Working Lives

A Neatishead farm boy (1950s-2018)

Location: Norfolk

John’s mother ran the village shop in Neatishead for over forty years, it was a meeting place for all the locals and farm workers. John was born in the room above the shop.

Growing up above the shop

My childhood was spent in Neatishead where my mother ran the village shop and my father had a smallholding. I was born in 1938 in the bedroom above the village shop in King Street. My mother had got the shop when my brother, Cecil, was about three months old and he is four years older than me. I have another younger brother Frank who came along six years after me.

The shop was a total institution for all the farmworkers and locals around Neatishead. It was open every weekday from nine in the morning until eight at night and nine until nine on Saturdays which everyone called ‘grocery day’ but even on Sundays there were numerous knocks on the door for urgent items. It was a real meeting place, the shop bell never stopped and she sold everything – you name it, she would supply it, tobacco, chocolate, clothes, groceries. She had a medicine cabinet full of medical supplies – I suppose she used to give advice as well. We also had a safe in the store room – no fridge in those days – for perishable goods. It was like an endless flow of people, all to be kept happy. She had that shop for over 40 years.

Although it was wartime when I was very young, I suppose we lived well because of the shop. Father would make certain we had enough partridge, pheasant, rabbits and whatever to keep us going and he would also bring home other things ‘swopsies’ for a rabbit or a pheasant.

How Mother coped, I don’t really know to be honest but we just managed. We had a big garden out the back and used to grow all our own veg. Outside loo, of course, out in the garden. Saturday was bath night, we used to get the bath which hung outside on the wall and Mother used to say ‘put the copper on’ to heat up the water. My little brother had it first, then we put a bit more water in, I would have it next and my elder brother after that. The bath used to be in the kitchen and when the doorbell rang in the shop, there was a wind tunnel from the shop door through into the kitchen. When we had all finished, we would cart the bath out into the garden and tip the water out onto the veg. We didn’t have any heating in the place, only a little fire in the living room and it was nothing to go to bed in the wintertime or wake up in the morning with ice ferns on the windows. We didn’t seem to take harm, we just jogged along and it was a lovely place to grow up.

We were surrounded by good families and people who had been there for years and everybody knew everybody and looked after everybody and it was a lovely place to live. We would walk to school, play out when we felt like it, go home when we felt like it. No-one seemed to be worrying in those days and it was a very, very nice place to be.

Neatishead Stores

Mother and Father would both serve in the shop, although Father also had a smallholding. My father was a big bloke, I reckon about 20 odd stone and it was quite funny; if he went to serve, say on a Saturday, there were two steps down out of the living room to the kitchen and a passage way from the kitchen through to the back of the shop and as he went, he would hold the wall at the corner and over time a big hand print built up and also because there was not much room behind the counter his belly would rub against it and the front of his trousers and fly buttons were always worn away.

Along the edge of the counter, there were jars of sweets and a little display cabinet for Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate bars, Kit-Kats and things like that. I have still got that and the till in my garage. The till had a slide out drawer with sections for pennies and halfpennies, sixpences, shillings, half crowns and whatever but when Mother died, I found a load of farthings in the compartment right at the back, they must have been there forever.

I was too young to remember much about the war. I remember the rationing. I also recall lying in bed and hearing all the planes heading off to Germany. Mother used to have to put the blinds up at nights because of the lights and I can remember once being in the house with Mother when the blind fell off the window and then total panic to get that back up as if the Germans were going to come to attack us because the planes could see the light.

Everyone had ration books – I have still got mine. Everyone had to register with a specific shop and get their rations there and the shopkeeper would have to check them off. My brother and I used to cut the coupons for Mother and a lot of the older people would say ‘give the chocolate or the sweet rations to the boys’ which was very nice of them and Cecil and me would accumulate these Kit-Kats and things in piles in the sideboard and we would guard our piles so that if one of us got an extra bar, we didn’t quite come to blows but it got quite nasty which pile was which – ‘no, I had that one, no, you didn’t’. We look back on it now and smile.

