David Clarke was born in Cupid Green
Being public spirited, as were many other people in the village, my parents agreed to accommodate evacuees from London in August 1939. Altogether 10,000 were housed in Hemel Hempstead and the surrounding villages, increasing the population by 50%.
The evacuees were told as an incentive to move out of London that they would be housed and fed and would not need to do any household chores so they didn’t! After a year, my mother was so exhausted catering, washing, ironing for them as well as looking after little me and Dad, that the Doctor forbade boarders of any sort.
So the evacuees returned to London, as many other did during what was called the phoney war; in fact by Christmas 1939, half of the evacuees had returned to their former homes. Civilian bombing had not started and did not start in earnest until August 1940, so many did not see the point of being away from their home and all its local facilities of shops, buses and cinemas.
When the evacuees first arrived, they were horrified to learn that there were only two buses per day and the nearest chip shop was three miles away in Hemel Hempstead.
Cupid Green only had one very small shop cum post office that also sold petrol, run by Mr. Parr and one pub, licensed to George Minister.
But for Mum, carrying out the Doctor’s orders was easier said than done, as with the Ack Ack of Defence (AAOD) camp just up the road there was a constant stream of soldiers looking for billets; so we still had soldiers from time to time.
At weekends in the summer, picnics were a regular feature. We would cycle, with me in a little seat on the back of my Father’s bicycle, to Redbourn Common or Holtsmere End Common, somewhere safe to run around and play a ball game or a game of French Cricket, still popular today with family gatherings. Our picnics were much simpler then with fish paste sandwiches and lemonade, maybe a thermos flask of tea for Mum and Dad and a container of water for Major.
Our dog Major, a smooth haired fox terrier, would always join us on these trips, loping along with ease alongside the bicycle; he had great stamina.
To youngsters these were exciting times and any convoy stopping for a break in the village, sometimes because they were lost, as all the road signs had been removed in 1940 due to the fear of a German invasion, would be surrounded by kids like me with loads of questions about their machines and equipment. Some soldiers were uncommunicative, but most, perhaps having children of their own, would spend time showing us their weapons and allowing us to climb on the vehicles, patiently answering a myriad of questions as we fingered the guns and accoutrements.
Then there was the great excitement in the village when a Spitfire made a forced landing in the field next to Mrs. Read’s Corner Farm at the top of our road. We all went up see it but were not allowed too close by the sentries guarding it, perhaps they were worried that little boys like me would take souvenirs! As the field was too small for a take-off the plane’s wings were removed and a crane loaded it onto a Queen Mary, a 50 feet long low loader, for transport back to an airfield.
Driving one of those vehicles was a skilled job as the roads in those days were much narrower and windier than they are today. The AAOD camp at the top of the road was home to lots of ack-ack Guns and Searchlights, so every night before the German bombers arrived, there would be a procession of vehicles carrying men and equipment into the local countryside, where the anti aircraft guns and searchlights were hidden in the woods and copses surrounding the village. As there were 11 men needed to man the large ack-ack guns, there were a lot of men stationed in the local area. This was not to protect the village but to provide a barrier of flak for enemy aircraft heading for London.
Besides the siren at the camp, the village had an air-raid warden, one Mr. Healey who lived in St. Agnell’s Lane, known as “Round the top”. He was a nice chap whose wife acted as midwife and wet nurse when there were babies born, and she also laid out the dead; a sort of hatch and despatch service! Mr. Healey had a large school hand bell that he would ring as he walked through the village to warn of an air raid. The trouble was that villagers would stop him to ask how his wife was or how Mrs. So and So was, that by the time he got to our house the All Clear had been sounded! Early in 2007 when I was visiting a friend at Gaddesden Row she showed me this bell which Mr. Healey gave to her after the war.
Cupid Green was served by several tradesmen, the milkman on his milk float, the horse knew where to stop and would crop the grass until he felt the weight of the milk man back on the float when he would move along to the next stop.
The baker had a small Morris van and a huge basket with a choice of loaves. The smell of newly baked bread is still a favourite memory. Coal was delivered by Brentnall and Clellands lorry, although later our coal came from Lockhart of Dunstable. Regular coal deliveries were made even though we burnt a lot of logs. The coal was kept in the coal shed next to the back door.
The gas man would come every couple of months to empty the meter. Gas was paid for as it was used by putting a shilling in the meter, so mother being prudent always kept a box near the meter with some spare shillings. Not so everybody, and many a Sunday there would be a knock on the door from a neighbour half way through cooking their roast lunch, asking to borrow a shilling to finish the meal!
The gas man would also leave behind a discount in coins according to the amount of gas used. Some people when hard up would put washers or foreign coins into the meter although these had to be the same size as a shilling; the gas man would leave these as part of the discount!
There were other irregular visitors to the village. The rag and bone man in his battered lorry would cruise slowly up the village shouting “Rah a bow” which I could never understand as they collected any old junk, particularly metal objects. I presume the name is traditional and goes back many years when rags and bones were worth collecting, and they were ground up into bone meal and used on the fields as a fertilizer.
Another tradesman was the knife grinder. He would come on a bicycle which he could put on a stand and engage a grinding wheel that revolved using pedal power. For a few pence he then proceeded to grind knives, shears, scissors and lawn mower blades which I watched with fascination.
We also had regular visits from tramps and gypsies. Some people in the village viewed these with suspicion but my mother got to know who the genuine ‘knights of the road’ were. Generally tramps only wanted some hot water or tea to put in their billycan and they would leave a sign on the gate post to tell other tramps whether it was a good or bad house. It was considered bad luck to turn one of these away from your door and my Mother was sympathetic, the majority of them were ex soldiers that had fought in the Great War.
One day when one came to the door, Mother boiled the kettle for hot water. Being curious I went to the door to see this tramp, and on the way back, collided with the kettle being carried with Mother. It caught me in the throat and it hurt. Mother was mortified and got in a terrible state but luckily there was no lasting damage or scars.
The gypsies varied, when some came their eyes were darting everywhere looking to see what they could beg, borrow or steal; Mother called these ‘diddycoys’.
The regulars, of which one was called Mary, sold really good clothes pegs, made by her husband whose name I cannot recall. They would park their caravan for a week or so up the Green Lane and the horse would be tethered and many a time I watched him making these long hazel-wood pegs bound with a piece of tin cut from a tin can and a brad to secure it in position. Mother would always buy these pegs as they worked so well, particularly with heavy clothes and blankets.
Watch this space for old photos of Cupid Green when it was just a lane.