My father (a guardsman in the Black Horse) had just returned to this Country from South Africa and we went to live at HAWKHURST. But my earliest memory is of him catching scarlet fever and running away from the hospital. He had apparently crossed wet fields in just his nightshirt but he survived and soon after we moved to FRITTENDEN.
My father was very fond of horses and worked for a family as a groom until rumours of war caused him to be called up. The last I saw of him for many years was his marching away with the horses to CANTERBURY where he was transferred to the Army Veterinary Corps.
On our moving to TONBRIDGE I was sent to the SUSSEX ROAD School and my memories of it are enjoyable. As the eldest of 4 brothers and 2 sisters our name was quite well known. One of my brothers (Harold) was great at Cross Country running and led the School to many victories over the locals.
Although the teachers seemed to be hard they were fair. I felt that any punishment meted out was deserved. The headmaster Mr McFarlane was noted for his cane. We all said that he preserved it in all sorts of things to keep it flexible, from oil to candle grease, but whatever it was it hurt just the same whether on the hands or on the behind. The woodwork and metalwork master was good but inclined to lose his temper quickly, but where tools were concerned he taught us the right way. If he caught you hitting the end of a screwdriver or a chisel with a hammer you can bet your knuckles would be sore. The sports master was an ex guardsman and often reminded us of it, but he did manage to make something of us, either on the sports field or in the gymnasium.
In the early days of the war we began to see soldiers all over the town. These were being billeted in old shops or on families who had room to spare.
I do remember my mother taking washing in for some of them and it was my job to collect and return it. I forget how much they paid, very little I know, but as things were bad it made it a little bit better for my mother. She had a large family, with Dad away in France. I remember queuing up at the “Maypole, Liptons and Home and Colonial” for whatever we could get, but my mother always had something for us and it was good. One of my favourite walks was to the Slaughter house, not only to see the animals killed but to get some bones for a stew and if I was lucky to get a Pig’s Bladder which made a nice football, or some Rinds which made lovely brawn.
Those years during the war were hard, but we grew up with it and managed to cope, but I’m sure we children grew up a little too fast. Between the ages of 9 –10 I was more than capable of looking after myself, in fact, one had to or else. It was the law of self-preservation and I was glad of that in later years.
As the war went on things began to get worse, food, clothing etc. was very short and mother had to fight hard to keep my sisters and brothers clothed. Nothing was wasted and I am sure some of my clothes finished up with my youngest brother.
By now I had begun to listen to stories of the war and as the troop movement in town was very much in evidence it was obvious to me that things were very bad indeed. Some how it had the effect of making me more military minded. I used to watch them on parade and even go to the old “sand pit” to try and find old bits of grenades or even bullets. This pit was at the top of the Quarry Hill on the Lambs Bank or Lambsey bank and was a high bank used by the troops as a range etc. It actually belonged to the Brick Co. and employees of the company used the cottages. Oddly enough it was the home of my future wife, although I did not know it at the time. It was also the home of Slipper and Bee orchids.
The Lambs bank or Lambsey as it was called was the venue of the local sports – football and cricket but it was such a steep bank that anyone unlucky to be fielding on the rise was unlucky if the ball went that way because it was a certain 10 minutes to retrieve it.
During the winter and it was a certainty for snow, people from all around came to take part in the sledge races using everything from mother’s tin tea tray to a sheet of iron bent up at the front. There were a number of casualties with one lad having an ear torn off and two others had near escapes from drowning being unable to stop and finished up in the pond at the bottom of the hill.
Like all lads I wanted to earn a copper or two and found myself a job delivering papers twice a day, before and after school. I had to walk the lot, Pembury Post Office, The Drive etc. but some how one felt satisfied with doing it and I suppose proud that I was helping at home.
Things were pretty tight and the war was dragging on but some how we managed. The news of the war started to get better and I remember my mother telling me it would soon be over but on that occasion I was up Quarry Hill and I saw a Zeppelin going over town. I believe it to be the SL11 that was shot down over CUFFLEY by a Lt Robinson in his BE2C on 03/09/16 and was therefore a Schutte-Lanz,174 mtrs long and with a top speed of 91.8Km/h. My father gave me a piece of it stamped with the details. I later gave it to the school museum together with a piece of stone from a petrified forest in Egypt and a Daily Mirror I dug up in France in 1939. This had photos of German planes showering sharpened staples on the heads of troops.
