Memories of Braunstone – Alwyne Watson

Transcription of Interview with Alwyne Watson on July 7th, 2004

Right, my name’s Alwyne Watson, I’m, I was born on the 29th June 1932, I’m now 71 years of age, I’m 72 actually last week

Happy birthday!

Thank you

So we’ll talk about first you coming to Braunstone, when did you actually originally move here?

Well I moved to Leicester in 1952 after I left the army and I joined the police force, Leicester City Police and after working in the city centre for 2 years moved out to Hinckley Road police station which covers the Braunstone estate. So roughly about 1953 I was working intermittently on the estate all shifts, nights, and…

And living here too?

…and living in Leicester but I moved here in this house in 1955

Oh I see, ok. And then what were your first sort of impressions of the area when you first came?

Well when I first came to work on the Braunstone estate it was quite an odd estate in as much that all the better gardens and all the better people were put on the outside of the estate. And those that were a little rougher and didn’t look after the property and the fence posts for the fuel tended to be, all had been moved to the inner part of the estate. And at that time it was relatively a rough estate, you’d got a club and a pub and you had frequent drunkenness and frequent domestic troubles and when you worked the estate you were everything, you were a confessor you were almost a priest and you were the midwife! If you couldn’t get a midwife, of course telephones were few and far between, you could use the police box get an emergency line through and pull a little door open and speak to them in the switchboard. And it usually fell to the night PC to deliver the babies on the estate!

And did you do that?

Oh I did that several times

Really?

And I always insisted that after I’d delivered a baby that their middle name had either got to be Alwyn if it was a girl or Alwyne if it was a boy

And are there many Alwyns and Alwynes?

Oh there’s about 3 of them

Really?

And one of them I had in his teens when he was arrested and came into the charge office and I looked at him when he gave his name and I said, “I delivered you!” And of course they go, their esteem drops then they don’t want anybody to know a policeman delivered them, they were probably never ever told

No – and did, you said the nicer houses and things were on the outside, sometimes the estate divided into north and south isn’t it with the park in the middle?

Oh yes, yes, yes

…something we used, you know

…and there’s always been, the Braunstone estate being Hand Avenue, Cort Crescent side of the park and the Gooding Avenue side of the park have always tended not to mix, it’s always tended to be sort of us and them. And even more so over Braunstone Avenue, Hallam Crescent, until recent years they’ve never even considered they were part of Braunstone you know I suppose, don’t know what you call that these days is that Braunstone south these days?

Yes. So would you, but when you mentioned the houses initially it didn’t matter weather they were at the north or south did you mean?

No, no on the Braunstone estate which I say is the Cort Crescent, Hand Avenue estate all the better houses, the better gardens were always on the outside of the estate and of course part of the outside of the estate you’d got pensioners bungalows as well, you’ve got 1 or 2 of those. And often when we got some bad lads and we didn’t want to take them to court with the consent of the parents we used to have them go up and cut hedges and dig the gardens, get the coal in and chop the wood for the fires as part of the punishment instead of going to court

They do that these days don’t they?

Yes but we did it quietly and unofficially

How did that work?

It worked quite well because some of the children became friends of the pensioners and then when their period of what we call punishment had expired they would go up and do it anyway and would be willing to give a hand

Yes and I suppose if there was any trouble between the children and the pensioners before it would have been worked out

Yes, yes

Oh that’s a good idea

And that came, that came even more so in 1967, 1968 when the residents on the estate organised the annual carnival which they had for a number of years before it fizzled out. And they used to have a summer carnival on the Cort Crescent side of the park and they had that in the years after the county show had ceased to use the park and that that used to be good. And the money they raised from the carnival they used to take the pensioners to the sea-side 2 or 3 times a year

Oh right, because they’ve started recently doing the carnival again haven’t they?

