by Stan Abbott & Chris Abbott
Now that he is 93, Stan Abbott has decided to write down his memories of childhood and of his war service.
I was born in Salisbury Infirmary on 31st January 1926 during the night, apparently it was snowing at the time. I cannot remember much of my early life. We were living with my grandparents in St Andrews Road, Bemerton, in the third house on the right at the far end from Church Lane. I was christened in the little church on the corner of Lower Road and Church Lane.
We moved to 15 Macklin Road about two years after I was born. In those days, Macklin Road was very modern: electricity, hot and cold water, inside toilet and a very large garden. The road was tarred and gravelled by hand, then rolled by a steamroller. Drains were cleared by suction pipe. There were gas lights, a muffin man, a winkle man and a knife sharpener who all called each week. And the rag and bone man, he used to give you a goldfish for a few rags.
We all had fun living there, we all played together, swimming in the Meadows, bird-nesting, bike rides etc. When I was seven I had appendicitis and I was in the Infirmary for a week or so. They were very strict about visiting and Mum and Dad were only allowed to see me from the ward door.
When I was 7 to 10 years old I was in the 1st Bemerton Cubs. The Cubmistress was Miss Eleanor Rawlence, she lived with her parents in the long house before the little church on the left of Lower Road, Bemerton. She took us into her house often and showed us her father’s bird’s egg collection and butterfly collection. There were also a lot of stuffed animals and birds and lots of historical things, very interesting. The Cubs used to meet in the hut in Lower Road between Cherry Orchard Lane and Cecil Avenue. Some of the names of the Cubs were Mitchells, Olivier, Sangers, Hibberds, Spicer, Mortimers. I became Senior Sixer the last year I was there.
After Cubs I joined the Boys Club that used to meet in the Hall Loft half way down Skew Bridge Road next to the railway line. I was about 11 years old at this time. I went to Highbury Avenue Mixed Council School. Infants were 6-7 years, Juniors 7-11 and Seniors 11-14. It was a very nice school and modern for those days. I had a paper round in the mornings and an errand boy’s job after school. Our family had reached 6 by now, 5 boys 1 girl. I had gone up to the Senior School, the Headmaster was Mr Warren and there were Messrs Bean, Ayres, Heseltine, Hopkins, Phelps, Shergold and the Misses Richards, Pearce, Hopkins and two others, also the dreaded Caretaker Mr Richardson. It was while I was in Mr Ayres’ class that I became interested in gardening. He looked after the school gardens in Highbury Avenue on the right; he used to give very interesting talks on the subject.
My Dad was building a scale model engine King Arthur class that he intended to run on a length of line so that we could ride on it when it steamed up. It was built to scale. Also around this time Dad used to take us down to Southampton to tour the luxury steam liners. Being on the railway he was able to get a permit from the shipping agents. We enjoyed the trips down to the boiler rooms.
During the mid thirties my Dad used to take us to London and we saw all the sights: Billingsgate, Covent Garden, Smithfield etc, also all the mainline railway terminals. It helped with my trainspotting which was very popular at that time. We also visited all the museums.
Dad was a mainline driver on the Southern Railway based at the bottom of Cherry Orchard Lane. I often went on the footplate of an engine, he took me shunting in the yard when he could, great fun. Dad had a very bad accident while driving a train, he was a fireman at the time. He was stoking the fire with a long poker. As they entered a bridge his hand was hit, smashing and losing one finger and damaging the others. The whole of his hand was covered with stitches and he was off work for months.
By this time, war became part of the news. Poland had been invaded and soon war would be declared by England. Everyone was issued with a gas mask and an Identity Card. War was declared on 3rd September 1939. My first job was to help fill sandbags then put them in the windows of the water pumping works on Devizes Road. All the important places were covered throughout the town and air raid sirens were tested.
The Army were commandeering a lot of the big houses in the area. The local auctioneers were selling the contents in lots. My Dad was always looking for a bargain and went to the sales and often bought one or two lots. These would contain such things as marble clocks, paintings with ornate frames, globes, small inlaid tables etc. All things you see on Antiques Roadshow now! Dad used to hire a handcart to get it all home. You could hire carts from most large stores in town for about a shilling an hour.
