My Childhood Memories of Thurlow

John Rowling

A memoir of growing up in the Thurlows in the years before and during the second world war, including many reminiscences of the working life of the villages and the onset of war.

All publications are stocked at the Village PO and Stores, The Street, Great Thurlow, Suffolk CB9 7LA and are also available from Parish Clerk.

Contents (click to open or close)

Early years and cottage life

I was born in one of a pair of thatched cottages in The Street, now merged into one large cottage with the very nice name of Larkspur Cottage. My father, Monty, was the head gardener at Little Thurlow Hall and my mother, Eva, had been the cook at the Hall. My parents lived with my grandfather, Alf, who was the village cobbler, having his shop at the end of the passage between Porch Cottage and Larkspur Cottage. I spent many hours sitting with him in his shop, watching him at work.

Most of the villagers who came with their boots and shoes to be repaired would sit down and have a chat and a laugh – the pace of life was much different in those days. I remember my grandfather would hold the rivets he was using in his mouth and still carry on with the conversation. I used to be taken out in my pram by Dorothy (Doff) Bumpstead (Martin, that was), who lived in The Limes. I often see Dorothy and we have a laugh about those days – she still remembers the hot jam tarts or buns that my mother would have ready for us when we came home.

Our neighbour was Mr Akehurst. He had a son, David, who was a chef at a London hotel. After a bungalow had been built at Little Thurlow Green, Mr Akehurst moved there and Mrs Bradnam, who had been at Street Farm, moved next door. She owned both the cottages and was a nice friendly lady.

My brother, Michael, was born in 1933. Life in our cottage was very cosy. The table in the centre of the living room was the hub of activity during the winter months. The paraffin oil lamp stood on the table in the evenings, and we all sat round the table to read, draw, and play cards, draughts or dominoes, while my mother worked at her ironing, sewing, mending and knitting and sometimes made hearth rugs by pegging strips of material on to a Hessian backing.

The room was heated by a cooking range, a ‘Tortoise’, which was cleaned and polished with black lead. The flues had to be cleaned at regular intervals for the oven to function properly. The flat irons were heated on the top of the stove, as were the saucepans and kettles. Coal and wood were the fuels used. During the summer months, the cooking and boiling of kettles was done on the paraffin oil stoves, Valor and Beatrice being the most popular makes (some single- and some double-wick burners).

Almost everyone kept chickens and a cockerel. Surplus eggs from the summer months were preserved, ‘put down’ in a bucket using waterglass and used during the winter months for cooking. The cockerel provided the Christmas dinner.

We had a ‘Cossor’ wireless set, which used three batteries: two dry ones, a high tension and a gridbias, and a wet battery, an accumulator which had to be recharged. The used batteries were collected weekly by Chapman’s of Haverhill and exchanged for a charged one. Each customer had their own batteries with their name on. Popular programmes we listened to were Henry Hall’s Guest Night, In Town Tonight, Music Hall and the News and Sport. We were limited to the amount of time we used the wireless in case the accumulator ran out.

My father had an allotment which produced a regular supply of vegetables, plus some cordon apple trees he had grafted, together with raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries and red and blackcurrants. So, since my mother was a good cook we had some very nice meals. The surplus fruit was preserved, some being bottled and some made into jams and jelly. We also used to gather crab apples for mother to make into crab apple jelly. Water for drinking and cooking had to be fetched in buckets from the pump outside 120 The Street. Water for baths and washing clothes was taken from the water butts, using the rain water collected from the roofs. 

During the summer months when the “soft water” had all been used up, water was carried up from the river in buckets, using a shoulder yoke and chains. Steps were cut into the river bank to enable us to delve the buckets in the water. It was quite a long walk, all uphill, but it had to be done to be ready for the Monday wash. The water was heated in a copper located in the back-place, which used the same flue as the fireplace. I sometimes helped my mother by turning the handle on the mangle.

The outside toilet was down the garden. During the winter months a visit to the privy in the hours of darkness was quite an adventure (especially if it was snowing), and we carried a lantern that held a candle to find the way. Our toilet like most was covered in honeysuckle and in the summer months it gave off a very pleasant scent.

Living in a thatched cottage so close to the road caused some anxious moments when the road repairmen were working nearby, as the tar-pots were coal-fired and the steamroller would sometimes stop outside while the driver stoked up his fire. The chimney should have been covered by a spark-protector but this was not always the case, and when the roller moved off sometimes a few red-hot sparks were released. The worry then was where they were going to land. The thatch was usually bone dry, since the summers were mostly hot and dry in those days.


I had now started school and my first year was spent in the ‘little room’, where my teacher was a Miss Baker. The school was divided by a folding partition, and I later moved into the ‘big room’ where the teacher was Miss Linacre. My main memory of the school building was how cold it was during the winter months: the very high ceilings went up to the undersides of the rafters, and during the severe frosts ice would remain on the insides of the windows most of the day. I also remember the wet and cold roller towels in the washroom. Heating was by an open fire, with a large fire-guard, and a coke-burning tortoise stove, and the windows were quite high up in the building. There was a bell tower and a bell was rung for the end of playtime. The toilets were at the far end of the playground, and we were not allowed to go round to the front of the school at playtimes. The Rev Basil le Fleming of Gt Thurlow was a school governor, and often came to visit us. Most of our lessons were carried out using slates. When I first started school I was taken there by Eva Smith, who lived in one of the cottages (now all one large cottage) next to the Village Hall.

In 1935 my grandfather died and it was the end of the shoe-repairing business, although my father who had helped my grandfather at times continued to mend our own shoes. 

During the school holidays and after school we played the usual games. There used to be certain times of the year for each game. We played most of these on the road as there was very little traffic – mainly tradesmen’s vans. The games played were skipping, bowling the hoop, touch and spinning the top. Sometimes the metal stud would come out of the base of the spinning top and be lost. I used to supply replacement studs from the old cobbler’s shop – a hobnail boot stud was ideal. We also made whistles from the young wood of the chestnut trees in the spring. The only time when there was more traffic through the village was on race days at Newmarket.

We used to look forward to the visit of the ice cream man during the summer holidays. He came from Newmarket on a B.S.A motorcycle and a box sidecar, and always rang a large hand bell when he had stopped his motorcycle. He went under the name of ‘Dolfie’.

Village craftsmen and businesses

Little Thurlow was a busy village with its craftsmen. Starting along Church Road, next to Town House in the corner of the allotments, there was a workshop occupied by Fred Wright, a cabinet-maker and furniture-restorer. He was a fine craftsman and some of his work can be seen in St Peter’s Church.

Next along the road at “Brookside” was the builder and undertaker, Mr E.J. (Dick) Sargent, who employed several men and built houses in the village, mainly in Lt Thurlow and up at the Green. Further along, at the junction behind where the bus shelter now is, was the wheelwright’s shop. This was owned by Alf Houchen and his two sons, Syd and Norman, worked with him. They repaired and built new wagons, tumbrels and carts and also made ladders. Planks of wood were sawn over a saw-pit. This was hard work, using a cross cut hand saw, with one of the men in the pit and the other on top.

I was friends with Dennis and Jimmy Houchen, whose fathers were doing this work, and I spent many hours watching them at it.

Next door was the blacksmith’s shop. He was always busy with shoeing the carthorses and hunters, repairing and sharpening harrows, and making the iron rims for the wagon and tumbrel wheels which came from the wheelwright’s next door. These tyres were burnt on to the wheels, using a flat metal plate the same size as the wheels with a large hole in the centre to take the hub. When the metal rim was firmly in place it was cooled off using a watering can.

Moving up the village, Hales shop stood on the corner of Temple End Road. This was a general store and small bakery. H.A., as he was known, was helped by his son Fred, and they specialised in making milk bread. I think they used to bake three times a week. Fred used to deliver on his tradesman’s cycle, cycling to Haverhill with some of his orders. He was a keen racing cyclist, being a member of Haverhill Wheelers Cycling Club, and was the fastest delivery man around!

Opposite to the shop is Manor Farm, which was farmed by Mr Spencer Tilbrook, who lived in the farmhouse with his three sisters. The farmyard was always kept neat and tidy. Several men were employed on the farm, and the land went up to Temple End. Mr Tilbrook owned a threshing tackle, which went round to a lot of farms on contract work. Several horses were kept, and it was a nice sight to see them come home in the afternoons, being unharnessed and going into the pond in the farmyard for a drink.

Next up the street was the harness and saddle makers’ shop, 123a, which was run by Edgar Baynes, who was also helped in the afternoons by his brother Billy, after he had finished his postal deliveries.

