Mr Bert King (with his wife Annie[?]) was born in about 1909.. He was interviewed on 18 January 1983, when he lived at 31 Laurence Avenue, Witham.
For more about him, see King, Bert, in the people category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Unfortunately quite a lot of words on this tape are unclear.
Mr K: …worked there as an apprentice 1923, served seven years. And then The British took over, then [probably Gorleston, Norfolk]
Q: When was that?
Mr K: That was – The British took over – that would have been just –
Q: I mean, that was before you came to Witham, was it?
Mr K: Well, I’d just been – I’d have been about five years [???] apprenticeship then, hat would be about ’28, wouldn’t it, or ’29? When the British took over.
[Mrs King arrives – general conversation, not noted]
Mr K: Yes and when they took over, you see, well, like they generally do, they had a clean sweep and decided there’d be about twelve people on the works unnecessary – the usual thing. And there was there was one or two apprentices and I’d just come out of my time – and they sort of divided us up. One or two went to Halesford[?] and one to Norwich. And I came to Witham, I came here for three months, you see, just for the new – well, to show them the new way of work and what we had.
Q: It was different, was it?
Mr K: Oh yes. Because when I first come here Mr Croxall was manager. You know Miss Croxall, used to be the schoolteacher? (Q: Yes) Well, her father. And they lived in the works house then. Because I only came here for three months trial. And then they decided Witham had grown so much that he was in need of someone to stay here. Because they only had one – one fitter, he came from Bury St Edmunds, to Witham. So they asked the manager if he’d like one of us to stay and choose which one he’d like. So Mr Croxall asked me if I’d stay and I thought, well, if I don’t stay here it’s going to mean moving from company to company, you see. Just going round like that, getting bored and I couldn’t stick that. So I said, yes I’d stay and of course, I’ve been here ever since! [Both laugh]
Q: So what was it like when you – was it just the company – how many of you did you say there were?
Mr K: Oh, there wasn’t a lot here then. There was only one other fitter, Mr Meekings, he came from Bury, he was a Suffolk man, and me. His mate, he’s still about here. And, er, Shelley, Perce Shelley, Percy Shelley, he was with Jim. And then there was just the stokers and the yardmen. Old Bill Grimsey used to live in Witham, and just stokers, you know the stokers and just a couple of workmen.
Q: I don’t know really much about how gas used to be made before then, what was there down there, at the gas works?
Mr K: Well, actually the gas works – I went to the – show them one day a big box we had – I was to turf out and we found the parchment there from 1835 to build a retort house. So that proves that about that time, 1835, when the works were being built. And they had all the tender, you know, for building, foreman and workmen, and all the ground and everything, bricks, the lot. All down on a big parchment.
Q: Interesting, wasn’t it?
Mr K: I was being naughty, I just took the stamps off, still got them! [Q laughs]. 1835. Of course, they weren’t proper postage stamps they were the tax stamps, you see.
Q: I see. What happened to the parchment?
Mr K: They had to preserve them, you see. They wanted them. I found them and they said, ‘Well, send them up to Headquarters.’ So I said ‘Yes, I’ll send them,’ I didn’t send the stamps. [Both laugh]. They were of more interest to me.
Q: So there was a sort of – was there a gas holder there?
Mr K: Oh, yes. Two holders. In the yards, yes. And there was the retort house first, you see. Then there was oxide beds. Because the gas used to have to be cleaned through oxide beds. And then there was the scrubbers. That was all water and the gas goes through there to get the tar out. Which was the tar well in the yard. Which is still there somewhere and filled in. (Q: Was it?) With rubbish! [Both laugh]. And that’s how we worked. With those two holders.
Q: And that was – purely – coal …?
Mr K: Oh, all hand charged. Used to get a scoop with two and a half in the bottom ones and three hundredweight in the top ones, the other ones. So we used to do that every two hours – they’d have to change them, you see, to pull all the hot coke out and then re-charge them again when they’re cool. It was all done by shovel – hand.
Q: And that was what the stokers did, was it?
Mr K: Yes. That was the stokers’ job. And they used to have to look after the boiler. Keep the boiler going. That used to – but the engines’d draw off the gas from the holders, into the holders.. From that into the holders. And at the top there used to be water tanks where the gas went through and the tar sunk to the bottom into the tar well – run in to the tar well. (Q: Oh yes.) And people used to go and buy tar to do their fences.
Q: Oh that what it was. I’d heard people talking about barrels of tar.
Mr K: Well, that’s how it used to – you’d got [???] And the tar well. And then (in) the water on the top of the tower was ammonia. So if you wanted anything like – they used to make sulphate of ammonia for the farmers – for them, you know. [???] Some of them- two of them would – at Gorleston we had a plant to take the ammonia off. They used to boil it and then wait it[?] to evaporate – just collect the salts of ammonia and then they used to sell it to the farms for the land. And they’d got sulphate of ammonia.
Q: It was quite a big business, wasn’t it?
Mr K: Quite a business, yes. Because we never had a plant like that there [i.e. at Witham]. It was just the tar which we used to pump out. and sell. And the [???], well, I used to use that for my asters, which was very good. [Q laughs] Oh yes, ammonia, one of the best.
Q: So how, where did –how did -…?
Mr K: I’ve got a photograph now of the old works.
Q: Oh that’s interesting, I’ve never seen one before.
Mr K: I’ll show you. That was the day when I retired. I retired in 1974. So that would be about twenty years, the gas works has (been) gone.
Q: So and the – and the coal, how did the coal used to come?
Mr K: They used to come via Thompson – used to fetch it from the railway. In his lorries –
[General conversation, not noted]
Q: [to Mrs K] Are you a Witham person? [to Mr K] Did you bring her with you or -…?
Mr K: No, no. I came here in 1930 and the wife, when did you come?
Mrs K: 1934. When we got married.
Mr K: 1934 when we were married. She comes from Hemsby, north of Yarmouth. And I was born in Gorleston, just near Yarmouth.
Q: There’s quite a lot of folks in Witham – seems to be quite a lot of people in Witham that came down from Suffolk way.
Mr K: Well, they move about a lot, (Q: I suppose it’s just looking for work) Suffolk people. Wherever you go you find Suffolk people.
Q: Yes. I see, yes. They went everywhere, did they? [Q laughs]
Mr K: The wandering lust, you see. They used to say on the works ‘The Gorleston works trained all the gas fitters and they went all over the place to run ‘em!’ [Mr K laughs]
Q: The same with railway people. I know they moved around a lot because of the trains.
Mr K: Oh yes, John Newman, he’s a Norfolk man. Yes, old John. Oh yes, several people here who’ve come from that way. [???] when they first came.
Q: You were saying about the coal coming down?
Mr K: Oh yes. At first the works used to have their own horse and cart. And they kept the stable down near the Swan. Just part of the back of the Swan. Down that yard. And they had a stable there, and used to have a big old white horse. And he used to cart this coal down from the railway tracks, you see, down to the works. Well, then he was about as old as his horse. And he died and they packed that up.
Then George Thompson had the contract to bring the coal down in his lorry. So he used to get the trucks, you see, delivered to the railway and then he used to go up and get it and bring it down to the works.
Q: Because it must have used an awful lot, I should think, didn’t it? How often did he used to have to come down? He must have used …
Mr K: Well, I don’t know when – how often that was. Once a fortnight they used to – something like that, I think.
Q: And did they have to keep the boiler – the ovens and that going?
Mr K: Well, the fires were always going, yes.
Mr K: Oh yes, yes. They had to keep …
Q: And this boiler, that was [???] was it?
Mr K: And the boiler had to keep going to pump the – draw the gas off. Yes, draw the gas off.
Q: And did it ever break down or anything?
Mr K: Well, now and again we did, yes. Scares and that, but we managed. Because one of our old favourites when I was there was Perce Goody. Ootsey they used to call him. He was a stoker. And I was with him all the War. Because you had to stoke all the War as well, all the nights, just the same, raids or anything, you couldn’t stop. So I used to be on the phone to take for the raids, and blow the hooter. During the War, you see, like.
Q: What, you used to give the …?
Mr K: I used to go on the phones and look after the phones.
Q: What here or at the …?
Mr K: At the works. Oh yes, yes, we were on duty at the works, in the retort house. To save falling asleep I used to help them to do the work, to keep myself awake. You couldn’t do anything else, could you, really? I mean, him on his own, stoking. Because they had to go in, just the same, whatever happened, on the hour, just to charge them. So often I worked through the night like that. Till six in the morning and the next stoker would come on and we would pack up and go home. Then after dinner I’d go back to work and carry on with my fitting work. Till ten o’clock at night – you’d get back home then. (Q: Oh, goodness). She only just about see me. [Laughs]
Q: That was in the War, was it?
