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Reminiscences - Donald Hutchings’ wartime memories

Thorncombe Village Trust

Donald Hutchings recently wrote the following account to be included in this website. His memories of Holditch School can be read here. He also had clear memories of the Pissarros and these can be read at the end of the entry here

                                                                      Wartime memories

I should explain my connection to the area.

My father, Frank Charles Hutchings, was born at Hewood and his sister with whom we stayed every year was Mrs. S. Perrott (nee May Jane Hutchings), My aunt and her husband both worked at Sadborow House (the original one that was destroyed by fire), she on the domestic side and I understand became the cook. There were tales in the family of the perks of the domestic staff. It was said that the tea leaves were divided up to be brought home because they had only been used once.

As it is a Thorncombe Village website you may be interested to know that my grandparents were two of the first people to be buried in what was then referred to as the new churchyard. They were, I believe, graves numbers 5 and 7 against the wall that runs along the top. Their grave markers have long since disappeared. They were in the form of cast iron crosses that had their names on them.

My grandfather was an unusual man for his time. He left home and joined the Coldstream Guards and as

there was no motor transport at that time, must have marched over quite a bit of Africa as he had medals for participating in The Egyptian War and The South African War. He returned to Hewood and was employed at Ford Abbey's farm at Gribb as a cattleman. Among his abilities was that of a water diviner. I can remember being told that he dug and lined one of the deepest wells in the area at Higher Hewood Farm that required a double lift pump to bring the water to the surface.

My uncle was a general handyman and the driver of the horse drawn vehicles used at the time. Later when a motor car was obtained he became the chauffeur. I can remember an early photo of him resplendent in his peaked cap and uniform beside the car which I believe was an early Rolls Royce. He, like all the men, was swept away to the First World War and spent the war as an officer’s driver. We were very lucky and exceptional as a family that all of our menfolk survived and returned home. On his return he acquired the house now known as No 1 Hewood and the field above it, and with an ex- army surplus lorry started a business of milk churn collection from the farms to the then Yonder Hill Dairy and other general haulage.

To house his vehicles he built a garage on the main road at the top of Hewood. The last time I saw it, it was a disintegrating ruin of rusting corrugated iron sheets. Its construction was truly unique. It was built by Sam Perrott with the help of my father, his brother and other relatives. It was rather large - capable of housing three lorries, a workshop and other storage space, but it is the method of the construction of straight pine poles wire-lashed together and just covered with corrugated iron that is special. I do not know if it was because bolts long enough to bolt the beams together were unobtainable or unaffordable but the fact that something that size just lashed together with wire rope without any maintenance for the last good many years could survive the elements for nearly a hundred years is amazing. The sliding doors on the front were a later addition as was the internal petrol tank and pump, and the huge water tank beside it.

Samuel and May Perrott were very well known in the area and are both buried in Thorncombe cemetery. Before the Welfare state came into being my aunt organised what self help could be done by neighbours for the old people and I do not know what the rite involved but she was the layer out of the corpses after their death.

                                                                       Shopping in wartime

I do not know if you know anything about how people in the rural areas shopped in those days as there was not much of a transport system to get about with. The nearest thing to one was the buses that Henry Vincent of Thorncombe ran to the local market towns. However before the 1939 war with the more common use of motor vehicles, there was a delivery system run by the local tradespeople to the hamlets. I presume that Thorncombe, although larger, was included in the circuit. The people I can remember who served Hewood were quite good. I will try to remember as many as I can.

There were three butchers - V. Purse of Axminster, Channon of I don't know where but he did good Faggots at l/2pence each, and Boards at Common Arch who used an ancient Reliant three wheeled van.

There were three bakers - Hayball of Hawkchurch and Lambert and Chubb of Thorncombe (If any older people read this they will remember what real bread was like.)There was Wootton of I think Bridport, who

used to sell fruit and fish. People grew their own vegetables. The fish was usually Mackerel or something that came in salt dried slabs called Toe Rag or Tow Rag which required soaking for about three days before it could be cooked and eaten. There was also the Corona van. When it came to clothing there was a representative from McNeils who would measure you and bring the items the following week - and if required would even measure you for a tailored suit. And finally there was Fred Matthews' van. It didn't need a hooter you could hear it clanking a mile away. Suspended from its sides were pots, pans, tin baths, brushes; every

kind of household item you'd ever think of. It also carried a big tank of paraffin and methylated spirits. This practice continued throughout the war. Groceries were delivered by The Co-op and the International stores.

With a selection like this who needs Supermarkets?

Milk: you took a jug to the farm to replace the one left at the previous visit and collected your milk from the window sill of the dairy where it was left, having been covered by the farmer's wife with a lace cover weighted down at the edges by beads. If you had not left a jug at the previous visit the milk would be in a 21b jamjar which fortunately just holds a pint, for you to pour into your own container. You collected the milk twice daily after the morning and afternoon milking, so the milk was never more than 2 hours old and had not been transported 40 miles round the county before you got it.

