PAPERBACK BOOKS
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A MIGRANT

William (Bill) Sydney Barlow Matthews

24th October 1921 to 3rd April 2007 

This is Bill’s life story. The joys and hardships of being a child growing up in England. From having to work in the coalmines as a child, to joining the Army during the war. Then with his young family, immigrating to Australia where they finally settled in the Gympie area, and for many years worked for the Forestry.

In Store Price: $AU31.95 
Online Price:   $AU30.95

ISBN:   978-1-921240-69-0
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 396
Genre:  Non Fiction

 

 


Author: William Matthews
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2009
Language: English

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About this book

It contains much information about areas of England where he grew up before and during the war years. Many of his experiences in the army during the war as a member of the Bomb Disposal Unit are recorded here, and he informs me that various avenues of research have asked for copies, as details of these incidences are rather scarce.

After the war, he and his wife, Gladys decided to move with their young family to Australia. Bill had to travel ahead of the family who followed a few months later on the ‘Asturias’.

He takes us along on his trip on the ‘Maloja’ describing the many ports-of-call on the way. No doubt many changes have occurred since 1949.

Next, he gives us his first impressions of Australia, as the ship takes them from one capital city to the next, finally arriving at his destination, Brisbane.

From there, he comes to what is now known as the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and the Cooroy-Gympie area. He has spent much of his life here working for the Forestry Department until his retirement from there in 1978.

................Jo Beveridge.

 

About the author

WILLIAM SYDNEY BARLOW MATTHEWS was born in England in 1921. His father was Harold Barlow Matthews and his mother Edith (nee Alford).

He was educated at the Wesleyan, Welton and St John’s schools in Midsomer Norton, and was the last of the 1935 class.

At 14 years of age he started work in No.1 Colliery, Norton Hill coalmine. He was the last of the kids in coalmines.

Bill joined the army in 1939, volunteering for the Bomb Disposal Squad in April, 1940.

He met and married his wife Gladys in the following year.

His discharge from the army came in 1943 because of stress disorder and deformed feet.

In 1949 under the ‘free passage’ scheme for ex-servicemen, he travelled to Australia ahead of his family on the ‘Maloja’. The family followed some time later on the ‘Asturias’.

The family settled in Queensland, and the author began work with the Forestry Department. For the first ten years, the family with five children was housed in Forestry tents. He recounts the lives and times of the forestry camp people and the small towns around the Gympie District.

Later promoted to Forest Officer, he spent eighteen years in the gold mining areas of Sunday Creek and Jimna, selling the giant trees to various sawmills. He also discovered some ancient Aboriginal ‘bora rings’ and artefacts and includes photographs of these times.

In 1978, he was retired from the Forestry Department but continued to keep himself occupied in other jobs and hobbies. However, ill health took its toll, so he learnt to use a computer and wrote this book.

 Now, read a sample of the book:

Chapter 1

MEMOIRS

I

 was born at Stratton Village, Stratton on the Fosse, which was the old Roman road, on 24 October 1921. My mother was married to a coalminer, who worked at the Haydon Colliery at Radstock. He had a very long walk to the pithead every morning. Eventually we were to move to another coalmining area at Catterick, Yorkshire. The reason for this move was never explained to me, or why we all returned to Norton Hill, which is situated above Midsomer Norton in very easy walking distance of my grandfather’s home in Hazel Terrace.

My grandfather used to be a head gamekeeper on a large estate near Norton Hill. He also repaired the dry stone walls that were in existence in those early days in the surrounding fields of Norton. And he ‘blew’ the tree stumps of the trees that were pulled down for road works and overhead power lines on the road, which was part of the old Fosseway or Roman road that traversed the country to Bath.

The trees were cut into logs for the local sawmill with the use of a motorised drag-saw. My father had returned to work at the pit at Norton Hill. We lived in a building that was originally a small shop not far from Pratten’s factory and on the same side of the road, close to the secondary school.

