Bernard Allen

British Civilian

I was born in 1925 and my parents were Fred and Hilda Allen (their second child) at Odd House Farm, Claypole, Newark. I had four brothers Donald, Maurice, Trevor, Keith and a sister Jennifer. The relatively small mixed farm was located on the outskirts of the village. Dairy being the main enterprise, the hand milked cows were Lincoln Red cross Friesian, pigs:- 3 sows and followers, hens and geese. The majority of farmers had cows as they could easily sell their milk and it was their main income.

All the children went to the village school and it was here that we were all supplied with gas masks and we were shown how to wear them and from then on we had to carry them all the time until the war finished. I started to milk the cows when I was seven, in a morning before I went to school then after I returned home. As children the only present we got were clothes at Christmas, however our relations gave us toys:- Meccano set, Snakes and Ladders board game, playing cards.

Our house had no electricity, gas or water, there was a hand water pump in the kitchen which was supplied from an underground tank which collected rain water from the roof. We also had a water pump from a well in the yard to supply the farm animals. The earth toilet was at the bottom of the garden, the coal fired kitchen range was used for cooking, baking and had a small hot water tank, lighting was from paraffin lamps or candles. Just before the war started we had blackout curtains on all the windows. Living on a farm meant no major food shortage as we could have a pig killed every year, plenty of rabbits and dad grew his own vegetables.

Dad did not have a tractor but a horse and for ploughing he borrowed a horse from one of our relations.  Arthur Revill my grandfather in say 1930 was the first person to have a tractor in the village an American “Overtime”, he used this on his farm and with his threshing machine and threshed for all the farmers in the village.

I left school aged 14 in 1939 I had to help Dad do the milking morning and night so I went to work 8:30 until 3:00 on George Wright’s farm (one of our neighbours). Soon afterwards a local farmer Bill Scott was ill and went into an old folks home so I had to milk and look after his cows. He died when I was 15 so I went to work for 2 years at George Arnold’s farm, this was great as Mr Arnold had the first milking machine in the village for his 45 cows (the largest herd in the village). The milking machine had 4 units and powered by a “Lister” engine. Mr Arnold took the milk at 8:00am to Newark where 4 dairy delivery men delivered it to housewives in Newark. The first tractor I drove was at Mr Arnold’s, a Standard Fordson.

In the late thirties the Ministry of Agriculture encouraged farms to modernise and buy a tractor, so by 1939 a few farms had a Standard Fordson (Blue) when the war started new tractors were painted green and only had very narrow mud guards to save metal.

The Ministry of Defence decided to build an airfield in our neighbouring village Balderton, they decided to build on land owned by Handbury’s and Jack Richardson. They were told to sell everything and move out, my uncle bought some cheap hay. Jack Richardson moved to a farm at Danethorpe Hill, Newark. The MOD went to see my grandfather Arthur Revill and decided to hire his 4 wheel industrial trailers but not his Overtime tractor as they said it did not have enough horsepower. I got a job mowing the grass at the airfield with 2 horses everything worked extremely well until a Hampden bomber flew over and I am pleased to say I managed to stop them bolting, next time it circulated over thankfully they were a little calmer.

My next job was to look after my uncles farm as he went to work for Cafferata’s in Newark, so I was back to milking cows by hand. As milk was a very important food I was exempt from joining the Home-Guard. Brother Donald joined the Home-Guard and one night his platoon was split in two sections, one section was sent off to guard a railway bridge and a quarter of an hour later the other section set out to attack, guess what when they got to the bridge nobody was there the other section had gone to another bridge. Once a week at night along with another man I had to do fire watching, 2 hours on 2 hours off, 2 hours walking round the streets of the village then I went to bed for 2 hours while the other man took over. I had also to check no lights were shying from houses, paraffin lamps had to have a hood over the top, all vehicle lights had to have a hood over them, flashlights had to have a shade. There were no street lights in the village.

Every house in our village had a radio powered by an “Accumulator”, we used to have a good laugh listening to Lord Haw Haw, everyone in the village used to listen to Churchill’s speeches this was a great motivator for everyone and boosted moral. For entertainment we had a pub in the village, a billiard table in the village hall, I was never interested in billiards but went to the village hall every Friday night to the whist drive (I only played once) followed by a dance which were most enjoyable it gave us a chance to forget the war for a few hours. The profit from the whist drives was shared between all families that had family in the Forces at Christmas. I enjoyed dancing and sometimes I would cycle the 10 miles to Collingham village to their dance which carried on until 1:00am the next morning. One night after arriving home very late I was hungry so started to eat a pork pie that mother had just made, next thing I knew was a hand on my shoulder “Are you going to get changed before you start milking?”

We did not have an air raid siren in our village but you could hear those in Newark. When the MOD thought an invasion was imminent they dug a trench across large grass fields and erected poles in arable fields to stop enemy aircraft landing. On the afternoon of the 7th March 1941 a chap in the village came riding a cycle down the road and when I inquired why he was wearing a tin hat he said that the ball bearing engineering firm in Newark Ransome & Marle had been bombed, I never saw a German bomber in the sky.

My elder brother Don worked on several aerodromes in the area Bottesford, Ossington, Balderton and Syerston driving a tractor and trailer for Arthur Wright. He said most of the labourers on sites were Irish men.

By 1944 most farms had POW’s working on them as labour was very short, also they were seen as cheap labour. We had a lazy Italian, a poor worker who did not speak English and a very hard working German who could speak excellent English and had a very wide vocabulary. I later found out that he had been trained to be a translator.

Also in 1944 the Americans seemed to take over Balderton airfield, many American planes came to the airfield along with several gliders. On fine days for most of the day they would tow gliders off (sometime 2 gliders at once) with a Dakota, when they were airborne they let the gliders off the tow and they returned to the airfield for another glider. Unfortunately the Americans came to our village dances and swept our ladies off their feet.

Living so near to Balderton airfield one got used to bombers flying over the house so you slept through it, one night a returning Hampden bomber came very low over house, I woke but turned over and went back to sleep, in fact the bomber had crash-landed in our field and skidded right through it and crossed the dyke into the neighbours field. Apparently soon afterwards men from the airfield came knocking at the door whilst I heard the noise I did not get up but fortunately dad heard them and got up. Very sadly the rear gunner had been killed on landing.

Mother’s brother in law Humphrey Dicks a dentist was captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. I am unaware how he suffered but after the war finished when auntie went to meet him at the railway station she did not recognise him and in fact had walked past him. Actually he lived well in to his 80’s.

To show how things have changed I remember just before Christmas just after the war had finished I went into Newark one night and walked passed Billy Pike’s shop a “Fish & Game Dealers” which was closed but the Rabbits, Pheasants and Partridges were hung outside the shop all night with just a light sheet to cover them and this was at a time of food rationing, today even during the day you would not dare put them outside the shop.

Bernard Allen February 2018

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