Well the people that used to run it have all died and 2 of the notable people were Tom and Florence Harris, Tom and Flo, they lived on the corner of Gallards Hill and Hand Avenue. And er they were one of the first residents on the estate before the war and where they finished up living they didn’t start there they lived further down the hill towards the park I think, that’s probably somewhere round Wellinger Way and then later they moved to Hand Avenue, Gallards Hill corner

I know

And they, and together with others, they organised this carnival, and the carnival took the form of 7 a side football matches seniors and juniors and they had a knock out competition, Peter Shilton he provided 1 cup for the adults and I provided a cup for the juniors

Oh

And they played for it every year until the carnival fizzled out and the cup I’m told is still somewhere on the estate both of them so if you can find those you can play for them again!

How did you come to provide one of the cups?

Well I was, in those days I was a police sergeant and I was directed to go up to the committee meetings that they had on the estate and give advice because I had organised or been involved in organising several carnivals in parts of the county in Croft and Huncote and places like that. And at some of the carnivals I’d taken cine film, and I took the cine film, I showed the cine film and that as the police sergeant I organised all the arrangements for no waiting, no parking laws

So do you remember the first one?

Oh yes, oh yes

Was it a success?

It was but it was only on a small and limited scale and then as it built up one of the policeman that was a motor cyclist had taken a lot of young lads in hand who were breaking the law, riding motorbikes while they were disqualified, while they were under age and formed them into a motor cycle team called the Kamikazes. And they gave a display on the park include riding through bales of fire

Did they attempt a pyramid?

No em not quite a pyramid but they drove at speeds through this tunnel of fire and then up a ramp through a flaming hoop the other side. Yes it was a, it was a good time because at that time on the estate the various streets pulled together and they all helped each other and it, it went on for a good number of years where people did in fact well I say help each other, one man he had all the wood that he could scrounge from wood yards, factories dumped on his front lawn and then they set to and chopped and provided bags of firewood that was taken round or sold round the estate to raise money for carnival
funds, to help pensioners

Oh that’s good, and that was the purpose was always to help the pensioners?

Oh yes, pensioners primarily to take, to take them on holiday because I mean on the estate there were a lot of near destitute pensioners…

Right

…you know I mean the social services weren’t as generous as they are today but many of them were too proud to ask, many of them could probably have come to the Royal British Legion but were too proud to ask, you can’t do anything for them until you get to that stage which is a bit difficult

Mm, and so you, you mentioned before that you were in charge of the British legion

No since I left the police force I’m chairman of the Braunstone Royal British Legion

And what sort of work does that do?

It provides any help, assistance benevolent to anyone that needs it that has had military experience. And the military experience is as basic as 1 week’s camp, 7 days camp in the Territorial Army it didn’t have to be an all serving member of the armed forces. And it also includes civilian organisations like the Red Cross and the St. Johns ambulance that had given help to the forces in time

And were there a lot of people on the estate that would qualify?

Er yes. There’s a lot of people, a lot on the estate that were probably absent from the army and never went back! That we never caught! In fact I can think of 2 in particular but er…yes er, no a lot of them served on the estate because in war time when you had to register at 18 if you weren’t in a reserved occupation then you had to serve in some form of the armed services unless either you were unfit or you were a conscientious objector

And what would some of the reserved services be?

Well there were the essential people on the railways, certainly in the mines and I’ve only learned recently everyone that reported at the conscription centre, if their serial number they were given ended in zero they were sent directly to work down the mines and that was the beginning of the Bevin Boys. And so 1 in 10 were automatically if they were fit would be directed to work down the mines so quite a lot of people that worked in a reserve occupation they weren’t really dodging the issue they had no choice, they had no option. And land army girls were directed; a lot of women that couldn’t easily go in the forces were directed to the railways and became shunters or porters on the railway. Farmers generally were a reserve occupation they were, them and the land army kept the food supplies going

Which is obviously vital

Oh yes

So is there anything you can tell me about St. Peters church and your experiences with that?

Well whist I was a police officer the church in its early days was coke fired and we had a duty when we worked on nights, on a Friday night or a Saturday night, to pop along to the church and stoke up the boiler…

Oh that was part of your job?

…rake out the clinkers to make sure the church was warm for a wedding the next day or for the Sunday service

Can I ask what clinkers is?

That’s the dross of the coke in the fire

Ah

If you leave it in there it’ll just dampen the fire down, it’s like…

Taking the ashes out?

