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Johnston Family Memories of WWII
Memories told to me by my parents:-
CW "Paddy" Johnston and Beryl Johnston about the war years
in Normandy near Guildford Surrey
by Frances Bassom
 
Mrs Genevieve Harris and her son Douglas
Mrs Genevieve Harris and her son Douglas at Trengweath,
Guildford Road, Normandy

My parents met when my father was running a garage along the Guildford road, this is the same garage that later used to house various monkeys in cages at the back, and is still a garage up to 2000. I think it was called the "Open Road Garage". He always said his idea of heaven would be green fields, open roads, and a fast motorbike.

My parents got off to a poor start as she came into the garage for petrol and her brakes were so bad she didn't manage to stop and sailed right past him, so he shouted at her. At that time my mother was living with her mother Genevieve Harris at the house called Trengweath. (later renamed to Deanlands) which had a field that backed onto his garage.

A short while later he was watching as my mother was trying to get her pony "Silver" to go over a jump. He informed her that she had no idea about riding a horse. This, combined with the brake incident resulted in my mother declaring that she hated him and telling my Grandmother that he was the rudest little man she had ever met! The feeling obviously didn't last, as they were married after he had proposed to her at the Good Intent pub up at Puttenham. They then rented and moved into Wyke Heath Farm to start their married life.

My grandmother apparently was not so forgiving and in the words of my brother my father and grandmother had a relationship akin to water and phosphorous. Possibly part of this was due to my father's naughty sense of humour, and my grandmother's lack of one.

I remember my father telling me of a time when he was riding his motorbike along the Hogs Back when he heard a noise and realised a doodlebug was following along behind him. He thought about racing it but decided stopping and letting it pass was the better option.

Talking of falling bombs there was a pond at Mariners House right behind the stables/garage that Miss Toulmin told us was caused when a bomb fell there. As children in the 1960's we used to go to the garage and watch foxes and badgers that she would put food out for. She was an amazing old lady, and even on a hot day would come out to help us with the haymaking. We would be expiring from the heat but Miss Toulmin wouldn't even break a sweat, and would still keep her thick tweed jacket on.

My mother told me about a time during the war when she was upset due to the lack of food. Suddenly she spotted a huge fat pigeon sitting on the drive, she was so annoyed she swore and threw the coal tongs at it. To her astonishment they hit it clean around the neck and killed it dead. She said she then burst into tears at killing it, but they still ate it anyway.

My parents bought a gipsy trained lurcher called Bob. He kept them in meat for most of the war as they could go out walking the dog, lean casually over some farmer's field and mutter "go get 'em Bob" and he would slink off and get them a rabbit. He would not retrieve it to hand, but was trained to bring it back part way and then drop it in the bushes, where they could subtly retrieve it as if nothing had happened.

Thoughts of food were always uppermost during the war years and my father once caught a pike he saw basking on Henley Park Lake by hitting it over the head with a branch, they cooked it and said it was delicious but rather bony. My mother told me she didn't like eating perch, she said they were horribly bony and tasted of earth.

My parents raised a lot of pigs over the war years, and at the time the government took half of every pig you sent to slaughter. My father was very cross when he noticed that the half pig they got back from the slaughter-house was not the same pig they took, but was far smaller and scrawnier. He suspected skulduggery, and sneaky dealings at the abattoir, so before taking the next pig over to the abattoir for slaughter he got some indelible ink, and painted "PJ" and "Paddy Johnston's pig" all over it to make sure they got half of the right one back. He had to come back with half a pig strapped on the back of the motorcycle.

"Paddy" Johnston with his Pigs
"Paddy" Johnston with his Pigs

They also kept chickens, and one day decided to eat a very bad tempered cockerel called Bubbles. Bubbles took very many hours of boiling, and my mother said he was so tough that each time they went to test if he was cooked it was like trying to stick a fork in a rubber ball.

During a haymaking session at Wyke Heath Farm my father was standing on top of a hayrick pitch-forking up the hay when a mouse ran straight up his trouser leg. He jumped off the hayrick and dropped his trousers in front of everyone present!