                                                                     Chickens and Pigs

If you say today "shall we have Chicken" most people think of a frozen block wrapped in plastic. Back in those days most people kept a few chickens fed on household scraps (i.e. Potato peelings and any odds

and ends that were edible.) cooked up and mixed with Barley Meal and if they were lucky some Indian corn. They were a valuable asset and were kept mainly for their eggs which were sold to the Milk Factory to supplement meagre incomes. However, at sometime the hens would finish laying and it was not economic to keep them. When it was decided which was to go it was quite sad as most of them were known by name, but sentiment could not stop the inevitable. You first had to kill your own chicken and then sit down and pluck all the feathers off it and then slit it open to put your hand in and pull out the intestines, saving of course the liver, crop and the heart. Then you cut off the head and the legs and

Hey Presto you had a chicken ready for the oven.

During that period if you had a pig you could surrender certain things on your ration book for a permit to kill it. This was a bit bigger job than a chicken and required a few more people to complete the job. First the pig was killed and immediately hung up by its back legs so that its blood could be collected for the making of Black Pudding. Whilst in this position its stomach would be opened and its intestines pulled out into a dolly tub to be dealt with later. The pig would then be laid out on a trestle table and with much boiling water and sharp knives be shaven to remove the bristles prior to butchering into small enough pieces to be used immediately or to be salted down for keeping. I can hear people saying "salted down to keep it". Remember, I said at the beginning about it being the dark ages. Nobody at Hewood or Thorncombe had a freezer or even a refrigerator because there was no electricity.

I return now to the contents of the dolly tub which would be taken down the garden and the tubes squeezed along to empty them of their contents. After washing they would be threaded on canes and left in salt water for a week, being turned daily, when they would be considered clean enough to fry nice and crisp in the pan as Chitterlings. The bladder was washed and tied off at one end to be blown up as a balloon for the children. The head had the tongue removed to cook separately and the jowls could be

Removed and cooked then rolled in breadcrumbs to become Bath Chaps.

It was always said that nothing wasted on a pig but its squeal.

                                                                                  Searchlights and Telephones

I don't know if anyone has mentioned the the searchlights site at Horse Shoe Lane. I believe they were manned by Canadians. I remember one year when the hay harvest was cut and dried out on the ground, the weather changed and the whole lot was due to get ruined. The commander of the searchlight unit aligned the lights to shine on the underside of the clouds which made it like daylight and we worked until

about 3 o clock in the morning haymaking and saved the crop.

There was also another unit in the area sited halfway along Back Lane between Schoolhouse and Holditch, in a field by the junction with Lavers Lane. It was manned by the RAF and was known as the Whirlygig. I

have always understood that it was radio beam and a revolving light beacon for the guidance of our planes returning from bombing raids.

There is a thing that I always found strange and I don't know if the same system still exists today. It was about the telephone. Because of their haulage business my aunt had the only telephone in Hewood. Telephone No: Hawkchurch 224, (It was one of the original Daffodil type made I believe of cast iron and was very heavy. They were produced later in plastic, but the earpiece alone of the old type was heavier than the plastic one.) To get the wiring from the main road to the house it was necessary to

erect a telephone pole on their land. For this they were given a form of rent called wayleave. I forget the amount, it was only a nominal sum, but what I found ironical was that the pole was only there for their benefit and yet they were paid for it.

Another thing which gives me pleasant memories, is that these telephone poles with their wires ran alongside all the roads and twice a year they found a use for which they were never designed. In the spring we would see the odd one or two swallows perching on the wires as they arrived from Africa. Gradually the numbers grew until the full complement of many swallows was there. Later we boys would clamber up on the wagons in the wagon shed of Hewood Farm to see the eggs laid in the mud nests on the roof beams, and later to see the chicks hatch. My father told me they did the same in his childhood. It is marvellous that the birds travelled thousands of miles to use the same nests year after year.

Then came in the autumn the second use of the telephone wires as the birds arrived and sat in line along them until the flock was assembled for the return journey. I cannot think this use was ever envisaged by the erectors of telephone wires but personally I cannot think of a better use.

I will finish with an account of my own father's handiwork. I do not know if the chapel opposite the Jubilee Hall is still a place of worship, but in my time at Hewood we attended twice, sometimes three times every Sunday and I think that it must have been so in my father's time. When you entered the chapel there was a porch with matchboard sides that went back inside on the left hand side. When entering you should find, along with many others, initials carved there - a prominent FH - a result of my Father's artistic skills from the eighteen nineties.

With thanks to Donald Hutchings for this fascinating account.