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, 30 April 2015

All Change - A guest post by John Flitney

See previous post here

The last week of March 1958 were my final days of school in Bicester, thereafter I would have the whole of April free before entering the Royal Navy on the 6th of May that year. What I did during those weeks I do not recall now but I feel sure I would have spent a lot of time revisiting familiar places.

Strangely I cannot remember the exact details of my journey to Ipswich. I know Mum and Dad took me to the recruitment office in Reading where they signed consent forms to allow me to enlist in the Navy from that date and to agree to serve a further nine years from the age of eighteen. That done they returned home, with Mum crying for most of the journey. I along with a number of other recruits were taken to the station and then by train to Ipswich and from there by bus to the annexe of HMS Ganges at Shotley. My going to Ganges was another thing ‘fixed‘ by Major Withers, really I should have gone to HMS St.Vincent in Portsmouth but because I had an Aunt living in Ipswich the Major arranged, somehow, that I should go there. The new entry recruits, known as Nozzers, spent the first four weeks of training in the annexe before moving to the main establishment. During that time they were not normally allowed leave but on the second Sunday I was there Aunt Jean and Uncle Graham turned up at the main gate and asked if they could take me home for tea at their place. They agreed to be responsible for my return and so I was allowed out then and subsequent Sundays. I was most grateful for that as I was desperately homesick. This was the first time I had been away from home or family so tea on Sunday gave me something to look forward to.

 The film ‘Carry on Sergeant’ always reminds me of those first weeks of basic training, in many respects there were similarities. The kit issue was done almost exactly as depicted in the film. Going to the clothing store and getting a huge pile of garments, bedding and footwear. This all had to be marked with our names. For this we were issued a wooden stamp of our name and initials. This we used to apply our names either in black or white paint to our clothes and once it had dried embroidered over it with red thread. All this had to be folded correctly and stowed in our lockers in a certain way with the name showing. We were also taught how to wash ourselves and also our kit. For the latter we were given blocks of soap (Pusser’s Hard) and instruction on how to launder by hand. How to use an iron was another subject as we had to iron a lot of kit and put the correct creases in, like the seven horizontal ones in our bell bottom trousers. One amusing tale that went around at the time was of a conversation during a kit inspection. It was between the inspecting officer and a Nozzer of below average stature: - Officer “Well, and what do you think of the RN so far?” Nozzer, “It’s alright sir!” “Do you like your new uniform?” “It’s alright sir! “ “And what about your new underwear?” After a pause “It’s a bit tight under the arms sir!” We all had the same hair style too, it was known as the Shotley Look. Short back and sides and little on top. We also began to learn a new language, all the terms used in the navy that were different to civilian words, such as bulkhead for wall.

 Collingwood 44 Mess.   PO GI Smith.  Courtesy RA Fisk.    

After those first weeks of induction, learning naval law and discipline, kit upkeep and how to march to a reasonable standard we moved to the main establishment and became part of Collingwood division. The group I was with were in 44 mess, class1, and we would be together for the rest of our training. We were on the second floor of a two story block, each floor or mess had its own toilets, bathroom, laundry/drying room and ironing room. There were two classes per mess so twenty eight ratings to each. Our official rating at the time was Junior Seamen. This would be ‘home’ until mid 1959. Petty officers Durrant and Smith were our regular instructors, Smith for gunnery and parade drill, Durrant for seamanship and boatwork. Life became hectic from now on with hardly a moment of free time. Being able to swim, obviously, was essential. As I couldn't I was listed as a ‘Backward Swimmer”, (I couldn't swim either way, ahead or astern!) so I had to get up extra early and go for swimming lessons before breakfast. On arrival at the poolside on the first occasion I was told by the Physical Training Instructor to go to the deep end, walk to the end of the springboard and “Just jump in!” Such humour some of these military boys! I had never seen water this deep before, never mind got into any without my feet touching something, so I just stood there in fear. Not only of the waters depth but also of a potential bowel movement. After some graphic words of encouragement, which I chose to ignore the PTI took up a long pole and said “If it will make you feel better hang on to this!” Now me being an innocent country boy thought ‘how kind’. As soon as I gripped the end he heaved. By the time I hit the water I was at least ten feet up the pool with no sign of the pole. Eventually I passed the test of jumping in the deep end swimming two lengths of the pool and remaining afloat for ten minutes while wearing overalls. Another thing that was compulsory was three rounds in the boxing ring. I think it was to do with checking ones ability to take orders and possibly search for potential candidates for the Navy team. I was none too keen on boxing as I had never fared well against Richard at home. Just my luck the pairings for this particular match were done on physique only. If you were about the same build and height you were in the ring. I did the three rounds and like to think I hit my opponent a glancing blow at least once during those three long minutes. Turned out he had done very well in his local amateur boxing club before joining the navy.

