(122) 'The Olden Days and A Bombers Moon'

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Ken
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(122) 'The Olden Days and A Bombers Moon'

Ken
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This post was updated on .
"It's a bombers moon tonight," is something my sisters grandchildren will have heard her say whenever a full moon lights up the night sky.  Its a term my eighty four year old sister Violet's used since she first heard the expression during the second world war and in a recent letter she told me of the conflict she'd witnessed between the British and German planes in the now famous Battle of Britain.  This occurred in the summer of 1940 and she recalls how she'd excitedly stare up as the aerial dog fights raged in the skies. She says she always knew we'd win the war for the adults sheltered her from any thoughts of the awful alternative. This meant that despite the hardships of those times she can still describe her childhood as a happy one. This tells of those years and of the similar ones that followed shortly after for my siblings and I.

My sister has a vivid memory of a German fighter plane being shot down in a field near our home and of the boys of the village searching the site for souvenirs.  This brought home to her that even in our village there was still danger.  This proved to be the case when the German planes were attempting to return home after a raid, for it was then they'd drop their unused bombs indiscriminately.  One such, almost hit an isolated cottage in Shamley Green woods, but it conveniently fell into its well, causing excitement, but no harm.  Less lucky, was the train station in the nearby village of Bramley, for a German fighter pilot decided to both bomb and machine gun a train he saw there.  Sadly, he killed seven people, including a child, and wounded dozens more.  Flying bombs known as, 'Doodlebugs,' were also to bring fear to my sister. She recalls seeing one overhead as she and her brothers were walking back to school one lunchtime. Together, they heard the engine cut out and then they saw the flying bomb begin to dive.  Next they heard the explosion when the wretched thing landed.  Terrified, that their school had been hit, they all ran the rest of the way to find to their relief it had landed just beyond the school.  Thankfully, no one was harmed.

One of the unexpected pleasures of those long ago days came in the form of work for her and the youngsters of the village. Violet remembers her schoolmates doing gardening jobs, paper rounds, running errands for the old folk, and, most enjoyable of all, working at 'Bailey's Farm.'  Rules on health and safety were almost unheard of back then and so, during the long school holidays, farmer Bailey had a plentiful supply of willing workers.  Some of her favourites jobs were the ones in the fields furthest away from the farm and she describes these as great fun.  This was before mechanisation had completely taken over and human hands were still required to do the work.  This began early in the morning when she, and other youngsters, would climb onto a big trailer being pulled by a tractor.  She remembers how they'd sing the popular songs of the day as they were driven to the more distant fields and then, depending on the season, they'd either plant or pick the farms produce.  There were cabbage's, tomato's and potato's involved, in fact whatever jobs Mr. Bailey said needed doing, they'd happily do.  She describes him as a good man who expected them to work hard but never exploited them.  She recalls with pleasure how, on the very hot days, his wife would arrive with home made lemonade and apples for everyone to enjoy.

One job she didn't enjoy was one that involved tomato's and very sharp knives.  One of the barns had been turned into a makeshift tomato cannery and, on the rainy days, when outside work was impossible, these youngsters would be expected to slice up the tomato's and place them in the tins.  Inevitably some one would always cut their fingers and, as the blood dripped onto the tomato's, farmer Bailey would say, "Don't worry, its all the same colour," before cheerfully sealing the lids on the cans.  Understandably, to this day, my sister refuses to ever buy tinned tomato's.  By far the most important farm job was the picking of the potato crop for this was very important to the war effort.  What is now known as the Autumn half term school holiday was then called the, 'Potato Picking Holiday,' and most of the children endured this back aching work for a whole week.  Violet recalls one week in particular when the October weather was lovely, a true Indian summer.  She was just twelve years of age at the time which means it was in 1943. The fields they were working were on the outskirts of the village and so they'd travelled by the tractor and trailer mode of transport.  She recalls that when they arrived, one of the boys immediately lighted a fire which they'd keep stoked up throughout the morning.  They'd also place in the embers some of the potato's they were picking and somehow they'd be cooked to perfection for everyone's lunch time break.

Everyone of my siblings did their share of potato picking.  My brother Bob recalls a week when he was working in a field near the church and he says that everyone was, at the end of the day, allowed to take home a bag of potato's for their mothers.  He remarked how delighted our mum was with this unexpected bonus.  He also reminded me of the two Saturday jobs he did for two of the small businesses near our home.  Every Saturday morning he'd get on a special bike and pedal his way around the village delivering meat for Bill the butcher, for this he was paid four shillings or twenty pence in today's currency.  After lunch, he'd use the same bike to deliver bread for the village baker, and for this he'd receive five shillings, or twenty five pence.  So at the end of the day my brothers hard work had earned him nine shillings which was good to have.  What I only discovered last week when Bob and I spoke, was that half of that nine shillings he immediately gave to our mother.  Believe me, four shillings and sixpence meant a lot to that lovely lady in the latter half of the 1940's.  No doubt she spent some of it on the last of her brood, me!"  

I feel quite certain that Bobs example of fair play influenced my life and an example of this could be found when I did my first ever potato picking.  For some reason I was unable to attend on the Monday and so my weeks work was one day less than everyone else's.  However, I discovered when I got home and opened my wage packet that it contained the same amount as all my friends.  The next day I went to see the farmer to explain what had happened and I offered him the over payment.  I can still remember his grin and the way he tousled my hair as he said, "Well done son, keep it!"  I recalled that day as I sat outside late one night on one of the benches in my secluded garden, as usual I had a whisky in my hand as I counted the various solar lights that surrounded me.  "Nineteen, I need a twentieth," I said to myself and then I looked up and saw there was no need.  Above me, in all its magnificent glory, was a perfect full moon.  "Its a Bombers moon tonight," were the words I muttered.  Of course, I wasn't thinking of those misguided people who bring death and mayhem to the world,  I was thinking of my lovely sister, Violet, whose wonderful letter inspired this reflection of the long ago age of the Shamley Green Potato Pickers.





   
Ken
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Re: (122) 'The Olden Days and A Bombers Moon'

Ken
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This is a reflection on a time when youngsters had to earn their treats and were happy to do so.  It covers the decades of the 1950's and 60's and I'm grateful to my sister for sharing her memories of what her grandchildren call, 'The Olden Days.'