Mr K: In the War, yes. That was because – I went for a medical and they said ‘You can’t go’ because we were ‘Number One’ you see, priority, gas people.
Q: Oh yes, of course.
Mr K: So of course, they stopped me and that was that. So I just had three months deferment all through the war. [???] [???] with His Majesty’s Service on them – another three months. [Laughs]
Q: They’d changed their mind?
Mr K: They couldn’t do it properly, they had to do it every three months, you know. So every time we got one we thought that was the calling up.
Q: So you did – this hooter thing was for the raids, was it? The hooter was for the raids?
Mr K: Oh, yes, yes. There used to be one at the Police station, one at Crittall’s, and we had the other one. But, you know, we’d have a bit of fun now and again. There’d be the Police Station alarm for ‘Warning’ and Crittall’s alarm was ‘All Clear’ and we’d be blowing ‘All Clear’. [Q laughs] Used to make things interesting. Police always thought ‘Blimey, that was us making a mistake’ – they never did, you see.
Q: So how did you get the messages to blow?
Mr K: Well, we had them in code. We used to answer the phone and they used to give us – whatever it was, air raid – ‘Message – Yellow’ – which was just a warning, not bad. Then they’d say [???] ‘Message – purple’ which meant any minute now. Then we’d get the ‘Red’ and we used to tell the stoker to go up and blow the hooter. That was ‘Red’. But sometimes they were over here, dropping incendiaries all over the place, you know, even through the gasworks skylight – no warning! They’d flown in the wrong way! [Mr K laughs]
Q: Oh goodness.
Mr K: You see, we used to get Southend way. So if they went to London, and went up the south end, we come under Southend area. And if they went the other way, Suffolk way, we went as far as Braintree and we didn’t get it. We got the warning, they’d tell us, but not to blow the hooter. So they could be over here, bombs dropping – incendiaries- anything – and we wouldn’t give any warning! Because we’d be overruled[?] by Southend! (Q: Oh goodness!) [laughs] So we’d be standing there, helpless – knowing the raids were on – could see the bombers up there. But we couldn’t do anything about it! Oh no. they were just sleeping peacefully and then there was a bombs dropping everywhere – couldn’t do nothing about that. We had to keep strictly to that – things …
Q: Was there – did the works have a pit[?] or anything that you could …?
Mr K: Well, we had an incendiary through the skylight in the workshop one night. In the daylight, when they were fighting over the top, a friend and I – we were looking up watching these two fighting, and that. The next minute the bullet hit the wall between my head and his. And that came from one of the planes that were fighting you see. So he picked it up, and set it down, ‘cos it was hot! [Q laughs] And one day he pulled the holder – done something for the holder. And it had a weather vane and there was a hole all right through the weather vane! So that was the angle – that it went through that weather vane – hit the wall right there! That was the closest we ever got. That was close enough.
Q: Much too close. And with the incendiary that come down, that was …?
Mr K: Oh, they were all over the place. In Collingwood Road, all down the Valley, in the Co-op, everywhere. (Q: Really?) That night, yes. Oh yes, we had one or two there.
Q: So did they start fires?
Mr K: Oh, they put them out, yes. Because we had the Air Raid, you know, Wardens and all that and the Fire-fighters. Because I was trained, in the War – in the first. There was quite a bit in Witham, really, you know. We were lucky as to not be getting direct hits but we had one or two bombs here. (Q: Really?) Oh yes. The first one, I think, was at Rivenhall, wasn’t it, love? [To wife] (Mrs K: Erm.) The first bombs we had, in that – in that field at Rivenhall? (Mrs K: Yes, I think so.) By the side of the road, other side of the road. A few went to see them. They were the first ones. And then, of course, when the workmen in Guithavon Street with the crane [???]. Because the planes came over to bomb Crittall’s. We see them come out. But he turned then and was coming back to run again and we saw the bombs come out and they was like sausages. But they – the last one fell, just down the [???] back of where Hodges used to live. There, just near the railway bridge there, by Highfields. You know that bridge? Well, he lived just next to there, that place there. [???] his back garden. [20 Highfields Road] Yes. But when I looked – saw his wardrobe – the splinters had gone right through, they were in his clothes what was hanging. All little splinters of wood were stuck in his jacket. He never got hurt (Q: Really?) But he [???], you know, in the shelter, like. But that was the nearest we had.
Q: So did they ever hit Crittall’s, that you know of?
Mr K: No, I don’t think they actually hit Crittall’s. They missed that – the nearest they got was Powershall – well the allotments at Chipping Hill [actually Crittall’s was hit]. They started there. You see, they ran over and they missed Crittall’s and started a new run and went down over Highfields. The nearest one was outside Arthur Perry’s house.
Q: So that what they were trying to get, you reckon, was it?
Mr K: Well, they were after Crittall’s.
Q: What were they making there that …?
Mr K: Well, War work, you see. Because they reckon that the pilot that came over worked at Crittall’s. (Q: Oh, do they?) Before the War. And he knew his way. But in any case, that’s what happened, they didn’t hit Crittall’s.
Q: I mean, did they – how did they – I’ve never heard that said before but how did they reckon he came to have been working at Crittall’s?
Mr K: Well, anybody before the war – there was plenty of Germans around. [Noise on tape] Before the war, all of them nationalities in this country, so I mean you [???]. And of course, once war was declared they were – all them nationalities had to go back promptly – or detain them, in any case. So, I mean that happens in any country, people who live abroad, they know nearly as much about that as they did their own homes. It was quite easy to know where. And if they camouflage it as they used to, to make them different, they knew Crittall’s was there and they knew they couldn’t move it! [Q laughs] Same as Bentall’s, at Maldon. You see, I was in there, when there was a raid. Working there. And that was just the same, they knew Bentall’s was there. The same as we knew all the factories and places in Germany before the war. They can camouflage them but they can’t alter the maps, can they? They can’t alter them. So any old city or town maps, which they had, pre-war, the RAF or the Government could just use them. Because you couldn’t pick up a factory and move it just because there was a war on. Or any big buildings or anything like that. Say, churches or – you can’t move them.
They’re still there. Whatever the camouflage is. They know the mileage – they know the direction so it’s simple. So there’s no need to try and cover them up. Only thing you camouflage them so you don’t get any outline. They got some idea where they are but not dead on them. So we just had to work through the night and chance it.
Q: Where did you actually live then?
Mr K: We lived in Bridge Street, then. Faragon Terrace. But when I first come to Witham I was in lodgings. I had four years next to Slythe’s – the monumental mason? (Q: Yes.) Lived next door to him for four years. Miss Camp.
Q: Albert Road? Not Albert Road, Easton Road?
Mr K: Easton Road, yes. That was Miss Camp. I lodged with her for four years. And then when we got married we lived in Bridge Street.
Q: That was quite handy then for the works?
Mr K: Oh yes, not far to go.
Q: So Mr Croxall was there when you ….?
Mr K: Mr Croxall was the manager, yes.
Q: And how long did he stay?
Mr K: Oh, I dunno when Mr Croxall died. Oh, it was quite a while. [To wife] Can you remember when Mr Croxall died?
Q: Oh, not to worry. They lived there, you said?
Mrs K: I remember – I know he wasn’t at the gas works house when I came to live there. So I don’t know .…
Mr K: Was that when you lived at Bridge Street?
Mrs K: No, that was Mr Howard was there then, when I came.
Mr K: Oh, well, that meant it was only about four years then, wasn’t he? Before he retired.
Mrs K: It was less than that I should think, really.
Mr K: Yes.
Q: So did you see much of him?
Mr K: Oh yes, he was one of these managers, you know, [???], he was. He wasn’t officious. He’d just give you a piece of paper and say ‘Go and do this’ and if you asked ‘What shall I do?’ he’d say ‘That’s your job, not mine. I’m the manager, you’re the workman’ and you’d just go and do what you thought was right. He was a nice man. Yes.
Mrs K: I’m sure Miss Croxall would be able to tell you when he retired, wouldn’t she?
Mr K: Miss Croxall would. They live in Collingwood Road, do you know where they live?
Q: Yes, yes.