Yes but its usually great big chunks of rubbish and yes for a time until they altered the heating arrangements that used to be a regular, you’d go to the police box and find there was a note left for you that the verger had asked, “Could the night policeman if it was possible to go at about 4-0-clock and check the boiler and if need be rake out and put more coke on?” We did that for several churches

Really?

Yes, yes, and on a cold winters night if it was a stoke hole with a door on it, it was nice and warm and comfortable you’d go in and have a warm you see especially if it was snowing

So what would you have to do on a typical night shift when you were on the estate?

Well on the estate you’d be out and about till the pubs closed which meant that, in those days they closed about 10-0-clock and half past 10 they’d be working away home and usually by 11-0-clock it was all quite unless of course they’d been down to town and missed the bus and they’d be coming across climbing the railings at the park…

Oh right

…because I mean in those days the park was totally enclosed with railings and every night at dusk, or half an hour before dusk the park keeper used to go round and lock all the gates and if em…

I suppose that was a short cut home for quite a few people then?

Oh yes, oh yes because if they’d been to the town they often cut across through the side streets as a pose to walk all the way up Hinckley Road. And then we used to say meet when they were…

Did you have a key to the park yourself?

Oh yes, yes oh yes, well there’s toilets on the park and in those days the toilets were reasonable so you could go in if you needed to go to the loo you could. And of course we had a short cut across the park because we used to work, on nights we used to have to after 2-0-clock in the morning we’d work a vast area, we’d cover the New Parks, we’d cover all of the Braunstone estate all the way down to, all the way down to the canal

Oh right

You know we’d cover the whole area and that’s on a bicycle

Really? Keep you fit!

(Inaudible)

Would you be on your own?

Yes oh yes we were always on our own, unless the sergeant came out and stayed with you for half an hour having a ride round. And you had to visit every Co-op; you had to check each Co-op

Why the Co-op’s in particular?

Because they were the ones that got broken into! Yes those were the ones that got broken into most regularly. And of course you’d got to, the weren’t many burglar alarms in those days and night you’d got, if you heard one ring you’d got to find it and you might be the only person going there, when you found it you’d probably got to ride away and telephone in but as I say there were no radios in those days. No, no radios, no night sticks on your truncheon, no florescent jackets, in fact on nights all the buttons were black and all the badges were black so that they didn’t reflect…

Oh really? On purpose so you could sneak up on people?

You could stand in a doorway and no-one could see you at all, so 10-o’clock at night, before 10-0clock at night you’d wear your normal helmet with the shiny badge

Oh I see

And then you’d put your night helmet on with all black fittings and your black overcoat with black buttons

So a cloak of darkness?

Oh yes I mean now they want to be seen don’t they?

Mm

…if they’re about at all

And did that come in useful not being seen?

Yes, yes

Anything in particular springs to mind?

Well you, you could just stand in the shadow and they’d unsuspectedly walk up to you and often carrying the goods they nicked!

Did you find you were kept busy then working in Braunstone?

Well usually it was when they came home drunk and they knocked the wife and kids about that was the biggest problem. We had one still on Braunstone that I remember

One…?

Still of illicit rum

Oh right

Yes used to make that in the kitchen. That was, we only found that because he had a row with his Mrs, she called us in to complain and there it is bubbling away on the stove running in to the condenser!

It’s quite a tricky thing to make isn’t it?

No not really

No?

No not really, no not really, they use all kinds of contraptions to do it but no because often it’s become a way of life you know flog it for a pound a bottle in those days

What happened to him?

Well we had to fetch customs and excise in

(Inaudible), did you try the rum?

Oh yes I had to try had to make sure it was alright! The first run off of the rum when they do it looks like sherry it’s not clear sprit they call that Sammy and that is nice, that is nice, you don’t need too much of it…

(Both speak)

…otherwise you can’t ride your bike! No on no we had to try it to make sure it was alcoholic

Yes I suppose otherwise…probably warmed you up inside

Yes that was one of the experiences on the estate

And how about living near the estate and working there did that ever, how was that?

No, in theory, in that time until 1967 this side was the county this side of Braunstone Lane, it still is the county but it was the county as far as the police were concerned. The moment I crossed over at the Shakespeare from one side of the road to the other I was in the county and when I came in Shakespeare Drive I was in the county

Do you still have all your legal powers in the county?

