My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Farming at Ibstone, Buckinghamshire and Thame, Oxfordshire in the 1940s and 50s

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt sent me rushing for the family albums. My dad and brother were both farm workers, and much of my childhood was spent riding around on tractors. I don’t claim to know anything about these machines because I was only about four when the photographs were taken. My brother Tony is ten years older than me, and I'm guessing he was about fourteen in the first picture.  

My brother hard at work on a Fordson Major tractor.

Me Barbara Fisher (nee Flitney) when we lived in Ibstone.

My dad is driving this odd-looking caterpillar/tractor type thing. I'm not sure who is on the Combine Harvester. It might be dad’s brother Owen (Flitney) or a German Prisoner of war.  My brother and sister both remember the POWs, who worked on the farm. I have only vague recollections of the stories my parents used to tell. I know they became particularly close to one of the prisoners and talked about him all the time, but sadly I can’t remember his name.

Even before the German surrender some of the POWs were put to work as agricultural labourers. After VE-Day, all prisoners were required to work. Most POWs were employed on farms, as Britain urgently needed a high level of food production, and there was a shortage of agricultural workers.

At first, it was usual for groups of about thirty men to be escorted by armed guards to the fields where they were to work. They were kept under close supervision at all times. However, following the German surrender, the British government allowed some prisoners to be billeted on the farms where they were employed under minimal supervision. Typically, one to four POWs would live at each farm, often taking their meals with the farmer and his family. In this way, close bonds were forged between the farmers and the German prisoners. Source Wikipedia 

Update December 2017 – the caterpillar is a Fowler FD3, and the harvester is a Grain Marshall 568 Combined Harvester. With thanks to my brother Tony Flitney. 

We were living on a farm at Ibstone in Buckinghamshire when the photographs were taken. My sister and I have vivid memories of trees being cut down in the woods around us.  The noise of tractors and heavy chains is something you don’t forget.  I looked online to see if I could find out what this machine is called and stumbled across several pictures of antique logging tractors that look very similar so maybe this is the one used for the logging. [Update December 2017 – my brother confirms this was the caterpillar used for logging and the trees being felled were large beech trees, which were taken to High Wycombe for use in the furniture trade. There is an interesting article about furniture making in Wycombe here]

The photographs of the Claas Combined Harvester that follow were taken on a farm near Thame in Oxfordshire, my dad is driving the tractor, and my brother Tony is up top. 

Fast forward thirty plus years and my brother is still hard at work.

In the first of these two photographs, he’s showing Sarah, Duchess of York the controls. The second picture shows Prince Andrew and Sarah standing with the digger.  These were taken during the very early stages of the building of Sunninghill Park in Berkshire destined to be the new home of the (then) happy couple.  

Fast forward another thirty years, my brother is retired. Andrew and Sarah are divorced, and I'm sharing photographs with friends from around the world, how times have changed. Now it’s time for you to plough a straight furrow over to Sepia Saturday to see what my fellow Sepians are reminiscing about.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 272 : Tractors / Agriculture / Wheels

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Eli and Ellen Flitney

See previous post here

My great grandparents Eli and Ellen Flitney had eight sons born between 1876 and 1898. When the first of their sons was born the family were living at Chalkshire a hamlet in the parish of Ellesborough in Buckinghamshire. Later, they moved to Hill End, Ellesborough, and it was there that Ellen continued to live after the death of Eli in 1899.

Hill End

Ellesborough lies on the northern slope of the Chiltern Hills, with the highest point being Combe Hill, at 852 ft. The Upper Icknield Way wanders from the main road, running from Little Kimble Church to Wendover, through Ellesborough village and the hamlet of Butlers Cross... (Read more at British History Online.)  At the time of the First World War, the principal occupation of the male inhabitants was almost entirely agricultural, while the women were more likely to be lace makers or in domestic service. By 1911, six of Ellen’s eight sons would be working on the land. Of the other two sons, Leonard was a rural postman and Fred at the age of thirteen was a telegraph messenger.