Mr K: Well, she lived there. She’d tell you when her father retired. Then he came out of the gasworks house, and went in Guithavon Street. A house there called ‘Apsley’. [number 51] Which Mrs Croxall now lives, which is her brother, Croxall. He’s dead but his wife still lives there. [???]. Mrs Hayes and then you’d got the other two sisters. Because she worked in the office, Mrs Hayes did. (Q: Oh, did she?) Yes. Because of course Lucy was only a girl then, she was at college.
Q: I didn’t know Mrs Hayes worked in the office then. What sort of thing did she do? The paper work and ….?
Mr K: She was the clerk in the office, Eva. Eva, we always called her. Mrs Hayes she was really. Because I think she was separated. She married Hayes, the wine merchant at Maldon.
Q: I didn’t know that.
Mr K: But I don’t think she ever lived with him. But that’s nothing to do with us is it? Enough scandal about.
Q: I don’t put any gossip.
Mr K: No, we don’t want gossip, we don’t want gossip.
Q: No, I never knew she worked – I seem to remember something about her working in the bank at one time. I never knew she worked at the gas works.
Mrs K: I’ve never known her to work in the bank, have you?
Q: Not at Witham I think. Maybe this was at Maldon? I’ve probably got it wrong now.
Mr K: One of them – one of the brothers was in the bank.
Q: Maybe that was him, yes.
Mrs K: That one that was married to Mrs Croxall in Guithavon Road, he worked in Bright’s after he retired from the bank. My daughter worked with him.
Mr K: Yes he lived – Mr Croxall’s brother, he was in the bank. The brother.
Q: So there was a sort of separate little office there, was there? And Mr Croxall stayed in there? Or how did he go about – what sort of things did he do? For his job, as the manager?
Mr K: What, Mr Croxall, the manager? No, he just – I don’t know what he done, really! [Mr K & Q laugh] He just managed the place, you know, as an ordinary business like, as the manager.
Q: But I mean he’d just wear ordinary clothes?
Mr K: Well, just ordinary clothes, a suit. He was a good manager,. He didn’t interfere with anybody. You had a job to do and you had to do it. If you didn’t he was after you. He was that sort of man. He’d tell you off. Or anything like that.
Q: So he knew enough to know whether you’d done it right or not.
Mr K: Oh yes. He‘d forgotten about it the next day.
Q: But I mean – had he ever been – I wonder if he’d ever been to any – I’ll have to ask her – any sort of training or anything?
Mr K: I don’t know, because he was here when I came.
Q: He was here already? Yes.
Mr K: But any training he’d done in the gas – I’ve no idea.
Q: Did he do a lot in the town – I think -was he on the Council or something, did somebody tell me? [He was on Witham Urban District Council]
Mr K: Mr Croxall? (Q: Yes) No he was only just a manager. (Q: Yes.)
Mrs K: He’d been in the Operatic.
Mr K: He was in the Operatic – oh yes. Because we always used to get tickets for that – so many free tickets – he’d ask us to go and that was when the Public – well, they had the cinema then, used do to do it at the cinema, didn’t they? ‘Whitehall’.
Q: Did they?
Mr K: Yes. Because I remember seeing – the first one was ‘Falca’ Wasn’t it, Mother?
Mrs K: I don’t know, I wasn’t here.
Mr K: Falco I think, Falco. And then there was ‘Pirates of Penzance’. ‘Cos Mrs Mondy who used to have the stores, you know, in the High Street, she was in that one as well. (Q: Yes?) Because Mr Mondy was one of the shareholders of the old Witham Gas Light & Coke – Mondy the stores. That was a local one then when we first came. They had the shareholders there.
Q: So how did that used to work? Did they have meetings at all?
Mr K: Oh, yes yes. They had a big long table and six armchairs. That was in what we turned into the showroom, but that was their boardroom. Big long table and that’s where they had their meetings. I remember those old armchairs – and cushions. And then that was turned into a showroom and I don’t know what happened to the table. That went somewhere.
Q: And that was down by the works, was it? Was that in the works, the showroom?
Mr K: The showroom – the office was in Mill Lane. And the showroom was – just as you turn from Bridge Street into Mill Lane, there was the showroom. Because there was a works house there first. And the showroom would have been more or less their front room, that was the showroom. And the office. But the office, I think, was built on after because that was newer.
Q: Was there a lot of shareholders or – were these six – …?
Mr K: They were local people really. Local business people they were. They were the shareholders then. It was called the Witham Gas Light & Coke. Funny it was – still we went on about the Gas Light & Coke. When this Seagas[?] coal first started, the children used to go out on different projects. And one day they came into the showroom and said to Mrs Hayes and she said ‘Yes, what do you want?’ They said ‘Can we have any gaslight paper, please?’ She said ‘Gaslight paper?’ They said ‘Yes’ ‘What you mean’ she said ‘Do you know what they mean?’ I said ‘Yes. Photography!’ You know gaslight paper what you have for photography! They went to the gas works for it! [laughs] That was funny, I never forget that! Of course she said ‘You go up the chemist’s for that, you do’. Sent them up the chemist’s for it. Gaslight paper! That tickled me, that. But children wouldn’t have known anything different, would they?
Q: No, I wouldn’t have known.
Mr K: You’d say to them ‘Go and get some gaslight paper’ they’d go to the gas light office. Naturally. That was funny, that was. The funny things that happened. [Laughs]
Q: And was there a sort of Board or something as well as the shareholders?
Mr K: Well, that was the whole Board. The shareholders just ran the company, you see. I don’t remember all of them, but I know Mr Mondy, he was one. They were local people, they were the shareholders then. But of course, when The British came, they just bought them out and that was that.
Q: Did it make a lot of difference to – what, you’re working …?
Mr K: Oh yes. Every time they do they alter things, don’t they? [???] That was nationalised, you see, there was another big switch over, and that sort of thing. And of course things are different now. Oh dear! Still I was pretty [???]. I didn’t retire before they had this new system – well, Seagas. Because it gave me quite a span, really. From the days –
Q: Yes, quite a change wasn’t it?
Mr K: Hand-charging up to the new gas, which was quite interesting really. So it just about finished – Witham was just cleared up nicely and we were going round from Witham to the new place what we – the last [???] taking over. Just to check up and that sort of thing – make sure they were all right. Because you see we were beginning to get knowledgeable then. [Mr K & Q laugh] Because we’d done quite a bit of moving about. And then, as I say, got that all squared up and then I retired, 1974.
Q: Because when The British took over – and where did the gas come from, before, when The British took over?
Mr K: When The British took over, we carried on just the same. (Q: I see) Oh, yes. From nationalisation. Oh yes, all they did was to improve the works, which the old company couldn’t afford to do. They built new retorts and that sort of thing, which is an expensive job and which the company just couldn’t do. Couldn’t [???] And, they put more retorts in, so we produced more gas. And then of course they built that holder up Colchester Road, new big holder up there. Because these two wasn’t big enough to do the extra work. So as more and more people got the gas so the demand was so much that these two holders just couldn’t manage it. So they put that big one up London Road and supplied it from Colchester under high pressure.
Q: I see, yes. And so there wasn’t more …?
Mr K: So it eased us. We used to use our little local one but used to fill the big one up. And when that went down, they’d fill that up from Colchester. So that was another job. We had to go up there and open up the valves in the morning to pump it up and shut it off at night. So in the morning, the holder was full up. About twelve hundred pounds[?] in the holder, last us just about the day. Before we went on night shift to go up the holder and open up the valves and fill the holder up all night. All done from Colchester, you see.
Q: So did they keep the Witham one on as well?
Mr K: Oh yes. We kept that on, oh yes, we got [???] till that was finished and then of course, afterwards, [???] were gradually linked up till the old works was scrapped, the holders all pulled down and the house, and the yard was cleared. As it is now.
Q: So, when would that be? It was still some time ago now, was it? When that was cleared?
Mr K: Yes that was, ‘71, was it, Mum? I’ve got the dates.
[Tape stops. Restarts with noises as Mr K and Mrs K move about. part of chat about Blott Rise being called after Mr Blott of Howbridge Hall. Long time finding information.
[Looking at photos including JG’s photos M62 and M63 of the works and the workers]
Q: Fine young fellow there, you are. Were there different grades?