MEMORIES

My earliest memory of life is as a babe in arms at a funeral of the family’s second child, a sister. I can still remember seeing the flowers on the grave. My second memory is of when I was in a pram and passing a stone pillar that was standing on the side of the roadway. That was in Yorkshire. Another memory is from Norton Hill, when I heard my mother crying for some unknown reason; it was not because I had used a teacup for a potty. I could have been about three years of age at that point.

We were again to move, to an area known as the Church Square, Midsomer Norton. At this time, my memory started to increase as I was with other children of my age. The person who took me for walks around the town was a young girl named Stenner. The walk along North Road at that time was, as I remember it, very interesting in regards to the lack of houses from Dr Bullied’s surgery to Coomer’s Grave.

There were some houses on the opposite side of the road. It was some years later that the houses were built up to the corner of Coomer’s Grave and opposite Charlie Fry’s farm. The area between Charlie’s farm and the road into what is now Orchard Vale was at times used to hold fetes.

Also, a chap who lived in the house next to Charlie’s farm had a large Daimler car, which was for hire. My Auntie Alice, when she visited from London, often used it. I remember the car had large disk wheels on it. The road to the left was, I believe, North Mead Road.

The police sergeant Mr Drake eventually had a house built there near the public footpath that traverses the area down the hill to what were the allotments and St John’s School. These allotments are long gone and I believe they are now playing fields.

My sister Azel was next in line and then another sister named Doreen was born. After a fall from the top of the stairs and other escapades, it was time to go to school, as I was now five years old.

PRIMARY SCHOOL

It was to be a new adventure for me as I was taken to the Wesleyan School, which was next to the church and opposite the Palladium Picture Theatre. It was my school for two years. My hat was placed on a hook in the cloakroom, which was just inside the main door, and I was then taken to the room on the left side of the hall entrance. This was my first classroom and with a lady teacher.

The walls had two printed rhymes hanging on them to the left side. One that took my fancy was Jack and Jill. On the blackboard was a drawing of a cliff, with a lighthouse on top and the sea in front and the large sun shining. Out in the main hall there was a large rocking horse placed to the left of the entrance to the steps leading up to the classrooms for girls only, when they had attained seven years of age. Boys were not allowed to go up into these schoolrooms.

During this time, the big labour strike took take place in 1926. I still remember going down to the High Street and across to the Salvation Army Temple, which stood on the corner and next to the small old school. This temple was destroyed and all that remained was a vacant allotment when I last visited the site. What wonderful memories I have of this place.

We each carried a plate to hold our food, which was supplied by the Salvation Army. There was a period of hunger and want at this time. I remember the dinner we had at home and it was a cow’s head. At night, the walls would be covered with black beetles.

The house in Church Square was very small and separated from the church wall by a pathway. This path followed the wall down to the entrance to the church and opposite Lem Fry’s blacksmith shop. I first met Cyril Gilson, who started a year after me in 1927, at this school. There were a lot of children to play with and we did play games. The girls would play ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ and there was a great use of skipping ropes, plus ‘In and Out the Windows’. The boys would not engage in this sissy stuff and would enjoy a game of ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Hopscotch’.

CHRISTMAS

At Christmas time, we would assemble in the hall and there would be a large pine tree at one end to be decorated. Also, we were given instructions on how to make paper-chains with the aid of coloured paper strips and glue. These were strung above and across the hall and we enjoyed ourselves doing this.

I do not remember if any person took me to school each day and as far as I am aware, I went every day on my own and this helped me to become an independent person. The only time that I was escorted to a school was by my mother and only when being transferred to the next school, such as Welton School, Radstock Road or St. John’s in Redfield Road. This was a very short time of my life at this school and eventually I reached the seven-year-old milestone.

All the boys had to transfer to another school at this age. So I was taken to the Welton School on Radstock Road. This was the ‘pits’ as far as I was concerned and I did not like the kids there, so I began to play hooky. I would go down to the Trench at the bottom of Welton Hill and spend my time exploring the small waterway. I loved to catch fish and really thought it was better than being in school.

My teacher at this point was trying to help me attend classes and she took me under her wing to make sure that I stayed at school. She also took me to her home, which was only a short distance away and I would eat my egg sandwiches at lunchtime.