Yes but it was complicated, it was complicated people didn’t like you doing things on their patch did they?

Ah ok, but you must have had to chase a few people this way?

Oh yes but that’s…

Is that, is that different?

That’s alright but you know if you’ve come riding home and you saw somebody committing an offence and it wasn’t really important it wasn’t worth getting involved you know because it was too complicated

Right so ‘it’s your lucky day’

You’re dealing with a different police force. And of course a lot of people got a shock in 1967 when we all became one police force

Was that country wide?

No in the county

Oh I see yes

…city and the county merged. And then people they thought couldn’t touch them did!

Oh so how did that, how did that affect you?

Well I had to move out to, to 2 wooden huts in Enderby Lane where the present police headquarters is…

Yes

…in the street, in the little lane opposite there used to be 2 mobile huts and that was the, that was technically Braunstone police station

Right

Before they had that it used to be one how shall I say, one long brick building which used to be probably a security point at Jones and Shipman’s that was the police station. Then we moved out to the 2 wooden huts and that was 1967, but we still covered Braunstone from there Braunstone estate

That was a bit of a, a bit of a journey there

Oh yes you either did it on a bike or you had to do it in a car or a van

Yes you couldn’t really walk

And of course from that time we didn’t work from police boxes anymore all the police boxes disappeared. And of course on the Braunstone estate we had one slap bang in the middle of the estate on the corner of Gallards Hill and Hand Avenue where the road runs through now well there was a police box there and that’s where you started and where you finished and you had your meals and took your flask

Oh I see

And you were there on the estate you didn’t sort of…

How many police boxes ere there on the estate?

Just one

Oh just the one

And then there was a telephone outside the main gate to the park on Hinckley Road

Was there one in the police box as well?

Yes

Right

And every phone, each police box had a pull open door and when you opened the door it activated the speaker that’s connected to the switchboard at Charles Street Police Station. And they could talk straight into it to the operator, emergency phone, and the same on the police pillar

So you didn’t have to do anything just opening the door was enough to…

Yes just open the door, where as, you see if you gave them access to a telephone call they’d cut it off the telephone

Ah I see

You see so it was fixed 2 way communication you just shouted into the speaker and the telephone operator having clicked into it could talk to them, take the complaint

Did people ever break into the police box?

Er no I don’t think they ever did, might have found their photograph on the wall that’s in it!

So what sort of things were inside then?

Well just, just a light, a bench, a book to sign in and em you could put your bicycle in so large enough for a bicycle and one stool and that was it and that’s where you, it was your office and it was your meal room, you sat there and ate your sandwiches, draught whistled through the door, can you imagine on Hand Avenue…

Mm

…and up there on a winter’s in there, oh we had a little electric fire, a wall mounted little sort of one bar fire

No radio?

No, no radios no nothing

So there wasn’t much reason to sit in there then apart from the (both speak)?

Well you were entitled to three quarters of an hour for your meal and then every hour, every hour we had to telephone in

Oh really ok

Yes that was their check that they knew we were still about. So you’d probably have 1 call at the box, 1 call at the pillar and if you were, well there wasn’t anything else actually, you’d got to work the circuit if you were just on that area you’d just got to go from one to the other and find different routes each time

Did it get boring sometimes?

Not particular

No?

No not particular

You must have had quite a lot, many nights when nothing at all would happen or is that…?

No, no because you would always be, you’d always be checking the property. What doesn’t happen today is that on every area that you worked you checked every door of every shop, of every factory and walked round, if you could walk round you walked round the back and re-checked it. And from Braunstone we had to go up to Braunstone Aerodrome, in those days there was a club house on there, there was a sports ground after the war had finished, it was Brewards Springs and we had to go up and check that, that had a burglar alarm so you’d got to go up and check that

And were you checking that A they’d locked it or B nobody had gone in through it?