Father was in the Home Guard. They used to meet somewhere over near Ludham Bridge, whether it was because there was a pill box there or something to do with the road in case of raids, I don’t know. I don’t think they ever had any rifles, they had to make do with pretend ones although my father had his own shotgun for shooting rabbits.

Another thing about the war, there were a lot of Italian prisoners about here. Because I was so young, I didn’t know where they were billeted but they used to work on the farms about here – we used to call them ‘Eye-ties’. I think they had a fairly good life here, I got the impression that they didn’t want to go back to fight and everybody seemed to get on well with them.

My Grandfather – the horse collar maker, bike mender and other things!

My grandparents lived just down the road from us; you could see their little thatched cottage and Grandfather’s hut and old barn from the shop. He was a horse collar maker and we have since found out that he was the sixth generation horse collar maker. He was Charlie Morter and when you go back through the generations, they were Charlie Morter, Charlie William Morter, William Charlie Morter, Charlie William Morter. They tell me that there is one of his horse collars in the Bridewell Museum in Norwich. I don’t know whether that’s true but there is definitely a horse collar there.

To make the horse collars, he would get bundles of soft rushes from the river and tie them up in blocks of four to dry out in a little meadow just opposite Mother’s shop. I was fascinated by his skill in turning the bundles inside out without undoing them – he would pick one up and then just flip it and turn them inside out. In his workshop – I would have killed for that and I would have loved to have a photo of it – he had a block about three foot high and about nine inches by nine inches with nails sticking up which was used to shred the rushes to soften them and then he used to sew the leather all around them making horse collars. He also made rush matting.

There is a story and whether it is true or not, I don’t know but Grandfather was not the sharpest bloke out of bed in the morning so Grannie kept stirring him up and finally she put the clock on an hour and when he had gone out to the workshop, she would put it back.

He also used to mend bikes and his workshop was full of mudguards, wheels and lots of other bike parts. He would do anything for anybody, he was that sort of bloke. They would say, ‘how much do I owe you Mr Morter?’ and he used to say back to them ‘I think, it might be alright, see how it go!’ He wouldn’t charge them and Grannie used to do her conkers. He worshipped bikes and used to get mad if you didn’t look after them. When bikes came in for him to mend, they would go out like new because he used to rub down all the rusty bits, the mudguards and the chains with an oily rag to protect them. We all had bikes of course and if we went down to his workshop on our bikes with bits of rust on them, he wouldn’t be very happy with us.

Behind the thatched cottage, there was a little scullery thing and he used to charge accumulators for radios there ‑ I would go round and see them all linked up and bubbling. I have also heard that he kept a black hearse and black horse for funerals although I never saw the hearse in the workshop so I don’t know where it was kept.

I sometimes wonder whether he could read or write as I never did see him with anything readable or writeable.

School Days at Neatishead Village School

I went to Neatishead School when I was about five in about 1943. At the time, there were about 70 pupils in three classes. The infant class was in a room of its own with a lovely, lovely teacher, Miss Easton who had been there for ever. She had a mirror just inside the classroom that looked like a life buoy with the words ‘Am I clean and tidy?’ written around the edge. There was also an open fire and if anybody made a smell, as children do, she would put some brown paper on the hot ashpan and walk around the room with it smoking to kill the smell.

John at Neatishead School

After the infants, you would move up into the juniors. There was only one big room for juniors and seniors with a curtain in between. It was very difficult to know where to concentrate with two classes running and only a curtain separating them. Mrs Challoner taught the juniors and Billy Challoner, I didn’t dare call him that in those days, taught the seniors and was the Headmaster.

