Mrs Hooker Remembers

Wartime Memories

This reminiscence was printed in the first issue of Hartfield Times originally published in 1985. A further memoir on ’55 years of change in Hartfield’ was published the following year. They are brought together here on the website for a new view by another generation of what life was like for their ancestors.

I lived at 3 Newton Cottages through the war days and these are my wartime memories.

Declaration of War

When war was declared at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning September 3, 1939, I think Hartfield people took things very quietly.

The same afternoon a cricket match was played on the Town Croft – my husband and I took the children on a picnic across the fields to the river after lunch – about 3 o’clock the sky was filled with German fighter planes, they went as far as Croydon Aerodrome and looked around sighting out the land. They fired at anything they could, including us, we stood in the river under the bridge until they turned back, our planes after them. We soon made for home!

The Raids Started

The raids soon started, bombing London and our big cities. Marsh Green Camp was built, but that was bombed and soldiers and ATS girls were killed. We were right in line for the London raids, so when the Germans got caught up with our planes and guns, they turned back, and whatever bombs they had left they got dropped anywhere in the country so we had quite a few at Hartfield and Withyham. The fire bombs were very frightening, we had them often. The barrage balloons flew over Lingfield.

We had ARP posts, and they set off rockets to let us know when the planes were crossing the coast

We also had a searchlight in Butcherfield Lane fields with British Troops posted at Landhurst, Tye House, Bolebrook Castle and Buckhurst Castle.

Geoffrey Johnson Smith was at Tye House with Bo Bell troops. After British troops went overseas the Canadians were billeted here for a while. At Christmas the Canadian troops dressed as Santa, sang carols in the road and gave sweets and chocolates to the children for a treat

Home Guard and ‘UXB’ in the Garden.

Before my husband was called up he was in the Home Guard and fire watching. One Sunday night three unexploded bombs fell two in the fields and Newtons Hill and one in the gardens. We had to get the children dressed and out of the house. Mr Riekie kindly took us to my brother-in-laws at Groombridge. We stayed a week- we had no clothes, only what we stood up in. Two bombs went off next morning, the one in the garden didn’t say it was out of bounds to us. My husband was allowed to feed the chickens and let them run in the garden, also two cats. Every house had tiles and slates off the roof and windows broken from the blast on Newtons Hill. We spent the next week at Forest Row with my Mother, then bombs fell in Forest Row cemetery and on Ashdown Forest. After that we went home at our own risk. The bomb in the garden was detonated (I imagine she means de-fused otherwise …..!) about four years after the war finished – a 2000lb bomb which would’ve blown Hartfield to the ground had it gone off when it was dropped so the officer told us.

My husband was exempted from the army for a year or so, he helped to clear the Luton bomb damage. The raids were getting very bad in London at this time. At the same time the school at Forest Row had the children fired at but no one was hurt, and East Grinstead was bombed and people were killed in the Whitehall Cinema, in the shops and in the streets and Mr and Mrs Lumners, parents of the Hartfield schoolmistress, were killed. After that our Air Force bombed all in sight in Germany

‘Doodlebugs’

Soon after that the doodlebugs came over and the flying bombs – you didn’t know when they were coming down, you watched for the lights to go out and when the engines stopped you knew they were not far off.

Evacuation, Italian Prisoners & Evacuees at Wren’s Warren

Our school children were evacuated to Wales for safety they were frightened and tired and so were the mothers, having no sleep at night. My daughter went with the children to Wales and I took the three youngest ones to friends in Doncaster three months – no raids up there.

We had Italian prisoners of war brought to Hartfield, mending roads and cleaning out the River Medway and helping on farms.

The shopkeepers were very kind, keeping fruit for the children.

When the children were first evacuated out of London Wren’s Warren was turned into a camp for about 150 children with teachers and helpers. They used to walk down to the shops once a week for sweet rations, and as they came down the hill they sang all sorts of songs including ‘Little Sir Echo’. They sang it in rounds and it sounded beautiful. It must have been terrible for them to have lived in London and then to live on the Forest amongst the trees, but they seemed quite happy and I often wondered if they are all still alive now.

Rationing.

We were rationed with food, sweets, clothing coupons, the same as everyone. I exchanged tea rations for sugar for the children. The W I kept going for a while, we had jumble sales which help with the children’s clothes. I had eggs from our hens, also plenty of milk from local farms. I grew what vegetables I could in the garden. I fetched all the water from a well for washing, bathing and cooking etc.

‘Up Nutley!’