Mr K: That was George Bradley, he was the collector. Collect the meters – empty the meters. Arthur Perry was in the office – he’s still alive. He’d tell you more about Witham than anybody. Wonderful memory. He lives in one of the bungalows. Pinkham Drive. That’s Dick James, he was in the office. There again, I was sitting talking to him yesterday. He’s in charge of outside now, mains and services. He [another] was a stoker, he was a German. Svoboda. That’s a stoker. Stan Hailey – he retired just before I did – he was a stoker. He’s still about. Bill Grimsey, he worked in the yard. He’s dead. He [another] worked in the yard. That’s Jim Meekings, the other gas fitter. He’s dead now. Harry Hayes – he was the foreman. Lives at Chelmsford now. That’s your Right Honourable [meaning himself] That’s [???] the service lad. He’s still about. That was a German prisoner – he was. These two were both German prisoners and they worked [???]. And then Dick James – he came out the Air Force and he came in the office. Still, he wasn’t there long. These were the original ones and that one – Stan. All of these ones and the other all came after, see. Because they worked in the works, these German prisoners, stoking them. And in the finish they carried on working for us.
Q: So when did they come – the prisoners came…?
Mr K: They came from the prison camp.
Q: Was there a camp near here, was there?
Mr K: And when the American come they used to bring them here and take them back nights.
Q: How did people feel about them – were they- got on with them all right?
Mr K: Well, the girls liked them! They were knocking at the door. They married them you see, local girls married them. Oh yes, they were always chasing round after them! Well, there you are, that’s what happened.
Q: That was bit hard on the English fellows, wasn’t it?
Mr K: Well, I don’t know, nobody worries do they? The thing is, it did happen, right from years and years back. The prisoners all intermarried and then carried on. Once the War is over people so easy forget!. I mean you can have all their relations killing Germans, next minute they go and marry Germans. The same as Jim Meekings, just the same. His daughter married a Pole – oh, he didn’t like that. No! He was very upset about it. Of course he [another] married the girl Smith, Colonel Smith’s daughter. Svoboda. That one married – up, near the station when he got married. They married local girls. Plenty of other fellows, they didn’t want them. Something new, you know.
Q: A bit of glamour? I suppose …
Mr K: Yes, something new. Several of them are about. In Witham, still, isn’t there?
Q: What about the Americans?
Mr K: Several Germans. Even German girls when our fellows went over there. They married German girls and brought them back over here. So we still got the mixture of German and English people – families – quite a few.
Q: That’s true, yes.
Mr K: So you’ll always get it wherever you go. Because you’ll never stop that. Once the War’s over and finished. But, as I say, they were prisoners of war, they were working but we still got on, we didn’t mind.
Q: This was the foreman, you say?
Mr K: Yes, Harry Hayes. He came from Lexden, he came to ours, because before then, Dick Upson, he was a local man, He was the foreman, the yard foreman.
Q: Both in the yard?
Mr K: Yes, he was in charge of the retort in the yard, yes. Nothing to do with me.
Q: So you were more or less on your own when you were …?
Mr K: Oh yes. We were – nothing to do with these.
Q: Did you go out with somebody else?
Mr K: Oh no, we were in charge – we just [???] the work and we went. We had boys give to us as mates. One of my apprentice boys he got ‘chargehand’ after that. Now he’s doing – he’s in charge of the central heating – sort of business [???]
Q: Because, really, work in the yard is quite different …?
Mr K: Oh yes, because these were just so many labourers, you see. They were yard labourers. Used to get up the coke and make up – bag the coke up and weigh it and all that sort of thing, you see. Because they were only labourers.
Q: So there wasn’t really any work in the yard to use an apprentice?
Mr K: Oh, no, no, no! He was a stoker. He was one of the Commandos, there. He came out in the war, then went as a stoker. Then he [possibly indicating someone else] came out the Air Force and went in the office. There were two of him [???] Stoking. Then he went stoking.
Q: Still, I suppose it was a reasonably steady job, wasn’t it?
Mr K: Oh yes. They used to do eight-hour shifts, you see. Went right through Saturday and Sunday – right through the lot. So they got about three shillings a week more that we did. For Saturdays and Sundays. But they got [???]. We got about two pounds fifteen shillings a week and they got two pounds eighteen shillings but then Sundays they was eight hour shifts
[Mr K getting increasingly breathless and difficult to understand]
Q: So really you got more per hour, like?
Mr K: Oh yes. Wasn’t a lot. Even then when I first came here it was got tuppence ha’penny an hour. [Mr K laughs] It’s different now.
Q: Was the gas – did they have gas lighting still?
Mr K: Oh, a lot of gas lighting in Witham, yes. I mean, the Public Hall – the stage was lit up with gaslight when we first came here. Yes. The front of the stage of the Public Hall had all up lighting all the way along there. And they had set lights in the ceiling – gas lights there. And we took them out. And same as other places around. The church and the chapel they all had gas lighting. The Congregational chapel had all gas lights. We took all them out.
Q: Did they take quite a lot of looking after?
Mr K: It was quite a – we used to do the – we went to Silver End. We made – put the gas on at Silver End. We went over there when they first put the gas on at Silver End. Switched them all over. Because they had their own – they produced the gas from the factory. (Q: Oh, I see). They used to supply them with gas from the factory. And then they took that off and they were switched over to our gas – so we ran the mains over to Silver End and we went over and changed them all over to our gas. Because Crittall’s was changed over. I changed all [???] Crittall’s. [???] start them off. And then when the Crittall’s at Witham – they used to use gas just the same. They [???] gas, then oil. Then that was turned into our gas.
Q: That was a big job then wasn’t it?
Mr K: Yes. And I went there and I lit it up the first time. (Q: Did you?) Yes. That’s when my boss went there s [Noise on tape drowns words then microphone has moved so speech is further away and hard to hear] You can start it off. It’s[?] lit up when it’s first started[?] I did it. As he used to say ‘You do the work. You start that one off’. Oh, they were quite – you know – benefit of the works …
Q: What, that was the gas people that said that?
Mr K: Yes. When we took that over …
Q: So that was the – produce of gas was from the works, yes.
Mr K: Well, they all used to make their own, that’s what they …
Q: Was that not enough – after …
Mr K: Oh, they couldn’t produce enough, not for [???] Because years ago the [???] They couldn’t do enough, you see. Where they done one batch – people could do two with our gas for the same amount, you see. So they switched over to that. Because they did this factory up at Colchester Road. They switched them on to our gas just the same there. Because the thing is they don’t lose any heat. The plant itself, you only use say, half of it. Half force[?] They make them …
Q: …. You changed over – that was quite a big job – the Witham Crittall’s. Was that since the War, sort of? Or…?
Mr K: I should say that was after the War.
Q: Because the galvanising is quite – well not new, but I mean it wasn’t there all along, was it?
Mr K: During the War – during the War we did supply gas because – no, there were the old meters because I remember we used to go up there during the War, when the raids were on, you know. ’Cos the lights would go out and that was it, they’d all dash to the shelters and just sat there till the raid was over. Which was a trouble because everybody used to be allocated with the number of a dugout to go in – which they didn’t do. So everybody’d dash – and out went the lights and we’d sit in the dark waiting for the lights to come on. While the raid was on! Because – there was some trouble over that!
Q: So what was that? The lighting went off in the factory?
Mr K: In the factory, yes. Oh, put the lights all out. And into the dugouts.
Q: I see, and you were left …?
Mr K: They didn’t show any lights, you see. Of course, they didn’t think about me, did they? Everybody knew where to go – I didn’t! So I didn’t know where to go so you had to sit there and wait. That didn’t go down very well with our manager, I tell you. He was soon after them!
Q: What – you were up there working, were you?
Mr K: Yes. And as he said, I should have been allocated a number when I first went up. It happened just the same at Bentall’s factory, Maldon. They had a raid there – I remember one time. Out went the lights, they cleared off and I was stuck in the middle of nowhere[?] till the foreman came up.
Q: That was a bit strange, wasn’t it?
Mr K: It did, yes. We had good fun, you know.
Q: You enjoyed it did you? Because [???] said you were in the Home Guard as well, was that right? Is that what that is? [Looking at photo, JG’s number M64]]
Mr K: That’s what that is. Dear, dear, dear. Well, you couldn’t – we obviously had to do something so we just trained in the Home Guard – help out. Some of the old Witham boys. Some of ‘em are dead.
Q: So what sort of things did you do? How often did you go out, with them?
Mr K: Well, most[?] weekends[?] weren‘t we? Weekends and Tuesdays, wasn’t it? [To wife]. Tuesday night, I think, and weekends. Because …
Mrs K: Yes, certain nights, because I can’t remember which night [talking over each other]
Mr K: Certain nights. Weekends we used to go to Middlewick on the Middlewick ranges, you know, firing.
