OCTOBER 1942 – APRIL 1946
by Bas Kybird
As a policeman’s son every few years my life virtually began again, with a new school, new friends, and new home.
We moved to Methwold in October, 1942, when I was nearly fourteen to live in a large police house befitting of a police inspector which my father had become. Sometimes I wish I had taken life a bit more seriously and accomplished more than I did! The house was next to the courthouse and was also near the cemetery on the Stoke Ferry road. An inner door led from the house into the small office and another door from that led into the courtroom. There was a lot of rough ground at the back of the house which in no time at all my father had dug all over and cultivated. I was not too keen perhaps because the ‘night cart man’ emptied the toilet bucket into trenches which Dad had dug in readiness. I must admit it certainly produced good crops!
Very soon I palled up with John S, a local butcher’s son. He became my best friend over the next three and a half years although we went to different schools, he to the village school in Methwold and I to Downham Market Grammar School, a mixed school twelve miles away. There was also John F who lived up a yard off the High Street. In later years he became a shepherd.
The bus started its journey at Northwold and picked up others and myself at a sharp corner nearly opposite the police station where the Northwold Road joined that to Stoke Ferry. We sheltered under a large old oak tree.
Between us, John and I got into enough, albeit harmless, mischief to fill a book. Many of our activities were kept secret, and we had many, as my father was very strict. I suppose as police inspector he had to keep up appearances.
We became qualified marksmen with our homemade catapults. Over in the far right corner of the cemetery was a large rubbish bin on the edge of which we stood jam jars for targets. Sunday afternoons with John, sometimes also John F, we would make forays into the surrounding countryside. In springtime a favourite place for birds nesting were the lanes at Brookeville or down the Northwold road along the stream. This would result in muddy clothes and shoes – they being our ‘Sunday best’. We hoped that bunches of dog violets, cowslips or any other flowers we were able to find would appease our irate parents.
On one occasion I tore a new rust coloured sports jacket on some barbed wire, the first time I had worn it. John came to the rescue with some very fine copper wire, a souvenir from an aircraft crash. He managed to roughly stitch it up. Consequently the damage went unnoticed for some weeks until the inevitable discovery and loss of pocket money! As soon as word went round that a plane had crashed off we boys went to investigate and hunt for interesting bits and pieces. Sometimes we found live ammunition. With a struggle we would remove the bullet head to reveal thin strips of cordite. This we would lay out in a long line on the ground to light one end. It would burn very quickly until it reached the other end and fizzle out. Because of my very strict father I hid my ill-gotten war trophies in an outside disused toilet at the rear of our house. One of my friends, Geoff G, at Downham School had given me an American fatigue cap which also had to be hidden there!
Another Sunday past time was cycling down the lanes and tracks near Methwold airfield. Sometimes (by accident?) we would disturb courting couples and this necessitated a hasty retreat. On one such occasion my cycle chain came off so I abandoned my bike to escape a very irate airman who was chasing us. Surprisingly he was making very good speed even if he was holding his trousers up. We returned for my cycle later to find it thrown into some bushes with the wind let out of both tires. So much for trying to improve my education and satisfy my boyish curiosity!
In the village Mr. Palmer’s chippy was a good one. It was a rather small establishment, single storey and in he winter lit by oil lamps. Cooking was by a coal fire. The only problem for us boys was that he did not fry fritters. Remember this was wartime and fish and many other food stuffs were in short supply. The Mundford shop used to fry fritters and sausages once a week. Whether the attraction was the food or the local girls I don’t remember but the two Johns and myself would cycle the four miles there on the appropriate night no matter what the weather, sometimes in thick fog, for our weekly treat and cycle back singing our heads off.
Of course we did get to know some of the local girls. In September 1988, over forty years after I returned to Mundford by request to give a talk to the local Women’s Institute. In the audience were two of the ‘girls’ who made themselves known to me afterwards. For what reason they remembered me I am not sure but I did not have the opportunity to find out!
