My Old Teynham
Dad was home the day a German bomb, which had been dropped in a panic, landed on Sandown Cottages, fate? All those orchards and fields and it had to land smack in the middle of a row of cottages half a mile from anywhere. Dad went down with others but could do nothing for the occupants, he said one lady was sitting in an armchair covered in dust and apparently untouched but killed by blast, I think that was a Mrs Barrett. Had that bomb been released a few seconds later it could very well have hit our house as we were in line a quarter of a mile further on.
One very dark winter's night when dad was away the air raid siren sounded, a sound that, because of it’s associated meaning, is never forgotten. Mum got very frightened, probably with good reason considering the above bombing incident! She put my young sister Wendy in the pram and ran to her mother’s house in Teynham Lane and then came back for my brother and I. She rushed down the alley behind the row of houses and as she went towards the road she tripped over, the pram with us in it went down the two steps and out into the road. There it tipped up in the gutter and deposited us in the middle of the A2. Luckily there was no traffic in those days. I remember I sat up in the road and could see a searchlight unit, with its generator, in the Dover Castle Inn car park. I can still see in my mind's eye the beam was locked onto an aircraft with others around it and they were being fired at. Shrapnel was flying around in the air with a buuuuuurh and a wheeeee! The searchlights were mobile to avoid being located and bombed; they picked out targets for the 33/4” AA guns on Chitney marshes near Sittingbourne. Mum took us to Gran’s house where she and her family went down the cellar, my brother and I were put under the steel topped table in the living room, the table also had wire mesh around it to protect us should the house collapse. As the raid developed the noise got louder with guns and bombs going off. We could see the flashes through the blackout curtain and as the bombs got nearer we could hear the women squealing with fright down the cellar. I’ve looked at the concrete steps at the end of the alleyway recently and seen that the bottom one has almost disappeared under successive layers of tarmac! The gutter is now also only half it’s old depth.
At night you could lie in bed and hear hundreds of bombers droning over, I presume these would have been a part of the thousand bomber raids on Germany. You could tell the difference between German and English bombers because the Germans didn’t synchronize their engines, once you heard the synchronized engines you knew you could relax.
"Mr Seal, the Blacksmith, at his Forge"
One night a British bomber came down in the orchard behind our house and as a result we could not go and play in the orchard for some time, we were told it had live ammunition onboard. I remember seeing this plane being removed from the orchard a long time later on a ‘Queen Elizabeth’ plane-carrying trailer. It had to swing right out into Cellar Hill and then the forecourt of Mr Seal’s forge to get out of the orchard and onto the A2.
I vaguely recall the war ending and Mum and Dad with us kids going down to the Tavern pub where everyone was singing and someone was playing the ‘ole joanna’.
When Christmas came there was very little to be had in the shops so like most children we had a stocking (a real old one of Mum’s) with an apple, an orange and a couple of nuts, a pencil and drawing book. But we were luckier than some because Dad also made us many toys from wood. There were forts, hobby horses, animals on wheels, sit on trains and scooters made with pram wheels. I recall one Christmas day when we were told to be careful because Father Christmas had been so busy that the paint wasn’t properly dry on our presents. We sat round the table with a pot containing heated animal glue and made our own paper chains. Dad would set his plainer deep and cut off shavings from a block of wood about ten inches long by one inch wide. He then dyed these in buckets of different coloured 1d dyes. The resultant ‘chains’, and that’s why they are called chains, were strung from the corners of the room to the lampshade in the centre of the ceiling. A Christmas tree was usually found in the woods. If a small one could not be found then a large branch was used but because they are flat Dad cut off every other shoot, drilled holes on the other side and glued them in to form a proper shaped tree. The candles were real wax ones in small tin cups, which were tied to the branches. These were usually only lit on Christmas Eve or day and had to be watched because of the fire hazard. For all this our Christmases were memorable and our presents were opened in front of a blazing log fire with the smell of the real tree and the candles, and very often deep clean sparkling snow outside.
A week before Christmas we went from door to door singing carols, this was when it was still traditionally acceptable and not considered a nuisance. We would knock a door, it would be opened and the family would very often gather to listen to us singing several carols before giving us money or mince pies etc. Many of the coins we received, threepences, sixpences, shillings and florins were Victorian and solid silver, they were still in circulation then.
We had some harsh winters, among them 1947, when the snow was ‘deep and crisp and even’ as the carol goes. Food was scarce and most things were rationed. Potatoes used to be clamped in the fields under straw and earth, but because of the cold they could not be opened, they would turn black. Luckily that year Dad had saved a large crop of his own in his shed under straw and our own chickens, which were kept in the back garden, provided us with eggs. Dad made us wooden sledges and we would go to Osiers bank over the stream. The slope looks small today but at that time to an eight year old it was like the Alps. We very often ended up cold and wet in the stream.
Having mentioned the Alps, it is said that the water from the springs that form Osiers stream actually comes from there, it having been forced under the chalk in the English Channel. I don’t know how factual that is but I know the water was so pure and cold and whilst out playing in the summer that is where we got our drinks. We scraped a hole in the shingle bed, waited a few seconds for it to clear, then made a cup with our hands to scoop the water up.
Each year in the early summer a fete was held in the meadow at the old Teynham vicarage (where the cold store is now on the corner of the Conyer Road). The meadow always smelt of new mown hay and everyone turned out in his or her Sunday best. There were various stalls selling home made produce and several games of chance, hoopla, floating ducks and card games. There was, ‘bowling for a pig’, this was a board at the end of a green about thirty feet long, it had holes that were only just bigger than the wooden bowls, these holes had various numbers over them, the person with the highest score at the end of the day won a piglet. Many households in those days fattened their own pig in the back garden. Another game, which was a bit like jousting, was ‘tilt the bucket’. This was a bucket fixed to a spindle suspended over a wooden frame about ten feet high, under the bucket in the wood was a hole about three centimetres in diameter. Men were formed into teams of two, one pushing a wheelbarrow the other in it. As the man pushing rushed at the framework the one in the barrow had a long lance with which he had to try and get into the hole under the bucket. The bucket was filled with water; the idea was to get the lance through the hole then let the lance go without tipping the water over you. If you didn’t let go in time or you missed the hole and hit the wood you got a bucket full of water over you! Everyone made it a fun day despite the fact that they were austere times.