Alfred Abel Camp, Rogue or Hero part 1


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…..

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6 Responses to Alfred Abel Camp, Rogue or Hero part 1

  1. Thankyou again, Horace…..an enjoyable read with my morning tea…..Buckfast Abbey, originally a medieval monastery, if I’m not mistaken and your ancestor being a mason reminds me of The Pillars of the Earth….:-}

  2. stewart Rothwell says:

    Loving it all.

  3. Now I have a memory of your Grandfather , my family and your s were interlined as we as kids worked on Horace Snr Villa Castrum farm , first memory was in the days of Food rationing
    the Boar slung by his trotter s from the beam of the barn oppsit the house this would be 1947
    Old Palzard slit his throat , the blood pored in to the bath .My elder brother Steve was working for your dad , think we had pork that week.
    Alf had a Suffolk Punch which pulled a two wheeled trap , nasty pice of work used to try and bite
    when he was living in the Wooden Bunglow in the Ramee , he used to leave the windows open
    of one of the rooms , divided by chicken wire the other side of which were his own Finches
    singing away attracting the wild kin in , only to be like Hansel & Grettel ,
    never to leave .
    The last time I worked with the old Guy was helping hime and Dennis demolish the Greenhouses in Courtil Bris NO H & S in those days he knocked the glass out with his walikg stick
    I like any 14 year old caught them till one near took my right thumb off ,
    I still speak to him whem going through the Foulon now he is back with your gran
    Who am I , well i’mmicky de Carteret , I played with Allen before you were born , Regards to Ann Sue & Dennis
    I have your mums Book ,” Storys my mum told me ”
    A whole lesson in farming . all before 16,

    • Hi, Micky. The name Steve de Cartertet is very familiar to me. Dennis pops down here most days I will pass on your regards. The barn across the road was the Mill House barn. I seem to remember it still had a big metal advert on the side of it. Do you remember the wooden bungalow had a concrete bath? Alf’s obsession with birds especially goldfinches which he used to catch illegally and say they were domestically reared birds. Good to hear form you. Hope you are well. And enjoying the blog. Next post is a romanticised story about a horse called Tommy.

      • I may have confused you on the Barn should be stable on the right from the House
        first thing in front of you from the road , talking horses Kitty not her correct German name
        this what we knew her as , she had we were told a Bullet Hole in her right ear where a officer
        fired hitting it , any way she was our ride one spring day Steve put four of us up on her
        facing down the field , what he had in mind would not have gone down well with . H & S
        Ok you lot hold on tight . Picking up his carriage whip , and she did not like whips , Crack
        and down the field at full gallop stoping dead at the water ,head down we all slid off in to the water , looking up the field , Steve and your Dad laughing their pants off, did any ever tell you about a farm hand call Ferbrache , he took kitty to the brewery to get grains he liked a bit of speed on the way back using the whip to tickle her up caught the knot in her ear , just bad luck
        for instead of stopping to removed just yanked it out tearing the hole coming in to the Yard
        your dad was there very unfortunate for Bob , Dad lost his rag we last saw Bob being chased across the bouet Horace Whip in hand , Guess he was sacked !!

        The Other horse of fond memory was Grey Bird a Large shire . and Brian Guille we were sent to bring her down from the Capelles Farm , Brian full of himself said we aint walking back
        so bare back just a lead rope on her Alter .nice slow walk when we turned in to the Coutanchez
        he stood up ,get up and hold on to my waist .and she was off , i had only ever ridden at a trot
        bare back , boy was I in a tizzy , dropping down by munro , I never did that again but I did
        ” Go to Mrs Amett get Horace 40 specials with a Fiver ” who had that sort of money ?
        Anon

      • Thanks for this. I have used some of it already on the Blog. I will ask Dennis about Grey Bird, I know dad had a shire. Was it one of the big white five pound notes? He denied ever owning one when I spoke to him about the war. If my mum, Mrs Camp to you ;-), hadn’t evacuated they would have been millionaires by the time the war ended.

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