The Thurlows

Village News & Information

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.