Thursday, 8 April 2010
WW2 Peoples War - Wartime Butcher's Boy-Folkestone
This is the 2nd part of Ivor Bail's wartime memoir. The 1st part, entitled "A Good Prospect" deals with his experience as an evacuee in Tintern.
These memoirs were typed by Fiona McNeill of the Folkestone Heritage Team and added to the site with the author's permission.
My return to my home at 88 Guildhall Street after evacuation to South Wales was brought about because I had reached the school leaving age of 14, and it was time to seek employment in Folkestone.
I had no idea what job I wanted to do, as opportunities were not great due to the wartime conditions existing in the town.
After some enquiries my mother found me a job with a local butcher who needed a delivery boy, and so it was I went to work for 'F.R. Hills Family Butcher', 31 Cheriton Road Telephone - 3436, for the weekly wage of twelve shillings and six pence (62.5p)
My job entailed delivering peoples' meat rations to their homes, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays. The meat ration being rather meagre it was only families who, using all their rations could expect a joint of meat for 'Sunday roast' a person living alone usually finished up with a small chump end of lamb.
Rations could be supplemented with liver or other items of offal, but this was always in short supply, sausages however were a food source more readily available. The sausages manufactured at 'Dick Hills' butcher shop and other butcher shops, due to shortages - contained a lot more rusk than meat, as opposed to today’s product containing more meat than rusk!
I was introduced to the art of sausage making, mixing meat trimmings rusk and seasoning, and operating a large mincer which needed turning by hand.
Meanwhile, all was not quiet in and around Folkestone, German aircraft made regular visits to town, flying in from France acros the Channel, keeeping low to the sea. Then suddenly swooping above the rooftops to drop their bombs on us. Often no air raid warnings sounded because the low and swift approach avoided prior detection.
These became known as 'Tip and Run' raids and it was believed the pilots were newly trained and sent across to gain experience on their first mission.
One morning in April, soon after the shop opened I witnessed my first 'Tip and Run' raid.
As I was arranging meat packages in my delivery basket, I heard the sound of air craft over head. Within seconds, several loud explosions occured.
Everyone in the shop ran to the doorway, and we could see a dense black, wide column of smoke incorporating red and orange tongues of flames, rising rapidly above the houses in the direction of the Foord Road area.
It wasn't long before we learned that the gas holder behind Bradstone Avenue in the 'Brickfields' was the seat of the fire, water escaping from the holder flooded people's houses in the avenue, regretfully one person was killed in this raid. It was a dramatic start to my days work!
Sundays saw me at Christ Church, singing in the choir along with other lads under the direction of the organist and Choir Master, Mr Jenner. I remained in the choir serving as Head Choir Boy until the fateful day on which the church suffered from one of the Lufftwaffe's 'Tip and Run' raids.
Sunday morning May 17th 1942, I was just setting out from home to attend church when the raiders swept in and dropped several bombs. After the explosions, the sky in the direction of Christ Church was filled with smoke and dust and hundreds of little white objects all fluttering in mid air. I didn't realise it at that moment but these were pages from the hymn and prayer books.
Reaching the church, I was confronted with a scene of grim devastation, the main body of the church was totally destroyed. Only the tower at the Western end was left standing.
Gravestones in the church yard having been uprooted, lay midst piles of rubble in the roads nearby, some hymn and prayer book pages still hung in the air above the ruins drifting gently along, never to be sung or prayed from again.
I met other members of the choir, and as we surveyed the dreadful scene we discussed how lucky it was the raiders visit did not come 20 minutes later, when the service would have been in progress and we and all the soldiers on church parade would have been inside.
Sadly the Verger Mrs Ansell, and an early worshiper lost their lives.
The tower has been preserved and remains as a monument on the site which is now a Garden of Remembrance". At the Eastern end of the garden an indentation in the lawn reminds me where the underground vestry we so often attended used to be.
The church services were transferred to Holy Trinity Church just up the road but were never quite the same for us choir boys.
Meanwhile, I was making steady progress in my role as butcher's boy learning a good deal about the trade and Mr Hills seemed well pleased, so pleased in fact that I decided having been in his employ about twelve months, I might be justified in seeking a rise for my efforts.