The Government Ministry of Information Units would visit some villages to show films about the war with the intention of boasting morale. We three likely lads would cycle over to Mundford for the free film shows. At that time the village hall was of corrugated iron sheeting. I believe one film was about Catalina flying boats and Coastal Command. We were able to leave our cycles outside with no fear of them being stolen. Some Saturday afternoons we cycled over to Feltwell cinema which also had a corrugated roof. When it rained we couldn’t hear the sound of the film!
For us boys wartime was exciting with soldiers and airmen of different nationalities, vehicles, planes. Plane crashes were a particular attraction where we sought souvenirs, pieces of Perspex, live ammunition. The fact that airmen had lost their lives didn’t enter our heads.
On one or two occasions German planes had dropped ‘butterfly’ bombs- anti personnel devices – and incendiary bombs which in the main fell into forestry areas. I believe the German planes would jettison their loads on the way back to Germany. I remember warning notices would hurriedly appear on the edge of wooded areas along the Mundford road. At one American plane crash there was an armed American guard. He told us to clear off. I told him it was our country but he wasn’t impressed and became rather irate so we left hurriedly.
The best place for swimming and fishing was near the watermill at Northwold. Mr. Bateman who occupied the farmhouse near the mill allowed us to swim in the sluice pool. Some Americans, I believe from Bodney, would join us. One convinced me that vinegar rubbed onto the skin would produce a good tan. It certainly did but I smelt like a fish and chip shop which caused not only problems at home but at school as well!
When swimming there I once cut my foot badly on broken glass in the pool. This was in July, 1945. Mr. Bateman kindly took me in his car to the doctor in Northwold where I had stitches inserted. This meant I had to have a day off school just when exams were taking place so I missed two crucial papers. This in turn meant I didn’t pass the school certificate not that I was particularly worried. One of my Indian friends previously had some Indian sandals made for me and these came in handy in which to hobble about with a bandaged foot, and I wore them at school as well. There was some spare time between exams for swotting and a small group of us cycled to the river at Denver sluice. Someone loaned me a cycle so I could go. As far as I can remember there was Jean A, Margaret B, John G, Arthur K, and one or two others whose names escape me. I was unable to go in swimming because of my bandaged foot. In spite of my failure at the exams it had been arranged for me to start as a junior clerk at Barclay’s Bank, Brandon after the summer holidays. This was to entail a seven mile cycle ride each way.
Another place we swam was in the outside swimming pool at Didlington Hall. There were Americans there too. I think we only went there once as there was green algae on top of the water! In later years I learned that my friend John S did a lot of demolition work at the Hall and was involved in the removal of the very fine staircase.
Before I started work my father arranged for he and I to go to Edinburgh for a week’s holiday. We went there by train from Thetford, my mother staying with my grandparents at Jasmine Cottage, Vicarage Road. Edinburgh was chosen because Dad’s brother George was a sergeant in the R.A.M.C. (Royal Army MedicalCorps) and stationed at Edinburgh Castle so he was able to show us round the area. The day before we went was V.J. Day, 15th August and on the evening of that day I joined in the celebrations at Castle Hill with many of my Indian Army friends. They introduced me to an Indian V.C. I think his name was Singh and I had his autograph on a scrap of paper for many years after.
The Waverley Hotel in Edinburgh where we stayed was very posh and we shared a bedroom. I remember Princes Street with it’s fine shops, the Scot War Memorial, gardens, and the Castle up on high looking over everything. A vivid memory was the signs prohibiting spitting in public! Dad being a keen gardener meant we visited numerous public gardens or that was how it seemed.
We often fished in the River Wissey off the bridges near the gateway to Didlington Hall. Sometimes American airmen would give us fishing line, hooks, and ‘K’ rations (food packs) off the survival dinghies kept on the planes, We also enjoyed Lucky Strike, Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes which were much better than those issued to the Indian soldiers. There was also chewing gum. We would see our friends a few times and then no more, not realizing the likely reason being they had been shot down or killed in action.
The old mill itself was an interesting place to explore and as far as I can remember it was still intact but not in use. We were able to climb up to the top floor. I believe we entered by some precarious means near the waterwheel. I went inside on one occasion with an evacuee boy Brian Gibbons from Coulston, Surrey who was living at Brookeville. In later years at a school reunion of Downham Grammar School I was reminded by one of the ‘girls’ that I took her and another one inside the mill.
