TNT, RAF, GBS
Barney was called up to serve during the Second World War as a private in the Service Corps. He was classed A1 fit and detailed to go with his unit to Italy. He was also classed as a good rifle shot. Prior to his embarkation he was given leave and came home to Costessey. During his leave he injured his knee while doing some digging, shovelling gravel or some such-like task. On his return to barracks he was downgraded to B2 and considered unfit for overseas duty. He didn’t seem to mind; in fact I rather get the impression that he was thoroughly delighted. He spent the rest of the war working as a kitchen porter in the Officers’ Mess at Shefford in south Bedfordshire.
It was during those years that he met his future wife, Janet Cullen. She was working in an ammunition factory with TNT that turned her hair red; so she told me that it did anyway, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. She was sometimes troubled in later years by thinking of the scores of people that had been killed by the bombs she had made. One of them could easily have been her. The huts where they worked were separated by banks of earth to prevent any explosion from spreading to the adjoining buildings. The TNT dust may have affected her health, as she had a lot of problems in her later years.
After the war she went as civilian to work at the local RAF Station. I have a large embroidered table cloth that Janet gave me. It was almost completed by the staff at RAF Henlow while waiting in the ops room. The RAF personel moved on an Janet inherited the table cloth. My mother in law finished it off and it is sitting on my dining table as I write. It is revealing that the men’s preferred occupation during the hours of waiting was the peaceable and feminine matter of needlework. Janet’s job involved working closely with these men. The war was over but the system of keeping pilots on stand-by remained, no doubt to intercept Russian fighters. This was the early 1950s when the Cold War was at its height.
As long as her mother was alive she lived in Shefford, and did not leave to marry Barney until she died sometime in late 1959. As a result Barney spent a lot of his leisure time in Shefford from 1946 for over 10 years, although he continued to work as a builder in Costessey. His father had died in 1942 and the Post Office was run by his mother. After marrying Barney Janet came to live with him in Costessey Post Office and became very involved in running it.
One of his old friends from Costessey who was living in Shefford was none other than Bluey Drake. The Drakes were, as I have said before travellers or to use the non-PC term, gypsies. They were not always on the road, but they had bases across the country and one of these was Shefford. Shefford is also a few miles from Ayot St Lawrence, the home of (George) Bernard Shaw the famous early 20th century playwright. His house was surrounded by a good thick hedge which made a suitable place for Janet and Barney to do their courting. One day they were cuddling by the hedge when a be-whiskered face poked itself out and looked at them with a quizzical gaze. Then it disappeared as suddenly as it had come. It was GBS himself, although he had said not a word.