Mrs K: I know if ever there was a raid you were at work! [Q laughs]
Mr K: Yes, poor old mother [meaning wife] – she suffered more than I did. Because she had the children to look after, you see, because I was at work on nights. Because she had the children to look after at home, so she had a bigger job than I did. With the worry …
Q: Did you have a shelter or what?
Mr K: Yes we built a shelter out in our back garden – a big one – took all the row.
Q: Oh I see.
Mr K: Oh yes, we built all that big thing. But she didn’t like the shelter.
Mrs K: No, I hated the shelter. [Mr K & Q laugh] Well, just before the War, my father was buried in one. He broke an arm and leg and was ill for a very long time. So I didn’t like shelters.
Q: So did you go in it, though, all the time?
Mrs K: I used to go in it for the children, yes. But I never went to sleep.
Mr K: Sit there and [???] – peeling potatoes didn’t you, for dinner!
Mrs K: Yes. [All laugh]
Mr K: It had everything there, you know, it had a fridge, everything down there, toilet, the lot. It was a good shelter and was safe enough.
Q: Who built that, then?
Mr K: We did.
[Talking over each other]
Mrs K: All the men along the row. [Faragon Terrace, Bridge Street]
Mr K: All along …
Q: What in Bridge Street, that was?
Mr K: Yes. We dug it out. Because when they pulled those old houses down in Bridge Street, we used all the big old timbers. About fourteen-foot long and put them across the top. [Laughs]
Mrs K: It’s where the RAFA Club is now, on that on that piece of land there.
Mr K: Bedsteads – a couple of bedstead, iron, for reinforcements [laughs] and we built it, didn’t we? And of course, we had a handrail for going up and down the steps, bit of carpet. (Q: Did you?) I remember that. Oh, we organised it.
Q: You should have kept that, someone could have lived in that!
Mr K: Yes, it was all right. We used to sleep down there. We had bunks and everything. And beds for the children to sleep. Made a good job of that. A light. We had a car battery you see and – provide the light.
Q: So that was all – because these shelters – it was all up to you to sort of pay for it and …?
Mr K: Well, you had to do your own otherwise they gave you these silly little indoor ones.
Mrs K: We had an Anderson afterwards, didn’t we? In the back garden.
Mr K: Yes, we had an Anderson shelter in the garden. One of these round, steel things. Had that in the garden. Put that in there. The big one was the best, safest.
Q: And at Crittall’s or – did you have any shelter at the works?
Mr K: Round here? Oh yes. The gas works had a shelter there. But nobody went in it. How could you? You had to do the stoking just the same – the alarms or the bombs. You couldn’t[?] hide[?] from the bomb[?] in the dugout. Very rarely we went in there. Had to be, you know, close before we went in there. I think we did go in once, some of us, when they were fighting over the top, mucking[?] about[?]. But otherwise you didn’t – you couldn’t really – you had your work to do! You had to do the boiler – it had to be done, the boiler – the boiler fires had to be done. If that’d gone we had to keep charging just the same. So while the raid was on you’d be still stoking! You know, you [???] several times, you know. We said ‘Well, if you think you can do our job better than yours, you come and do it!’ But we didn’t have any takers!
Q: I suppose not, yes.
Mr K: Bit [???], but there you are. Somebody had to do it. Panic sometimes, things went wrong. We had one or two scares, specially when we had to blow the ‘All Clear’ and the handle came off the valve so it kept on[?] [Q & Mr K laugh over top]
Q: It kept on sounding?
Mr K: Oh yes, we couldn’t cut it off, you see. The handle come off. We had someone asking what was wrong, and there he was dancing about. [???] We got it on and turned it off and that was that. [Mr K & Q laugh] We used to have, you know, a bit of fun at the same time. And of course, there was Home Guard as well, [???]
Q: What did you get up to in the Home Guard?
[Looking at certificates]
Mr K: 5 April 1942, till 31 December 1944. They gave me – seen one of them?
Q: ‘Herbert Henry King’. [Q reading, but inaudible]
Mr K: They did make it sound well[?].
Q: Yes, well, I mean …
Mr K: That’s is what they used to give us on our training …
Mr K: Oh yes, same as the[?] Army[?] We used to have to go on courses and be trained …
Q: Where did you go for them?
Mr K: [???] senior school and officers[?] came[?] down[?] We had to pass out there. And of course all the arms training was done at Middlewick ranges at Colchester. We used to go there weekends and fire out on the ranges. So we could handle most things. And I used to have the Browning[?] because I was instructed on the automatic rifle. So I used to take it home with me and have [???] old thing.
Q: And had you ever done anything like that before?
Mr K: No. Only fired an airgun. I used to love airgun, you know, firing but then when we packed up there we formed the Home Guard Rifle Club. (Q: Oh I see) And we carried on with small bore. And well, I was Captain seven years at the Rifle Club. And of course, when the Home Guard was disbanded, they just closed up the Drill Halls and we were more or less thrown out. They didn’t want us. We had [???] [???]the Home Guard. [???]
Q: Where about did they – was there a local place …?
Mr K: There was a Drill Hall in Mill Lane where we used to go till they scrapped it. Then we went to Maldon Drill Hall and they scrapped that. They scrapped most of the Drill Halls. [???] Crittall’s at Braintree – they had a range there so we used to go over there.
Q: So you could actually practise firing?
Mr K: Fire on the ranges, yes. They built a range there.
Q: In the Drill Hall?
Mr K: Drill Hall there had ranges. Oh yes. Well, they had them for the Army, didn’t they? The Army Territorials – they built[?] Army territorial drill halls. So they had 2.2 ranges and we used them. Then we used to go all round the Braintree district all to the different places. Firing.
Q: That’s gone, now, in Mill Lane?
Mr K: Oh yes. They pulled that down, that’s gone.
Q: So, that was up this end, was it? Near Shelleys’ or somewhere?
Mr K: Ah, that was (for) the fourteen-eighteen War, Shelleys’ old place in Mill Lane, that used to be a Drill Hall there.
Q: I see. [???] Drill Yard [???] [actually probably called after 19th century seed drill factory]
Mr K: That used to be a rifle range, a drill yard, yes. That used to be a rifle range. Where Shelleys’ old scrap thing is.
Q: Oh I wondered what was …
Mr K: Yes, that was a range.
Q: What, that was an indoor one?
Mr K: Yes That was a 2.2 range – we used to fire there.
Q: Your one, whereabouts was your one, that was pulled down?
Mr K: Down the bottom of Guithavon Street. On the corner of Guithavon Road. The corner there.
Q: Oh, near the River there?
Mr K: That was there. That was the Drill Hall, there.
Q: So did you ever have any practice outside?
Mr K: Outside – we used to go to – [to wife] what’s the name of that – near Wickham Mills, where we used to go firing? We used to go past Wickham Mills up the lane up towards Braxted …
Mrs K: Oh, you mean – I thought of it, just then.
Mr K: That’s where we used to fire.
Q: That was a fair old run, wasn’t it?
Mr K: Well, there was two or three [???] [several sentences indecipherable] – Ishams Farm.
Mrs K: That’s right.
Mr K: Ishams – Wickham [???] – Ishams – where we used to fire – at weekends. And then we used to go on to the Rivenhall range, where the American Air Force was and we used to use their range there – firing range there and we used to practise the guns with the aircraft. Used to go and practice with our guns and we used to fire there weekends. Otherwise we used Middlewick and fire against the Colchester barracks. That’s where we done most of the training.
Q: Did you see much of the Americans?
Mr K: Oh yes, we see plenty of Americans, Because they used to come down to ‘The Star’ and have a drink and we used to know one or two of them. Some of the jet pilots, you know, we knew them. Couple of lads. [Laughs] They were quite nice fellows really, weren’t they, the Americans?
Mrs K: Oh, some of them, yes.