Prior to the war my parents used to often hunt with the Aldershot Draghounds. The war years put a stop to fox- hunting, so my parents, along with some other keen riders set up a bobbery pack. I believe one dog was from the Collins family of Hunts Hill. A "bobbery pack" is a pack of dogs trained to follow an aniseed trail. They trained the dogs by laying a trail and giving them their supper at the end of it. Then someone (usually my mother) would lay an aniseed trail by dragging a bag of aniseed all over the area, usually laying it over good jumps and good gallops. Everyone who had trained their dogs would bring them along on the day and the "pack" would set off. On one occasion my mother's horse got spooked and shot around in circles, thus winding itself up in the rope used to drag the scent bag.

The pack worked well and comprised my grandmother's fox terrier - also called Paddy, some spaniels, and a few other x breeds plus the lurcher Bob. However, nothing made the right baying noise when hunting. My parents fixed this problem by going to Battersea and getting a cross-bred foxhound. It was thick fog when they went to get him so he got the name Fog. He loved following the trail and made the right baying sound so the hunt could follow the hounds easily.

My father had a very sweet tooth, and of course sugar was rationed which meant his usual three sugars in his tea was a non-starter. However, they overcame this problem by swapping cream from their cow for sugar with the man who ran a sweet shop near Aldershot who got a special sugar allowance. He loved fresh cream so everyone was happy.

By the war years my father was already 40 and had received a number of injuries from his motorbike racing years, including the loss of one lung. So my father joined the Home Guard. I recall him telling me of one Home Guard grenade practice sessions where a chap pulled out his false teeth along with the pin of the grenade!

As well as being active in the Home Guard my father had a job of being a civilian instructor to the army. His years of racing motorbikes meant he was the ideal person to teach the troops how to ride motorbikes for despatch riding. He even taught them to ride up and down steps. My mother hated this bit, as he used her as an example. By getting her to ride up the steps first on a race-tuned Francis Barnett motorcycle, he could taunt any nervous recruits by saying "See if my missus can do it so can you!" I feel it is no coincidence that both my brother (Douglas) and myself (Frances) have names associated with makes of motorbikes.

Paddy Johnston (Home Guard, 1940)
Paddy Johnston (Home Guard, 1940)

I remember my father telling me how he once did a test on the defences at Aldershot barracks and managed to get himself and his motorbike right into one of the main compounds by wheeling his bike over the railway tracks and under the perimeter wire.
Thus causing him to both win a bet with one of the commanders there and expose a bad gap in the security.

He once came across some young guards up on the ranges on lookout duty. On talking to them he discovered they were not only exceedingly tired having been on an extra long shift but had received scant training with their weapons. So he spent the night teaching them how to strip and reassemble their guns, and explaining the finer points of shooting. He was an excellent shot, he could hit a bulls-eye on a target 40 out of 40 shots on a fairground. Once they gave him a prize just to go away before he won everything.

From putting bits and pieces together with my other siblings it is now fairly clear my father must have been part of the auxiliary forces team who would have helped defend Britain after an invasion.

I recall my mother telling me how after the war ended she discovered that a box that had been residing under their bed throughout most of the war years, not only contained several thousand rounds of ammunition but also held a some mills bombs! She was furious and insisted that as it was no longer required that my father dispose of it.

My brother believes the mills bombs might have been returned - but is not a hundred percent certain on that point. However we do know the ammunition was buried somewhere in the fields behind my grandmothers house known as Trengweath on the Guildford road where it is probably still lurking awaiting future developers. I know they buried a donkey in the fields there as well.

My brother recalls in the 1960's my father telling him that if Hitler had invaded his instructions had been to destroy the railway lines into Aldershot. Presumably this is what the mills bombs hidden under the bed had been in reserve for.

My grandmother lived at the house called Trengweath and had a housekeeper companion called Florrie. A very tiny little lady who had a squeaky voice, caused by having diphtheria as a child. Florrie had been with my grandmother since before the first world war. At least once a fortnight granny would sack Florrie and at least once a fortnight Florrie would hand her notice in. Florrie moved house with her and was still there when they moved to 2 The Oaks and it stayed that way until Florrie died.

Florrie was very proud of the fact she could make homemade wine that could floor anyone. One day a newish neighbour visited and was duly offer a glass of her best homemade wine. He enjoyed the wine and promptly drank another glass and finally a third with seemingly no affects at all. Florrie was mortified as this feat had previously been unheard of.