Well you checked, you always checked to make sure it was secure, if it wasn’t secure or if there was a light on inside you couldn’t explain then you had to call the key holder out. You’d got to search the premises with them and made sure that they were alright so, and if you were on all night and had nothing else to do you would check these continuously all night even of you’d been back between 10 and 12 then probably between 1 and 3 you could go back and check it again, we did that all the time as well as anything else that cropped up

So you were busy then? Yes

Yes. And then there was every person you saw you would try and stop and talk to, well you couldn’t let them get by because you didn’t know who you were going to meet did you? You know weather it was a drunk or weather it was someone who you might consider to be a criminal or…

Would you try and work it out in that short conversation?

Oh yes I mean you used to see the people that went to work regularly or came home from work regularly you know it would be somebody on a late shift at the railway on a train, either a stoker or a driver, you’d see them, all regular people and pass the time of day with them, I mean if they were going home to bed you didn’t stop them did you?

So an unusual face comes along and you suddenly start thinking…

Yes you mentioned about St. Peters Church, my main interest of the church is that, apart from the fact that my son got married there, there’s 5 war graves in the churchyard, 4 of them have got war graves stamped and 1 has got a family stone because his wife was buried in the same grave the war grave was then, the stone was taken away. And that one is an unusual one, what did he die, on Christmas Day 1944

Oh right

So you know what he died of, probably an illness or something like that. And in the church the only war memorial is the alter rail which bears an inscription dedicated to those that died between 1939 and 1945. And also in the church are 2 candlesticks to 2 cousins that were killed in flight training, one in Canada and he was a seaman who was obviously probably an observer or a gunner in a plane and another one that was killed in Rhodesia. There’s a memorial lamp hanging in the chancel to another airman that was killed as a path finder over Holland and the book of remembrance which I mentioned earlier had been destroyed in fire we replaced that and it’s in a cabinet with all the war dead recorded in it and it can be turned over a page at a time to leave a page visible

And would you know how many people died in Braunstone?

Well there’s roughly 30, roughly 30, there are probably more than are recorded because when the book was destroyed we had to start from scratch with those that we knew that were obviously mentioned in the church by the memorials, and then following an appeal in the press people came forward and slowly we built it up

So there may still be some more?

There could be 1 or 2 yes. And some of them are, have got their own personal story that you can fit round them. One served in a ship that sank the first German U-boat of the war

Oh right

Another one was killed at Kihima when the Japanese were stopped on their headlong entry into India, stopped at Kihima, and he died a couple of days after the Japs had been beaten back. How a Royal British Legion Standard was purchased and dedicated to another airman that was killed at the beginning of the war and that was the reason the British Legion branch was formed, it was formed after his death. And then the first standard was dedicated to this airman and that standard is now at St. Peters church. So these are the reasons that I’m interested and concerned you know about the church

Yes, and you’ve done a lot of research into what life was like during the war with the, with the park being used for the airman and things it was the 81st airborne

Well the park was developed into a military camp, all spare land, parks and if they couldn’t put buildings on them they put tents on them. The Braunstone Park originally housed an all black American transport unit that was connected basically with the air force but mainly transport unit. Two units of royal artillery passed through the park, stayed on the park for some time

I see

And the 82nd airborne the American airborne came to the park in 1944 on 2 occasions, the first to go to Normandy the D-Day landings and they lost 42% casualties and came back to re-group and get replacements and then they went out to the Arnam Neinmegan air drop in the September and then didn’t come back and carried on right through to Berlin. And the time they were on the park er was a time of trouble in Leicester, there were a couple of killings in the town that certainly were not recorded they were dealt with by the military

Really?

We understand that it was quite likely that those were responsible were put in a very forward battalion and probably didn’t come back anyway so yes. And the black troops had to be moved to Northamptonshire to prevent the friction between the white Americans and the black Americans

Now this is something I’ve heard about before, what do you know of this?