The sport between us boys was made up as we went along. I managed to get a pig’s bladder from the Slaughter House and this made a good football. Somebody else scrounged a reject cricket ball from Wisdens, or we might have private war between ourselves and Woodside, St Mary’s or Baltic Road using all sorts of things as weapons. I used to use my mother’s clothes prop and the dustbin lid as a shield. Nobody got really hurt, except when we went home and got a good tanning if we’d done any damage.
The southern end of the town had very steep roads and these caused havoc in bad weather, but also a lot of fun and some amusing incidents. One old character Henry Cheeseman had a green grocery barrow, his store was at the top of Woodside Road and he had a job getting the barrow up the road, even if he went up Quarry Hill. He offered us an apple or an orange to help him up with it but he invariably gave us a bad one so we gave that up and he had to buy a donkey to pull it. He used to call in at the Foresters at the bottom of Quarry Hill and often-got bad tempered with drink and beat the donkey. One day coming out of the pub he found his donkey missing, someone had undone the traces and taken the donkey away, but it didn’t cure him. Then one day he hit the donkey too hard and it dropped dead so he had to pull the barrow by himself.
Another famous character from that area was called ”Ferret Eyes”. Nobody knew his right name. He had a tricycle and of course old-fashioned brakes. One day these gave out and he finished up through Webbers Nursery found at the bottom of the hill, he wasn’t hurt but his trike was smashed. Another one was “Peg leg” Hinkley? An ex sailor, but one leg or not he could certainly get about fast and we knew it.
By now the war was coming to an end and we were by this time getting to know how bad things were, food was short and rationing was still in force. Despite my age 11/12 I soon learnt to get a rabbit, or a bird, or wild ducks and moorhen eggs, in fact we did quite well and my mother who could make a meal of anything made sure we didn’t starve. I did various jobs to get food, helping at the jam factory (Parry and Ede ?), which was on the side of where Woolworth’s is now. Selling stale buns from the bakery, even helping in the Slaughterhouse, watching the slaughtering oddly did me a good turn during the WW11. I had the chance to show my skill with a pig for Christmas dinner in Ceylon. Hence my name with the East Africans of “Bwana Mhubuay “? – The Pig Boss?
Then came the end of the war with everybody laughing and all hoping that we would get more food etc. but it was to take a long time to settle down, but it did and our lives began to return to normality.
The “Bug Hatch” in Avebury Avenue, the “Star” in Bradford Street and the “Rink” also in Bradford Street began to be alive with laughter etc, even when the floods came up we just moved back a row at a time until we were in the Gods, all for the price of one penny. The rink was also subject to floods and everyone used to skate until the last moment before leaving with the organ still playing. The other picture palace was the “Central Hall” was where “Courts” used to stand.
By now things were improving slightly and sports were being organised locally. Great occasions such as the British Legion sports on the Angel were really a great day. Police sports day and cricket matches were also great events. It was always a rush to get a job on the Angel during these occasions because of free entry, especially when Kent was playing. Some of the best memories were watching Woolley, Freeman, Chapman and Co. Another great event was the Venetian Fete, decorated boats, floats and rafts floating up the river, a wonderful sight, although there were casualties, some caught alight and some turned over. Everybody cheered and a good time was had by all. Another great event was the Firework display on the Sports Ground. The Fire Brigade doing some wonderful drill followed by the Fireworks. Great memories.
By now I was beginning to grow up and left school in 1920 at 13/14. This was the time when I had to settle down although I had some fun for a couple of years more. Such as hiring a rowing boat from “Nortons” on the bridge, rowing up river and picking up some pals and having a race up the “Straight Mile” against another boat. We called it Oxford and Cambridge and all went well until we came to the “Reach” where our boat ran into some old piles and ripped the bottom open. Although we sent some of the “crew” back to Nortons for our money back we didn’t get it.
Charabancs were beginning to run to the coast and of course had to slow down going up Quarry Hill which gave us a chance to run up the path doing cartwheels and handsprings and shouting “ Chuck us out your rusty coppers”. We actually got quite good at that and took a fair amount we had to be careful as the police and the AA patrolman used to chase us. They stopped doing this after a while as when they chased us someone cut the tyres on their bikes.
