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Bill Olley
(1895 - 1990)
William George Bridger Olley
William George Bridger Olley

William George Bridger Olley (Bill Olley to all who knew him), was born over the family shop in Milford on 4 October 1895 - a Coal merchant and Ironmongery business ran by his father and his grandfather before him. His mother, Jane (nee Sadler) came from what would be termed "good farming stock" at nearby Westbrook, Elstead.

Bill's father (George Bridger Olley) died in 1905 when Bill still had a few more years to do at school. When he left school, he was apprenticed to N. Vincent, Ironmongers, of High Street Guildford presumably to enhance his knowledge of the family business. However, when volunteers were required at the outbreak of the 1914 - 1918 War, he joined the British Army seeing fighting at Gallipoli, the Somme and Passchendaele. He was injured in the leg on the Somme and in the arm at Passchendaele. In 1917 he was commissioned and following the end of hostilities in Europe, was posted to India to duties on what was then named the "North West Frontier" (now Pakistan). He left the army in 1922.

 Bill in uniform

On his return home to England he gained a position as a commercial traveller with Skeet & Jeffes of Woking, the well known firm of Ironmongers and Building Suppliers, where he remained until retirement aged 70 years.

He came to Normandy with his newly married wife Elsie Williams in August 1931 and they spent the rest of their lives at "Dardoni" (named after a tribal village on the frontier), in Glaziers Lane - Bill survived Elsie dying on the 26th December 1990. In the late 1930s, Bill bought the large plot of land adjoining their home with the intention of building a tennis court. However, with the onset of World War II, he started growing vegetables instead and later on he grew dahlias, for which he became so well known.

Due to age restraints, Bill like so many of his age group was not called up during the Second World War but like them he served in the local Home Guard and with the A.R.P., within the ranks of which he was both head of the fire guard and Deputy Warden. He and Captain Johnson (retired) were founder members of the ARP and remained with that service until it was dismantled.

Gardening became his great passion and he was actively involved in Normandy & District Gardening Club from just after the war until he died. He organised the autumn flower show for many years such that the shows became an important annual event in the life of the village. It was not long before he was elected President of the gardening club. He so thoroughly enjoyed the friendly rivalry with other keen gardeners in the village but dahlias were his real speciality and all too often his services as a judge were required at many local flower shows.

Bill judging vegetables at one of the shows
Bill and Audrey inspecting vegetables at one of the shows

Many gardening club members would call on him to buy garden supplies at discounted rates and would ask his advice on all gardening matters. His very productive garden also took him into wine making and his carrot whisky and parsnip wines became great favourites, possibly their potency had a lot to do with that!

He was involved in many aspects of Normandy life; he was a school governor, a parish councillor (and Chairman for a few years), Village Hall Trustee and Village Hall Manager, also an active member of the local Conservatives. He was renowned for encouraging the electorate to vote at all elections and more often than not was the first to place his vote in the ballot box. All in all he led a very active and fulfilling retirement.

Bill Olley with wife Elsie and daughter Audrey
 Bill Olley with wife Elsie
and daughter Audrey

Tragically, his wife Elsie suffered from dementia in her latter years and died in 1988. Their only child Audrey Irene, always felt she was best known in the village by the name of "Mr Olley's daughter" rather than that of her own name! The truth is that whatever and wherever her father was involved, Audrey was ever at his elbow when asked. Audrey was educated at "Denehyrst" in Guildford and Farnham Girls Grammar School and made a career for herself in banking at Lloyds, from where she eventually retired, living as always, in the family home at Normandy when not travelling around the world.

Bill was still gardening up to the last few months of his life and liked nothing better than to talk to his many village friends and particularly to reminisce about his days in India, which had played such an important part in the development of his early life.

Normandy Historians gratefully acknowledge the use of Miss Audrey Olley's original notes about her father and her approval for the reproduction of the family photographs.

Peter Blakiston

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