« The Sower's Tree | Main | The Fire Bombing Of Dresden - An Eyewitness Account »

To War With The Bays: 9 - Hospitality At The Grange

...Our water supply was a big barrel outside the door that collected rainwater. At the other side of the door was a table, so when we wanted a wash, we dipped a bowl in the barrel, then stood it on the table. In the winter this meant breaking the ice on top of the barrel, so a morning wash soon had you feeling fresh or frozen! One morning Bob Buckland came in and said: 'Brrr ... that was a good wash.' I pointed out that he still had a cigarette behind his ear...

After being evacuated from France, Jack Merewood and his fellow Bays lived under canvas - but Jack enjoyed the hospitality offered at a nearby country house.

To read earlier chapters of Jack's story please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

Tilford had a village green and a cricket field, surrounded by big old trees, pleasant houses and a couple of public houses. An idyllic setting.

We were billeted a mile or so from the village in a lovely area of big country homes, on the road in the direction of Hindhead. Only 'C Squadron was at Tilford, the other squadrons being in other towns and villages in the area. Ronnie in 'B' Squadron was at Godalming.

There were no barracks here; neither were we under canvas. Some troops occupied empty houses, but our troop was in 'The Studio' behind the house, lived in by an old lady, a widow, Mrs Donald. Her husband had been an artist, and ours was the building where he used to paint.

It was big enough to hold about twenty 'beds', a bed being a waterproof ground sheet with a palliasse (a big cotton bag, stuffed with straw) on top. There was the luxury of an old carpet and also a small stove in which we could burn wood in the winter. Somebody produced a dartboard. A step ran across the building, so it was two levels. It had just one drawback: no running water.

Our water supply was a big barrel outside the door that collected rainwater. At the other side of the door was a table, so when we wanted a wash, we dipped a bowl in the barrel, then stood it on the table. In the winter this meant breaking the ice on top of the barrel, so a morning wash soon had you feeling fresh or frozen! One morning Bob Buckland came in and said: 'Brrr ... that was a good wash.' I pointed out that he still had a cigarette behind his ear.

About three hundred yards up the road was a very big house, Eden Lodge. It had once been the home of Philip Snowden, a prominent Labour MP of the 1920s. It was empty now, and the officers, sergeant major and sergeants lived there. On the extensive lawn at the back of the house marquees were erected and the cookhouse established. We could take a path through the Studio garden and then through a small wood to get to the cookhouse, so didn't need to walk along the road.

Next door to The Studio, going in the opposite direction, was another big house, The Grange. Major and Mrs Campbell lived here, and also Mrs Campbell's mother. Major Campbell, a Scotsman, was a retired officer, who had served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a big man, bald on top with grey hair at the sides. He was a pleasant, though soldierly man.

Mrs Campbell was a small correct lady with an almost regal bearing. She was also very kind and they had made the generous gesture of opening one of their rooms for the soldiers. This was an extremely big room with a fireplace at each end, a table-tennis table in the middle, a grand piano, numerous writing tables and chairs, and easy chairs. There was also a radio. In fact after the places we had been for the last year, this really was luxury.

Besides a gardener they employed two maids and a cook. The older maid was Marian, aged about fifty, the younger one Audrey, aged eighteen, and Louie was the cook. The two maids lived at The Grange, but Audrey's home was only three-quarters of a mile away, so she would go there on her time off and help her father with his milk round.

We only had to step over a very small wire fence to be in the adjoining grounds of The Grange, then into the house. Soon I was spending most of my evenings there. There was a warm, comfortable atmosphere, ideal for letter writing. Every evening about 9 p.m. Audrey and Marian brought a tray into the room with cups and saucers, tea and biscuits.

The grounds of The Grange stretched a long way back from the house, and in part of them chickens were kept. It was Audrey's job to go and see that they were all in the coops and locked up for the night. I felt that she might need some help and protection in doing this, so I offered my services. They were accepted, and we regularly spent pleasant evenings locking up the chickens. She had a boy-friend, George, who was in the Army. I enjoyed her company and occasionally we went to the pictures together. She and her brother both had bicycles, and he would lend me his, and she and I in the nice weather sometimes went for rides.

When we left Tilford, Audrey and I wrote to each other, and now, fifty-four years later, we still do, at Christmas and birthdays. Audrey married George, and they have visited me and my wife, staying at our house, and we have also spent some time with them at their home near Hindhead.

I got on well with Marian too, and after a while began helping with the tea and biscuits, and then with the washing up.

I also enjoyed Mrs Campbell's company. Sometimes she invited me to go into one of the lounges, and there we'd sit and talk. She was a member of the Oxford Group, a rather sophisticated society something like Toc H. They were a charitable group and Mrs Campbell certainly lived up to this image with the hospitality she showed us. A member of the group was the writer Daphne Du Maurier; she and the Campbells were friends, and she had stayed at The Grange a number of times.

A few new recruits joined our troop here, among them Jack Emery from Birmingham and Bob Weightman from London. Both agreeable, friendly young men.

Mrs Campbell also extended her generosity to the families of Bob and myself. She invited my sister Jessie, who was seventeen at the time, to stay at The Grange for a week, and also Bob's wife, Len.

Not all the boys went to The Grange at nights. There were the ones who liked to drink and most of their evenings were spent at the Barley Mow.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.