My request came as a bit of a shock to Mr. Hills and it took him two weeks before reaching a decision. After some deliberation with his wife, who managed the cash office, he awarded me a 2/- (10p) increase, bringing my wage to the princely sum of 14/6d (72.5p) per week - I went forth rejoicing!
I did not benefit from this wage increase for long because I was offered another job elsewhere and I left F.R. Hills to go to work at 'Worsells' the butchers No 3, The Old High Streeet Tel. - 3101.
'Worsells' was owned by the firm J. H. Dewhurst and my starting wage in their employ was a fabulous almost unbelievable 23 shillings (£1.15) per week. The manager Mr Arthur Matthews was a great boss and through his guidance and tuition I eventually reached the celebrated status of 'butcher's cutter'.
I learned, among other things, how to use the scales, which were balance scales, complete with highly polished brass weights. These ranged from 7lbs down to the tiny 0.5 ounce that hung on a piece of string to avoid loss. This little weight was flicked onto the scale pan using the attached string, just as the balance was on the turn consequently slightly increasing the price.
I also learnt butchers back slang, a away of conversing used in the trade in order to convey information on the shop floor without customers being aware of the topic.
The price of meat in those days was quite reasonable, leg of lamb 2d-3d per lb, though these were mostly boned out and used with pork to make sausage meat.
Talking of sausage meat reminds me of an embarrassing moment when I was sent to deliver 6lb of it to the Queens hotel just up the road.
On the delivery cycle where the basket fitted, were two wooden slats. Instead of using the basket for the short delivery I placed the sausage meat on these slats. Unfortunately, just as I approached the traffic lights at the top of the road they changed to red. Applying the brakes to slow down and stop caused my parcel to shoot forward onto the roadway and I neatly divided the contents into two separate 3 pounds of sausage meat having sliced it with the cycles front wheel.
Filled with dismay I hastily retrieved the damaged goods and continued the journey to the hotel. Descending the steps leading down to the kitchen, I made a half way stop in order to examine the two portions. Some sausage meat I discarded as it had suffered Dunlop tyre rash! Then uniting the two halves into 6 pound less about 3 ounces and roughly rewrapping the whole, I entered the kitchen trying my best to appear the innocent butcher’s lad. The chief Mr Sprenger greeted me with open arms as he desperately awaited this order. I returned to the shop bearing a feeling of guilt.
My delivery round took me about two miles out and around the Cheriton area of Folkestone, often through the duration of air raid warnings. But his didn't worry me a great deal as I subscribed to the general attitude existing at that time - 'If your names on it you'll get it where ever you are!'
The policy of J. H. Dewhurst during wartime was; goods must be paid for, cash on delivery, this rule to be strictly adhered to, and so I had to collect the money from every customer. Weekly or monthly accounts were no longer an option, just in case your name was on it, and you got it, and the firm didn't!
One Saturday afternoon, in August 1942 a number of enemy aircraft raided the town, dropping several bombs, one of which fell a few doors along the road from my home in Guildhall Street.
This bomb hit 'Funnels' Butcher shop and a dairy next door known as 'Gammons'. The dairyman Mr Fisher who was resting in the back room was unfortunately killed.
On the opposite side of the road 'Franklin’s' grocer shop suffered considerable damage. My mother, who worked in this shop, was at the time serving her own mother, they and others in the shop had a lucky escape but the luckiest escape of all was by a baby outside the shop in its pram. The blast from the bomb brought down the shops canvas blind, which enveloped the pram protecting the child from the flying glass and falling masonry.
Hearing the news I left my work place to visit the scene. Reaching my home, I found the front windows all smashed and, going inside, discovered my grandmother, the only occupant at the time busy clearing up the fallen kitchen ceiling. For a 92 year old she was coping very well, her comments on the situation and reference to 'Herr Hitler' I best not print!
On November 9th 1942 the enemy decided to operate their long range guns. Newly installed along the French coast, they opened fire about 8 pm. and bombarded the town causing considerable damage and casualties. Shells fell in the lower part of the town and around the harbour some exploding in mid air. This part of town became known locally as 'The Shelling Area'.
Shelling of Dover and Folkestone became a regular occurrence. Gun duels took place between our long range guns at St Margaret’s at Cliff and the Germans in the Calais area.