This did not work out, so in desperation my mother took me to the St. John’s School in Redfield Road. This was the best thing that ever happened to me and I settled in straight away. This school had a different air about it, it was very near home at Church Square and it was here that my life took off. My father had an allotment in the area that is now occupied by the senior school and I used to go with him and watch him dig the ground and cultivate the small crops until the land was resumed.

ERRAND BOY

Whilst living in Church Square was not the best time of my life, it did help me to stay near home and find ways to amuse myself in and around the local area. It was to my advantage to try to earn some pocket money by running errands for local people.

One of my favourite persons was an old lady named Mrs Chard. She lived in the centre house of the row of small cottages, at the bottom of Church Lane near the rear entrance to Shearn’s Garage opposite St John’s Church. It was always a farthing or a halfpenny reward for my services when required. I was also able to run errands for the lady who lived next door to her. Thus, I would earn as much as one penny during my lunchtime.

I would then run down to Boulter’s, the greengrocery shop, and buy my favourite meal; a bag of ‘monkey nuts’, plus, if I was lucky, I would get rewarded with a black banana. Monkey nuts are really groundnuts or peanuts. Mrs Boulter always kept the black (or over-ripe) bananas for me. They were delicious and went down quite well with my bread and lard sandwiches.

I increased my list of customers over time to include the boot and shoe repairer who had a shop in the laneway between the Catholic Church and Calwell’s. Later I was to be the person who every Saturday morning would beat the carpets for the Fry family in Church Square and for this I would be rewarded with the usual three shrivelled apples. Food was food! I would go into Clarence Hole’s dairy and be lucky to get some broken biscuits free of charge.

ILLNESSES

I was to catch most of the childhood illnesses. I was taken ill with chicken pox and later measles. I recovered from these only to have scarlet fever. It was to the isolation cottage at Clandown for me for a time until I was over the scarlet fever. I still remember the very large empty corned beef tins outside in the garden. Another boy had a very large tapeworm, which was on display in a glass jar after the event. It was also at this time my accidents started to happen.

The house we lived in was very dark inside, as there was only the front window for any light to enter because the houses backed onto one another. I missed the top step and fell to the bottom of the staircase; apparently, I escaped any real damage from my fall that time.

The next accident was when I was playing at the Welton football ground. Just on dark, as I ran past the set of steel swings, two young men came out of the darkness on a swing, striking me on the head. I was carried to the second house at the side of the playing field and placed on a table. I lost consciousness for a short time as I was being carried to the house.

A doctor came and I had at least eight stitches in the scalp. I remember very little of the time that I spent in bed. In those days, you did not go to hospital unless it was very serious and near death. A lot of stitches were put in without any anaesthetic. The day came when the stitches were pulled out and I was able to go out and play again.

DAD’S ACCIDENT

My father used to scrape up the coaldust from the small coal closet and it would be mixed with enough water to turn it into a type of mud, and then shaped into balls to be burnt for fuel. This was regarded as the best way of stretching the fuel supply. There was no pay of any type and to this day, I do not really know how we survived the strike period. When the work at the mines resumed, it was not very long before my father was brought home with severe injuries sustained at the coalface.

It was normal practice, when taking the loaded coal tubs down the set of rails from the coalface to the main tunnel and out to the top of the incline, for the carter to hook onto the tubs with the aid of a ‘guss’ rope and hook. The guss rope was a length of thick rope threaded through a hollow steel coupling, which had about a foot of chain linked to it. The rope was about one inch in diameter and the ends were plaited together resulting in there being a double thickness of rope that fitted at the back of the body and above the hips, with the chain dangling between the legs.

The carter hooked onto the metal strap attached to the tub at the bottom end and lifted the back pair of wheels onto the line, so it was free to move down the rail lines.

