DAISY NURSALL’S MEMORIES
My memory is of 1914, not so much fun that year. I was six years old that year and on the 4lh August 1914 I can remember my Dad coming home to d inner and saying “It’s in the Daily Sketch, we have declared war on Germany”, and that Sir Edward Grey says “The lights are going out all over Europe”.
All the young lads of 18 or over were keen to join the call for “King and Country” little knowing that not so many would return. Some said, “Oh it will all be over by Christmas”. It is true that in the papers it was said on Christmas Eve that year a truce was called and both British and German soldiers sang Christmas carols between the war lines. However, they soon got back to war again.
I can remember Dad coming in saying Bert lndge has been killed and then Bill Gilks who left a young widow with two young children and then the two Stanford brothers and the two Phillips brothers, Percy Skinner and all the others mentioned on the War Memorial. Every week there were new casualties, and there was Barron Ianqueray and Raymond Andrews in whose memory the cross is carried in Woburn Church every Sunday. My son Michael used to carry the cross from when he was I 1 years old until he got married at 22, and after that for a time.
There were Belgian refugees who came to live in the Old Parsonage and we had to give up our prize money in Sunday school if we won any, to help them. Belgian children came to the village school but they didn’t seem to fit in, if I remember right, they must have felt sad away from their native land.
There was also the German Prisoner of War Camp situated between Woburn and Crawley, up on a hill, even today it is called Camp Hill. When we were children we watched the prisoners march down the hill after their days work on the farm. They looked very sad and weary but I expect they were treated better than our prisoners, one of them died from pneumonia and is buried in Woburn churchyard, and one stayed behind after the war and worked in the Abbey Pleasure Grounds.
I went to school when I was 3 years to the Woburn Infants School, when we were 7 we went to the Upper School. The girls were separated and the boys went to a school in Leighton Street, which is now a private house. The headmaster there was Herbert Studman and he was quite a character and used to rhyme his pupils names, he used to say -“Now West do your best”, “Come on Ping you silly old thing”. He died of cancer in his fifties, he was popular and there was a long procession to the church at his funeral.
When we went to the other school at seven, we were given khaki wool to knit scarves and socks for the soldiers and we had to write a little note to send with the parcels, which we sent to the front lines. I often wonder what those scarves and socks looked like but they must have been approved by the teachers. The head teacher was Miss Smith and the other teacher Miss Studds who thought nothing of giving you a sharp smack or a clip round the ear if you talked while she was teaching . Some of that would not come amiss today when teachers aren’t allowed to use such tactics, although even when I went to school some teachers had favourites especially if the fathers treated them to a drink in the pub.
Also we used to gather blackberries to make jam for the soldiers, they must have got sick of blackberry jam. Then again some officers came round our homes to see how many rooms we had to spare for the soldiers of the West Yorkshire Regiment who were stationed in Woburn. We had a big number 4 chalked on our wall so Mum had to cook an evening meal for 4 hefty Yorkshire men after they had been training in the Drill Hall in the Bedford Arms yard. They had good appetites, so it was a good job Mum had started her married life in Sheffield and she made her own bread. One soldier was named Grant and he used to tease me and shut me in the stair hole cupboard. Mum was allowed money and food to feed them as we were rationed by then. Before we were rationed it was an awful job to get a quarter of margarine from Wommer Turney. Mum had to buy something that wasn’t rationed like black treacle before he would let her have marge.
I also remember about the zeppelins that came over the air raid systems. Mr and Mrs Howard used to come to our house when there was an air raid with their two children Ivor and Irene, as they lived in the Gas House with the gas retorts, also the Timber Yard was near so if a bomb was dropped it wasn’t very safe. We all sat up one night and in the grey light of dawn, Dad said ·’There ·s an old zep on it ‘s way back, it looks a bit low and crippled I wonder if it will get back to Germany”. However, we survived.
Myself and three of my friends used to wheel old prams to fetch wood from Longslade where the Canadian soldiers were cutting down trees for the War Department. We used to go in the woods and fields to pick violets and primroses without fear and were never molested in those days.