Once an engagement started it was impossible to know when it might finish. Even though there were 'shelling warnings' activated when the first shell landed, and the 'all clear' sounding if nothing fell after one hour.
The German gunnery officer was obviously wise to this procedure, and would fire another shell after about 1 hour 15 mins. So a lethal game of cat and mouse developed, similar to a heated argument when each person seeks the last word, except this was who fires the last shell.
Eventually, after the 'D Day' invasion by the allies, our troops overran the gun emplacements situated on the French coast, the enemy gun crews did their best to fire off their stock of shells before capture. Dover and Folkestone bore the brunt of this action.
The shelling on this final occasion started in the early hours of the morning and I was awakened by the first explosion but remained in bed, our dog 'Monty' took cover with me under my blanket. We were not to stay like this for long because a shell landed in the grounds of the clinic (Old Harvey Grammar School) next to our back garden. It demolished our large garden shed. At the same time, blast from the shell blew out my bedroom window depositing glass over the bed and into the room. 'Monty' fled, and I decided I ought to get up. I left my bed just in time to the sound of a second shell, which fell in almost the same crater caused by the first. Blast from this one, blew the complete window frame out of its setting and onto the bed, plus dirt dust and masonry.
I went downstairs to join my parents and sister and we all retreated to a large cupboard under the stairs, as this was considered to be the safest place in any house.
The shelling continued until first light and extensive damage was caused around the town. 88 Guildhall street suffered damage to the rear of the house, also ceilings inside came down.
Our neighbours next door, Mr and Mrs Saunders, inspecting damage to their property discovered a piece of shrapnel embedded in the walnut veneer on the front of their much cherished radiogram. They left it in place as a souvenir from 'Jerry'.
The next day Wednesday (D-Day + one in military terms) in the afternoon after work, I visited the seafront. Standing on the Leas promenade and looking across the Channel I beheld a most impressive sight.
Far out at sea were two aircraft flying parallel to the French coast, each in turn laying down a thick smoke screen. Close to our shoreline, a huge convoy of ships was underway. As far as the eye could see in either direction, there were cargo ships, escorted by warships, three and four abreast, many of these vessels flying barrage balloons.
This was a wartime scene of historic importance which I will never forget.
Having endured bombing and shelling up to this stage in the War, Folkestone now looked very much in a knocked about condition, with bomb sites and shell damage all over town. Adding to this the fact that many businesses had closed and moved when invasion threatened, leaving their premises boarded up, the picture was rather bleak to say the least.
However, in spite of the situation the townsfolk remained steadfast, and spirits stayed high.
There were many troops of all nationalities stationed in the town, the Navy had headquarters in the Royal Pavilion and Princess Hotels known as 'H M. S Allenby' under the command of Vice Admiral Round Turner. The Army, with British and American troops, occupied other hotels and houses vacated by the greatly reduced civilian population.
Two doors from my workplace at 'Worsells' above 'Burtons' the tailors the Americans ran a club for their troops entitled 'Do Nut Dug Out.' We supplied them with sausages and in return sampled their delicious 'Dough Nuts'.
On top of Burton's roof a group of our soldiers manned a machine gun, its purpose to shoot down low flying raiders. Although they fired once or twice, they never managed to fulfil their purpose, maybe other emplacements had more success.
Late one evening when I was at home, the air raid sirens sounded a warning, and plenty of activity soon took place.
Anti aircraft fire from guns on the hills and search lights sweeping the sky, caused my sister and I to go and observe events from her bedroom window at the top of our house, where we had a good view towards the hills behind the town. We saw what we thought were enemy aircraft under fire, and receiving direct hits setting them on fire. We assumed they were bombers heading for targets in land.
Next morning, the radio and newspaper gave vivid accounts to explain the nights action. What we had witnessed was the first attack by Hitlers V1 (Vengence One) pilotless planes, not only pilotless but minus a propeller to draw them along.
Their means of propulsion was a crude jet engine bolted to the rear of the fuselage, flames spurted from this unit and misled us when watching into believing our gunners had scored hits.
These weapons carried a nasty lethal pay load of explosives and were intended for London. When reaching the city, the engine would cut out due to fuel starvation, resulting in a descent to ground, sometimes in an acrobatic fashion, ending with a terrific explosion causing damage and destruction in all directions.
