The Thurlows

Village News & Information

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.