Our toilet was at the top of the garden, we called that ‘up Nutley, because of the blackout we had no flash lights so that was a daylight trip. I went one night in the dark and fell over a hedgehog in the path, hit my face on the door post, cut my face and had two black eyes.

My family slept downstairs on mattresses under the tables. The children were good, not going far unless grown-ups went with them. Sometimes we had wild rabbits given to us – a real treat. We gathered mushrooms, blackberries and nuts. Rose hips were gathered and taken to school for rosehip syrup for the babies.

School and ‘Raid Drill’

The children walked to school, no cooked dinners for them – they took sandwiches. They had raid drill at school. We all had gas masks, also invasion drill, thank goodness we never had to use it. Although it was a sad time for some people there was the funny side to things, and we had many a laugh.

The End of the War

December 6, 1945 my husband returned home for good. We arranged a coach outing to Worthing, there were 19 children living in Newtons Hill, and some had never seen the sea. A lovely day was enjoyed by all.

The last flying bomb fell just above the lake at Withyham. I was back home by then getting ready for a nice quiet Christmas.

Mrs Bess Hooker 1985


 

55 Years of Change in Hartfield

First printed in Hartfield Times Issue No.2 of 1986
Water Main Arrived 1930

I came to live in Hartfield in 1930. First of all the water main was brought through the village in 1929, and connecting properties and laying branch mains from it in some of the side roads took place in 1930. The main was connected to the supply from East Grinstead Rural District Council area.

After the war, when Weir Wood and Wych Cross were constructed the latter became the main supply for Hartfield and a new main was laid from Wych Cross reservoir across the golf course to Quabrook. This supply continued in 1960 after the mid Sussex water company took over responsibility for water supply from Uckfield RDC and the SE Gas Board of East Grinstead. This is still the situation today, although it will soon change as the new main being laid down Jib Jacks Hill will supply the majority of Hartfield.

Electricity and Gas Arrived 1934 – 1936

About 1934 to 36 the electricity and gas were brought through the village. This made a great difference to people’s lives with electric lights and also gas cookers and gas boilers for the washing; most people rented gas cookers and boilers. When I look around today at how young people live, they don’t know how lucky they are.

Lost the Bakery

After the war we lost our bakery – that was sad! Mr Jacques baked bread every day and cakes and made wedding cakes etc. Then his son-in-law, Mr Benge took over the business for a few years.

Council Houses

We had a few council houses, Castlefarm Cottages and Castlelands Cottages. Then Castlefields estate followed and the Castleland Cottages became Castlefields joining up the Estate. Four or five old cottages called Green Cottages, standing at the entrance to Castlefields Road were demolished. We also lost a little cottage that stood by the Chapel and one more little cottage was demolished at Chesson’s corner called Toll Cottage. I understand this was built in 1315.

Privately owned Rectory Field Estate was then built.

Railway Station Closure & reduction in Bus Service

Another great loss to the village was the closure of the railway station. It was always a treat for the children to be taken to the seaside or shopping every Saturday as we didn’t have a yearly holiday then.

The bus service also became less frequent. In 1932, the buses went to Tunbridge Wells every half hour, in 1986 it became a two hourly service and now Maidstone and District talk of taking them off the road altogether. This would be a sad time for the elderly.   It gives independence to trip out to see the shops or visit friends.

After Castlefields Estate was built the new sewer works were laid through the village and almost every house and cottage had bathrooms and lavatories installed.

Then came Motte Field Estate, consisting of both houses and flats and standing behind Castlefields Estate. These were built as council owned properties.

Bess Hooker 1986

2 comments on “Mrs Hooker Remembers
  1. Mrs Dawn Boakes. says:

    I know the electricity went on in Hartfield around 1930. My father did an apprentice course at Featherstone’s, Tunbridge Wells. It was when Hartfield went on electricity that he met my mother, and they married in 1931.Featherstone’s being the firm that carried out the work.

    I remember the bomb falling on the Whitehall cinema, it was July 9th 1943. I was six and was attending Hartfield school. Miss Sumner was the headmistress and her parents Mr and Mrs Bramwell were in East Grinstead walking near the cinema, and it killed them both.

    During the war my mother and I both lived at The Bakery with my gran Mrs Jacques. My grandfather had died in 1939 so gran ran it until after the war when my father took over. It never closed.

    • HartfieldHG says:

      Thank you, Dawn, for your reminiscence. It does show you how chance plays a hand in romance – in this case electrically! Chris

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