Another miner operated an apparatus that controlled the descent of the tub, which when full of coal, weighed in at about eleven hundredweight (about 50.8 kilogram). This apparatus consisted of two large thick planks of timber, with spacers between them, at the top and bottom to form an oblong box. A large pulley wheel was attached to the centre of the box, complete with a steel brake-band around the wheel connected to a long lever. To have more braking power, most of these machines had a chain connected to the end of the lever and the base. By putting the right foot and body weight on the chain, it would give more pressure on the brake-band and have more control over the speed of descent.

The story of the accident was that, when my father lifted up the end of the tub that was connected to the chain and put it onto the rails, all the apparatus gave way. He was dragged down the tunnel, still hooked up to the tub and all the gear with him. It was said that his back was like raw steak and he had a hole through his leg. He contracted yellow jaundice afterwards, to top it all off. We moved to another house in the centre of the row. This was as bad as the other was for light, as it was in the corner of the angle of the houses.

I was playing in the churchyard and looking for snails one day, when I pulled on a headstone that was propped up against the wall and it slipped from my grasp and squashed the forefinger of my right hand. It hurt!

VICARAGE COTTAGE

We moved to Vicarage Cottage at North Road. This was a better class of dwelling for us and very private. The high wall surrounding the house had two doors set in the wall for access to the footpath, which connected North Road down through Pow’s Orchard to the High Street. This was a public right of way. There was only one drawback to this privacy, and that was we had to collect the free load of coal. This was delivered by a horse and cart and dropped outside on the main road. It had to be moved to inside the walls, so I had the job of helping my dad carry it inside to the shed.

My father, known as Brother Barlow, became the gardener for a Mr. Fred Gould, the local MP who lived opposite our home. I was to change schools again and it was to the St. John’s School on Redfield Road. It was about this time in my life I saw the Northern Lights flashing and changing shape in the winter’s evening and I only saw this event once.

WASPS

At this time, I became aware of the pocket money that could be made from queen wasps and their nests. I would go down to the Trench, which was the stream or brook that meandered along the valley from Old Mills through to Welton and Radstock, and hunt the wasps down. The queen wasps were taken to a local person who lived in North Road opposite the Welton Rovers football ground main entrance. I would be paid a penny for each queen and sixpence for each nest that I found.

My father and I went with this person to where the nest was located just at dusk because the wasps retired at night and were secure in their underground nest, with only the guards on duty at the entrance, possibly fanning air into the nest tunnel.

We placed poison in the tunnel entrance with the aid of a teaspoon, which was attached to the end of a stick by binding. This poison was cyanide, and after a wait of twenty minutes or so, the nest could be dug out of the bank of the stream. The ball-shaped nest would be opened up and all the larvae would be crushed. The outer casing of the nest was very thin, brightly coloured and like paper. The inside was arranged in tiers full of larvae.

Doctor Bullied also paid for wasps at his home, which was at the top of Church Lane and the corner of North Road where he had his surgery. The doctor had a cherry tree in his very large garden, which I used to visit at the right time of the season. His apples, ‘Beauty of Bath’ variety, were delicious.

I used the back entrance to gain admittance to his garden, which was to climb the wall at the corner of the cemetery entrance wall and the doctor’s wall in Church Lane. Like some other boys, I liked scrumping apples. The wasps certainly made it hard to have nice plums, as they always got the best fruit.

TRANSPORT

It was to my advantage to have a method of transport. I could never expect to have a bicycle, as the cost was prohibitive. Very few of the children had one unless their parents were local business people. The only ones who were that lucky had what was called a ‘fairy cycle’ and usually the girls were the ones who had them.

I eventually obtained a child’s pushchair, so at last I had wheels. It had two large wheels at the back and two small wheels at the front. The frame was made of wood with a coloured canvas seat and it folded up. The steering apparatus was the armrests at each side, which gave me control of direction. The footrest was just right for the power plant. With the left foot on the footrest, I could propel the chair along the road with ease by using my right foot pounding on the road surface for propulsion.

On arriving at the top of Church Lane, I would sit in the seat and go down the hill at speed. Steering was simple! To change direction left was a simple task of raising the left armrest up as much as was required, or to go right the same procedure was carried out with the right armrest. This method of steering was available as the drawing up of the folding armrests shortened the distance between the front and back wheels.