The village Post Office was next door at 122a and was run by Alec and Bessie Sadler. We used to buy sherbets and liquorice pipes and laces from them. Alec used to cycle to Withersfield to pick up the mail and parcels each morning, often having to walk when the roads were snowbound during the winter.

At The Cock Inn Mr John Rowlinson ran his contractor’s business and also did car hire, since there were very few cars in the village at this time. Mrs Rowlinson helped to run the public house. Mr Rowlinson did contract work for the County Council, using lorries and also horses and carts. His sons, Sid and Harold, drove the lorries and in the winter would also clear the snow from the roads, towing a snow plough behind one of the lorries and gritting the roads with sand. There was a roadman’s hut in the Square, where Pat Alexander and Harry Pearson worked from, keeping the village clean and tidy and trimming the grass verges with a hook. Further along the Street was the bakery owned by Mr Charles Rutter. He employed three men: Reg Smith, Vic Marsh and Len Webb (who sadly lost his life whilst serving in the Army during the Italian campaign).

Two vans were used for the deliveries, both Morris Cowleys, one green and the other grey. Several villages were supplied, including the Risbridge Home at Kedington. Opposite was the cobblers shop.

At the end of the lane was the yard of Mr Will Hayward, who did watch repairs, ran a car hire service, and also had a small joinery shop, where he was helped by his son Orris. I used to go and watch Orris at work; I remember he used a lathe, converted from a treadle Singer sewing machine.

Going into Gt Thurlow, Mr Frank Haylock was landlord at The Queen’s Head public house, helped by his wife Florrie, and he also had a harness and saddler’s shop. Opposite at Red House was the butcher’s shop of Les Rising, who had taken over from Pryke’s. Further along was the grocery and general store of Miss Gussie Dowsett. This shop stocked almost everything. Outside stood the hand-operated Esso petrol pump, and a cigarette machine, which held Woodbines in packets of five. Miss Grace Page worked in the shop as well. On the corner stood The Rose and Crown public house, where Mr Tilbrook was the landlord, and there was also a clubroom where concerts and functions were held.

The traditional Meet of the Newmarket and Thurlow foxhounds on Boxing Day was held at The Crown. This attracted a large crowd from the local villages, and was a popular meeting-place for a chat and a drink.

Further back from the hill is the War Memorial, with the names of the men who lost their lives during the Wars. The memorial was flanked by two machine guns. The memorial to the men of Lt Thurlow who died is in St Peter’s Church. The Reading Room stands further back, with the village clock, Lady Astor, and the men of the village used to meet here in the evenings to play billiards and darts. When we were out in the fields or playing out, we would listen for the clock to strike to know when it was time to go home. The girls of the village had their own social organisation, the GFS (Girls’ Friendly Society), which met at Mrs Ryder’s.

Going up Dowsett’s hill at 104 was the Police House, where the policeman was PC Steed. At the top of the hill was the blacksmith’s shop of Mr Sam Last. On the road to Withersfield, next to the Rectory, was the Mill, where the miller was Mr Collis. Coming back down the hill along the Wratting Road was the foundry where the repairs to the Estate implements and machinery were carried out. The engineers were Mr George French, Mr Syd Chapman and Mr Herbert Arnold. Back down the Crown Hill was Wheatsheaf House, the home of Mr Sam Webb, a builder who used a horse and cart for his work. His son, Billy, worked with him.

Opposite lived Bill Tweed, who was a joiner. Mrs Tweed was a district nurse. Bill owned a motorcycle and sidecar made of wicker. Opposite the Church was the farm of Mr Tulloch, who was helped by his three sons. Next to Church Farm was the fire engine shed where the Estate manual fire engine was kept. Along the Hog Yard was the Estate carpenters shop, the sawmill, wheelwright’s shop, painter’s shop and the barn. Mr Womack, Mr Sammy Edmunds, Mr Paxman and Mr Reg Taylor all worked there. (Reg, who is now in his 90s, lives quite close to me).

Mr George Senior, the Estate manager, was a familiar figure, often riding through the village on horseback. A Ruston engine provided power for the sawmill and the grinding mills in the Barn. You could always tell the time by this engine, as it was shut down at five minutes to one o’clock each day it was working.

The Rector of All Saints Church was Reverend Basil le Fleming, and the Rector of St Peter’s, Little Thurlow was the Reverend Charles Rogers. There was also the Congregational Chapel, which is now Homeview. The preachers came from neighbouring villages and the services were held on Sunday afternoons.

Up at Little Thurlow Green, which was a small hamlet then, was The Red Lion public house, which was kept by George and Ethel Mills.

Several visiting tradesmen served the village: four butchers, two bakers, one greengrocer and fishmonger, a milkman and two coal merchants. Some people bought their milk from the dairy at the Hall or from Manor Farm, Little Thurlow and the milk was collected in enamel cans.

There was a general storekeeper, the forerunner of the mobile shop, a Mr Foreman who came from Cowlinge. He was a smart man and always wore breeches and buskins, which were highly polished. His van was painted blue and divided into lots of compartments, with several doors either side of the van. He sold vinegar from a barrel carried on one side of the van, and paraffin oil from a tank fixed to the back of the van.

There was also another oil-man called ‘Curly’, who drove the Somerlite van that came from Cambridge.

Mr Ezra Nunn, who had a shop at the bottom of Turnpike Hill, Withersfield, delivered newspapers. He used to come on a bicycle and later he had a car, an Austin 7 Ruby.

Sport in the village

The football pitch was in Great Thurlow, on the Pasture behind the blacksmith’s. The entrance was halfway up Dowsett’s Hill, up some steps cut into the bank, with a clap gate at the top. Bob Jeffery used to be on the gate on match days.

The cricket pitch was up at the Hall and was at the end of the big lawn. Before the start of a game iron railings, which were on wheels, had to be moved from around the pitch. These were in place to keep the cattle off the wicket. The pavilion was up under the chestnut trees, a nice pleasant spot on a hot Saturday afternoon! The entrance was from the Hog Yard. I sometimes acted as the scorer.

The tennis courts were behind Hill House and the Foundry. In the winter months, with the severe frosts and the ponds frozen over, there was ice-skating and slides on the Long Pond.

Two events also to take place were the Point-to-Point races, and the visit of a travelling fair. The Point-to-Point was held in the fields, off the road to Withersfield, opposite High Noon. The start and finish was down by the side of ABC plantation. Local farmers used to ride and two names I can remember are Bob Berry and Dick Tilbrook. One year an aeroplane landed on the course, piloted by a Major Tong.

The fair used to come at Michaelmas time and was held in Pryke’s meadow. The owner of the fair was ‘Stinger’ Wright.

My asthma was now becoming a nuisance, which meant that I had to miss some school lessons. Dr Sunderland was very good and he would often call and see me at home; then my father would cycle to Haverhill after he had finished work to collect my medicine from the Surgery. Dr Sunderland’s surgery in the village was at Mill Lodge, where there was an open shelter, flanked by two dog statues. Nearby there was a gravestone to a dog named ‘Mungo’. There was no NHS then but people could subscribe to a Hospital Fund, which was a few pence weekly. The collector for this was Mrs Delia Wright, who lived opposite to us in Jasmine Cottage, now 114b. She was also the organist at St Peter’s Church, where we attended Sunday school and were taught by Miss Evelyn Tilbrook.

The Queen’s Head in Gt Thurlow had now closed as a public house, and Mr Frank Haylock had taken over as the licensee of The Rose and Crown, where he was helped by his wife Florrie and later by their daughter Sheila.

1937 was the year of the Coronation and to commemorate this Mrs Ryder planted a beech tree at Pound Green. Us children were all given Coronation mugs.

There was now an airfield being built at Stradishall. Mr Fred Wright had changed his motorcycle and sidecar for a brand new Morris 8 car, and he took me up to the airfield when it was completed to see the aircraft, which were Handley Page “Heyford” heavy bombers and Vickers “Wellesley” light bombers. The station held an open day on May 24th, Empire Day, which was attended by several thousand people.