The first painting I did from life was of Didlington lake as a school project. I don’t think I finished it. I was once loaned a book by old school friends Pam and Basil Eyles. It was written by Leslie Ball and called ‘Heron Lake’. He was an Army officer stationed at Didlington Hall and wrote a wonderful account of the wildlife on the lake. It brought back so many happy memories for me. A copy is held with Norfolk County Records Office.
A vague memory I have is when my father took me to the Hall. It could have been in connection with a court martial of an American soldier. I do remember sitting down to lunch at a very large table full of American officers. I have read since the Hall served as headquarters for General Sir Miles Dempsey during the Second World War. He became commander of the 2nd Army in Europe. It is a pity I wasn’t told the reason for our visit but my father was a rather secretive man. In many ways I was fortunate that he was police inspector for the area but there was a down side too, I couldn’t have which friends I liked. He was very strict as well as secretive!
A very pretty young girl arrived in the village, her parents became licensees of one of the pubs. This brief friendship was not encouraged by my father on the grounds that if he had to deal with her parents it would make it difficult for him. Another young lady’s father kept a grocery shop back of the church. I always remember it had a strong smell of tea. She had two ponies kept in stables at the back of their home. I helped with ‘mucking out’ and other odd jobs also was allowed to ride the smaller pony. I was then invited to take afternoon tea which not only made me late for mine at home but also took the edge off my appetite – more trouble for young romeo because I couldn’t eat my tea! Some sixty years later I learned that the brother of this young lady had been a police colleague in Norwich.
On occasions I would ride with my father when he went visiting his men in various villages round about Methwold. One, the police constable at Northwold, Albert S, used to cycle over the Methwold for duties in the police station. He was often late on duty. He was my idol, always having time for me when my father wasn’t around. I remember him showing me some German magazines ‘Mein Kampf’ (My Struggle by Hitler) which had been seized locally and were stored in one of the police cells.
Sometimes I would climb out of my bedroom window which was at the back of the house, climb along a narrow ledge onto the court room roof and back into the house via the bathroom window. A dangerous pastime and why I did it I haven’t a clue!
At school the classroom walls at Downham were quite thick for protection in Air Raids with another wall for protection against bomb blast along the inside of the corridors. I have no recollection of air raid shelters so I expect on warning we sheltered in the corridors. These walls still remain.
There were numerous army camps in the area and the occupants changed periodically. At one time, I think late 1943, Eighth Army soldiers of the 7th Armored Division were stationed around, regrouping ready for D Day on the 6th June, 1944. They in fact sailed from Felixstowe on 5th June. Once my father took me to an ENSA show at Cranwich Camp, then occupied by the 5th Regiment, R.H.A.(Royal Horse Artillery). ENSA stood for Entertainments National Service Association. I have no idea who were in the show but many well known entertainers gave up their time travelling to forces camps in this country and abroad to entertain servicemen. Dad, as local police inspector had a front row seat which meant I did as well! When they were out walking I would chat with some of the soldiers who told me all sorts of terrible things about the war. I gleaned enough information to give a talk to my class at school about the Eighth Army in the North African Desert and Italy. After our troops had left the camp it was used for housing Italian prisoners of war. There was an Army soldiers billeted there.
On 26th May, 1943 the King and Queen visited Methwold R.A.F. Station and my father was present as he was responsible for civilian policing. He kept very quiet about it and I didn’t know until I read about it after the war.
At one time airmen of the Royal Dutch Naval Air Service were stationed at Methwold. Their uniform was a very smart, dark blue. This was in 1943 and they flew B25 Mitchell light bombers, I think, of the 320 (Netherlands) Squadron. I recall the occasion on 3rd May 1943 when Squadron Leader Leonard Trent, V.C., D.F.C. flew out from Methwold with twelve Ventura aircraft of 487 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force on a fateful raid. Their target was Amsterdam power station. The front of our house overlooked the flight path and from a spare bedroom window I would often watch aircraft go out and return. On this occasion I saw them go out and only one returned the rest having been shot down. Since the war I have been able to read that S/Ldr Trent was one of those shot down and he and his navigator were held prisoners of war. He was involved in ‘The Great Escape’, on the night of 24/25 March, 1944 from Stalag Luft III when 220 R.A.F. prisoners planned to escape via a tunnel. S/Ldr Trent was one of those who managed to get through the tunnel but was found by the Germans nearby and surrendered. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war. He died in 1986. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.