Hard work was a way of life for many families at the beginning of the 20th century. Wages were low and working hours long. Away from work family life often revolved around the church, with its choir and Sunday school. In Ellesborough and surrounding villages the big event of the year was the Annual Flower Show organised by the Velvet Lawn Cottage Garden Association. A varied programme of events was on offer each year and in 1912 the main attraction was an Old World Fair with swing boats a coconut shy and a variety of stalls. The inclement weather didn't diminish the fun, and much merriment accompanied the contestants in the spar boxing competition as they attempted to spar while sitting astride a damp pole raised some way from the ground. Elsewhere in the show Mr. T Walker of Thame was responsible for judging the horticultural section. He awarded Mrs. Flitney a first prize for her display of geraniums. The report in the local paper doesn't include a Christian name, so I don't know if this was Ellen or another member of the family.

In 1913 the Ellesborough Brass Band, the Athletics and the ‘bowling for a pig game’ presented by Sir Lancelot Aubrey Fletcher with prizes awarded by Lady Fletcher were the most keenly attended attractions.  Mrs. Flitney again won a prize but this time it was for needlework.

Ellesborough Brass Band (year unknown) 

In 1914 war intervened and the show was abandoned; 

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on the 28th June 1914 set off a chain of events that would change the lives of millions of ordinary people.  Austria-Hungary (supported by Germany) declared war on Serbia on the 28th July. This was followed by Germany declaring war on Russia and France. On the 4th August, German troops marched on France, taking a route through Belgium. Britain had agreed to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality, and immediately declared war on Germany and life would never be the same. 

Many of the menfolk of the village volunteered for active service and when conscription began in January 1916 more would follow.  

A recruiting depot August, 1914.
By August 1917, three of Ellen's sons, Sidney, Abel and Arthur would be dead and all but one of her other five sons would be serving their country.

To be continued...

Source documents;
The Bucks Herald
Census returns

Monday, 9 March 2015

Last Days of Childhood at Murcott a guest post by John Flitney

See previous post here

 Bramwell H. Withers OBE

Major Withers was born in Australia on 4th October1888 and came to England with his parents while still a young child. By 1908 he was a lieutenant in the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) and would later become a founder member of part of the Boy Scout movement. I had known him for fourteen years prior to his death but had little knowledge of his past until Mum sent me a cutting she had taken from the obituaries page of the local paper in 1968. ( Also, latterly, by research on the internet) He had seen active service with the Loyal Regiment during the First World War in Palestine and East Africa. He then spent ten years with the Egyptian army in the 11th Sudanese, and the Western Arab Camel Corps. By 1929 he was in India having rejoined his regiment. There he met and later married Lillian Bibby. They had no children. On retiring from the army he spent almost three decades working with boys clubs and the Scouts in Lancashire. He became a magistrate and in that capacity took a great interest in juvenile cases, endeavouring to find the best way to help youngsters to start afresh. In 1908 he started one of the earliest Scout troops in Winchester and held an interest in Scouting all his life. Often there would be lads camping in his garden, these would mostly come from a London Welfare Department as needing help. Among other things he was involved with the Bridewell Trust which maintained a charitable school in London, he was a governor of Bicester school and for ten years represented Murcott on Ploughley rural district council. Major Withers died, aged eighty, peacefully at home, after a period of illness. 

My last visit to Murcott House, saw him confined to a bed in the lounge with his sister Thelma in attendance. (Mrs Withers had deceased some years earlier.) He was heavily sedated but even so seemed pleased to see me. We chatted for a short time until he drifted into sleep again. I sat with him for a while before quietly leaving. The funeral was held at Charlton-on-Ottmoor church and I would like to quote one thing the Rector, the Reverend E.H.W. Crusha, said about him at the time, “ In thirty years of soldiering and thirty years of youth work there are many who are better men for knowing him!” I am proud to say I am one of those, remembering him with affection and I am honoured to have known such a remarkable person.

