the morning, because my parents were in one bedroom and us three lads were in another room. Reg might even have been with them then, in a small bed. Mike and myself were in our own bedroom. Any rate, one morning I got dressed, and went out wandering, and then this foreign woman stopped me. She came out of her bedroom. I remember she was in her dressing gown. She came out of her bedroom door. What she came out for, I don’t know. But the next thing she collars me, stops me, and then thrusts a pair of shoes in my hand. She thought I was the boot boy! Then she went back to her own bedroom there, after she said something in, more likely, French. I was stunned by this. I just put her shoes back by her door and left. 

Does she mention about a holiday in Wales? Reg may remember. Reg was the only one who went with them. They stayed at a farm. 

Just outside Monmouth we passed a lane, at the entrance it said, ‘Bed and Breakfast’. Farmer, his wife and son. Reg followed the farmer everywhere, very interested when the little calf had to be fed, the farmer put his arm in a pail of milk and the little animal sucked up the milk up off his fingers. His wife was a wonderful cook, lovely pastry. There were a couple of lads from Australia, one held the cat, the other held the dog. I was sure the cat would scratch the dog’s eyes. I started screaming. Mrs Farmer came in with a washing tea towel and the two pets made a dash for the door. I think we were there for a week. 

It might have been just over a week, and it was two guineas a night. Does she mention that? Two guineas a night. That’s two pounds and two shillings. When it came to the end, see, the bill was twelve pounds sixty pence (in our present currency). At that time a tradesman’s wage was fifteen pounds a week.

Well the farmer’s wife panicked. Because she hadn’t handled that much money, see. To the extent that she said to my father, “Now you’ve got to cycle back to Portsmouth, you might need this money, Mr Butler. What I want you to do is when you get home, send me a postal order.” No cheques in those days. My father wouldn’t have a cheque any rate. He wouldn’t go anywhere near a bank. She said, “Send me a postal order for the money.” And my father said to her, he said, “No. I knew how much it was going to cost me when we booked in. And the money is here, set aside for you.” She took the money, and more than likely this thirteen pounds that he gave her was the most she’d seen for a long time, perhaps, in one go. She didn’t want the money. That was what she said to him, “Send me a postal order.” Now they want your money before you go in the door. 

She took coupons out of one book only and when Dad asked for the bill she said, “You need not pay me now. Any time you can send the money.” But dad thanked her and said how much we had enjoyed ourselves. We left with a big bag of eating apples. When we arrived there we had hung our dripping wet clothes on the wall and I left my peaked cap with a very good head square folded inside to keep out the rain. (Mum forgot to add that she posted it to her and it was waiting for her when we arrived home.) At that time Alan was in lodgings in Middlesbro’ . (That bit’s correct). Mike working for G.E.C. with Aunt Else looking after him at London Road. He wasn’t! He was working at Vospers at the time. 

There was one time when we, Mike and myself, went to stay at Aunt Else in Hart Plain Avenue when Mum and Dad and Reg went away, but it wasn’t this trip, because I was in Middlesbrough when this one happened. I know because I’d just moved up here that year. 1955. Mike was going to go into the RAF, the airforce, to do his National Service, but he’d had the motorcycle accident (he was taking this friend, who was in the Merchant Navy, to Southampton), they changed the job that they had him down for for a desk job, perhaps thinking he wasn’t fit enough to do it, and he objected to a desk job, and went into the Merchant Navy.

I wonder who remembers Dad hiring a boat, petrol driven. We sailed happily along in the middle of the Thames. Along comes a smart boat with crew and the captain put his megaphone to his mouth. “Keep to the right of the river.” 

No, I don’t remember. I wasn’t there.

Oh my my. She did very well, and she’s brought back a lot of memories for me, but there’s still mistakes and additions. These were just notes for the book she was going to write. 

Win (Gran), Mike (grandson/son), Alan (Dad) circa 80s 

Coming next: D-Day!



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