My autograph album was a birthday present received in December, 1943 and I started using it straight away. It contains entries not only from school friends and teachers but also from servicemen serving in the army and royal air force from many different countries. Several of my school friends who wrote in it are still alive as I write, and come to school reunions which I began organizing in 2004 but sadly there are some I have been unable to trace they having moved away or departed this world.
Once I saw an R.A.F. Meteorological balloon slowly come down to land in a field about opposite the Cock public house corner. I told Dad and went with him and P. C. Albert S to hold it until R.A.F. personnel arrived.
In May 1945 many Indian soldiers who had been captured by the Germans in the desert campaigns and held as prisoners of war were flown back to England in Operation Exodus from Bari, Italy. In this operation altogether something like 72,500 ex p.o.w.s were flown back to England in 23 days. Lancaster bombers of 149 Squadron stationed at Methwold played their part in this. Many Indian soldiers were billeted in the area around Methwold and Northwold. It is worth noting that of all the aircraft which flew from Methwold during the war 43 were lost by being shot down or crashing. Of these 25 were Venturas, also 6 Stirlings and Lancasters. The Methwold Lancasters also took part in Operation Manna in which food supplies were dropped to the starving civilians of Holland. The village sign now depicts an aircraft in flight over a ploughing scene and the church. There is a Roll of Honour in Methwold church, a page being turned each day.
Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon I would cycle to one of the camps, either at Didlington or Lyndford. I had made many friends of different creeds and castes among the Indian soldiers and enjoyed the challenge of making myself understood. I drank pint mugs of tea, oddly with a pinch of salt. I ate chapattis with hard boiled eggs or jam. I went to the camp cinema and watched Indian films, learned a smattering of Urdu also how to write my name and address in Sanskrit. I even composed a short chant in Urdu seeking rain so we didn’t have to play rugby at school! Cigarettes were plentiful albeit rather rough. One make, ‘Victory’,was like sawdust.
In my autograph album there is one entry I obtained from Group Captain Yarde, Commanding Officer of Methwold airfield when he took the salute in Methwold High Street for Salute the Soldier Week on Sunday, 14th May, 1944. My father wasn’t very pleased that I was audacious enough to ask for it.
It may have been the Saturday before V.E.Day when I went to a dance in St. Georges Hall. There was a raffle and I won first prize which unfortunately was either a dolls cot or pram to my friend John’s amusement and my embarrassment. I quickly gave it to a blonde girl, Jessie H who lived in the next village. It was she who kept a list of the boys she liked. I was twelfth and regrettably my generosity did not improve my position on her list!
Near the church in Methwold was a small church hall. John S and I went there for old time dancing lessons. John was more musical than me, I had two left feet! It was also used for W.E.A. Lessons. (Workers Education Association) The woodwork and art teacher at my school, Downham Grammar, a North Country gent with a red face and quick temper, undertook to give lessons to a class in Methwold. These lessons were in the use of Pyruma, a clay substance used for modelling. It would be shaped into some object then baked hard. He travelled the twelve miles from Downham to do this. After giving the first lesson the job was handed over to me to conduct the lessons one evening each week. It must have saved him pounds in not traveling from Downham and no doubt he got paid for what I was doing but I didn’t realize it at the time! Round the entrance door was a corrugated iron shelter and on nights when the hall was not in use one of the local lads would get in there with a land army girl. I used to cycle round there sometimes for a chat, not realizing I was disturbing things!
Somewhere down Globe Street on the left were some grass tennis courts where John S and I used to play. Sometimes two girls from Whittington used to join us, Joyce C and her younger sister Norma. I used to cycle home with them. I seem to remember Madge A used to play there as well.