We had our happy times too and after the war we settled down in school. Our Headmistress was Miss Home, Miss Studds was still there, though a bit older, she had short black hair tied at the back with a black bow. The type of hairdo some young fellows have today.
Miss Home encouraged us to do Shakespeare’s plays, she took us older ones to see “Midsummer ‘s Night Dream” at Bedford Theatre and then she taught us to act it. Also “The Merchant of Venice”. It was quite interesting and we dressed up in different country dress on the 24th May, Empire Day and danced round the May pole and sang “Land of Hope and Glory”. On the 29th May was Oak Apple Day and we had to take an Oak Apple to school to celebrate King Charles II escape from troops as he hid in an Oak tree. We also had a paper chase game, two girls went in front scattering pieces of paper about and after a while the others followed the trail to find them. We used to go down to Alan’s Wood where the bluebells grew and along by Horsemore Farm out onto the Woburn Sands Road and home. It would be frowned upon today because of the litter but it would soon be gone in the wind and rain.
In those days only one man had a car and that was Tommy Tomkins the Coal Merchant who also sold dog biscuits and if we were hungry we would pinch one and eat it. And he sold fresh eggs in a basket and if I earned 6d for fetching milk for people I would buy one for my tea.
There was also a Mr and Mrs King who lived opposite the school, they kept the bakers shop, and if we were lucky and had a penny to spend we would dart across the road and buy a big bun with a dab of icing on the top. I always remember those lovely buns.
Then there was McKay’s drapers shop and Jimmy McKay ran the Band of Hope and Temperance meetings in the Old Town Hall and in the summer we had a Band of Hope fete. There used to be donkey rides and we used to dress up and run races and have a cup of tea and a bun in the fields at the back of the butchers shop, where now the Drakeloe council houses and bungalows are built. I remember sitting on a seat near the boundary wall where now my bungalow is built.
Another after the war treat was the Sunday school outing to Old Hundreds Farm , we used to go in a steam wagon lent by the Duke of Bedford and by the time we got there our dresses were covered in black smuts. As far as I can remember it used to be fine weather as we had real summers in those days and we had tea, bread and butter with jam and buns. The teachers threw sweets in the grass and we used to scramble for them. not very hygienic. wouldn’t suit children these days. Then we had races – thread the needle, sack race, three-legged race and egg and spoon race. A lovely time was had by all and if we arrived home a bit grimy what did it matter when a wash soon cleaned it away.
Four years after the war I had left school and went into service and hard work but looking back, my friends Vera and Kitty Morrison and Cissie Prestidge and I had a happy childhood. A stocking at Christmas with nuts oranges and apples and maybe a doll, an egg and a new hat for Easter and in the autumn we’d go acorning and conkering to earn a shilling. We would get 3/- (15p) a bushel, which was quite good in those days, and I earned 14/- (70p) one year, enough to buy me a winters hat and coat. I was 13 at the time and we used to push the acorns in prams to Park Street Offices to be weighed. They used to buy them to feed the deer.
We would also get up early on Autumn mornings to go to Brittons Hills to gather mushrooms, go back home to get them fried for breakfast before we went to school. We also went to fetch milk from the Park Farm Dairy. Well Nell Gunnell made us queue up for it and we had a pennyworth of each that is to say – 1 pennyworth of skimmed milk and 1 pennyworth of new which filled a quart can nearly full. I don ‘t know what our m ums would have said if they had seen us dipping our fingers in the froth on the top and swinging the cans round over our heads without spilling a drop.
Then there was Mrs Beesley at the sweet shop who had beads on her curtains to let her know when a customer came in and we had farthing strips of liquorice and Sherbet Dabs and paregoric for colds and there was Scarlet Fever in those days and diptheria when the children had to go to the isolation hospital. Mrs Beesley’s daughter Florence had diptheria but she made her gargle with Jeye’s Fluid, she said it was a poison to kill a poison and it cured Florence. We don’t get these epidemics these days I expect it’s due to better sanitary arrangements.
Well there’s a lot of my childhood memories, I hope they may be of interest .
This is an edited version of an article that Daisy dictated for the “News Around Woburn” in 1992.
The Nursalls lived at Speedwell Cottages and most of them worked for the Woburn Estate at sometime.