The Mangold family were evacuated before the World War II war started as John (the author’s) Dad was in Civil Defence, and we lived briefly in Clifton House before moving to Plum Tree Cottage for the duration, and we all went to Henham School. Introduction to the family from left to right my sisters Janet and Stella, me (John) and my Mum, Mary Mangold. This photograph may have been VJ Day but I’m not certain.
Henham at War by John Mangold
My memories of these years are of long hot summers and cold winters with deep snow. Of course this can’t be strictly true, but coloured by selective recall, that is how it still seems. All of this with World War II raging in the background, which I was fully aware of from as far back as I can remember.
As my father had volunteered for civil defence duties before the war started, he spent the entire war in London as a member of the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) and therefore his visits were intermittent and therefore always a surprise.
What I believe to be my earliest memory is of him coming down to Henham with a puppy in his overcoat pocket. The puppy was called Blitz as he was born during an air raid to his mother Arpy, a stray adopted by my Dad’s A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) group. Blitz had peed in his overcoat pocket on the journey, but was forgiven on the grounds of his charm and affectionate nature. He then proceeded to demonstrate his athletic ability by jumping over Dad’s hand which was laid flat on the floor. This required a short run-up as he was still very tiny. Blitz lived to a ripe old age, dying while I was away at sea in 1957. He was the recipient and giver of much love during his lifetime, and was much missed. Sadly, no photographs exist as he was never still long enough to get a clear picture.
At the age of four I started at Henham Infants School. On my first day there I was asked by a teacher to fetch a teapot from a cupboard in the kitchen. I went in, opened the door of a large wooden cupboard, and saw that the teapot was on the top shelf. Assuming that this was a test of my resourcefulness and determination, I decided that the only way to fetch the teapot was to use the shelves as steps and climb to the top. I made it almost all the way, got one hand on the teapot, when gravity took over and the whole cupboard toppled forward sending me and the contents crashing to the floor. Lots of items were broken, but I still held the teapot unscathed. Not for the last time I learned that good intentions are no defence against the wrath of grownups.
I’m sure that I gave my mother cause to worry, although as far as I know the village itself was pretty safe from the threat of paedophiles. Other risks did exist. A regular practice was climbing to the top of a haystack, probably 30 or 40 feet high, then jumping on to one straw bale strategically placed. My friends and I did this frequently, never missed the bale, which would have meant broken bones at the very least. I don’t think that I ever told my mother about this practice.
Another activity which I did report to my mother, to her horror, was the game of chicken that we played in front of a steamroller that was laying some fresh tarmac on the main road through the village. The object of the game was to run across in front of the roller as it flattened the tar and stone mix, last one across being the winner. I always won, managing to run within probably a couple of feet of the huge machine. Naturally I was proud of this achievement and wanted to share the news with Mum. For some reason she didn’t share my enthusiasm and forbade me to ever do it again. As I was always well behaved and tried to do the right thing, I stopped playing chicken and contented myself with using the solidified pitch as chewing gum. It has a nice texture and flavour, a bit like a mixture of treacle and liquorice, but owing to past experience I thought it best to keep this knowledge to myself.
An incident that happened about this time possibly explains why my brain sometimes operates at a different level. One day there was great excitement in the village. A large shire horse had got away from a local farmer, and was galloping around the local lanes. We all turned out to join in the fun and games, and eventually the horse was caught and was being led by a halter back to the farmer’s field.
A number of us kids, plus several assorted dogs, trotted along close behind. I was very close when the horse, clearly irritated by the small creatures snapping at his hooves, lashed out and caught me bang on my head with its shod hoof completely circling my eye. I was knocked out cold, and came to very soon with a great throbbing pain, and a rapidly swelling black eye. Not for the last time I arrived home to give my loving and long-suffering mother cause to worry, to put it mildly. Looking back on this incident, I am very aware that my life could easily have ended at this point.