One very cold winter some flood water in a meadow along the road between Brookeville and Whittington was frozen over and a whole gang of us from several villages ‘skated’ there. I thought I was King of the Castle wearing the American service cap which my school friend, Geoff G. had given me. His parents kept a pub in Downham which was used by Americans. This was something else I had to hide from my father or there would have been serious trouble – possession of U.S. Government property! The skates I had were called ‘Fenland Runners’, the fronts of the blades were curved up like Turkish sandals. There were some of us boys from Methwold, Sheila and Barbara S. from Whittington, Barbara B and her friend Marrie H from Stoke Ferry. Marrie was a very pretty girl with a ‘peaches and cream’ complexion. She attended a Roman Catholic school at Swaffham so she wasn’t about much. Many years later when I was serving as a detective with Norwich City Police I came across her when I was making inquiries at a school where she was teaching in Norwich. There was only time for a brief chat. Her father was in charge of the Labour Exchange in Stoke Ferry where I had to sign on upon reaching the age of sixteen, and I believe her mother was an invalid as mine was.
In our garden at the rear of the police house was an eating apple tree. When they were ripe I would regularly take a bag full of them to school. There were also lavender bushes and I just loved to have a sprig as a button hole in my school jacket. I must have been considered eccentric but I liked the fresh smell of it. My father was a keen gardener, hence my aversion to it. I would be called upon to follow behind him to drop seed potatoes in holes as he made them, and all sorts of other uninteresting jobs. This didn’t go down very well with me, he just didn’t understand that I would much rather have been out with John on our bikes. Some dark winter evenings I spent on my own poking about outside in the vicinity of the police station, cemetery and the vicarage which was just across the road. It was a large, gloomy house, probably Victorian, surrounded by thick bushes. I used to creep about in the bushes keeping an eye out for spying activities! In the corner at the front of the cemetery next to the footpath was a lovely copper beech tree. This I often climbed and would sit up on high surveying all beneath me and no-one ever noticed me. I carved my initials near my favorite sitting position. In May, 2005 I had a ride out to the village. ‘My’ tree was still there, larger than ever. I don’t think I would be able to climb it now, in fact I am sure of it!
John’s parents allowed us to have a ‘den’ in one of the outhouses at the rear of the butcher’s shop. We equipped ourselves with an oil lamp, oil stove, cocoa, sugar and dried milk. We kept a library of comics. It wasn’t particularly warm as the floor was concrete and the walls of stone but it was regarded as ours!
All the boys and girls in the village who went to Downham had their satchels made by the boot and shoe man in the village and they were made of real leather. We knew nothing of plastic in those days. Neither of my two friends called John was fortunate to go to Downham Grammar School. I was only able to go because my father paid, as he had done at my previous school, Bungay Grammar. I am sure he thought it was a waste of money as my school reports weren’t very good for most subjects. Hopefully in later years when I joined Norwich City Police he felt all had not been wasted! Art and Geography were alright but maths was a serious problem.
A small group of us would wait under the old oak tree on the corner where the road from Northwold joined the Stoke Ferry road. Already on board were Basil E, Tom D, Janet C, Alma U, Ruby G, Bob V, and Sylvia C. who had a long pigtail which I used to pull. The Methwold group included Elizabeth W., John S., Robert N., Beryl C, and Joyce. Also one or two others who’s names escape me. Basil E. was a special friend, especially when I first started at Downham and I do believe he used to keep me out of some of the trouble which I readily fell into! Unfortunately his Dad was a farmer which meant Basil had to help him a lot with little time for mucking about with me!
Of course in those days there was little road traffic although there would be long military convoys from time to time. The single Decker bus started at Northwold and it would get pretty full. The seats were arranged round the outside to make more standing room. Always in the centre of the back seat sat the wife of Albert the Northwold policeman and usually she had a basket on her lap. She had a job in Downham Market. One bus conductor we called Monkey which was a bit unkind but he did look like one! Next stop after Methwold was Brookville where Jessie H and her sister got on. The road between there and Whittington overlooked fen land on which worked Italian prisoners of war. They were billeted in a big house in Stoke Ferry. We used to call out rude words to them in Italian learned from Desert Rat soldiers!
