In my last post I painted a dim picture of my Grandad Alfred Abel Camp and to be honest he had an awful lot of bad characteristics. Every family has to have a Black Sheep and he is our biggest -so far.
He was brought up in what we today would see as absolute poverty but in his day was probably only relative property. His dad, Thomas, was a skilled stone worker and I’m pretty certain Thomas and his wife Susan had a good physical relationship because they filled every space in their little home with children. So much so that Susan’s father had to be put in the workhouse to make space. A bit of a teaser now as I reveal that while in the workhouse he was accused of manslaughter, the first but not the last of the family to face trial for a capital crime. A blog for another day I think.
Thomas provided for his family as well as he could and was a notorious, but never caught, poacher. Dad spent holidays in Devon as a boy and was taken out on poaching trips and remembers the two of them being stopped by a policeman who knew full well what they had been doing. Thomas in righteous indignation took off his big coat, turned out all the pockets and invited him to take a closer look if he wanted. When it was clear there was nothing to be found Thomas and Dad marched off with Thomas threatening to complain to his father’s friend the local Chief of Police.
Dad had to walk a little stiffly because he had the barrel of the shotgun down the leg of his trousers. They returned a couple of hours later to retrieve the hidden pheasants.
It’s fair to say that even though he was the grandson of a policeman that Alf wasn’t brought up to have a lot of respect for authority.
Thomas, a stonemason, was working on the restoration of Buckfastleigh Abbey and he arranged for young Alf to be apprenticed to a fellow Mason. I’m not certain how enthusiastic he was about this great opportunity but in later life, though not lazy, he never demonstrated the love of hard work that personified my father.
As a new apprentice he was given the most menial task which was to mix the mortar and then carry it in a hod up a series of ladders, no scaffolding, until he reached the roof of the Abbey. Then he had to slide back down the ladders, mix more mortar and do it again. And again. And Again.
He was new, he was young and the work was hard. His new master drove him hard, constantly bellowing “Mort”, “Mort” whenever he ran out and had to wait for the next load.
Grandad worked diligently all day. As the sun finally sank into the west marking the end of the working day he took his last hodful of mortar up the tall ladders, tipped it over the mason’s head and ran away to join the Navy.
He still spoke about his days in the Navy when he was in his 80’s and he obviously enjoyed his time in the service. He even liked climbing the high rigging and running across the yards. He qualified as an expert pistol shot and he became a well respected boxer. He regularly competed in service boxing championships and for a small man he was not to be trifled with then or as a very old man who could only walk with two sticks.
I will jump forward many years here to the 1960s. Grandad then was about 80 and both his hips had gone making walking without sticks almost impossible. I was sitting with him one day when some local young “toughs” came past us. One made a point of trying to scare me and Grandad gave him a mouthful. The young man then spent sometime taunting grandad who was unable to retaliate or move away but took it all silently and with dignity.
A few weeks later in a similar situation grandad was sitting with me when the “tough” walked past taking no notice of us. Until grandad struck him across the back with his walking stick knocking him to the ground where he pinned him down for several minutes with his two sticks advising him to mind his manners in the future. Which he did.
In those days the police were rarely asked to assist in such circumstances.
Back to the turn of the century.
Boxing was to be his downfall. Unusually for a sailor he was teetotal. He rarely swore, if ever, and was always immaculately turned out. There came a day when he was his ship’s entry for an inter ship competition. It was a big one and there was a lot of tension in the fleet and the pride of his ship rested on his shoulders. His training regime was intense and both the officers and crew kept a close eye on his progress.
During a short break ashore with some of his colleagues Grandad was sat in a pub with his mates as sailors are wont to do. An officer passing by saw him and came over to reprimand him for breaking his training regime by drinking. “I’m teetotal, sir” was the honest answer given. “You’re a liar, Camp. Get back on the ship and report for punishment.”
He called Grandad a liar.
I’m afraid he had only one answer to that which was a right to the jaw which floored the gallant young officer, rendering him unconscious. Not the best course of action in the Royal Navy at the beginning of the twentieth century. A Court Martial Offence.
In the spirit of the hod of mortar Grandad did a runner and decided it was time to leave the country.
Now having committed the even greater crime of deserting he had to show a very clean pair of heels. Heading for the ferry port he slammed the remnants of his pay on the counter and asked for a ticket to the furthest place he could afford.
And thus came the Camp family to Guernsey.
To be continued…..