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Memories of Village Life

Recollections of Life at Week St Mary during the War Years:


I think it was 1941 when I first arrived in Week St Mary with my father and mother, Joe and Ruth Mitchell, and with my younger brother, Roy who has helped with these recollections. Our father was a policeman and we were moved every four years or so. His previous station was at Landue Bridge between Launceston and Callington and we stayed at Week St Mary until his retirement in 1946.


The police station was the house now called Hayscott and my earliest memory there is of electric lighting. We had only paraffin lamps before and I clearly remember the first time I nervously pressed the switch in the dining room to make the bulb light up. It seemed a miracle! We also had a sort of proper toilet, although it was still in an outhouse and it did not have a flush so you had to keep a bucket of water alongside the pan.


I was about seven years old and found myself under Miss Retallack at the school. “Can you write?” she snapped. “Yes miss.” was my confident response, but unfortunately I had never been taught joined-up writing so when she saw my work her scornful reaction was, “That’s not writing, that’s printing!” I learned how to join up the letters but one of my efforts was held up before the class. “This looks as though it were written with a poker!” was her verdict: probably true but hardly encouraging! Life was obviously going to be tougher than at Landue Bridge.


Mr Martin was the Headmaster and Miss Rich looked after the infants. For a short period we had another teacher who I seem to remember was French but memory may be wrong about that. She used to park her car outside the school and some of the older boys would stuff a potato in the exhaust pipe so that when she started the car there would be a loud bang and the potato would fly several yards. Unsurprisingly this made her rather cross. We recall names of others who taught, probably for short periods: Mrs (?) Cowling, Miss Ward and Miss Sandercock.


We didn’t have much contact with Mr Martin but he would occasionally come and address us on some non-curricular topic. Once he attempted to explain football to us. I don’t think we took much in because I remember us playing only one game which I think was in a field near Tommy Pauling’s carpenter’s shop. I do have a clear memory of a pack of boys chasing a ball around the field all trying to get a kick at it. It was exactly like a pack of hounds in pursuit of a fox! Obviously nobody had grasped the concepts of positions and passing.


Speaking of football reminds me that there was a game between the local lads and a team of prisoners of war; I think it was on the same field near Tommy Pauling’s. I am not sure whether they were Germans or Italians and I have no idea who won. There were a few Italian prisoners working on local farms and there was one we were quite fond of, whose name I forget, who worked at the farm in the corner of the Green at the top of Steele Lane. One made a willow basket to give to our mother which she used for many years.


We remember a Revel. I was dressed as Robin Hood and my brother was a soldier. I don’t think either of us got a prize – I didn’t anyway – but I recall a girl who did. She was dressed entirely in sheets of newspaper and her label indicated that this was in reference to wartime shortages.


There didn’t seem to be much crime in Week St Mary and perhaps the war was a factor in that. I know that my father was criticised by his superiors because he was not bringing enough cases to court. There was the usual ‘riding a bike without lights’ but I think the only consequence was a ticking off. I do remember one case which our father was obliged to bring to court; I won’t go into details about that and it was hardly a heinous offence. There were two fatal accidents. A young man was riding his motorcycle when he collided with a horse and cart by Haydah farm. I helped my father measure the road for his report. The second case was a man who started his car using the starting handle but forgot that the car was in gear. It started and ran over him.


Ned Masters, as well as being the blacksmith, was the special constable and he would come to our house from time to time to agree his duties. Those duties must have included air raid precautions because one night he knocked on our door to tell us that one of our windows was showing a light. You can easily see the window; as you face the gate at the side of Hayscott there is a very small window on your right on the end wall. This was normally blacked out by a large book covered by a dark cloth but on this occasion my parents had forgotten about it. Every time I watch ‘Dad’s Army’ and hear Warden Hodges bawl, “Put that light out.” I think of this incident. Ned didn’t bawl though, he was very polite.


Father’s main tasks included point duty: positioning himself at certain places around the parish at various times of day or night; we seem to remember that Greenamoor was one place. The worst ‘shift’ was ‘eleven to three’ – ie 11pm to 3 am. Although we had a small Austin 7 car he had to walk or cycle to these points and sometimes the sergeant from Stratton station would turn up just to check that his ‘boy’ was where he should be. (Sergeants always addressed their constables as ‘boy’ in those days. Perhaps they still do!)