At Whittington we were joined by Joyce C, a very clever girl who went on to university in Sheffield, became a doctor and stayed there. In recent years she has been in very poor health. In 2003 when searching for old school friends I discovered that Jean A. was also in Sheffield unbeknown to each other. It gave me a lot of pleasure putting them in touch with each other. Also at Whittington we were joined by Dora and her sister Sheila S. and Barbara B. got on at Stoke Ferry, thus the bus filled up with us noisy troublesome children, boys teasing the girls and some trying to do last minute homework.
On the outskirts of Downham was Bexwell airfield. As our bus passed we would see R.A.F. Stirling and later Lancaster bombers, some being loaded up with bombs, some badly damaged from raids over Germany the night before. At one time there were also Mosquitos, fast, light weight bombers made from wood. Two Victoria Crosses were won post humorously by men from this airfield and during the war 170 aircraft were lost. We just did not realise the full significance of what we saw.
I believe we got off the bus somewhere near the church in Downham and had quite a walk to the school. From the road there was a driveway with tennis courts on the left and the garden of the headmaster’s house on the right. At the school building the boys entrance was first,at the left end, the main entrance in the centre and the girls entrance at the far end. The cycle sheds were down another drive opposite the main entrance and the dining rooms down there as well, with rooms upstairs and down. Beyond the end of the school building were the sports fields. We caught the bus to go home near the post office. We could safely leave our bags hanging on the railings and go off down the town. In October, 1942, when I first went to Downham School, it was called a secondary school for a short time but soon became a Grammar School. It had been opened in 1931. Being a mixed school (what a difference from Bungay which was was all boys and very strict!) most of us boys fancied some of the girls, in fact in later years some couples married. The friendships in those days were pretty respectable, perhaps a kiss or two but no more. There was a story that some of the pupils got threatened with expulsion for activities under the stage at lunch time. I hurriedly add this was before I joined the school. I always liked Jean A, tall, blonde with a pony tail and a very good tennis player. she finished up in Sheffield after having had three husbands. When the Americans came to the area some of our girls found American boyfriends and would come to school with chewing gum, cigarettes and Air Force badges, much to the envy of the rest of us! Some of the girls eventually did marry their Yanks. Another of the girls was Molly M who was in a lower form. Molly was short with dark hair. I admired her from a far. It must have been about 1943 or 1944 that somehow I learned one of the girls was going to stay with a friend at a cottage in Edgefield about three miles from my grandparents cottage at Holt heath. I borrowed grandad’s bike. I found the cottage but didn’t have the courage to go to the door and cycled back to Heath Cottage again. Over the years I had forgotten who the girl was. In the course of organizing our school reunion in 2008 I was chatting with Molly and her husband. Somehow I mentioned Holt and Edgefield and Molly volunteered that she went to Edgefield once for a few days holiday – after all these years I discovered who I went to see!
Alma U lived in the next village of Northwold so I was able to see a little of her both on the school bus and during school holidays. I used to tease her on the bus but I was very fond of her. She was a pretty girl with shoulder length black hair. I think it was my last summer at school when Alma met me a few times at the watermill at the Northwold end of Didlington Estate. She sat with me while I was fishing. There was another younger girl with her so things didn’t develop and soon after she moved away. I did write to her but her father was very strict so she probably didn’t get my letters! In recent years I have found her up. She is in poor health and I keep in touch.
Another Northwold girl, Janet C. reminded me at a recent school reunion that I lured her into the watermill to explore. I must take her word for that. Another girl, Audrey Mc. D claimed I took her in the mill at the same time so obviously I was quite safe!
The Headmaster put me in a higher class at the beginning. He said the lower class was full of rogues so I started off with Basil E, Fred M, Geoff G. I can’t remember any more names. Anyway I couldn’t stand the pace and by the next summer I was demoted to the class of rogues in company with Jim B. Joe P, John G., Kip C. and many others including girls. That figures I guess. I suppose I did learn some things but I don’t know what. I know I wasted a lot of my school time by messing about much to my father’s dismay!