Show business

1938 was a busy year for the Thurlows – it was the year of the Pageant, which depicted three scenes that could have taken place in 1614, 1669, and 1820. The Pageant was written by Mrs Ryder with the help of her family, friends and helpers, and was performed by the people of the two villages. It proved a big success. There were two performances, on July 9th and 11th. The Pageant was held on the lawn at Little Thurlow Hall, the home for Major and Mrs K.K. Horn. I was fortunate to have taken part as one of the dancers and my partner was Yvonne Steed, whose father was the village policeman. We used to go to Great Thurlow Hall for our dancing lessons, where Mrs Ryder played the piano, helped by her daughter Mary. We went for rehearsals after school and Saturday mornings. We had to have costume fittings and Mrs Last and Mrs Clark made these. Sir Malcolm Campbell, MBE, the world land- speed record holder, who brought along his car the ‘Bluebird,’ opened the Pageant. Sir Malcolm was a racing driver friend of Major Horn, both having raced at the famous Brooklands circuit.

The proceeds from the Pageant were used to start a fund to build a village hall for the two villages. The only hall in Little Thurlow was the tin-covered building at Mungo Lodge, owned by Mrs Pemberton-Barnes, who at times could be a bit eccentric. She always carried a long-handled spud to help her walking.

A cine-film was made of the Pageant and was shown later up in the Barn at Great Thurlow Hall.

Show business

1938 was a busy year for the Thurlows – it was the year of the Pageant, which depicted three scenes that could have taken place in 1614, 1669, and 1820. The Pageant was written by Mrs Ryder with the help of her family, friends and helpers, and was performed by the people of the two villages. It proved a big success. There were two performances, on July 9th and 11th. The Pageant was held on the lawn at Little Thurlow Hall, the home for Major and Mrs K.K. Horn. I was fortunate to have taken part as one of the dancers and my partner was Yvonne Steed, whose father was the village policeman. We used to go to Great Thurlow Hall for our dancing lessons, where Mrs Ryder played the piano, helped by her daughter Mary. We went for rehearsals after school and Saturday mornings. We had to have costume fittings and Mrs Last and Mrs Clark made these. Sir Malcolm Campbell, MBE, the world land- speed record holder, who brought along his car the ‘Bluebird,’ opened the Pageant. Sir Malcolm was a racing driver friend of Major Horn, both having raced at the famous Brooklands circuit.

The proceeds from the Pageant were used to start a fund to build a village hall for the two villages. The only hall in Little Thurlow was the tin-covered building at Mungo Lodge, owned by Mrs Pemberton-Barnes, who at times could be a bit eccentric. She always carried a long-handled spud to help her walking.

A cine-film was made of the Pageant and was shown later up in the Barn at Great Thurlow Hall.

The village expands

Some houses were being built at this time. One was an extension on the end of 115 The Limes. The builder was Arthur Hayward of Great Bradley and the bricklayer was Cecil Webb. Charlie and Lily Fountain moved in just after it was completed.

Mr Sargent built a bungalow at Little Thurlow Green, where Sunningdale is now. It was built for Mr Akehurst and his son David, who were our neighbours in the Street. It was called Sunnyside. Mr Sargent also built the pair of cottages, 137a and 137b, called Locks Cottages, but I cannot remember when.

Preparing for war

Some houses were being built at this time. One was an extension on the end of 115 The Limes. The builder was Arthur Hayward of Great Bradley and the bricklayer was Cecil Webb. Charlie and Lily Fountain moved in just after it was completed.

Mr Sargent built a bungalow at Little Thurlow Green, where Sunningdale is now. It was built for Mr Akehurst and his son David, who were our neighbours in the Street. It was called Sunnyside. Mr Sargent also built the pair of cottages, 137a and 137b, called Locks Cottages, but I cannot remember when.

The big guns move in

Three concrete pillboxes were constructed, one on the Crown Hill next to no.113, another at the junction at Pound Green, and the other down Dark Lane. The last two still remain. The Home Guard used Mr Sargent’s yard for their parades and training, and the ammunition store was a Nissen hut in the sandpit next to the cemetery. With the threat of invasion looming, the Royal Artillery was the next unit to arrive in Little Thurlow. This was a battery of four medium howitzers, towed in by ten-ton Matador trucks. They were positioned in the western side of The Walks at Little Thurlow Hall. Four gun-pits were dug, together with the shell storage pits. The guns were trained in the direction of RAF Stradishall, to form protection in the event of an invasion. At this time the searchlight unit was moved away from the Big Park as it was considered too close to the gun positions. The new site for the searchlight was in the meadow on the Great Bradley road, opposite The Kennels, where it was to remain for the rest of the war.

The troops with the guns were billeted in several places. These buildings were requisitioned by the War Department: the cottage by the ponds, the squash court and outbuildings, the Mill and Mill House. The Signal Troop was in The Old School. Mungo Lodge was Battery Headquarters and the cookhouse was in the old tin hut. We used to go into The Old School where the signallers were, when the NCOs were out. I was shown how to use a Morse code key and we listened in to the messages coming in on the wireless sets and wireless trucks. A sad note here: one of the soldiers, a Gunner Smith, was accidentally shot whilst on sentry duty at the entrance to the front drive to the Hall and was later buried in the cemetery at Little Thurlow.

By this time the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk had taken place, and the good news was that Norman Houchen, Jack Rowlinson and Brigadier Frink had arrived back safely in the UK, but sadly Ned Smith was reported missing.

The air raid sirens were being sounded more now that we had fighter aircraft based locally. Hawker Hurricanes were at Castle Camps airfield. With the increase in the number of alerts at night, we used to troop down to Captain Frink’s cellar, sometimes half asleep. It got quite crowded and we played card games, draughts and dominoes by the light of oil lamps and candles. Sometimes the Orderly Sergeant, who was on duty at Battery HQ over the road, would come and tell us the all-clear had been given. He knew before the sirens had sounded. We would then go home to a cold bed for a few more hours sleep.

After a time we got to be a bit braver, and stayed in our own homes when the sirens sounded. We got to recognise the sound of the Jerry planes – their engines were not smooth-running like our own aircraft. On Sunday 3rd November 1940, RAF Stradishall was bombed by two JU 88s. We were having our tea at the time. The windows rattled and the anti-aircraft guns had opened up. A hangar was hit and one person was killed. There was a German propaganda radio station that used our wavelengths. The broadcaster was an Englishman who had defected to the Nazis, William Joyce, nicknamed ‘’Lord Haw Haw’. I remember my father had switched the wireless on the following Monday evening, and Haw Haw was giving a much exaggerated account of the bombing of RAF Stradishall. I remember my mother saying, ‘switch him off!’.

The Battle of Britain with the daylight raids was less intense. 1940 had been a hot summer, and with the clear blue skies we had seen the vapour trails of the British and German aircraft and we had heard the sound of machine gun fire. The night raids had increased and the first evacuees had arrived. Some came as families, and some on their own. Two families moved into The Firs. As the number of pupils had increased at school an additional teacher arrived, a Miss Bell who was a first-aider and who with Mr Wright, the head cowman at the Hall, started giving first-aid lessons for us youngsters. They took place on Friday evenings at the Hall in the back parlour.

My father, who was a stretcher-bearer in the Home Guard, used the Red Cross training manual. I had the St John’s manual and we used to compare the two together.

By now all the signposts had been removed and the large circular AA black and yellow village name sign, which was on the old roadman’s hut in the square, had also been taken down. I remember it had the mileage to London on it – 55 miles.

Keeping going

Identity cards and ration books had now been issued and each person had to be registered with a nominated grocer and butcher. You could only use your coupons with that person. We also had clothing and sweet coupons; and dried eggs, dried milk and spam had arrived.

The Ministry of Food had a campaign for producing more food. It was called ‘Dig for Victory’, which encouraged more people to grow their own food.

Behind The Firs, there were eight allotments. The War Agriculture Executive Committee (War Ag.) had taken over the organising of farmers to reclaim more pastureland for crops. One area was the Big Park, which was occupied by Highland cattle and horses. The bushes, small trees and scrub were pulled out with the estate traction engine and winch. A large machine used for breaking up this type of land was a Gryotiller, which ran on caterpillar tracks and was powered by a Mercedes Benz engine. A large cultivator was mounted on the back, which combed the ground with thick steel prongs and stirred it up with more blades that revolved like a giant egg whisk. Major Horn also had fields, and an almost new Fordson tractor taken over by the War Ag.

At the end of the harvest when the cornfields had been cleared, the farmers would let the people go into the wheat fields and pick up the heads of corn that had been left. We used to like to go gleaning. The best pickings were the headlands. Before the tractor and binder could go into a field, the farm men had to cut a swath wide enough for the tractor and binder. This was done using a scythe, and the corn there was tied up into sheaves. We bagged up our gleanings and took them home in our handcarts. The ears of corn were then cut from the straw, and stored up to help feed the hens in the winter months. The handcarts were made from wooden cases collected from Miss Dowsett. Most deliveries were made in wooden boxes at that time. Add an old pair of pram wheels and axle, two lengths of batten for the handles, and we were in business. The carts were also used to go ‘sticking’, collecting firewood for kindling to light the fires at home. Our favourite places were in The Walks or down The Drift.

