Medstead Memories #5
The 1940s and 1950s as recalled by Roy Montgomery
I was born in 1939 and spent my childhood in a bungalow not far from Alton Abbey at the top of Kings Hill, Beech and whilst not actually being in Medstead parish, my mother’s family had lived in the village, I was baptized in St Andrews Church and spent most of my junior school years at Medstead School (next to the church). Much of what I can remember, is reminiscent of my childhood experiences in and around the village, in the 1940s and early 1950s.
My mother, Audrey Foster, was born at New Copse Farm between Medstead and Bentworth on 29th March 1900 and lived there with her siblings. Her parents were Charles Foster (b.1858) and Annie Foster (b.1863), the children were Amy Elizabeth (b.1887), Ellen (b.1889), Kate (b.1891), Frederick (b.1893), Edith (b.1895), Mary (b.1896), Thomas George (b.1898 but died in 1899), Audrey (b.1900), Ivy (b.1902) and Edward Charles (b.1907). Sometime before 1918, the family moved to a cottage, no longer there, called ‘Prior’s Knapp’ off the northern most corner of Paice Lane, not far from South Town Road.
My mother was in service with a family on Kings Hill, Beech when she met my father, Scott Montgomery, they were married on 29th October 1932 and remained at ‘Stone Hut’, Kings Hill until 1961, when they moved to a colonial bungalow called ‘The Gables’ in Hussell Lane (on the Alton side of the thatched cottage). After suffering several years of illness, Scott died on 22nd Nov 1968 and was followed by Audrey on 10th April 1974. Although the death certificate records Audrey’s death as being in Treloars Hospital, in fact she died in her garden, where she was found by her sister, my Aunt Mary.
Ivy Foster was born on 21 March 1902 in New Copse and after moving to Medstead, I think started working as a milkmaid on one of the local farms. When she married Robert Edwards on 18 February 1939, she was a milkmaid living in 'Rose Cottage', Church Lane, Medstead and her husband was a cowman from Ropley, and from that time on they were always associated with cows. My earliest memories of them, were when they were living in a farm cottage at Breach Farm between Bighton and Medstead and I can remember walking down Common Hill with my mother to visit them. I also vaguely remember a German prisoner of war who was with them, working as a farm labourer. Not long after this, they had an agreement with my father to join us at Kings Hill and farm a small number of cows, along with a horse and cart, in the field that he owned.
When they gave up this smallholding, they moved to a farm near Rogate for a few years, before retiring from farming and moving back to Medstead. They then lived in a bungalow called 'The Nest' almost opposite the chapel in South Town Road and it was here where Ivy died on 12 March 1981. After this Robert sold the bungalow and moved into Alton staying with some friends.
Most of the other children left the village after they married, but when Mary Foster married Arthur Prior on 15th April 1922, they initially lived in Hattingley before they moved to ‘Rose Cottage’, Church Lane, Medstead, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Arthur died on 8th April 1963 and Mary died on 24th November 1980. Arthur was in the Royal Observer Corps and after he died, I was given all of the aircraft recognition books, papers and cards that he had kept, which I still have. I was not aware though until many, many years later, that his brother-in-law Joseph Marriner was also in the ROC.
Edith was the other Foster girl to remain in the village and married Joseph Marriner on 17th November 1934, who I only knew as ‘Uncle Jack’. Initially they lived next door to Mary in ‘Church Cottage’, Church Lane, Medstead. Sometime between 1939 and 1947, they moved to a cottage in Paice Lane. I think this cottage was a brick built stand alone one, a few hundred yards up the road on the north side. I remember after the war being taken to Paice Lane, where the ROC post that they used was a wooden tower still in the middle of a field behind the cottage where Edith and Joseph Marriner were living at the time. Later on, they moved to Ascot where Uncle Jack had a job in the stables. I think it was in the early fifties when they returned to the village and lived in ‘Wayside’, a bungalow a few yards up the footpath leading up from the junction into Greenstyle and backing onto the housing estate, where Uncle Jack was living when he died on 28th March 1954 and where much later Edith died on 8th October 1970.
Most of my memories from the war years are rather disjointed events, that have no great indication of time. Probably the most vivid, was being taken by my mother to see the wreckage of a German aircraft that was shot down just east of Redwood Lane. I recall that it was a twin-engine aircraft and that the crew were killed, as I remember the guards tearing out squares from the parachutes and giving them to the local girls to make handkerchiefs. It must have been a pretty horrendous crash, because the biggest memory is that most of it was scattered in bits across the field. [Subsequent research online revealed that the crash happened at 25 minutes past midnight on 16 May 1944 and that the aircraft was a JU88A-4 Nr. 550581 ‘B3-BT’. It was on a mine-laying mission off Portsmouth, when it was caught in searchlights and was shot down by Mosquito NF.XVII HK297 of 456 Sqn. It exploded on impact, killing all four members of the crew, whose remains were buried together in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.]
The only other German flying machine I remember seeing was, a V-1 Doodlebug that flew over our house one day. The sound of its motor was so unique, that it is imprinted in my memory and I will never forget it. As long as the sound of the motor could be heard, then the area was safe and there was nothing to fear. Thankfully this one continued over our house and we could still hear it disappearing into the distance. I seem to recall that we later heard that it had eventually come down somewhere near Micheldever. Presumably as it was heading nowhere special, the RAF were not going to waste time trying to destroy it, as there was no other plane in sight.