Mr K: Eddie. Bit brainy – scary sort of fellow, he was one of these jet pilots. Mad as a hatter. I suppose they had to be, for them, didn’t you? [Mr K & Q laugh]. I know once, my son-in-law was in the Star with me and Eddie was there and he said – he said ‘You want to come to Maldon in the old car?’ Because he had [???] ‘Come on’ he said ‘I’m going to change my car, take it back and change it. Because my mate wants/got the other one’. He said ‘Where you going?’ ‘Braxted’ he said. ‘Won’t be long. Leave your beer, that won’t hurt’. So he took them out in this – I reckon in about ten minutes they were back! So I said ‘What’s the matter, didn’t you go? ’He said ‘Go? Of course, I go’. He said ‘We’ve been and back!’ Old Dennis was shaking all over. I said ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘Oh’ he said. ‘Where’s my beer’ he said. ‘He nearly frightened the life out of me!’ he said. ‘He was doing nearly a hundred round Braxted wall round them corners!’ he said. I’ve seen anybody so scared in all me life!’ He said’ No wonder he’s doing jet planes!’ he said. [Q & Mr K laugh] Poor old Dennis. He came back, you know, he never even turned a hair. He said ‘All right Den? Enjoy it?’ You know, just like that. Oh dear [laughing]. Never had no nerves, he couldn’t have had. The first time I see old Dennis scared. He was proper scared. ‘He was taking them sharp corners at eighty!’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ They were good fellows, you know. We got on well with most of the Americans. Like – a lot of people in Witham, you know, sort of ‘scrumped’ you know, diddling them. Watering down the whisky and selling them the bottles, with half whisky and half water, sort of thing, you know. It happens. They were doing it all right.
Mrs K: That’s beside the point.
Mr K: It ain’t beside the point! All these little things happened – but – there you go.
Q: But you got on with them OK?
Mr K: Oh yes, we got on with the Americans – quite good – friendly. One of them lived near us. An American sergeant. He still lives here, you see. Has his pension sent here. Still lives here, he’s quite a nice fellow. And of course they planted those trees in the Park. Those oak trees. – you see them all with the things on them. You’ll read them on them and they’ll tell you the dates and who they were. They paid for them, didn’t they?
[General conversation, not noted]
[Looking at photo JG’s M64]
Q: Who’s these Home Guard chaps? Are any of them about now?
Mr K: I don’t know!
Q: Or anybody? Are they all from Witham?
Mr K: He’s dead; he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead. Jack Arnold’s dead. Denny Bones dead. Len Bones – I think he’s about. Bertie Bowers – he’s up Maldon Road – Bertie Bowers. He’s – er horticultural – [???] – horticultural. That was – used to be down at West End Garage – near the Gas works. Arthur Bones, another one under the arch – Fred Childs – he was down at the farm there – that was Lieutenant Barham – he used to have a watch repair shop in the High Street. Barham. That was Mr Millidge, our CO – he’s just died at 91. He lived in Bridge Street, Bridge House in Bridge Street, opposite us – big house. Millidge – he was our CO. That was Bert King, Staff Sergeant. He’s dead [meaning another]. That’s Corporal Snowdon – he’s still alive. That’s another Bones. No – that’s Goody – Doug Goody. The Goodys lived down Maldon Road. That’s Doug. Those two worked for Lord Rayleigh. Well, those three worked for Lord Rayleigh’s. The Bones – they’re funny fellows. [Q laughs] Proper old country men. This fellow – he wouldn’t take his rifle home. Couldn’t get him to take his rifle home. I had him at Braxted on the range. I said ‘Right. Load’ He put the thing in. I said ‘There’s your target. Fire when ready’. He wouldn’t fire! And he never would fire a round, through a rifle! [Q: Goodness!] He would never take the rifle home, which we had to. Because he had children. He said ‘I’m not taking the rifle home to my children’. He wouldn’t take the rifle home and he’d never fire a bullet through a rifle. ‘I’m not going to kill anybody!’ he said. ‘And you won’t make me either!’ And yet he used to go around shooting rabbits and things on the estate – he was a good shot! 12-bore – he’d go shooting pigeons or rabbits, anything like that but he would never fire against a target [???]. He said he’d never fire against a German if he come!
Q: How did he come to be in the Home Guard, then?
Mr K: Made to, weren’t he? Called up and – whether he’d do anything in defence I don’t know. I said ‘ What about the Jerries when they shoot you?’ ‘I don’t know about that’ he said. ‘Because you’ll have to make your mind up quick, boy, you see. You have to fire before them.’ Oh, I always remember that. I said ‘If he’s come in front of you and he’s opposite, shoot! Don’t ask him what his name is or how old he is or if he got a mother or father, you shoot him. You can always ask him afterwards, can’t you?’ [Q laughs] ‘Because it’s going to be too late!’ But he never would, he’d never fire.
Q: That’s interesting because if you weren’t doing anything else, you were made to be in the Home Guard, were you?
Mr K: Oh yes. Well, no, we volunteered with him[?]. Silly blighter! I volunteered. I wasn’t forced to go in the Home Guard [???]
Q: Well, that’s what I thought, yes.
Mr K: No, no, no. I went with him[?]. He wanted to go in the Home Guard and our Assistant Manager, he was in charge of the District – he said if we went in the Home Guard, three of us, we’d all – he’d come with us. So we said ‘All right’, he went up and signed and we didn’t! [laughs] He joined on his own! [laughs] Oh, he didn’t half play up! I said to Denny Bones ‘Shall we volunteer’ so we went together. Oh, proper lad was Denny.
Q: So how did the [???]
Mr K: Oh, drafted in – they were drafted in. Mostly – I had mostly thingamebob in my section – platoon. Blunts Hall farm workers – Rayleigh’s farm hands – these were. And of course, they were handy – because they knew every inch of this countryside. If there’d been any parachute come down, they’d have known. We use to go through there – exercise all round Jobs Wood and all that. And middle of the night they wouldn’t put a foot wrong – they’d know every hedge and every ditch that was there, you know. Take you all round there in the night and back again. Nobody would know you was there. And they went out – they sent a section out once, because we were patrol – my section, [???] and we went out looking, searching. They sent this other patrol out and I said ‘You can keep your eye open, Bonesy’. He said ‘All right’ – he was a herdsman. He stood in the middle of the cows – he leaned on a cow like this – watching and he knew where everybody was. He see them coming through the gate, way they walk up and when they come back he told me where they were. We went up and said ‘Right! Out of it! We know you’re there!’ And they never even saw us, not one of us. Fourteen[?]Just leaned on his cow. You see, if strangers come through, the cows began to fidget. He knew they were there, or the cows did! It was ever so handy, you know. They made them …
Q: So, was it the law that they had to beo in the Home Guard or …
Mr K: Oh yes, the law – you got called up – Home Guard, men of a certain age. You were put in the Home Guard – whether you wanted to.
Q: So would you have got – if you hadn’t volunteered, would you have …
Mr K: Oh no. [Mrs K interrupts with coffee] I wasn’t forced to go in, you see.
Q: Why was that different then?
Mr K: Because I was entitled to priority – my job was priority.
Q: I see, but the farmworkers weren’t …?
Mr K: They wasn’t priority – they were shift work. You see, when I had a guard in the High Street, in Marshall’s place – we used to have a guard on there. (Q: Did you?) Oh yes, we always had a guard. And …[Talking about coffee]
My problem was, you see, I had all these farmworkers, and some of them used to go milking about half past four in the morning. So I had to get in the first guard and you see and wake them up just so they could go milking at four o’clock. Oh yes, the chaps didn’t laze about. All night guard and then go milking four o clock. They had to go. I had to wake them up and change the guard with the next lot.
Q: The guard was up in the …
Mr K: In the High Street, in Marshalls’ shop where Marshalls used to be. It’s Rumbelow’s now.
Q: Why was it there, especially? [Noise on tape]
Mr K: Because it was an empty shop and the Home Guard took over as a guardroom.
Q: So what did you used to do in the guardroom?
Mr K: Well, post a guard outside all night. With [???]. And when the first[?] Essex came here, the Regulars, they had a guard on, with us. There used to be a Regular guard on and the Home Guard one as well. They just went up one rank. You see, the sergeant in the Home Guard was higher than a corporal in the Regulars. But the sergeant in the Regulars’ priority to a sergeant in the Home Guard. (Q: I’m with you). He’s just one up above you, you see. The sergeant was the same but he took priority. (Q: You were a sergeant were you) Oh yes, I’m no good at taking orders! I was [???] out of that. I could never do as I was told! [Q laughs] Never could! [Indecipherable]
Q: Did you have – you must have had a few arguments if you wouldn’t do what you were told, didn’t you?
Mr K: Oh yes, we had arguments all right. [Mr K laughs] (Q: But you won them all?) Ah, but it’s like anything else.