This travelling bomb became known as 'Fly Bomb', 'Buzz Bomb' or more popularly the 'Doodlebug'.
Although aimed at, and intended for London, hundreds were shot down overland and into the sea along the coast, particularly in the Folkestone area.
The 'V1' was followed later by the 'V2' a rocket propelled bomb also directed towards London. Having greater accuracy than the 'Doodle Bug'. Fortunately for us, Folkestone never received any, the nearest falling in the Maidstone area.
One afternoon I was on the Leas with a friend when approaching 'Doodlebugs' came under fire from American Anti-Aircraft guns and British 'Bofor’s’ guns.
We watched as the V1s flew into a box barrage, the air being peppered with bursting shells, shrapnel from the shells appeared to float down like feathers and land with a tinkley sound all around us. We took cover under the Leas Cliff Hall Balcony because we knew this red hot metal could give us nasty injuries.
As the barrage continued, the V1's flew through it and went on their way unscathed. Shells from 'Bofor's' guns had little effect on this aircraft, but American shells with higher explosive often scored direct hits bringing many down, mostly in the sea. Unfortunately, some American shells missing their target failed to detonate, returning to earth unexploded. One such shell from this barrage hurtled back, landing with a whooshing noise close to one of the gun emplacements. Burying itself deep in the lawn leaving a neat round hole marking its entry. As far as I know it remains to this day in the area of the Leas Bandstand.
My experiences as a working lad during these War years included many unpleasant events, too numerous to mention, unless writing a book, but I have put down some of the more outstanding in this short account.
At last, on May 28th 1945, hostilities came to an end, the day to be named V.E. Day (Victory in Europe.) Great celebrations took place, especially in the evening when troops and civilians gathered on the Leas. The Leas Cliff Hall was soon packed to capacity and the doors shut, but enterprising para troops secured a rope over the balcony and many more entered the hall by means of the rope, making the hall packed to over capacity.
High spirits in this rejoicing crowd led to cups, saucers, glasses and even seats being thrown over the balcony onto the lower seafront as everyone went wild.
Bonfires were lit along the Leas Promenade, bench seats and anything wooden were used to fuel them.
Returning home with friends, we picked up a life size effigy of 'Adolf Hitler' which I had constructed earlier in the day. We conveyed the 'Fuhrer' through the streets to the Leas and cast him onto the biggest of the bonfires there.
Huge cheers filled the smokey night air as the defeated dictator burned.
On August the 14th 1945 the Japanese in the Far East War surrendered.
This was as a result of an Atomic bomb the Americans dropped on the city of 'Nagasaki' on August 8th causing catastrophic destruction as great as the first Atomic bomb dropped two days before on 'Hiroshima'.
The 15th of August was declared 'V.J. Day (Victory in Japan) and once again the whole country celebrated.
Having survived these momentous Wartime events I had reached the age of 17.5 years which meant I was approaching 'Call Up' into the armed forces.
I decided to join the Navy in preference to waiting to be conscripted in to the Army, or possibly being selected as a 'Bevan Boy' (conscription into the coal mines) when I reached 18 years.
As it turned out, the Navy had no vacancies, but vacancies existed in 'The Royal Marines,' an important part of the 'Royal Navy'.
I applied and passed the necessary tests and medical for H.M. Royal Marines. On October 2nd 1945 I travelled to London and reported for final enlistment at 'Alhambra House' in Charing Cross Road.
The Manager of ‘Worsells’ (J H Dewhurst) at the end of the War, left to open his own butchers shop in Hythe which became a well known and successful business, before leaving he wrote me the following reference dated 12th September 1945;
[Telephone No 3101 3, High Street Folkestone, 12/9/1945W. Worsell Family ButcherProprietors: J.H. Dewhurst LtdPickled TonguesScotch and Southdown MuttonEnglish and Scotch BeefFamilies supplied with the very best quality on the most reasonable terms]
Ivor Bail has been employed by me during the past three years, during which time I have found him to be an honest, sober, willing and industrious worker, his character is of the highest integrity and his success in life regarded as certain. Arthur H Matthews (Manager).
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