Up at Mr Challoner’s end of the room, there was another big open fire with a guard all around. We had a garden and we used to have gardening sessions every week, planting things. There were apple trees and Mr Challoner used to count the apples because some used to go walkabouts. There was also a playing field for football, cricket and things like that – not that we did that very often. He was quite handy with the old cane. He used to cut the cane out of the hedge and swore blind that, if anyone was brave enough to hide his cane or chuck it on the fire, the next one would be thicker and harsher. He had another little habit as well, if he looked down on your work and he wasn’t satisfied with it, he would bang you on the side of the head with his knuckle and that knuckle was very hard.

Another thing, we used to have a dentist van come to the school. The dentist’s name was Mr Pulham, can you think of anything worse? They would take out the iron rails at the front of the school – a section would come out – and they would pull in this old caravan. The equipment was not like the high speed stuff we have today, it was all belts and pulleys and ropes which turned at nil miles per hour so Mr Pulham would be working on your teeth and be grinding away in there for a long time. And once, when we were about 10 or 11, Titch Bailey, a pal of mine, his brother Derek who we called Billy (nobody had their proper names then), saw the van pull in and thought ‘I’m not having this’ and leapt over the fence and tore off. I don’t think he liked dentists. Mr Challoner went and got him back in his Austin 7.

I’m not sure how old the school was – it was built in 1800 and something. The Prestons, who owned a lot of land around here and lived at Beeston Hall donated the school and the money for the school initially. It was just a village school and I, because I was so keen to get back to the smallholding and get on a tractor or feed some bullocks, failed my 11 plus, much to Billy Challoner’s disgust. I was head boy there but all I wanted was to go out and live life really.

Eventually, we got school dinners there. Mr Rivett used to come in his Commer van from Wroxham where the dinners were cooked at one of the schools. They came in big metal containers and they set up a room at the side of the school where we had our dinners – chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce was a favourite.

The school is still there, it is a private house now. But when it was being converted, I ran across the guy who was doing the work and went back to look around. You know how things look big when you are small, I walked in and thought ‘did this accommodate us lot’. I remembered all the desks with the initials carved on and the chunks out of the desk fronts, that sort of thing and the big skylight in the middle above the junior classroom. But I have drawn it as it used to be, as I remembered it as a child.

Father’s smallholding

My father ran a smallholding just up the road from the shop. I am not quite certain how he got it in the first place. He had meadows, greenhouses, chickens, pigs, bullocks, a jersey cow for our own milk and some arable for corn and mangolds. We kept the chickens in a railway carriage. Freddie Wright, the guy who had the smallholding before Father, used to live in it with his wife and three children. It was a proper old railway carriage with leather straps on the windows and we turned it into a chicken house. We made nest boxes out of the orange boxes from the shop and it was my job to collect the eggs and look after the chickens. Some of the eggs were sold in the shop and some went to the Egg Man who came every Thursday so Wednesday nights were spent hand washing all the eggs and putting them into trays for him to pick up.

We had two meadows for the bullocks, our jersey cow Trixie, and the pigsties. We also had a horse called Ginger although Father eventually moved over to tractors – he had an old Standard Fordson. We used to grow mangolds for the bullocks. We would bring the mangolds in and put them in a bank which would be covered with straw and then soil to stop the frost getting at them. We also used to get sugar beet pulp – it was like little black curly bits and smelt lovely and we would grind up the mangolds and then mix them with the sugar beet pulp and wheat chaff to feed the bullocks.

Even from a young age, we were expected to help out on the smallholding. We had two large greenhouses for growing tomatoes and cucumbers, some went to the shop and the rest sold elsewhere. My job was to pick off the side shoots from the tomatoes and to water all the plants. There was a path down the middle of each greenhouse with plants in banks of three along the length of each glasshouse – huge commercial greenhouses. There was a water tank outside which used to catch the water off the roof and it was all done by pail – one pail of water for every three plants.

John working on the smallholding

Then, out of the blue, Father suddenly decided that we needed to have a proper water supply so he called in a plumber, a chap called Jack Sizer who was a water diviner. It was fascinating. Jack got a hazel twig in his hands and ambled about at the back of the greenhouses and then stuck his heel in and said ‘this is where it is, there’s water down there’. So Father dug a well and sure enough, that is where the water was. He installed a pipe and a pump leading to a big tank in the middle of the greenhouses so I didn’t have to walk right down to the end of the greenhouse each time just to water the tomatoes and cucumbers.