Well there’s not a lot that is known because there are no records kept, no police records, there was a military policeman that was stabbed and killed and would have been in Humberstone Gate and we know that there were 2 murders and there was quite a lot of friction between black and white and the 82nd airborne are known as All American and that didn’t include the coloureds, All American, American being white. But it included Hispanics…

I see

…yes it included Hispanics, there’s quite a lot that, who’s name would be Rodrigo’s or something like that and it, it was how shall I say, it was the accepted thing in those days particularly in America and most of the coloured Americans that fought in the airborne went to the 1-0-first, 101st airborne division and those are quite evident in the photographs that you see. But the 82nd didn’t have them and…

But there was no friction I believe between the black soldiers that were here and the white people that already lived here

Oh no they changed the population of Braunstone, changed the colour didn’t they?! I know that quite a few were, those first lot of Americans that, black Americans on the park they left quite a lot of children behind, yes (inaudible). In recent years I’ve been in contact with one lad that lives in Birmingham and he contacted me to try and trace his father and I said well “Are you of mixed race or are you black or white?” He said “I suppose I’m mixed race really.” I said “So was your father a black American that served on the park?” He said “Well I think so” he said, “We’ve got very limited information, my mum wouldn’t say anything and we found these bits of papers after her death.” So I put him in touch with the relevant organisation and I believe he did in fact find his father and managed to get through to him on the telephone and he didn’t want to know!

Ahh

He said “No that happened during the war I don’t want to know, it’s finished” So whilst he got his phone number he didn’t get his address, couldn’t get his address. And it’s left to the American over there; if they wish to acknowledge the family over here they left behind

I see

Then, but they’re not under any pressure to do so (inaudible) experience but…

All those years later though he’s got a whole other family

Oh yes but, it doesn’t necessarily follow you see because when we had, in 1994 we had the veterans of the 82nd airborne come over to Leicestershire and I arranged for 130 odd to be billeted in different homes to save the expenses of the hotels. And we hosted an evening down at the civic centre, provided a meal for them and entertainment and one of them came and said, “Have you got a telephone directory?” I said, “Yes I’ll find you one” so I gave him the telephone directory and he’s thumbing through it. And he said, wanted to know hoe he could use this pay phone, showed him how to use it and he rang, he rang 3 or 4 numbers and eventually somebody said “Well I know who you want” and gave him another number and he rang through and said “Hello you don’t remember me I’m so-and-so, we’re here in Leicester, do you want to come and meet my wife?!” And his girlfriend of all those 50 years previously before he went to Normandy or Holland probably and she and her family came up and they were all a big happy family, all friends

Isn’t that good?

Yes I mean it’s most unusual but you’ll find that they are larger than life a lot of them and he certainly was

And do you know about how they went about dividing up the park into different areas?

The Gooding Avenue side of the park was the camp, that was the camp, so if you look on this map here Gooding Avenue traffic island and that is the park, American camp all the camp laid out all in that half of the park. All of this here which is down to where the pond is at Braunstone Avenue that was cornfield

I see

And here on Cort Crescent where the football pitches are today that was a landing strip where a plane used to come in and drop the mail off and pick the letters up and er for any visiting officers and they used to…in fact probably on the photograph you can see the wheel marks there are some marks down there. And the plane used to be little like a small pup plane or…it wasn’t a Liceander it was something different to that, I think they called it a bull pup, it used to land there, deliver the mail up there and take off again

Were these areas all tented?

No these were all proper huts

Oh right

And in fact after the war all these huts were converted and there was about a 100, over a 100 families housed in emergency accommodation there and many of the rooms were only a curtain, a blanket hanging down off the ceiling

And who would have been housed there?

The homeless, people coming back from the war, people…

I see

And that’s a whole another story that is, that is, that’s a whole different story the winter of 1947, the snow drifts, the coal lorries that couldn’t get through, the railways that were blocked

Really?

They had no coal, they had no heating, the sanitation was virtually nil because it was frozen up and all the spinneys were decimated all along the railway they’d cut nearly all the spinneys down for wood

So that was, was that just for, was it especially rough then for people living in these huts?

Oh it must have been absolutely diabolical because the toilets, they only had 1 toilet to so many houses, so many (inaudible). And as I say it was all known as Main Way, East way and West Way, they gave names to the different locations and on a dry summer if you walk round the park you can see some of the roads outside of the memorial garden ghosted under the grass because they never got the concrete up so you see the, where they, where the roads lie. And the, the em in August 1946 first families were moved in and visited by the chairman of the housing committee and they said 3 other huts had been completed “And families will continue to move in progressively each week until the camp is full.” And by 1947 February the bad winter, 106 in occupation

And do you know how long they stayed there for?