There was also a pig club in the village that people who kept pigs in their back gardens belonged to. This was to fatten the pigs up and so help the meat ration when they were killed. The slaughter-man that came was a Mr Ransom from Burrough Green, who cycled to the villages. A large wooden tub was used for boiling water and a wooden rack on legs with handles at each end was used to put the carcass on. My uncle kept a pig, and the Ministry of Food bought half the carcass and the owner kept the other half.

I remember the nice joints of pork, when the meat had a much different flavour from the meat of today. Hams were pickled, some sweet and some done in brine. Bacon was pickled and kept. Also the fry, liver and chitlins were all fried up, which helped out with the rationing. Some people used to take their hams to Mr Rutter to hang up at the back of his bakery, wrapped in muslin bags with a name-label on and left until they were cured, usually at Christmas time.

Sundays and holidays

The threat of the invasion had now passed. The Royal Artillery and the guns had left the Hall and it was much quieter in the village. Major Horn, having been on the reserve, was now back in the RAF with the rank of Squadron Leader and was stationed at RAF Duxford for a time. His shining black Bentley was now painted in wartime camouflage colour.

Sundays had become busy days for us boys. The Home Guard used to parade in Mr Sargent’s yard, where he was the platoon commander, and we used to set out early for Sunday school, which was held in St Peter’s church. On the way we used to stop to watch the men being drilled and carrying out arms training. We were sometimes late getting to the Church, not knowing what the time was and we had to make our excuses to Miss Tilbrook.

We were given stamps to affix to a card as a record of attendances. Sunday school finished just before 11 o’clock and we stayed on for the morning service taken by a Reverend C Rogers. Mrs Delia Wright was the organist, Wally Fitch pumped the organ, while Bill Smith rang the bells, took the collection bag round, stoked the boiler fire during the winter months, kept the churchyard and cemetery grass tidy using a scythe and hook, and dug the graves. He also managed to cut people’s hair in his spare time! Sometimes during the winter months I would go along to the Church on Saturday afternoons and watch Bill light the fire. Bill and Louie were my Godparents.

There used to be good congregations for both morning service and evensong and there was a choir, of which my father was a member. The Sunday School Christmas treat was held in The Old School, before it was requisitioned by the War Department.

When coming out of the Church we could not always find where the Home Guard were training. They sometimes used to go to the sandpit at Great Wratting to carry out firing practice. They had a shortage of ammunition in the early days, the British army having the .303 Lee Enfield rifle and the Home Guard with the .300 Canadian Ross rifle.

We would go by the fields to the Croat, where perhaps the AFS would be training down by the river behind Bridge Cottage. The fire pump, a Coventry Climax trailer pump painted grey, was towed behind a large car. The suction hose, I remember, was covered at the end by a wicker shield cover to prevent mud and twigs being sucked into the pump. Most of the auxiliary firemen lived near to where the pump was kept, in the outbuildings at The Rose and Crown, where Sheila took the calls and messages.

On Sunday evenings my brother and I would go up to The Hall with our father. In the summer months we would shut down the greenhouse fanlights, close the cold frames and do the watering, and we would also go in the winter sometimes, when father had to stoke up the greenhouse boiler fires and the boiler in The Hall. There were also two Lister stationary engines in the stables, one of which pumped up the water, while the other drove a large generator for the electricity supply. The battery house was next door in another stable and the acid levels had to be checked. This plant was quite modern and the engines were automatically operated.

Some Sunday evenings my Uncle Bob, who was the head gardener at Great Thurlow Hall, would visit us and my father and Bob would talk about their gardens and would often exchange cuttings and seed. They never seemed to switch off, such was their commitment to their work and such was the pleasure that they got from working in those big gardens. My father spent a total of sixty-four years, full and part time, working at The Hall. My uncle and aunt and my two cousins, Stella and Jean, lived at Pepper Hall Hill. Their neighbour was George Dale, who was the chauffeur to Mr Ryder.

During the war, hounds had stopped hunting but the pack was kept on. George Samways was the huntsman and with his whipper-in he would exercise the hounds, sometimes on foot or on cycles through the village. Another familiar figure often seen going through the Street was Mr Ambrose (Bamby) Williams with his horse and trap. He was groom to Mr Ryder.

In the school holidays in the summer we spent a lot of time round the fields. We were fortunate to be allowed to go almost anywhere we liked, and we used to play cricket in the ‘Cock’ meadow. Bernard Smith, whose grandparents kept The Cock, spent a lot of time here, as his mother helped them. Sadly, his mother was killed in an accident at Great Thurlow involving an army lorry that was passing through in a convoy.

Another meadow we used for cricket was Frink’s. One area here we were not allowed in was the plantation at the bottom of the meadow. Captain Frink was very strict (having been a school master), and would soon shout out if he saw us near the plantation. The only time we would go in was when Elisabeth was home on school holidays. Elisabeth liked to come along with us youngsters, finding jackdaws’ nests – we used to climb the trees and find out how many birds were in the nests. Elisabeth had a pony that was kept in the meadow and she let us have rides on it. There was no saddle or reins – you just hopped on and held on to the mane. When it came to my turn, I got on and one of my pals, who shall remain nameless (he loved his football and was captain of the village football team for several years), gave the pony a light tap on the hindquarters. The result of this was that the animal bolted and did not stop until we got to the river; after doing a ninety degree turn I left the pony and landed just short of the river bank. Since we had started from where Cuylers now is we were going at a fair pace when we parted company. I declined the offer of another ‘go’.

By now, some of the evacuees had returned to London, and we were busy at school helping with what was called the ‘Forces comforts’. This meant knitting woollen scarves, balaclavas, mittens and socks. The girls helped us boys get started. Jimmy Talbot was very good and he went on knitting socks. For this work we were given certificates for helping the Forces. When the items were completed, Miss Linacre sent them to the servicemen and women of the village, and she used to read out the letters that the school received back.

The older boys used to work down at the school gardens at Willow Hall. We were often late getting back to school, as nobody knew the time and we had to rely on hearing the clock strike.

There was a lot more activity with the Army on exercises. We had two armoured divisions in East Anglia, the 1st and 11th. Convoys of tanks, guns and armoured cars would often take several hours to pass through the village. I always knew when a convoy was starting as the leading vehicle carried a blue flag and the last one carried a green one. I got to know the different types of tanks: Valentines, Matildas and the heavy Churchills, and also the quads towing the 25-pounder guns.

The heavy tracks of the tanks would break large chunks out of the pavement kerbs, but I think they have all been replaced now. One of my schoolmates, Don Martin, who lived opposite to Goldings Farm, was killed when an army vehicle mounted the pavement when he was watching a convoy going through.

Growing up with the infantry

Another event that was to play a large part in my wartime memories was the arrival of the next army unit to be stationed in Little Thurlow. This was a platoon of the London Irish Rifles, an infantry battalion which formed part of the 56 London Division (Black Cat). The troops were billeted in Mungo Lodge, the Mill House and The Old Mill; the cookhouse and dining hall were in the old tin hut.

This unit was the Carrier platoon and it was equipped with Bren Gun Carriers, a tracked open-topped armoured vehicle that carried a crew of three (driver, machine gunner and wireless operator). It was powered by a Ford V8 engine and was used as a support unit for the infantry. The soldiers were a good crowd and very friendly, so we soon had our favourites. Mine was Alfie Bowler, a driver. I used to take home any sewing and socks that Alfie needed darning and my mother, bless her, would do them for me. In return, Alfie would tell me when he was going to take his carrier down to the river to wash it down. This was at the ford near the Church before the bridge was altered. This took place mostly on Saturday mornings, ready for the CO’s inspection on Mondays.

There would be several more carriers being washed down at the same time. When they had all gone back to Mungo Lodge, Alfie would say, “Okay John, hop in”, and would let me drive the carrier backwards and forwards through the river, turning round at Church Farm and then at the entrance to the church. I shall always remember this treat, as I was only 11 at the time.

The carriers all had names with an Irish theme, which were painted on the front armour-plating,. Some that I can recall are Danny Boy, Molly Malone, Rose of Tralee, Brian Boru, Phil the Fluter Mountains of Mourne and Mother McCree. I cannot remember the exact number of carriers, but it was either ten or twelve. They were parked around the outside of the Mill meadow, some under the plantation trees, and they were covered with camouflage netting.