Each year once the tomatoes were finished, the soil in the greenhouses had to be changed. It had to be dug out, one spade deep and then new soil from outside had to be carted in. One year when I was about 13, Father asked me and my friend from up the road – Graham Bailey who we all called Titch – to do the job. So we carted all this soil in and out of these greenhouses – it took us a fair while I might add. At the end of it, Titch got his first pair of long trousers and all I got was a bar of chocolate! However, a year of two later when I was about 15, I had to dig the greenhouses out again and this time, Father gave me two tiny little pigs straight from the sow to fatten up. I scrimped and scraped everything I could find to feed these pigs and eventually sold them and bought five little ones for the next lot. Alongside these pigs, I also kept rabbits on the meadow behind the shop garden which I used to breed and sell off.

I was still at school but all I wanted to do was get home to work on the smallholding. The meadows were near to the shop but the arable land was up the Irstead Road. Father had a Standard Fordson tractor and I used to run home from school and change, then tear off up the field and he would get off and go home and I used to carry on cultivating or whatever he was doing up the fields. Mother used to worry about me because at the end of the field were the marshes through to Alderfen Broad with a big drop into a ditch and the Standard Fordson was never good for turning – it had iron wheels on the front and rubber tyres on the back and when you turned, it would plough forwards. She was absolutely certain I was going to finish up down the ditch with the tractor on top of me.

I can’t remember how old I was – I was still at school – when Father bought a new Ferguson tractor. Wow, it was the height of luxury. It cost about £350 and he bought it on HP from the bank. I used to hear Mother and Father talking about it, worrying about the repayments and I couldn’t understand, I thought you could just write out a cheque, so I said to them, ‘Why don’t you just write some more money out then?’ They didn’t say much, ‘Just stop poking your nose in.’But it is a fact that I thought if you wanted money, you just wrote a cheque, I didn’t understand you had to have money in the bank in the first place. They banked with Barclays at Wroxham and the bank manager knew them and how they worked. He would roll up for a cup of tea or meet in the pub. That is how I came to be with Barclays Bank but I have a job to get on to today’s wavelength. Local knowledge and people coming together and now it has all stopped and I can’t understand it.

On the arable land, Father grew corn and sugar beet. He also had three or four rows of currant bushes. I don’t how he ever got into currants. Cecil and I had to help on the land. Like on a Saturday afternoon, I used to want to go along to watch football at Barton and Father would say ‘You aren’t going, you are going up that field to set lettuces’ and we were given these trays of lettuces to be set all the way up the middle of these currant bushes. I didn’t tell him until years later, probably when I was doing my National Service before I dared tell him, we just used to set as many as we thought was enough, then we would dig a hole and bury the rest.

Once a year, Father would have a pig killed by the village butcher, Strattons, and there would be big ham joints hanging behind Mother and Father’s bedroom door. I assume they must have been salted or treated, how long they kept I don’t know but there were always these big ham joints hanging on the back of the door.

The jersey cow, Trixie, was kept in the meadows. As I said, Father was a very big bloke but twice a day he would get out this tiny three legged stool and would walk out into the field with his pail and sit down. He always wore a cap and he would turn it back to front so he could rest up against the cow and ‘chu, chu’ he would milk the cow and that was just the best milk in the world. That went on for years. She did have a calf which Father was going to bring along as his next cow but she couldn’t breed so eventually she had to go. This broke our hearts, seeing a half grown jersey going but he couldn’t do anything with her.