I think they stayed there to, till about 1954

Oh really?

…because they were, or 54 or 55 they were still there when I was a policeman

Right

And it used to be very, very difficult to serve a summons on anybody in there because they used to tie the dogs up, they’d all have a couple of dogs, and they’d tie a dog up on a long lead back and front, couldn’t get to the door, to knock on the door to serve a summons up! And of course it’s illegal to shove it through the letter box or shove it through the open window, we couldn’t get near enough to…and of course they were silly summonses often there were like no dog licence or no tele, no wireless licence because you had to have a wireless licence in those days

I see

We didn’t have televisions then. Yes but the…

So was it like, was that its own little community would you say?

It became a community, I mean obviously 106 families there would be probably brothers and sisters living up there so there was a nucleus of a family up there in separate houses you see that would marry

And do you think it was mainly people coming back from the war?

Quite a lot of them yes, quite a lot of them yes. But they’d got to find somewhere for them because when someone was away in the war and they lived with the mum and dad or with other brothers and sisters they only took up a small space but when the husband came back they wanted the privacy and they wanted somewhere of their own. As I say the centre of the camp now is the memorial garden and that was laid out in 1967 when they took the railings down from the park because the railings on the main supports where they were bolted together and had the socket in the ground. Well the socket was rusting and to replace all the way round the park, and it’s about 3 and a half miles round the park I think something like that, would cost £35,000 in 1967 so they decided to take all the railings down and have 2 grassed areas and 1 garden area, the garden area runs straight through the park from one side to the other and this bit which was the centre of the camp and the only bit remaining because they knocked everything down, they decided would be the memorial garden

Do you know, do you know of any first hand experiences of people that went away to war and then they came back and how they were different before and after?

Em only in as much that many of the people that I personally knew that went to war didn’t speak about it when they came back

Not at all?

Not for years no, they, most of what they saw and experienced they, they never talked about it at all. In fact my wife’s uncle took part in the landings in North Africa and in Italy after Sicily and he used to drive the amphibious ducks

Oh right yes

And he was also a non swimmer and he used to take the supplies and men from ship to shore and he was involved in the beach head landings in Italy, Sarlerno and Anzio and he said every time a shell came close to his duck it would either swamp it or flip it over and he’d grab 2 empty oil drums with a rope between them it had a loop in and he’d float ashore or hang on till somebody picked him up. When he got ashore they say “Well that one’s for you you’d better get the blood out of it and that’s yours for the rest of the day.” And he had never spoken about any of his experiences until only a few years ago this is well plus 50 years after the event and his wife said, “I have never heard him talk about that.” And he just happened this day sitting in his back garden gently reminiscing about his experiences in the Italian campaign and yet his wife had lived forever with him. We sat and had a good old chat he was telling us all about it, and of course it was all funny to him then but it certainly wasn’t at the time!

No

Because as I say you can imagine and of course he’d only be a young fella, let me see he’d only be in his 20’s

It’s amazing it doesn’t sort of damage you for a long time you know

I think that’s why they switch it off, and people in Burma that fought in Burma seldom ever talk about their experiences in Burma. Those that…

Collective thing for Burma isn’t it?

…and prisoners of war of the Japanese that were in either Changi or in Thailand and, don’t speak about it either, no. There is a saying, ‘Those that talk about it didn’t do it,’ yes

Does that come from the war?

Pardon

That comes from the war?