During the World War II there was substantial rationing of foodstuffs, which meant that it was only possible to make something special, such as a cake, with weeks of saving the ration, probably by doing without your own allowance in order to accumulate enough ingredients. This would have been the case when my mother decided to bake me a birthday cake. Weeks of saving a small part of the sugar and butter rations, probably exchanging some items with other people in order to get enough eggs, culminating in a lovingly prepared and iced cake. During this stage of the war, troops were routinely camped out on the village green, directly outside our small cottage. I would spend a lot of time with them, and they would let me play on their field guns and armoured cars, absolute heaven for a small boy. When I saw this beautiful cake, and remembering the kindness of these soldiers, I decided that it would be a lovely gesture to share this cake with them. As Mum had put it in a cupboard with a latch right at the top of the door, I needed to climb onto a small table in order to open it, but succeeded in reaching the cake. I cut it into lots of slices and took it out onto the village green and shared it among as many soldiers as possible. With hindsight I can guess that they probably thought that my mother had agreed to this. Sadly, she was not impressed by my actions, and I was made unavoidably aware that her sacrifice was intended for my benefit and the cake was to be shared at my birthday party with my sisters. She was not amused. Once again my good intentions were misunderstood.
One of the joys of living in a small village in those years was a strong sense of community. Despite my earlier experience with the teapot, I settled in well at the village school, which had three classes, infants, juniors and seniors, with the head teacher Mr Herbert in overall charge. I remember many hours early on learning to write a form of copper plate. We had special exercise books, ruled with lines in blue and red to show where the ascenders and descenders should fit. I learned to write a beautiful script which deserted me completely when I reached grammar school in Cambridge, when I was required to take copious notes. My writing in those years was pretty much indecipherable, even to me, and only recently have I been able to keep it under control, as long as I don’t have to write too quickly.
Henham had a very small Village Hall where various events were held. I remember being in two plays there, neither of which I can recall in any detail. However in the earliest I played a character called Sir Jestion Mouse (geddit?) wearing a costume made of some kind of sacking, with whiskers stitched on. Mercifully, no photographs exist of me in this outfit. The other part I remember playing was what can only have been some kind of fairy or elf. I had to rush onto the stage, dash over to the Queen and say “Oh your majesty, I’ve broken the wand!” As I threw myself into the role, I went headlong crashing to the ground, where I said my line holding the pieces of wand aloft. Ever since then I’ve had an unedifying tendency to go for the cheap laugh, often accompanied by some physical action. As I recall my costume consisted of some kind of purple silky knickerbockers. The same comment about lack of photographs also applies here.
As part of the war effort, we were used as slave labour (I jest) and I can remember harvesting potatoes from the ground, presumably having been forked out by an adult or older child, as well as picking peas from the fields, and rose hips from the hedgerows. We also used to help at harvest time, and I can remember the backbreaking work of stacking sheaves of wheat, this being before the days of combine harvesters, at least in Henham. The reward for this work was the excitement of watching as the last remaining stand in the middle of the field grew smaller and smaller as the tractor went round and round, until at the last, all the mice came dashing out from where they had been relentlessly driven by the encircling machine.
Towards the latter part of the war there was an exciting event, which for us kids was heaven. The invasion of Europe used vast numbers of gliders carrying troops and munitions. These were crude, cumbersome beasts, which were towed behind a variety of larger aircraft, and could carry a number of fully armed soldiers, or a variety of armoured cars, jeeps and other materials. They were flown by soldiers, who were given brief instructions, then the towline was released near the target zone and the unfortunate occupants were supposed to land in the battle zone and take the fight to the enemy. These had been used earlier in the war in Burma and elsewhere, but the scale of the operation a few months after D-Day known as Operation Market Garden was unprecedented. When it came to the actual assault casualties were enormous as many gliders were shot down, or crashed on landing, and the invasion was more or less a disaster.
