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Sunday 17th of December 2017
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A Personal History of Kegworth 1944 to 1957

by Geoff Haberfield


Hello, my name is Geoff Haberfield, a sometime villager. After reading the various contents on the Kegworth Village web site, I suggested that perhaps some Kegworth person of my generation ought to write a brief history of Kegworth life as seen through their eyes of the period 1944 to 1957. Of course I should have known; but it was with some surprise that I received an e-mail from Kim Gayton-Pollard asking if I would write such a history. This I am going to attempt to do. I need to say that it will be a history as seen through my eyes of the period from 1944 the time possibly of my first recollections to 1957 when I effectively left the village to join the Royal Navy. I apologise here and now to those of my contemporaries who I have not mentioned and those who I do mention but have no wish to be so. Also, any errors that appear (and omissions) are entirely of my own making and I apologise for those too.

I have divided the piece into various sections with headings that will be self-explanatory. This should make it easier for both those who wish to read it in the whole or those who are interested only in particular aspects.

1. Introduction

I was born at 20 High Street my mother being attended by Dr. Gerrard (in part) and subsequently christened at St. Andrews by the Rector, the Rev. Cartwright. I was the last of five boys of a family that moved from Eastwood to Kegworth in 1934 when my father a railway signalman was promoted to work the Red Hill Tunnel signal box. I started school at Kegworth County Primary School (KCPS) in 1945 starting in Miss Pepper’s class and finishing in Percy Smart’s class in 1952, before leaving to go to my secondary school. I started school just after the Second World War had finished on the 12th August 1945, now known as VJ Day.

2. The War

Those readers born in the 1960’s and later may not be aware how much the War affected and coloured those years between 1945 and 1957 and probably later. It affected our diet, clothing, housing, recreation and even furniture. It also affected our entertainments and probably modified our attitudes and behaviour, permanently. My memories of the war include personal ones and ones of a general nature.

2.1 Diet

Our diet was affected by rationing, which was introduced at the beginning of the war to try and ensure that each of us had a fair share of the reduced food supplies, coal supplies and other fuels (coke however, was not rationed). Rationing continued until it was finally ended in 1953. This was due to the fact that financially, the country was on its knees and we couldn’t afford to import sufficient food and fuel to end rationing sooner. However, those who had the money could always buy off the black market and get more than their fair share but I have no evidence that this was happening in Kegworth, although there were rumours that some army officers who patronised a certain Kegworth hotel could usually, find some extra petrol for some of the few car owners in the village for a consideration. As I say these were rumours but rumours always formed part of village life and Kegworth was no exception.

Our rations could be and were supplemented by growing additional food such as vegetables, snaring rabbits to supplement the meat ration and collecting firewood to eke out the coal ration. Electrical and gas supplies were adequate with the occasional power cuts reducing demand when necessary; but then again, there were few electrical appliances in use, mainly lighting, an electric fire possibly a radio, although most people’s radios were powered by an accumulator which was basically, a lead acid cell. When flat, these were taken to George Dunmore’s shop in High Street for recharging. Gas was used for cooking and in some households, lighting. My family was lucky insomuch that we had a large garden, a greenhouse, room for a dozen hens, and my father rented an allotment. We were self-sufficient in vegetables, salad stuff such as tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, eggs, forfeiting our egg ration for a ration of poultry food and we always had a cockerel for Christmas dinner. If there was a surplus of salad stuff, we were able to sell it, as it wasn’t on ration.

We had to have the scales and the weights regularly and officially checked to ensure they were correct. My father snared rabbits on the railway embankment and also brought home the occasional pheasant or partridge, which were still fit to eat after being knocked down by passing trains. Other families were able to snare rabbits (or use ferrets) in the various warrens that surrounded the village. Other wild produce, which was there for the collection included mushrooms, blackberries and sloes and I am sure that some poaching provided the occasional game bird.

Food rationing generally, achieved two things, a reasonably fair division of the available food, and slim waistlines.