We shared our school with a London school which had been evacuated to Downham, the Dalston Girls School. We used our classrooms in the mornings and they had them in the afternoons. For our afternoon lessons we were housed in chapels about the town, more conducive to pranks than learning. A clock on one of the chapels was put forward an hour by one colleague! Next to the chapel in Bridge Street was a sweet shop which sold fizzy drinks. At the top of the street was a fish and chip shop owned by the father of one of the boys in my class.
One of our teachers was little ‘Gommy’ Grout, short and balding, who taught chemistry. Maths was taught my Maurice Brief, a tall, gentle man. Unfortunately I just did not get along with maths, and come to think of it several of the other subjects also. I sat at the front of the class for maths but I don’t remember if this was for all subjects. Mr. Brief would stand in front of me, rocking back and forth on his heels. This movement seemed to have mesmerized me and within five minutes I would be asleep. At times he would rather rudely awaken me seeking my help over something he didn’t know the answer to! Oddly when I left school my father had kindly arranged a job for me with Barclay’s Bank at Brandon.
School dinners weren’t particularly exciting, always prepared with what food rationing allowed. Sometimes we had mutton stew. On other occasions there was tinned meat rather like Spam and cut into very thin slices to make it appear more. There were meatless days with perhaps macaroni cheese dishes. There were rumours that we sometimes had horse or whale meat. If we did have these we didn’t suffer from either! Apple and custard was a cheap favourite, probably the apples came from the Headmaster’s trees. Spotted Dick was another one. I suppose we didn’t do too badly. On special occasions at school we would be looked upon to take some form of food. I always took a jam sponge I bought from Elizabeth W’s father’s bakery in Methwold costing 1s 2d. The Headmaster, Lamport Smith, would sell apples and sweets from his study. I remember he had a large, smelly old Airedale dog. He, Lamport Smith, had a rather ragged gown but I suppose he was past retirement age and the war required us to have all sorts of teachers. He must have been clever because he wrote in Greek in my autograph album. The Headmistress was Miss Smith better known as Smuts. She was a dumpy little spinster with thick lensed glasses. She was a great admirer of the South African leader General Smuts. I think her false teeth were a bit loose because when she mentioned his name if standing close enough one could get enveloped in a fine cloud of spray!
She usually took history and geography. I got along alright with her as I used to draw pretty multi-coloured maps for my homework. Her study was rather small, tucked away under the stairs in the entrance hall. On one occasion one of the boys placed a contraceptive on the door handle to her study. We never learned whether she knew what it was! On another occasion one of my mates known affectionately as Kip got into the school after lessons and changed the letters of ‘Headmaster’ on his study door to read THE MAD ARSE!
There was a lady teacher, Miss Ashwell, who took us for biology I don’t remember much about that apart from cutting up worms and the smell of either. Once there was something about a rabbit which John H had to produce. I believe reproductive organs came into it somewhere which must have caused some interest to one of my mates because he surreptitiously bought a packet of contraceptives from the chemists. I know this to be true because he showed them to me.
Another teacher, Miss Copland, taught French. This was another problem subject and yet I found I could readily learn languages phonetically from Indian soldiers we had in camps round Methwold, and later, when I was in the Army I learned a little Polish and Arabic. Learning from text books and the blackboard was boring. In later years as a beat policeman in Norwich I came across Miss Copland. She was friendly with a French lady who had been a legal advisor to General De Gaulle.
English was taught by Miss Williams who rode an ancient ladies upright cycle with a basket on the front. She is remembered by her rather muscular legs as she hurled her cycle down the school drive. I remember writing an essay then giving it as a talk to my class about the ‘Desert Rats’ and their experiences in Africa and Italy. I may have got this wrong but I believe a book ‘Nigger of the Narcissus’ by Joseph Conrad formed part of our English studies, and we went to Downham cinema to watch a film about it. Some of the other rogues and myself sat on the back row messing about with some of the girls so we didn’t see much of the film.