The man had to cut across the field on his way home and watching from the window Florrie was delighted to see that instead of walking over a small plank bridge the man crossed it on his hands and knees. Her reputation as a maker of strong wine remained intact.

During the war years my parents still ran the riding school. The horses were a wonderful mixture of beasts. As my mother later said, you got to be a good judge of a horse by knowing the bad ones. She said they must at some stage have owned enough horses with every vice or defect going, as well as the occasional gems. But they were all loved as if they were the best horses in the world. My father used to jump his big hunter called Crusader at the Aldershot and Guildford shows.

My mother had a big hunter called Susan, who was an ex-army horse. Molly another of their horses was a thoroughbred who had dreadful confirmation, with a U neck and back legs you could "drive a wheelbarrow through" but she still won a point-to-point by a distance. They had a young chestnut thoroughbred called Beauty who was a descendent of the famous racehorse St Simon. She unfortunately had some of his renowned evil temperament about her. She was sold to a chap on the south coast where unfortunately she was killed when a bomb fell on the stables. Others I recall them telling me about (and seeing the old photos) were Popeye, Shamrock, Bobby, Silver, and Polly, Swank, Sally and Tinkerbell. Many local children learned to ride on those horses.

They had one pony called MG because it had a brand with those initials on. It was a very good driving pony once it got going, and really liked to get a move on; but the 'getting going' in the first place was the problem. MG needed to be led forward first and then you had to jump into the trap whilst she headed off at speed. My parents were going to Guildford one day and MG was put in the shafts of a Governors cart which had a door at the back.

My mother led MG forward to get started, and then rushed around the back to jump in but missed. My father grabbed my mother by her trouser belt to help her get in but also refused to stop MG now she was actually moving. My mother spent an uncomfortable time hanging half way out of the back of the governors cart whilst my father was standing up driving like Ben Hur, with the reins in one hand and hanging onto my mother's trouser belt with the other until she could finally wriggle into the trap.

My father once climbed into a cesspool to hold a young colts head above the "water" until help could be found to drag it out. The owner of the colt was Sir Philip Henriques and there was obviously no love lost between my father and him, but the horse came first. I recall my father saying how Sir Philip only ever referred to him as "Johnston" something which obviously rankled with my father. After the rescue Sir Philip never even said thank you. Because of this my father sent him a bill for the cost of a new hat as his existing hat, which had been almost new, had been pretty much ruined during the rescue. Apparently Sir Philip wasn't at all happy about paying my father the 30 shillings for a new hat, even though my father's actions had saved his colt.

My mother was always amused that during the war years the Anchor pub had a triple-seater toilet, very cosy I would imagine. There was also a lot of ivy growing up the side of the pub and one night a large grass-snake fell out of the ivy and onto a pub visitor.

There was a man who used to go to the Anchor who had a wooden leg. If strangers arrived at the pub some wag would usually throw a dart into the wooden leg and the chap would carry on drinking as if oblivious, thus giving the strangers quite a shock. I remember my mother telling me about one of Dr McIndoe's patients who lived in the village who was having a skin graft that slowly moved up his neck and onto his face with each successive operation.

My mother told me that whilst walking on the hill behind Dolleys Hill she found some unusual looking pottery squares, she took them to a museum where they told her they were tessari from a Roman villa, but because it was just before war started no one investigated her discovery. As far as I know no one ever has since. Of course the army has put a hard-core road through that area now so I doubt anything could be found.

The Durbridge family were well known in the village and were a very prolific family. When the officials came around asking if anyone could take evacuees the lady was rather apologetic when asking at the Durbridge household, feeling that asking such a large household to take extra children was an imposition, but they had to ask every home. However, Mrs Durbridge happily said a few more children wouldn't make any difference and offered to take an extra evacuee as well!

During my childhood I recall that whenever a TV program had an air-raid siren in it my mother would say " That noise makes my whole stomach turn over" I'm sure she wasn't the only one thus affected.

Note:- CW "Paddy" Johnston was a racing motorcyclist at the Isle of Man TT, winning in his cless in 1926. He first rode in the TT in 1921 and last enterd in 1951

Wikipedia Links
Douglas (Motorcycles)
Francis-Barnett
Mills bomb
V-1 flying bomb (Doodlebug)
Home Guard
Auxiliary Units (Auxiliary Forces)
Isle of Man TT

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