The German invasion of Guernsey in 1940 was a dark time for Islanders but it also showed how people rise to the occasion and demonstrate remarkable courage and adaptability.
Mum and Dad were making hay at the Blanc Bois when the news of the evacuation reached them. They decided that Mum would go straight away with Dennis and Dad would follow once he had sorted out how to leave the animals.
I heard that story many times as I grew up but the true impact of it didn’t sink in until I had a wife and family of my own. I am grateful that I never had to make such a heartbreaking decision myself.
Mum, who was 3 months pregnant, did go with Dennis but Dad never made it. They were parted for five years and again the true heartbreak of this didn’t sink in for me until many years later. The five years away made such an impact on Mum and she relived those years by telling me all about them, over and over again.
She was such a good story teller that she really did bring the incidents and the hard graft to life for me. My children often make fun of me by saying that I actually believe I lived through the war. Sometimes it seems to me that I did.
Mum’s story is a great one but the Bull in the Bathroom is a story about Dad’s war.
In the time of war food becomes a very important commodity. Guernsey is a very small place and hasn’t been able to feed itself for centuries. The civilian population halved in 1940 but they were replace by thousands of German soldiers. On a per head of soldiers to civilians, Guernsey must have been the most occupied place within the Third Reich.
Everyone had to be fed and we had to shift from England as our main trading partner to German occupied France. The English Channel was a battleground and every ship bringing food here had to run a gauntlet. In the early years the Germans were in the ascendency but as the years went on the Royal Navy and the RAF dominated. After “D” Day the Allies had Guernsey completely besieged with nothing getting through.
From the start all food production became regulated. All food produced was centrally accounted for and distributed. Every piglet born had to be reported and one day it would be appropriated and slaughtered.
The same was true for calves. The farmer had no control over which heifer calf would live and join the dairy herd or which would go to the slaughterhouse.
Dad had a problem with seeing “good” heifers being taken for meat, particularly those from his best cows. There came a time when he had had enough. Three cows calved one night, one had still born twins and the other two each had a beautiful heifer calf.
A story was worked up. Two of the cows had had a still born calf. The third cow hadn’t yet calved and never would. A phantom pregnancy.
But where to hide the two heifers?
The main farmhouse was billeted with German soldiers. Dad had the cottage but as it didn’t have a bathroom he retained the bathroom in the house.
The farm would be searched because the officials didn’t always trust Dad, even when he was being backed up by Grandad. The bathroom in a house full of soldiers seemed the immediate answer to hide two small, day old calves for a few days.
As often happens in the Camp family temporary fixes seem to last a long time. The calves stayed in the bathroom for more than a few days. In fact they stayed in there for nearly a year.
Feeding and cleaning them out under the eyes of enemy soldiers wasn’t easy. Nor explaining the bad smell. The penalty of being found out wasn’t only what a court would hand out but the starving German soldiers would happily eat the heifers before reporting Dad.
They certainly were starving. Dad had the contract to pick up the bread and soup rations from the German bakehouse. The soup was in a big pot and as they went from strong point to strong point Dad and his assistant would dip a bit out and have something warming on their way around. Until the day they opened the lid and saw a dog’s head floating on the top of the soup.
The heifers came out of the bathroom on Liberation Day. Both went on to produce champion cows, proving that Dad had a good eye for spotting talent even in day old calves.
Why did they not become champions? Dad may have evaded the Germans but he couldn’t do the same for Guernsey officials. Because he hadn’t registered the calves at birth they were declared to be non-pedigree. A stupid decision because what else could they be but pedigree Guernsey cows?
Dad pleaded special circumstances but his pleading was rejected. He was allowed to register them as Foundation Stock which allowed their calves to be registered as pedigree.
Small minded, no, the officials who had the wool pulled over their eyes with the dead calves were also the ones running the herd book.
Peeved and a little bitter, not small minded.
Oh, by the way the Bull in the bathroom itself isn’t much of a story. Mum had gone ahead to the show while Dad was still preparing his good bull for the show ring. He scrapped its feet and horns with glass and sandpaper then smeared them with butter to make them shine.
Then he moved on to shampooing the bulls tail and washing him down. This would take a lot of hot water. The only hot water supply was in the bathroom. Mum was out so the obvious solution was to take the bull through the kitchen, into the hall and then into the bathroom.
This is what Dad did. I won’t tell you what the bull did in the kitchen but Dad didn’t clean it up well enough for the story not to come out.