One Born Every Minute – John Alfred Leggett
“A doorway into another world now long gone.” – Chris Estall
An enthralling account of life in Britain before, during and after World War II as seen and experienced by John Alfred Leggett, who served with the RAF.
Covering his personal experience of being evacuated, living through the Blitz and being bombed out.
John’s writing style mixes his own down to earth nature with humour, which has come to define so many of his generation, who endure hardships that we today would find intolerable, with a stiff upper lip and a smile, and is a stark reminder that John and his generation did so much with so very little.
“A very good read. The description of the time was very good. Well written and said t like it was. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.” – Kindle Customer
When the decision was made that we were going to war, all the mass plans for evacuation were put in hand. I have very vivid memories of having my clothing, what I’d got spare, tied to me, because my father was of the opinion that if I’d been given a brown paper parcel, or a little case, which I didn’t have anyway, I would lose it. So he said, “What you’ve got attached to you son, don’t take it off until you get wherever it is their going to send you to.” That sticks distinctly in my mind, because, as my father was saying that to me, just living above us was a woman called Mrs Woods. She had a little boy, Tommy, he was seven years of age and I was nine. She said to me “Would you look after my Tommy for me, John? I would be most grateful.” Because he was an only child I said “Yeah. I’ll look out for him.” I have to describe Tommy; he looked like a little mouse. He had a pointed face, slightly protruding teeth, and a very fine pair of wired glasses. They were the sort that was supplied before the war. It was literally a sort of a wire. Horrible things and they balanced almost on the tip of his nose. He was a very ugly little ‘b’ really, but there you are, very frightened, very worried, and he was stuck to me like excreta to a blanket, as the saying is.
Well, we went off on evacuation, and I can’t remember too much about that, except arriving at a village hall. Apparently, we had been taken to Kennington, which is a little village outside Ashford in Kent, which is now where all that Channel Tunnel stuff is. In those days it was a very rural village, and, they put us
in this large hall, all these children, and people were coming in and saying “I’ll have that one”, “I’ll have that one”. It was like a slave market. Needless to say at the end of the day, when all these people had picked their children, there were two left, yours truly, and little Tommy Woods. Well, I have to describe myself. I had very bright ginger hair, and I had a tendency to be slightly pugnacious, in my looks. So, we sat there, and the end of the day the local version of a social worker said, “Oh, I know where to put those two. I’ve got the perfect place for them”. So, she loaded us in the back of this little car and took us off, a little way out of the village, and stopped outside a big double fronted house. We went round the back,
she took us in and we walked in to this kitchen and there was a woman there who towered over us. She must have been six foot six, built like a brick toilet, with powerful arms and shoulders. She never wore a woolly, whatever the weather, she wore those wrap-over aprons, and oh she was a real hard case. So, we went into this house, and got rid of all the clothing that was tied to me and everything else,
and put us in a bedroom together, Tommy and I. I had for my tea that evening, after having a whole day of odd scraps here and there, nothing like what you could call proper food. I had two slices of bread and dripping, and when I say slices I mean one whole slice cut in two, and a cup of tea, and young Tommy had the same, and she immediately marched us off and told us to go to bed, which we did. Then started, probably, one of the unhappiest periods of my life, when I was in and around that house, and yet, once I got out in the countryside I had a wonderful time.
She had five children in the house that she was looking after. The five children were, two private evacuees – they stick in my mind to this day, they came from Tunbridge Wells, and they ate in the front room, they never ate with us common children. Then there were three London evacuees, there was another boy, he wasn’t very bright, but he seemed to be a loner and, seeing as I was the oldest of the
bunch, I had to do all the chores.
I had to chop the trees down, collect the fruit, roll it up in paper and pack it away in boxes to preserve it for the wintertime. I had to kill the chickens. In the front garden there was a stump of a tree, and, it was cut off at about two foot high, and I used to get the axe and stroke the chickens head down and then take it’s head off – I wasn’t strong enough to neck them in those days, and I’ve had chickens running around, headless, and dropping blood everywhere which, unfortunately, I then had to follow with a shovel and a load of dust to cover the blood. Her husband was a little weasel of a man; I think he stood five foot nothing, he was in charge of the boilers up at the Nursing Home.
Just up the road, there was one of those TB sanatoriums, and he used to look after the heating and equipment up there. I used to then have to dress the chicken, pluck it and get it ready, and then she would take over. I did all this but very seldom got any of the chicken, that’s the bit that annoyed me. She used to make me go out, because, there was a big rabbit warren, about 3 or 4 minutes from our home, and I used to go out to that rabbit warren with a little dog, a little black and white terrier, and I very seldom came back without I hadn’t got a rabbit, because I used to set snares down there.
Now, the local farmer was a man called Mr Howard, and he was a very nice, kind gentleman. My way home from school used to take me right past his farmyard, and he used to have all his farm carts, all parked in under these open sheds, and he also had a lot of poultry that was running around, because in those days there wasn’t the traffic. The chickens were all over the road, they were in the hedgerow, and they were everywhere. Well, I used to go on scavenging trips, searching for eggs, and I used to get 2 or 3 eggs a night and take them home, which she was very pleased about. Of course, she’d say, “Very good boy” and clout you round the head a second later. Well, one day, I decided that I’d go and get some eggs from inside the poultry house and, because we were on a starvation diet, I could slide in and out of the pop holes on those sheds, get in, get some eggs, get out and go home.
Well, on this particular day, I think they call it stealing, on this particular day on my way home from school I did go into this shed.
I went into this shed. Suddenly, blank, the flap shut, I was trapped, trapped in there. I was left there for about five minutes, and then the man came, farmer Howard. He opened the door, he said, “Come on out”, and I came out and he said to me, “If you want any eggs sonny, come and knock at the door up at the house”. He said, “If you find a few eggs in the hedgerow, I don’t mind you taking them”. “But”, he said, “I strongly object to you climbing inside my poultry house and taking the eggs from in there, because”, he said, “I think I’ve got ten birds laying and if I’ve only get six eggs, I wonder what’s happened to the other four. Do you understand?” Having been a farmer myself since I understood exactly now what he was trying to get at, he couldn’t keep check on any of his records or anything because there was the unknown factor of the little ginger headed boy pinching eggs from out of his sheds. He then gave me a couple of sweets, and sent me home. What a marvellous man. He could so easily have caused a lot of trouble for me, but he didn’t, and I think very highly of that farmer to this day, and all the time that I lived down there I used to go and collect eggs from along the hedgerow, and from round his carts, and he never went after me after that.