Working on the land

I left school at 15 and I first went to work at Holly Grove which is a farm just up the road then owned by a Mr Last. He used to do a lot of seed corn. One of the winter time jobs was to take the seed corn sacks and turn them inside out because the old corn would hang on to the whiskers of the sack and scrape them off with a piece of wood and he had to be sure that only the new corn seed was in the sacks for the next year. Hamilton Lee was the foreman there and a very very big bloke and the two of us did all the arable stuff and looked after the bullocks as well as ducks as Mr Last had a huge number of ducks. I was thinking about it this morning, within two miles of where Father had his smallholding, there were twenty smallholdings and farms, it just shows how different it is today, now there are none. But then, everyone kept something even at home.

I worked there for a while and then I heard they were after someone at Irstead Hall so I went there. I used to do the ploughing and cultivating and all sorts of things. The farmer was a chap by the name of Eric Bell and because he was Bell by name and Ding Dong by nature, we all called him Ding Dong. There was also another guy, Teddy Boswell, who had been there since doomsday. They still had a horse, called Prince, and Teddy would sometimes do some light work with the old horse. Nobody had ever taught me how to plough and down near where the Boardwalk is now, there was a field which went down to a point. Now, for sugar beet, we used to plough one furrow and it had to be deep to loosen the soil and we didn’t have modern hydraulic ploughs only a drag plough and I had never weighed up how to do the point properly. So I ploughed as best I could and then Ding Dong said to Teddy Boswell ‘take some harrows or rollers or whatever with Prince and roll it’. When Teddy came back to the farm buildings that night he said, ‘What the hell you done in the corner of that field?’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘God, you left some furrows there, Prince fell in them and couldn’t get out.’

Irstead Hall also had a dairy herd with about 70 cows. Rolly used to be the cowman, starting at about 5 o’clock in the morning to do the milking before going home for breakfast and then coming back to the farm. I would be working in the fields with the tractor ploughing or cultivating and he would probably be one of the few people I would see in the day when he cycled past with his old army greatcoat hanging over his handle bars.

We would grow kale for the cows and in the winter, we used to cut them at the root with a hook. The leaves are dished and would be full of ice so when you cut them, it would get a bit fresh, let’s put it that way. Then I would just start the tractor and let it run across the field, throw them off and then pile the leaves onto the trailer.

When it came to sugar beet, I used to plough, harrow and disc the field to get a good tilth on it. We would sow rows of sugar beet about 15 inches apart and each seed would put up four or five shoots and when they were about an inch and a half out of the ground, we would have to ‘chop them out’ by hand, using a hoe to leave one plant every eight or nine inches. We had a thing called a horse hoe that would go up between the rows to cut out any weeds. I was on about £2 10s 0d per week then but we would take the sugar beet on a contract basis – only me and Teddy Boswell – for about £7 10s 0d per acre. We would get there at about 7 o’clock in the morning and he would have his acre here and I would have my acre there but he had been doing it all his life and I was only 15-16 years old so I couldn’t keep up with him.

It is quite funny, one of the fields which again finished near the Boardwalk was on a slight hill and he would gain on me and get to the end of his row and lean on his hoe just to get a little rest and wait for me to come down the hill and when I had nearly reached him, he would head off again so I used to have to chase him all the way back. We used to take bottles of tea, wrapped up in a sock to keep warm because we didn’t have flasks, and sandwiches in Oxo tins. Teddy used to make me laugh, he lived on his own and he would often bring pork chops. We would sit on the hedge when we got to the end and Teddy would get there before me and be well into his pork chop before I got there and sat down. He would open up his Oxo tin, reach into his pocket and get out his own penknife and carve a few bits and pieces off this pork chop, put them on a round of bread and then eat, eat, eat, a swig of cold tea and off we goes again. I thought one of these days, I’m going to catch you up Teddy, but I never did, he could also do it much much better than I could.