During the winter months, when they came out on to the road the tracks brought out a lot of earth and grass from the meadow on to The Street, and when we had heavy rain the road became a sea of mud slurry, so that the windows and doors of houses became covered in mud as cars and lorries went through.

Sometimes the Pipes and Drums would come to Thurlow and parade through the village, headed by the regimental mascot, an Irish wolfhound. The soldiers would also hold church parades. The armoury where the weapons were kept was at the rear of Mungo Lodge, now No 3. At the weekend when it was quiet I would sometimes go up and see the armourer when he was on duty, and I remember that he taught me how to strip down and reassemble the Bren Gun. This was to come in handy in later years.

The platoon was also equipped with motorcycles, including motorcycles with sidecars. The sidecars were made of tubular steel with heavy metal-plating and were equipped to carry a Bren Gun. The motorcycle was powered by a Norton engine. On Sunday afternoons when all was quiet, some of the NCOs would be down at Bn HQ at Haverhill, and some would be on weekend leave. The soldiers would be riding the bikes around the Mill meadow and we would be given rides in the sidecars. The riders liked us boys in the chairs since we were lighter than their mates and they got faster lap times. They taught us to move around in the sidecars to help with the cornering. There was also a shaft to drive the sidecar wheel, to help get more wheel grip in muddy conditions, but this could only be engaged when travelling in a straight line, as there was no differential; depending on which way the outfit turned, if the drive was not disengaged the bike would try to overtake the chair, or vice versa. The driver would give me a tap on the shoulder, to signal when to operate the lever to the drive shaft. It was very muddy in the meadow, having been churned up by the carriers, and the meadow had two levels, which meant there were two ramps, so that coming down from the top we used to get airborne coming off the slope. (This was to be the start of my involvement in off-road motor cycling!). This activity came to a sudden halt after a visit by CSM from Bn HQ at Haverhill. He thought it was too dangerous and I was given my marching orders.

At the bakery Mrs Rutter, helped by Cherry and Thora, ran a snack bar from their kitchen window, and the soldiers used to queue up the yard when they had their morning break – for tea, rolls, buns and so on.

The London Irish put on the Christmas party for us children at the Town Hall, Haverhill, where we joined the children from Haverhill and had a nice time. The soldiers waited on us and there was entertainment, and we were taken and brought back by an army lorry.

Errand boy

Mr Ryder of Great Thurlow passed away in 1942. I remember that at his funeral our teachers and us older children lined the entrance to the Church from the drive to pay our respects.

I had now started delivering groceries for Miss Dowsett, on the tradesman’s bicycle. A lot of us boys have ridden that old bicycle! I also used to deliver paraffin oil, not at the same time though, since sometimes the caps did not fit very well on the cans and it was then a smelly job.

I started model-aircraft making, now that I had some pocket money. I was lucky I had the old cobbler’s shop, complete with a bench to work on. Like me, my mate Dennis Houchen was not a ball-game player. We made some models that were supposed to fly, made of balsa wood, covered with paper and sealed with dope paint. We used to take them to Rutter’s meadow, where the grass was long, so less damage was caused to the planes when they crashed.

I also changed my errand boy’s job. I started with Les Rising, helping with the butcher’s round. This used to be on Friday afternoons after school had finished. I used to meet Les at the shop, where he would be all loaded up ready, and we delivered to several villages. Mrs Rising would have sandwiches packed for our tea, and we arrived back home at about 8 o’ clock. The meat was all ordered, with the customer’s name and bill, and we collected the orders for next week at the same time.

I now had my Saturday’s free, which enabled me to go ‘brushing’ during the shooting season. The head gamekeeper used to come up the bank to the corner of the school playground on Friday afternoons to see how many of us boys wanted a day’s beating. He would take our names and we would meet up at the Hog Yard on Saturday mornings. The beginning of the season would start with field driving. In those days there were plenty of partridges about and we would put up large coveys for the guns. This was pretty tiring work on the old legs, especially if driving over ploughed land after heavy rain on good old Suffolk clay! Next it would be wood driving, for the pheasants, I liked Trundley the best. We would drive Trundley, sometimes also Fourteen Acre Park and The Grove in the morning and have lunch, or ‘docky’ as it was called, in The Grove. We were given a bottle of ginger beer or lemonade to have with our sandwiches, which by now were a bit squashed, having been in our pockets all morning. In the afternoon we drove Wadgell’s and finished up at ‘T’ plantation. I remember Dr Sunderland and Major Horn were good shots – if you finished a drive in front of them there would be several brace to take down the ride to the game cart.

The Thurlow Estate had now been sold. The new owner was Mr Vestey and his land agent was Mr Hannay.

Helping with ‘Dig for Victory’

At school there was a scheme now to allow us to work on farms, which had been worked out by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Education Ministry. We were issued with blue cards, which let us work a certain number of hours on the farms each term. This meant seasonal work, like ‘tatering’ – planting potatoes in the spring, which involved carrying a heavy galvanised bucket (no plastic in those days!) full of potatoes. We walked in the furrows, the instructions being given were: one foot, two foot, tater. This meant that the potatoes had to be roughly eighteen inches apart.

We also did ‘singling’ sugar beet and ‘tatering’ again in the autumn. To pick up the potatoes we were each allocated a strip and we worked that strip after the spinner had been by, using the bucket again and then filling up the sacks. We went quite a distance sometimes – I remember working up at The Tuft and at Deasley, Little Bradley. Both the farmer and our teacher had to sign our employment cards.

Members of the Women’s Land Army were working on the farms to take the place of men who had joined the Forces. Some of the girls were billeted in the hostel, which was Little Bradley House, where the Bedford family used to live. Some girls lived with families, and a lot of local girls worked on the farms. We used to go to Beetle Drives at the hostel.

We had said our goodbyes to the London Irish Rifles who went on to take part in the Italian campaign, where they suffered casualties, including the CO, Lt Col McNamara.

There were several fundraising weeks held,: War Weapons Week, Navy Week, Wings for Victory and Salute the Soldier. In the larger towns, where the amount of money raised was enough to cover the cost of an aircraft, the aircraft was named after that town.

Another airfield

The airfield at Wratting Common was nearing completion and my uncle, who was stationed at RAF Ridgewell, told my brother Michael and me when the Stirling bombers of 90 Squadron were moving from Ridgewell to Wratting Common. It was on a Sunday afternoon in May 1943.

We cycled up to Carlton Green, and went down to the dispersal area where we saw the bombers land and taxi to the dispersal points, and the ground crews getting out of the aircraft and unloading their kits and bicycles. I was surprised at the size of the bombers, and they had very high undercarriages. RAF Stradishall now had the Stirlings, so we now had aircraft from two airfields circling over Thurlow. Wratting Common was also used for storing the Horsa gliders to be used in the invasion of Normandy. Both Stradishall and Wratting Common were used as Operational Training units to replace the heavy losses suffered by aircrew.

The Hurricane fighters at Castle Camps had now been replaced by the Dehavilland Mosquito, an all-weather night fighter.

There was much more activity at night as the bombing raids on Germany had increased. I used to stand at my bedroom window during the early hours of the morning, not being able to sleep because of my asthma, and listen to the planes returning and then circling while waiting to land. The flight path was directly over the village, turning over Gt Thurlow and following the Sowley Green road onto the runway. Sometimes the searchlights would be sweeping the sky to help guide the bombers in. If there were enemy aircraft in the vicinity, the landing lights on the airfields would be switched off and the homecoming planes would continue to circle, often short of fuel. Several of the bombers were attacked by these intruders. I always knew when it was 5.30am, as Vic Marsh on his way into the bakery would give Mr Rutter a knock on his front door to let him know it was time to get up to start work. By this time the cockerels would start crowing. Whichever one was first, he was the signal for all the others to start up – a welcome chorus. I then knew it would soon be time to get up.

The village bakery

I had now started work at the bakery on Saturday mornings. I used to fetch the water from the village pump outside no.120 in a water cart. This was a metal cart with metal wheels. It had to be filled with a bucket, tipping the water in until the tank was full. It was a bit of a drag up the yard to the bakery, especially if it was slippery with the snow and frost.