In the days and weeks before and after this there were many gliders in the sky, and one of them managed to lose its towline and landed in Henham, in a field next to the small railway station. During the several days it was there, all of us kids took turns sitting in the pilot’s seat and waggling all the controls. The joy of doing this and seeing the rudder, flaps and ailerons moving was wonderful. Most of us at that time had ambitions to be pilots, so the chance to sit in what was a real flying machine was not to be missed and I, for one, took full advantage. One day I went down to the station to have another go, but the glider had gone. Somebody told me that a low-flying tow plane had come along and scooped it up on a wire. At the time I believed this story, but in later years came to disbelieve it, but I have since discovered that this technique, known as the snatch, was in fact widely used and I have found photos of it on the internet, and included one in this book.
Towards the end of the war, and in the weeks following, there were a number of celebrations. The two that I remember were a fireworks display and a fancy dress parade. The fireworks must have been to celebrate VE (Victory in Europe) day and consisted of a haystack having an effigy of Hitler placed on top, before being set alight and then fireworks being set off. I have two very clear memories of this evening. The first was the sight of the blazing haystack and of the Hitler effigy being consumed by the flames, this was rapidly followed by shouts of alarm and excitement as the large hedge which was clearly too close to the bonfire began to catch fire. My recollection is that a very large part of the hedge was consumed, but I can’t be sure how much. Of greater concern were the fireworks themselves, which terrified me as I had no idea what to expect and assumed that the bangs and flashes were some kind of air raid that the Germans were somehow managing even though the war was supposed to be over. I remember my Mum picking me up and holding her hand over my head to protect me from the falling sparks.
A tradition in the village was a fancy dress parade and competition. I believe that we took part as a family on several occasions, but the one I remember was the VE day one. Perhaps the reason my memory is clear is because I still have a couple of photographs of this one. I’m not sure exactly who my sisters Janet and Stella went as, but I think Stella was a gypsy and Janet some type of Gainsborough girl.
I do remember two sisters who lived in the village dressed as the Bisto kids. I was Sabu the elephant boy, an Indian child star very popular at the time. He wasn’t a boy who was part elephant, but a boy who trained, road on and lived with elephants, and his most famous film was ‘Elephant Boy’ 1937. My costume for this competition was (as always) made by my Mum from some kind of silky fabric which she got from who knows where. I had a turban made of something similar. To give me the appropriate complexion I was coated in a solution of cocoa in water.
This mix was actually used by women to simulate stockings, with a seam drawn up the back of the leg with a mascara pencil. This bizarre practice came about as there was rationing of clothes which continued after the war, as well as the shortage of silk stockings. Another option, of course, was to obtain the newly invented nylon stockings from American servicemen, sometimes in exchange for services rendered, or the promise of same.
Speaking of GIs in wartime, I had a brief encounter with one of these exotic creatures. I was playing in the road opposite our cottage, when I slipped and fell, landing with my knee on the bottom of a broken bottle, which made a big dent which started gushing copious amounts of blood. A passing soldier saw this and came over to me and said he would give me half a crown (equivalent to about five weeks pocket money) if I didn’t cry. I promised I wouldn’t and duly pocket a shiny two and sixpence. I told him I was only a few yards from home, wrapped the knee with a filthy handkerchief and went straight home where the knee was washed and plastered. My only war wound.
My sisters Janet and Stella were also in the Brownies, below is a picture of them and some of the other Brownies and evacuees 1940/41.
Back row: Janet Mangold (E), Doreen Thompson (E), Joyce Shepherd (E), Celia Head (E), Joy Marshall, Nora Baynes, Anne Holloway (E), Doreen Neville (E), Joan Shepherd (E)
Middle row: Unknown, Iris Thorn, Audry Holloway (E), Susan Squires (E), Gladys Cooper, Maisie Blackwell, Joan Neville (E)
Front row: Pauline Camp, Marion Clark, Daphne Thorn, Stella Mangold (E), Freda Hollingsworth, Margaret Mussell, Barbara Blackwell, Sylvia Maguire (E)