Villa Castrorum was a fine granite built typical Guernsey farmhouse with particularly well proportioned rooms. It was basically a two up and two down. The hallway was spacious and over it was a box room which served as a very small third bedroom. Embedded into the ceiling of the hallway was a large hook, useful for hanging dead things on.
On the hallway wall was a telephone. A black oblong wooden box with a speaking tube sticking out and an ear piece on a long wire covered with a sort of fabric. Until it was updated it didn’t have a dial and certainly not digital buttons to press. It had a ringing handle on the side. Simple to use. Unhook the earpiece from the cradle, turn the handle and wait for the operator. Then ask for the number you wanted or if you didn’t know ask for them by name. “Blampied, the vet” always seemed to work. Our number was Central 813. Small boys had to stand on a box or be lifted up on the rare occasions they were allowed to use it.
In between the two world wars a barn that joined on to make an “L” shaped footprint was converted by Thomas Camp on holiday from Devon to get over a back injury and became The Cottage. Sometimes the cottage was an extension to the main house but often the connecting door was locked and it became a home to Uncle Reece and his family, Granny Cox, Grandad Camp and finally, before it was demolished to make way for some hideous commercial buildings, home for my brother and his new wife.
Uncle Reece wasn’t my uncle, he was my dad’s best friend. They got into a lot of scrapes and did many mad things. Reece bet Dad he couldn’t pick up a pony on his back and turn around 360 degrees. Dad, a strong man all his life, had to do it and of course did it. We assumed he was born with the strange protrusion at his navel but who knows how he got it.
There was also the incident on a day out shooting rabbits with a few other pals that it was suggested dad was a poor shot. He bragged that he could shoot a swallow out of the sky and he was asked to prove it. He swung his 12 bore from side to side and around and around blasting away trying to knock the poor bird down. He always claimed he hit it. There was no one to agree or disagree with him because all his friends had run away by then.
Friendship wasn’t just for fun. During the German Occupation as the war drew to an end the Allies started blockading the Island to starve out the garrison. Of course it wasn’t only the Germans who were starving. Reece’s son, Dave, was born at that time and wasn’t a bonny baby. His mother, Ruth, wasn’t living of the fat of the land and Dave suffered as a consequence. She had no milk to feed him.
All cows milk had to be collected centrally and then was distributed on ration. Mothers with young babies had a priority but there still wasn’t much to go around. Dad made sure enough milk was kept back, a criminal act, for Dave and he had the milk he needed from the same cow every day until the war ended.
When my mum, who had evacuated to Stockport in 1940 first heard about the milk for Dave she was furious. Not because she had a problem with Dave getting milk but because dad hadn’t given any milk to her Aunt Emily for the whole five years of the war. Whenever they rowed if it went on for some time the lack of milk for poor Aunt Emily would always be thrown into the mix.
It wasn’t only milk dad was stealing under the German’s noses but also coal. A short distance away from the farm the Germans had built a power station. Using their slave labourers they built a very substantial concrete building to house it and the generating plant was steam driven. Steam needs a hot fire and fires need coal. Dad and Reece had got into the habit of sneaking down there and stealing small quantities of coal to keep them going in the cold winter. Everything was rationed and electricity and gas were restricted to a few hours a day. Before the war was over people were burning their chairs and German soldiers ripped up the floor boards at Villa Castrorum to burn and stop them freezing in the winter of 1944. So the coal was very welcome.
On one particular night Reece was spotted by the sentry who slid his rifle off his shoulder and took aim. By this time the troops in Guernsey were not of the quality of the ones who had conquered France in 1940.
They were young lions. If they walked towards you on the pavement then you didn’t make eye contact and you stepped into the road to let them pass. Dad was working on the docks with his horse and cart when he saw a boat pull in that had come from France. The old rust bucket was stuffed full of German soldiers who were covered from head to foot in coal dust which had obviously been the last cargo it had carried.
The Soldiers disembarked and formed up on the White Rock with their NCOs running back and forth shouting at them. They were dirty, disheveled and a disgrace to the army. They dropped their belts and kit and were all forced to jump fully clothed into the sea. Then they sat in the Summer sun cleaning their equipment and half drying out. By the time they marched off dad said “they could have stood guard at Buckingham Palace”. Of course that’s what they hoped to do. Probably they died on the Russian Front.
The soldier who had taken a bead on Reece wasn’t a German young lion. He may have been very young or very old, he could have been Georgian and not German he would have been very happy not to be in Russia. He certainly wasn’t going to take the risk of finding out who was creeping around in the dark and why. Shoot first ask questions later.
The brick dad hit him with on the back of his head just below the edge of his helmet sent him straight to the ground and knocked him out long enough for them both to scarper, with a bag of coal each.
The repercussions could have been very bad. The Germans didn’t like that sort of thing. They shot their own soldiers for stealing roots of cut vegetables from fields. Local people had much to fear even at this late stage of the war.
Next day the Germans and the local Police initiated a house to house search for the stolen coal and the culprits. They were very thorough and very rough in their habits. Dad lived in the Cottage with German soldiers living in the adjoining farmhouse which probably explained why he could speak fluent German. Nevertheless he managed to hide both bags of coal in the loft and hoped they wouldn’t search a house full of soldiers.
They didn’t but it was a close shave. I heard both of these stories from my Uncle Reece and they made me very proud of a fine man.
And I haven’t even mentioned the bull in the bathroom yet. Perhaps tomorrow.