On reaching the bakehouse, as it was always called, the water was transferred by bucket from the cart into a storage tank inside the building. The oven was heated by a coal-fired furnace at the side of the oven and there was a small boiler over the furnace. Vic Marsh was the main baker and he would start work on the previous evening, laying up the first batch of dough. This was done in a large wooden trough under a chute from the loft above where the flour was stored in sacks. The flour was measured into the chute and then released into the trough. The yeast was weighed and mixed with warm water and salt was then added with the rest of the water that had been measured by the buckets. Vic finally mixed the dough by hand, the lid was lowered, and the top of the lid covered by sacks for warmth.

Vic would then start the next morning at 5.30am. When the lid was lifted the dough that had risen to the top of the trough was punched with a wooden pole to release the air. The dough was then cut into large chunks, transferred onto a long table and covered up again. Vic then repeated the mixing process, this time increasing the amount of yeast to ‘hurry it on’. By now Mr Rutter was cutting off and weighing the first batch of dough into different sized loaves. The sizes and prices were; 1lb = 2d, 2lb = 4d, and 4lb (a quarten) was 8d.

These were all moulded into circular shapes. Another large table was dusted with flour and the dough was placed in rows, but not too close as the dough was then covered with sacks and left to rise (or prove) for a time. When it was ready the dough was then moulded and placed into the tins, which were all laid out on another large table that had small wheels allowing it to be pushed up to the oven when it was ready. The tins were all covered up, to help the dough rise. The different loaves all had names: Cottage, Coberg, Bloomer, Cob, Sandwich and Tin. Rounds of hot Pads were a big favourite. A small amount of wholemeal bread (called Vit-be) was made and also some bread rolls.

During this time, Vic would have been looking after the fire to make sure the oven was getting hot. Some ovens had a large pebble at the back, and when this turned a whitish colour the oven was hot enough. When the dough had risen and the oven was hot, the tins were put neatly into the oven using a peel. This was a flat piece of hard wood, thin and quite wide, which would carry about six tins on a long wooden pole handle. Vic would then go home for his breakfast, and by this time Reg would be working in the bakehouse. Reg started later as he did much longer delivery rounds and finished quite late in the day.

When the bread was brought out of the oven it was tipped out of the tins and then stacked on the shelves and racks to cool before being loaded into the vans. The tins were then greased. After breakfast, Vic would get the last batch of dough out of the trough and the process would be repeated. By now the vans were being loaded – Reg’s first, as he did the biggest round while Vic did the local run. Mr Rutter would make the cakes and these would go in with the last batch of bread.

The flour was delivered by Hovis from Haverhill and by Marriage’s from Colchester, the latter using a Sentinel steam lorry, which was quite a feat to see the driver reversing up the narrow yard. The sacks of flour had to be carried up to the loft by a staircase at the back. Canadian flour was the best, but this was in short supply. Later, a national loaf was introduced, which was part wholemeal and part white flour.

The fruitcake that Mr Rutter made was in very large tins. It was cut up and weighed, and put into paper bags with the prices marked on. This was restricted to one bag per household, due to the shortage.

Mr Rutter was helped by his two daughters, Cherry and Thora. He was a nice cheerful man with a great sense of humour, liked his poetry, and would often recite Kipling when drawing the loaves of bread from the oven. Mr Rutter came to this country from New Zealand after the First War.

Working on the farm

During the summer months several of us older boys got harvest work on the farms. It was called ‘getting a harvest’. We used to ‘drive away’, which meant leading the horse and wagon from shock (stook) to shock, while the farm men loaded the sheaves on to the wagon with pitchforks. A shock usually consisted of about twelve to sixteen sheaves that had been stood on end to allow the straw to dry. When the wagon was loaded, the horse and wagon was led to the gateway to the road and one of the farm men would be coming back with an empty wagon and sometimes with two horses. The lead horse was called a trace horse.

The trace would be unhitched and transferred to the loaded wagon for the journey back to the farm or stackyard, which sometimes was quite a distance. Us boys would then go back into the field with the empty wagon and start again. I can still remember some of the horses’ names. Mr Tilbrook had Duke and Captain, and Mr Wickerson had Blossom and also a lorry, in which he used to bring up his sheaves from his fields down the Drift. Mr Wickerson was the farmer I sometimes helped.

When the corn was being cut, I sometimes got a ride on the binder. This was considered a privilege, and usually happened when the man on the binder was having either his ‘docky’ or his ‘fourses’. The seat on the binder was a hard cast iron metal one, usually helped to be made a bit more comfortable with a bag of straw. I had to watch that the sheaves of corn were all tied up as they left the binder, as sometimes the twine broke or the ball ran out. If the sheaves were coming out loose and the tractor driver has not seen what was happening, the drill was to hit the metal casing on the top of the machine with a large stick which was carried just for this purpose. The noise attracted the driver’s attention and he then stopped to try and remedy the fault. Sometimes the canvas would break.

When the tractor reached the corner of the corn being cut, the sheaves that were being released had to be caught in a metal scoop operated by a foot lever, so that an area was clear of sheaves and the tractor and binder could complete a turning circle without running over any sheaves. The two main makes of binders were, Massey Harris and McCormack. When a field had almost been cut, any rabbits that were in the field would start running out, and we would chase them with large sticks. With rationing, a rabbit pie was an extra help on the table. There was a coalman who would buy up the rabbit skins, so nothing was wasted.

Our own war games

We had a lot more activity now with Army exercises, preparing for the invasion of Europe and sometimes the Home Guard would be involved with their training. The Home Guard also used the Mill as a lookout post. We had our own little war games, trying to imitate the soldiers and giving away the positions where they were hidden, often getting a ticking off from the umpires of the exercises who could always be recognised from their white armbands.

Another way we got involved was to create some big bangs, which was done by buying Carbide of Calcium as used in the acetylene cycle lamps. This was obtained from Chapman’s at Haverhill (using some of the ‘tatering’ money). We used a 2lb treacle tin, punched a nail hole in the base of the tin, then put a few lumps of carbide in the tin and a few drops of water (the amount of moisture was critical, otherwise all of you got was a ‘flame out’). The next step was to bang on the lid as tight as possible, put the tin on the ground under the left foot, wait a few seconds while it sizzled, and then hold a lighted match to the nail hole in the base of the tin. The result was a loud explosion. (Please do not try this at home!) During the dark evenings this caused some confusion with the British Army…

I remember being in Miss Dowsett’s shop one Saturday morning. There used to be several chairs in the shop where customers would sit and order their groceries or just chat. If one of the customers did not have a shopping list with them, Gussie would run through the items she thought she could sell; this conversation would go on for a time, often stopping for bit of village news, and then on to ‘how about sugar?’. Anyhow, a little lady said to Gussie, ‘Did you hear the old soldiers at it again last night, making a rare row, all the old bangs going on?’ Little did the lady know that one of the ‘carbide bombers’ was only a few feet away from her in the shop!

Food rationing was getting much tighter now. There was a jam-making club, where with all the surplus soft fruit from the gardens and an allocation of sugar from the Ministry of Food the ladies of the village made jam, using the kitchens of Mrs Ryder’s and Mrs Senior’s houses. The Ministry bought the jam and the proceeds went into village funds.

The public houses were experiencing a shortage of beer as well. Sundays would see that familiar notice chalked on the front doors, ‘Sorry no beer’ or ‘Sold out’, which was disappointing for the RAF boys who used to cycle down from the camps. They were mostly air-crew, who were easily recognised by the whistles they wore in the lapels of their tunics which were used to assist them finding their crew mates in the event of having to bale out at night or ditch in the sea. Mondays saw the public houses taking deliveries of more supplies with the visit of the Greene King beer drays from Bury St Edmunds.

Getting back to life at school æ more time was being spent down on the school gardens, knitting, and on handicrafts like making raffia mats, needle holders and footstools (the tops of these were made by weaving seagrass). Miss Linacre also liked her poetry. I can still remember as if it was yesterday, ‘Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made…’

I was now working all day Saturday for Mr Rutter, which meant going out on the delivery vans, mostly with Vic in the Thurlows and Little Bradley, but sometimes with Reg to Bradley, Borough Green, Brinkley, Six Mile Bottom, Lidgate, Cowlinge and finishing up at East Green. The Three Tuns was the last call, now long closed as a public house. We used to get there at around 5.30 and Reg would have a small bottle of light (IPA) and would bring me out a lemonade or ginger beer.