The back of the police station was very different from the way it is now: just an area of grass with a couple of flower beds and, below that, the vegetable garden. It was because I was standing outside our back door one day at the right moment that I can add something to the story of a plane crash. I saw a single engine travelling northwards over Swannacott Woods; it was losing height and the engine was stuttering badly. I shouted to my father, “Look, there’s a plane crashing!” It disappeared around the back of College House and I went up to the Green to try to follow it. In the top left hand corner there was a field gate where a new bungalow now stands and from there I could see a column of black smoke rising in the distance. I have now learnt that it came down at Week Orchard. As far as I know my father was not involved, presumably because it was a military matter not a civil one. Could I have been the first person in the village to know that there was an aircraft in trouble? Perhaps, perhaps not.


My brother remembers an escaped barrage balloon. Its trailing rope got caught in the telegraph wires between the village and Swannacott so our father and some other men went to disentangle it but, having succeeded in that, the man charged with holding the rope managed to let it go so the balloon drifted away to no one knew where.


I will mention a few people we particularly recall. Next door to us in Manciple House lived Sid and Kath Sandercock; Sid was the baker at the village shop. Their children were Llewellyn and Hazel. Hazel suffered from a cleft palate and could not speak clearly. On the other side was the College where Reg Colwill lived and beyond that was New College, the home of Joe Ayres and his wife. In front of New College was the pump where we got our drinking water. The Chidley’s lived on the left of the Green and Mrs Pooley ran a little shop where you could buy batteries and bulbs for your torch and perhaps other things too. A short way down Steele Lane on the left lived Mr Amos whom we thought rather ‘posh’; he had a moustache and a better than average car. A very young evacuee girl called Sadie Benson was billeted somewhere in ‘Lower Square’; she was probably only four or five years old.


Opposite our house were Mr and Mrs Lyle, and was there a family called Hambley next door? I am not sure, but an evacuee boy called Victor Coles definitely lodged in one of those houses. George and Edna Masters lived between our house and the square. In the square two evacuee boys called Blackburn lodged; the elder was Derek and his brother was Brian. The Paulings lived next to the shop and their daughter, Hazel, was at the school with me. Nath Coles’ butcher’s shop was in the corner.


Two girls came to school from outside the village: Elizabeth Fishleigh lived at Creddacott and Catherine Congdon I think lived in the direction of Week Orchard. There were two evacuee brothers called Lipscombe; the older one was Peter.


One local man we have not heard mentioned was Bill Martin (or Martyn) who I thought - but I may be wrong - had the petrol pumps by the Bude turning. For some reason he was known as Dazzy Bill and he had a big stick which I have seen him use on a boy who got too cheeky. I may be wrong about the petrol pumps but he did have a smallholding and sheds opposite Orchard the tailor’s shop. Old paper and cardboard were stored in one of his sheds to be recycled for ‘the war effort’.


Just below Mr Orchard’s shop Ned Masters’ son Tommy and his wife lived; they had a ginger haired boy; his name was Brian, but he was nicknamed ‘Bosun’. Just above and behind Orchard’s shop Johnny Pearce lived with his mother and grandmother. The other boys called him ‘Pearcey’ and he, ‘Bosun’ and Roy were often together. On one occasion our neighbour, Reg Colwill, spotted them in the field behind his house. Probably fearing they were up to mischief he said, “Right! Who’s the ringleader then?” ‘Bosun’ didn’t know what a ringleader was but he said, “I be”. The consequence of this rash claim was a bucket of water thrown over him!


I will return now to school memories and it is inevitable that they centre on Miss Retallack. I will not go over ground that others have covered and she was certainly fearsome, often cruel and occasionally violent. However, it is only fair to say that she did have a kinder side and that should be put on record too. In addition to the usual arithmetic in the morning and reading and writing in the afternoon she tried to teach us some simple craft work: placemats made from milk bottle tops and raffia come to mind, and cross-stitch which I could never get the hang of. We had country dancing with an old wind-up gramophone; personally I hated it but looking back I can give her credit for bringing in some variety. She had been an ‘auxiliary nurse’ and she taught us about basic first-aid and about arteries and veins and capillaries, and how to make a sling. Does anyone else remember how she used to paint us with a violet substance if we had any minor wounds? The result could be spectacular if it was on your face! (I have since learned that it was gentian violet.)