Once a week, Saturday mornings, the main activity was cleaning the mess for “Rounds” which would start at noon. (Rounds = An inspection, by an officer, of all junior rates accommodation for cleanliness.) Any failure meant a ‘rescrub’ and forfeiture of any free time that afternoon. These inspections took place throughout the navy regularly and some years later I heard a story involving a ship commanded by Earl Mountbatten. He would carry out Captain’s Rounds and would have the cooks prepare an iced cake as a prize for the messdeck he deemed the best. The Royal Marine’s mess had been on a winning streak for some time. Mountbatten being a tad biased in favour of the seamen secretly, he thought, hid a penny in an awkward to reach small gap on top of the overhead fan trunking, thinking that if he found the coin again next time it would give him reason to find fault and award the prize elsewhere. To his surprise the following week he found two halfpennies in its place and on enquiring “What is this?” the Sergeant of the mess replied “None of the lads had put a penny up there so it was considered a potential ‘plant’ and therefore to avoid any doubts of theft and to prove we had cleaned the area we replaced it with coins to the same value sir!” Needless to say the marines won again and were also commended for their honesty.

Not long after moving to the main camp we were fallen in beside the mast. This stood at one corner of the parade ground, it had once been the foremast of HMS Cordelia. Now it stood a hundred and forty three feet (43.58m) high with a safety net rigged below it. We were ordered to climb up the ratlines to the upper yardarm, cross over and come down the other side. Just to check our head for heights I suppose. Thereafter we could go up any Saturday afternoon if we wished to.

As we got used to the routine and learnt the tricks of the trade we achieved things quicker and gained more free time in the evenings and at weekends. This allowed us to indulge in a choice of other activities. I teamed up with three others and went sailing on the river in either Cutters or Whalers which was great fun. Another thing I was involved in was the Field Gun competition. A scaled down version of the Earls Court spectacular of the Royal Tournament. Our event only involved changing wheels during the lap of the course with a much smaller gun and limber. Another memorable thing was my first experience of the ‘Grey Funnel Line’ at speed. We were taken for a days sea experience onboard a Daring class destroyer, HMS Dainty I think it was. When she was up to nearly thirty knots it was an impressive sight. Yet another thing I recall is euphoria. No! Not a feeling of pleasure, it was the navy version as in “ YOU FOUR ‘ERE!!” and was something to be dreaded as it usually resulted in some form of punishment such as having to run up and down Faith, Hope and Charity several times. They were the names given to a group of three long, steep flights of steps.

Toward the end of November I got Flu and had to spend some time in sickbay. Then I was put on the School List. This meant I could go back to the mess and attend classes but was excused marching and any strenuous activity. I had a chit from the MO to prove it. This was to last three weeks to allow for full recovery. Toward the end of it I was feeling fit and full of energy, and bored. So when the mess was one short for a football team I volunteered. BIG mistake as during the game I got a serious knee injury and was helped off the far side of the pitch. To add insult to it when the game finished I had been forgotten and everyone went off in the opposite direction back to the mess, ignoring my shouts for help. The sports fields were some distance from the main camp area so I got up and tried to hop but that only made the pain worse. It was about an hour later that three mess mates came looking for me and found me slowly crawling back to the mess. Now I was not only in pain but in trouble as well for disobeying medical orders. The worst punishment though was having to miss Christmas leave as I was sent to Chatham hospital for more specialised treatment and was there until January 1959.