Reg was a first class mechanic, having served in the MT Corps in the 1914-18 War. It was a problem getting parts for the vans. Mr Rutter bought Mr Bedford’s Morris Cowley at the sale at Little Bradley. One Sunday when the vans were not needed, Reg and Vic removed the engine, clutch and gearbox from Reg’s van, and then went down to the buildings that stood at the top of the Drift where several spares and Mr Bedford’s Morris bullnose were kept. The engine, clutch and gearbox were removed. The engine was lifted out by using a piece of 4 x 3 timber roped to the engine and was lowered into a wheelbarrow, then pushed up to the bakery lean-to where the vans were kept and lifted into the van. This process was repeated for the gearbox. The work was finished on Sunday evening: Reg cranked the starting handle a few times, did some adjustments to the timing of the magneto and the engine was soon running; he then did a road test and came back with a big smile on his face. The van was back on the road on the Monday. I enjoyed being with the two men on that Sunday, helping where I could, washing down the parts with petrol and cleaning them. During the winter months, with the cold and damp nights, the radiators and cylinder blocks had to be drained of all the water (no anti-freeze in these days), and the vans would then be re-filled with warm water from the bakery the next morning. Sometimes the magnetos would get damp, and the vans would not start. Reg would take the ‘mag’ off the van, bring it into the bakehouse and lay it down by the furnace to dry out, then put it back on to the engine, re-time the ignition (the magneto was driven from the shaft by a leather belt), give a few swings on the starting handle, and it would soon start.

There was much more activity in the skies now that the United States 8th Air Force were taking part in the raids over Germany, since their raids were carried out in daylight. The bombers would be taking off as dawn was breaking, not long after our planes had returned to Wratting Common and Stradishall. Our nearest USAAF base was at Ridgewell, where the B17s Flying Fortress had arrived. The Americans flew in large box formations. I used to watch them climbing and getting into formation, with the lead aircraft firing coloured flares until they were all in position. After this group had gone others would follow, some of them B25 Liberators. After about an hour or so the escorting fighters would pass over æ P51 Mustangs and P47 Thunderbolts. The bombers would return in the afternoon, but I often saw gaps in the formation where bombers had been lost.

The Stirlng bomber crashes

During the late evening of 17th September 1943, I was down at my cousin Eric’s, who now lived at 123 The Street, when we heard the sound of an aircraft flying low and then the sound of machine gun fire. We went outside but could see nothing. The next day I found out that a Stirling bomber from Stradishall, taking part in the night-flying training of aircrew, had been shot down by a German night intruder. The bomber crashed on Jarvis Hill, just short of the keeper’s cottage. Two members of the crew lost their lives: the pilot instructor (a veteran and a holder of the DFC) and the bomb aimer.

Not long after this crash, Little Thurlow had a lucky escape when another Stirling crashed in The Close down by the river during the early hours of Saturday 21st November. The overhead electricity cables were brought down, and burning wreckage was strewn over a large area, some of which set fire to Mr Tilbrook’s stackyard. The Thurlow fire appliance, together with the Haverhill and neighbouring fire crews and the RAF crash teams, attended the scene, but the fire burned all day Saturday, destroying two barley stacks whose tightly packed sheaves burned a long time and made the fire-fighters task more difficult. A tractor and wire cable were used to pull the stacks down. Sub-Officer R.C. Poole from Haverhill was in charge of the crews. Some farm implements in the open cart shed nearby were also damaged. Luckily there was a supply of water nearby, since the brook ran alongside the stackyard and there was also the pond in the farmyard. I remember that during the afternoon there was the sound of exploding ammunition from one of the stacks.

The acrid smell of the crash scene hung around for a long time, with burnt corn, straw, aviation fuel, rubber and Perspex, I remember seeing cockpit instruments and cables hanging from the trees in the brook, and there were also many belts of ammunition lying around. The Stirling had three gun turrets, with a total of eight .303 Browning machine guns, which meant a large amount of ammunition was being carried.

The crash scene was guarded by a detachment of soldiers from the Royal Hampshire Regt., who slept in Mungo Lodge, which was still requisitioned by the War Department. The wreckage was removed by the RAF salvage team, using a large crane, a lorry and a 90ft Queen Mary trailer. This took several days. There was still a lot of belts of ammunition buried in the ground and we spent several days digging for souvenirs after the RAF had left.

Down in the river bank we found part of a dinghy survival pack, which included Horlicks tablets and canisters of coloured dye powder for the aircrew who ditched in the sea to mark their position with to help searching aircraft locate them. Somehow the contents of these canisters found their way into The Stour, and it was said that the colour of the water when it reached Great Thurlow resembled a rainbow!

Some of the ammunition we found was still in belts, including tracers, incendiary and armour piercing and the ordinary bullets. We found that we could take the bullets from the cases by using the bolt-hole in an old ploughshare and bending the case until it snapped off. The cordite would burn very brightly and quickly, and the empty cases were put into a small fire and exploded with a small bang when the detonator got hot. Please do not try this at home!

The village blacksmith

A favourite place for us boys to go if it was raining or very cold was in the blacksmith’s shop at Pound Green. The blacksmith at this time was Jack Norden, who used to cycle daily from his home at Westerly Waterless. He was a very handy and obliging man who would repair almost anything, including mending bicycles, soldering kettles and watering cans, and sharpening shears and wood axes.

We would pump the bellows for his fire, and there was an art in this since too much pressure would blow the hot coals away from the fire. The end of the bellows handle was a piece from the horns of a bull. One wet winter morning some of us boys who were on our holidays were in the shop. I was blowing the bellows for Jack, who I believe was making some harrow teeth, when suddenly there was a loud bang and the hot coals from the furnace were blown out. Somehow a .303 cartridge case with a detonator had found its way into Jack’s fire, and needless to say we were banned from the blacksmith’s for a while, though luckily there had not been a horse in the smithy at the time. And you hear some people making comments about youngsters of today…

November 1943 saw the resumption on a limited scale of foxhunting, with the Opening Meet being held at Bradley Fox. Once again we saw the familiar sight of the terrier man cycling through the village, Lance leFleming, the son of the vicar of Great Thurlow, who carried the hunt terrier in a basket on the back of his bicycle. He would cycle miles for his sport, also following the East Essex and the Puckeridge packs. He was a very polite and cheerful man, always raising his cap to everyone he passed.

November also saw the free distribution of bread, which Mr Rutter used to bake, to the parishioners through the Houghton Charity. This took place on a Saturday morning.

More functions were taking place now, with concerts were being held in the Clubroom at The Rose & Crown and proceeds going to the Welcome Home Fund, for the return of the members of the Forces.

Annual dinners were also held in the Clubroom for the cricket and football clubs, and also for the British Legion. I remember Mr Rutter baking a large local ham for one dinner. The ham was encased in bread dough, and after the last batch of bread had been drawn from the oven in the afternoon the ham was placed on a tray in the oven and allowed to bake slowly for several hours. When it was taken from the oven the bread dough was removed and the ham allowed to cool. Les, the butcher, collected it in his van and carved it later in the evening at the dinner.

December 1943 saw the end of my schooldays. I had now reached the age of 14 and I started working full-time for Mr Rutter at the bakery.

During the winter months my father and I would go rabbiting up at the Hall with his ferrets. Sometimes he would be lucky and get a few, especially if it was dry and frosty when the rabbits would bolt better, though some rabbits would get away if he had not enough nets to cover all the holes. Sometimes the ferret would get ‘laid up’, meaning reluctant to come up, and this meant getting the spade and digging the ferret out so that it was sometimes dark before we finished.

Joining up

I was now old enough to join the Army Cadet Force. Two of my mates, Derek Coote and Conrad Cornell, had already joined and we cycled to Haverhill on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, to meet at the Corn Exchange and do our parades and drills in the Cangle School playground.
Our Regular Army Instructor was C/Sgt George Marsh of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, from the Depot at Gibraltar Barracks, Bury St Edmunds. George was a strict disciplinarian but fair. I was to meet up again with him some 13 years later æ when leaving the Regular Army and joining the Territorial Army he was my Company Sergeant Major. There were 40 cadets in our platoon. I used to enjoy the target shooting which was held in the Old Junction Pit.

At about this time my cousin Fred came home on embarkation leave. He had all his kit with him, including one of the new Mark 4 Lee Enfield rifles and on a Saturday, when there was a pheasant shoot taking place locally, we decided to try the Enfield out with a bit of rabbit shooting. I had some of the ammunition from the crash in The Close stored in the old cobbler’s shop. We put the rifle in a sack, my two cousins and myself (my brother Michael was considered too young to come on this safari), and made our way to the War Ag land, though we had to be careful to fire into dead ground to avoid any ricochets. My cousin Fred was later to serve in Burma, with General Orde Wingate’s Chindit columns behind the enemy lines.

