When and where were you born?
31st May 1936 in Bury, Lancashire.
Tell me about your parents? What did your father do?
1935-1940 – Classics Teacher, Bury Grammar School
1946-1949 – Headmaster, Faversham Grammar School
1949-1970 – Headmaster, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Kingston on Thames.
Did your father serve in the First World War?
Did you have brothers and sisters? And if so, where in the pecking order did you come?
I had one brother who was 2 years younger than me.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Aged 4-7 I was very happy, in a Wiltshire Village with grandparents. Otherwise not very.
What was it like growing up where you did?
I never recovered from leaving Stapleford in the Wylye Valley near Salisbury. After the, we lived in Colwyn Bay, Teddington (Middlesex), Faversham, Kingston-on-Thames. We kept moving during the war. We could never belong in a place or make lasting friends. I was sent to boarding school, aged 13, in North Wales at the same time as my parents moved to Kingston, so I had no local friends or involvement in the community. Social isolation ended when I went to Oxford, aged 19. At 25 I moved to Wiltshire, in 196, and I have lived there ever since.
What were your interests as a child?
Reading. The countryside. History. My Grandfather took me around Stapleford Castle and I found a flint which I hoped was prehistoric but I can see now it wasn’t!
Can you remember a build up to war?
No I was only 3 years old.
Can you remember the outbreak of war?
Can you recall the Battle of Britain?
Just lots of planes overhead in 1940 while I played in the garden and planes droning overhead at night time. They sounded very far away.
Did any of your family join the Armed Forces?
Father joined the Wiltshire Regiment in 1940.
Where did he serve?
Salisbury Plain, Dover. In 1944 in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Did any of your family join the home guard?
No but my Grandfather organised the Local Village Defence who would be the last line of defence after the Home Guard had all been killed or captured.
Was it a shock to the system?
Did you ever worry about what might happen to you?
No it all seemed normal and the grown-ups never let us see they were worried.
Tell me about the camaraderie in your community?
Very strong in my village. After that, it is difficult to say.
What were your day-to-day living conditions like?
Very good, 1940-1943. With Grandparents in and 18th Century house with stables and an orchard. Lovely little school. After that, with relatives until 1946. Our own furniture was in store but ok on the whole but detached.
Can you describe a typical day in the life on the home front?
No car, sometimes we used the bus into Wilton or Sailsbury. On Fridays my Grandfather and I went down to the Pelican (local pub) to collect a parcel of fish dropped off the Bath bus and get a new battery for his wireless (like a big glass tank). My brother and I used to play by the A36 as there was almost no traffic until an Army convoy roared past from time to time.
What was the food like?
Plain but adequate. I longed to eat a banana or ice cream. We had a lot of rabbit stew and my Grandmother preserved eggs in a bucked in isinglass.
Did you ever go hungry?
Did you get enough to drink?
Yes. Water was cloudy with chalk from a borehole. Also milk. Once I had milk warm from the cow as I was friendly with the cowman.
Can you remember any particularly funny incidents?
Towards the end of the war, my Grandmother had some Italian POWs to tea and cake on the lawn. They were working as farm labourers nearby. She talked about Michelangelo etc. and visits to Siena and San Gimiganano – total incomprehension by them! But a great deal of goodwill on both sides.
Can you remember any particularly tragic incidents?
No. If there were any, we were all shielded from them. But in 1945 I read the accounts of the liberation of Belsea not knowing at the time that my father was involved.
What was the worst thing that happened to you?
Aged 7 I was going to a horrid little private school in North Wales and I was bullied and I was frightened of one of the teachers.
How did you cope with fear?
I withdrew into a private world where I was a character in one of my books.
How did you cope with the loss of friends?
Learned that nothing lasted. Learned not to show my feelings and to be independent.
Where were you when the war ended?
What can you remember about it?
Rejoicing, relief, lots of flags. At school, asking each other what we would do next. My friend said, ‘We are going to Calcutta, it is a place in India’.
What was the general reaction?
I don’t know.
Do you have any photographs of yourself from the war?
No. I have destroyed them all.
Anything else you would like to add?
I wrote this poem when I was six.
The big bomber flies from the South and the West
Over the mountains and over the woods
Over the hills and over the fields
The big bomber flies from the South and the West.
Transcribed by Zoe Booton.