The New Year brought more of the same routine, up early, breakfast, clean the mess then out to morning parade. From there we would march to wherever our morning tuition would be. Class 1 were all going to be Seamen/Gunners so we learnt all things to do with handling craft large and small. From anchoring or securing a ship to a buoy right up to how to rig for a jackstay transfer at sea. Plus all the lesser stuff like knots and splices or how to use ones peripheral vision when using binoculars at night. This was mixed in with days of weapons training on the 4inch mounting or the smaller twin barrel Bofors plus rifles and pistols and just like in the ‘Carry on’ film how to dismantle and clean then reassemble a Bren gun. There was also parade drill, being taught ever more complicated manoeuvres while marching, like those seen at the Trooping of the Colours ceremony. So never a dull moment. Easter leave came and went, all too quickly, at least I did get home then. We had to wear our uniform ashore in those days (ashore being anywhere outside the main gate) and I felt proud to do so.

                               Courtesy RA Fisk                               At home Easter leave

After the holiday we were into our last term at Ganges and took our final tests in the various categories. The most graphic and exciting was the simulation on the 4inch gun. This time we got the whole works, it was a supposed night attack so done in the dark, sprinklers in the roof created a heavy rain affect. Thunderflashes (very loud fireworks) represented enemy fire and large gouts of water came at us from each side. The gun used fixed ammunition, shell and cartridge together and we had to ram these into the breech as the gun tracked the target and avoid the same when it was ejected after being ‘fired’. All this while the deck was pitching and tossing vigorously. During these final weeks of training we got several inoculations, some of which caused discomfort for several days, these would prepare us for travels abroad.

Finally there was the Passing Out parade when Collingwood division would form the guard and march on parade with rifles with fixed bayonets to form up at the front of the parade for inspection by the Captain. Then, after a few speeches and awards, we led the whole establishment in our final march past and salute at HMS Ganges.

Photographs courtesy RA Fisk

To be continued...

RA Fisk was the official photographer at Ganges, and those pixs marked courtesy of Ra Fisk were purchased from him direct by me in 1958/9.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Memories from an envelope

I was already putting this post together when I noticed this week's Sepia Saturday prompt - Aha thought I – two birds with one stone!  The two birds in question are my sister Sue and I (forgive the pun). There are no babies in the post even though we have five between us, but I hope two weddings will make up for that. The post contains an open letter to my sister; please feel free to read. I have no secrets from you!

My mum (Rene Flitney) kept an envelope full of newspaper clippings, greetings cards and other bits and pieces. This is the second in a series of posts about items from that envelope. If you wish, you can read the first part here.   

It was no surprise to find a newspaper cutting from our wedding tucked inside the envelope, but we were surprised to find a wedding invitation. Those invites meant a lot to us back in 1970, but we didn't think to put one in our keepsake box. 

Terry and I agonised over the choice of design for weeks. Actually, I don't think Terry could have cared less, but he did his best to pretend he did!  In the end, we settled on a 'stained-glass window' effect. 

I have no idea why we chose the ones with a green background as our wedding was all white and pink! Perhaps colour themed weddings weren't so important then.

A Honeymoon in Austria 

A honeymoon in Austria and Switzerland followed the wedding at Odiham Parish Church of Miss Barbara Ann (Tut! my name is Anne) Flitney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Flitney, of Well Manor Farm, Long Sutton, and Mr. Terence Fisher, son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Fisher, of Blunden close, Basingstoke. The service was conducted by Rev. Philip Tidmarsh. 

Given away by her father, the bride wore a full-length dress of white nylon voile. It was high necked and the neck, bodice and cuffs were trimmed with pink lace. Her shoulder length veil was held in place by a band of white roses and she carried a bouquet of white lilies of the valley and pink rosebuds.

Attendants were the bride's sister Mrs. Susan Wood (Matron of Honour), and bride's nieces Paula Wood and Michelle Flitney. Mrs Wood wore a full length, pink dress with bell sleeves, trimmed with rosebuds. She wore a pink rose in her hair and carried a bouquet of pink and white carnations. Paula and Michelle also wore full length, pink dresses with long sleeves trimmed with white lace. They wore bands of tiny pink rosebuds and carried pink rosebuds and white stephanotis.

This is probably a good time to offer an apology to my sister!  Sue had no desire to be called a ‘matron of honour’ and even less desire to be dressed head to toe in pink!  She favoured a pretty green dress, thinking it would be better suited to her age and marital status. But I stamped and fumed and insisted on the pink.  Sorry Sue. Mind you, I still think you looked lovely in pink!

Our wedding day the 27th June, 1970. All Saints Parish Church, Odiham.
My sister Sue looking pretty in pink.  Me trying not to look at the camera! Terry on my left, David Jones (best man) on the right and Sue's daughter Paula in front. 