On Saturday night 18 March 1944 there was yet another Stirling bomber crash, this time at Little Thurlow Green, at Green Farm. This happened just on closing time at The Red Lion public house, and people went to the scene but there was little anyone could do. The first men at the farm let the cattle out of the farm buildings where the fire was. One member of the crew, the rear gunner, survived the crash but he died three weeks later from his injuries. I went up to the crash scene on the following Sunday morning, and saw one of the undercarriage wheels, which had crossed the road at Brickeye corner and carried on down by the footpath to Little Bradley and finished up in the hedge.

Getting back to work, I was enjoying my time in the bakery. I was now moulding and kneading the loaves, and loading the oven and then drawing the baked bread. I used to go out on the rounds three days a week and also on the delivery to the Risbridge Home at Kedington. I liked the trip down to Little Bradley best of all. Vic taught me to drive the van using the track down to The Hall first, and then I used to take over at the round bungalow at the top of Dark Lane. (Vic’s son John, by the way, has recently retired as the Verger at St Edmundsbury Cathedral).

I remember Mr Rutter nailing a Hot Cross bun on a beam at the back of the bakery on Good Friday, and it was still there a year later without a trace of mould!

I used to work on Mr Rutter’s allotment, which was one of those at the back of Trudgetts, which ran up to the boundary wall of Manor Farm. Sometimes Mr Rutter would come down in the afternoons, since after working in the bakery he liked to get out in the fresh air and would sit on the old tree stump in the centre of the allotment to enjoy one of his favourite cigarettes, a ‘Passing Cloud’.

I used to take the ashes in the wheelbarrow from the furnace down to the tip in the corner of Rutter’s meadow. Another Morris Cowley had now been bought and stored in the sheds, to be used for spares for the van. This had belonged to a Mr Skevington, who lived in Myrobella at The Green and who worked for the Ministry of Agriculture.

May 12th saw the start of the rook-shooting season. This year of 1944 Major Horn asked my father if I would like to go with him in The Walks. I was given a .22 rifle and went there several evenings. Elisabeth Frink came with us when she came home on her Whitsun holiday from her school. Elisabeth used a .410 shotgun and was a good shot.

June 6th saw the Normandy invasion take place. After this the presence of the Army had passed, and it was much quieter on the roads without the Army convoys passing through the village. Our cadet headquarters at Haverhill was now in one of the empty Army huts on the Hamlet Croft.

Mr Alec Sadler, who was the captain of the village cricket team, was very good to us boys, organising friendly games of football. There was always a rivalry between Great and Little Thurlow as to who was the best. The football pitch was now in The Close and I sometimes used to help mark out the pitch with sawdust, which came from Mr Sargent’s carpenters shop. Alec also used to referee the games for us. Nearly everyone had a nickname in those days and some that come to mind are: Duke, Yets, Chick, Gubby, Compton, Bay, Yinney, Rump, Ghandi, Roush, Dick, Mutt, Mole, Lucas, Eppy, Mick, Tarney, Tod, Crot, Banel, Muffy, Suff, Dawdy, Fidgy, Judder, Taff, Mod, Wag, Snap, Diddley, Wink, Hop, Scratcher, Grits, Dusty, Coddy, Pommy, Hicksey, Hodd, Sunny, Hank, Blondin, Trew, Higgler, Nobby, Bamby, Hub, Gabe, Shimmer, Dumpy, Sugar, my nickname was Rowlk.

One thing I missed was the family holidays we spent in Norfolk before the war. We used to stay with my grandparents at Gunthorpe, where my grandfather was the head gamekeeper at Gunthorpe Hall, the home of Colonel Sparkes. The keeper’s cottage stood on the corner of Great Wood. Fred Wright would take us in his car to catch the train, either at Haverhill or Cambridge station, and we got off at Thursford. We spent days at Blakeney, Wells, Stiffkey, Sheringham and Cromer, catching the train from Thursford.

I enjoyed going round the woods with my grandfather, to where the pheasants were being reared, and also to the big lake. The railway ran through part of one of the woods. My grandfather said he had the most trouble from poachers on Guy Fawkes Night and Christmas Day, and also when people came to the railway to pick up coal that had been dropped off when the trains passed through the wood.

Travel by train and bus was much easier in those days. We had a daily coach service to King’s Cross, leaving Hale’s corner at 7.30am and getting back to Thurlow at around 8.45pm. The coach driver would also take parcels and boxes, and at Christmas time poultry and vegetables would be taken for a small fee and collected by relatives and friends at King’s Cross. This service was operated by Burgoins ‘Grey Pullman’ coaches, also stopping at The Half Moon, Epping for a break. The train service was also good, from Haverhill North to Liverpool Street Station, via Audley End, taking just over the hour.

Enemy raids had become less frequent now that the Germans had resorted to using unmanned flying bombs, the V.I. Doodle Bugs, which came over mainly at night though some were launched during daylight hours. They were very noisy and gave out a bright orange flame. When the engine cut out they would glide for a few more miles before crashing.

I remember cycling home from the cadets one Wednesday evening, just coming up to the Melbourne Bridge railway line, when a Doodle Bug came over very low and the motor cut out. I jumped off my bike onto the side of the road and not long after there was a explosion æ it had come down at Hanchett End. Later one Friday afternoon another one came down at Skipper’s Hall, just short of the airfield at Wratting Common. Next were the V.2 rockets, but none came down locally. Most of these were directed at London, though some did fall short of their targets.

My cousin Eric was now in the Irish Guards, serving in Europe with the Guards Armoured Division. One Sunday morning, 17th September ’44, I was getting ready to go to Haverhill when a large formation of aircraft, some towing gliders, started flying over. This went on for quite a long time and we heard later they were on their way to Holland to take part in the ill-fated airborne operation ‘Market Garden’ to capture the bridges at Arnhem. There were several more formations during the next few days as supplies were flown in.

There was an old retired farm worker who had worked for a Colonel Goodchild at Great Wratting. His name was Jim Barratt and he lived alone opposite to my pal Dennis in one of a pair of cottages, now 116F. Jim was a typical Suffolk ‘old boy’ who always wore brown corduroy trousers tied just below the knee with a pair of laces he called ‘lallygag’s’. When he was working on a corn stack during ‘sheening’ (threshing) and the mice were disturbed the lallygags stopped the mice from running up the trouser legs. He always wore a ‘wustcut’ (waistcoat) with a pocket watch and chain, and a red neckerchief with white spots round his neck. This was to stop the barley spikes and dust getting inside the shirt, especially when stacking the sheaves of corn and being in the ‘stage hole’ on the stack. He always wore an old trouby (trilby) hat. He would stand at his garden gate in the summer evenings talking to us boys. I remember him telling Dennis and myself what he thought had caused the bomber to crash in The Close. His words were, ‘Ah borrs he druve she hum too hard, har bearings got too hot and she cotch fire’.

Jim’s neighbour was Frank (Hank) Bailey, who was a gamekeeper. His beat was the Big Park, the Island and Hart Wood. Frank had only one hand, and had a second artificial one, which was a metal hook.

December 1944 saw me completing my first year at work, which had passed very quickly.

In conclusion, my childhood days were very much influenced by all the happenings associated with the War. At times it was exciting and sometimes it was sad. Wars are terrible for all the suffering and heartache, and I hope that no future generations of Thurlow children have to grow up in such a wartime environment when at times life was so difficult.

I owe a great debt to my parents for giving my brother Michael and myself such a loving, caring and happy childhood.

We must never forget the servicemen of the Thurlows who gave their lives, and the aircrew of the bombers who died in the air crashes, some who came from the Commonwealth to fight in the cause for freedom and the defeat of Hitler.

A fitting tribute to the airmen is the model of a Stirling bomber on the roof of the barn, following the recent attractive development carried out in the old Manor Farmyard.


I visited the Thurlow Fayre in September 2001. It had been several years since I last went. met some nice people and had a very enjoyable time. Walking through the village, my mind went back to some of the buildings I had worked on. In the early 1950’s some of the cottages had their thatched roofs stripped off and replaced with Canadian cedar wood shingles. I think this was due to there being a shortage of suitable thatching straw and not many thatchers around.

This was sad, and I’m sorry to say I was involved in this, working for Mr Sargent Senior at the time who was given the contract for this work. It is nice to see that some of the shingles have now been replaced with traditional pantiles.

Thurlow was, and I am sure still is, a nice corner of Suffolk to live in, and it is good to see that it remains a working village.

12 December 2002