[Mr K continues with comment that Nelson, Churchill and so on succeeded by not doing what they were told, not noted]
And it’s always the same, you get in charge of your job and somebody comes that doesn’t know anything about it and tries to tell you what to do! It annoys you! I know, if you’re a good soldier, you do as you’re told. That was all right if I went in the Army – I should be a private! I should never be anything above a private. I mean, if you do as you’re told and if it’s wrong, well, it’s their fault! [Both laugh]
Q: I mean, when you were in the Home Guard, what was the things you thought they should be doing?
Mr K: Oh yes, they thought this and they thought that but it didn’t make any difference! We got on just the same. Barham – I always remember him! He was the gas officer. He knew nothing about it! He gave a lecture up the Public Hall to the Home Guards round here. He stood on the stage and he didn’t know one name of gas from the other. And he kept on saying ‘There’s one gas’ he said ‘That you breathe in – a tear[?] gas[?] and …umm’. And he kept saying – I said ‘C.A.P’ That’s right!’ he said. ‘C.A.P’ So he said, ‘And there’s another one – ‘K.S.K’ I said. ‘That’s it!’ he said. ‘K.S.K. Hey, you know more about it than I do, you can run the lecture!’ he said. He knew nothing about it, poor old fellow. [laughs] So he tried to get me posted up to Second Lieutenant to him you see. But they said, ‘No, you can’t’. Because I was number one priority, I couldn’t do it. Well, once you accept a commission, they’d get first priority over me. So the company said, no they can’t do that so they stopped it. [???] Poor old Barham! [laughs] You know, there were restrictions, you see and because, I mean, they owned me and they had their say in the matter. No mistake about that. I didn’t think of that. Or what difference that’d make, but it did. Oh yes, They were holding us you see for – on account of the gas. If anything ‘d gone wrong we had to turn it out. We used to have a trailer all loaded up with emergency kit and if we got called out we used to go out in that.
Q: And so what did you have to – what sort of things went wrong? You mean, with the gas supply?
Mr K: Yes, well, if there was ever a bomb dropped, that’d break the main and all, wouldn’t it? And we had to go out and stop it!
Q: Yes. Did that happen?
Mr K: A bomb didn’t but we had a problem. They were putting some pipes up towards Crittall’s, where you come down Cullens’[?] Chase [perhaps White Horse Lane] and they dug a trench there – and of course that was a deep trench to put this sewer thing in and they let the gas main go off[?] one night. And I was on duty and I went outside and looked at the holder, like, and I said to the stoker, ‘Stan’ I said. He said ‘What’ I said ‘We ain’t made anything!’ ‘What’d you mean we ain’t made anything? ‘Course we have! One and a quarter’. ‘But there ain’t nothing, I tell you, we’re losing!’ ‘Can’t do! he said. I said ‘We are!!’ ‘Well, something’s wrong somewhere!’ And of course, they’d hit a three inch main – that was wide open and the gas was going up the hole and straight out of a three inch main up Cullen’s Chase! [laughs] We were losing more than we were making, we weren’t gaining anything! So of course, we called up the Police and we got the trailer out and the truck and we went up to Cullen’s Chase and there are, there was this thing, fell down in the main, three-inch main wide open – gas coming out. And of course we had to put a plunger in and stop that. And that was that. So we did have one try-out.
Q: That was a bit hair-raising, I should think, wasn’t it?
Mr K: Good practice yes. At least we knew what we’d do if anything did happen. We stopped there and shoved the plunger up and put …
Q: Sounds – [???] presumably if you’d got a light to it or anything …
Mr K: We had to because that was how we’d been trained, you see. We had this trailer made, with all the stuff in, plungers and clay and all that sort of thing. Dustbins of clay, Shove the plunger in, clay up – stick the clay in and bung it all up somehow.
Q: Was that specially for the war-time emergencies?
Mr K: Oh yes. We made the trailer, some of us in the works. And all of us – some of us, we made this trailer. I remember the first time we tried it out, we loaded it up – because of course, we had clay in dustbins, three of them. We put it in, loaded this lot up and two of us had to get in. Mr [???] said ‘Right-oh then, chaps’ he said. ‘We can try it out!’ He started his car – he couldn’t move it! [laughs] He couldn’t drag it, it was too heavy! The car wouldn’t pull it!’ [Q & Mr K laugh] Oh dear. That was good that was.
Q: Oh dear. So what happened then?
Mr K: We had to really sort out, you know. Take a bit of the weight off. Take some of the dustbins of clay out.
Q: Good job you tried it out.
Mr K: Yes, we took out as much as we dare, leave the stuff we wanted. Oh, that was good – poor old car – it wouldn’t do that. That didn’t go down very well.
Q: Was the gas sort of laid on more or was it all over Witham?
Mr K: Oh yes! When I first come, it wasn’t so much. There wasn’t – we done all Church Street. Because the houses in Church Street never had any gas – any of it. The [???] hadn’t. So we done all Church Street. Fitted out all the gas lights. Me and my mate. We done all them. Then we done Maldon Road. They never had any gas there. Then the old Square. [Trafalgar Square] That’s not there now. Just past the School. Where the School is – then – there used to be a square there.
Q: And what did they have before then?
Mr K: Lamps and candles, I expect. [???] [???]. We put them all in. Then of course these estates were all built and I put the gas in them houses, before [???]
Q: Church Street and – did they not have electricity at all, then?
Mr K: Not so much then, no. Because the first time – that was only just a sort of a narrow lane right up to the Cherry Tree. It was only a country lane. But Church Street left off at the letterbox on the end of the Terrace [i.e. at what is now St Nicholas Close]. Where they used to have the butcher’s shop they weren’t there then. There was a country lane right up to the Cherry Tree. [???] – a country lane. End of Church Street – they call the Terrace. The terraces – because that’s all built up now – you wouldn’t recognise it.
Q: So they had the gas in preference – when they decided to have something, they had gas in preference to the electricity?
Mr K: Oh yes there was a lot of gas then.
Q: I mean was the gas cheaper or easier to put in?
Mr K: I should think – and we put all the gas in the same at Silver End, you see. We done all that.
Q: And did they have gas lighting …?
Mr K: When they first went in, yes. Put all the gaslights in Church Street, yes. All gas lights yes. We had gas lights in Bridge Street.
Q: What about street lighting – what was that?
Mr K: All gas, yes. That was the first thing I done. As soon as they – I had a job at – as soon as the War was declared, I had to go immediately and turn my gas lamps off. Because you couldn’t have any street lights. That was my job. As soon as they – the War was declared, I got on my bike and I went up and I turned all the gas lights off. Street lights. That was the first job I had during the War. [???] knew anything about it. They told me …
Q: What did you do them one by one? Presumably one by one, you couldn’t turn off any …?
Mr K: Just turn them all off, yes – turn the taps off at the lamps so they couldn’t go on, you see.
Q: That must have taken you a long time didn’t it?
Mr K: A ladder up there and I just [makes a ‘ch’ noise] [laughs] and turn ‘em off!
Q: And were you expecting that?
Mr K: Oh yes, I was told beforehand. No-one else knew anything about it, only me. I was just briefed on the job. Tell nobody about it. But, yes, you get the War and you get the order. Straight up there and turn them off. And that’s the first job I done in the War! [Laughs] Well, that’s funny times but all over now. That’s the thing you see. The wife had to take a lot of stick. They used to say ‘That’s all right for you – your husband’s at home.’ Oh, she took a lot of that. She lost weight and everything. Very unfriendly, they were, you know.
Q: Yes, that must have been rough. Especially as …
Mr K: Proper ‘bitchy’. ‘Your husband’s at home’ she used to get, you know. ‘All right for you!’
Q: But, like you say, you weren’t at home half the time, were you?
Mr K: Me? I worked day and night – they didn’t realise what you’ve done. Nobody knows – you don’t go and shout …
Q: Did you get criticised yourself? Do you think people felt anything about you not being out in the – or did they realise what …?
Mr K: Well, they realised that they had to have the gas and somebody to be there. Didn’t they? I think most of them soon realised that we had to be there. Somebody had to put on a uniform and somebody – we were doing a job all the same.
Q: So you think it was her that got it …?
