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A Child's War in Barton Mills

My father was born in Barton Mills, the eldest son of Edward Peachey who farmed in the village. My mother was six months old when she came with my grandparents from Ipswich. My grandfather was gardener to the Rev. Lacon, who lived at the Manor. The Rev. Lacon was a member of the Lacon Brewing Company.

My grandparents lived in a small cottage at the top of Church Lane. Five more children followed at regular intervals, one of whom died of diphtheria at the age of five. My parents married in 1927 and had three children - I am the youngest, born in 1933. we lived in the first council house opposite the Village Hall.

I can distinctly remember most of my pre-school days, shopping at Mildenhall on Fridays with my mother, followed by split pea soup. The butcher and the grocer called for orders and delivered them on Wednesdays and Fridays. Pre-school days were mostly play and being spoilt by spinster aunts and a bachelor uncle.

I can remember that my mum and dad were always busy, producing all our fruit and vegetables and bottling the surplus for winter. My mum was always cooking, dressmaking and doing general housework. She was a very fine dressmaker and all the work was done by the light of a paraffin lamp- we did not have electricity until 1939.

I started at the village school in 1938 at the age of five. The teachers at the time were Mrs Kirkham, who taught the older children, and Mrs Betson, who taught the infants. Coats were hung in the lobby on arrival and if they were dry when you arrived they were wet on collection owing to the condensation! No notebooks or pencils in those days - boards and slates were the means of writing.

After a year, Barton Mills school was closed as (allegedly) the roof was unsafe, and we were then sent to North Terrace School at Mildenhall. After the school was closed the Army took it over!

I well remember the war starting. My mother, my two sisters and I left church and were met by my father who said, "The War has started." On arriving home my mother set about making black-out curtains for the windows. That night the siren sounded indicating an air-raid. We were woken up and taken downstairs.

For adults the war must have been a sad and worrying time, but for us children it was very exciting. Being close to three large airfields, there was always something happening - aircraft crashing, Mildenhall base being bombed one Sunday evening and soldiers of all nationalities stationed in the area - it was wonderful!

My father and uncle dug our air raid shelter in the garden. It was roofed with untreated timber and corrugated iron and then covered with soil. If a bomb had dropped within a radius of a mile the lot would have collapsed, burying us alive! A Morrison table shelter followed - this was made with heavy gauge angle iron corners and a thick steel plate top. The sides were covered with steel mesh. After a time in this you felt like a chicken.

"Homeleigh" was occupied by the W.A.A.F.S. during the war, but that is another story. A navigation aid beacon was stationed on top of Cherry Hill, manned by RAF personnel who worked in shifts - one at the beacon and one at the Bell!

Producing food was the main occupation of the village and everyone was heavily involved in this. School holidays were extended so that we could help get in the harvest. With double summer times in operation it was light until eleven at night - so long days were the norm.

At long last the war ended and I still remember the sadness in the village when a local lad was killed or was reported missing and when prisoners of the enemy came home - and some did not.

Copyright 2000: C. Peachey
 

A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival 2000 Designed by ArtAtac