2.2 Clothing

Clothing too was rationed, but again there were methods that people used to augment the contents of their wardrobes (if they had one). One obvious ploy was to hand down clothes to your next younger brother or sister as appropriate while cardboard was used to make rough and ready repairs to worn shoes. Once again I was lucky as my father had spent some years working in the boot and shoe factories and he had the skills to repair my shoes, although I don’t recall from where he obtained the necessary leather. If the lady of the house was adept with needle and thread or better still, had the use of a sewing machine, then she could convert the odd spare blanket to provide herself with a new coat (see the film, The Great Escape) and remodel older dresses etc to give them a new lease of life. My mother possessed a sewing machine and so I was warmly, if unfashionably clothed in coats, trousers and blouses made by my mother (shirts came later when I went to Grammar School and things had become a whole lot better). This continued until the early fifties as I distinctly recall my sister-in-law using a blanket to make herself a new coat.

2.3 Housing

There was no house building in Kegworth or indeed anywhere else, while the war was in progress. But once it was over there was as a part of a national effort both to replace those homes destroyed by bombing and to improve the nation’s housing stock, the building of new houses in the village. This house building effort came in two phases. First, was the erection of ‘prefabs’ that followed a national design and second, the building of a large council estate of more conventional houses. The ‘prefabs’ were erected on land at the end of what is now known as Whatton Road, which in my time was known to all and sundry as The Dumps. I have been told that these dwellings were very comfortable and were provided with all the facilities. I do know people who much preferred a ‘prefab’ to one of the later council houses. I understand that they have all been demolished now and new dwellings built in their stead. My family benefited from the ‘prefabs’ and also suffered disappointment. My father managed to obtain turfs and top soil from the site, which were used to improve our garden. However, my brother failed to be allocated one and so continued to live at the family home with his new wife and baby.

The new council house estate was built on farmland situated at the top end of Whatton Road with St. Andrew’s Rise giving access onto the estate from Whatton Road. Again, this affected the lives of my brothers and me. My eldest brother, having failed to be allocated a ‘prefab’ was now provided with a council house, his first home, which he continued to occupy for the next twenty years or so before moving to Loughborough, while I, with many others lost our winter sledging course as the houses were built over it. For a few years we substituted the pavement of St. Andrew’s Rise for the old sledging run, much to the chagrin of several of the tenants who liberally scattered ashes on the icy pavement to thwart our Cresta Run type activities.

2.4 Recreation

During the forties, fifties and sixties, except for the cinema (locally, the ‘bug hutch’ on Derby Road and the more salubrious cinemas in Loughborough and Long Eaton) we provided our own recreation and made our own entertainment. In the late forties we played in the fields the comprised Walker’s Farm, not cowboys and Indians but at Commandoes those wartime Special Forces that were instigated by Winston Churchill. Later, we went further afield (no pun intended) to Whatton Brook, where we built over the years a whole series of bridges, which were of no use to anyone but us. During those summers we played cricket and football with teams exceeding the normal eleven players so that we were all able to join in. In the fifties, the Commando games and the bridge building came to an end, and we discovered fishing. The venues included Kegworth weir and Kingston Brook. The weir had not been fished for many a year and the roach population was enormous. Even the bait was to hand as we used weed literally hooked from the stones that comprised the weir. As we grew older, and more capable we departed from standing or sitting on the riverbank to diving or jumping from it. River swimming had become for a few short years, the new pastime. The favourite venue was the Wooden Bridge where the canal re-enters the river. The rickety old bridge provided us with a two tier diving platform. The main traverse support timbers providing the lower platform while the top of the handrails provided the upper one.

2.5 Furniture and other goods

During the war, furniture was unattainable has most of the major furniture factories had been turned over to war production, in particular building the all wood construction de Havilland Mosquito (I mention this because the Mosquito is my absolute favourite war plane). Once the war was over the factories returned, where possible, to their previous manufactures. However, wood was still in short supply and if you needed furniture then the choice was between utility furniture, other people’s surplus or go without. The utility mark was a ubiquitous symbol of those days.