I shall never forget gas mask drills. We had to put the wretched things on (“Thumbs under the straps, chin in first, then pull the straps back over your head. Run your fingers under the rubber on the sides to check that there are no creases.”) and then sit at our desks with these things on for a while (I have no idea how long) There was this strong rubber smell and the sense that you were in serious danger of suffocation. Eventually we were told to take them off and put them back in the box, folded in the correct way so that the metal buckles did not scratch the transparent window. Once a man came to tape a green extension onto our gas masks, to protect against a different type of gas we were told.


There was a tall cupboard in our classroom with books and other things on the shelves and sometimes we had freedom to do what we liked there. On the bottom shelf was a set of encyclopaedias and I used to read about astronomy and how there would be a total eclipse of the sun in 1999 over Cornwall. I lived in anticipation of that for more than fifty years and in due course was able to see it.


Once we went down the lane leading off the Green towards Swannacott Woods to collect foxglove seeds. They were used to make a heart medicine.


Just before I was due to take the scholarship exam. (passing this exam. meant your parents did not have to pay for secondary education) I had a bad accident while playing in our back lawn. Miss Retallack came down to help while we waited for Dr Freeth to arrive from Widemouth. The consequence was that I took the exam. lying in bed. When the result came through saying that I had passed Miss Retallack told me I could leave her lesson to go home and tell my mother. Naturally, I did.


In the following September Audrey Colwill, David Coles, Brian Bromell and I started at Bude County School; Mr Wright was the Headmaster. The school bus did not come to Week St Mary so we had to be taken to, and collected from, the Langford Barton road junction each day. Our respective fathers provided the transport; we had our Austin 7, Audrey and David’s fathers used their butcher’s vans. Audrey, being a girl, had the luxury of sitting in the front seat but we boys sat on the floor in the back. (Audrey had a younger sister called Iris and David an older brother named Vivian).


The war ended in the summer of 1945; the church bells were rung and a big flock of jackdaws flew out of the tower. For them five years of peace had come to an end! There was a big bonfire at Week Green and a young man called Clifford Cobbledick helped to put an effigy of Hitler on the top. It was an old pair of overalls stuffed with straw and something on top for a head.


A few memory snapshots to conclude.


Jimmy Cobbledick pumping the organ in the Chapel.


The square filled with cars on market days. Jimmy used to sweep the market afterwards (with Roy occasionally helping!).


Watching Tommy Pauling bring the cartwheel he had made to Ned Masters’ shop, and seeing Ned heat the iron rim until it could be lifted out of the fire and dropped onto the wheel. The wood started to flame and buckets of water were poured on to shrink the rim. A perfect fit! The craftsmanship still amazes me: two perfect circles - one in wood, the other in iron - made to an exact size with simple hand tools!


The Maddocks sisters singing a duet at a village concert.

“I don’t want to play in your garden, I don’t like you any more.” (You can still hear a sentimentalised American version of this song on the internet.) 


Sunday school; two of our teachers were Richard Paynter and a Mr Orchard.


A week-long children’s mission at the Chapel. “Sunshine Corner” it was called.


A man playing the violin in Chapel on Sundays as accompaniment to the organ.


Mr Brown (Eric?), a disabled man who had a little cycle repair shop just outside the village beyond Week Green. I think it was on the road to Reeve House and I think behind a larger garage.


The hill beyond Haydah heading towards Bude used to be called “Dipples Hill”. Has that name dropped out of use I wonder?


A school girl in the village died and I remember it being whispered in the playground that Mr Pauling had measured her, but I did not understand what that meant at all. I have a shadow of a memory of the name “Petherick” but there is no such name in either cemetery.


Rev. Kitt, the Methodist Minister, and the Rector, Rev. Hambrook, who had lost a leg; we understood his motor cycle brakes had failed while descending Porlock Hill.


A time of heavy snow and taking our sledges to the castle mound. Hazel Pauling, being the carpenter’s daughter, had by far the best sledge and I can still see her travelling at high speed down the steepest side and ending up in the hedge at the bottom laughing her socks off!


There are other names and other memories but there comes a point where listening to old stories becomes tedious. Whether this personal record is interesting or useful we cannot tell but it has been a pleasure to re-connnect with those distant days. We are very grateful to Linda Cobbledick and David Martin for the massive amount of work they have put into keeping the past alive and now for allowing us to make a small contribution to the record.


By Brian Mitchell (Gorran Haven) & Roy Mitchell (Tintagel )


50º 45'03.84N  4º 30'01.39W      OS: SX 237977      Elevation: 142m

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