Later on we would have to lift the beet, pull them and knock them by hand, in all weathers including ice and snow. We used to do twelve rows at a time, we would pull two this side, two that, then the others and place them on the ground with the roots facing each other. Then Teddy would go down one side of the row and I would go down the other and cut each sugar beet top off with a hook. Then we would load them on to a trailer and cart them down to Irstead Shoals or pile them on to a lorry. We would let the tops die back a bit and then pick them up and take them back up to the farmyard to feed to the pigs, bullocks and cows. You shouldn’t use them when they are fresh because it upsets the animals’ stomachs.

As I said, we would cart the sugar beet down to Irstead Shoals where we would load them onto the wherry. The wherry used to take 40 tons at a time and the two of us used to load it – me and Teddy Boswell and I was only 15 or 16 at the time. Luckily most of it was downhill or at least level. My brother Cecil used to work for Jones Farm up the road and when I was only about 13-14 before I left school, he would say, ‘Come and give us a hand’ and he would back the lorry into the field where the sugar beet was piled up, they always used to pile it up next to the gate. Then he would drop the sides of the lorry take the extension bits off the top and we would throw the beet on until it was as full as you could get it, then he would put the sides back up and we would have to continue to chuck the beet up – seven or eight foot on to the top. That was what you did when it was in a field so we were lucky. The wherry had a little cabin on the end and a little smokestack with a log burner and when it was loaded up, it would chug off to Cantley. It was about a three day round trip and by the time he came back, we would have another 40 tons to chuck on.

On the other side of Irstead Shoals, there used to be an old guy with reeds all stacked up for thatching. Dead opposite to where we piled the sugar beet, there was a dyke where they used to cut a tremendous amount of reeds which they would bring to shore. It used to make me laugh to see the boat with the reeds piled high and the cutters sitting in the back rowing or pushing the boat, not being able to see where they were going. Reeds were big business then but now I understand that they are not allowed to stack them at the Shoals any more. We were down there in the summer and there was a chap with some reed waiting for a lorry to come and pick it up and take it to Bedford or somewhere and he told us, ‘It has got to be gone in one day, they will allow us to put it there but it has to be collected and taken away, you can’t just stack reed there now, it’s not allowed.’ But it was a tremendous business in those days.

I had another lovely job on the spring time. There were meadows down by Irstead Hall. You could see the sails of the yachts on the river across the marshes and How Hill in the background. However, it was too wet in the winter and so in the spring, the meadows had to be drained so the cows and bullocks had a bigger area to graze. If you go down to Irstead Shoals and turn right, there is a house there now, but there used to be a tin shack in which there was an old stationary engine – a double fly wheel stationary engine – which was a bit of a swine to start and a bit temperamental. That was attached to about an eight-inch pipe to pump the dykes out. Ding Dong said, ‘I want you to stop down here with it’. ‘Right, great, okay,’ I said. I had to make certain the engine kept running and to keep the water cooling tank topped up and well, I mean, you can’t have it better … birds singing, engine running, water running past you … and I would be there all day long with it, just draining the marshes so they would be dry enough to graze some of the animals on.

Strangely enough, not many years ago, we had a Open Gardens day in Neatishead, Irstead and Barton and their garden was open. We went in and where the little tin shack with the engine had been, they were actually serving cakes and teas and coffees. I said to the owners, ‘when I was15 or 16, some 65ish years ago, I used to come down to pump water off the marshes into the river.’ They said, ‘Oh, the pipe work is still there, the engine’s gone.’ Unfortunately, I might add, it would have been a cracker now. If you go out the back there, it’s still all there. After all those years, magic really, I would have loved the engine to be there, I really would.

Just another little gem, there were water carriers for the cows in the meadows, they are still kicking about. They were three iron wheeled tanks with a single wheel at the front and two at the back. There was one in a bit of a state and Ding Dong said to me, ‘I want you to paint that’. ‘Okay’ I said but it is a job to get inside because you can’t reach in very well. He said, ‘what you should do is to stand it up on end so you can stand inside and paint it. ‘Great, okay.’ Luckily it was just opposite his door, so I got this thing stood up on end with the single wheel at the top and he set me to work cleaning all the rust off. I had the paint, called No Rust – no idea what was in it and I don’t even want to think about it now – but I was going up and down inside this tank and some demon in this paint, whatever it was, knocked me out. I just fell down and Ding Dong looked out of the kitchen window, ‘what’s the matter with you’. The fumes had got me, didn’t do me a lot of good, I suppose. I don’t know – still here anyway.