Britain, of course had spent all her money and much more borrowed money to fight the war, so post war Britain had to continue to tighten the national belt to pay off the debts and to restore the treasury. To achieve this most of the goods that our factories were producing were proudly displayed in our shop windows – usually with the prominently placed notice, ‘For Export Only’. I personally, remember such notices in the window of Twells’ shop in Loughborough where they were displaying cut glass bowls and drinking vessels. I also remember the grocer’s shop in Market Street in Loughborough one week proudly displaying a single bunch of black grapes and some time later, a single pineapple.

2.6 Personal and miscellaneous memories

The personal memories include seeing my eldest brother Ken, in RAF uniform as an aircrew flight engineer with the rank of Flight Sergeant while his friends, Ralph Calverly and Gordon Swain were in RN sailors’ uniform. I remember being taken for a pram ride by Vera Gaze to the RAF station at Castle Donington and seeing an aeroplane being towed across the road. I recall playing at convoys in trolleys, seeing the real American lorry convoys going along the A6 with the drivers throwing us confectionary of different kinds including chewing gum, chocolate and packets of biscuits and seeing equipment and stores stockpiled on the central reservation of the A6 south of the White House (now called something else).

My memories of a general nature include seeing Frank the German POW who worked at the Stafford place walking up and down High Street. I recall the air raid shelter that stood outside the school and it being demolished sometime before or just after 1952 and certainly, climbing onto its roof. Other memories include the auxiliary fire brigade with the appliances housed in a building in Pleasant Place and what we thought was a gun mounting down by the canal bridge. I remember George Tollet coming home from the war from the Italian campaign to his home in the house next to George Dunmore’s shop (we were friends with his children, Roger and Marguerite Tollet). Other painful memories include seeing the effects of being a prisoner of the Japanese on one of the returning villagers. I have memories of the VE Day party for the children in the immediate neighbourhood of High Street, Pleasant Place, Ashby Road, Claypit Lane etc, which was held in the Baptist Chapel on High Street (I think we had sandwiches, jelly and tea). In the following years, I wondered why there weren’t any more parties.

One aspect of the war was the arrival of refugees from the big cities. These families included the Coopers who lived on Loughborough Road, their relatives the Rodgers who lived on High Street and another family, the Bells who also lived on High Street (Mrs Bell worked as a dinner lady at Kegworth County Primary School and she had two older children, Rosie and Peter – I don’t remember a Mr Bell). Sometime in the fifties the Bells left, followed some years later by some members of the Cooper family. The Rodgers family stayed on.

Finally, for this section, there are minutiae of the rationing discussed above. Each person had a ration book, which were taken to the shop of choice where the ration coupons appropriate to the comestibles being bought were either cut out or pencilled through. I don’t recall the clothing coupons.

The coupons for fruit were seldom used and certainly, our family fruit coupons were never used until 1952 when Tuckley’s greengrocery shop next to the Flying Horse and facing the Post Office had a box of bananas, the first whole bananas I’d ever seen.

3. School

The people I played, associated, fished and swam with did not necessarily form part of my school cohort. As far as I recall my cohort (what a useful term) included the following and if I have missed anyone or included someone from another cohort, I apologise:

Bill Rimmington, Janet Oliver, Graham Davis, Margaret Barron, Robert Smith, Jean Wilmore, Graham Gibson, Stella Hutchinson, David Smart, Elizabeth Gee, Ivor Snape, Ann Hardy, Nick Walters, Ina Rodgers, Trevor Jones, Jean Ledbetter, Tony Hinds, Brenda Hallam, Martin Salisbury, Barbara Badham, John Smalley, Christine Insley, Tony Stoner, Pat Smalley, Marlene Orridge.

Of the boys, Tony Hinds and Tony Stoner left when their families moved elsewhere, Martin Salisbury left to go to another school and Trevor Jones died in a traffic accident. Of the girls, Jean Ledbetter and Barbara Badham left when their families moved and Christine Insley left to go to another school. Liz Gee arrived sometime in the late 1940’s when her family moved to Kegworth as did Pat Smalley. Two other girls, Gillian Roe and Linda Barker joined the school whilst living in Long Whatton and Diseworth, respectively.