So at the age of 14/15 I decided that I was too old for this type of activity. I got myself a job as an errand boy at Boyces? Hardware store. This was at the corner of Bradford Street but it was too hard a job cycling to Hildenborough with cans of oil, soap etc. not only that but when the floods came I had to walk about in the water to salvage stuff and no thanks. From there I got a better job at Freeman Hardy and Willis. They had two shops, one on the small bridge and the other opposite Bradford Street by the river, but again I had the wanderlust.
I had always been of a mechanical mind; in fact I got into trouble at home on more than one occasion. People used to ask me to put new springs into gramophones or repair mangles, the spare rollers etc. I got from the well known rag and bone man Nobby Clarke who could sell you anything and buy it as well. From rabbit skins upwards. We used to sell him jars, but we got a better price from the jam factory.
Sooner or later it had to be motor bikes and that is where the trouble with my mother began, after all stripping engines on the kitchen table didn’t help matters, but, like other events it passed and all was forgiven. By the time I was 15 I had ridden most bikes large and small including a 7hp Ivory Catelorpe?, Indian and a Brough Superior. A man who had a radio business in town owned this last one. He asked me to tune it up and I did. I took him for a ride on it along to “Loo”, the Southborough/Tunbridge Wells road and I’m afraid he soiled his trousers. He sold it soon afterwards. I think one of the reasons I took to motorbikes was because my near neighbour was a despatch rider from WW1 and he started a business in Alexandria Road which used to be at the back of Webbers Nursery? And is Rawsons Garage. He taught me a lot about bikes and I made up my mind that I wanted to be a despatch rider sooner or later and oddly enough I did. Then I got behind the wheel and was soon learning to drive and when the Mark V tank was driven (I don’t know if it was, do you?) into the Castle grounds It made my mind up as to what I wanted to do. First I went to Kemsing to work for Sir Montague Norman and Sir Mark Collier. They had two cars a small family one, a Stellite? that had a dickie where the housekeeper sat and a large Daimler. I worked in the house St Clere? I soon found ways of getting to drive both cars, the second chauffeur was a friend of mine and used to let me have a go when no one else was around. He married the parlour maid and lived in Kemsing (I have since met them again and we had a wonderful time reminiscing about old times.
My younger days finished at that time and in 1924 I went to Maidstone to enlist and yes I enlisted in the Tank Corps (it wasn’t the Royal Tank Corp until later). In the barracks I was sworn in and after a couple of days they gave me a couple of shillings and a ticket to Wool. I though it was short for Woolwich but it wasn’t it was Wool in Dorset. The training at the Tank depot was hard and after “Passing out” I was introduced to engines. Miles of them, all sorts, shapes and sizes and before I knew it I had passed as a Driver I C E Class 1and strange to behold I drove one of the Mark Vs just like the one at the Castle. It didn’t make any difference to me, you name it and I drove it. This of course meant that I was getting “Trades Pay”, unheard of normally at my age of 17 although I had put my age up. Then came my ambitions and would I report to HQ in the Morning Sessions as they called it. On account of my record I was to get an increase in pay, be transferred to HQ as a despatch rider. Quite a plum job; no guards, fatigues etc. My first bike was an Enfield, straight tank belt drive, acetylene lighting and mag-dyno ignition. Two things to remember about these bikes, a lump of resin in the pocket to make the belt grip and water in the lamp and that reminds me of the trouble I had with my sister.
Home on leave and with a motorbike I said I would run my sister’s boyfriend home to Tunbridge Wells one Sunday night. Wet and cold I broke down at the top of Southborough Common. My lamp had run dry. Ever resourceful I took the lamp off, undid the filler cap and peed in it. It worked but at a cost. The wind was head on and the smell was awful. My sister never forgave me, something to do with religion but why her boyfriend ever told her I don’t know after all he had a cheap ride home. Another escapade I had with a bike whilst on leave was on a trip to visit my brother who was at Southborough Golf Course. I had left it late at night and then realised that I was short on petrol. Having enough to start it up (a Norton) and warm the engine through I poured some paraffin into the tank, opened the throttle and sped away not realising that I was leaving a trail of black smoke behind me. All went well until I reached Tunbridge Wells when some speed cops chased me. Nearing the top of Quarry Hill I opened it up wide blacking out everything behind me. I shut down just before reaching the top of Woodside Road turning into it and coasted until I reached our passageway put the bike away and hoped luck was with me, it was.
