Chapter 1. My Early Years
1. I was born in October 1939
2. Life for me, growing up during the war
3. My father
4. The "Black out"
5. Wartime Christmas
7. Other wartime memories
8. Allotments
9. Holidays
10. Reliving the Skegness holidays.
LINK to Childhood Memories
LINK to Picture Gallery

My Early Years

1. I was born in October 1939 in Northampton, just before the outbreak of World War II.
I was Christened John Neville, after Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister at the time and later reviled for his policy of appeasement with Hitler's Nazi Germany. Actually, I think he was a good man and I don't mind being named after him as I believe he was trying to avoid the dreadful conflict he knew would happen if war broke out. He was so right in that respect but so wrong to think that he could make peace with Hitler. My parents must have had faith in him anyway as did many others who cheered him when he returned from meeting Hitler waving his paper treaty assuring peace. Unfortunately that was all it was, a piece of paper.
I try to think now of how my parents must have felt, facing a life at war having a new born baby and a girl of 7, my sister Muriel. However, I suppose my father, William (Bill) Barcock was fortunate being too old for the "call up" to the armed forces, he was as old as the year, 40. He was too young for the First World War so escaped both. Good old Dad!
He was a clerk in the Northamptonshire County Offices Department. He later rose to be Chief Clerk. He was a man of absolute integrity, scrupulously honest and fair, but also fond of his pint of beer and tobacco. I have tried to live up to his example, well, I try to be honest, I enjoy a drink and I used to smoke but gave that up.
My mother Alice was simply beautiful. Nothing else can describe her looks, as you see in the picture below, but she was also beautiful inside. I honestly cannot think of anything bad about her, and she doted on me. I feel now that I did not repay her adequately, but I did my best and I know that she would not reproach me for any failing.
Mum & Dad \wedding    Mum
Mum & Dad            Mum
                                                                                                        WARTIME MEMORIES                                                                                                       

2. Life for me, growing up during the war, was pretty good. I have nothing but fond memories, a tribute to my parents. We were living in Northampton in the house they bought in 1929 for £200 I discovered from the deeds. A semi-detached house in Highfield Road Kingsley, on the Northern side of Northampton. I never had any fears because they never gave me cause to worry.
As I began to take notice of my surroundings around the age of 2, my earliest memory was of the air raid siren and it being linked with every time the played the "Blue Danube" on the gramophone!
We shared a "Anderson" shelter with the next door neighbours dug into the ground in their garden. It was just a simple corrugated iron arch covered with earth and with seats and some supplies inside. No good against a direct hit but safer than the house. Actually no bombs hit Northampton except the odd stray one as Coventry and the Birmingham factories were the target more than 30 miles away from us.
Eventually, my mother refused to go down into it, she was fussy about the dirt and spiders, and we stayed in the house. As wise decision as it turned out. I do remember being called into the garden one evening with others to watch Coventry burning. There was an orange glow in the sky which I thought was very exciting having no idea what was happening. That was August 1942 when I was nearly 3 years old.
3. My father was the kind of man people trusted and often came to him for advice so it was no surprise that he had responsibility for the Highfield Road ladder, supplied in case of emergency and kept in our side entrance. A long, very heavy wooden ladder and I remember him explaining how to "walk it up" raising it as you went from the end. No doubt he had training for this from the ARP, Air Raid Precaution service. He also manned a searchlight on the Northamptonshire County Offices roof on some evenings. Watching the TV program "Dad's Army" about the Home Guard and the ARP, the characters are absolutely as I remember those types. "Put that light out!" was a warning I can remember. My Uncle Jack was in the ARP in High Wycombe where I live now and he said the ARP warden explained that the ladders were made of "Hoke, Hash, Helm and Horegon pine!"

4. The "Black out" was exciting to me. We had cardboard panels to put up at the windows and the curtains had to be drawn. No street lights, so if we were out after dusk we had to use torches, and ones with a little hole to allow a pencil beam, shone at the ground not upwards on pain of death! If it was foggy, everybody had coal fires which made it worse, then sometimes it was impossible to get around.
The cars had white outlined mudguards to make then visible, but I don't remember that. However I do remember the cars that were around. Only doctors and essential workers could have petrol so cars were few to be seen, but I loved cars and I could soon name every make that we saw. We did not have a car although my Dad had use of his father's before the War. They were quite well off and had one of the few cars around. First an open-top Jowett and later a Wolseley cabriolet. Dad told the tale when he drove his parents up to London and got to Piccadilly Circus but was not sure where to exit. So he drove round and round and my grandfather raised raised his bowler hat to the policeman on point duty each circuit!