Major Withers in Africa

Most likely it was the Saturday morning following our first meeting with Major Withers that Richard and I first called at his house. He greeted us warmly and invited us in, straightaway asking if we had come to help with the trophies. There were all manner of things from his military past, regimental photos and regalia, swords, Kukris and African shields and spears to name but a few. We spent a couple of hours placing some of these things for display in the hallway before going to the kitchen for some tea and biscuits. Here the Major asked if we would like to come on a regular basis and do some odd jobs for him and perhaps pursue whatever hobbies we might have. He had a large workshop that was at our disposal and we were welcome to bring along any other boys from the village who might be interested. Thus started a long and happy association with the Major. I think Mum and Dad were happy too as it gave us somewhere to go as there was nothing else locally to entertain us.

Until leaving school we would spend a lot of time at Murcott House. Roy, the other lad in the village, would come along sometimes and there were occasionally boys from other parts of the country. We would do odd jobs around the house and in the garden, or if the weather was bad there were things to occupy us in the workshop. One of the first things the Major had us do was rig a trapeze swing in the largest apple tree in the garden. This would become a regular source of amusement and exercise. Mowing the lawn was a contested job too as the petrol driven machine towed a seated roller and was a first lesson in driving. We were also taught how to use a gun safely and had competitions at target practise at which Richard excelled.

                        Take off for Richard                     Back Row L to R; Richard, Major Withers, Roy
                                                                                     Front row L to R;  London lad?  me

Trying my hand at target practice 

On leaving college Richard enlisted in the RAF in 1956 and by then Roy was at work, I think in Oxford, so for two years I was on my own so to speak. I missed Richard’s company and during that time I became a bit of an introvert, content with my own company and thoughts. It was something that would affect me for many years to come. I had made no friends at school and there were no other boys nearby, therefore the Major’s would become a focus for my spare time. He had quite a large rose garden and having expressed a liking for them he encouraged me to grow some at home by actually providing a variety of plants. They did reasonably well and I would later pick some of the best blooms to try and entice Audrey out for a walk. They didn't help, and besides she was always about to wash her hair no matter what time I called?? Didn't do my confidence any good at all, girls were supposed to like being given flowers. I didn't spend all my time at Murcott House as there were things at home to do, school homework was the boring bit and came first during term time. Then there were my roses to check and other jobs for Dad in the vegetable garden and the grass needed cutting regularly. Also I would milk the cow after school if Mum was busy, plus collect the eggs from the few chickens we kept.

For all the time we lived at Murcott the toilet was a bucket affair in a small shed in the garden. I had grown enough by now to be able to cope with the job of emptying the bucket when required. This entailed carrying it carefully to the hole previously dug at the furthest part of the garden, tipping it in, whilst holding my breath, then covering the deposit with earth from the windward side. About every six weeks or so a new hole had to be dug so I would do that too, making a hole 4ft ish square and 5ft ish deep. Also, if Dad had felled a tree, I would hand saw, then with an axe or sledge hammer and steel wedges, split logs for the fire. I had a lucky escape one time while trying to split a long section of green Elm. It was a particularly tough piece and I had not reached half way along it before having three wedges jammed in it. That left one more wedge, the widest and rarely needed. So I started that one and got it stuck too. In my frustration I gave it an almighty bash with the hammer and to my surprise it disappeared. As the log hadn't split I bent over to see what had happened when the wedge disappeared again, into the soil right alongside me. The tension in the timber had fired the heavy metal high into the air. Learning from my mistake I used the wider wedge in the already parted section to free the others and reused those to finish the job. To ‘get away from it all’ I would take our dog, Trixie, for long walks down on Ottmoor.