Two other events that come to mind associated with the war, was once being called outside to see a fighter trying to shoot down a barrage balloon that had broken free and was drifting around and the other was being taken to see three bomb craters. The latter were the result of three German bombs that were dropped and exploded in the middle of a farmer’s field about a mile north of Wivelrod. To a little boy, the three great holes in the ground appeared to be huge, but in reality they were probably pretty small, however, many years afterwards, the spot was always visible when the field was ploughed, by the appearance of three white patches of chalk. I think that most of the other women and children from Wivelrod were also there, so it made a sort of a day out. I also think that opinion was divided, as to whether the bombs were the result of being jettisoned or whether they were really meant for Lasham airfield a couple of miles further north.
Apart from a brief stint at St Lawrence C of E School in Alton, most of my first years at school were in Medstead, starting there after my fifth birthday and continuing until I went to the Secondary Modern School in Alton in 1951. The first teacher I had at Medstead was a Miss King who used to teach the 5 and 6 year olds. She was a very Victorian appearing spinster, tall, upright, hair tied into a tight bun and if I remember correctly, quite a severe expression, her father possibly being King the blacksmith. She used to live a mile or so along Hussell Lane/Abbey Road at the village end of a row of bungalows and was renowned for a very rapid walking pace, most days walking to and from school with great long strides, or so it seemed to a small boy. It was not unusual to see her striding along with several little children trying to keep up with her, though needless to say, they soon gave up! I seem to think that she was quite strict but nevertheless must have been a good teacher, as she seemed to be able to handle the youngsters and I don't have any bad memories of her.
I can remember lots of things that happened at Medstead Church of England Primary School, however little evidence remains, until in 1951 when I failed the ‘eleven plus’ exam and ended up in Alton County Secondary Modern School later that year. The first report that I have actually dates from July 1951, when I was still at Medstead School and although it has Class 1A on the top, I suspect that it was a test to assess what class I would be in when I started at the Alton school. The best mark that I had was 19 out of 20 for spelling, and in the whole range of the English section, I got a total of 68 marks out of a possible 80. For the arithmetic section, I had 37 out of 50 and for the marks overall, I was second out of the 19 who took the tests. The comments added by Miss May, the headmistress, were "Roy has worked well and intelligently in all subjects, I shall expect to hear good news of him from Alton next year". I cannot remember when, or why, but I did have a brief spell in the 1940s in the St Lawrence Infant School in Alton. It must have been very brief because I remember nothing from that time.
Photos from my Medstead schooldays show a group of us who went to Winchester for some Country Dancing festival, possibly in 1951. Another is of a more informal group photo of the boys and girls who were about to leave Medstead school in the Summer of 1951. As well as myself, I think a few of the other children are Ken Kercher, Janet Giles, Pat Prior, Stephen Shackleton and a girl named Davis but I would hate to even try and identify them in the picture.
I finally left school in December 1954 and joined the RAF as a trainee, thus removing future connections with Medstead and the surrounding area, apart from one strange coincidence. In the early 1960s, I was stationed at RAF Tangmere, near Chichester and it was in Chichester that I met Valerie Talmage who I was to later marry. It was while visiting and talking to her parents, William Edwin and Ivy, in Chichester, that I found out that at one time William Talmage had lived in Medstead and at that time had actually known my Mother. I have traced his maternal ancestry back through the Knight, Bone and Budd families and still have these details.
William Edwin Talmage was the first born child of William and Ellen Laura. William had married Ellen Laura Knight on 17th October 1910 in the Congregational Chapel in South Town Road, Medstead with the couple moving to West Horsley in Surrey where William already had a butchers business. It was here that William Edwin was born on 28th April 1912. His father joined the Royal Artillery in WWI after which Ellen returned to Medstead where her parents, Edwin and Ellen Maria were living. Unfortunately her husband was killed on 5th October 1918 in France, and although his name appears on the Medstead war memorial as ‘W. Talmage’, it seems unlikely that he ever actually lived in the village. In the 1918 electoral roll, Ellen was living in Castle Street, however by early 1919 she had moved and was then living near the post office. She was living there on 13th November 1920, when she married Harry William Stanford, also in the Congregational Chapel. They continued living there for about another year before moving out of the village and next appearing in Lasham in 1923 and I can remember the stories that William told about when they used to visit Medstead and had to pass through Bentworth and run the gauntlet of ‘the Bentworth boys’.
At the time, Wivelrod was a small hamlet about two hundred yards inside the Bentworth parish boundary and as ‘Stone Hut’ where we lived, was about five yards just inside the Alton Urban District boundary, we were very close. It had existed since the Middle Ages and a map drawn in 1742 showed two farms, about five ponds and a few cottages. By the time I knew it, both the original farms had gone, although one old farm house was still lived in, and only one pond was left though that was later filled in. I believe that later the old farmhouse, which I knew with the name of Ely’s, was burnt down and a new house built on the site. There were also six tied farm cottages and about three others. The main link with Bentworth was one of the old country green lanes that was known as ‘Tinkers Lane’ and I can remember walking across to Bentworth many times with my mother.
Another vivid memory is of the cold winters that we used to get. It was nothing unusual to wake up in the mornings and find the entire inside of the windows coated in ice in some very delicate patterns, like leaves or feathers. Obviously the room was cold, however it was not as bad as it sounds, because before getting into bed a large stoneware bottle with hot water was put into the bed and this not only warmed the bed up but also all the air inside. In these conditions, I must admit that it didn't take long to get into bed but once there, it was perfect.
The weekly bath time was another memorable experience, because when that came round, it meant getting down a galvanized iron bath from one of the sheds and putting kettles of hot water into it. Generally my Mother was the first into bath, followed by my Father and then myself. The same water stayed in all the time and was topped up with fresh kettles of hot water each time, so that by the time I got into it, although the water was dirtier, at least there was a reasonable amount of water to lay in. After all this was finished, the next interesting operation was having to bale out most of the dirty water, so that the bath could be taken out and cleaned before being hung up again.
Formerly living at ‘Stone Hut’, Kings Hill, Beech