My brother Tony is holding the second little bridesmaid (right of picture third row back). Michelle hated the camera and refused to have her picture taken. 

3rd June, 1961 this time I'm the bridesmaid and my sister is the bride.  
From the left; Mr. & Mrs. Wood, Mike Wood, Bob Wood (the groom), Sue, me, mum, dad and Marion in front.

Dear Sue, I was so excited when you asked me to be your bridesmaid. I loved my lilac dress, white gloves, socks and sandals.  I felt like a princess but looking back at the photos I can see I didn't look remotely like one. The little bridesmaid, on the other hand, looked adorable.

Did you know mum made me wear the entire ensemble, including the socks, to the end of year school party? Loud laughter and shouts of “she’s come as a bridesmaid” greeted my arrival. I was thirteen – can you imagine my shame? I spent the entire evening hiding in the loo, while my friends paraded around in mini skirts and white high-heeled boots!

So I guess that makes us even?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 276: The Newlyweds and their baby

See who else is getting wed at  Sepia Saturday

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Guest Post - My Sister Remembers - Part Nine

A guest post by my sister Sue Poulter. See previous post here

Part of the deal at Wyck was that I had to work on the farm. One of my first jobs was helping the other women cut strings to use for training the hops. It was winter time and very cold, so I always put a hot-water bottle in the pram with Jackie, but it was hard to keep her warm and impossible to keep myself warm. When the snow came I asked the farm manager if we could have some heating in the barn, but his answer was a resounding no. The snow was so bad I had to pull the pram through snowdrifts to get to the barn. All the other women seemed happy to put up with it, but I downed tools one particularly bad day and said, “No heat, no work” and walked out. The other women chased after me and said that Bob would lose his job, but I won the day, and we had a heater installed in the barn soon after. It didn't make much difference though and the snow lasted until after Easter.

Sue and Jackie at Wyck

Once Bob started working in the hop gardens all his clothes and the house smelt of hops which I hated.  Following harassment from the farm manager, who thought I was ungrateful and should remember I was living in a tied cottage, Bob decided it was time to look for another job.  Mum and dad felt sorry for us, and dad asked Bob if he would like to become his Herdsman at Well Manor Farm.  We thought this would be fine, but it doesn't pay to live next door to your parents and certainly not to work for your father-in-law. Dad was not the easiest of people to work with and didn't have much patience with Bob. The hours were long, and the pay was poor and Bob ended up getting part time gardening work on his one day off a week. The house we lived in was very cold, and we only had a fire with a back boiler for heating the water, and coal was so expensive we had to sell some of our belongings to pay for it.  I loved the garden though and grew all our own vegetables. I remember a visit from granny who seeing me digging up potatoes gave Bob a really hard time, but he was working all hours and was always exhausted.

Bob and Jackie in the garden at Well

Mum and dad seemed to be fairly comfortably off at this time so when the grocery van came from Bentley Stores mum would buy loads of vegetables, fruit and "best ham" whilst Bob and I could only afford perhaps a loaf of bread. Funny when a mother seems to take delight in having more than her children.  I remember on one occasion she bought a new rug for the kitchen and asked if I wanted the old one. I was really pleased as we didn't have one, but when she brought it round she asked me to pay for it. I paid up but could have done with the money to put towards the outstanding electricity and other bills.

The Well at Well

The village had not changed since I was a teenager. There was an old water well in the middle, which I assume gave the place its name, and one pub called The Chequers, there were no buses and because Bob didn't drink there was nothing to do in the village. Jackie was a very bright baby. She read simple words and remembered every song and nursery rhyme we taught her, and of course I had plenty of time to spend with her. The highlight of my year was to go next door to watch the Royal Variety Performance on mum and dad’s television. I would wash, change and put my make-up on, as though I was going somewhere special. I started driving lessons as Bob thought it would be good for me to get out and about. The lessons had to stop when I found I was pregnant again and there was no chance of any spare money. This time the doctor kept more of an eye on me because of the problems when I was pregnant with Jackie. We couldn't afford all the food he suggested, but we had plenty of fresh vegetables and salad in the garden, so I lived on that. Probably the reason I regained my figure so quickly after the new baby was born.