The teachers in the period between 1945 and 1952 worked under the headship of ‘Gaffer’ Roberts. They included Miss Pepper who taught the first year infant class (modern term) followed by Mrs Roberts who joined the teaching staff from Lockington School. Then Mrs Taylor a Scottish lady who left to emigrate to South Africa to be replaced by Mrs Bradshaw who hailed from Loughborough. Percy Smart and Bessie Mawby who took the final year class complete the list. During my time, Mrs Mawby took ill and never returned with Percy Smart moving up to take the final year pupils. I believe Miss Jones arrived to supersede Miss Pepper when she retired.

Linking with the war were the two large picture frames that were displayed in the hall, on which were mounted photos of former pupils who were then serving in the armed forces. The picture frames and the photos are now I believe, displayed in the museum in High Street. Another link was the cockpit section of a Spitfire (or was it a Hurricane) that was displayed outside by the top end door. I assume it was there to train the ATC cadets. The war years and those following were a period of shortages. Paper was in short supply, so every space was used before finishing in the waste paper collections. School ink came in powder form, which had to be mixed with water and the resultant ink was poured into inkwells for pupils’ use but only when they were in their final year. In the first year pupils still used slates while for the other years, the pupils used pencils. Biros didn’t become available until around 1952 and then only rarely. I believe I was the first pupil to use a biro, which was a short, stubby, messy thing that didn’t provide a consistent flow of ink. It was quickly disposed of.

Another immediate post war effort was the collection of rosehips, which were dispatched in large sacks to “goodness knows where”, to be processed to produce rosehip syrup. Rosehip syrup was a rich source of vitamin C.

During my time at Kegworth County Primary School, they erected a maypole and we had maypole dancing, raised an ‘orchestra’ after receiving some musical instruments, which included triangles, tambourines and cymbals. In 1951, the staff introduced school plays to be performed at Christmas time, the first one being of course, A Christmas Carol.

During Assembly, Mrs Mawby used to play the piano to accompany the hymns and when she became ill two of the girls, Margaret Barron and Jean Wilmore, stood in for her.

Occasionally, we listened to a school programme on the radio speakers, if it was pertinent to our lessons. One poignant memory is that when King George VI died, ‘Gaffer’ Roberts came round, certainly, to our classroom if not the others, to announce his death.

In 1952, the school arranged a week’s trip to Blankenberg in Belgium during July or August of that year. The final year pupils were given first refusal and any vacancies were filled from the year below. The cost of the trip was £11 per pupil and the money was collected over a period of months as £11 was a considerable sum in those days, a fortnight’s pay for some of the fathers. Gaffer Roberts and some of his family led the party along with others of the teaching staff.

Another milestone that originated during my time at Kegworth CP School, was the decision to purchase the land between the existing school property and Whatton Road for use as the school playing field. The Parent Teachers Association, another innovation at that time, organised collections with other activities and functions to raise the money to make the purchase. This was made sometime after 1952. I don’t know whether any of the public authorities made a contribution.

Finally, when my cohort (what a useful term) left in the summer of 1952, we dispersed to Ashby Grammar School, Castle Donington Secondary Modern, Loughborough College, Loughborough Grammar School or Loughborough High School (notice that they are listed in alphabetical order).

4. Personal Conclusions

For us, the children born just before, during or just after the Second World War came out of it fairly well adjusted. Generally, we were polite, were respectful of our elders (no first name terms with our elders) and living in the country and in Kegworth we were very lucky. Nobody starved, nobody went without shoes (but perhaps some of us didn’t have underwear and went to bed in our shirts) and we were happy or seemed to be and probably content with our lot. This was due I should think to the fact that we didn’t know or had experienced anything different. Hey, some of the luckier ones, including myself, went on that trip to Blankenberg, although even here not surprisingly, the war intruded, At the top of the beach was a German blockhouse forming part of Hitler’s defunct Festung Europa.

However, as we progressed into the sixties and beyond and we became wealthier (a relative term) I noticed that people became less happy, less content, had less consideration for others and good manners began to slip. I do not refer to any of those mentioned in this history nor any others in the village, but I can’t believe that Kegworth has been able to stand aloof from the deterioration in the state of people from the time when it could be argued that we had every reason to be unhappy when paradoxically I believe the opposite was true, to our present time when the reverse should be true. With that philosophical note, I finish my humble offering.

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