Art and woodwork were taken by Mr. Gawk R. of pyruma fame, who when upset was quite able at throwing the board duster with considerable accuracy. He was very quick tempered. On one occasion he and one of the boys were at the point of fisticuffs. I didn’t mind him as I enjoyed art. I still have a watercolour I did under his tuition of a boy fishing. After leaving our school I understand not surprisingly he spent some time in a mental hospital. There was a Salute the Soldier week, a national campaign to encourage more savings to help the war effort. There was a drawing competition and I rendered the badge of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in pencil.. To my amazement I won first prize and was presented with a fifteen shilling savings certificate by Lady Ruth Fermoy in Downham Town Hall. She died aged 85 in 1993.
For P.T. We had Mark James. I have a memory of him always looking neat and smart in white shirt, shorts and socks. I didn’t excel much at sports although I did fairly well in short races such as the 100 and 220 yards. He came to a couple of our reunions but has since passed on, in October, 2009 aged 93. I used to train for the sports, running across the meadows near the cemetery where the school is now.
I recall once playing in a football match on a Saturday which meant a special bus trip into Downham. After wards John H. took me to his home for a bath and tea before I caught the bus back to Methwold. On another occasion, a Saturday, having played football and rather than wait some hours for the bus I decided to hitchhike the twelve miles. I finished up walking all the way apart from two or three miles riding on the back of a trailer with a school friend Claude who’s father was driving the tractor. I arrived at Methwold the same time as the bus, rather footsore and weary. On some other occasions I would have lunch at the ‘British Restaurant’ which was under an archway near the town clock. Meals were offered at a very reasonable price. It was in 2003 that an article about Downham Market appeared in a magazine, ‘Let’s Talk.’ On perusal I could not find the name and address of any of of my old school friends. I wrote to the magazine praising it and then passed comment. In my letter I listed names from my autograph album. My letter was published in the next edition of the magazine with my telephone number. Soon after I had a call from one of the boys also from one of the girls. It gave me the idea of having a reunion. The girl Jean asked if we could hold it on a Wednesday and it has been ever since. After very many phone calls I found up about forty old friends. Some I was unable to trace much to my regret. We held the first reunion in September, 2004. I was helped a lot by John H and encouraged by Basil and Pamela E. Other annual reunions have been a success. In September we get together for a chat, cold drink and buffet, producing old photographs. Each year our number is down another three or four. Some of our old friends travel considerable distances to join us, such as Elizabeth W. from Stowmarket, Kip C from Hertfordshire, Audrey Mc. from Buckinghamshire and many more. On the second year we had traced eighty five but of course they didn’t all come. We hold to about forty which in some cases includes wives or husbands.
After leaving school in July, 1945, I found the transition to work a bit difficult, having left all my school friends.To help overcome this on Sunday afternoons I went out for cycle rides to find a telephone box. From there I
would phone Jean A for a chat. We were just good friends and it certainly helped me to settle into a different life. It was in the August of that year I started in the big world as a lowly junior clerk at Barclays Bank at Brandon, I just hope by now the books have been sorted!! Since those years Jean had moved to Sheffield but I still kept in touch. Sadly she passed away in December, 2009 and her daughter kindly sent me some photographs.
On Mondays, having cycled to Brandon for work, within an hour I was travelling back again by taxi with a cashier to open up the sub-branch in a room at the front of one of the pubs in the High Street!
At the age of sixteen I was obliged to cycle from Methwold to the Labour Exchange at Stoke Ferry. We moved from Methwold to Norwich in April, 1946. This was another traumatic occasion for me. Many of my ‘treasures’ collected since October, 1942 I had to place in the Monday sale at Methwold. On January 16th 1947 at the innocent age of eighteen I was conscripted into the Army for National Service for two and a quarter years having previously presented myself at Martineau Hall, Norwich for a medical.
So many old friends have passed on, both from the village and school. At our age it must be expected I suppose.
Basil Kybird (Ky) 81 yrs Drayton, August, 2010
Sadly Basil Kybird passed away in April 2013. He had told me he was working on his memories of Norwich Cathedral Close, but we will never now know what these were. I had only known Basil for a couple of years, and our correspondence was mostly by email. He had already written in many local magazines, but I think my blog gave him an extra dimension to explore. I know he was delighted to hear from and old friend’s son in Harleston and from a man in America who had grown up in Hardley. I like to think my contribution was to stress the importance of using the pictures – of which he had many- to add to what he had written. JM