National Service

When I was 18, I had to go to do my national service. I had only been on holiday out of Norfolk once before – to Sheffield in Father’s car, it took about three days or something in those days. I went in the Army – a totally new experience. I got sent a ticket for the train to Aldershot. We got off the train at Aldershot, a train full of the recruits; and instantly the doors opened and you got on the platform, they started shouting at you. ‘You are in the army, you know, and you will do as you’re told.’ Then we got onto the back of army transport wagons with a canvas roofs, all stood up in the back hanging onto the things on the roof and were taken to camp.

Hair cut, all up the sides with just a little bit left on the top – no choice. Then we were taken into the quartermaster’s place for uniforms and all they do is look at you and guess your size – there’s your battle dress, there’s your trousers, here’s a belt and bullet pouch, there’s your back pack and there’s your beret (the beret is like a dinner plate). Finally there’s your boots, all mottled with little pimples which you had to polish until you could see to shave your face in the toes.

A new experience, suddenly your life is not your own. Luckily there were one or two older, nicer people (not the physical training instructors, they were crackers). They would explain how to do things and how to get things right, like your dinner plate beret – ‘Get two sinks, hot and cold, hot and cold, to shrink it to fit.’ All the buttons on your uniform were brass (eventually they were changed to stay-bright which looked like brass but wasn’t). You had to polish the brass buttons and all the buckles on the belt, the bullet pouches and the back pack. The inspections were daily ‑ both the uniforms and kit and also the billets.

We were in billets of 16 and were shouted at all the time. We had to learn to march, all the ‘slope arms’ and the rest of it. But some guys did help, there was one really nice chap I got to know fairly well – he got on with everybody – he showed me how to polish my boots. He said, ‘not just spit and polish but put the Cherry Blossom on the toes and melt it with a candle and let it flow’. And the uniforms which are really woolly blankets, I mean, hairy as anything. They had creases everywhere, in the sleeves, the back everywhere but you were supposed to have everything pressed with razor sharp creases in the trousers. This chap said ‘rub some soap down the crease and then iron it’. You see what I mean, little things like that.

I got three days confined to barracks because of the beret. When you get it, there is a little bow at the back where the binding finishes. Unbeknown to me, you were supposed to tuck this in the holes where the tie went round, I didn’t and I got three days confined to barracks for that.

I did convoys as a dispatch rider. When you are on a convoy, you have dispatch riders on motorbikes who go ahead and point the bike in the direction the convoy has to go. This sounds stupid but it is a fact – say you have about 10 lorries, the one in front never does more than 20 miles an hour while the bloke at the back will be doing about 35 miles an hour because as the first brakes, they all brake back there and then accelerate in turn so the back ones have to go faster to catch up – strange but that’s a fact.

I liked my motorbikes and eventually I had my own bike at the camp. Being a despatch rider suited me down to the ground. We did a lot of things including trips on a duck and that sort of thing. I went to sea on a duck, it was not my cup of tea, I must admit. You aren’t very far out of the water and if it’s a bit choppy, it is like a landing craft seeing the front drop down and all that – not the best ride I have had in my life.

I didn’t go back to farm labouring after my national service. I got a job with the GPO in Oxford. Then I got a job as stores manager for an electrical wholesaler in Oxford. Then opportunities arise in Ipswich, Norwich, Cambridge, then Devon, back to Cambridge then back to Norwich. I also ran the Eagle Tavern in Neatishead in 1968/9 and have been very fortunate to return to my beloved village to retire too.

John Horner 2018

John Horner (b. 1938) talking to WISEArchive on 7th February 2019 in Neatishead Norfolk.

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