Mr K: But you couldn’t do nothing about it. I mean I went over for a medical at Culver Street, Colchester – volunteered to go. And I passed Grade One for the Air Force. But I wanted to be a regular fitter, you see on the ground job, but they said ‘No, we want rear gunners.’ Fortunately[?], because they were losing more of them and they were [???] for it. But they said ‘You’re a grown man – you’re just the job’. He said ‘You‘d be a flight sergeant’ he said ‘in five weeks!’ I said ‘Yes. And dead in six! Not me, thanks!’ I wouldn’t volunteer for that. So they couldn’t make me, you see. Because I was too old. So he said ‘Oh well, we’ll have to pass you over to the Army.’ So he passed me over to the Army and I had seven days notice to go to Warley. And the old captain there, he said ‘I’ll see you at Warley, then in seven weeks time’. I said ‘Right-o’ and I never got there! A fortnight later, the company knew I’d been and [drops voice] [???] ‘You had no business to go there! We want you’. And of course they phoned up and they stopped it. I got a notice to say that the company had got number one priority and that I’d been deferred for three months. Because what happened, every three months we used to get a letter to say – and upset the wife again ‘Priority[?] service’. Deferred another three months and that went on through – and then one time we got one to say [laughing] ‘We no longer require your service’. That tickled me. I hadn’t been in. ‘We no longer require your service’.
Q: I mean, there was no way you could resign? I mean, I’m not saying you wanted to because your job – but you weren’t allowed?
Mr K: No, because, as I say, I even went to Colchester for a medical but they stopped it. Government, you see, priority, ‘You’re number one’ they said. I’ve still got me grade card now. Grade one.
Q: So really, people weren’t free …?
Mr K: No, couldn’t do as you like. Oh no, they had you! Just certain things, you see like gas, you was priority. [???] What could you do – if you didn’t know what you were doing? People would just get blown up! So we had to be trained with different things. The first thing I did I trained as a Warden.
Q: Really? Before the Home Guard, was it?
Mr K: Yes. As a Warden first, so we knew exactly what to do you see. [???] didn’t know what to do so I trained as a Warden. You know, driving and semi-combat[?] And that sort of thing. And of course, when I went in the Home Guard, that was all right. We went through everything. Decontamination, the lot. So I went on the Medical Corps. For [???]. Poor old Mottashed. Used to be a chemist in Collingwood Road. Don’t know if you heard talk about that, have you? Mottashed. He was corporal in the Home Guard. Because he was getting on. And he was in the Medical Corps, you see. So I went with him in the Medical Corps, stretcher party. We had a laugh. We used to go up Bridge Home, training. I did. Done all me home nursing and training at Bridge Home.
Q: Was that the same sort of hospital as now, then?
Mr K: No, that was – you’re going back to Bridge Home then. No, now it’s Bridge Hospital it wasn’t then. It was full of, you know, deranged people. What was called Bridge Home. So we used to go over there to do our nursing and all our training there. We used to practice on the Bridge Homers. [Laughs]. Got no help from them. But they were good patients, you know. We used to tie ‘em up, splint ‘em, put them on a stretcher. We had a notice [???]. ‘Doorway blown in’. Take them to the next door ‘Doorway blown in’ No exit. Right, out the window, you see. And the first one you go to – had this old boy on a stretcher. I said to the bloke, I said ‘Right-o’ [???] Have a look and see what height that is. From the window to the ground.’ Of course, instead of looking, he jumped out, didn’t he? It was only about seven or eight foot! Of course, he was a casualty straight away! [Q laughs] So we went to another window that was a bit better. So we had to lower this particular patient out the window. [???] So he’s all tied up, splinted arms, legs, everything. We had him on the stretcher at the window. ‘Come on, get off’. They pushed him off the stretcher, put the stretcher out. ‘Out the window’. Pushed him out the window and put him on the stretcher when he got outside [laughs]. He didn’t say anything, just got on again [???] They’d never help, you know. He said ‘I can’t do nothing, I got a broken arm!’
Q: All good practice wasn’t it?
Mr K: Good training. Realistic training. If you look at, if he had a broken limb, he couldn’t help you. [???] So tipped him off. Out the window. So we trained the lot. Did all me home nursing, everything, there, came in handy. Then they used to take us as relief on the ambulance. Just voluntary. If a chap [???] a weekend and had company coming and [???] on duty. They say ‘Would you like to take my duty again, Bert, I got company coming,’ I’d say ‘Right-o’ so I was never paid. I just used to serve voluntary. But then good practice. You get better practice doing the actual thing than reading books.
Q: Oh yes, you do. I should think you would.
Mr K: Well, I just used to go on the ambulances as a First Aid man.
Q: You were pretty handy, weren’t you?
Mr K: Well, that’s different. If you used to read it all. Used to do it like A. B. C. you see. But that’s no good when you suddenly pick a bloke up and he’s been off a motorbike and broke his leg. We used to get that – [???] when a bloke came off a motorbike, got a compound fracture of the femur – that’s handy. Of course I had to go in the ambulance to Colchester with him. Into the hospital, see him, take him back, sign everything. Nobody up there. Only a little girl – little nurse, all on her own. Casualty. She said ‘I can’t do nothing about it’. So we had to take him to X-ray, have him X-rayed, bring him back [???].
Q: And that was when …
Mr K: Voluntary.
Q: That was in the wartime was it?
Mr K: Oh yes. Volunteers. Voluntary service. Well, that was all that sort of – then. That was all voluntary. Ambulances, used to go on there.
Q: How did the rationing and all that – I should ask your wife, shouldn’t I – did it affect you much? Or did you manage to get things outside of the rationing, food and so forth?
Mr K: Well she used to have to go and queue up! Queuing up that time of the day. Standing in queues to get your food. She used to have to go – rationing – she can tell you all about the coupons. For the children, you see and for food and clothes, coupons for everything. Everybody had an Identity Cards. I was DCQB 2091, the Mrs was 2092 and the kiddies.2, 3.4.5. That was me DCQB2091, that was mine. I always remember that. [???] [???] I say ‘Will my identity number do all right?’ [Q laughing over the top] DCQB2091 – flabbergasted! [laughs] You know. Because you had to memorise that, didn’t you? Same as your rifle number, you had to memorise that. You had to recognise your own one in a hundred. Well, there’d be a whole pile of them, stuff on them. [???] He said ‘Is that your rifle’ I said ‘Yes’ ‘Sure?’ I said ‘Of course it, its mine!’ I said ‘The number’s so-and-so, you got there’. He said ‘You’re right!’ he said. ‘You recognise that one? They’re all the same.’ I said ‘Couldn’t help that – I know mine!’ I didn’t want to lose that for nothing. I re-done that stock when I first got it. Cleaned it all up. Oh I did – took all the kinks out of that. I knew mine. I sold that to the Ipswich Rifle Club boys one night. [???] [???] that was mine, P14[?] [???]. And when we packed up [???] I said I’m going to keep this. Then I sold it to the Rifle Club at Ipswich – they were starting a new club and the boys wanted a rifle so they come and bought that.
Q: You didn’t have to hand it in or anything? After …?
Mr K: That was mine!
Q: That was your own, was it?
Mr K: I bought that from the Government. In the Rifle club we had too many rifles. They were reconditioned rifles, you see, P14s and they’d been given new rifles, you see, they’d all been given to the Army ready to re-issue. But they didn’t give them them – they were given the short Enfields, the Army. The P14s were left in stock. So they said that in the Home Guard like a [???] could buy these rifles. I think we paid about two pound each for them. And they had a spare barrel as well. Well, they’d just been re-done. And they gave us a spare barrel. And all, because they said you’d want it because they were worn out. And mine had already been done, with new [???] and trigger guard and mechanism. Everything done ready. They still give you the spare barrel. All for two pounds. Then I sold it to Colchester. The bloke said ‘That’s a nice rifle, I’ll have that!’ They kept on, he said ‘No, I’ll have this one’. He said ‘How much do you want for it?’ I said ‘I dunno, I thought about nine pounds ten.’ ‘Done!’ he said and he give me nine pounds ten for it! I didn’t mind, I’d made a profit. He bought it and that was it!
Q: Still, he must have [???]
Mr K: Oh, I’d done a lot to it, cleaned it up. That was a good rifle. Hit anything! Hit anything with that. In there I’ve got cups, medals and that. A silver medal, I got me – before I packed up I won the County medal, Essex County. There was a competition I wanted to go for and I went and I got it and I finished then. The one I wanted – County medal, Essex County. (Q: That was nice.) And that little cup, that silver cup there – and the medal – that’s silver – we got that when we won the League. I was captain then and we won every match and we won the highest scores. We got two cups that year. The highest score of the lot which we won one cup for and [???] and we got the medal and the silver cup for the year for the [???] [???] League cup. That was a good year that was. We never lost a match that year. I was proud to be captain then.
Q: I bet you were, yes.
Mr K: [???] spoons, they’re all there.
Q: You must have missed that when you packed up, didn’t you?