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A Kentish Child’s Life in World War I by By Edna V. Shorey

 

I started my education at Brasted Village School in January 1913 when I was four and three-quarters and, by the time the First World War commenced in August 1914, I had reached the age of six and was quite an old hand.

That war did not disorganise our education as a future generation of small children’s was to be by the wholesale evacuations of 1939 but things seemed to be much more exciting when we were ‘out of school’. In school we always sang patriotic songs and tended to display the flags of the Allies on our bicycles but the even tenor of our day-to-day scholastic life went on through it all. By the late summer of 1914 I was facing my ‘remove’ from the ‘infants room’ where we were taught by Miss Remnant (later to become Mrs August) who rode her bicycle each day from Westerham, two miles away, to preside over us. I graduated to ‘the big room’ where Miss Crank and Miss Alderson managed two classes each, separated only by a curtain. I marvel now at the difficulties they laboured under and overcame as each teacher could hear every word spoken in the other class.

The senior pupils worked behind a glass partition at one end of ‘the big room’ and they were taught by the School’s Head Master, Mr Hubble. He was well liked, popular and respected and affectionately known as ‘Old Tommy Hubble’ by generations of Brasted children. I always felt his best memorial was the beautiful copperplate writing which he so painstakingly taught and which lingered on among the older generation for so many years. It was Mr Hubble as Secretary and Treasurer of the Brasted School Penny Bank who gave us our early lessons in thrift. Each Monday morning we took out coppers to him and, when we had saved a whole pound, he opened an account for each child in the Post Office Savings Bank and every subsequent pound saved was transferred into the child’s account.

In what was known as ‘the classroom’ Mrs Parr was the terror of all the children. She must have looked just like Arthur Lucan in the character of Old Mother Riley as she always wore a black bonnet and cape with a long black skirt and a large cameo brooch pinned high on her bodice so that it cut into one of her many chins. On needlework afternoons she always wore a big white apron and the boldest of her pupils would dare each other to entertain the rest of the class by undoing her apron strings! For a long time I lived in mortal terror of the time when I would ‘go up’ into Mrs Parr’s class but just before that dreadful day dawned she was no longer with us! Word went round the village that ‘Old Sally Parr’ was ill and I remember straw was spread across the road (the A25) in front of her house and a blue and white checked duster was wrapped round the door knocker so she would not be disturbed by noise. I suppose she must have suffered from a sudden stroke as to me she seemed to be teaching at school one day and dead a couple of days later. I had dreaded being in her class but I had not anticipated quite such a drastic intervention in my affairs! (My elder sister’s birthday book contained an entry against Mrs Parr’s date of birth ‘Sally Parr, born 1600’ which surely shows the young do not change much.)

On Empire Day we all marched round the playground and saluted the flag which hung from the flagstaff in the Head Master’s garden. When a cry went up for ‘conkers’, when it was discovered that the oil could be used in the making of munitions, we went out with our little sacks to collect them and fill the small shed in the school garden for them to be collected and we were also encouraged to donate a penny each to send Christmas puddings to the troops fighting in France.

Away from the ordinary run of school life, there was the absorbing interest of a camp which was established at the top of the hill to the north of the village and large wooden huts, serving as cookhouse and dining hall, were set up. The soldiers spent most of their time there exercising and grooming their horses and training but they were billeted all over the village – we always had three sergeants sharing one of the two big attic rooms at the top of the house – and the men were a source of an unlimited supply of buttons, cap badges and cigarette cards. (I still have some with the now faintly pencilled signature of those soldiers on them.) Empty houses were taken over as Company Offices and the house directly opposite to us across the road served as the Orderly Room. My elder sister and I used to watch the Orderly Officer each evening as he inspected the Defaulters’ Parade outside. 

While the West Lancashire Regiment was stationed in the area one of the officers was married in Brasted Church and, although we did not join in the excitement as we were in school at the time, I heard all about it. The bride and groom, in an open carriage drawn by a team of six gun horses, were driven at full gallop along the street to the White Hart, where the reception was held. The other officers of the Regiment formed an escort and rode hell-for-leather with drawn swords on either side of the carriage. (I always wondered just how the bride really felt about it!) 

My father, who was oldish, was a Special Constable, mainly, I believe, because we were one of the few houses in the village at that time to have a telephone (Brasted one-oh) and, when there was a Zeppelin raid imminent, the telephone would ring and a disembodied voice would announce ‘Field Marshal’s orders – take air raid action’. One night Father had to go, in company with his neighbour and friend, Mr George Woodhams (the village grocer), to guard Polhill tunnel when troop trains were going through to the coast. It was fortunate they did not find a German spy blocking the line or blowing up the tunnel as their only weapons were truncheons.

Looking back to that time, I can only remember being carried downstairs on one occasion during an air raid but I think our mother was of the opinion that it was better to let the children sleep through them if this was possible. As I say, our lives were really very little disturbed except to be made far more interesting and enjoyable and all the ‘outsiders’ in the village and exciting incidents which happened must surely have widened our childish experience of life.