I have mentioned about motorbikes and how I was attracted to them, being a despatch rider was one of my dreams realised. It was as a despatch rider that I met “Lawrence of Arabia”. He was in the same unit as myself and also a great motorcyclist always having new bikes like the Brough Superior. I am proud to say that I not only met him on a couple of occasions, once at King George V’s birthday parade at Bovington Tank Depot but I also got to ride one of his bikes.
When WW11 broke out I was again to meet motorbikes. Called up I had to go to Portsmouth (Tratton Park Football Ground) and for two days and nights I was instructing reservists to ride a motorbike and drive a lorry. The majority of these reservists were not RASC drivers but Royal Artillery drivers (horses). That was chaos but not as much as we found in Belgium and France. We had a lot of casualties because of drivers not used to driving on the other side of the road.
After the war I settled down, but still had the odd bike and of course drove for a living. You name it and I’ve driven it. My last experience with a motorcycle occurred during my work as a coach driver. We used to take parties to the seaside etc. and one occasion I went to Southend –on-sea with a coach load. In the Kursaal (a fun-fair) there was a “Wall of death” and a challenge was issued for anyone to have a go. I did and made a job of it and had a nice copper set to take home.
One could write and re-write these pages time and time again and still miss some of the notables and the events that surrounded them.
Who didn’t know of “Connie Warner” scourge of wagon or any horse rider, if she thought you had hit a horse you were up before the beak. My father who loved horses and had worked with them all his life: Boer war, Veterinary Corps and the Guards once thrashed a man who beat his horse until it bled. The bench complimented him and the man got 14 days hard labour Connie saw to that.
Wally Griggs, chimney sweep and seller of whelks, mussels etc. His stall was at the entrance to the goods yard in Vale Road, always crowded and God help anyone who pinched his pitch.
Saturday night was quite a do at the “Angel”, dealers from London had a market of bananas, Oranges etc, sometimes you were lucky but often one had some bad ones.
When the local elections were on the meetings were often held at the Angel corner and very often it got out of hand. Another place of political interest was the “Rose and Crown” and was often in the news particularly when Oswald Mosely came with his “Blackshirts”. He came once to often however and the lads from the local works were waiting, he never came again.
Nobby Clarke was the “Rag and Bone man” he travelled all over the town and his cry of “RAGBONE” was really clear. As children if we wanted some wheels etc, Nobby had them, in fact you could buy anything from him.
OTHER CHARACTERS were
- The “Muffin man” with his huge great bell
- The “Tinker” with his cry of “Scissors to grind, Pots and pans to mend.
- The “Hokey Cokey man” – great dollops of ice cream for a couple of pence.
- “Whistling Harry and Polly” one as tall as the other was short, great Salvationists.
- “Holy Joe” he used to stand outside the station and blaspheme and curse everybody if he thought they had not observed the Sabbath.
- “Buster West” who owned half of Tonbridge. He owned the “Bug Hutch (later called the Rep) in Avebury Avenue. “The Empire (it’s proper name) was next door to a café well known for it’s pies and puddings.
- “Horace G ?”, everyone knew him and his chair?
- “Bill Waghorn” who kept the forge in Avebury Avenue. If our hoops broke he was the one to mend it for one penny but often didn’t take payment.
- “The German Barber” at the corner of St Mary’s and Springwell Road. Noone knew his name but he was a good barber where we all used to have our hair cut.
- “Bill Better” the Pearly King – any flag or collection day he would be outside the station with his box. Did a lot of good for the local hospitals. Oddly enough when I came back from Dunkirk, Bill was on the platform writing cards etc to let people know their sons were safe. It was Bill who went up Woodside Road to let my mother know I was Ok. Thanks Bill.
- When Dad retired from the Distillers co. in 1967 at the age of 65 he had collected 65 pennies and halfpennies for the year 1965.