Yes, yes, those that brag about it weren’t there they didn’t do it. No they’re quite, quite difficult to, it is very difficult to get background with people, in fact at a funeral I learned more about a person and having known him all my life, there are things that I did not know about that person, when the minister gives the eulogy it is it’s em…

It’s not the best time to find out

No, no because sometimes, sometimes you would have been more respectful of that person you know, I mean we, we had a local man who I knew when his son used to go to judo and my son went to judo as well and we alternatively used to take it in turns to drop them off and pick them up. And I’d known him for years and it was only towards the end of his life that I found out that, I mean you wouldn’t have said he’d have been anything in the army at all, wouldn’t have done anything, didn’t look as if he was capable of doing anything, he didn’t show that he had any initiative or anything at all. And I found just in a casual conversation when he was upset about something and he was, I found him suddenly very racist he was anti black absolutely, dear oh me anti black. And I said, “Come on” I said, “Things are not as bad as that is it? What’s all this hating?” “Oh” he said “I carried loads of them out of the jungle in Burma” so I said, he said “I was with the Chindits, I said “You were with the Chindits in Burma?” he said “Yes.” He said “I was a medic” he said, “And I stretchered dozens of…” what they were these West African rifles on the Nigerian regiment but they were fighting along side them you see, and they were all part of a group the Leicester primarily part of the Chindits. And he had nursed this, this hate for years and years and years, we never knew he’d been in Burma, he never ever wore any medals, he never ever, never told us anything, he joined the British Legion with the minimum of information, we didn’t know anything about him. But to have struggled through the jungles in Burma, up and down the muddy hills, in the monsoons you know getting the wounded out whoever they were you know, must have been absolutely horrendous, didn’t show, didn’t see, you couldn’t imagine it, you could not imagine it at all. As I say most insignificant person but you know he had his war, em yes

It’s very interesting

And er no, you find a lot of people will not, will not do it and I would like people to write things down as they remember it, it doesn’t have to be right because you know time gets (inaudible) sometime

Just finally, how would you say that Braunstone’s changed since you first came, from your first memories of it to it now?

There are some things that haven’t changed they’ve only changed sort of in a degree probably as a result of becoming more affluent, I mean obviously there were very, very few cars, 50’s and 60’s there were hardly any cars, you could look up the street and they were empty you wouldn’t see a car, you might see a motorcycle combination, there were motorcycles in the front gardens things like that. The, the estate with having that road put through it had cut it in half and you might have a north/south divide there with the people that, in time they won’t know each other or see each other because of that road keeps them apart the subways. The, the things that haven’t changed is that the people that know that I’m an ex-policeman you’re never ‘ex’ as far as anybody’s concerned at Braunstone, they still won’t let you in their house, they still won’t let, I said to one chap one day when I was walking around, I said, “Well my legs are a bit weary are you going to invite me in for a cup of coffee?” he said, “Bugger you mate you’re not looking in my house to see what I’ve got!” And one of the enquires I had, one of the enquiries I had is a clear example of it, I went to a house off Hallam Crescent especially to talk to somebody that was concerned that they couldn’t trace where their relative, that was killed in the war, was buried. And while I’m sitting there talking, we’re talking quite comfortably, talking to an ex-miner so I can talk about pits that he worked in and the people he worked with. And while I’m talking about this relative of theirs that had been killed he said, “Ah and there was so-and-so as well” so I said “What’s that?” he said, “I haven’t got that one either.” So he, he said “Ah and I bet you don’t know about so-and-so up Hand Avenue do you?” he said, “There were 3 of them killed” he said, “All lived near each other.” So I said, “Go on tell me about them then” So he mentioned one called Leet, L double E T, now it’s an unusual name there aren’t many Leets in Leicester. There was a Leet that stood in the market had a stall you know sort of spoke about it, so I said, “Oh” so I said, “I’ll look them up for you.” So I go back, I come back here, I get on to the War graves Commission, I sort all 3 out and they said, “Oh there’s only 1 Leet listed” I said “Is there?” I said, “Oh can I have the serial number, the detail so I can cross check the people that I’m talking to eventually?” And I take the details and I go back to see them and I say, “Right your relative so-and-so is buried at so-and-so” give them the details and as I say that’s Bradwell, this is the one that was killed at Kihima. So I give him where the grave is, he’s buried on the tennis court of the governor of wherever the battle was fought round the governors residence and they’re all buried in the tennis court. And, so I give him those details and the, the other one, Penn, now Penn that was one I hadn’t got and that was what I call quite unusual because they’d been in reserve after the battle for L’Harve, they didn’t go over on D-Day they went on the 1st of July after D-Day…

End of Interview

 

This entry is dated Thursday, April 7th, 2011 at 3.07pm and is filed under History.

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