At the beginning of the war, Stan Abbott left school as he already had an evening job as errand boy at Higgins Chemist, which he did for 3 months. This was allowed as he was 14 in the following January and had been offered a full-time job at Higgins the Chemist in Blue Boar Row.
They let me leave early because we weren’t at school, we had to wait for shelters to be built. I helped Dad make the blackout curtains and stick the brown paper strips on all the windows. It was supposed to help stop shrapnel from the windows flying around. The Council built a blast wall outside the front door. It was to help make the passage safer, as that is where we had to stay until we had built our own air-raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. We used corrugated iron sheets for the walls and railway sleepers for the roof plus two foot of soil and spent many nights in it with hundreds of German bombers overhead going to larger towns such as Plymouth, Bath, Bristol and Exeter. The planes were flying very high, then hours after you heard them returning home. We were very lucky here and only had a few bombing incidents.
Getting back to Macklin Road, we had a playing ground in the centre of the houses where the War Department dug all the soil out of the whole area about 5 to 6 ft deep then concreted and waterproofed it then filled it with water. It was called a Static Water Supply, to be used to fight fires if there should have been raids in the surrounding area. Our family was complete by this time. We consisted of seven: Arthur, Stan, Len, Norman, Bet, Bob and Jan.
From May 1940, Stan worked at Gullick’s Nursery and continued there through most of the war. The nursery was set up by W. F. Gullick and later run by his son W. K. Gullick. The site of the nursery is now Queen Elizabeth Gardens and the course of the river has been changed. I told Dad at home that I’d like to be in the garden trade and he went down to Fisherton Street and asked for any vacancies and he said, yes, send the lad along.
During the war, Stan was a member of the Home Guard 8 th Battalion, joining at 16 and a half in 1942 and rising to the rank of Lance-Corporal. His duties included firewatching from the tower at Salisbury Cathedral. They also did guard duty at the old Blandford Road where there was a secret underground signals facility. He was paid 3/- per night for some of these duties. Training while in the Home Guard included throwing live grenades at Bulford, night manoeuvres near the Cut and shooting at Burcombe rifle range, which also involved training as a Lewis Gunner.
There were only two or three of us who were younger ones, but I quite enjoyed it.” The platoon was led by a local bank manager. I joined the 8th Battalion, Wilts Regiment, B Company. We used to meet in the old Playhouse in Fisherton Street for training and drill. After a while I was transferred to E Company who met in the Queen Alexandra Road area. Some of the members were Forder, Say, Spreadbury and some of the officers were Collins, Venman and Gullick. A lot of night training was done in the fields above Devizes Road, digging trenches and sleeping in small tents. We encountered many cows during the night. We were given two sandwiches each and tea was made. This went on for the next three years along with guard duties and fire watching.
It was in June 1943 that was the time when a disaster happened. My Dad had a heart attack and died two days later. We were all shattered. My Mum was left to bring up seven of us, no NHS or help from the State in those days but she managed wonderfully. We were all very pleased with the way she kept us fed and clothed and clean. I helped her as much as I could being the eldest living at home, my sister Janet was only a baby.
The War was still going on and there was a fair pitched in Salt Lane Car Park to help morale. It consisted of Waltzers, Noah’s Ark, Dodgem Cars and a few sideshows. It was here that I saw a young girl in a white raincoat and high-heeled shoes. I thought she looks a bit alright, so I asked her to go on the Dodgems. After several rides we went for a walk round town. I knew then I would end up marrying her, which I did later. We are still together now in 2019 and still in love.
I was still working at Gullick’s nursery, producing vegetables, it all went to feed the forces on Salisbury Plain. We grew tons of potatoes, onions, cabbages, sprouts, leeks, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber etc. The firm hired several watermeadows on the left of the Town Path going over to Harnham.
The war was now beginning to turn our way, but there were still a lot of air raids. We were preparing to invade France and the districts around Southern England were full of troops, thousands of Americans, Canadians, African, Free French, Poles, Australian and New Zealanders. There was tons of ammunitions too, tanks, lorries and guns.
This article was originally published in the Fisherton Informer – visit their facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/834343469966904