One Christmas it was so foggy when we walked home from my mother's parent's house in St James, on the side of town, Jimmy's end as it was known, my Dad said he had to kick the kerb edge all the way to find the way
5. Wartime Christmas was a special time and we always had a wonderful dinner, always roast cockerel, no turkeys then. We kept our own hens in a run in the garden as most people did. They used a china egg to persuade the hens to lay or sit on the eggs to hatch them. For that a cockerel was needed of course, and he was kept in a separate pen. I remember standing and going "cock-a-doodle-do" at him and he would shake his head and all then hens did too! So we had these lovely chicks, I can hear them chirruping now. As Christmas approached the cock's days were numbered and my Dad had to wring his neck. he had advice on how this should be done but it was still an ordeal and one year the cock almost won! Dad came around from the side entrance where the deed was done looking much the worse for wear!
Christmas presents were not easy to get and one year Dad made me a trolley with box on and handle to pull it. I loved pulling it around the garden. It was a car, a bus, a train- anything I wanted it to be. Somehow I got a pedal car. Maybe a birthday present. It was like silver racing car. I can just remember it, so I must have been only 3 or 4 and it only lasted a short time so I must have gotten to big for it. We took it to Abington Park, about a mile away on flat route so I could pedal most of it. In the park it was great fun whizzing around while Mum and Dad and Muriel had a picnic tea. Muriel arranged for a bench to carry their names after they died. I wonder if it remains? Muriel was married to Michael Cheney in the Church of St. Peter & Paul in the park.
6. My life in the War years was pretty good because my father was at home, he had a good job in the County Architects department, my mother was very resourceful and always provided a good dinner for us, bombs did not fall on Northampton because we were halfway between London and Birmingham and not a target. I knew nothing different to the wartime situation and it was all normality to me as a child. Churchill's radio broadcasts became routine, but always listened to intensely. I can hear his voice still, with it's grave but optimistic tone telling how we would eventually prevail. Then, suddenly the Americans became part of it. That meant chewing gum to me, either in pink tablet form or strips of Wrigleys gum. That was really prized as there were no sweets to speak of. How I got the gum I can't recall! We made sweets from cocoa powder and flour rolled up together somehow. I remember Muriel making them. Eggs were preserved in isinglass as there was no refrigerators. Preserving food was important and pickling was  a big thing and perhaps why I still love pickled stuff.
7. Other wartime memories included the sight of the sky full of bomber planes making for Germany. I still see these in my imagination. The later war years saw the 1000 bomber raids. They collected together all over the country and Sywell aerodrome near us was a location for Wellington bombers. The droning of the engines as they disappeared into the night is in my memory.
Muriel remembers more than me being 7 years older. She knew that a "doodle bug" flying bomb sounded like a motor engine and when it cut out it was about to impact and explode. One night when we were all in bed she heard the sound and it cut out! She jumped up and said " there's a doodle bug and it's cut out". Dad said don't be silly just before a blast went off and shook the house. "that was a doodle bug" he said! Later we learned it impacted just outside the town in a village called Creaton. Muriel's husband Michael said he knew of a man living there was getting out of his bath and the blast blew in the window and cut his bottom! Not too serious and that the tale survives shows that Northampton escaped serious bomb damage.
It was certainly unusual for a flying bomb like that, aimed at London, should reach Northampton.
A bomber unloaded bombs onto a cemetary on another occasion and Muriel said she actually saw that happen when out one evening. She said the doors of all the houses around opened as folk looked out to see what had happened and flooded the area with light, Not the recommended reaction!
One morning I was downstairs before anyone was up I guess, and I heard the news on the wireless. This is so clear to me I know it happened. How Mum and Dad were still in bed and I was up listening to the wireless I don't know, but I do know I heard the newsreader say "The War is over". I dashed upstairs to tell Mum and Dad "The War is over!". But they weren't at all surprised and just said "Oh yes". Rather an ant-climax but they knew of course and, true to form, never mentioned anything to me. The reality of the War they never allowed to bother me, good news or bad. Fortunately, none of our near family died or were injured because of it. My mother's brother John was a soldier but survived OK. My happy childhood was amazingly not spoilt by it in any significant way.
8. Allotments were a product of the War years and the campaign "Dig for Victory". They were strips of land near to the residential housing which were rented out very cheaply to anyone who wanted to have a go at growing their own vegetables. The strip areas were measured in "Poles". 10 poles was the basic strip and enough for one person to manage. Dad started with 10 poles at the top end of Broadmead Avenue, all covered by housing now but at the Northern edge of the town then and about a mile or so from home.
