‘Living and Working in Lydd’
First Published In Issue 3
I did various jobs on the farm during the war including catching moles that were causing a lot of damage to the arable crops. As a lot of the good grazing land had to
be ploughed up, I got sixpence a tail and I had to keep the tails in a
tin and show them to my father’s employer, Mr. Finn to get paid. He was a very generous and friendly man. My father used to skin them for me and we stretched them on a board to dry and when we had several dried, we sent them to a place in Peterborough to be made into the lining of pilot’s gloves. I helped in lots of jobs on the farm when I didn’t have to go to school including cutting broad beans for harvesting. I remember one time the beans were so ripe that the loose beans scattered all over the field. Mr. Finn had an idea and asked me if I would like to do some leasing of the broad beans to keep me occupied and he would give me so much a bushel. I cannot remember how much it was now but it seemed a very generous amount. He did not expect me to complete the whole field but I did and it was very back aching at first but I soon got used to it. He was so pleased that he sent some of the beans to the seed merchants in Ashford, and they wanted the rest threshed out for early seed. He did this by getting the thresher in and got a very large sum for them, but he did not forget it was due to me and gave me a very large bonus for my hard work.
In 1942, while helping my father build a haystack just along from our house, we witnessed the machine gunning of the local train loaded with soldiers going home on leave.
The train had just left Lydd Station when two German planes being chased by some polish pilots, came towards the train. The first German plane started shooting at the
engine of the train and flew over it, but the one following caught the blast from the boiler as it exploded and this in turn brought the second plane crashing to the ground. The pilot landed upside down in the pond across the next field to where we were and the engine of that plane carried on for another two large fields. We later heard that the first German plane was also shot down by the polish pilots. I can assure you that we came down off that stack very quickly that day.
Mr. Finn taught me to ice skate on the pond just down the road from our house. One winter when it froze over and we were snowed in by drifting snow, we had to be dug out by the soldiers from Lydd Camp so we were able to get to feed the many sheep that he owned.
During the Second World War, I joined the St. Johns Ambulance Cadets at Lydd to act as telephone boy and messenger at the British Legion Hall, which was the headquarters of the First Aid and Civil Defence. We used to cycle around the town with the messages for the ARP and Civil Defence people who were sited in several different houses in and around Lydd. We also acted as patients for them to practice first aid and rescue procedures from various places, such as out of upstairs windows on a stretcher being lowered by ropes etc.
It was whilst on duty one evening that one of the two Australian doctors, Dr. Rupert Palmer, came into the hall with a white enamel bucket with a lid on. “Ah, Basil,”
he said, “Would you please look after this until I have had my tea and do not let any of the cadets or nurses look inside. I will then come and deal with it.” He lived in one of the two houses next to the British Legion Hall. Well, you can imagine it rather intrigued me and eventfully my curiosity got the better of me and I looked in the bucket. Inside was what was left of a mans foot. Dr. Palmer came back later with a
spade and said, “I can see you know what’s inside the bucket.” I
asked, “How did you know that,” and he said “By the look on your face!” He then told me what had happened. Apparently he was called on to the Lydd Ranges where an aircraft had crash landed after a raid over Germany, and the pilot was trapped inside by his foot.
It was only joined by a small piece of skin and nothing could have saved the foot so he cut the pilot free to save him from further injury and his life. He then went and
buried the foot in his brother’s garden.
I have been waiting all these years for someone to dig it up and start a murder investigation but as yet it has not come to the surface!
We had a very good Youth Club in Lydd and one evening one of my pals, John, asked me if I would go along with him to a social evening in the Assembly Rooms at New
Romney as he had a young lady friend he wished to see and her name was Sheila. I agreed to go with him although I felt I would be on my own, with no one that I knew
to talk to. But fortunately when we arrived at the social, Shelia had her friend Margaret with her and so Margaret and I got talking and we agreed to meet on the bus to Folkestone at the end of the week.
We went to the pictures in Folkestone and from that day we remained together, although John and Sheila did not. How fortunate it was I went with him that evening
as after some time, we decided to get married.
When I left school I did a four-year indentured apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner at Godden’s of Hamstreet and I gained all the skills and passed. I worked there for another year and at the end of this I left them to work for Ray Cheek of Lydd. At that time, he was working on the restoration of Lydd Church that had received a direct hit from a bomb early in the war. This was a very interesting and exciting job, as a lot of different skills had to be learnt. We had to make things just as they had been all those years ago by the workmen of yesteryear.
Prior to the bombing, the old oak rafters could not be seen as the whole lot was plastered underneath, but most of this had come off when the bomb dropped.
Every mortise and tenon joint had to be re-pinned with oak pins as every one in the whole building had been broken and some were very difficult to remove.
It was thought that when the blast went through the aisle, it lifted the
entire roof and dropped it back down! We found much infestation by the death-watch beetle and we had to clean all the oak rafters and beams and then treat them with a
very strong mixture of Cuprinol.
Not long after we started doing this, the architect suggested trying to suck the beetles out with a vacuum cleaner. We first thought that this was a bit of a joke but Mr. Cheek went out and got a vacuum cleaner.
We lowered a rafter down and set to work with the cleaner and after a short while we opened the cleaner up and to everyone’s surprise the bag was full of the live beetles.
From then on, every piece of oak in the church had to receive this treatment and some more cleaners were purchased. Some of the large cross tie beams had to be jacked up while we spliced new ends to them, for where they rested on the centre walls the very ends had rotted away over the years. This was because above them ran the guttering between the two roofs, the main aisle and side aisle, and water had leaked through the
gutters on to these large beams. It was a hard task splicing the new ends as we only had hand saws in those days, no electric ones. In any case it would have been very
difficult to use one and the oak beams had become very hard over the years and much sharpening of the saws was required. Cutting sideways was the most difficult job,
high up on the scaffolding, and then of course the moulding had to be done to match. It was very rewarding once finished and there were a number of very challenging tasks involved in this restoration work. Before the roof was retiled, the ceiling board was fixed on top of the rafters so now they could be seen. Soon after this work was
completed, Mr. Cheek closed the business down.
Memories of ‘Basil Bourne’