So, I had no brakes! But in all the miles I covered in the following years, I never required them. There was very little traffic in those days and cars were few and far between on the roads in Midsomer Norton. Along the North Road to Stone’s Cross was a very easy trip and not as steep as some roads.

I travelled around Norton with my comics, which I would use for exchange purposes. The comics were ‘The Magnet’, ‘Billy Bunter’, the ‘Hotspur’ with stories of ‘Clicky Bah’, also ‘The Wizard’ etc. Thus I had wheels and as far as I know, I was the only boy at that time using a pushchair to get around on. I loved it! The boys I exchanged comics with were Ronald Lamb, Rex Maggs of Cleveland Road and my mate Gerry. We always had plenty of comic books to read.

I bought mine with my pocket money from the Island Bookshop, as well as caps for our cap pistols and throw-down bombs. I looked for the pennies that were to be found in the Somer River in the High Street. These were easy to find especially after Charlie Heal’s Fair had been to town.

CHARLIE HEAL’S FAIR

The boys would all go down to the Brickyard along Radstock Road where the steam-traction engines, with their trailers full of the amusements, would gather for the grand drive into the town square of Midsomer Norton. We followed the parade of these steam-driven giants and the accompanying vehicles through the streets to where the usual amusement rides were to be erected in the church and town squares.

The teams of men waited for Charlie Heal to measure and mark-out with his large tape the positions for the large wooden foundation blocks for the various rides. As soon as he said ‘go to it’, they all worked quickly to have these amusement rides erected before nightfall. There was the usual ‘slippery slide’ or ‘Helter Skelter’, erected just past the church’s main gates and opposite Lem Fry’s and the Post Office, complete with the coir mats.

The council dismantled the street lamp in the centre of the intersection as this was the area for the erection of the Noah’s Ark, which was always placed in this position. The steam-traction engine (probably ‘Little Jimmy’), would be in position at the end of the footpath alongside the church wall. Its main job was to provide electric power to the amusements from a large belt-driven generator. Some of the trucks had smaller generators for their sideshows and caravans.

The various sideshows were erected around the square and down to Stocks’ the Butcher’s back gate, consisting of coconut shies, a rifle range and the wooden skittle shies. The square was the centre of attractions, which was dominated by the very large and beautiful merry-go-round. With mirrors around the ornate, gilded façade, glorious pictures all nice and clean, spiral brass uprights polished so bright and masses of electric lights that adorned the whole of the roundabout, it was truly a magnificent machine! The music was provided from a carousel that was set in the centre and is never to be forgotten.

As a child at the time it was impossible for me to pay for any rides, so I would have to sit on the step and obtain short rides part of the way around before being chased away by the attendant.

The dodgems were placed next to the roundabouts and between the White Hart Hotel and Dando’s shop. The large steam engines to power these rides were strategically placed around the area. There were small gambling stalls, where you rolled the pennies down the wooden chutes onto squares that had various amounts of money marked on them indicating how much a person won if a coin landed completely inside the square. The stalls were circular in their construction with brightly coloured canvas tops. The operator stood in the centre of the stall and raked in the pennies with a long, wooden-handled scraper.

Sometimes there would be the ‘Crazy House’ and ‘Wall of Death’ or the ‘Globe of Death’ and other types of amusements along the Somer and on the opposite side of the road from the ‘Hollies’.

The tailor in the shop near to Clarence Hole’s Dairy had a model of the roundabouts in his shop window to attract attention to his trade. It was a beautiful working model and I would say it was a labour of love. Wonder where it is today? We tried to borrow this model to put in the front window of our shop in London, but he refused to part with it.

Sadly, the day came when the fair was over and the men started pulling the rides down to be packed away. This was done overnight and the next day it was ready to move on to the next town. We watched the traction engines move off, towing their trailers, some to the Welton Football Ground and the others to struggle up Silver Street and on past Norton Hill to the next town.