Young Trixie                                                        Older Trixie 

I suppose it was around the time of my fourteenth birthday that I began to think of what I would do on leaving school. While Richard had built model aircraft I had done Airfix kits of naval ships. He had gone into the RAF...logical! Perhaps I could try the Navy, there was nothing locally that enticed me. With Mum and Dad’s encouragement and the Major’s help I made that my objective. (Dad had been turned down, on medical grounds, for military service. He had desperately wanted to avenge the death of his father during the Great War. So when I wanted to join my brother in the services he was not displeased. During my final year at school I made more of an effort and with some extra private evening classes, financed by Major Withers, I improved. Late in 1957 I sat the entrance exam for the Royal Navy. Not in a recruitment office as you might think, the staff from the Reading office came to Murcott and I took the test, one afternoon, sitting at a bench in the Major’s workshop. On completion of the test the Major suggested that I go home, and if Mum approved, I should return later and have dinner with them all. On my way out I noticed the dining table laid ready for the meal and couldn't understand why each place had so much cutlery. Mum said, “I should attend the dinner and not to worry about the cutlery!” Adding, “It will probably be a three coarse meal and to use the cutlery from the outside first. Just watch the others, wait for them to start and mind your manners!” So later that evening I nervously sat down to dine with a Royal Navy Commander, a Lieutenant, a Sergeant Royal Marine and a Petty officer all in uniform with the Major presiding at head of table. (A bit different to tea at home but there was nothing better than Mum’s cooking.)

Some weeks later I went for the medical examination and then it was a case of waiting for the results of both tests. One morning a letter came for me and I excitedly opened it only to read that I had to have another medical, this time in London. Dad couldn't get time off work and Mum did not fancy the trip so they asked the Major if he would accompany me. Fortunately the date would coincided with a business trip he had planned so he was happy to oblige. It turned out that when, at the first medical, being asked about any serious illness I had had as child I, being in a rather nervous and confused state at the time, had replied “Asthma!” A serious error as that would, if true have ruled out any hope of joining up. What I had been trying to remember was Eczema as I had been seriously afflicted with that as a baby. Anyway after a thorough chest examination it was back to the waiting game.

Easter in 1958 was in April so I would finish school at the end of March when the school broke up for the holidays. The long awaited letter, along with some consent forms for Mum and Dad to sign, came during my last week at school..................

To be continued............

Monday, 2 March 2015

How to Begin Researching Your Family History

Guest Post by Suzie Kolber;

How to Begin Researching Your Family History

Studying one’s past can be an exciting adventure. You never know what stories and facts you will learn about your family genealogy during the process. One of the ways that you can make this task easier is by creating a visual “map” that you can follow during your research phase.

Collect the Information That You Know

Begin by writing down everything you know about your family history. Start with your parents and grandparents and work your way back. See how far back into your ancestry you can go just based on the information you have. If you are lucky enough to still have great-grandparents living, you may already have basic data about four or five generations.
The most important information and often the easiest to collect are the names of your ancestors. Even if this is all you have to go on, you have a good start. Once you have listed all of the information that you have currently available, now is the time to organize it into a visual format.

Creating a Family Tree

As you delve deeper into your family history, it will be easy to get confused. This is especially true if you have people with the same names. Take the time to write your basic information down into a format that is easy to read and visually pleasing.

You may wonder why it is important to include this step. The reason is that it helps you keep the information straight in your mind. While it is easy in the beginning to remember who you are researching because you either know the person or have heard stories about him or her, as you move farther back into your past, it becomes more difficult. These people become just names on a page and it can get confusing. A family tree allows you to stay organized.

Choosing a Family Tree

Numerous templates are available to help you organize your information. Each one is designed a different way to appeal to various styles of researchers. Some are extremely simple and only include names while others provide room for more elaborate details.

The first decision is how many generations you want on your family tree. To begin your research, you may want to start with a four or five generation family tree. Many of these templates give you room to write birth and death dates, dates of marriage and even locations. Since you probably know more information about recent ancestors, this is a good option for storing that data.

As you move farther back into your family history, you may want to use an eight- or nine-generation template. This allows you to see more members at a glance without including a lot of information. These templates come in various styles to fit your needs. Some common options include circular, hourglass and bowtie shapes. The one you choose depends on what is most visually pleasing to you.
Researching your family history can be challenging and a lengthy process. Begin by organizing your information into a family tree and it will make the task much easier.

Suzie Kolber created Family Tree Templates to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects. The site offers the largest offering of free family tree templates online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.
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