The Thurlows

Village News & Information

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.