Mum in the garden with Michael

Michael was born in the February of 1964 and Mum Wood looked after Jackie while I was in the hospital. His was a more straightforward birth, and he was a lovely placid baby with a mop of black hair. Everyone said he looked like a member of The Beatles, who were all the rage at the time. I was in the hospital for ten days and really looking forward to getting home to Jackie but when I did she had forgotten me and bonded with Mum Wood.  It was really upsetting but it only took a few days for her to get used to me again. Thank goodness Michael was such a good baby as not long after he was born Jackie suddenly became ill. She was two years old that summer, and it was then that she started screaming at night while rocking backwards and forwards and hitting her head against the wall. It was very distressing and nothing we did helped. The doctor suggested giving her junior aspirin, which also didn't help but she seemed better after a week or two and so with much relief we put it down to a virus. 

We managed to scrape up enough money for me to start my driving lessons again, and luckily I passed the test at my first attempt. We didn't know it at the time, but this was to prove a Godsend. 

It was a short while later that Bob began to have health problems. During the war, when he was six or seven, he was run over by a tank at the top of Worldham Hill (probably playing “chicken”or some such game) and spent many months in hospitals undergoing plastic surgery to his arm. Now all these years later a growth appeared on his arm. The doctor decided the growth would have to be removed and although the operation was a success, it made us appreciate each other more and reminded us just how short life can be. Bob always wore long-sleeved shirts even in the summer months but after more plastic surgery, he was happy to have his arm on show.  Jackie had continued to be a concern and on one of the doctor's visits to Bob, I asked him to take a look at her.  She had put on a lot of weight, and her face was often flushed. I thought it might be indigestion, but the doctor felt it could be epilepsy. My dad said it would be best to forget about it as she would be fine when she got older. Not an easy thing to do when you are worried about so many things.


I found out I was pregnant again when Michael was eight months old. I must say I wasn't very pleased as I felt two children were enough. Bob, however, was over the moon saying he would get his football team yet! As I've said previously Michael was a lovely baby, very easy to feed and always happy to sleep. He was baptised at Long Sutton Church on a very warm day when I was already seven months pregnant. After the service, all the family and friends came back to our house for tea. It was a nice day, but I was quite pleased when everyone went home.  When I went into labour with James Matthew in July 1965, Jacqueline and Michael went to stay with their Auntie Pat and Uncle Mike in Alton, where they had a lovely time playing with their cousins. I think coming home to a crying baby must have been a bit of a shock for them. Although they had a lovely time in Alton it was a shame they could not stay at home with Grandma and Granddad Flitney living next door, but they made it quite clear that as I was having the children it was my responsibility to find someone to look after them as they were not going to!

Sue holding Michael and mum holding hands with Jackie

Not long after James was born Bob started getting attention from a very attractive young lady in the village. Her car always (conveniently for her) broke down outside our house when Bob was at home for lunch. He would leave his lunch and go out to check she and her car were all right. After a few months of this I went to see her and told her just what I would do if she didn't leave him alone.  I can be quite a scary person when angry, and she backed off. I felt almost sorry for Bob as I’m sure he was quite innocent as to what she was up to, but I was having none of it.  Soon after this he decided it was time for a move, especially as relations between him and dad were becoming very strained.

After a few interviews he secured a job at Taplins Farm, between Hartley Wintney and Winchfield. The farm has now gone the way of many others and is an Industrial Estate. But when we lived there it was a rural area with beautiful views. We had a detached house with a conservatory on the side, and a lovely playroom for the children. When we first moved in the children had some bad tummy upsets and Michael often had sore throats and had to have his tonsils removed. Jackie also became unwell again and began to have “vacant” spells. The doctor suggested we take her to see a paediatrician in Reading. Bob couldn't get time off for the appointment so I drove myself and Jackie there. The consultant was most unsympathetic and after carrying out some tests said, “Well you know Jacqueline was starved of oxygen at birth and is brain damaged, which has resulted in Epilepsy." He started her on a course of anticonvulsant drugs and told me to come back in three months.  I was absolutely astounded, as although we had both had a bad time during her birth, not one person had mentioned her being starved of oxygen. The consultant assumed I knew all about it, but things were so very different in those days, and the patient was seldom told the complete story.  Now it was up to me to drive home from Reading and break the news to Bob...

To be continued 

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