These magnificent machines had names that come to mind: ‘The White Rose of York’, ‘Big Jimmy’, ‘Little Jimmy’, etc. Charlie Heal and the other fair workers lived in very ornate caravans; these were brightly painted, kept in very good condition and towed behind trucks, etc. Their winter quarters were at Glastonbury.

At times there would also be a smaller fair held in Pow’s Orchard. This area was between Boulters’ Orchard and Clarence Hole’s farm, just down from St John’s Vicarage to the stile at Lem Fry’s shed. It was not a large fair by any means but very welcome. Sometimes a boxing booth would be included.

ROAD CONSTRUCTION

The main road past the St John’s School was being rebuilt and to us it was exciting to watch the council road gang excavating the old roadway. The steamroller pulled a very heavy machine behind it, which had steel tines or spikes to rip up the old surface and soil to prepare the new road base. The spoil would be loaded on a vehicle to be carted away and then the men would place the large stones in by hand, which was to be the foundation of the new road. These stones were then carefully pressed down by the steamroller. To us this was a massive machine and the smell and the noise were wonderful.

There was a large, heavy, extremely wide, front roller with extra large weights suspended inside, backed up by the massive rear wheels which crunched their way along the stones. When the stones were compacted enough, a layer of smaller sized stone already coated with tar was then rolled in, until a reasonably smooth surface was obtained. Then another layer of smaller stones was placed on top and rolled in. This work was done mostly by hand and it was painfully slow, but interesting to watch.

When the roads were top-dressed, the tar-spraying machine would be towed along by hand. It consisted of an upright boiler on wheels in which tar was heated up and then sprayed out onto the road surface by a hand-held metal spray line. This comprised a hollow tube and nozzle complete with a pair of handles with which to control the spraying area. It was followed up with men scattering clean gravel on the tarred surface. It had its own distinctive smell as the work progressed.

EVENTS

There were several events that took place during the spring and summer months. There would be a circus at the Welton Rovers football ground and this would be a very exciting time for the kiddies. They watched the tents going up, and the men standing in a circle driving the large tent pegs into the ground by use of large hammers swinging in rapid unison.

The elephants grabbed my attention, as they were tethered near the patrons’ stands and I was able to get very close. But one elephant decided to sneeze and I received the full blast in my face – it stank to high heavens. I lost interest there and then. The animal cages were also of interest, especially the lions. I was never able to watch the shows as I did not have any money and my parents did not go to the shows either.

There were fetes held at the vicarage in North Road and I could always find my way into them and have a look around. The other area that was used for small country type fairs was on the block of land alongside Charlie Fry’s farm and between what is now the entrance to Orchard Vale. Only vague memories of these fairs exist today.

There were the usual fireworks displays put on by Casswells at the Welton football ground down in the left corner of the playing field on Guy Fawkes night. I still remember how bright the moonlight was the last time I was there with my father.

VISITS

Our family would walk up to Chilcompton to visit the family of Herbert Gould on Sunday evenings. These people lived in a small row of cottages up a track on the left side of the road. There was a communal water tap at the start of the track and the water for the houses had to be carried all the way up to the houses. We made these visits very regularly, even when there was frost or snow.

I was carried home several times after accidents. One that I still have a vivid memory of was a fall from the rock wall, halfway up the Church Lane footpath. I was climbing the wall to get some conkers when the rock on the top of the wall gave way and I fell backwards onto the footpath, with the large rock landing between my ankles. Two young men carried me into our home and I can still hear them saying:

“Where do you want him, Missus?”

My mother replied, “On the table.”

As I struggled to stand up, the doctor said to my mother that if I was unable to do this, I might never walk again. I made the effort and I was able to gain my upright position, much to the relief of all concerned.

CONKERS

The horse chestnut trees the conkers came from were not very numerous in the town area and the conker season was all the rage when the nuts started to fall. Sometimes it was with the aid of sticks that were thrown up into the trees to help the nuts to fall. The nut would be drilled through the centre and a length of string pushed through. The aim of the game was to own the best conker by way of smashing the other boy’s conker with yours, which counted as a win plus the wins his conker had already won.