This is where he used to meet up with Frank (Chas) DeChasterlain, a fellow allotmenteer. The DeChasterlain family were our next-door neighbours before I was born . The "Broadmead" pub nearby and on their way home was where their Sunday pint, or two, was the cause of many a spoilt Sunday lunch for Dad! Mum used to always serve Sunday lunch at 1 o'clock whether or not Dad was back from the allotment. Since the pub opening time was 12 o'clock it must have been a rush for him to get down a couple of pints before a wobbly ride back home on his bike with a sack of allotment produce on the handlebars.
The produce from the allotment I remember were the wonderful potatoes which we have as a delicacy in the evening with a little butter. King Edwards and Majestics were names of varieties I recall, and "Little Marvel" peas. I ate those from the pod on the allotment. I have never tasted the like since.
I must have been 4 or 5 years old to remember the Broadmead allotment and then later Dad moved, with Chas of course, to a 20 pole allotment near the Northampton "Golf House". That was a public course nearby. The allotment was near the bottom of a valley near a stream, which was convenient for watering. I have a lot of memories about that one so I must have been at least 5 and perhaps it was after the end of the War around 1945.
Allotmenteers kept pigs there, in little pens on the allotment where they would also have a hut with a stove in to boil up the pig food. There was an all pervading pong of boiling vegetables.
Everyone had a "pig bin" in the house to save waste food for the pigs, t
hen it was given to the pig owners. Recycling was the norm then. Paper was also saved separately.
Dad never kept pigs but we did benefit when a pig was slaughtered by some pork joints being obtained. I think that officially half the pig went to the government, but nighttime slaughtering by friendly butchers played its part! Food rationing continued after 1945 so I think that is when I was aware of these things. I was certainly never aware of us being short of food, just the inconvenience of saving ration coupons.
The experience of going to the allotments and helping Dad gave me the desire to grow my own and I had an allotment when Diane and I first moved into our home in High Wycombe.
I never really had the time to do it justice but we had some good produce from it. Why did we have so little time for such things by the 1960s? I still grow runner beans in the garden and they can't be beaten for taste and freshness.
9. Holidays away were impossible during the War and difficult for some time afterward. We had some times away with my Uncle Jack and Aunt Margaret at Hazlemere near High Wycombe.
They had a very nice house, Ash Cottage, which I later learned he rented, on the Holmer Green Road. I just loved it there because of the country feel of it, the big garden which I could ride around on a tricycle and most of all the garage with his Austin Seven inside. It was "mothballed"on blocks because there was no petrol to run it, so I could play in it. The smell of the leather and oil and petrol is still with me. after the War we still used to holiday there and Uncle Jack would meet us off the train at Berhamstead. The 14 mile ride to Hazlemere in the Austin Seven was magical.  If the windscreen wiper was needed it worked intermittently as it was a vacuum system dependent on the engine revs. But, no problem, it could be worked manually if necessary!
Although it was a small car it was tall and roomy and quite comfortable even with 4 and and 2 children inside.
Eventually, at the end of the War, we could go to Skegness on the East Coast, our favorite holiday destination. Good old Skeggy! Still known by the jolly sailorman logo. Because of the howling gales off the North Sea the slogan used to be "
Skegness is so bracing". Now I see it is "Skegness is so relaxing"!
Those holidays were my happiest childhood days. There was a photo snapshot service on the promenade and the photographer would snap you whether you wanted or not, and hand you a ticket number to collect the prints a few hours later.
Here are a couple of photos taken on the promenade which I found.
Skegness 1946         Skegness 1947
The one on the left is almost posed, me with my bucket and spade and Mum and Dad and sister Muriel in the background That was 1945 immediately after the War ended.
The other one is 1946,  a walking group with L to R, me, Dad, Mum Michael and Mrs. DeChasterlain and Muriel. I mentioned the DeChasterlains earlier and I remember that holiday with them.
The remnants of the war were to be seen on the beach. Pieces of metal from the aeroplanes and areas cordoned off with barbed wire where there could still be mines. The Pier was damaged and closed beyond the front which was a cafe I think. Underneath was an amusement arcade with ha-penny and penny slot machines next to a bar where my Dad had a beer while I played the slots with a handful of pennies. We had deckchairs on the beach and I dug the golden sand, which stretched for miles, making sand castles and motorcar shapes. A game of cricket was favourite too.
10. Reliving the Skegness holidays.
Reliving the Skegness holidays is possible by writing them down, but I realise this is becoming self-indulgent and probably very boring!
I have therefore shunted them to a separate page " My Childhood Memories". Please go there if you want to know what a Skegness holiday was like for a young boy in the immediate post-war years.