This involved the other boy holding his conker out at arm’s length hanging by the string. He would say that his was a ‘two-er’ and you would say yours was a ‘one-er’, and if you hit his and smashed it, then yours became a ‘three-er’. Some of the boys had conkers that were ‘thirteen-ers’. Usually these conkers had been baked rock-hard.

The horse chestnut trees available around town were mainly on private grounds. The largest tree was in the grounds of the vicarage in North Road. The next tree was down Church Lane on the left side and above the wall of the footpath. A third tree was at the side of the main street next to a hotel and at the start of the public footpath, which connected the High Street with North Road via some allotments. I believe this tree no longer exists.

FAMILY

There were now six children in the family at Vicarage Cottage. The vicar at this time was the Reverend Crozier, whose daughter was enjoying a ride by swinging on the large gate at the entrance to the vicarage. She was severely injured when the gate fell off its hinges and landed on top of her. Loads of sawdust were placed on North Road to deaden the sound of traffic that passed the vicarage.

News of accidents was sparse but one other does come to mind and it was of a young boy who was electrocuted climbing an electric light pole in the Welton area. We were told of this accident at school and I would have been about ten years old at the time. There was never any counselling over any of these occasions.

SCHOOL GAMES

The girls’ playgrounds were separate from the boys’ areas, especially in the seniors. There was mainly netball for girls and some of the girls would be skipping with ropes held between two students.

The main game the boys played all year round was with cigarette cards, which the boys would collect from empty cigarette packets that were thrown away; it also helped if the parents smoked. The games were called ‘snicks or spans’ and ‘knock down’.

Playing snicks and spans was easy. The cards were flicked onto the surface of the play area, which at the junior school of St John’s was just at the top of the steps between two classrooms at the front entrance to the school, which has now been closed off from the footpath. The aim was to propel the card held between the forefinger and the centre finger of the hand to knock down the card that was propped up at the base of the wall about six feet away. The person who knocked down the card would win all the cards on the ground.

Snicks and spans was a game that favoured boys like me who had a long hand span. My span tip to tip today is still nine-and-a-half inches. It was to snick the cards from the start line and if you could span the distance between the cards, you won the card. I finished up with many thousands of old and new cards in their packs, which, after I married, were exchanged for a stamp collection at a dealer’s shop in London.

The other game that we played was ‘bum the barrel’. A large boy would stand with his back against the wall of the headmaster’s house. The team would bend over and have their heads between the legs of the boy in front. The boys of the other team would in turn run forward; each would place their hands on the back of the first boy, jump and spring as far forward as possible and so on until the whole team were on the backs of the boys that held them up. As the last boy landed, they would all shout ‘Bum the barrel, bum the barrel, one, two, three’. The barrel boys had to hold all of them up because if they collapsed before the count of three, they would lose the contest.

Another game, which was played at all times in the good months, was top spinning. This consisted of a wooden top bought from the local shop at the Island, with a leather shoelace attached to a stick to form a whip. The lace was wound around the barrel of the top and with a sharp pull, the top would commence spinning on the ground, then the top would be whipped along to keep up its momentum.

The ‘hoop’ craze was to come to the fore as the main toy that you were able to play anywhere at any time, at school, along the roads or on any reasonably smooth surface.

SLIDES

Wintertime was the best for sport regarding sledges, toboggans and slides. After a reasonable fall of snow, the best toboggan place was at the top of the field adjoining the woods above Withes Lane on land below the railway embankment. It had a good slope with a small drop in the centre crossing the field. We used anything that came to hand to slide on, as we could not afford to buy a toboggan or sledge. Some boys had homemade sledges or special pieces of timber that could be used for this sport.

When the heavy frosts started, Gerry Jones and I would throw water down the slope near the headmaster’s house. It was a good gentle slope and when frozen over, provided us with hours of pleasure after school, just sliding from the railings that were between the senior and junior playing areas to the wall above the pavement.

We used to look forward to the day we could reach the age of eleven and go up into the senior classes and then we would be able to wear long trousers. True!

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